Gene Weingarten

Washington, D.C.

I am old and cranky. I write "Below the Beltway," a weekly humor column that is nationally syndicated. With my son Dan and David Clarke, I write the daily newspaper comic strip Barney & Clyde, about a friendship between a billionaire and a bum. I am working on a book about the events of Sunday, December 28, 1986, a date chosen at random by picking numbers out of a hat. Yes, it's an insane idea, and yes, I can use all the tips I can get.

Best of Gene

Chatological Humor chat

On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything.

Although this chat is sometimes updated between live shows, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many people keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.

12.28.86: One day

I chose the date at random, by drawing numbers out of a hat. I'm going to spend the next two years researching that date, and only that date, in America, and then present it in a wide-angle, panoramic fashion. I'd like your help. Many events leave a trail in the media or the public record, and I'm already following up on many of those. I know, for example, that hardboiled mystery writer John D. MacDonald died on that day, and the Jets beat the Chiefs. "Walk Like an Egyptian" topped the pop charts. And so forth. The public record is voluminous. But fame tends to be transient and shallow, casting what seems to be an arbitrary spotlight; there is also power in things that never get into the public eye -- stories of drama and consequence can be found in the lives of ordinary people. Sometimes, small things happen that will go unnoticed or unrecorded, but will prove pivotal to monumental events that follow. I want to find these things by tapping your memories, and/or testing your research skills. The book will be highly selective, but my Facebook page won't be; we hope it develops an engaging narrative of its own. If you think you have a story to tell, we'll look at it here. Or you can email me in complete privacy at oneday12.28.86@gmail.com. These could be anecdotes from your life or the lives of others you know. Nothing is too trivial, though it will be edited for quality and appropriateness. Are you a good enough storyteller to make yours interesting? Or, are you a researcher at heart? Talk to me. I'd be grateful for all sorts of promising leads. No money will change hands, I'm afraid, but I'll introduce you to all my swanky, bon vivant friends, as soon as I get some. What's in it for you? People who proved helpful will be acknowledged in the book. If you're really helpful, you and I could be working together in person. And, of course, if your own life finds its way into the book, hey, you'll be a superstar.
Honors & Awards:
  • 2008 & 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing – the only two-time winner in that category
Recent Articles

BELOW THE BELTWAY COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, and thereafter.)

(For Weingarten clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Gene Weingarten

In just a few days, we will turn the page. It will be quite a dramatic and happy page turning, like when you go from Page 55 to Page 56 in "The Cat in the Hat," where the house has been turned into a disastrous mess by Thing One and Thing Two, but the cat comes back in with a special magic car and cleans everything up in seconds.

I doubt if Donald Trump will see it that way, though. History suggests he will stubbornly try to hold on to his rancid reign in any way possible -- convincing himself, and as much of the public as he can, that he is still president. For example:

He'll spend two hours a day collecting $1 bills, crossing out the signature of the secretary of the treasury, signing his own name with a Sharpie, writing in "President of the United States" and putting them back in circulation.

He'll hire a posse of grim-looking men in short haircuts and dark suits to accompany him everywhere. They will have snaky coiled earpieces and will be instructed to periodically whisper into their lapels.

He'll decorate his master bathroom with presidential seals. That way he will really think he is president for four to five hours a day.

He'll reorganize the Mar-a-Lago staff under new designations. Housekeeping will be the Department of Interior. The guard booth out front will be the Department of Homeland Security. Head of the kitchen will be secretary of steak.

He'll host elaborate dinner parties at which everyone else gets one scoop of ice cream but he gets two.

Three carts in front of his golf cart, three behind, sirens blaring.

He'll get a bunker dug out beneath Mar-a-Lago, and he'll be hurried down there by tight-lipped men in suits every time there's a thunderstorm.

He'll address his staff each morning by shouting at them over the roar of a helicopter positioned behind him.

Everyone must call him "sir," or they are fired. Including Melania.

Whenever he signs anything -- even a monthly check to a utility company -- he holds it up and pivots in 45-degree increments in front of photographers.

He'll engage in a relentless "opposites day" assault on the legitimacy of the Biden presidency. On the same day Biden pardons the turkey, for example, Trump holds a turkey slaughter.

On the first of every year, he declares that he is donating his presidential salary to charity.

To illustrate his continuing presidential commitment to space travel, he'll change the name of Mar-a-Lago to Mars-a-Lago.

For gravitas, and to remain a figure of controversy, he'll add at the end of every tweet: "This claim is disputed."

He'll routinely call in to "Fox & Friends" promising some incendiary, idiot observation (say, a secret top-level disclosure about Area 51) but refuse to say anything -- just heavy breathing -- until they call him "Mr. Current President."

He'll rename the Trump Organization, calling it "The Ultimate Success," so his title can still be POTUS.

