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, Oct. 25, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Hax clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Gene Weingarten

(BEG ITAL)Gene will return next week. This column originally was published in 2015.(END ITAL)

WASHINGTON -- Here's a simple quiz to determine your age:

Before the Internet, in the era of the typewriter, was there an @ key, and, if so, how was it used?

Wrong, you smug millennials. There was an @ key. It meant "at the per-piece price of," as in "24 thimbles @ $l.49."

Yes, typewriter manufacturers -- who were parsimonious in distributing keys -- actually felt we couldn't do without "at the per-piece price of." They also had a cent key (we were evidently a nation of shopkeepers), but they saw no need for an exclamation point! Yelling was rude. If you wanted an exclamation point, the typewriter shamed you: You had to build it by using an apostrophe, then backspacing and adding a period. (This is all true.) Also, there was no number 1. Instead, you used a lowercase L, and if this sounds ridiculous to you whippersnappers, go back to the last paragraph and look at that thimble price that you read right over. We were danged resourceful in my day.

My main point is that the evolution of the @ key from mercantile minutiae to one of the mightiest spots on the keyboard has been the second-greatest repurposing in human history, right after Pfizer flipping a blood-pressure medicine into Viagra.

This all got me thinking about other little-used keyboard destinations that can be creatively repurposed. My first stop was an obvious one, the ~. The tilde imparts the "ya" sound to n's in Spanish-origin words but otherwise seems little-used.

It could, of course, be cute shorthand for the name Tilda. Alas, the Social Security database reveals that the last time Tilda was in the top 1,000 most popular girl names (975) was the year an iceberg took down the Titanic.

More practical: Triple it, and it becomes an implied taunt -- nyah, nyah, nyah -- that would seem unprofessional if spelled out. "Meanwhile, polls showed Mr. Trump's constituency consists almost exclusively of persons who believe all undocumented immigrants and war heroes are rapists." ~~~ (Alternately, ~~~ could be the even less sophisticated rendering of LOL, as in nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.)

Or it could substitute for the hyphen in married names, used as a qualifier, when we kinda think the marriage is not quite entirely right, such as Katie Holmes~Cruise or Kelly Preston~Travolta. Or it could mean "I am seasick and need to throw up."

Other keys repurposed:

# becomes "Are you up for a game of tic-tac-toe?"

* is a very impolite repurposing, calling someone an undignified body part.

$ subtly makes fun of someone who lisps, as in "I loved Jodie Fo$ter in '$ilence of the Lamb$.' "

` (which appears to be, for some reason, a French accent grave) could be used to indicate that what is written is being said with an obnoxiously grave and sonorous intonation, as in `Gentlemen will not be seated without a coat and tie.`

The formulation {} means "brace yourself" and is used as a warning for what follows. As in: {} Sir, me and your daughter have something we need to discuss with you.

The Fn key would be used to indicate that something was fun but was over too soon.

But maybe the very best repurposing should be to use the tilde for something that satirists have long said is needed in our largely humor-impaired country: a warning that what is about to be said is sarcastic and should not be taken literally.

~ This is the most brilliant column I've ever written.

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, Oct, 18, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Weingarten clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Gene Weingarten

WASHINGTON -- I went to the doctor the other day. This would not ordinarily be news, but because of the pandemic, it is. For six months, like many people, I've been practicing home medical care. It has not gone well.

For one thing, my technical knowledge is limited to the research I did for a fraudulent humorous quack medical book I wrote 20 years ago. How disreputable and ignorant was it? For proper optical hygiene, for example, I suggested vigorously scouring your eyeballs with a toothbrush.

Anyway, the following conversation occurred in my house:

Me: Can you check the heel of my right foot?

Rachel: Whoa. That's definitely something.

Me: "Definitely something" is your official diagnosis?

Rachel: It might be a carbuncle. I think if you can get it out with scissors, it's probably a bleb. I am the only person in this house who can see the bottom of your foot, other than the dog, so I am the resident expert.

Me: You have no idea what you are talking about.

Rachel: No, but I think we could apply homespun remedies that have been used by ignorant idiots for millennia. We could bury a potato under a harvest moon, and see if that works out. We could also apply a poultice of whatever is around.

