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The Great Zucchini

    Today's magazine story by Gene Weingarten, on an entertainer who goes by the name The Great Zucchini, is a clinic in feature writing. Everyone knows Gene is funny, but he's also a superior reporter. I keep wanting to say he peeled this guy like an onion, but that's the wrong vegetable. The right metaphor may be that he took him apart like an old clock -- and then put him back together.

By Joel Achenbach  |  January 22, 2006; 10:10 AM ET
 
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Comments

I must admit I read the entire article before noting the byline. I was startled. There's clearly more to this Weingarten guy than just the ability to make crank phone calls.

Posted by: RD Padouk | January 22, 2006 11:05 AM | Report abuse

This week's Magazine was a great issue all-round. I especially liked the "Cul de Sac": "This railing you mentioned; what did it taste like?" Ha!

Posted by: Achen- and RT fan | January 22, 2006 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Gene hit it out of the park on this one. I printed it and read it to my husband--who has a famously short attention span, but after he ran out of attention and I stopped reading, about page 10, he came back later and said, I want you to read me the rest of that article this afternoon.

We were both impressed by how much time Gene obviously put into the research for the article.

I was totally thinking, man, give me one year with that guy and he would be rich and famous, or at least his electric bills would be paid on time and he would have money in the bank. And then I realized, can't do it--I already have a full-time project, the aforementioned short-attention-span artist spouse. There are actually a LOT of guys like this who could be much happier if they found the right woman. Z is just an extreme case.

Posted by: Reader | January 22, 2006 11:27 AM | Report abuse

I'm glad you put this link up, Joel. I was going to put a link to it in the boodle, but it's clearly Kitworthy.

That story is really, really good.

bc

Posted by: bc | January 22, 2006 11:31 AM | Report abuse

A clinic in feature writing? No. I'd say it's something more than that.

One line I liked: "It turns out that the fundamental principles of economics are no match for the fundamental desperation of suburban parents."

FWIW, One line I didn't like was when he wrote that young children understand irony, but not sarcasm.

But wowzer, what a great story.

Posted by: Bayou Self | January 22, 2006 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Loved the magazine cover story this week. A story about a very funny man, written by a very funny man ... and what did I do? I cried.

Posted by: LC | January 22, 2006 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Wow - that is a fine, fine story. The last paragraph literally brought tears to my eyes (glad I wasn't the only one!). Maybe Gene W could profile Cheney or Condi next...

Posted by: mostlylurking | January 22, 2006 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, Reader, my first reaction was that I wanted to rescue him too! But I'm afraid it can't be done, at least by those of us two, three, or seven states away. Great story.

Posted by: Slyness | January 22, 2006 6:35 PM | Report abuse

I read the story last night (went against my standard rule and opened the "Sunday" part of the paper that comes on Saturday) and then made my teenage son read it when he got home. There's so much compassion in the way the story was written.

When Gene W began exposing the Great Zucchini, I wondered if anyone would ever let the guy into their home again, much less pay him so much to entertain their children.

But the way Gene W handled it was beautiful. Like Joel said, Gene took him apart and then carefully put him back together again.

Posted by: TBG | January 22, 2006 7:54 PM | Report abuse

Reader writes:
I was totally thinking, man, give me one year with that guy and he would be rich and famous, or at least his electric bills would be paid on time and he would have money in the bank. And then I realized, can't do it--I already have a full-time project, the aforementioned short-attention-span artist spouse. There are actually a LOT of guys like this who could be much happier if they found the right woman. Z is just an extreme case.

Dear Reader:
I'm so glad you wrote that, because I bet a lot of women had the same reaction: I should turn this guy around. I could rescue him. He needs a good woman. And you're right, of course. But he's no puppy, he's well into his 30s, right? And probably has been the subject of innumerable efforts along those lines. I think the real question is whether people can be changed. I think people can change, but I'm not sure they can be changed by an outside agency. I think it has to come from within. No?

