A little bit of everything, from shower towels to work trucks


A dump truck on I-270 warns motorists not to follow it. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
John Kelly
Columnist September 3

If you are a husband, you may want to hide the newspaper this morning.

Or am I being presumptuously sexist, assuming that only male spouses will be affected by what I’m about to reveal?

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

And who reads the newspaper today, anyway? Odds are you’re reading this on your mobile phone, which is entirely under your control, its browsing history a secret between you and the NSA.

All I’m saying is, don’t let your wife (or husband [or partner]) see this column.

Anyway, to the matter at hand: Some months ago, I wrote about the battle that breaks out every morning in the Kelly bathroom. By mutual agreement, whoever takes the last shower has to squeegee down the tiled walls. This is to reduce the moisture, which can allow mold and mildew to get a beach head in the grout.

After that column ran, several colleagues informed me that their wives were inspired to institute a similar regimen in their homes. Their bitter message to me: “Thanks a lot, John.”

What they didn’t know — won’t know until now (hide the paper) — is that we no longer do that in my house. No, what we do is much worse.

Several readers e-mailed to say that a squeegee pales in comparison to a super-absorbent towel. These towels, they said, magically wick away moisture, leaving surfaces dry and clean.

I made the mistake of mentioning this to My Lovely Wife. So now whoever takes the last shower has to towel off the tile.

Big deal, you say? Well careful research has proven that the towel does work well, but only after squeegeeing. Now, the last person to take a shower has to squeegee it, then wipe it with a towel.

And that person is usually me. I spend more time drying the inside of the shower than taking a shower.

I didn’t mean to get all Heloisey on you, but there you are.

A real following

Have I been breaking the law? Have you?

I speak of those signs on the backs of trucks that read: WORK VEHICLE. DO NOT FOLLOW.

The only way you can read the sign is if you’re following the truck. How can I not follow the truck? He’s on the Beltway. I’m on the Beltway. Am I supposed to quickly change my route?

These signs are like someone saying, “Don’t think of an elephant.” I can’t help thinking of an elephant, and now I can’t help but follow the truck that says “DO NOT FOLLOW.”

It turns out that the signs are federally mandated. They’re required for vehicles — dump trucks, asphalt trucks and water trucks, typically — that enter work zones on highways.

“The purpose of the sign is to prevent drivers from inadvertently following a truck off the intended roadway and into a construction zone creating accidents in the work areas,” wrote Kevin J. Holden, an equipment manager with VDOT, in an e-mail.

So, you’re allowed to follow the truck, just don’t follow it into a work zone.

Phone tag

When he read my Tuesday column about the introduction of telephones into cars way back in the 1940s, Arlington reader Richard Juhnke was reminded of a story he read about Lyndon B. Johnson when the Texas Democrat was Senate majority leader.

LBJ had a telephone in his chauffeured car, reportedly the first such phone for a legislator in Washington. Minority Leader Everett Dirksen did not.

“And that always made Dirksen feel a bit jealous,” Richard wrote.

Finally, Dirksen got a phone for his car. With relish, he called the Democratic leader while both were riding in their limousines to tell Johnson of his new toy.

“Can you hold on a minute, Ev?” Johnson asked. “My other phone is ringing.”

Scents and sensibility

A couple of weeks back I lamented that we hadn’t had a true Washington summer day, with scorching temperatures and high humidity. Well, we’ve had a few now.

I think it was a coincidence — I’m pretty sure I don’t have the power to control the weather — but I did find the brief hot spell enjoyable. Changes in temperature bring out a house’s history. It isn’t always a pleasant history, but then again, history is full of stuff we’d rather forget.

When our Silver Spring house gets hot, certain rooms (including, oddly, the linen closet) smell like cigarette smoke. It reminds us of the previous owners, who apparently sucked down many a cancer stick while they lived here.

In our previous house, hot, humid weather brought out the smell of cat pee, an odor we tried hard to eliminate after moving in.

Sometimes the house takes on a smell I think of simply as “old house.” It’s a pre-air conditioning smell and not unpleasant: wood, plaster, dust on a console radio’s warm vacuum tubes, perhaps a whiff of rose water or drying varnish.

So many memories can be packed into a smell.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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