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, June 13, 2021, and thereafter.)

(For Weingarten clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Gene Weingarten

WASHINGTON -- When they are cooked, the color comes out and they look like cockroaches, the really icky ones with greasy, striped black bodies, the kind that infest kitchens and ooze their abdomen goo over food; but, when boiled and sauteed in butter and lemon and garlic and a dash of white wine, they taste like the larger legs of soft-shell crabs. Succulent and crunchy. They satisfy, particularly when accompanied by Dom Pérignon, vintage 2010, a very good year.

Let's get that out of the way right at the start. Cicadas are not just edible, they are delicious, after you murder them.

As soon as the stories started coming out -- reminding us that the Brood X cicada was going to descend on us like locusts upon the pharaoh, a punishing wave of filth with diaphanous but horrifying dragon-like stunted wings -- I decided I had to eat them, for two reasons. The first is that I have a weekly deadline on a column. The second is that I am infamous for being unsqueamish in dining. I once ate the raw tail of a live lobster while the head watched me, distressed and disapproving. So.

So my biggest problem turned out not to be eating the cicadas but finding them. I live in downtown Washington, D.C., and as I write this, the predicted swarm of oily little monsters has not materialized here. I spent a day searching for them, with dismal results: I found a few vacated exoskeletons, which resemble something a dog coughs up. Eventually I discovered cicadas were basically a suburban event, and that's when I found Molly. Molly Quigley is a friend of mine. She is a PR person for the stately D.C. restaurant the Old Ebbitt Grill, and I wondered if she might get a chef there to cook me some cicadas. This request did not go well; apparently it would be like asking Auguste Escoffier to whip up some mac and cheese. But Molly turned out to be a great food source.

Mol lives in Washington, but only remotely, in a far-flung area that contains trees, bushes and cicadas. "I have hundreds," she said, and she wasn't bragging. Her dog, an exuberant 7-month-old Lab named Ruthie, brings them into the house and deposits them on the floor still alive. Ruthie eats grass, shoes, reading glasses, baseball gloves, human hair and her own feces, but she won't actually eat the cicadas, which seem to revolt her. (Ruthie has a lace collar because she was named after Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a fact I mention only because it involves impeccable judgment.)

Anyway, Molly and I harvested 24 live cicadas from her backyard. I carried them home in a box, then made them quiescent in the freezer for an hour, and then boiled them semi-alive for two minutes. Plucked off their wings, sauteed them for two more minutes and poured the Dom Pérignon.

I am not a religious person, but my girlfriend, Rachel, is a practicing Episcopalian, and I asked her to say grace. This is, verbatim, what she said: "Lord, thank you for providing us with this food of disgusting little creatures who lived as slugs underground for 17 years in the pathetic hope they could have sex with each other once and then die. We hope this turns out to be the most humane way to kill them, and their sacrifice shall not have been in vain, just as you gave your body ... "

"THANK YOU, RACHEL," I blurted.

" ... AND that you are big and munificent enough to have a sense of humor about such things," she said, glowering.

We chowed down, a little buoyed by a news report that some cicadas have a fungus that makes the bugs sex-crazed "flying salt shakers of death." We got no hint of that, alas. They were great, but we're not sure our judgment is sound. We held off the last cicada for our cat, Sherman Bodner. Gave it to him with his dinner. He ate everything but the bug.

- - -

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

BELOW THE BELTWAY COLUMN

Advance for Sunday, June 6, 2021, and thereafter

(For Weingarten clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Gene Weingarten

WASHINGTON -- I recently stayed in New York City on a skinny island in the middle of the East River, not far from the old New York City Lunatic Asylum, which is what that institution was called in the 1840s back when you could call people lunatics. (A lot of things were OK then that are not OK now. Places had names like the Home for Wayward and Debauched Young Ladies and Hopeless Inebriates.) Today the island is called Roosevelt Island, and there are no more lunatics, though there is some degree of lunacy, especially in the waning days of the pandemic.

