Below the Beltway

Cheap laughs: What's a Haynesworth, anyway?

Below the Beltway
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By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, August 29, 2010

Every once in a while, we in the beleaguered business of journalism hear slightly hopeful niblets of news suggesting that things aren't quite as bad as they seem. We consume these with pitiful optimism, even when they tell us that our company's first-quarter losses are only 9 percent, compared with 17 percent the previous year. When truly bad news comes, it tends to be much less ambiguous. On the day I am writing this, it was widely reported that Newsweek magazine was sold for the sum of one dollar. You pay more than that for a single copy at the newsstand. You pay more than that for two thighs, extra crispy, at Popeyes.

Can there be other once highly valued things that have so depreciated they're now worth a buck or less? Yes, there are. I compiled a list. Didn't make me feel much better, though.

1. Knowing how to construct a "cootie catcher." I was wistfully thinking about this charming, impromptu toy of my youth the other day when I learned of a cellphone app that lets you point your phone at the sky and see all the constellations above you, day or night, wherever you are. With another, you can play chess with a simulated Mikhail Botvinnik, the 1950s-era Russian grandmaster. Adjusted for inflation, these apps don't cost much more than a cootie catcher.

2. Penmanship.

3. The noble art of doghouse-building. They used to have shingles and joists and whatnot, and looked cool. Now, they're all molded plastic, made by the same people who make Little Tikes turtle sandboxes.

4. The Encyclopaedia Britannica. Remember when people actually bought these handsomely bound treasuries of human knowledge on the installment plan? I just found a nearly new 39-volume set on eBay that, after nine days, had been bid all the way up to $31.

5. Mel Gibson's film career.

6. BP stock.

7. Library cards.

8. The skill of using apostrophe's. Nobody get's it right anymore, and nobody gives a darn, and thats just the way it is in this era of all-thumbs communication.

9. "Peanuts," by Charles M. Schulz, who died 10 years ago and has been slowly decomposing ever since in perpetual, tedious rerun.

10. Really nice leather suitcases that don't roll on little sissy wheels like vacuum cleaners.

11. Saying, on a résumé, that you are "proficient in Microsoft Word and Excel."

12. The telephone directory. It still arrives at one's house, thudding onto one's driveway unordered, unwanted, unneeded -- an obsolete compendium of land lines in a cellular world, a nine-pound slab of irrelevance that the average household will need to consult less frequently in their lives than they will, say, a cat dentist. For some reason, two days after this item arrives, you get an automated phone message making sure it was delivered promptly. To my knowledge, no one has ever not hung up on this call.

13. Albert Haynesworth. Fat Albert is a sullen, flabby, 335-pound defensive lineman purchased for $100 million by the Washington Redskins, who misses literally every other play because he is on the sidelines, sucking oxygen from a tube so he doesn't faint. The guy who bought Newsweek for a buck ought to make an offer here.

Contributing to this column were Lindsay Applebaum, Elizabeth Chang, Darryl Fears, Robert McCartney, Jonathan O'Connell and Avis Thomas-Lester.

E-mail Gene at weingarten@washpost.com.


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