John Kelly writes five times a week about the joys and annoyances of living in Washington. He aims to show readers the Washington (and Silver Spring, Alexandria, Manassas, Bowie ...) that they know and take them places they don't know. He wants to make them see familiar things in unfamiliar ways and unfamiliar things in familiar ways. ("We may occasionally end up seeing unfamiliar things in unfamiliar ways," John says, "but such are the risks of the job.") His columns take a cockeyed view of the place the rest of the planet knows as the Capital of the Free World but that we all call home. John rides the Metro for fun and once kidnapped an Irishman to see what made him tick.
Fridays at 1 p.m. ET John is online to chat about his columns and mull over anything that's on your mind.
This week's columns:
Tales From the Haunted Accountants (Post, April 15)
Sex and the Wrong City (Post, April 14)
Death and Destruction, Just for Practice (Post, April 13)
Making Change at the Jewelry Store (Post, April 12)
Answer Man: An Artful Stop for Metro (Post, April 11)
John Kelly and unidentified revelers.
(For The Washington Post)
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
John Kelly: A miraculous thing happened last Thursday night. At around 7 p.m., just after the president tossed the ceremonial first patch at RFK Stadium, peace broke out in the Middle East. Jewish settlers welcomed Palestinians into their homes and vice versa.
And that's not all: In the disputed Kashmir region, Pakistanis and Indians put down their weapons and picked up cricket bats, only to put down their cricket bats and pick up baseball bats.
A warm glow suffused the grim streets of Belfast in Northern Ireland. Tutsi and Hutu played badminton together.
And all because Washington had a baseball team at last.
I'm sorry, I'm as guilty as the next guy, but the rose-colored coverage of the Nationals is starting to get to me. You?
Columns this week: Monday was the leaf art at the New York Ave. Metro; Tuesday was a suburban diamond heist (and traffic cone theft); Wednesday was a terrorist drill overheard on the train; Thursday was how much sexier San Diego is than Washington (at least for pandas); and today is some April 15th hijinks.
Let's get it on...
In today's column (Friday) you talk about your tax refund "ebbing away". I know the feeling. That "ebbing" is getting out of control. Monthly expenses we never would have imagined ten years ago are now "necessities". Cable (premium, at that)high speed internet access, cell phones (at least two per family), etc. When looking at where we can cut monthly outflow of income, these areas of expense are considered as essential as bread and milk, only much more expensive. Maybe it's a sign of my advancing middle age, but I am having a hard time adjusting to all of this.
And when did a college education at parents' expense become a birthright? My father pointed down the road to College Park, and said "go to it, son. I'm sure you can earn your way through." I did, and when I graduated that was the last day I was not in debt.
John Kelly: I find myself wondering the same thing. I got a little help from my Dad for college, but not so much that I didn't have to work as many hours a week as I went to school. (I worked in a photo lab. And if you've ever wondered if the people who process your pictures look at them, yes we do. [Of course, now everything is digital, so those voyeuristic days may be coming to an end.])
I think this acquisitive streak may be chemical: you feel a physical urge to have more things. You buy them and the high only lasts a little while before you need more.
Cherry Blossom Fan, not DC:
I need your help. The weather forecast for Friday (4/15) has taken a sudden turn for the worse, cherry blossom wise, and is now officially "breezy." They are predicting northeast wind between 16 and 24 mph. Seems to me this is enough to bring the curtain crashing down on the blossom show. Can you (or anyone who could report in?) see the prime viewing area from work?
John Kelly: Alas, I cannot see them. I can't see anything from my office but Steve Barr. We don't get actual "windows," just glass walls that look onto each others office. Anyone else out there have any intelligence?
Ok answer man, here's my question. Years ago there was a song and part of that song was (from what I can remember): "the royal order of the grand convention of the allegheny baba ali baba temple and the shrine: meanwhile back at the hotel...". What was the name of that song and who sang it? It's sticking in my head and it won't go away. HELP!
John Kelly: Methinks you are making this up. There is no way that can be part of a real song. It sounds a little like a bad band trying to ape "Sgt. Peppers"-era Beatles but even the mighty Google is incapable of identifying any scrap of the lyric. Anyone out there have a clue?
