Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, February 12, 2009; 12:00 PM

Potomac Confidential fills the midday lull with discussion by Metro columnist Marc Fisher who looks at the latest news with a rigorous slicing and dicing of the issues that define who we are and where we live.

Fisher was online Thursday, Feb. 12, at Noon ET to look at dress codes in Washington restaurants, the Valentine's Day choice between chocolates and flowers and left vs. right on talk radio..

A transcript follows.

Check out Marc's blog, Raw Fisher.

In his weekly show, Fisher veers wildly from serious probing to silly prattle, and is open to topics local, national, personal and more.

Archives: Discussion Transcripts


Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks.

Are we angry about Marion Barry already clearing the path toward avoiding jail yet again? Are we willing to pay five cents a bag for paper or plastic every time we shop? Are we happy with our choice of gift for Valentine's Day (Binary Man this week weighed chocolates against flowers and came down on the side of the roses)?

Today's column, already filling the queue with comments and questions, wonders whether Washington is still a jacket-and-tie town or whether the insidious spread of California casual is changing the way we choose to look even here.

Also generating lots of talk: Liberal radio talk show host Bill Press and I took opposite sides in The Post this week on whether left-leaning talk hosts are really boxed out of the market on Washington radio, and whether a reimposition of the Fairness Doctrine--government controls on which points of view are expressed on the airwaves--is in order.

And did an overactive bout of Twittering on the part of Virginia's Republican Party chairman really save Democratic control of the Virginia Senate?

All that and whatever's on your minds--how about that Adam Dunn move? Are the Nats suddenly no longer a cellar-dweller?--coming right up, but first, let's call the Yay and Nay of the Day:

Yay to District prosecutors for telling the judge that they, at least, have had it with Council member Marion Barry thumbing his nose at the authorities by failing to file his tax returns year after year. The prosecutors want to put the former mayor behind bars. Don't hold your breath for that to happen--the judge handling the case seems to be smitten with the ex-mayor--but at least someone is standing up for the idea that public officials must be held at least to the same standard as the rest of us, if not the higher standard that we would hope for.

Nay to the University of the District of Columbia for a wholesale strategy shift that puts the cart way before the horse. If UDC's goal is to improve to such a point that students would be willing to pay big money to go there, then the first thing the school needs to do is address its poor quality instruction and lousy record of graduating students. To jack up fees and impose admission standards first makes little sense: Is there any evidence that there's a population of students clamoring to pay market rates for a UDC degree?

Your turn starts right now....


Orlando, Fla.: Thank you for the lovely column today. I moved to Central Florida and "Florida casual" prevails at all but the very nicest of places. Florida casual is NOT business casual; it's tourist casual. It's sloppy and unattractive is what it is. I went home to D.C. for a weekend before Christmas and I felt so much more at home, with folks being put together, wearing coats and ties, jackets not made of denim, shirts without flowers. Ahhh. Now if only folks in D.C. would realize that umbrellas and winter coats come in other colors than black! In a Casual-Dining World, D.C. Is Still Comfortable in a Tie (Post, Feb. 12)

Marc Fisher: Thanks--winter coats come in colors other than black? I had no idea. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever owned a coat that wasn't black.

My email is brimming with notes from folks who say they resent seeing their fellow patrons at good restaurants in jeans, t-shirts and the like. Obviously, there are places where anything goes, even in Washington, but there's quite a large group of folks around here who strongly believe that going out for a high-end dinner is enhanced by being in a room of folks who are dressed for the occasion. Does seem to add to the fun--who gets a psychic lift from seeing their fellow diners wearing whatever was lying at the foot of the bed that morning?


Norfolk, Va. - missing DC: Hi Marc, I took my husband to the Prime Rib for his birthday a few years ago. We both thought it was hoot to get really dressed up for the celebration. It was one of the most perfectly timed and enjoyable dinners we've ever had. I hope they never get rid of the jacket and tie requirement -- it is what makes the PR!

Marc Fisher: Like I was saying....