(BEG ITAL)Thanks to: Eric Murphy, Stephen Litterst, Francesca Huemer Kelly, Kathleen Delano, Robert Schechter, Steve Strobridge, Jean MacKay Jackson and Tom Logan.(END ITAL)

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten.

(c) 2021, Washington Post Writers Group

BELOW THE BELTWAY COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, and thereafter.)

(For Weingarten clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Gene Weingarten

WASHINGTON -- There's a bit from a comedy routine that I have loved since the first and only time I heard it in 1981, from some stand-up comic whose name I never caught. I am paraphrasing, from memory: "I grew up in the Bronx in a neighborhood where just about everyone was Jewish. Most of my friends' homes included at least one grandparent, and all grandparents spoke with Yiddish accents. So naturally, we all figured that when you got old, you developed a Yiddish accent. I assumed that one day I would tell my grandkids: "Ven I vas young, I vent to Voodstock. It vas so nice, the music. ..." Cracked me up.

I am mentioning this because I heard the routine on the telephone while on hold for a utility company. It stands out in my mind because it was the first and only time I have ever been even slightly entertained by anything I heard while on hold for customer service, anytime, anywhere.

I remembered this the other day, mid-pandemic, trapped at home, using the phone more than before, like most of us. This allowed my brain to revisit my hatred -- and I use that word advisedly but correctly -- of corporate call-answering and caller-triage systems. That's my term; there doesn't seem to be any universally accepted expression for the monstrously impersonal and deceitful way corporations avoid having you talk to real people who cost them money in salary and benefits and toilet breaks, but instead bounce you into an endless loop-de-loop of recorded options that seldom solve your problem, often after compelling you ("for your convenience") to listen to a number of pitches extolling the company and advertising its services, and offering options that have nothing to do with your problem.

I know that impatience with corporate voice systems is a tiresome, hackneyed gripe. But I have spent much of my adult life fulminating over this, my resentment festering, marinating in outrage, surfacing from time to time like bubbles in a septic tank ... and, well, I think I have some fresh insights.

Sure, the tritest gripe is the dishonesty in suggesting that your call is important to them -- a self-annihilating lie when delivered 40 times over a 20-minute hold, or when followed by the gall of having a robot inform you, matter of factly, as though this were perfectly normal, that your estimated wait time is "52 minutes." But that is nothing compared to the most revolting feature, which is the use of the word "momentarily," the ubiquitous go-to adverb allegedly describing when you will be permitted to talk to a living person, and which is always a lie, inasmuch as "momentarily," according to Merriam-Webster, means "at any moment."

Another universal lie is that you should "listen carefully as our menu options have recently changed." If this statement were true, every corporation would have to have an "Options Change Department," with a ginormous staff, whose sole job would be changing options daily. If they actually had a staff large enough to change options as frequently as they claim to, they could just have them talk to customers and eliminate the phone tree entirely.

But perhaps the most insidious lie is that "we are experiencing an unusually high volume of calls," which is (BEG ITAL)always(END ITAL) part of their message, meaning it is by definition not unusual, and is phenomenally annoying. It is as though the fire alarm at your workplace was always blaring. The fact is, the delay is deliberate. They (BEG ITAL)want(END ITAL) you to rot and fume on the phone until you give up and go to their website, which does not demand expensive employee toilet breaks. It's also why the hold music all tends to sound like an all-chimp kazoo band.

I have always wondered why companies are willing to do this; it is not generally considered a smart business strategy to make your customers so furious that if you spit on them, they'll sizzle. They'll just go somewhere else, no? But then I realized the answer is ... no. There is no competitive advantage to making your customers' waiting time any less odious, or make their access to real people any easier, because your competitors are doing the same awful thing you are. Toyota doesn't have to develop a built-in refrigerator in its Corolla, though that might be nice, because as far as they know, Honda isn't working on anything like that for the Civic, either. It's almost like an accepted, reverse-engineered form of price-fixing.

I'm 69, too old for this. Having grown up in the Bronx, I can tell you: (BEG ITAL)Oy gevalt, these companies are driving me meshugeneh.(END ITAL)

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten.

(c) 2021, Washington Post Writers Group

BELOW THE BELTWAY COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, and thereafter.)

(For Weingarten clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Gene Weingarten

WASHINGTON -- One recent morning, my girlfriend, Rachel, alerted me to an alarming development. There was a pretty substantial pool of blood on the dining room floor. Near it was another one. Forensic searching turned up a few more.

"It could be wine or something," I said, reasonably. She wiped some up. It was rust-red and coagulating. Not wine.

"Hm," I said. "Maybe we should check our feet and, you know, orifices." There was nothing obvious. So we summoned the dog. Murphy ambled over, happy to be of service. She seemed fine -- nothing oozing anywhere.

