One person we can safely be pretty mean to was someone who himself was mean to so many others — including The Style Invitational. “Caustic” and “acid-tongued” were some of the blander descriptions in the Dec. 27 obits to describe proto-shock-jock Don Imus, whose radio show “Imus in the Morning” gave a daily rude awakening to millions of listeners nationwide, a superstardom continuing until he decided to call the Rutgers University women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos” in 2007.
On May 14, 1995, way back in the Invite’s toddlerhood, the Czar of The Style Invitational tagged onto the Week 113 contest (the first foal names!) the following announcement: “The Faerie of the Fine Print and the Ear No One Reads [that’s a bit of history for another Conversational] is reliably informed that New York radio personality Don Imus last week referred to The Style Invitational and its readers as ‘lame,’ and flatly prohibited any participant in this contest from ever appearing on his show. Normally we would ignore such a trivial matter; Don Imus flatly refusing to let Style Invitational readers on his show is kind of like a bowl of poop flatly refusing to be served at Lutece, but it occurred to us that possibly our lame-o readers might wish to respond more directly to Mr. Imus. As a sign of respect, come up with the nicest thing one can truthfully say about Don ‘Imus in the Morning’ Imus. Not that we really care whether you enter, but the best entry gets five Style Invitational loser’s T-shirts. Five.”
We don’t have a record of what Imus read that brought him to this conclusion, but Hall of Fame Loser Elden Carnahan remembers that it included one of his own entries, perhaps the winner in a contest for imagined typos (“Bulge Boy shorts”). “My sister-in-law was so startled to hear my name out of her car radio she almost drove into Long Island Sound,” Elden recalls. In any case, the very next week’s Invitational included this report:
"Some of you may recall that several weeks ago, New York talk radio personality Don Imus declared The Style Invitational and its readers ‘lame,’ flatly prohibiting anyone who participates in this contest from appearing on his show. In the spirit of goodwill, we asked you to enumerate the nicest things that can truthfully be said about Don Imus. (For coming up with this contest idea, Don wins “The Portable Scatalog,” a completely humorless book chronicling pooping and peeing rituals from around the world, with a foreword by Sigmund Freud, originally published in 1891, and personally inscribed to Imus by the Czar. Since Imus is now an official participant in the Style Invitational, he can no longer appear on his own show.)
"Without further ado, the 10 nicest things that can be truthfully said about Don “Imus in the Morning” Imus:
10. So far as we know, he doesn’t spread Ebola. (Scott Vanatter, Fairfax)
9. He is probably preferable to a colostomy bag. (Jim Brockton, Fairfax)
8. He gave Engelbert Humperdinck’s hairdresser a job. (Rick Hartman, Funkstown, Md.)
7. Howard Stern [click]. (Paul Styrene, Olney)
6. The shortness of his name prevents precious ink and newsprint from being wasted.(J. Ponessa, Washington)
5. He hasn’t yet broadcast the recipe for fertilizer bombs. (Scott Vanatter, Fairfax)
4. Three out of four dentists pipe “Imus in the Morning” into their reception area to make their patients look forward to drilling. (Joseph Romm, Washington)
3. He can make the lame talk. (Dave Zarrow, Herndon)
2. Once, he was somebody’s beautiful bouncing baby jerk. (Cindi Caron, Lenoir, N.C.)
And the winner of the five losers’ T-shirts: He is the 38th most famous Don, right after Trump, Rickles, Knotts, Johnson, Juan, that other Juan from the weird books, Ameche, DeFore, Everly, Corleone, Ho, Osmond, McLean, that guy from New Kids on the Block, Sutherland, Pardo, Adams, O’Connor, Quixote, King, Shula, Maynard, Cornelius, Meredith, Hot Lips’ husband, Kirshner, that river in Russia, Pleasance, Mattingly, Geronimo, Giovanni, Meek, Regan, Rumsfeld, Hollinger, The Snake Prudhomme, and Duck. (Russell Beland, Springfield, and Jerry Pannullo, Chevy Chase)"
So for Week 1365, feel free to be caustic and acid-tongued about Imus, without breaking the general Invite rule of not to say you’re glad he’s dead, he’s rotting in hell, etc. For one thing, there are more clever and funny ways to make your point.
For inspiration and guidance, here are the top winners of last January’s contest, Week 1313 (read complete results here). Perhaps some of the winners found their subjects among the Darwin Awards. Note that although this contest has an eight-line limit, I’m generous about how long those lines may be. (Please excuse the excess line spacing, the fault of the new, still-in-beta system on which the Conversational is now composed.)
4th place: ALAN ABEL (1924-2018), practical joker extraordinaire:
Alan Abel loved a hoax
And spent a lifetime fooling folks;
He staged his death in 1980,
Then trashed his obit with much gaiety.