This is extremely desirable real estate, loomed over by an enormous, handsome bridge, the 59th Street Bridge, aka the Queensboro Bridge, aka the Ed Koch Bridge, but best known as the Feelin' Groovy Bridge, and the only thing wrong with this whole setup is that (BEG ITAL)you cannot drive onto the island from the bridge(END ITAL). You can only drive (BEG ITAL)over(END ITAL) the island on the bridge. If you are in Manhattan and want to get to Roosevelt Island, you have to go miles out of your way to Queens first, then approach the island from a different bridge. It is this giant tease, as though someone built Carnegie Hall but forgot to put doors on it.

Rachel and I were dog-sitting for Chris and Andrea, Rachel's brother and sister-in-law. I will not embarrass them by speculating what their rent is, though it is probably about $275,000 a month plus utilities. It is a very attractive apartment except for the rusted old car on cinder blocks in the hallway outside the bathroom. It is actually a washer-dryer, the front panel of which has been removed, exposing the innards. That's because it would be tedious to remove the panel after every use to tinker with the faulty mechanism. In front of it is a large, bulbous rubber "ear syringe." It is designed to flush wax out of your ear, but in this case is repurposed to drain excess water out of the dryer so it doesn't just sit there and stink. When the machine is operating, it emits a penetrating whine, like a dentist's drill.

The tenants only briefly complained about this and then shut up because this is New York and -- I want to emphasize this -- they scored a place on Roosevelt Island! With a washer-dryer! Like everyone else here, they are just happy to be alive.

All in all, it was a strange visit. Toward the end of a yearlong pandemic, New York seemed ... wrong. I am not naive about these things -- New York was the city of my birth and early adulthood, and years ago I learned that Thomas Wolfe was right when he said that you can't go home again. That's because reality battles with memory and kicks the crap out of it. When I went to visit the house I lived in from birth to 3 years old, I looked forward to rediscovering the front steps, which I remember with awe as a balustraded white staircase like the one Shirley Temple danced down with Bojangles Robinson, a curving colossus of Himalayan proportions that I had to crawl up. It turned out to be four shallow steps high, a total ascent of 14 inches.

But this visit was (BEG ITAL)really(END ITAL) strange. It seemed paranormal. Even the wildlife seemed to know something was awry. On Roosevelt Island is a famed cat sanctuary, erected by cat lovers many years ago. It once housed many strays, but these days they seem to be gone. It is filled with very irate and irritated geese. Where'd the cats go? Unclear. How'd the geese get there? Who knows? Did the geese eat the cats? Just my speculation. But the honkers are in charge and told us, loudly, to get the hell out of there, and we did.

The strangest thing happened at a Midtown restaurant, where we were dining in a row of those hastily constructed cute, cozy street sheds with chairs and tables, carpentered early in the pandemic to give diners at the least the faint illusion of safety. I asked our waiter what his favorite pandemic story is. He said there was a lot to choose from, and it took him nearly an hour, sifting the bizarre from the truly bizarre, before he came up with the winner.

There was some sort of explosion in the building across the street, he said, which the diners took in stride -- this is the season of the Black Death, after all -- until the rats started scrambling for their lives. They emerged from the building and thudded down the streets, many dozens of them, huge and scared, descending on the cute, cozy, (BEG ITAL)safe(END ITAL) dining sheds. They swarmed under and (BEG ITAL)into(END ITAL) the sheds. Some people tried to lock the beasts out as they scrabbled at the door. Other people fled screaming into the streets, where more rats -- freaked out and moving fast -- swarmed at their ankles. Some of the rats stayed for days, seeking shelter in the sheds. "One still lives in the first shed," the waiter said. "We leave her alone. Her name is Sally."

We think he was kidding about that last thing but weren't sure. Anything seemed possible.

- - -

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

BELOW THE BELTWAY COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, May 30, 2021, and thereafter

(For Weingarten clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Gene Weingarten

WASHINGTON -- Do you read my columns? They are hilarious, laugh-a-minute journeys into the heart of mirth. They are rollicking riots of rib-tickling jocularity, side-splitting expeditions into the ironic arts. They are witty and waggish and wildly amusing. They generate guffaws and giggles and snorts and chortles and cachinnations, whatever they are, and provoke pee-in-the-pants incontinence. They are bust-a-gut funny -- risible, jocose, whimsical, piquant and droll.