D.C. : Marc, as an attorney who went through six years of Catholic can guess where this is going. I loathe dress codes. It reeks of elitism, class warfare, lingering racism and all things I went into the law to money spends no matter what I wear. And I am a gourmand...give me a steak and red wine for lunch every day...but I'm not going to eat at your restaurant if you're trying to cultivate a pomposity that has no place in an equal and open America. Do they have a right to it, sure...but me and my attorney dollars will roll to the dive next door for a burger if they are assinine enough to turn me away based on "appearance"...content of the character et al.

Really, they do themselves a huge disservice by feigning the horror.

Marc Fisher: And so, the other point of view.

Surely you're right that there are restaurants that are unbearably pompous, but I don't think that is solely a result of their dress codes. Rather, it's the whole package--the attitude of the place, the staff, the style of service.

Dining out is an act of theater--the owner, manager and the performers (the chef, kitchen and wait staffs) are putting on a show, and that's true whether you're at Five Guys or Citronelle. In a strange twist from our usual expectations about going to the theater, you are part of the performance at a restaurant, so what you wear and how you behave add to or detract from the show. If you think of it that way, dress codes start to make some sense--and they don't have to be of the jacket-and-tie variety. Every eatery that has a character of its own has a dress code, even if it's unstated. The people eating at Ben's dress differently from those at Sushi-Ko or Komi or Amsterdam Falafel or Ledo's.


Reston, Va.: One quibble with today's column, can we please stop pretending that Obama is the first president to be photographed without a jacket on in the Oval Office? There are pictures of W without a jacket in the OO and I recently saw a picture of Ronald Reagan wearing a red western style shirt and possibly jeans while sitting as his desk in the OO. This is such a fake, non-story.

Marc Fisher: Quite right--it's just the contrast with the much more formal GWBush administration that's driving these stories.


Washington, D.C.: Marc,

It appears that every time Marion Barry misses a tax filing he comes up with a new excuse as to why. His latest "I was too sick to remember to file" takes the cake, particularly the idea that it could cause a judge to be lenient with him. At what point does Barry stop getting breaks? He makes a joke of our legal system, and I don't believe for a moment that any regular citizen would get the kind of coddling he gets. Illness Could Keep Barry Out of Jail, Experts Say (Post, Feb. 12)

Marc Fisher: The last time Barry went to court on failure to file tax returns, we took a look at prosecutions of such infractions, and the record sadly does not really back up your point of view (which I share.) The government really doesn't do much to folks who don't file returns, especially if they then make up for their past misdeeds by filing late returns. But should Barry be held to a higher standard because he's a figure of public trust? Shouldn't the government make an example of him for the purpose of encouraging the rest of us to do the right thing?


Anonymous: I had to laugh when I read that Marion Barry stated that his tax problems were purely a personal matter and then used the old political tactic of saying he was busy providing jobs, housing, etc., to the people of his district (reminded me of Gov. Blog before he was impeached). I'd be surprised if Barry ever serves time for evading taxes. I read that if he goes not go to jail his probation might be extended. That'll show him!

Marc Fisher: Probation would be a joke, but would jail time really change Barry? He's been down that road before and it doesn't seem to have had much impact.

Should that really be the determining factor? Should the judge consider what effect a particular punishment would have, or is the larger issue maintaining some standard, as well as sending a message about whether public officials should be held to the same rules and expectations as the rest of us?


Arlington, Va.: Let Marion Barry go. There is nothing to be gained from putting an old, sick man in jail. The embarrassment he has faced from being hauled into court every other day has robbed him of any redemption he may have experienced from his previous legal problems. To me that's the appropriate punishment.

Marc Fisher: I can see the argument for not wasting tax dollars on putting a 71-year-old man in the slammer for a non-violent offense. But do you really get the impression that Barry is embarrassed by this turn of events? I covered his court appearance the last time this came up, and he was so jovial, so thrilled when the judge let him off that he couldn't stop himself from laughing and smiling at a news conference right after the court session. I don't at all get the sense that he is chastened.


