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
Books by Gene Weingarten:  

I’m With Stupid

Buy it from Amazon

The Hypochondriac’s Guide to Life. And Death

Buy it from Amazon

Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs

Buy it from Amazon

The Fiddler in the Subway

Buy it from Amazon

Me & Dog

Buy it from Amazon
Recent Articles

BELOW THE BELTWAY COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Weingarten clients only)

By GENE WEINGARTEN

WASHINGTON -- For the past five years, I have been researching and writing a book. It is almost finished, and now it is time for me and my publisher to agree on a title. It has not gone smoothly.

The book is about a single day in American history, a date chosen at random by drawing numbers out of a hat. My thesis is that there is no such thing as an "ordinary" day. That if you dig deeply enough into the events of any random 24 hours, you will find a cornucopia of drama, humor, etc. -- what we hacks like to call "the human condition." I always planned that the book would be titled "One Day," with a photo of the three slips of paper drawn from the hat: "December," "28th" and "1986." Period. End of cover concept. A veritable pearl of concision.

Alas, that is apparently not how things are done anymore. Publishers believe that in this era of Search Engine Optimization, books must have subtitles, whether superfluous or not, and the more wordy the better.

This was not my first such experience with this phenomenon. Years ago, I wrote a book about old dogs. The title was to be "Old Dogs," inasmuch as that is what the book was about. It was complicated. It was about love and loyalty and death. On the cover would be a photo of an old dog, cementing the theme elegantly. But the publisher insisted on a subtitle. The cover came out thus: "OLD DOGS: Are the best dogs." Every time I see it, I cringe a bit. It seems vapidly upbeat, as though it is missing a jaunty thumbs-up and a "by golly!" at the end.

Anyway, my current publisher and I are in good-natured negotiations on the title of this new book. But the experience has left me wondering what old book covers would have been like in the new era.

Book: Webster's Dictionary. Subtitle: Orgasms! Greed! Puppies! Mushrooms, oubliettes, mitochondria, torture and kale!

Book: "A Brief History of Time," by Stephen Hawking. Subtitle: Don't even try. Just put it on your bookshelf to feel smart.

Book: "The Scarlet Pimpernel," by Baroness Orczy. Subtitle: No, you idiot, it's not pumpernickel. It's a foofy red smelly flower with spatulate petals. But there are beheadings, so it's cool.

Book: "Finnegans Wake," by James Joyce. Subtitle: Blort fafoomby blatto blit gazool.

Book: "The Canterbury Tales," by Geoffrey Chaucer. Subtitle: As long ago as 1388, people farted.

Book: "The Exorcist," by William Peter Blatty. Subtitle: You'll never see this twist coming.

Book: "Dick and Jane," the children's reader series. Subtitle: Dick. Jane. Run. Jump. (Hey, give us a break. The book only HAS about 40 different words in it.)

Book: "Portnoy's Complaint," by Philip Roth. Subtitle: Exciting new recipes for liver.

Book: "The Firm," by John Grisham. Subtitle: A plucky lawyer takes on a corrupt system.

Book: "The Client," by John Grisham. Subtitle: A plucky lawyer takes on a corrupt system.

Book: "The Rainmaker," by John Grisham. Subtitle: A plucky lawyer takes on a corrupt system.

Book: "Uncle John's Bathroom Reader." Subtitle: I hope you're sitting down for this.

Book: "The Three Musketeers," by Alexandre Dumas. Subtitle: Now with a bonus fourth musketeer!

Book: "One Day -- 12/28/1986," by Gene Weingarten. Subtitle: Only 362 shopping days until next Christmas.

(BEG ITAL)Thanks for the help: Phil Frankenfeld, Rob Cohen, Valerie Holt, Dave Zarrow, Mark Mironer, Claire Keeler and Brendan Beary.(END ITAL)

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at www.washingtonpost.com.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

BELOW THE BELTWAY COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Weingarten clients only)

By GENE WEINGARTEN

WASHINGTON -- We now present a few more "pokes,"

Poems wrought from stand-up jokes.

Today's assortment are all loaners

(Each is old ... and all are groaners.)

--0-- --0-- --0--

(BEG BOLD)A Dirty Tale(END BOLD)

Chicanery I have detected

And it's just as I suspected:

My neighbor has been adding loam

To the garden at my home

In short, my pulse, it races, quickens.

For, you see, the plot -- it thickens!

--0-- --0-- --0--

(BEG BOLD)Bank Shot(END BOLD)

A teller at a bank was cross

With her clients, with her boss --

Mostly, though, she got real peeved

And was grumpy, and aggrieved

By the oldsters' loud demands

With balled-up fists and shaky hands.

"Check my balance!" yelled one boor

(So she tipped him to the floor.)

--0-- --0-- --0--

(BEG BOLD)In the Pink(END BOLD)

"Stop behaving like a flamingo!"

Said my wife (in salty lingo).

I took this as a major put-down ...

So I had to put my foot down.

--0-- --0-- --0--

(BEG BOLD)Philosophy 101(END BOLD)

If you look at things real close

(You might give it a try ... )

Every mirror in the world

Looks just like a giant eye.

--0-- --0-- --0--

(BEG BOLD)A Child's Garden of Versus(END BOLD)

"You're immature!" declared my wife

(She is the nagging sort.)

Indignantly, I ordered her

To leave my pillow fort.