Why newspapers are accused of bias:
In his discussion today Terry provided this "clarification" distributed by the Post's news service:
/A Washington Post article about congressional intervention in the Terri Schiavo case (SCHIAVO-POST, moved March 19) included a description of a memo asserting that the action could benefit Republicans politically. The article moved by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service, an early version of one that appeared in The Washington Post, said the memo was "distributed to Republican senators by party leaders." The version of the article published by the paper did not specify the authorship and noted that the memo was unsigned. The authorship remains unknown./
Fine, except it only clarifies that at the time this was distributed the Post did not know who wrote the memo. It fails to address the accusation that the memo had been distributed by Republican party leaders. Please talk to the Poo-bahs at the Post and get this mess cleared up.
John Kelly: I'm not sure what you mean by this. We know who wrote the memo now, someone who worked for Republican Sen. Mel Martinez. Martinez passed it to Tom Harkin. Are you saying that "leaders" was incorrect because it was only one leader, that is, Martinez?
washingtonpost.com: Counsel to GOP Senator Wrote Memo On Schiavo (Post, April 7, 2005)
John Kelly: Here's the story where we finger the guy...
Heard you on Marketplace last evening. You sound like a pretty educated guy. Didn't sound short at all!
John Kelly: And I was standing up while I read it, too.
For those who missed it, Marketplace had seen my column a while back on how to read a newspaper and they asked me to record a (much-shortened) version as a commentary on the day that publishers released their earnings figures. It was fun, although after first recording it two weeks ago I had to go back to their DC studio two days ago to re-record it, excising a reference to Peter Jennings.
Help me out, Answer Man!
Why was Ranier--and all his predecessors--called "prince"? He was head of state, however small it is. Why not king?
John Kelly: Technically Monaco is a principality, not a kingdom, but perhaps more pertinent is that the founder of Monaco wasn't a prince. He was a Genoese named Francesco Grimaldi who with a bunch of friends tricked his way into Monaco's gate by claiming to be monks in need of rest and then slaughtered the guards. The New York Times obit of the Rainier said "No Grimaldi ever called himself a king but did expect to be addressed as 'serene highness.'"
Anyone who actually drives on a regular basis knows why that horrible witch in "True Crime II" and her little hell spawn would feel it's OK to pull up in someone's driveway and steal their orange cones. SUV drivers can do whatever they want, whenever they want. If they need to change lanes, they can force their way over like a city bus during rush hour. Parking spaces too small or labeled "Compact Only"? They don't care, there's always a little extra space on the other side of that white line. If someone else loses a tail light in the process, it's just their fault for not having a higher bumper.
Sometimes I'm glad those stupid things roll over so easily.
John Kelly: This is in reference to the item in Tuesday's column about an SUV that pulled into a Bethesda driveway only to disgorge a mother and son who pinched five orange traffic cones and drove off. I had one reader who said that maybe it was a neighbor who was tired of looking at the unsightly cones. As if that made it right.
John Kelly: During last week's ill-fated chat someone sent in a question about overnight parking at Metro garages, specifically how some people park for multiple days but are charged for only one day on their SmarTrip card when they leave. When our internet connection went kablooey I wasn't able to answer it. Now I can. Here's what Metro's Candace Smith sent me:
"We do not charge for multiple days of parking at this time. We charge each time a customer exits. We have Multi-Day Parking at Greenbelt, Franconia-Springfield and Huntington. The only way to know if a car is parked for multiple days is if the driver touchs the SmarTrip card when he or she enters a lot. Our equipment is not set up for that, but we're looking at doing that."
Seems like Metro could make some sort of revenue by fixing the SmarTrip to read time spent in the garage, not just in/out.
Your chat is a great source of guidance for me. Last week you told us that tourists are good for the city in some ways, and should not be abused as punishment for their tendency to clog the Metro and cause other annoyances. But what about IMF protestors? They're clearly the most annoying sort of visitor to this area (except for those who are elected). Are they fair game for abuse? Is it OK to call them names and shove them out of the way, or are we supposed to be nice to them as well? I look forward to your guidance.