Arlington, Va.: Marc,

My father has COPD, osteoporosis and cancer. I'm thinking of advising him to stop paying taxes. Clearly his health will be all the excuse he needs when the IRS comes knocking. What do you think?

Marc Fisher: That should handle it. Go for it.

My kid was home with a headache and nausea, so we're not including her on this year's tax return. Seems fair, no?


Tenleytown, D.C.: Judge Robinson aside, there is no way you can "inadvertently" fail to file tax returns year after year. It's not as if the media doesn't publicize this event. My dad is 82; his health problems make Marion Barry look healthy; his returns are much more complicated that Mr. Barry's; and his goal is to have them filed by Valentine's Day each year. And yet people keep voting for Barry after year. I've never understood that and never will.

Marc Fisher: He's a rogue, but he's our rogue--that's what I hear people say all the time. There are those who vote for him because he stands up to The Man, and those who just relish the idea of having a renegade in office, and then, the largest group of all, those who love him because he had a direct impact on their lives. I cannot begin to count the number of people who have told me about their devotion to Barry because he "gave me my first job" or "took my son off the streets when he was a teenager." His summer youth jobs program was one of the most successful bits of governing and politicking I've ever seen, at any level.


More on Barry: There's a difference between not prosecuting people who don't file tax returns, and sending people to jail who fail to file returns --after already being convicted for failing to file previously.

And, yes, Barry as an elected official should be the focus of any non-filing violations before regular people are.

Marc Fisher: Certainly the repeat offender angle should have meaning for the judge--but again, I won't be holding my breath on that one.


Washington, D.C.: I know I will be pilloried for this but I am totally against a 5 cent charge for plastic bags. I use them for multiple purposes, e.g., trash, carrying my lunch to work, etc. If the bill passes, I'll be forced to buy plastic bags for garbage. So where is the environmental benefit? This is also a great way for stores to rip off people. Caveat to all you environazis, I recycle EVERYTHING, do not have a car and live in a studio apartment. In D.C., Bags Might Soon Contain a Fee (Post, Feb. 12)

Marc Fisher: You're right about the garbage bags--in places where stores have been outlawed from dispensing free plastic shopping bags, purchases of plastic garbage bags have indeed increased, but not by nearly as much as the volume of bags that had been distributed without charge. Some people in such situations do indeed move to use the hardy, reusable bags. So while this is no cure-all, it does have some environmental benefit.


Row Z: Can we thank Tom Boswell for the Nats' signing of Adam Dunn? Can we hope for .500 ball this season?

Marc Fisher: I wouldn't give the great Boz full credit by any means, but surely the pressure the Nats have felt from season ticket holders, other fans and from the voices speaking up for those fans--especially Boswell--have had an impact. The Lerners must know by now that they have lost too many people who had been thrilled to have baseball back, and they certainly knew that they had to make a bright public show that they are serious about building a contending team. The Dunn move is a great first step. Now they need to sign Orlando Hudson.


Washington, D.C.: Marc: Thanks for the great story on dress codes. Have you noticed that those who are against such standards often say that their "money is just as good" no matter what they wear? This focus on spending power above all else strikes me as the most shallow, arrogant and elitst way to look at it, since it basically says "I have money, therefore I can do whatever I feel like doing."

Marc Fisher: That's exactly the attitude that makes restaurant owners crazy. Of course, some restaurateurs encourage such boorishness with their own obstinate or snooty ways, but those owners are rare--this is a business that depends on making people feel both happy and well-cared for, and haughtiness doesn't do much for most people these days.


Golden Beach, Md.: When I saw President Obama without a jacket in the Oval office I reflected that I haven't been so disappointed in a public figure since the Beatles dressed like bums for the cover of the Abbey Road album.

Marc Fisher: Ha!


