'Graveyard' appears on roof of Washington Coliseum

About a dozen fake tombstones showed up on the roof of the Washington Coliseum, presumably as an antiwar statement.
About a dozen fake tombstones showed up on the roof of the Washington Coliseum, presumably as an antiwar statement. (John Kelly/the Washington Post)
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By John Kelly
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Watch kids riding the Metro above ground and you'll see their eyes widen at what they glimpse out the window, especially on the Red Line. No, not the Takoma Park campus of Montgomery College or the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, but the graffiti that adorn nearly every flat surface.

The kids know it's wrong -- they've been told countless times not to write on the wall -- but they're impressed nonetheless: by the color, by the design, by the naughtiness.

It was an odd and annoying sort of graffiti that Douglas Jemal noticed a couple of weeks ago as he left Union Station: odd because of its three-dimensional aspect, annoying because of its location: on a building he happens to own.

Jemal is the head of the Douglas Development Corp., owner of the Washington Coliseum, the hulking structure near the New York Avenue Metro station. (Hulking and historic: The Beatles played their first U.S. concert there on Feb. 11, 1964.)

The building is a canvas for a lot of graffiti. Its roof is a big concrete curve intersected by gigantic ribs. About two weeks ago something unusual sprouted between two sets of ribs: tombstones. About a dozen black rectangles stick up from the roof like stubble on a giant's chin. It must be a bit of political installation art, as the little monoliths apparently go with the message someone spray-painted nearby: "Stop the War."

"It's like an ecology," is how Jemal described it, a tiny tombstone forest.

The forest shouldn't be up there for much longer. Jemal has ordered that the tombstones be removed.

Skimming the surface

It's funny how life always manages to give us more to worry about. Global warming, earthquakes, terrorism, unemployment, E. coli, intersex amphibians, overworked commuter airline pilots. The latest scourge is the ATM skimmer.

That's a little device that criminals slip over the card slot on an ATM. When customers stick their cards in, it steals their account information. One was discovered over the weekend on an ATM at a Wachovia bank in Rockville.

In February, a skimmer was spotted on a Wachovia ATM in Alexandria. Police said losses there were estimated at more than $60,000.

There really is no limit to the creativity of the criminal mind. The ATM skimmer reminds me of a parasite from the animal world, like that wasp that lays its eggs in caterpillar larvae. By simply taking out 60 bucks you are unknowingly abetting your own fleecing.

I guess this falls under the general category of identity theft: stealing personal information and using it for nefarious gain. Not long ago My Lovely Wife had her identity stolen -- or borrowed, anyway. Out of the blue she got a bill for a Verizon wireless account that she didn't actually open.

A few phone calls straightened things out, with Verizon assuring her that she was not responsible for any charges. Of course, we'll see whether that's true. She's already had to call a few times as more bills -- and overdue notices! -- have come in. I'm not sure the people in Verizon Office A talk to the people in Verizon Office B.

I'm in favor of tough penalties for convicted identify thieves. Jail time, yes. Fines, yes. But something else, too: If you steal my identity you must take all of its aspects, not just the attractive ones, such as my bank account. You have to clean my gutters. You have to worry about my cholesterol. You have to decide whether this is the year to have the house painted or to put in a new air conditioner.

Ex-skews me

I drove behind an optical illusion on North Capitol Street the other day. A maroon Toyota Corolla appeared to crab down the road, its rear wheels distinctly out of line with its front wheels. It was like being behind an Escher drawing. This was a car with a bent frame!

When I was a boy my father used to talk about cars with bent frames, accident-damaged cars that looked cosmetically okay but whose geometry was so messed up that they were hopelessly catawampus.

My dog sometimes looks like this -- dogawampus, I guess -- trotting along with his hips canted over from his shoulders. I don't think a dog with a bent frame is as dangerous as a car with a bent frame. As I pulled even with the Corolla, I tried to get the driver's attention, but he was too busy talking on a cellphone to notice me.


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