The armpit man
Humor writer Gene Weingarten conducted an online chat with Washington Post readers on March 29. His name may not mean much to most readers, but to our Battle Mountain demographic it will ring a bell. Weingarten is the journalist who labeled that community the “armpit of the nation.”
Weingarten’s gargantuan (7,041 words!) Dec. 2, 2001, Post article, “Why not the worst?” actually ended as a kind of love letter to the town, but before it reached that point, there was a lot of other stuff with words like “harsh” and “ghastly,” so it’s not surprising that “armpit of the nation” is what most people remember.
Weingarten selected Battle Mountain for the armpit designation based on reader nominations and two visits. A Seattle man recommended the Nevada hamlet.
In his online chat, Weingarten received a message from Howard Hirsch of Dayton, Nev., who commented on Weingarten’s career choice: “I expected something a little more scholarly, but I guess the fumes from the methyl ethyl ketone peroxide with which you and your cousin Margaret used to pickle bean sprouts for science projects back in Miss Nolan’s 4th grade class at PS 26 really got to you. However, you did tell me the first dirty joke I ever heard back then. By the way, you were right about Battle Mountain. I live about four hours away and have been through there a number of times.”
Weingarten replied, “Wow. I actually have a picture of you. You look nearly as dorky as I do. DO YOU REMEMBER SHARI BASNER? What was the first dirty joke? Our readers need to find out. Send it in a way that it is publishable.”
Hirsch responded, “Yes, I remember Shari Basner. She was a lot cuter than either one of us.”
Weingarten: “Well, I wrote a long story about her. She is still cute. Send me your email…and I’ll send you a copy. This is interesting.”
That left an important question unanswered, and just before the chat ended, Weingarten remembered. “But wait, Howard—WHAT WAS THE DIRTY JOKE?”
Hirsch had either dropped off the chat or gotten bashful about the joke because he did not respond. But a call to Dayton yielded this response:
“A priest and a rabbi both bought new cars, and they were trying to outdo each other with how proud they were of the cars. So first the priest washed his car. And then the rabbi decided to go one up on him, so he waxed his car and gave it a good detailing. Then the priest decided that he was going to baptize his car. And so the rabbi responded by cutting off one of the taillights.”
Hirsch says, “It’s a typical fourth-grade dirty joke.”
Hirsch, now an analyst with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, attended both Public School 26 and Macombs Community Junior High School in the Bronx with Weingarten.
This is not the only time Weingarten has returned to the subject of Battle Mountain since his prose gave that town its dubious nickname. During another online chat on May 13, 2002, a reader pointed out that the book Weingarten called the “worst novel in the world” later became an Internet cult hit, and the town he called the armpit had started the celebrated Armpit Festival. “How does it feel to be the patron saint of unintended consequences?” the reader asked.
Weingarten replied, “Well, it feels great, but these were hardly unintended consequences. … The [armpit] story ended with my telling the town, be mad at me if you want, but go get an antiperspirant company to bankroll your town. They did!”
The festival is underwritten by Old Spice Deodorant.
Even Weingarten’s loyal readers sometimes get into the act. They’re familiar enough with his work that one reader described the Amtrak route in an April 8, 2003, chat as “the dirty neck to the armpit and down the scaly torso of America to its stenchful nether-regions.”
Weingarten’s original story can be found at www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A31628-2001Nov28¬Found=true.