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 July 5, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Weingarten clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Gene Weingarten

EDITOR'S NOTE: Gene Weingarten is away. This column originally appeared on Nov. 15, 2009.

WASHINGTON -- Editors know that when I send in a column, they have to leap on it like it was a grenade in a foxhole and they're bucking for a posthumous Medal of Honor. If they don't do that, they know I'm going to send them an improved version just a few minutes later, and that others will follow. To them, my tendency to reedit myself is a completely inappropriate habit, like a peignoir on a nun.

Editors know that when I send in a column, I'm going to want to rewrite it almost immediately. I become an agent of change, but a really annoying one, like President Obama if he talked like Fran Drescher.

Editors know that when I send in a column, I'm going to want to rewrite it almost immediately. I become an instrument of change, but a highly irritating one, like one of those stamp vending machines at the post office that will break a $20 bill but give back only nickels.

Editors know that when I send in a column on deadline, I'm going to rewrite it almost immediately, because they know that I know their deadlines are a lie. A newspaper deadline is exactly like the speed limit: You know it's phony, but you also know there is a real limit, and because no one discloses that limit, you have to guess. This becomes an elaborate game of chicken, except your opponent is not some pimply teenager in a car but a seasoned, professional editor, by which I mean the snotty know-it-all from eighth grade who hunched protectively over her exam paper as though it was a priceless palimpsest with directions to the Ark of the Covenant.

Editors know that when I send in a column, I'm going to rewrite it again and again in violation of their bogus "deadline," which is hiding a real deadline known only to the editor. This is exactly like the real highway speed limit. Unfortunately, in both cases, you have to hazard a guess, and in both cases the penalty for guessing wrong is bad. In my case, I wind up getting a tut-tutting lecture about how it's too late to catch any of my factual errors or imprecise language, and that, unfortunately, the column is going to clearly imply that Sri Lanka is "a species of frog."

Editors are frogs. If you throw them into a pot of boiling water, they will leap out and lecture you, promulgating all sorts of obnoxious, creativity-stifling rules about obedience to deadlines. But if you write a column on supposed deadline, and then gradually make changes over a long period of time, they will not notice what is happening to them, and will slowly boil to death, at which point, dipped in a tangy mustard sauce and garnished with parsley, they are actually quite tasty.

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) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

BELOW THE BELTWAY COLUMN

(Advance for June 28, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Weingarten clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Gene Weingarten

WASHINGTON -- Newspaper editors know that something both dreadful and touching happens in the days and weeks following a national tragedy: Even though readers are aware we don't print poetry, they still send their work in -- earnest but mostly inept efforts at literature. Poetry is hard to do even if you are a master of it. It took T.S. Eliot a year and a half to write "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," which is a rate of roughly two words a day.

I last looked at reader-submitted poems after 9/11 and wrote about them -- their technical awfulness, their cliched, saccharine sentimentality -- but ultimately about my lump-in-the-throat reaction to them. There is something deeply reassuring that when many people are moved or scared or grieving, their intuitive impulse is not to shout or rant, but to harness their feelings of compassion and hope in a form of expression older than Homer, a form originally designed for timelessness, to last through generations, even among the illiterate. Poetry -- which prompts you with rhymes -- is far easier to memorize than prose, so even illiterates could hear it and pass it along.

I dipped into the Post mail again earlier this month.

Those readers who attempted rhyme were stymied by their own tin ears (no, "coughing" does not rhyme with "sobbing") as well as the peculiar rhyme-defying lexicon of the day: pandemic, hydroxychloroquine, misery, dictator, social distancing, etc. Those who went for blank verse seemed to think that anything, however banal,

is automatically

a poem if it's in lowercase and

the lines

have random

spacing and raggedy

ends.

And again, every single one of these poems moved me. All were rejected, but you can have this instead.

We're all wearing masks, again and again

We look just like a nation of holdup men.

The White House harbors a would-be dictator

He's half ignoramus (the other half hater).

Too many people have died or are dying

Words from our leader are bloated and lying.

Not even a president (nor a king nor a queen)

Should ever be pimping hydroxychloroquine.

Where compassion is called for, cruelties rule.

We're out of work, our kids out of school.

And then, in the thrall of a heartless pandemic?

More confirmation of a breakdown systemic.

