Chatological Humor with Gene Weingarten

Sep 15, 2020

You asked for it and you got it. Gene holds weekly chats every Tuesday at 12 p.m. ET, where he takes your questions about what's happening in the country — and anything else you want to discuss.

Here is Gene's latest column.

Here is this week's poll.

Yello. This is Manteuffel. Gene is off working on a big story, so I'm filling in as Alternate Gene. Since this was all foisted on you with little notice or warning, I'm front loading the chat with a couple of questions Gene has answered already and one referring to a story he wrote in 2012, so there's like 10,000 words of Gene for you right there.  

And the poll! You all get your wish! Those features of the chat will be temporarily out of commission! Though as you will see I forgot to list several more annoying features that chatters have helpfully pointed out. 

Welcome to amateur hour, folks! Esteemed Producer and I are not 100% sure if this intro will post under my name or Gene's, so here is a person on twitter who made a capybara out of bread. 

Hello! It's Teuffel. My name shows up now, but I don't know if questions I answered before we fixed the problem are going to show up as me or Gene. So I have affixed notes to the top of the ones Gene himself answered. Now there will be no more confusion.  

How did you get bitten by the antique clock bug? Are you entirely self trained? Any good texts or resources to get a beginner started. I'm looking at retirement in about five years. Antique clocks fascinate me, I think because they were about the highest tech available in their day. I have two grandfather clocks, a woodworks Riley Whiting and one that's attributed to Jacob Danner. I'd love to be able to get down into the weeds with them and the other old ones I've acquired. Thanks.

[FROM WEINGARTEN PRIME]: I decided I wanted to become a clock repair person around the age of 12, when without permission I took apart one of my parents' clocks, and couldn't put it together again.  The fallout was unpleasant.  

 I can't recommend a clock repair book because I never used one.   I started on my own, buying a couple of cheap antique clock movements and taking them apart, cleaning and oiling them, etc., and then learning to re-assemble them.  My technique, as it were, was ridiculous, even potentially fatal. A major thing you must learn to do is unwind the spring before popping the clock apart, because if you don't you will lose a finger or your nose due to flying gears -- buzzsaws, really -- when the astonishing kinetic power of a coiled spring is released suddenly.   I did it using a towel as protection, and trying to unwind it slowly, grunting and sweating in fear.  The second involved cleaning.  What do you use?  I used gasoline, which worked quite well, but which threatened to burn me to a cinder if anything went wrong. 

Eventually I wised up, which is where my advice to you comes in: Find a clock repair teacher.  I took a course at the New School with a guy named Nat Litman, then took private lessons from him for six months.  By the end of it, I almost really knew what I was doing. (FYI: There is a tool to safely wind down a mainspring, for example, and, um, a substance that cleans clocks without exploding.). 
I wish I could send you to Nat, but he would be about 109 years old today.  But you can find your own Nat. 

You said on Twitter that you agree with Eric Wemple that Woodward did nothing untoward or unethical by not disclosing Trump's comments re: coronavirus. Would appreciate hearing at least some of your reasons. Educate us.

[FROM WEINGARTEN PRIME]: I think he did nothing wrong. 

In part, you need to understand Woodward.  His techniques have come under fire, but never (as I can recall) have there been credible challenges to his veracity.  The man tells the the truth, as best he knows it. It may be because he is an inherent truth teller, but cynically I would add that it is also his bread and butter. His career is horribly damaged if he is proven to have lied.  He doesn't.   Years ago, when it became popular among journalists and others to suggest that Deep Throat was a "composite" character, I wrote that I was absolutely certain he wasn't.  This led to speculation that I knew who DT was.  I didn't.  But I knew Woodward.  He had been quoted publicly saying that Deep Throat was not a composite.  I knew he would never have lied about that.  Again, maybe he's a truthteller, but the cynical view is that it was pretty clear that the identity or non identity of the guy would eventually come out.  And that would have labeled Woodward a liar.  He would never let that happen.
This becomes important in a moment.  Hang on. 
The point is, I accept Bob's explanation here for why he didn't blow the whistle on Trump.  It makes sense.  
When Trump first babbled on to Woodward about what he knew about the virus, Woodward didn't know what to make of it.  Trump lies about everything.  I mean, we ALL know that, even his supporters. Was he bloviating?  If you are Bob Woodward, you don't roar away with this story, not knowing whether he was really told that. For one thing, that's not what Woodward does.  He presents things in deep  context, and he gets it right.  Besides, presenting it like that would have given Trump a chance to mass a defense through sycophants saying whatever he wanted. 
So Woodward starting milking sources, he said, to try to confirm WHO told him that, and when -- or if.   He says it took him until May to nail it down. (And boy, did he nail it.  He found the participants in the meetings where Trump was told.)  By May, though, the virus was in full swing, the defenses were in place (except where they weren't) and the virulency of the bug was something we all understood.  There was no practical or tactical reason to run it then.  There WAS a tactical reason to run it closer to the election. 
Sure, Bob was protecting his book.  That alone is a factor, and not in my mind an unethical one. But it was much more complicated than that, and much more defensible. 