So this time did the public scoff and
Demand a peek inside the coffin? (Frank Osen, Pasadena, Calif.)
3rd place: PRABHU BHATARA, unwise cabdriver in India:
Prabhu hopped outside to pee and let the engine idle.
What followed many people see as close to suicidal:
“He snapped a selfie with a bear,” the Indian police’s
Official said of this affair. “Now Prabhu rests in pieces.” (Chris Doyle, Denton, Tex.)
2nd place: RICHARD DeVOS (1926-2018), co-founder of Amway:
Said Saint Peter, “Can’t let you in now, Rich, alas.
Though I’m sure that you think this is urgent,
But you haven’t yet reached our Cloud Nine Elite class,
So go sell some more laundry detergent.” (Duncan Stevens, Vienna, Va.)
And the winner of the Lose Cannon, STEPHEN HAWKING (1942-2018):
In heaven, maybe, Stephen Hawking
Can be found upright and walking,
Asking God with great respect,
“Was my cosmology correct?” (Robert Schechter, Dix Hills, N.Y.)
And for good measure, the first Honorable Mention:
ZAIM KHALIS KOSNAN, inexperienced snake collector:
In Selangor, Malaysia, on a morning bright and sunny,
A biker met a 12-foot snake and thought, “He’s worth some money!”
He caught the thing, but in the end, the python was the victor,
’Cause poor ol’ Zaim didn’t know he’d captured a constrictor.
He marveled at his trophy; he was more than slightly pleased,
Until the snake attacked him! (He was more than slightly squeezed.)
A python is a deadly thing, a cousin of the boa;
So just be sure you know your snakes, ’cause Zaim is no moah. (Beverley Sharp, Montgomery, Ala.)
Make real cash money with Invite ink! Loser Jon Gearhart brought to my attention the endearingly named Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest at WinningWriters.com, which gives serious money to the winners: $1,000 for first place, $250 for second, and more. The reason I’m telling you about this, when all I’m offering you are crappy trinkets, is this line I saw in the rules: “You may submit the same poem simultaneously to this contest and to others, and you may submit a poem that has been published or won prizes elsewhere.”
Unlike Mr./Mrs. Flomp, The Style Invitational does not accept entries that have already been published. But it’s okay with me if you get ink in the Invite (or failed to), then send that entry somewhere else, as long as you’re not misleading the other party. I haven’t read beyond the details mentioned above; I’ll leave that to you. But if it won’t hurt your chances in this contest, please credit the Invite. You get to enter just one poem, and you have till April.
And with genuine praise and affection: Remembering Loser Marty McCullen (1936-2019)
Just as the year ended, we lost one of our most veteran and most endearing Losers, Marty McCullen, who passed away Dec. 23. Marty, who for many years lived in Gettysburg, Pa., would, along with fellow G’burgian Loser Roger Dalrymple, show us around the historic sites on our yearly brunch visit to the town, a tradition that continues every spring. And he came down quite often, in later years with his son, to numerous Loser events in the D.C. area. Marty had an impressive career serving the country — first in the Navy, then at NSA — and a list of extracurriculars: marathon runner, soccer coach, history buff, folk dancer. But his family saved the last line of the bio in his death notice for this: “He was an avid contributor to the Washington Post Style Invitational.”
Marty amassed 115 blots of Invite ink starting back in Week 477 (2002), including three contest wins and seven runners-up. For many years, he would enter every single week. But in the last few years, the entries tailed off and eventually stopped. To be honest, some of Marty’s entries and some of his comments in the Style Invitational Devotees Facebook group in those later years seemed a little puzzling. But for much of the Invitational’s history, Marty’s wit and humor were a joy. Here’s a small sample:
One of our word bank contests — one of our best ever — was to write a new Constitutional amendment using words in the Constitution. Marty won the whole contest with this: “Those persons resident in the District are second-class, inferior citizens. But they have the right to death, taxes and post offices.”
Another contest winner was in Week 665, to coin a new word ending in “-ion.” Marty offered “Percycution: Giving your child a name he will hate for the rest of his life.”
In Week 506, mottoes for federal agencies: NASA: Coming Soon to Your Backyard!
Second place in Week 527, things to say in embarrassing situations: On being caught by the boss: “I’ll have you know this is not an ‘adult’ website. Why, these are mere girls -- 18 years old, tops.”
Product placements in literary passages: To dust thou shall return -- unless thou dost secure a weekly service plan with Merry Maids™.
Week 609, would-be-funny newspaper corrections: "In an article on the history of the Potomac River, rowing enthusiast Max Schmitt was misquoted; he actually referred to Fletcher’s as ‘the best oarhouse I’ve ever been to.’ ”
One of our most challenging contests ever was to present a seemingly logical proof of something that clearly wasn’t. Marty got ink with this entry in Week 500:
The best things in life are free.