John Kelly: I think you should ignore them, the same as you should ignore the Larouche wackos passing out literature at the Silver Spring Metro station and the Scientologists offering free "stress tests" in Farragut Square.
Submitting early because work sometimes gets in the way. I know this is not your responsibility, but maybe you could pass it on to the correct manager. I have been a loyal Post subscriber for over 10 years. Why does a new subscriber get a better deal than me? Maybe I should cancel my subscription, read the Post on line for 6 months, and then get my good deal. Why not reward your LOYAL subscribers instead of insulting them?
John Kelly: I get this sort of message every other week and I confess that I just don't get it. Yes, we value you as a subscriber, especially if you're a long-time subscriber. But we hope our relationship is sufficiently strong that you aren't incensed by our occasional overtures to new subscribers. All sorts of businesses do the same thing. I just got a new credit card and they offered me some sort of protection insurance that was free for the first 90 days. Should I have expected it to be free for the next 90 and the next 90?
We do offer something called Post Rewards for subscribers. It's a card that gets you discounts at area restaurants. For info:
National Zoo, D.C.:
Is is rude to hang up on telemarketers? What happened to the once-effective 'do not call list'? I started getting many telemarketing calls again.
talk about annoyance.
John Kelly: I usually tell them that I'm hanging up. I just say "I'm not interested, thanks" and then hang up. Remember that companies with whom you have an existing "relationship" are allowed to call, as are charities.Any one else noticed a recent uptick?
I just wanted to mention that I valued the used underwear I donated at $1.50 per pair. Not only does this follow the Salvation Army's donation guide, but it makes my underwear more valuable that Bill Clinton's, which I feel is entirely appropriate.
John Kelly: As conspicuous consumers, we have a lot of excess stuff that we donate every year, including clothes. But we never donate underwear. That just seems to fall in the category of stuff that should be thrown away when it's no longer useful. I used to shop at thrift stores a lot in college and sometimes I felt weird about wearing Dead Men's Clothes. But at least I never wore Dead Men's Underpants.
I do remember as a child that my father's old underwear would show up as rags to apply Turtle Wax to whichever sports car he owned at the time.
Penn Quarter, D.C.:
Do you find it interesting that there is an ad blitz on the Post's website for Acela -- the same day that Acela is grounded (so to speak) for cracks in its brakes?
John Kelly: Just one of life's great inadvertent ironies. I took Acela to Boston a few years ago. I love trains, and I feel sorry for Amtrak, but it was a pretty grim ride.
Heard you on Marketplace yesterday. I'm a big consumer of internet news, and I'd hate to see the sites I frequent disappear. Is washingtonpost.com in trouble? I'd be willing to pay just for the online discussions. Well, not yours. But Weingarten's, definitely.
John Kelly: Is washingtonpost.com in trouble? No, it's newsPAPERS that are in trouble. But see, the thing of it is, the web site gets the NEWS from the NEWSpaper. There are actual flesh and blood people behind all those pixels. And like flesh and blood people everywhere, they need food to live and a roof over their heads. There will always be news. There may even always be newspapers, in some form. But someone's gotta figure out a way to make money with whatever the future holds. Maybe we just sell subscriptions to Weingarten. But we're gonna be charging you more.
I am visiting Washington, DC on Sunday. Will there still be any cherry blossoms worth seeing? Thank you.
John Kelly: My assistant, Julie Feldmeier, spoke with the National Park Service. There's good news and bad news. The bad news is the blossoms are on their last legs. There probably won't be any worth seeing on Sunday. The good news is I'm getting $2,000 back from the Feds.
Front Royal, Va.:
I too was involved in a terrorist plot exercise. It was in Hawaii and pre-911. I was one of the terrorists and although some people knew it was an exercise, others did not. We did things like actually let air out of the tires (not slash) of the Rescue Vehicles, and we kidnapped a local civilian who was thrilled to play along once we explained and a whole bunch of other crazy stuff. But the best part of all was that my boss was one of the negotiators. I was giving him hell and actually getting out a lot of my real frustrations on him (but he didn't know that). Oh, we also had some paintball guns acting as sniper rifles and my team of terrorists actually won the battle (we got the opponents flag) and killed the negotiator (my boss). It was great!
