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John Kelly's Washington

Confronting Your Essential Trashy Nature

By John Kelly
Wednesday, November 10, 2004; Page C13

The question on my mind: Can people change? Can a person alter some fundamental aspect of his or her being?

An illustration: I remember in college being invited back to a young lady's apartment. When I went to use her bathroom, the first thing I did -- well, the second -- was poke around in her medicine cabinet. There I saw a little package of "dental sticks," thin wooden picks used to clean between the teeth and fight the scourge of gingivitis.

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This gave me pause. I didn't know what my future held as far as this woman went, but I was a dental floss man (when I bothered to think about my teeth at all) and I wasn't sure what I thought of someone who fell on the dental stick side of the gum line.

Who was that woman? It was My Lovely Wife, although in those days she was known as My Roommate's Ex-Girlfriend. She uses dental floss now, just one of the many accommodations each of us has made in the name of marital bliss.

This is on my mind because we moved to a new house about two months ago, and I'm not sure I'm adapting well to our new surroundings. I've forgotten what it's like to live in our old house, but I haven't quite figured out how to live in our new one.

The house sits on a hill. It's 20 steps from the street up to the front door. Then there are stairs up to the bedrooms. And stairs down to the basement to do the laundry. Living in this vertical house means constantly performing little cost-benefit analyses: Is this shirt so wrinkled that I need to go down two flights of stairs to iron it? Do I really need to fetch a hammer from the basement to hang this picture, or can I use a meat tenderizer from the kitchen?

All this is manageable. I'm getting some killer calf muscles, and I'm sure the vertigo will eventually be vertigone. A bigger problem is the kitchen trash can.

Our new kitchen is larger than our old one, but it's far from ideal as far as layout goes. Once you stick in a refrigerator, and a small wardrobe for coats, and a tiny table and chairs, and the dog's water and food bowls, there's no obvious place left for a trash can.

Which leaves us with a choice I never thought we'd have to make: Should we become under-the- sink-trash-can people?

If there really are two types of people in this world, then surely the dividing line is between under-the-sink-trash-can people (UTSTCP) and out-in-the-open-trash-can people (OITOTCP). While the old stereotypes may no longer apply (are UTSTCPs really more likely to put those ridiculously small "guest" towels in their powder rooms?), if you've spent your life being one, it's not easy changing into the other. Why, it'd be easier for a Virginian to move to Maryland or a Marylander to move to Virginia.

They say that change is good. I'm not so sure.

Red in the Face

Felicia Fuller rides the Metro every day. She called to say that, according to Metro, the Minnesota Avenue Station is on the Red Line.

My reaction can best be summed up thusly: Wh-wh-wh-what? All the maps in the Metro stations show Minnesota Avenue on the Orange Line. The map at www.wmata.com shows it on the Orange Line. And, in fact, Minnesota Avenue is on the Orange Line. So what is Felicia talking about?

She's talking about the signs inside Metro stations that show how much it costs to travel to each station and the time it takes to get there. "Minutes & Fares From This Station" is how they're labeled.

These charts are sometimes hard to find, hidden as they often are by piles of escalator parts. But seek them out and you will see that, yes indeed, there is a little red dot next to Minnesota Avenue. I haven't checked the charts in all 86 stations, but in the ones I have checked, it's definitely wrong.

I asked Felicia: Is that really such a big deal? I mean, if Metro was making a huge to-do list, wouldn't "Fix Minnesota Avenue color dot on station charts" be somewhere near the bottom?

"It's not a tiny thing," Felicia said. "That's your guide map. It is a big mistake, honestly."

Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said that because of a "fabrication error," the signs also have red dots instead of orange ones for Landover and East Falls Church. Metro was waiting until the New York Avenue station opened before making the fix. The dot should go from red to orange on Nov. 19, a day before New York Avenue opens.

Parts Is Parts

Metro's train drivers do a pretty good job of telling you what you need to know: what station you're at, what line you're on, when the doors are closing. And they occasionally bring a smile to the face. Some of their quips are calculated to do that. Others are more accidental.

Most of the passengers looked up from their reading last month when the driver on my Red Line train said: "It is unsafe to throw body parts or other items between the doors when they are closing."

My mind ran through a million possibilities.

Achilles' Heel

There is an unwritten law in newspapers that a columnist is most likely to make an error when it is most ironic to do so. (And since I have now un-unwritten it, I feel entitled to name it: Kelly's Law.)

When they read my breezy line in Monday's column about copy editors needing familiarity with everything from the movies of Quentin Tarantino to the symphonies of Claude Debussy, a dozen music lovers rushed to their keyboards (computer, not piano) to point out that Debussy wrote everything but symphonies: suites, sonatas, nocturnes, even mazurkas. . .no symphonies.

He wrote one unfinished symphony, but it was, well, unfinished. Unlike today's column.

What else? I'm at kellyj@washpost.com.


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