Arlington, Va.: Marc:

I give you big thumbs up for your blog about the few restaurants that still maintain something resembling a dress code. It's more of an annoyance than anything else, but when I see someone in a nice restaurant wearing jeans and a t-shirt, I think: that guy doesn't respect the restaurant owner, who plunked a lot of money down on the restaurant to make it look nice; he doesn't respect his fellow diners, who don't want to look at some slob while their having a "special occasion" dinner, and he certainly doesn't respect himself. For the few people that insist on dining at expensive and formal restaurants wearing clothes better suited to downing beers and wings at the local sports bar, why is it so difficult to dress decently for the rare occasion when you dine at such restaurants?

Marc Fisher: I think those folks are making a statement too: They're saying that they don't care about anyone else's experience at the restaurant. They're trying to draw attention to their belief that they are above the phoniness that they associate with conformity and convention. Their shabby presentation is a shout for attention--sadly, restaurants that try to maintain a special atmosphere are stuck: If they pay attention to the slobs' appearance, they're giving those customers exactly what they crave; and if they ignore the violation, they're annoying the great majority of their patrons. Tough spot.


San Francisco, Calif.: Thank you, thank you for your column today. I live in gourmet San Francisco, home of some of the best restaurants in the country and also some of the worst dressers. I miss D.C.'s formal dining scene every time I am confronted by "pre-worn" jeans, Converse, graphic t-shirts, messenger bags and, brace yourself, baseball hats, at one of our Michelin star restaurants. Marcel's was my favorite when I lived in D.C., in part because of its emphasis on a classy atmosphere, perfect service and appropriately dressed clientele. Any way you can get this column into the Chronicle?

Marc Fisher: Thanks--but you have a very different set of expectations in San Francisco than we do in D.C. You can walk into places where dinner costs most people's weekly salaries and you won't see much difference in how people dress from the neighborhood diner or Mickey D's. Some folks defend that as some sort of egalitarianism, but if that's the case, why do those same people insist on the $70 bottle of wine when one that costs $14 might be just as good? There are all different kinds of markers in any social setting, but it does seem odd to insist on a well-designed, beautifully-appointed restaurant with top-shelf foods and great chefs and then pretend that how you dress and behave isn't part of the package.


Catholic School Uniforms and Dress Codes: D.C. is not the only one with Catholic education among your readers. I, too, went to Catholic school. I love the uniform specifically because when everyone is dressed the same, it is much hard if not impossible to determine class and wealth. It has always benn my experience that obnoxious rich kids are always looking to put their, "individuality" on display. In my adulthood, I will admit an aversion to plaid that I attribute to my Catholic school jumper -- navy blue, forest green, yellow and red stripes.

Dress codes are always appropriate. Discourages the riff-raff.

Marc Fisher: Actually, the great thing about dress codes is not that they discourage the riffraff, but that they steal our ability to make those distinctions about other people--they are a leveling device, exactly the opposite of what their opponents claim they are. As many school principals have discovered, once you get everyone on the same fashion page, you win all kinds of freedom for expression of other, more important sorts.


Richmond, Va.: Eating out is a treat for me, I want to be pampered AND feel comfortable. After having to dress up for work all week, I'm just not interested in putting the monkey suit back on to ENJOY my free time. I'm no longer interested in playing dress up and having to put on panty hose, restricting dress, high heels to enjoy myself. It's my time off, I want to decompress and relax. Who am I trying to impress?

Marc Fisher: This is why we see people going to high-end eateries literally in their pajamas.

Why do you associate the desire many folks have to dress up with an attempt to impress? Surely you're right in some cases. But isn't it also possible that many of those folks who like dressing up want only to be part of an ambiance that feels emboldening, as if your presence were part of the show, part of the dining adventure?


Frederick, Md.: Five Guys is theater? You're insane.

Marc Fisher: Not only is it theater, it's a well-rehearsed and very clever form of theater, almost a kabuki show: At some Five Guys, there's an intricate system of shouting the orders from the cashier to the kitchen--there's no need to do that, it's pure theater, meant solely to entertain the patrons and make them feel like they're part of some old-timey, neighborhood eatery. Entirely for show, and worth every penny.