Here is the salient fact: We just shrugged and went on with our lives. This is the time of a deadly plague. A little unexplained blood is no biggie.

Later in the week I had an MRI, to check out a lump under an ear. Also no biggie -- it's benign -- but during the test the operator had to wake me because apparently I was snoring and twitching. I was pretty exhausted from all the anxiety, and the incessant loud BRAP BRAP BONG BLEAT WHOMP klaxon-decibel noise of the MRI had been somehow soothing, drowning out all coherent thought, and I went out like a light. It was the first good sleep I'd had in a while, even if it only lasted a minute or so. I will always cherish it.

Then, as I drove home, I phoned my daughter. And that's when I realized Something Was Seriously Wrong.

The world seemed fuzzy. I wasn't hearing her clearly. I figured I was having a stroke or a burst aneurysm or something, and told her I'd call her back. I didn't want to alarm her but figured I needed to pull over to the side of the road to avoid killing other drivers or pedestrians, even if I myself was doomed. I'm just that kind of good citizen. That's when I discovered that the reason I was having trouble hearing was that my ears were still clogged with those yellow foam things they stick in there so the MRI doesn't deafen you.

Then, a few days later came the truly hellish event. During the pandemic, like a lot of people, I found reason to do things to create new experiences, to relieve the tedium of being locked in. A few months ago, for example, I bought a bidet. It was a success. Much inner peace can be attained from warm water on your butt. Well, during this bad week I decided to buy a straight razor, the cutthroat type last in common use in roughly 1890, wielded mostly by barbers with lush, fancy mustaches. I had once learned to use a straight razor, years ago, and figured it would come back to me. Muscle memory and everything.

Like so many deliveries during the pandemic, the razor arrived at my house late at night. And that is why it was 2 in the morning when I decided, hey, this might be a good time to try it out! Sure, it was pretty dark, and I was still a little groggy from a fitful sleep, but during the pandemic, time means nothing anymore. Day is night. Night is day. The calendar is meaningless. So I shaved at 2 in the morning then returned to bed. It went swell, or so I thought until Rachel woke me up and informed me that my face was criss-crossed by gashes, and bleeding profusely all over the bed and her. My second blood-themed event in five days.

So that was what my week was like. How was yours?

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten.

(c) 2021, Washington Post Writers Group

About
I am old and cranky. I write "Below the Beltway," a weekly humor column that is nationally syndicated. With my son Dan and David Clarke, I write the daily newspaper comic strip Barney & Clyde, about a friendship between a billionaire and a bum. I am working on a book about the events of Sunday, December 28, 1986, a date chosen at random by picking numbers out of a hat. Yes, it's an insane idea, and yes, I can use all the tips I can get.

Best of Gene

Chatological Humor chat

On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything.

Although this chat is sometimes updated between live shows, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many people keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.

12.28.86: One day

I chose the date at random, by drawing numbers out of a hat. I'm going to spend the next two years researching that date, and only that date, in America, and then present it in a wide-angle, panoramic fashion. I'd like your help. Many events leave a trail in the media or the public record, and I'm already following up on many of those. I know, for example, that hardboiled mystery writer John D. MacDonald died on that day, and the Jets beat the Chiefs. "Walk Like an Egyptian" topped the pop charts. And so forth. The public record is voluminous. But fame tends to be transient and shallow, casting what seems to be an arbitrary spotlight; there is also power in things that never get into the public eye -- stories of drama and consequence can be found in the lives of ordinary people. Sometimes, small things happen that will go unnoticed or unrecorded, but will prove pivotal to monumental events that follow. I want to find these things by tapping your memories, and/or testing your research skills. The book will be highly selective, but my Facebook page won't be; we hope it develops an engaging narrative of its own. If you think you have a story to tell, we'll look at it here. Or you can email me in complete privacy at oneday12.28.86@gmail.com. These could be anecdotes from your life or the lives of others you know. Nothing is too trivial, though it will be edited for quality and appropriateness. Are you a good enough storyteller to make yours interesting? Or, are you a researcher at heart? Talk to me. I'd be grateful for all sorts of promising leads. No money will change hands, I'm afraid, but I'll introduce you to all my swanky, bon vivant friends, as soon as I get some. What's in it for you? People who proved helpful will be acknowledged in the book. If you're really helpful, you and I could be working together in person. And, of course, if your own life finds its way into the book, hey, you'll be a superstar.
Books
  • I’m With Stupid
  • The Hypochondriac’s Guide to Life. And Death
  • Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs
  • The Fiddler in the Subway
  • Me & Dog
Awards
  • 2008 & 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing – the only two-time winner in that category
Reviews
"Gene Weingarten is outrageously funny. I mean that literally: He is guaranteed to outrage some readers. But the smart ones will absolutely love him." – Dave Barry
Links