Black people perishing -- killed by police

Under the guise of protecting the peace.

One victim dies while taking a knee

An irony lost on no one but he

Who has found it convenient to further divide us

To rant and to sputter and not stand beside us.

And so in the midst of this country-wide misery

He just fans the flame on the Devil's rotisserie.

Which leads to mass rallies to show our disgust

Ignoring our safety, to protest the unjust --

We know in our hearts that the plague is still there.

And we say with our presence we no longer care.

We're out in the thousands, defying the brass.

Defying the truncheons, the bullets, the gas.

Masks have come off, and in our resistance-ing

We shout in close quarters, ignore social distancing.

It's reckless, incautious, unwise and un-smart

And wonderful, bracing and noble of heart.

And maybe, just maybe, that's at the core of this.

Telling the bastards we won't take any more of this.

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) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

BELOW THE BELTWAY COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, June 21, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Weingarten clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Gene Weingarten

WASHINGTON -- If you are like me, you are getting tired of reading about the pathetic, desperate measures people are taking to inject some brand-new experiences into their lives so they can avoid going stir-crazy from boredom at home. I was thinking about that the other day as I pulled down my pants and lowered myself onto my new bidet.

For those of you unfamiliar with bidets - they are still relatively uncommon in the United States -- I will give you a brief scientific tutorial: Bidets wash your tushy and, if you happen to have one, your ladypart. Then they blow you dry. They are for use after conventional toilet activities.

Some bidets are free-standing appliances that you straddle; hence the name, which means "little horse" in French. My bidet is of a newer type that replaces your toilet seat. It is technologically advanced. The water that jets out at you is warmed, as is the seat itself. Using a remote, you can control the strength and direction of the water stream with the precision of an angular-distance collimator on an artillery gun. The remote is exactly like a TV remote except no one will ever fight you for control of it. Also, unlike the TV remote, this has one button that is marked "front" and the other marked "rear."

This thing has definitely made sheltering in place far more interesting than, say, doing jigsaw puzzles featuring photos of gazebos.

Bidets are popular in Japan, Korea and many Islamic countries - in some places, they are literally required by law, which is something I would not advise in the United States, where posses of lunatics will gather with assault weapons to protest (BEG ITAL)anything(END ITAL) that is required by law, including the use of masks for saving lives. Can you imagine the anti-bidet protests? (Placard: "Corncobs Were Good Enough For Jesus")

For some reason, bidets are not that popular in English-speaking countries; theories abound as to why, but the consensus seems to be that the descendants of the Anglo-Saxons are more likely to resist things they perceive as "icky" than members of other cultures are, which is why, for example, the term "delicacy" exists. "Delicacy" basically means "something the English and Americans won't eat." The French, for example, will eat veal pancreas, calf's brains, sheep testicles and blood.

Not surprisingly, bidets are particularly popular in France, where they are believed to have originated. There is an 18th-century painting of a French aristocrat using a hand-operated bidet; she wears ornate clothing, one of those Marie Antoinette up-dos the height and shape of Julia Child's famous croquembouche ... and an expression on her face that is somewhere between sexual release and the work product of a skilled mortician going for that eternal look of inner peace.

And that brings us to the key question, the one I have been avoiding: What does using this thing feel like?

And, for journalistic reasons, I have to go there: Bidets dramatically reduce your consumption of toilet paper, so, because of shortages during the plague, the technology is said to be slowly spreading to the United States. It is my duty to describe the experience so you can make an informed decision. I will do it discreetly, by example.

Imagine that you buy a car, a really nice one. And you bring it home to show your obnoxious neighbor, Wally, who is always one-upping you, such as when you got a new refrigerator with a water dispenser in the door, and then he showed you (BEG ITAL)his(END ITAL) new refrigerator with an ice-cream maker. So anyway, you show him your spiffy new car, with state-of-the-art navigation, a Bose F1 subwoofer and a built-in vacuum cleaner. And Wally looks at the car, and looks at you, sniffs, and says:

"I have a new bidet. It caresses my butt lovingly, as though by a thousand adoring angels, bringing me peace of mind and a spotless, peerless behind."

And you would have to punch him. Because that is what it is like. True fact: The third time I used it, while it was operating, I blissed out and fell asleep. (Don't try that in your new car.)

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) 2020, 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