McLean, Va.: If I'm dressed in a suit and tie, dining at an upscale restaurant, and I find that my entree has not been suitably garnished, should I send it back to the kitchen with the message that I'm paying for and expect a professional theatrical performance?

And if the entire meal is poor, do I get to stand up and boo?

Marc Fisher: The analogy to theater works almost perfectly--your tip is your applause (or your boo.) Sending food back rarely has anything to do with it being poisonous or foul--it's an act of theater by patrons who take their role in the show a bit too seriously; they just can't stop themselves from leaping onstage to grab the same kind of attention they see the chef and waiters getting.


Proper attire: I used to work in a restaurant where one would expect to dress decently. Alas not everyone did. Those who insisted in showing up in jeans and t-shirts were given the bare-minimum service required to serve them a meal. The tips weren't great from them, but in my experience, tips from these people weren't great anyway, so no loss. Restaurants can and do discourage dressing down by providing perfunctory service.

Marc Fisher: Interesting--but by treating them that way, don't you run the risk of encouraging those folks to continue their boorish ways? If the goal is to push them toward seeing the fun and advantage of dressing to match the scenery, wouldn't it be more effective to lure them into the rest of the show with top-level service? (Nah, probably not--they wouldn't get the message.)


Washington, D.C.: Re: Dress codes at restaurants. It's quite simple, Marc. Neckties are the stupidest, most useless and uncomfortable affectation ever affixed to a human body. An otherwise enjoyable evening is ruined by having to wrap a rag around one's neck. I'm 55 years old and I have yet to meet a man that will actually admit to like wearing a necktie.

Marc Fisher: I agree--I find the things constricting and annoying. But I think I'm in a minority among the patrons of such places, many of whom tell me they love the whole tie shtick.


Dress Codes: I love restaurants that maintain a dress code. I find nothing more jarring than going out for a rare night with my husband and having my eyes rest on someone who couldn't be bothered to dress. If I wanted to look at a bunch of casual people, I'd spend the babysitting money for a night at Outback Steakhouse. A previous poster said that he finds dress codes racist and elitist. There is nothing racist or elitist about this. I am not white, and there is nothing in my background that prevents me from knowing how to dress up for a special occasion. In fact, from my observations in church and dining out, minorities aren't the people likely to be underdressed. The real point being that every one of us is free to patronize the restaurants we prefer. If you don't like to dress up for a nice dinner, then go to a casual restaurant. I will take the time to dress, and enjoy looking at other people who did the same.

Marc Fisher: Right--and most folks are pretty good about sniffing out the right way to dress for most places. The really fascinating places are the ones where the codes don't work--where the message the restaurant sends, either through its design or its service, doesn't make clear what sort of atmosphere is intended. In those places, you get weird mixtures of dress, which can be totally alluring--Rasika comes to mind as an example of a place where people make every kind of dressing decision imaginable--or just confusing.


Somewhere in the South: For the record my roommate and I always dress up for dinner. We work in a restaurant, so when we have the money to go out we don't want to look like we always do. If a restaurant wants to have a dress code, I'm all for it.

That said going out to dinner and actually working are two very different things. So anyone clutching their pearls about Obama clearly has never spent a day working in an office.

Marc Fisher: The whole business casual revolution has produced the strange phenomenon of folks going to work in casual garb and then heading home to change into something a couple of steps more formal to go to dinner. Whereas through most of recent history, the opposite change of clothes was more common.


Herndon, Va.: Another "arena" in which dress codes have gone to hell in a handbasket -- concerts at such places as the Kennedy Center. Sure, there are different levels of concerts, but if you're attending "The Flying Dutchman" at the Kennedy Center Opera House, I don't think it's too much to ask for men to wear a sport coat (I won't insist on a tie) and women something reasonably dressy. No short sleeve shirts and jeans!