Hi, Gene. If I recall correctly, you have closely followed the case of Jeffrey MacDonald, the Army doctor convicted of murdering his wife and two little girls in 1970. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the new documentary about the case, A Wilderness of Errors, based on a book by the same name. It's my understanding both the book and the documentary are sharply critical of Joe McGinniss' (author of Fatal Vision) journalistic practices and conclude it's possible MacDonald is actually innocent. I'd love your thoughts.

Luckily, he's had a whole bunch of thoughts about this. 

Story, Nieman interview about the story,  chat about story. Also, there is this 1984 miniseries based on McGuinness's book with Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Andy Griffith, and Gary Cole from Veep. 

Last week, Gene wrote, "My sleep schedule has gone to hell. Example: I am answering this question at 4:30 a.m. There are multiple reasons -- I am having some probably minor health issues -- but Covid is one of them. I think we're all a little depressed and shaken. I am." Did he mean to say COVID is NOT one of them? Or did he have COVID? Either way, I hope he's okay and feeling better.

He meant worry about COVID and its attendant troubles was keeping him up at 4:30. 

Gene is still locked out of his Post email, so the anonymous person he wants to interview about supporting Trump, please email me, rachel dot manteuffel at I will forward and not read it. 

Are you and at the Post?! If so--why? Why not be a full-time Post employee? Why be a contractor? And weren't both of you full-time employees of the Post in the past? If so--why go from being a full-time employee to a contractor?! Please explain. Thank you!

They took buyouts. As I understand it, at the time the Post needed to reduce staff and rather than fire people they offered early retirement. Pensions are involved. Pensions! What a world it used to be. So they're retired and hired back. 

Rachel, it's about time we got a true professional to host this chat. About three months ago, I was getting *very* stressed out by a constant and obsessive need to look at the news, and decided to take a news holiday as a last-ditch attempt to keep what little sanity that I have left. It was a great decision that I have yet to regret. I'm guessing that nothing much has changed since then, unfortunately. I'm curious about how many others may have done the same. Since my question has nothing to do with food snobbery, et al., I think it would make a great poll question. Thank you for filling in.

You are correct, nothing has changed. It all seemed very significant at the time. 

As long as you include Love, Jimi, George Clinton and Sly Stone (etc.) and their progeny (particularly Prince, but certainly Lenny Kravitz and others as well) in the 60s White Guy Rock pantheon, who on earth would dispute its superiority? C'mon, man...

As of this writing, about two thirds of chatters are with you! If you get to count Prince, though, it's a very elastic genre. 

Ooooh, I predicted months ago that capybaras would be the new llamas! I think there's still some mileage left in sloths, though. Narwals aren't quite catching fire the way whoever issues trendy animal predictions thought they would, and owls seem to be a slow burning periphery fire. If only quokkas had a name people could pronounce, and a more distinctive silhouette, they would be merch gold. Any one in chat land have nominations for the next "weird" fad animal? I have young people I need to buy impressively fashion forward gifts for (or for whom I need to buy, if you prefer correct but awkwardly pedantic phrasing).

I've seen some very impressive work recently in the pangolin sector. 

I actually don't mind all of that, it's what I come for. No, what I would love to stop is all the baseball talk. I don't watch or care about that (or any other) sport and sometimes it feels like the chat is overrun with questions and comments about it.

I have extremely good news for you. 

I would have chosen “anything related to baseball” if that had been an option. All the topics you listed are fine with me, because they provoke entertaining exchanges. But just like watching baseball on tv, reading about it makes my eyes glaze over.

Mine too! Yaaay!

The poll won't let you change your answer if you change your mind.

I'm thinking next week's poll will be about this. And the next week it will ask if you still feel that way. 

Can I submit something that you didnt to omit from the chat? Because honestly I could do without the long baseball stories.

I am just grinning at you right now. 

I didn't answer "cheap shots at the President," though I object to them, for example mocking his weight. But I don't remember any cheap shots here; there are more valid targets than at Army basic training camps at the peak of WWII.

This is a good point to argue! What has been the cheapest shot? 

For the love of all things good and holy in this world!

More good news!

