There’s a beautiful quality to Washington Post features posted online which has nothing to do with the pieces themselves. Online, the paper splits up its pieces into five pages or so. Like all other papers, they do this to increase the page views to help with advertising impressions. But unlike most other publications, the page-splits aren’t even. All the pages before the last tend to be very short, while the last is longer than the preceding pages put together, and then some.
Even if you’ve encountered this before, it’s very difficult to remember, and it works wonders with any piece. For as you head along, thinking, as you head to the final page, that you’ve got a rough sense of what the takeaway will be, it turns out you have no idea. You’re just getting started.
I’m happy about this because it puts the lie to one meta-theory to “The Great Zucchini,” which would otherwise make sense, so far as it goes. Sure, we might be reading an author describing himself. But this isn’t a piece that reads that way, and it doesn’t read like a “conventional profile.” Rather it’s very, very good journalism that rests its strengths on you sticking around past the first parts. Nothing about its enjoyment requires any greater understanding of the author; and its presentation, as it’s available to most of us, highlights that it’s not about the business of conventional presentation.
This is all the better because it allows for a piece that, if one wants to check out early, doesn’t do any violence to the subject. You can be pleased with the glimpse at the children’s entertainer, and you’re not necessarily wrong—your takeaway won’t much differ from those who stick through to the end.
The difference, like most great Weingarten pieces, is how you get there, and the feat here isn’t how Weingarten sand-blasts his happy profile piece and reconstructs his subject’s virtues as it is how he writes so patiently. There’s something incredible, as a reader, in sticking through the initial, cursory, happy reading, and the clear “dirt” of that approach, to reach something that reconciles an understanding of where a particularly odd talent comes from with the downsides of that particularly odd talent.
This is empathy, in other words, and with a subject that should never, in a million years, have necessitated that kind of patience. To have reached to the second part of the feature—the dark side of the childhood entertainer—would have more than earned Weingarten his fair share of congratulations. But to stick through that and really get to the heart of his subject speaks to a forgiveness on the part of the writer that is rare, beautful, and always, everywhere, exceptional, for how rare it appears.
There’s not much more to say about the virtues of this piece—read it—but it’s worth highlighting as a feature that has its head on straight, represents its subjects accurately, and seems content with nothing more than that. Even if it’s five years late to sing its praises, it still seems well worth it.