Marc Fisher: Depends a lot on what's playing. On the same night in the same building, you'll see folks totally dressed for the opera or dance, and an anything-goes crowd at a play, and a bewildering mix at the symphony concert. For some reason, the once-ironclad rule that people dressed fairly formally for an orchestra concert has dissolved, and now you get everything from jeans to suits and most anything in between. Why would this be?


Chantilly, Va.: Marc: Last week on Tom Sietsema's chat I posted about an experience I had down at Emeril's in New Orleans.

The situations are not parallel since Emeril's would likely cater more to the tourist crowd than would the Prime Rib. Still, here's what happened.

My brother and I were dressed appropriately -- polo shirts and chinos. Many of our fellow diners were dressed in cut-offs, biker t-shirts, etc. Classic slobs. The restaurant let them all in -- and seated them as far from the windows as possible. My brother and I got a prime window seat. I found the whole thing very amusing.

I'm not saying the PR should let in people in biker t-shirts, but there is a happy medium.

Marc Fisher: Almost all of the restaurant owners and managers I spoke to for today's column told me that how patrons are dressed is the single most important factor in their seating decisions; that's the best tool restaurants have to send a message about the atmosphere they hope to create.


Arlington, Va.: I once called Vidalia, a top of the line restaurant on M Street, to ask if they had a dress code and they told me "We are more interested in food than in clothing." As they aren't cheap, money that could be spent on clothing happily goes to food.

Marc Fisher: Nothing wrong with that--and many of the same people who like dressing up for one place will choose a more casual feel for another night.

The comments are pouring in on this and I'll come back to this topic in a few minutes, but first, a detour to a few other issues....


Employed: We're having layoffs today at my law firm. We went through this in 2002 -- can't believe it's deja vu all over again.

I got lucky -- this time the axe didn't fall on me.

Marc Fisher: Glad to hear you're ok for the moment.

Last week, I had a TV reporter come to my office to interview me for a piece she was doing about a column I wrote. It was her last day on the job, she told me; she'd just been layed off.

That came exactly a week after I had a radio reporter in my office to interview me for a piece about Mayor Fenty. She too was doing her last story; she'd been layed off as well.

Memo to other reporters: If you value your jobs, don't take the assignment to do a story on a Fisher column--just too dangerous.


Flowers versus Chocolate: Marc, I showed your column to my wife, and her response was, "What are those women thinking?" Definitely chocolate for her. She prefers her flowers to be living. Binary Man: Chocolate Or Flowers? (Raw Fisher, Feb. 12)

Marc Fisher: Then there are, and I kid you not, chocolate flowers.

And then there are smart entrepreneurs who seek to relieve you of having to make such choices: Some local florists and chocolatiers are teaming up to offer combo deals.


Blossom Dearie, RIP: Another jazz great has died.

Who are the rising stars of today's jazz, Marc? You year-end top 5 list had only one jazz CD on it. If you had to limit the top 5 to jazz only, what would your titles be?

My exposure to new jazz is way too limited for a comprehensive top 5, but I'd go with:

1. Sonny Rollins, Road Shows Vol. 1 2. Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band, Seasons of Change 3. Aaron Parks, Invisible Cinema

Ummm, I didn't buy more than three new jazz discs last year, so I'm afraid that rounds out my "top 5"! You? Jazz singer Blossom Dearie dies at 82 in NYC (AP, Feb. 9)

Marc Fisher: I fell in love with Blossom Dearie when I was in college--what a remarkable voice, and it's not a Tiny Tim-like shtick. It's her actual voice. And even better--it's her real name (well, ok, her middle name.)

If you don't know her songs, listen to them today at work. That's an assignment.


Cathedral Heights, D.C.: Hey Marc -- Do you know if Obama has put the 'Taxation Without Representation' plates on the presidential limo? I sure hope so.

Marc Fisher: Sadly, Obama did not have the Taxation Without Representation plates put on the presidential limo for the inaugural parade. Instead, he used special blue Inauguration plates with the number 1 on them. Ugh.

Of course, there's still time for him to do the right thing with real D.C. plates.


