Gene Weingarten: Raising stupidity to an art form

Gene Weingarten
Columnist May 20, 2011

One evening last month, my friend Rachel texted me from a Starbucks, where she was hanging out while waiting for the locksmith to show up. She’d returned from a day at work to find she had accidentally locked her keys in her car.

Bummer, I said.

Gene Weingarten is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writes "Below the Beltway," a weekly humor column that is nationally syndicated. View Archive

“Also, I left the headlights on,” she said.

Double bummer, I said. You’ll need a jump-start, too.

“No, I won’t,” she wrote, immeasurably pleased with herself. “I also left the engine running!”


Eric Shansby

This trifecta had placed Rachel in that rarefied theater of human behavior where simple error rises to such an astounding level of nincompoopery that it becomes Art. With her achievement, Rachel had at least equaled the qualifying feat of my friend Karl, who, in a triumph of doltish simplicity, once slammed his own head in a car door.

Nincompoopery can become art in those ways — via single, acute events — or in my way, which is more chronic, and comes as something of a lifetime achievement award. It’s a Nincompotpourri of Nincompoopery. For example, I have a cellphone but still pay Comcast for a land line in my home. I never use the land line except to call my cellphone to see where I have most recently mislaid it.

Every once in a while, I will hear that cellphone ringing somewhere about 20 feet away, which is when I begin a frantic perimeter search for it. Oddly, wherever I go, it stays 20 feet away, which is when I realize it is in my pocket, the ring tone muffled by a half-dozen dog-poop bags I always remember to carry with me, except when I’m actually taking the dog out, which is why I so often use a leaf, which is seldom quite broad enough for the task, which is why I am often seen in my neighborhood hurrying my dog home, with an unpleasant look on my face and one arm held stiffly out in front of me, like a zombie trolling for brains.

For this column, I e-mailed my colleagues, asking for their personal bonehead tales. There were dozens of responses, but many turned out to be from rank amateurs. Sure, Mike once tried to dry out his watch by putting it in the microwave. Yeah, Howard accidentally hacksawed through his house’s gas line. Brigid flooded her newly refinished basement with dirty-diaper laundry water. Cait once broke a wall by running into it with her face. But who among us hasn’t? None of this is RachelLand. These things need to be ironically satisfying.

Take Paul. His dog, Samson, was high-strung. Samson liked to eat the furniture. To cure this anxiety-driven behavior, Paul was following a set of training instructions, one of which involved going outside and then coming back in, to accustom the dog to a stranger at the door. That’s when Paul locked himself out without shoes, wallet or phone, cutting off all avenues of getting help. Inside was the now very agitated Samson, and the furniture.

The best story was Chris’s. In college, he had an old Volvo that (1) ran fine, but (2) was hard to start. Because Chris had to drive from Maine to New York, he decided the logical thing to do was to make the eight-hour trip without ever killing the engine. At potty breaks, he’d leave the car running. At fill-ups, he’d leave the car running. Chris does not consider any of this to have been his big mistake. His big mistake occurred at a gas station near the end of his trip, when he decided the car needed some oil. Oil does not pour well when whipped by the wind from a fan that is running full speed to try to cool a molten engine block, which, when spattered with oil, ignites in a rather spectacular way. A fire extinguisher was required.

Now that is RachelLand.

Ineptly contributing to this column were Rachel Manteuffel, Karl Vick, Michael Rosenwald, Howard Schneider, Brigid Schulte, Caitlin Gibson, Paul Williams and Christian Davenport.

E-mail Gene at weingarten@washpost.com.

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