The Washington Post

Tuesdays with Moron: Chatological Humor Update

Dec 13, 2011

Every Tuesday, Gene publishes weekly updates to his chats.

Gene's latest 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 persons 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.

Important, secret note to readers: The management of The Washington Post apparently does not know this chat exists, or it would have been shut down long ago. Please do not tell them. Thank you.

Weingarten is also the author of "The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death," co-author of "I'm with Stupid," with feminist scholar Gina Barreca and "Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs," with photographer Michael S. Williamson.

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

Ed's Note: If composing your questions in Microsoft Word please turn off the Smart Quotes functionality or use WordPad. I haven't the time to edit them.

Greetings, update readers.

On Sunday night, I did something as disgraceful as anything I have heretofore done, and I am a man who has driven under the influence of heroin; who once took the pulse of a sick man so he'd think I was not a reporter but a doctor in whom he could confide.   I am a man who publicly ridiculed Tim Russert for farting on the air JUST DAYS BEFORE HE DIED.   I am here to tell you that I have just done something more despicable than those things, and I come to ask forgiveness in this chat update, and seek entertaining suggestions for appropriate punishment. 

On Sunday night, I was watching my New York Giants play their most important game of the year, against their despised rivals, the Cowboys -- a team located in Dallas, a city no more detestable than any other arch conservative deeply bigoted place responsible for the death of a beloved president.   As customary, I was watching this game alone because the ferocity of my devotion makes me unpleasant to be around.  As usual, I was linked in real time via text and internet to my good friend Caitlin Gibson, who is similarly afflicted with love for this team, and who similarly suffers when they play.    We were in play-by-play communication.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, with the Giants in the process of squandering opportunity after opportunity to put away the leprous Cowboys, they surrendered an interception leading to a score that put them behind in what was now a two-possession game.   It was late, I was tired, and I felt betrayed by my team.  In disgust, I sullenly informed Ms. Gibson I was going to bed, clicked off the computer before getting her answer -- I didn't want to hear any entreaties or tedious lectures about loyalty -- and went to bed.  It was, essentially, a tantrum.  

You may know what happened.   The Giants mounted a historic comeback, winning in the final second on this amazing development.

And I missed it all.   Worse, I betrayed Cait, who was left to watch this terrific finish alone, with no one to share the elation, which is like getting a hole in one when you are golfing alone.  I will try over time to regain Cait’s trust and affection.  She is a kind and compassionate woman, and I am determined to show her I am a better person than that, and I think it will be okay.   

But what of the Giants, the team I betrayed?  And what of the greater principle I betrayed, the principle I have espoused all my life, that loyalty is among life’s noblest virtues?  You know -- the principle I balled up and flushed away in one second, as though it were a paper sticker on a cantaloupe?

How should I be punished?

My daughter suggested something so awful and diabolical I cringe even to write it here:  That, following the sports devotee’s firm belief in causal relationships, I have no choice but to conclude that my absence in the final five minutes caused the Giants’ win, meaning that my punishment is that for the love of the team I must not watch the final five minutes of any other Giants game, ever.
The problem is that, following the sports devotee’s firm belief in causal relationships, this punishment will end the first time the Giants lose when I am not watching.  It would require me to start watching again.

So I sent out a group email to a dozen friends, confessing my sin and seeking suggestions for penance.

Pat Myers said I needed to get a Redskins tattoo – small, but in a prominent place.    Her choice of team was inspired.   A Cowboys tattoo, while situationally more appropriate, would be a sign to the world that I am evil.  But a Redskins tattoo would be a sign that I am a loser.  Worse, I think.   When Tom the Butcher asked the group where the tattoo should be, Dave Barry said, “I’d say the nose, but it would get lost.” 

The Butcher’s own prescription:   “No reason your punishment shouldn't fit the crime, and also benefit mankind: You should be prohibited, for the remainder of the 2011-2012 season, from talking about, or even mentioning, your stupid football team and your obsession with it.”   All I will say in response to this is that Tom is a Redskins fan.

Hank Stuever said “You now will have to type one (1) space after a period.”  This was a brilliant suggestion, designed to drive me mad, the equivalent of ordering me to become left-handed for the remainder of my life.  It would give me irritable bowel syndrome, and facial tics. 

Steve Buttry, the Twitter devotee, ordered me to watch, and live tweet, a replay of Super Bowl XXXV, the one in which the Giants were owned by the Stupid Baltimore Ravens, a team that was basically without a quarterback.   This is a very good punishment, and I will consider it, but even worse would be re-tweeting the Giants playoff game against the 49ers in 2002, where they squandered a 28 point lead in the final quarter – the second worst collapse in NFL history, and finally lost it on a bad snap.

Several friends, aware of the priorities in my life, suggested seemingly mild punishments that, to me, would be apocalyptic.  Rachel Manteuffel said I should get my hair professional styled.   Dave Barry suggested that I “must say three Hail Marys and do five Tebows.”   Existential as always, David Von Drehle said my punishment should be remaining a Giants fan for the rest of my life.   To which Barry responded: “That’s awfully harsh.   At least he doesn’t root for the Yan…. Oh God.”