Oklahoma, Pa.: I'm convinced giving D.C. a voting seat in the House is unconstitutional, but I still support the move to get the issue settled once and for all. If the bill is passed, will this question go directly to the Supreme Court, or will there be intermediate steps along the way? Thanks.

Marc Fisher: Several of the senators who voted for the bill in committee yesterday noted that they think it may well be unconstitutional, but they want the courts to decide. The first steps would be in lower courts, but eventually this would be a problem for the Supremes.


NW, D.C.: Compare this to last week's discussion: a boy-kid-high school student was shot and killed blocks from his house. People admit to hearing multiple guns shots, and no one called the police. They did not confuse them with fire crackers, they simply figured somebody else called. They go to bed and awake to find the kid's dead body on their (or their neighbor's) front lawn outside their window. No one coming home that night, nor leaving their home that night noticed anything. Can you compare that to your issue last week on the people walking past the victim in Columbia Heights?

It did not seem like an 10 p.m. incident, but a early evening 5-6 p.m. incident. Coming home I noticed my neighbors trash cans, pets, landscaping, cars in the drive way and all everyday. A lump on the lawn would have caught my attention.

Marc Fisher: I bet some people noticed that something was going on, and simply decided it wasn't their business. In neighborhoods where gunshots are an all too frequent occurrence, there is a natural and understandable tendency to tuck your head down and put safety first. Fine. But there's also an obligation to others, and people can call for help after they've gotten themselves in a secure place.


D.C.: Dear Marc, I don't know if you read dcist at all, but there was an item noting that a Columbia Heights blogger interviewed several people -- in Spanish -- who said they did call 911 to report a man who was injured.

DCist also noted an investigative story in the Washingtonian this month about the disastrous EMT service in this city that would make the residents' claims believable.

Given that, have you requested the 911 tapes to verify that no one had called for assistance? Does the city have 911 operators who speak Spanish?

Marc Fisher: Yes, but if you go read that blog post claiming that passersby did help, you'll see there's no evidence of that whatsoever. I have not yet heard the 911 tapes, but the police tell me that there were no such calls for help.


Greater Green Bay, Wisc.: Just a thought -- instead of putting the black-letter THE WASHINGTON POST on the Web site, you should have put the Web site logo on the print paper. I've always thought that kind of lettering, while traditional, makes young people think of churches and funerals and may scare them off.

Marc Fisher: Interesting--I love the Post's nameplate. Even among the old-fashioned Gothic-era fonts that newspapers have traditionally used, the Post's stands out for its distinctive blend of dark, busy letters and striking use of white space within the letters. Anyway, I always thought the sans-serif font that our web site used was way too 1977--it looked like a refugee from a Swedish grocery store's design back in the ABBA era.


Washington, D.C.: Blossom Dearie: I have no idea why this stuck with me for more than 40 years, but Mad Magazine once had a spread of fake LP album covers. One was called "Blossom Dearie Plays for the Leery."

Marc Fisher: Fabulous.


Paper or Plastic: I can understand the rationale for taxing plastic bags -- they never biodegrade. But why tax paper bags as well? I realize they have their own environmental costs, but that's in the production, not the disposal.

As for the folks who want free trash bags, even 5 cents is pretty cheap for a trash bag.

Marc Fisher: But it does add up, as one person in today's news story rather poignantly noted. The idea is not to push folks toward paper or away from plastic, but rather toward reusable bags.


No plastic, no paper: Oh, change is so scary. All it takes is one volunteer clean-up on a river or anywhere else, and you'll see the huge impact of loose plastic bags. I applaud Wells for trying to take this on. For a full year after a ban, you'll still be working through the supply you have under the kitchen sink. Get over it.

Marc Fisher: Right, but let's please note that no amount of volunteer clean-ups on the Anacostia will actually revive that destroyed river: The city continues to dump raw sewage into the river, and as long as that goes on, plastic bags and tires and the like are the least of its problems.

OK, OK, back to the dress code....