I know this is above your pay grade, but they redesigned the Post web site and it is almost impossible to find the live chats. They used to be listed down the right. Now you have to click the drop down menu on the left and scroll down to live chats. Maybe next time you run into Marty Baron at a dinner party (ha!) you can ask him why he is submarining one of Post readers' favorite things on the site.

This does seem to have happened! They are apparently changing the chat software soon, so they do care about us. 

He's the Yankee's first baseman who begged to have the day off due to a headache, and was replaced by Lou Gehrig.

This will be our only baseball reference today, because I looked it up. 

...wasn't abstruse enough. I discovered today that, in Quebec and only in Quebec, a "depanneur" is a convenience store. In French it is a "restorer of broken things" (when your car breaks down it is "en panne" so you take it to the "un-panne-er"). The only explanation I could find is that Qubecois depanneurs usually sold alcoholic beverages at convenient hours so you went to them to be "restored". Words are funny, thought I would share instead of lurking as usual.

I love a word meaning restorer of broken things. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, that's exactly what 7-11 is. 

The Blue Footed Booby is the GOAT.

This is quite admirable

That's okay. We baseball fans have Tom Boswell, someone who provides refreshingly serious answers, in contrast to the person who usually hosts this chat. Please let Gene know that the Yankees still suck.


In 1893, some dude went to bat with a literal ax because all the regular bats were broken and jacked half the ball over the fence for half a home-run to win the game 2 1/2 to 2. Baseball is not boring.

Okay, baseball was good in 1893. Also, if half a home run is a thing, I don't want to know about it. 

I love the moniker "Alternate Gene" Would you consider "Dominant Gene," "Recessive Gene," or even "Gene Mutation?"

His life's work is the Genome. 

Do we get a hint about what the "big story" is?

It is a 6,000 word epic poem retelling why the chicken crossed the road. 

All of the above, plus "gratuitous bland insults at anyone who disagrees with the "correct" opinion on any topic".

Your dog has ringworm. 

I used to work at the Post. It offered at least five general buyouts to employees of a certain age and experience, and terms included a substantial lump sum, an enhanced pension and health benefits. But very few people who took buyouts were subsequently offered contracts. Gene is one of a handful of stars who were able to make deals. Most people who took buyouts just went away. My understanding is also that the Post offers short-term contracts to some people for limited purposes when it isn't sure it will need them forever. Cheaper with no long-term commitment. Keep in mind that as a union workplace, the Post can't just dump people when it feels like it.

Thank you for knowing the answer! A few years ago the union was fighting against a proposal that would let us be fired with no justification. I would agree to that as long as we would get 24 hours to create the justification. 

My dad and several uncles fought fascists in Europe and the Pacific in WW II. We’re they the original Antifas.

Your subpoenas are on their way. 

How do you think detective Lenny Briscoe of mid 90's Law and Order would handle social upheaval and protests against police? I often think about this while I stare through the television on my 5th episode of the show at 3am.

Alyssa Rosenberg has written some good stuff about pop culture police in this moment and previous ones. I have a very specific memory of Lenny Briscoe saying he believed a perpetrator once did not murder him, Lenny Briscoe, because of the threat of the death penalty for murdering a cop. This influenced my thinking on the death penalty at the time, until I said that out loud and my brother pointed out a writer had made the whole thing up.

We all know Lenny Briscoe sang "Be Our Guest," right? 

Has anyone watched Homicide: Life on the Street lately? It's wonderfully insane how that show existed on a network, and how 90s network things will sometimes happen like crossovers and Melissa Leo playing her character's identical cousin. It turns out the identical cousins couldn't be more different! 

I understand that some things are totally unacceptable because of the unredeemable evil of their perpertrators, such a Nazi medical experiments, but should all things be eliminated because of some evil aspects of their lives. Woodrow Wilson was a racist--does that undo his efforts with the League of Nations? Does the fact that many of our founding fathers owned slaves mean that the sentiments of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are worthless? Aren't people complex enough to have both good and bad aspects and can't we extract the good and discard the bad?

It seems to me this is what the reckoning is trying to do--make sure people know, for example, that Wilson was a racist as well as everything else. So much of that has been hidden or papered over about important people in history. I am not sure you believe what you're saying, since you're asking "should all things be eliminated," which is not currently being proposed. Are you talking about statues coming down and middle schools being renamed? 

Depanneur are not only selling alcohol, but also basic food items (milk, bread, eggs) and a lot of snacks and treats. Back in the time when stores were closed on sundays, dépanneurs were one of the only stores where you could get milk or bread if you were out. Dépanneurs were helping out people, which is one of the meaning of the verb dépanner in French.

Bienvenue. Unless that means something else in Quebecois. 

Have you ever socialized with, hung out with, had a drink with, or had dinner with Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and/or Ben Bradlee?! If so, what'd you guys talk about?!