John Kelly: Congratulations. Did it make for tense times in the breakroom the next day? "Uh, sorry about killing you yesterday."
Go for the 12-string! The sound is so much better; you'll really appreciate it. (And mine was way less than 2 grand!) Plus, it frees up your old 6 string for one of your kids, so two people get something!
John Kelly: I hardly play my 6-string. If I get a 12-string I'll need to play it twice as much to feel like I deserve it.
washingtonpost.com: http://www.italiaguitars.com/guitarDetail_outer.php?thisGuitarId=18John Kelly: If I do get one, this is what I want. I believe that finish is made from something called "mother of toilet seat."
Not a cubicle dweller:
I heard you the other night on WETA radio talking about how to read a newspaper. Just had to tell you that you sound NOTHING like I thought you would.
John Kelly: Now, see, this is the sort of thing that worries me. What did you think I would sound like? Not quite as masculine? A Swedish accent?
Q: How many Bush Administration officials does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: None. There is nothing wrong with the light bulb; its conditions are improving every day. Any reports of its lack of incandescence are a delusional spin from the liberal media. That light bulb has served honorably, and anything you say undermines the lighting effect. Why do you hate freedom?
John Kelly: Talk about cursing the darkness...
A Metro Parking Lot:
Why doesn't Metro install a few fare card machines in their parking lots? This would eliminate backups at the exits and ease a lot of troubled souls behind me in line.
John Kelly: I don't know. I wonder if they don't have enough to spare. I'll tell you what I wish: that they would install more than two SmarTrip machines in each station. They really get bogged down by tourists using their Diners Club cards to buy 17 individual Farecards for their 4-H group.
On the Radio:
"Meanwhile, back at the ranch..."
Might have been a Ray Stevens song. Ahab the Arab.
John Kelly: Reports are filtering in....
For Frederick with the Shriner song running through his head....It's a legit song. Ray Stevens' classic about the shenigans of Shriners in town for a convention. Most of Ray's songs are works of art and my fantasy is to be back-up singer for him.
My favorite: "Would Jesus Wear a Rollex on His Television Show."
John Kelly: Confirmation. Thank you.
Sorry I asked!;
John Kelly: So am I.
I want to be in a terrorist emergency drill. They sound fun!
John Kelly: I found my turn as Boy With Flail Chest to be sort of creepy. It turns out there's a word for makeup that approximates the look of accident victims. It's called moulage. I even found a moulage Web site that said "Image Perspectives: The Injury Simulation People."
Pentagon, Arlington, Va.: The sun is shining, it's supposed to be a lovely weekend, and the Nat's are in first place with a perfect record at home. Can it get any better?
John Kelly: No. Well, Cristian Guzman could start getting a few hits. That would be nice.
So you got the guy. But, to be clear:
A staffer for a first term Senator is not a GOP leader. Indeed, the first term senatory isn't a GOP leader. So the Post still hasn't put the memo in the hands of the leadership--Frist, McConnell, Santorum.
The Post still owes the GOP leadership a correction.
John Kelly: Well, some in the GOP spent time saying that the memo was the work of Democrats, so be careful what you wish for.
Silver Spring, Md.:
I occasionaly read parts of the Baltimore Sun online to get more news about Maryland happenings. I happen to be a fan of Dan Rodericks, a nice op-ed columnist they have. However, he went on a rant about the Nationals in his Thursday column, and I don't appreciate it. I'm neutral on the whole baseball thing, mainly b/c I've never been a huge fan of the sport, but I like having it here and might see a few games. Dan Rodericks however, is trashing the DC area and making it seem like the only people who want baseball here are wealthy businessmen who whine and complain and know how to lobby to get their way. Why is Baltimore so bitter?!
Here's the link if you're interested http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/bal-md.rodricks14apr14,1,1356866.column?coll=bal-home-columnists
John Kelly: Boy, what a bitter little blast of bile. I'm glad he's such an expert on Washington. He's attacking not just a straw man but a straw city: Washington is all Chevy Chase and Georgetown and rich lobbyists. Baltimore is all steelworkers from Cockeysville. Uh, no.