Posted by: Achenbach | January 23, 2006 8:21 AM | Report abuse

You are completely correct that change has to come from within. But a good woman could organize his life and reduce the stress on him. The question is, would it be worth it to him? And would he be willing/able to discover her needs and try to meet them? That's the only way such a relationship would work.

Posted by: slyness | January 23, 2006 8:42 AM | Report abuse

There's the old saw along the lines of:

Women marry men hoping they'll change.
Men marry women hoping they never will.

Joel, I think you're right. Real change comes from within. On the other hand, if you don't have hope, what do you have?

bc

Posted by: bc | January 23, 2006 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Here's another thing that most guys won't mention upon reading "TGZ".

That is - how much of themselves they see in this guy.

Gene identifies with this guy, so do I. He's like EveryGuy, with a lot of the safties off.

bc

Posted by: bc | January 23, 2006 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Joel,

I'm the expert on this subject. I've been married for 20+ years to a guy who, when I met him, had no socks, no bank account, no fixed address. Today he has car payments and credit card debt. And does he thank me? Ha.

But seriously, this is a very complicated subject. I couldn't have stayed married to my guy all these years if it depended on his changing. It has always been, I don't depend on him, I just try to enjoy what we have together, and I organize our life so that his irresponsibility only results in negative impact to him, not to me or our daughter.

In other words, I think I agree with you.

Posted by: Reader | January 23, 2006 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Reader... did the same thing only now he has car payments, two kids, a house (i.e., mortgage) AND a PhD he wouldn't have gotten without me.

The worst part? I'm almost as bad as The Great Z. I get by enough to arrange for auto payment of our bills and hiring people to show up regularly to mow the lawn and clean the house. I'm just a hair better at it than my husband and my kids. It's just inertia I think that keeps us going along OK.

Posted by: TBG | January 23, 2006 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Something that Gene implies here; or rather, something that I may have read into it...

If TGZ were to mature, become responsible, "grow up", etc., what would it do to his ability to relate to young children? Is it worth losing that innocence (and it's attendant immaturity) to be "just like everybody else"?

bc

Posted by: bc | January 23, 2006 10:35 AM | Report abuse

bc, that, of course, is the essential question. Perhaps the answer is that we have safe houses/group home arrangements for these types, to preserve their innocence while keeping the IRS and other creditors at bay.

Posted by: slyness | January 23, 2006 10:54 AM | Report abuse

I have seen TGZ perform numerous times, and he recently performed at my son's birthday. I have also paid obscene sums of money for other forms of birthday entertainment. I cannot say enough about the quality of his professionalism. Aside from his uncanny ability to make the kids roar with laughter, he always confirms his appointment, shows up early, and mails an extensive thank you to your child after the party. He went above and beyond the job and I was more than a satisfied customer. He even shared his theories on discipline for children - which were exactly in line with what they preach at our elite pre-school. I was surprised (although not completely) to learn about the level of chaos in the remaining parts of his life. I felt protective of him as I read on - Gene Weingarten seemed to take advantage of his "childlike" trust and naivete. I have no idea the impact the article will have on his career, but I challenge parents to find an entertainer that can make the kids any happier.

Posted by: Reader | January 23, 2006 11:12 AM | Report abuse

[This must be a different "Reader" from OUR Reader, i.e., the Reader who lives in Florida and has a grown-up daughter. Right?]

Posted by: Tom fan | January 23, 2006 12:19 PM | Report abuse

I have aspirations to write and those around me tell me I should. With a piece like this I'm tempted to toss the computer, all my pens and pencils and all my notebooks and paper in the trash. Wow! Just bloody, Wow!

If there's not an award floating around looking for an article like this then there should be no awards at all. Imagine the movie script this would make!

Posted by: JIm Brodhead | January 23, 2006 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Hey, that's MY generic-sounding handle!! The nerve of some other "reader" to use the handle "Reader" when everyone knows I have a copyright on that! And it's really a boost to my ego to be known as Reader, because reading has always been the one thing I can do better than anybody. But, I'm like a bald eagle in my Achenshyness and I will retreat from any position, give up any handle, concede any point, conciliate any sniper. Even though Reader2 above may turn out to be a one-issue commenter, I wouldn't want to discourage her/him from hanging around.