We looked around. Mostly, we found mustard and peanut butter and rainbow sprinkles. We don't shop that much anymore. I did buy epsom salts, because I heard it was good for feet, but when I read the label I learned it is mostly used as a laxative.

We decided to watch my lump for a bit more time, and we did, until it became the size of a prune. Finally, I went to a podiatrist. Now you might think that confronting a doctor in a mask is no big deal, since doctors wear masks a lot, particularly if they are operating on you, which this doctor proceeded to do. He used scissors.

Me: IS IT A BLEB?

Doctor: It's just a thing on your foot.

I swear he actually said that.

Another thing that happened during my home-medical period was that I now am missing a tooth. It's a molar. I got it pulled and then the pandemic hit before I could get an implant, and then there were stories that in a pandemic dentists are more dangerous than Russian umbrella-stab political assassins. So I never got the implant. Dentally, I present to the world like a meth addict.

I do have an actual medical professional in my family who I can, and do, go to for advice. It is my daughter, who is a veterinarian and who is very careful about not pretending to knowledge she doesn't have. She knows everything, however, and humans are animals, too, and she gives good advice but I need to be subtle. When I call her I have to begin with a disclaimer such as "OK, imagine I am a gopher ... "

Anyway, I am trying to still stay away from doctors, which is why I didn't bring Buster the cat to the local vet when he started convulsing in paroxysms of sneezing. We thought he might have COVID-19, until Rachel noticed he had something protruding from a nostril. Using all of my medical experience, I pulled it out. It was a two-inch-long blade of grass.

Money saved: $200. Medical thrill: Priceless.

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, Oct. 11, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Weingarten clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Gene Weingarten

(BEG ITAL)Gene will return next week. This column was originally published in 2016.(END ITAL)

WASHINGTON -- My neighbor Tom is an amiable man who is often out on his front porch when the weather is nice, and that is where he was the other day as I was walking by. He said something to me, but I didn't hear it over the screaming.

A half-dozen mockingbirds were standing just out of arm's reach, berating him. It was a major league scolding. There was no mistaking their tone or purpose, or the intensity of their outrage. Their body language was as clear as could be, those skinny, high-saluting tails whipping the air. Tom was being chewed out by six animals who weigh about as much as a ping-pong ball.

I laughed. Tom did not, exactly. His expression was more complicated. He said something again, and again I didn't hear it.

When you live in the middle of the city, as I do, there's a complex accommodation reached among the members of the biosphere to make urban life as civil as possible. Passersby always hold eye contact for just an instant and always say, "How you doing?" Ambient music can be loud but not ridiculously so. Dogs are allowed to castigate other dogs, but only from their own front yards and only when the other dog is showing the effrontery to pass right by. Mockingbirds can dive-bomb you if you inadvertently wander too close to their nests, but may not make contact.

And every single block seems to have exactly two stray cats who remain on patrol, like a sheriff and his sidekick, and whose domination of that one block goes unchallenged by other cats. On my block, the lawmen are Philip and Buster, a pairing that sounds like cutesy Washingtoniana, a political punchline, but it's a coincidence. They were named separately, years apart, by different people. Each cat owns himself, of course, but has a particular human with whom he is unofficially affiliated. I am Philip's main human. Tom is Buster's. Two winters ago, when Buster got really sick with a lung condition and seemed likely to die, Tom took him in for several weeks until he recovered.

So, you see how it is with us, in the neighborhood. We're all strangers, but we're not, really.

Now, with Tom getting chewed out on his porch, there was clearly something that had been rent in the fabric of the neighborhood; a disturbance, if you will, in the force. A rupture in civility. The mockingbirds were being very rude. What was odd to me was that Tom was taking it. He wasn't shooing them.

And that's when I heard what he said, when he said it a third time. He said, "Buster killed one of them."

He hadn't seen it happen, or recovered the body, but he knows it must have happened because he knows Buster ("It's in his nature," he said sadly) and he knows mockingbirds, and how they express their discontents and prosecute their grievances.

How did the mockingbirds know that Tom was Buster's human affiliate? I suspect that animals watch and see a great deal more than we give them credit for.

For two days after that, as Buster patrolled the neighborhood, he had a small cloud of angry mockingbirds above him, swooping, cawing, yelling. He eyed them warily. He seemed annoyed by their attentions, but did not pounce. I think he was like Tom, on the porch, taking it. For the greater good.

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