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, Oct. 20, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Weingarten clients only)

By GENE WEINGARTEN

WASHINGTON -- If you ask columnists to tell you the question that they most frequently hear from the public, they will most likely answer: "Easy! It is, 'What is the question that you most frequently hear from the public?'" Well, they are just messing with you. Columnists are notorious jerks.

There actually is an answer, though. The most common question we get is: "Where do you get your ideas from?" Or, if the questioner is a total nerd-snot or high school English teacher, or both: "From where do you get your ideas?" (This last group will usually aspirate the second word, so it comes out "hhhwhere.")

It's actually a hard question to answer because most of us are too busy to think analytically about the process; that is because we are trawling our own lives, casually betraying the privacy of friends, relatives, neighbors and colleagues in a wretched effort to wrench out a single usable anecdote or observation. But I have been considering the question and realize there is a solid, true answer.

Rendered more literarily, the question is, "Who is your writing muse?" And, as it happens, I have one. We all do, and she is the same for all of us. She has a literary name. I am going to celebrate her here in a Horatian ode, with apologies to John Keats, the world's most celebrated odist, the 19th-century British genius behind "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and other such works featuring insanely eccentric rhyme schemes. Keats is the man who taught me all I know of the art, and all I need to know. (He died at 25; mercifully, some of us flame out early after a breathtaking burst of brilliance and (BEG ITAL)before(END ITAL) we become tiresome dyspeptic harrumphing hacks.)

Ode on My Muse

By Gene Weingarten

Lo, her heartbeat, 'tis insistent

And dependable as clockwork.

To excuses, she's resistant,

(And she tolerates no schlock work.)

With metronomic stricture

She forces me to think well

Then chirp pretty, like the songbirds --

O, irony! Just picture

My ugly electronic inkwell

Coaxed to ooze out lovely words.

Alas, she's not a work of art --

She's not comely, like Persephone.

She inspires (though she's not smart,

Like my accountant, Stephanie).

The secret to my muse, my madam?

All failure she abominates.

Tho' her tongue is soft, her heart's macadam.

No handmaid's she -- she dominates!

Without her, there'd be no tomorrows.

She compels me to be fast and fine.

She makes me work when I can't bear to --

Her name is Deadra of the Sorrows.

To her I raise a glass of wine,

And lament the pain that flesh is heir to.

Without her I would walk a bread line:

Hail Deadra, my weekly #&!$ deadline.

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) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

BELOW THE BELTWAY COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Weingarten clients only)

By GENE WEINGARTEN

WASHINGTON -- To: The Bronx High School of Science

Re: Your recent letter inviting me to the school for an event in which alumni help your seniors prepare for their college interviews.

I am of course grateful for, and honored by, this invitation, even though you did not even offer to pay for my measly travel expenses. But, hey, no hard feelings -- even if it was a form letter addressed to all alumni, a group that includes (this is true) a guy whose main professional achievement is having the world's biggest phallus.

Anyway, I unfortunately cannot be there for this event. But if it will be helpful, and in the interests of comity and goodwill, I am submitting several likely interview questions with some suggested answers. Please feel free to pass them on to your seniors, free of charge.

Q: Why do you want to go to our school?

A: It's the best school in a state where I am not wanted by the law.

Q: We require that students live in the dorm for their first year here. Do you have a problem with that?

A: No, so long as you allow emotional-support skunks.

Q: Can I offer you a cup of coffee?

A: Of course you "can," but I think you mean "may," don't you?

Q: I was impressed by your essay.

A: Then I got my money's worth.

Q: What is your biggest weakness?

A: I spend too much time studying.

Q:

A: OK, OK, clown porn.

Q: What would you bring to this school?

A: Mostly just Schedule II controlled substances. None of the really hard stuff.

Q: Whom do you most admire?

A: Tough one. (Do that scale-balancing thing with your hands.) Moammar Gaddafi, Rudy Giuliani, Moammar Gaddafi, Rudy Giuliani ...

Q: If you were an animal, which ...

A: Hey, are those pictures of your family on your desk?

Q: Why, yes.

A: Are you, like, going steady with your wife, or do I have a shot?

Q: When it comes to establishing your worldview, what newspapers and magazines do you regularly read?

A: I've read most of them again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media ...

Q: But, like, which ones specifically?

A: Um, all of 'em, any of 'em that, um, have, have been in front of me over all these years. I have a vast variety of sources ...

Q: Name your favorite author.

A: Who is Shakespeare, Alex?

Q: Who is your biggest role model?

A: Well, it used to be Roseanne, but she lost a lot of weight.