Ho hum, maybe it's time to bring back kbertocci. What do you say, Achenfan? Everybody has forgotten that "kbertocci" swore never to appear on the blog again, haven't they?

Posted by: "Reader" | January 23, 2006 9:31 PM | Report abuse

This is one of the best pieces of journalism written in a long time. It seems worthy of a Pulitzer. My wife and I were really impressed. Our own preschool age children ran amok in the house while we sat and read the article.

Posted by: Erik R | January 24, 2006 1:09 PM | Report abuse

As a mother of 3 little ones, I have been to numerous birthday parties and have seen a handful of children's entertainers. None of other children's performers come close to the quality show that the Zucchini puts on. He has an ability to make kids laugh harder than anyone. He is a kind, wonderful entertainer and children are crazy about him. From a journalistic standpoint the article was a fantastic. I just hope that the piece does not hurt his career.

Posted by: Niki | January 24, 2006 3:20 PM | Report abuse

An nice story, indeed.

The Great Zucchini could use an part-time secretary/house manager at least.

If I made that kind of money I would definitely invest in somebody to handle the stuff I hate to do, like paying bills and so on, and give me some ideas on how to make it easy for me. I guess it just hasn't occured to him yet that would be good to do.

And I resent the idea that women merely exist to do the bills.

Posted by: Wilbrod | January 24, 2006 3:25 PM | Report abuse

I've never been impressed with Gene Weingarten, but this article was amazing. Everyone I know has been talking about it. I just hope Eric Knaus' business won't be hurt by the article... Let's not kid ourselves that all those wealthy parents are saints, either. Personally, I don't have kids yet but I can't wait to be able to hire The Great Zucchini!

Posted by: Susan | January 25, 2006 5:57 PM | Report abuse

I also was very moved by the article and impressed by the amount of depth that it showed. Recently, I have been reading a book called Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with ADD from Childhood through Adulthood by Edward M. Hollowell, M.D., and John J Ratey, M.D. It is a fascinating book and provides one of the best descriptions of adult ADD I have read. I could not help but wonder, having read the article on the heels of the book, if the Great Zucchini could suffer from this. One particularly interesting portion of the book discusses ADD and addictive behaviors. One wonderful thing the Great Zucchini has, that many don't, is the money to pursue a diagnosis and/or some help. He is such a talented person. I believe he could retain his talent, even while receiving help - particularly if his problem does not stem from a lack of willingness to grow up but from some other source. I wish him the very best!

Posted by: Dee | January 26, 2006 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Gene Weingarten, I am not worried about changing
"The Great Zucchini"
Mr. Eric Knaus as a person. I am more concerned about you missing the opportunity of turning this true life-time story into a great movie. My wife took the her precious time to read your article to me. And I was amazed by your good writing ability to tell the true accurate facts about this man's life.
I have a not seen a good biographical movie since my two-year old daughter was born. By the time this movie is made, I should be able to take my daughter to see it. This would be the next best thing to the movie the "Green Mile".

Please by all means do not miss this opportunity we all are looking forward to it.
By the way, needless to say you are a very talented writer.

Thank-you for the possibility of seeing
something worthwhile on the silver screen.

Posted by: DR. EDELEN | January 27, 2006 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Gene Weingarten, I am not worried about changing
"The Great Zucchini"
Mr. Eric Knaus as a person. I am more concerned about you missing the opportunity of turning this true life-time story into a great movie. My wife took the her precious time to read your article to me. And I was amazed by your good writing ability to tell the true accurate facts about this man's life.
I have a not seen a good biographical movie since my two-year old daughter was born. By the time this movie is made, I should be able to take my daughter to see it. This would be the next best thing to the movie the "Green Mile".

Please by all means do not miss this opportunity we all are looking forward to it.
By the way, needless to say you are a very talented writer.

Thank-you for the possibility of seeing
something worthwhile on the silver screen.

Posted by: DR. EDELEN | January 27, 2006 1:27 PM | Report abuse

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