--0-- --0-- --0--

(BEG BOLD)Rhymes With Orange(END BOLD)

What is orange and sounds like a parrot?

"A carrot."

--0-- --0-- --0--

(BEG BOLD)Hear, Hear(END BOLD)

Oft upon me thoughts are dawning

This one came in last night's dream:

When the deaf see someone yawning

Do they think that it's a scream?

--0-- --0-- --0--

(BEG BOLD)The Kiss, Version One(END BOLD)

My wife asked for lipstick, but I screwed things up

What happened to her is most shocking to me --

I mistakenly gave her a glue stick instead.

And she still isn't talking to me.

--0-- --0-- --0--

(BEG BOLD)The Kiss, Version Two(END BOLD)

My wife asked for lipstick, but I screwed things up

To her mercy I soon appealed

I mistakenly gave her a glue stick instead.

(Thank heavens that her lips are sealed.)

--0-- --0-- --0--

(BEG ITAL)A special thanks to Pun.me for the extra special lame jokes!(END ITAL)

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at www.washingtonpost.com.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

BELOW THE BELTWAY COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Weingarten clients only)

By GENE WEINGARTEN

WASHINGTON -- How (BEG STRIKETHRU)are you?(END STRIKETHRU) dumb is Gmail's new Smart Compose feature? Have you been (BEG STRIKETHRU)on vacation(END STRIKETHRU) ambushed by it, as I have? Do you find it as h(BEG STRIKETHRU)elpful(END STRIKETHRU)ugely annoying as I do?

Smart Compose is an alleged labor-saving device that reads your emails (BEG STRIKETHRU)and imports them into Excel(END STRIKETHRU) as you type them and offers suggestions for what your next words might be. To accept it, hit tab. To ignore it, just keep on typing. The whole thing gets mad(BEG STRIKETHRU)props(END STRIKETHRU)dening.

The top of this column is pretty much what the experience is like. It's dreadful, in part because it is anathema to the creative process, prompting you to (BEG STRIKETHRU)never travel to Tijuana(END STRIKETHRU) write glib, mindless cliches. For another, it is very, very (BEG STRIKETHRU)exciting(END STRIKETHRU) distracting. It turns writing into an obstacle course. It is like trying to recite the Rubaiyat in the original Farsi while getting licked in the face by a rhinoceros. So I have turned it off.

Why is this happening? Smart Compose is a primitive form of artificial intelligence, and inasmuch as AI is the wave of the future, Google is proud of it -- even if, at its current level of sophistication, it is as useless as the "b" in "dumb." I cannot imagine anyone liking this feature, though I am sure I will get correspondence attesting to its wonderfulness. The emails will be written in idiot, tab-tab-tab Smart Compose cliche. ("How are you? I am fine. Your article was bad. I love Smart Compose and use it all the time. Have a great weekend!")

"Have a great weekend!" is actually part of the built-in litany of Smart Compose's suggestions; the prompt for that chirpy sign-off kicks in automatically if you happen to be writing on a Friday. (I would never tell anyone to "have a great weekend," or to "have a nice day"; these lines fail what I call the test-tube test: They're transparently hollow.)

Smart Compose is intended to supplement a prior Gmail idiocy, Smart Reply, which reads your incoming email and suggests bubbly responses, including: "Love it!" or "Sounds good!" or "Count me in!" (In Smart Reply, exclamation points rule. No utterance is so banal it takes a mere period.) I recently got an email from a close friend describing his teenage daughter's battle with a debilitating illness. I hit "reply," intending to express my concern and sympathy in as heartfelt a manner as my inadequate writing skills would allow. The first response that Smart Reply suggested was: "Awesome!"

This stupid, cutting-edge-of-technology phenomenon is nothing new. It's part of the history of civilization. Whenever science makes a leap forward, entrepreneurs immediately over-apply it.

Remember the brief, ridiculous life of the electric steak knife? This product was occasioned by the commercial success of electric razors and electric toothbrushes and the like. The electric knife featured a moving saw blade. It sold briskly, briefly, until it became apparent that (1) it was ridiculously unnecessary, since meat is quite easy to cut, and (2) it actually made the slicing process a little ... scary.

Likewise, the single-edge razor blade was followed by the marginally better Trac II, which was followed by the giggly-silly Mach3, then the comic-overkill Quattro, and finally the Fusion5, five-blade razors with heads the size of a mature hamster. Watch for the OctoSlice any day now.

In the mid-1800s, clockmakers in America were making great strides in alarm-clock technology, which led to a pathetic effort to extend the technology a bit further. A New York inventor reasoned that if you woke people at, say, 6 a.m., you ought to also feature an "illuminated dial," so you could read what time it was in the dark! The boys in the workshop got right on it.

The mechanical illuminated dial featured a sleeve at the top of the clock into which you would insert an unlit kitchen match. When the alarm went off, the sleeve would whip around 180 degrees, striking the head of the match against a sandpaper surface. The match would ignite. Voila! An illuminated dial! Alas, it turned out the centrifugal force unleashed by this contraption sometimes flung the lighted match out of its sleeve and onto the bedclothes.

In the words of Smart Compose, the vaunted Illuminated Dial went up in (BEG STRIKETHRU)pants size(END STRIKETHRU) flames.

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at www.washingtonpost.com.

(c) 2018, The 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