I agree that The Media can take pretty much any little story and blow it up into gigantic, self-parody proportions. I liked Fahri's article this morning in Style. I feel bad for the stadium neighbors who can't park in their own neighborhood without a special pass that they had to stand in line to get during a work day. The team and city knew for months this game was going to happen, why not mail them out or just accept a zone parking permit?
John Kelly: Here's Paul's story:
washingtonpost.com: On Opening Day, The Bases Are Loaded (Post, April 15)
John Kelly: Right here....
Not a cubicle dweller:
You sounded younger and shorter than I thought. Just focus on the younger part of the explanation, I have no way to explain why your voice made me think of a stature dimention.
John Kelly: I had a stuffy nose. At least I didn't sound like a woman. Not that there's anything wrong with sounding like a woman. If you're a woman, that is.
Um, the cape that Leiby was wearing sort of looked rather gay. Purpleish. OH MY GOD!;
John Kelly: All his capes are like that. Except for the green one. But for some reason he hardly wears that one anymore.
What's the scam?
Guy standing at the entrance to the King Street Metro station. He's saying, "Ten dollar Metro ticket, five dollars, ten dollar Metro ticket, five dollars..."
I figured at first he had a ticket he didn't need any more (maybe he's a tourist?), but then saw a lady apparently buy his ticket (I say apparently because I was by then out of earshot). She went on her way, and he stayed where he was - and it looked like he was selling another ticket.
So what's the scam?
John Kelly: Could he have written an extra zero on a $1.00 fare card? Or maybe he's getting them through an employer-subsidized program that gives you $30 worth of farecards for $25 bucks or something.
I'm getting about $800 back from the Feds. I look just like you, only smaller. When's the contest?
John Kelly: The consensus seems to be that there is no one smaller than me.
John, I was riding the Green Line to L'Enfant this morning during rush hour, and a couple (tourists!) looked so scared it was amazing. The man had his arm around the woman and both were rigid as a board. Was it wrong that I pointed and laughed?
John Kelly: I wonder if this is the couple I saw getting on at Gallery Place. The man barged on before anyone got off and then the woman timidly stepped aboard. I believe they were from France.
Crystal City, Va.:
What we wish is that the A section of your paper would admit that they took the story a little farther than the facts substantiate. A correction - I'm sorry, you do "clarifications" in this century - would be in order.
John Kelly: This is why I don't cover politics.
Lets not start keeping score:
...instead we should all hold our breath and wait for FoxNews to make one retraction about 1 of their millions of false statements made this week.
John Kelly: Now, now. We're all Americans, aren't we?
Did anyone happen to catch Fox5's special on the opening game last night, where the first person they interviewed about the stadium was wearing a Braves hat? With all the fans there, they had to put a Braves fan on tv?
John Kelly: Yes, well of course, they would, wouldn't they? They were under orders to find someone from a Red State first and interview him.
Don't get the 12-string:
That double the time you'll spend tuning up. Every 12-string sold should come with a roadie. If you must, get the $100K Martin with your tax refund.
John Kelly: That's funny. I saw a guy selling that same guitar for $10,000 outside the Farragut North Metro this morning.
How does my house know that I am getting a refund? In the several weeks, we learned that our Chimney needs "pointing" and my garage door springs need replacing (one snapped).
seems to happen in the couple of months that have three paydays as well (except that seems to be car repairs).
have a great weekend!;
John Kelly: Thank you. Houses seem to know when it's time to spend money on the most unsatisfying things imaginable: a new sump pump, gutters, chimney flashing. My neighbors about to shell out big bucks to have a retaining wall rebuilt. Just imagine the peace mind you'll have when it's all fixed, though.
The Starbucks across the street debited my Metro card when I didn't have cash for my latte. I believe Starbucks has begun implementing Phase II of their world domination strategy.
John Kelly: My prediction: Soon SmarTrip cards will have organ donor information on them.
Tax ironies: My fiance bought a condo last year, refund: $3000.
I paid for grad school last year, refund: $3000. I loved that I'm getting as much back as he is. Actually, his refund was $1200 until I redid his taxes for him. He won't give me the difference, though.
John Kelly: Man, you should definitely work out some sort of percentage basis next year.