That should do it. If things go right, I will soon be declared the funniest writer in America, and it will be an established scientific fact. It will be based on (BEG ITAL)data(END ITAL).

I am looking at a breathless press release from a British company called OnBuy.com, which claims to have empirically determined, and ranked, the funniest movies ever made. The company has done this through a process it developed and seems to believe is beyond challenge: It sifted through user reviews on the movie-rating website IMDb, film by film, compiling the number of times the reviews contained words that meant "funny." That's it. That's the Method. The company is proud of it, and is hyping it: Apparently, all you have to do is mine the internet for synonyms of any desired attribute, then you match them for any person or product, count 'em up and, blammo, you are global experts in quality.

Through this mathematical paradigm, OnBuy declared that the funniest movie ever made was "Superbad," the 2007 coming-of-age epic starring Michael Cera and Jonah Hill.

Full transparency: OnBuy has represented itself as the European competitor to Amazon, which in turn owns IMDb. Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos, the richest man on Earth, who also owns The Washington Post, which employs me. If he wanted to, Mr. Bezos could fire me at any moment and probably see to it that I could never find employment anywhere again except in one of his warehouses as a toilet-seat technician. Conversely, should he have reason to be pleased with my work, Mr. Bezos could reward me with a half-scale replica of the Chartres Cathedral built entirely of 17th-century solid gold doubloons. But I am not going to let this influence me. I am going to deal only in facts, such as the true historical detail -- this is part of "Superbad's" official backstory -- that the screenplay was created by two horny 13-year-old boys. I agree that "Superbad" is a timeless classic, a profound cinematic allegory about how war is a direct, compensatory consequence of middle-aged male sexual insecurity in conflict with overweening lust; we are left to ponder the Freudian question of how an allegedly omnipotent and benevolent deity could plague humanity with such a calamitous collision of id and superego.

Oh, wait. That was "Dr. Strangelove." My bad. "Dr. Strangelove," alas, did not make it onto OnBuy's top 20 list. "Superbad" is about three foul-mouthed adolescent males who are ineptly trying to get illegally drunk and bonk girls. Spoiler alert: Menstruation!

How did the movie get its high rating? I did some research of my own. The average age of the IMDb reviewers of "Superbad" seems to be roughly "12" and the average gender seems to be roughly "boy." Statistically, the most frequent adjective in these reviews is "awesome." Here is one direct quote: "AHHHHHHH!!!!!!! THIS MOOVIE IS GOOD SORRY IM IN CAPS LOCK I YHAVE A VIRUS WHERE ITZ STUCK." Here is another: "The movie was awesome and I give it that [but] i really didn't like Jonah hill and Michael Cera in the movie. To me they could have choose someone better then them but they were on each other's nuts and I didn't like how they treated their friend who was more cool then them." And another: "hilarious every time I watch it I dye of laghter very funny movie." And finally: "This movie is beyond eBic because in the movie they half alchol i think and alchol is very eBic."

My point is: Funniest movie of all time, established scientifically. This rating system is so good, and it is being pushed so hard by OnBuy, that it is bound to expand into other venues, which is where my plan comes in. I am going to seed my own work in online forums all over, just waiting for people who rank writers, trawling the web, to find and tally synonyms. For example, I just submitted this one on IMDb's "Superbad" page, where it will sit forever, plump for picking:

"Good movie but not as mirthful as Gene Weingarten's latest book, which is funny, funny, funny, funny, funny, funny, funny, and hilarious, and causes cachinnations. (Cachinnations, I have discovered, are high-pitched laughs inappropriately blurted by the mentally ill, like the Joker in "Joker," which was also a good movie, but not as funny as Gene Weingarten's latest book, which was totally LOL, ROFL, LMAO and also six of those laughing-crying emoticons.)"

- - -

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

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