Welcome to the Gene Pool

It would be customary to begin by telling you why you absolutely need to splash around with me here twice a week, and, ideally, pay for the privilege.

Ahem.  You don't.  Let's face it, there are things you need more: Requited love, an end to the existential psychic pain of our times, a reliable method of scratching the geometric center of your back without backing up to a door jamb and rubbing on it with an orgasmic look on your face, like a orangutan writhing his back against a tree, etc.  The more appropriate question is whether there is anything you can get of greater value than me that also costs only $1.15 a week.   

Okay, you could travel back in time to 1987 and get an entire McDonald's hamburger with a Coke -- or further back, to 1849 San Francisco, where, in a restaurant featuring "gold-rush specials," a heaping plate of corned beef and cabbage went for just over a buck, too.  But renting the time machines would cost a pretty penny.  In the present day (I have precisely calculated this) you could buy 5 and a half of those sallow, bland orange "circus peanuts" candies for a buck fifteen every week, but if you are going to do that, you might as well just consume the free Styrofoam packing peanuts you get in the mail.  Or even the cardboard box in which they came.  Gustatorily, the same. 

I know what you are thinking: You are thinking: Sure, this guy is probably marginally more satisfying than circus peanuts, but is he worth $5 a month?  It's a fair question.  I will introduce myself, and you can judge for yourself.  If you decide the answer is no, just flounce away.  Nobody wanted you here anyhow. 

 I grew up in The Bronx a long time ago and dropped out of college with three credits to go, to join a teenage Puerto Rican street gang so I could write a piece about it for New York magazine.  It became their cover story. I never went back to college, never got my degree, but somehow I am legally an alumnus of Harvard. This involves a mid-career journalism fellowship and related degree earned through the grueling academic achievement of having remained alive for an entire year.

I am the only writer who has won two Pulitzer prizes for feature stories.  I have written six books. More important to you, for 20 years I also wrote a syndicated weekly humor column for The Washington Post.  Some people hated it.  Most people liked it.  You can judge for yourself. Here ... are ... a ... few ...columns ..to ..consider

Last year, when I hit 70, The Post flushed me like a dead goldfish, which is one reason, but not the only reason, you are reading this here.  The fact is, this very site is a continuation of a feisty, sometimes wicked weekly real-time chat I did with readers for 20 years.  Subjects: Medicine, politics, language, philosophy, sex, human excreta, human relations, life.  Voice: Seditious, unfettered.  I once presented a mathematical proof, with charts and graphs, of why there is no God.  I once interviewed a famous proctologist so I could understand and explain, I believe for the first time anywhere, why we only feel the urge to poop when we are Almost Home, and then it becomes immediate, urgent, and unbearable.  That piece didn't win the Nobel Prize for Medicine, but should have. I once talked a chatter out of suicide, in real time.

The chat -- we called it Chatological Humor -- developed a large, loyal cult following.  That is what we will be doing here. I am a colorful and fearless eccentric with sometimes unusual and strident views but a cheerful willingness to subject them to your challenges and contempt, and sometimes to even admit error.  How eccentric am I?  I basically live in the 1910s, as I established in this here piece I wrote for a magazine last year.   

I am also the acknowledged master curator of the "aptonym," which describes the phenomenon when someone's name bizarrely fits his or her occupation or life circumstances.  I contend these are not coincidences but God's secret code.  I have publicized such aptonyms as a firefighter named "Les McBurney,"  a man charged with indecent exposure named "Donald Popadick," an undercover Secret Service agent named "Jeffrey Undercoffer," a breast-cancer surgeon named "Jennifer Tittensore," a lawyer named “Sue Yoo,”  and, in my greatest achievement to date, an OB-GYN named "Harry Beaver."  I am very proud.  


People have asked me if I plan to savage my former employer here.  I do not and will not.  For 30 years I was treated well by The Washington Post, and they by me.  My final, dismal six months do not define our relationship.  I will, perhaps, be a little less hesitant to criticize them, not out of rancor, but for the simple reason that I've always felt if you take bucks from an employer, those guys have the right to expect that you will not embarrass them publicly.  That, obviously,  no longer applies.  But I will be fair.

Ahem, again. For 29 and a half years, I seldom - almost never - saw The Post make a truly stupid decision.  But I can say now that they did just a month ago, a colossally stupid decision: The stupendously simpleminded, ill-considered, ill-advised, dunderheaded decision to kill The Style Invitational after 30 years of universal acclamation. At the time of its death, The Style Invitational was  longest-lived newspaper humor contest ever in the United States, a weekly contest that was staffed practically for free by hundreds of world-class humorists willing to work for cheesy fame and cheap trinkets.  I started the contest and ran it for its first 11 years, and then it was taken over by my good friend Pat Myers, who helmed it for the next 19.  If you read this link about the contest’s demise, and read to the end, you will see the spectacular levels of subversive humor the Invitational regularly reached.  

Guess what, The Post?  The Invitational continues, right here, run by both Pat Myers and me. We have tweaked the name of the contest to avoid any whiny little lawsuits. 

I guess that's it.  You have enough information now to make a wise decision.  (Unwise, impulse-buys are also welcome.)   

One more item of business: It is customary at this point in a business pitch to wrap things up by presenting a grand, sweeping philosophical argument for why you must buy this product.  Alas, it is not appropriate because brevity, as they say, is the soul of wit.  There will be nothing grand or sweeping, here.  Just this modest observation: 

We live in terrifying times.  When people are filled with grief, they need to cry.  When people are filled with fear, they need to laugh. 

Finally, if you start the paid subscription and then decide it was a mistake, you can send me an email with your name and address (thegenepool@gmail.com) and I will apologize for being awful and unfunny, and mail you one circus peanut, autographed.  

Subscribe to The Gene Pool

Humor. Outrageous discussions, surprising observations, live chats, polls, and the weekly Invitational humor contest (formerly The Washington Post's Style Invitational). Significant misanthropy tempered by a warm heart.


Two-time Pulitzer prizewinning feature writer. Intellectual vulgarian. College dropout. Harvard alumnus (long story). Author of six books. Secretly shy smart-ass. Your employee.