I chanced to see Bradlee and Woodward leaving the old Post building together around lunch one time. Had the moment of stupidity that always seems to accompany encountering a famous person in real life, and really wanted to take a surreptitious picture because c'mon. Maybe sneak them into the background of a selfie to prove we were all there together without bothering them. 

I didn't get the picture. Decided, reluctantly, that we all work at the same place and are technically, um, colleagues, so gooning out would be inappropriate. Smiled professionally at them. Will never have that picture now. 

Particularly in the '60s and '70s, virtually every TV show had an episode with a plot involving an identical but different character for the main star (who then had an opportunity to play two completely different roles). The whole concept of The Patty Duke Show was her playing identical cousins. On Bewitched, Samantha's identical cousin Serena was a semi-regular.

Actors really like acting. It's a weakness. 

you do know that that was the theme of the old Patty Duke show in the 60's ? "while Kathy adores the minuet, the Ballet Russe and Crepe Suzette, our Patty loves her rock n roll, a hot dog makes her lose control,etc"

A hot dog makes her lose control. 

Old racist statues should remain up because pigeons need a place to poop.

Here we go. 

Hi Rachel, Not earth shakingly important, but just curious. which syllable is emphasized? how is the middle syllable pronounced? have 3 great days.

ManTOOFul. Pronouncing it incorrectly kept anyone from realizing we are from German extraction, circa World War One. 

Just got home from Upper Peninsula Michigan (the U.P.) where I visited my very elderly parents for the first time since pandemic started. They needed some help and Covid rates in my state are down (as they are also in the U.P.) so I seized the opportunity and was there for a week. It was so depressingly Trumpy that I feel like I spent a week marinating in a foul substance. My parents are retired upper middle class professionals both with post graduate degrees, my sister also lives there and is a professional with her doctorate. They are all completely pro Trump. They are convinced that Trump will save the country economically and that the Democrats would destroy the country with some kind of wild socialism. They have bought into a (new to me) theory that the Dems plan to oust Biden after a single year of presidency under Article 25 (for ill health) and thus make Harris president - who they are convinced is a far left radical socialist. These are the arguments of highly educated Republicans. When I ask about racist and other awful Trump tweets and statements they say "well, we do wish he could be a little more compassionate and polite". Also, every third vehicle in the U.P. is decorated with giant "Trump 2020" flags. Trump still has a lot of support (at least in Michigan) across the board and it's pretty discouraging.


Does this mean you have his passwords? I'll bet they're all Barnaby1

I will not post this in case it's true. 

If anything, I want you to act MORE obnoxiously superior, smug, self-assured, righteous, holier-than-thou, pompous, and oxford comma-ish. Thank you for being a bright light of sanity, inanity, and (hidden) profanity in the craziest year of my 60 years on this planet.

I have good news for you in four weeks or so. 

Where else could I discuss those things? My husband complains about the "sex and surgery hour" if I start to discuss them during dinner. But it's his fault- my job involves reading medical journals all day so when he asks about my day, it's mostly about diseases and drugs and disease of sexual organs and other exciting things like that.

I like those too! I just can't answer them. 

Herbert Hoover lost the 1932 election, but got 39.7 percent of the vote. Barry Goldwater lost the 1964 election, but got 38.8 percent of the vote. Those numbers roughly correspond to the size of Trump's base, as reflected in various polls. So there's that. Cites for both (you have to scroll down a little).

Here is a thing. 

Gene: What you honestly think is the most ridiculous aspect of a traditional wedding? Is it the Best Man Toast, the Throwing of the Lacy Leg Thing, the Shove the Cake in Your New Spouse's Mouth, the First Dance with Your Father or Mother Who You May Hate, the Table Full of Gifts in a Prominent Location, the Huge Flowers on the Table that Block Your View of Other People, the Cash Bar at a Rich Family's Wedding, the Self-Penned Vows, or some other equally moronic things?!! What's up with all of these stupid wedding things, anyways?!! Most people hate this stuff, but they keep popping up at weddings!!

A  pandemic might have solved some of these problems for us. 

Baseball is the greatest and most entertaining game there is. But, the Yankees suck.

A further point. 

Do you know how much we appreciate you? I am sitting in a Baltimore hospital waiting room while my darling husband of 40+ years is having emergency cardiac bypass surgery. Reading your column took my mind off the situation for a few minutes

This and the next one will end the show. You guys are here for each other. Thank you, and see you next week. 

My husband survived his surgery and is back home. Thanks again

And this one. Next week

In This Chat
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. He was awarded the 2008 and 2010 Pulitzer Prizes for Feature Writing.

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Rachel Manteuffel
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