The Great Zucchini
This piece by Gene Weingarten is a simply amazing article that appeared recently in the Washington Post magazine. It’s about Washington D.C.’s most famous children’s entertainer, the Great Zucchini. Even if that doesn’t sound interesting, read it anyway. Trust me. Here is a slight tease:
At the moment, the Great Zucchini was trying and failing to blow up a balloon, letting it whap him in the face, hard. Then he poured water on his head. Then he produced what appeared to be a soiled diaper, wiped his cheek with it, and wore it like a hat as the kids ewwww-ed. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Great Zucchini was behaving like a complete idiot.
Trey’s aunt saw me taking notes. “You’re writing a story about him?” Vicki Cox asked, amused. I confirmed that I was.
“But . . . why?” she asked.
A few feet away, the Great Zucchini was pretending to be afraid of his own hand.
“I mean,” Vicki said, “what’s the hook?”
Now, the Great Zucchini was eating toilet paper.
“I mean, are you that desperate?” she asked.
On the floor in front of us, the kids — 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds — were convulsed in laughter. Literally. They were rolling on the carpeted floor, holding their tummies, mouths agape, little teeth jubilantly bared, squealing with abandon. In the vernacular of stand-up, the Great Zucchini was killing. Among his victims was Trey, who, as promised, had indeed been re-transitioned into his own party.
The show lasted 35 minutes, and when it was over, an initially skeptical Don Cox forked over a check without complaint. The fee was $300. It was the first of four shows the Great Zucchini would do that Saturday, each at the same price. The following day, there were four more. This was a typical weekend.
Do the math, if you can handle the results. This unmarried, 35-year-old community college dropout makes more than $100,000 a year, with a two-day workweek. Not bad for a complete idiot.
As the piece progresses, you learn a lot about the Great Zucchini — warts and all. The piece is a fascinating study of an endearing but flawed human being. It’s written with the eye for detail and turn of phrase of a Tobias Wolff or Raymond Carver.
I am a newly minted Gene Weingarten fan.
Thanks to Lileks (via Jim Lindgren at Volokh) for the recommendation. I agree with Lileks: this is Pulitzer material.
P.S. Don’t miss Weingarten’s follow-up online chat. The Great Zucchini makes an appearance, and Weingarten includes passages that his editors cut from the story.