Q: What do you admire most about our school?

A: Which school is this again?

Q: Do you have any special skills?

A: (Slowly, silently, theatrically touch tip of tongue to left nostril.)

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A: Where do you see (BEG ITAL)your(END ITAL)self in 10 years?

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A: Within a couple of semesters of graduating.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A: If I don't bear down and apply myself, probably right here with you, interviewing children for free.

Thanks to: Robert Schechter, Brad Levy, Mark Morgan, Cynthia Cotten, Gil Glass, Daphne Steinberg, Jon Hamblin, Francesca Huemer Kelly, Mari Russell, Anne Talley and David Sarokin.

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) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

BELOW THE BELTWAY COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Weingarten clients only)

By GENE WEINGARTEN

WASHINGTON -- The other day, as has become my biannual custom, I met with my good friend Bruce Friedrich so he could once again try to demonstrate to me that eating meat not only is ethically and environmentally indefensible, but that there are now plant-based alternatives that are nearly indistinguishable and equally succulent. These conversations, with their attendant blind-taste tests, have not gone well for Bruce in the past. This time we met at a Burger King, which is pioneering the highly touted Impossible Whopper, featuring a meatless meat.

We ordered a Whopper and an Impossible Whopper. I left the table when the food arrived, so Bruce could unpackage the burgers -- they come in different wrappers -- and lay them out anonymously on a tray. Just to be sure, he took a photo of each, and labeled them in his phone, so there could be no doubt afterward which was which, given their advertised astounding similarity.

Back at the table I lifted up the bun of each, and told him I strongly suspected the burger on the left was the phony, because it had a ridiculously even circumference, as though it had been formed with a cookie cutter. Then I took a single bite out of each. "Definitely the phony is on the left," I said, because, unlike the Whopper, which tasted like familiarly mediocre fast food, the phony tasted like processed cat doots.

Bruce sighed. I had nailed it.

So we were barely five minutes into our meeting, marinating in depression -- we (BEG ITAL)both(END ITAL) want this plant thing to work; I, because I feel guilty about eating meat, and Bruce because he is one of the country's most effective and dedicated advocates of meat alternatives. He runs the Good Food Institute, an international organization that is trying to get people out of the animal-torture, environmentally disastrous meat-eating habit, for good. With our experiment dismally over, Bruce and I got to talking philosophically, which is when things got really interesting.

He explained that GFI is working on two fronts at the same time: plant-based meat alternatives like the Impossible Whopper, and "cultivated meat," which is meat grown in a lab from animal cells, without harming any living things. The meat begins with a biopsy the size of a sesame seed. It's not just theoretical. As of now, creating a chicken nugget, for example, is doable -- in fact, it's been done -- though it is still vastly too expensive to be commercially viable. But the costs are plummeting.

"OK, wait," I said. "Let's say some adventurous eater wanted to pay you to create a giraffe burger, or a gorilla burger. Could you do it for them?"

"Sure," he said, though it would probably cost many tens of thousands of dollars. Prohibitive.

I noted that I work for the richest man on Earth.

"Interesting," he said: Yes, he said, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, could order and get a giraffe or gorilla burger. For Jeff, financially, it would entail the outlay comparable to my ordering a Serrano ham and brie sandwich: a little pricey, but doable. And it would be ethically fine: You're not harming an innocent creature.

"Hm," I said, wildly speculating: "Could he order a Jeff Bezos burger?"

"I haven't looked into the law," Bruce said, "but it's probably not illegal and even if it were, I would think you'd be hard-pressed to find a prosecutor who would oppose it. Laws are designed to protect people. No one is hurt here. Why prohibit a Bezosburger?"

"COULD HE ORDER A BEYONCÉ BURGER?"

Bruce considered. He was actually into this.

"Well, obviously, he'd have to get her cooperation."

"Jeff could pay her millions!" I said. "Like a special commission!"

"She might not ask for money," Bruce said, furiously Googling.

"Aha!" he said, triumphant. "Beyoncé is sympathetic to animal protection. She eats a vegan breakfast every day and goes meatless on Mondays! She might do it as a way of raising animal awareness, just because it is a good thing to do."

Could people get over the taboo of eating human flesh?

Maybe, he said.

We are on the, um, cutting edge of something. Old presumptions could disappear. The whole (BEG ITAL)point(END ITAL) is that nothing is dying or suffering. A rich and famous man and a rich and famous woman, doing something to help the planet, could engage in a spectacular stunt making a spectacular point. Why not?

That's how our conversation ended. I got the feeling a radical idea just got implanted, like a sesame seed of meat.

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) 2019, 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