So, can you do better than these?   Send your suggestions here, which is also the link to my next chat, which will be the first Tuesday of the new year.

Here is the treetop ornament on my family Christmas tree, making its 25th consecutive appearance, a family record.   The artist is Molly Weingarten, age 5, who worked in mixed-media, viz. clothes hanger, pantyhose, cut paper, crayon,  cotton and glitter. 

Next, take today's instapoll.  There is a correct answer, and it will be revealed at the end of this chat update.

I have been reading "My Life and the Times," an old memoir by Turner Catledge, who was the executive editor of the New York Times in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.   It contains a historical passage that so startled me I read it twice.   

I think most Americans believe that Franklin Roosevelt was fully in command as president -- and one of the most commanding presences ever to hold that office --until his sudden death of a stroke in April 1945, just before the fall of Nazi Germany.   Certainly, the media never gave any indication to the contrary.  

I quote from Catledge's account of a private meeting he had with FDR in early 1944.  In addition to the details of the scene, I find fascinating that Catledge knew he would never report what he had seen; in fact, couldn't wait to get away from there.  Obviously, FDR also understood this tacit agreement of silence, or else he never would have let Catledge see him at all:

When I entered the president's office, and had my first glimpse of him in several months, I was shocked and horrified -- so much so that my impulse was to turn around and leave.  I felt I was seeing something I shouldn't see.  He had lost a great deal of weight.  His shirt collar hung so loose on his neck that you could have put your hand inside it.  He was sitting there with a vague, glassy-eyed expression on his face and his mouth hanging open.

Reluctantly, I sat down and we started talking. I expected him to ask me about the political situation, but he never did.  He would start talking about something, then in mid-sentence he wold stop and his mouth would drop open and he's sit starting at me in silence.  I knew I was looking at a terribly sick man.  I had seen a good friend of mine, Senator Pat Harrison, in almost the same condition.  A doctor had explained to me that it was a case of a man's heart not pumping enough blood to his brain, so that at times he simply could not speak or think to his full capacity.   

We sat in silence for some time.  Finally I mentioned the Teheran Conference [this is where FDR and Stalin and Churchill had forged the "unconditional surrender" demand of the Axis] and that I had been in Teheran for my recent trip.  Either the subject of Teheran or something else stimulated him, for he started talking about that city.  He asked if I'd noticed the water systems there.  I certainly had, for the water flowed in open ditches down both sides of the main streets.
"You know, they use that for everything," Roosevelt told me.  "They wash in it; they wash their clothes in it; they pee in it -- and twenty feet down the street you'll see somebody drinking from it."

He laughed uproariously at that.  And I might say in passing that this was quite typical of Roosevelt's humor as I had known it over the years.  Roosevelt was a subtle man politically, but his humor was not subtle.  The stories he told were invariably  very blunt.  Not dirty stories, but stories with humor that was extremely broad and blunt.   Roosevelt's humor consisted largely of his own laughter.  He would tell a story that he thought funny and he would laugh, and of course everyone else had to laugh, too, since he was president.  His position allowed him to tease people, particularly those who worked for him, but this amounted more to a sense of fun than to a sense of humor.
My talk with him lasted more than an hour.  His appointments secretary, Ed Watson, came to the door several times but Roosevelt would raise a hand (a hand so thin you could almost see through it) and tell me to stay. I had the impression of a man who very badly wanted someone to talk to.  Repeatedly he would lose his train of thought, stop, and stare blankly at me.  It was an agonizing experience for me.  Finally, a waiter brought his lunch, and Watson said his luncheon guest was waiting, and I was able to make my escape.

Answer to the journalism poll. 

I hope you didn’t give the newspaper a break.  They didn’t deserve one.  This is completely unethical, though a failing more of stupidity and lack of imagination than of deliberate effort to deceive.

I understand why you might think this is no big deal: The quote does make it clear that the source is biased, and an important person in the campaign.  Why does it matter if he is the MOST important person in the campaign?

Here’s why:  You don’t lie.   Rule one of journalism.   You never write a sentence that you know to be untrue, and this is a sentence you know to be untrue.

Did Newt have a right to speak not for attribution?  Sure.   Is it okay if the paper quotes him anonymously about his own campaign, cooperating in his request?  Yep, sure, it's done all the time.   Is it okay to create a nonexistent source of the quote?  No.   Did the newspaper have an alternative way to do it?  Of course.  How about:

“A campaign source said…”


“A spokesman for the campaign said…”

Either of these things would have been true.   To me, the disturbing thing here is that the paper seemed to have no problem with writing a lie for expedient reasons.  Some lies, like this one, are ultimately no biggies.   Some are huge.   But if you are willing to casually make that step, to cross that line, what else are you willing to do?

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Gene Weingarten
Gene Weingarten is the humor writer for The Washington Post. His column, Below the Beltway, has appeared weekly in the Post's Sunday magazine since July 2000 and has been distributed nationwide on The Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service. He was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.
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