What did you have for lunch today?
John Kelly: Turkey quacamole wrap and chips.
And yes I did type "quacamole." It's a new kind, made from duck.
Half and Half, Va.:
I just want to second the first poster about "when did paying for kids' college become a birthright?". I'm only 32 (I still feel 19 tho, thus "only") and my two brothers and I all had to pay for one-half of our tuition. We went to state schools, so that wasn't painful. I get really annoyed at folks who think their parents should foot the entire bill. College is a privilege, not a right.
John Kelly: But let's consider the other side of the argument: Five years ago I did a journalism fellowship where I got to spend a year at Harvard, no strings attached. I wasn't working and it was great. I think my daughters might benefit from four years of undistracted attention to their studies, rather than four years of having to fret about paying their rent and tuition, as I did.
RE: pointing and laughing at tourists:
Would you want someone to point and laugh at you when you were brave enough to discover the beauties of an unfamiliar place?
Give 'em a break.
~Someone who's actually been other places
John Kelly: I hope that person was exaggerating. And let's remember the Golden Rule, people: Do unto etc.
The Ghost of George Harris, ON:
The Italia is cool. But you want a Rickenbacker. You know you do.
John Kelly: I don't think I'm worthy of a Rick. The Italia would be fine. Plus I could use it to take down drywall.
$10 farecard for $5:
was he selling the Metrocheck transit subsidy cards? They have a fairly distinct design.
John Kelly: I'll ask Metro if they're familiar with any scams. Look on the bright side: Maybe his customers got a deal. And if theyr'e tourists, they may come to love our fair city.
I heard part of a story about your column on the radio yesterday. It mentioned learning to read the paper--something very few are taught---like how to clean up your plate of food when young. Where can I find this article of yours?
Curious Christine in Denver
John Kelly: Here's a link...
washingtonpost.com: Read (but Not All!) About It (Post, Feb. 11, 2005)
John Kelly: ...Right here. Also, if you want to listen to the commentary yourself, and ponder whether I sound like Truman Capote or the Un-Cola Man or whomever, you can go to www.marketplace.org.
Re: getting $2,000 for your tax refund:
You are making the mistake most people do. You should never want to receive a refund. However anti-American it sounds, you should want to PAY at tax time.
You owe the government the money anyway. You will have to pay it eventually. It is better to have the use of the money for a year -- to be able to earn interest on it, or use it however you want -- than to have the government holding it for a year, earning interest for THEM.
Look at it this way: If someone loans you money, would you rather have to pay it back the next day or the next year??
John Kelly: You're right, but I don't think my skills are such that I can be confident I will owe a small amount. If it's the difference between getting $2,000 back and owing $2,000, I'd rather have the former.
Thrifty college student says - My parents would have loved to pay for college for my little brother and me, but it just wasn't in the cards. Luckily for us (or maybe thanks to a combination of good genes and parents that hvae made us work hard all our lives) my brother got a ROTC scholarship to Penn State and I got an academic scholarship to attend a school in this area. I still work a lot to pay rent and other expenses, and I can't say it's easy, but (according to my Dad) I'll have a good work ethic, a good education, and an appreciation of the fact that I worked hard for that education when I finish. I'm starting to realize it's the truth. Darn it, I hate it when Dad's right! (Which, coincidentally, he usually is!)
John Kelly: As was mine. You hear that, Daughters of Mine?
Buzzard Point, D.C.:
John - in response to the person who keeps bugging you for a Post correction.
A Senator of any party is a leader of that party. They may not be the grand poo-bah, but they're still a leader. Once you're elected to a group of 100 from a nation of millions, you become a leader of the nation, of your state, and of your party.
Sen. Clinton is a first term Senator, do you think if the rolls were not reversed that this reader wouldn't change their position???
John Kelly: You mean when they're a "freshman" Senator they're not stuffed into lockers by the seniors?
Thanks for joining me today. It really should be a lovely weekend this weekend, so get out and enjoy it. It might be time for me to sharpen the old blade on the lawnmower and tackle the lawn. Next week I'll be doing whatever it is I do, writing words and putting them in the paper. You do whatever you do too. And remember, I'm at email@example.com.