Freedom comes at the price of eternal vigilance.
Freedom, therefore, isn’t free.
Freedom, therefore, isn’t one of the best things in life.
Tyranny is the complete opposite of freedom.
The complete opposite of something is everything that the first thing is not.
Tyranny, therefore, is one of the best things in life.
Ergo, tyranny is better than freedom.
Inkin’ About Tomorrow*: The Predictions of Week 1361
*Headline by Tom Witte that would have gotten ink but didn’t fit in the hed space on the print page
There’s a hole in the 2020 timeline cobbled together from this week’s inking entries: That would be Tuesday, Nov. 3. Of the 100-odd predictions I saved to my shortlist from the Week 1361 submissions, none of them concerned a winning incumbent or a winning challenger in the presidential election. Maybe that day is just too emotionally fraught for many of you even to think about that moment, let alone joke about it; maybe it’s just me. It wasn’t intentional; I just realized it when I looked at the fake-chronicle of the coming year that I’d amassed in this week’s results.
No matter; we still have 37 other events (30 in print) to mark, exactly zero of which could possibly happen. (C’mon, history, prove me wrong. I dare ya.)
History repeated itself in this week’s Losers’ Circle; all four occupants are Invite veterans, especially Nos. 1 and 2 Duncan Stevens and Gary Crockett, who each have blotted up more than 400 inks as they bop along ever closer to the Invite Hall of Fame. Mike Gips (257 inks) and Jeff Hazle (116) also kind of know this Style Invitational thing.
Perhaps more surprising was who didn’t get ink this week: Jesse Frankovich has been so ridiculously ink-spattered in the past few years that almost every week, other Losers mention him in their own entries. I was ready to run one of the following (or a combination), but they wouldn’t have worked unless they were following the usual several Frankovinks, so they went inkless:
--The phrase “Jesse Frankovich, Lansing, Mich.” does not appear in the Washington Post. Congress demands answers. (Elden Carnahan)
--Jesse Frankovich captures another Lose Cannon by creating an anagram of an entire weekday edition of the Post, including the classified ads. (Duncan Stevens)
--The Style Invitational community is shocked to learn that prolific Loser “Jesse Frankovich” is actually a humor algorithm developed by Google.
--The winning anagram in Week 1385 was submitted by “HAL Frankovich.” (Jon Ketzner)
Sorry, guys. Blame Jesse.
What Doug Dug: Working on New Year’s Day, Ace Copy Editor Doug Norwood still seemed to be in a good mood and found lots to like this week, singling out seven entries: Mike Gips’s runner-up dig at the Redskins; Duncan’s winner in which Zelensky calls Warren “Pocahontas"; Jon Ketzner on Trump reporting a excellent physical, including a "perfect Pap smear’; Jesse Rifkin on a Lil Nas X who finally can’t no more; Steve Honley on Kellyanne and George Conway leaving each other for James Carville and Mary Matalin; David Kleinbard for Pence coming out as gray; and Frank Mann for Trump pardoning the linebacker during the Army-Navy Game.
Not on the calendar: The Unprintables. If you’re still reading this far into the column, I trust that you know that you shouldn’t read farther if you don’t want to see these three jokes that are too graphically tasteless even for the Invitational.
June 7: Suffering from constipation, President Trump uses Lindsey Graham’s nose as an enema. (Robert Schechter)
July 27: In an attempt to gain a psychological edge, the men on Cuba’s Olympic wrestling team are given Viagra prior to matches, and all win when opponents are hesitant to grapple with their “sporting ragers.” (Bird Waring)
And the Scarlet Letter of Are You Kidding Me: Ruth Bader Ginsburg passes away at age 87. President Trump declares, “She died like a dog, she died like a coward, she was whimpering, screaming and crying.” (Tom Witte)
Still time to RSVP Yes for the Loser Party! Saturday evening, Jan. 11
We’re currently at an entirely sane 46 people (the number is sane, I mean) for our annual Loser Post-Holiday Party, once again at the home of Steve Langer and Allison Fultz in Metro-close Chevy Chase, Md. As always, it’s an uncoordinated potluck that is sure to result in a fabulous spread, and as always, we’ll all be joining in on Loser-penned song parodies -- but more of them than usual, with Duncan Stevens and pianist Steve Honley coordinating the music, and several Losers who Can Actually Sing to lead us. If you are reading this, you are expressly invited; if you’d like to come, reply Yes on this link right here to the Evite.
Remember how the videographer from The Lily, The Post’s online publication focusing on women, came to our recent Loser brunch to get footage for a planned mini-documentary about the Invitational? Well, Editor Amy King, the big Invite fan, got an even bigger job at the Los Angeles Times. Her successor has other plans. So it goes. But we’d love someone to record the parodies on Jan. 11. Let me know if you’re interested.