Keep jacket on?: Do the places that require a jacket require that the fellow not take it off while dining? And short sleeves aren't good enough if there's a jacket? What if they get warm and want to take it off? (speaking as a spouse to a fellow who could rent himself out as a heating pad)

Marc Fisher: Too bad. You're on stage. Keep the jacket on. Especially if you're wearing short sleeves underneath.


Fairfax, Va.: I am more shocked by how some people dress for church than for a restaurant. I was brought up to dress nicely for any religious service (no jeans, dresses or skirts for women, suits for men). It's a sign of respect and, hey, how often does anyone need to dress up these days? Once or twice a week won't kill anyone. But go into almost any church these days and you'll see people who could be going to a ballgame.

Marc Fisher: Ouch, that's grim. This does seem to vary from one religious congregation to another. So it seems to be a matter of the tone set by the institution. These rules are rarely stated openly by clergy, right? So what is it that gives people the message about whether it's ok to dress down in church?


Washington, D.C.: For the men that say they are uncomfortable dressing up to go eat:

If you're uncomfortable in your suit, you need to buy a new suit. A proper fitting one should feel better than any other clothes you own.

Marc Fisher: There's a lot of truth in that. That's especially true about shirt collars and ties. But then there's this:


Neckties are the stupidest, most useless and uncomfortable affectation ever affixed to a human body. : You have clearly never worn pantyhose or 3" plus heels.

Marc Fisher: I readily cede all claims about clothing- or shoe-related pain or discomfort to women. It's not even a close call.


Expression in Menswear: While neckties may be uncomfortable, in conservative business attire, aside from uncommon cufflinks, it is the only way for a man to express his own personality in his appearance. Choices in tailoring and cut often have as much to do with hiding a little paunch as personal taste. Don't get me wrong, when I finally retire, the first thing I will do is get rid of most of my ties. However, until that day, I pick my ties deliberately. I refuse to let anyone else buy them for me.

Marc Fisher: Part of the reason behind the decline in dress standards is the dramatic drop in knowledge about how to dress. I have had more embarrassing moments stemming from my utter inability to tie a bowtie than I care to count; and although I buy neckties, I don't remotely know what I am doing. In the days of haberdashers, there were experts available to teach the average guy how to do these things. Now, only the rich get that kind of guidance. The rest of us are on our own in stores, which is part of why so many folks are reluctant to get dressed up.


Dress Code: Wow -- I'm kind of surprised by all the name calling by those that don't like dress codes. Whatever happened to live and let live?

I hardly ever dress up for anything except weddings, funerals and job interviews. But, I remember my grandfather taking the whole family out for fine dining and enjoying the sophisticated atmosphere.

Why all the hate for those that enjoy a certain atmosphere? Not everyplace has to be casual, an nobody is forcing people to dress up.

Marc Fisher: Right, but it's good that you point out this animosity that seems to be behind a fair number of the comments--why are those who choose to dress down offended by those who don't? And vice versa? Clearly, some of us feel threatened by the choices of others, in both directions.


Washington, D.C.: I showed up for a job interview once at a law firm on a Friday. I was escorted to a conference room by a young man wearing bermuda shorts in a tropical pattern, and an untucked button-down with rolled up sleeves. He said he'd be right back, so I thought he was going to bring some paperwork for me to fill out while I waited for the partner who was interviewing me. Well, he came back and sat down and started asking me questions. He WAS the partner. That place took casual Fridays to an extreme.

Then there's the place that made me wear a suit if I came in on a Saturday to do some work. I prefer something in between those. I like "business casual" but I think a lot of people don't know what that means and take the casual too far.

Marc Fisher: That's a real social disconnect--and I bet your interview proceeded rather differently than it might have if you'd both gotten the same memo about clothing. That's the leveling effect I described earlier in regard to school dress codes, but the same applies in a business situation.


Re: Blossom: I'll always remember her singing "Figure Eight" on Schoolhouse Rock.

It's on YouTube Blossom Dearie Tribute (YouTube)

Marc Fisher: Thanks!


Restaurant Dress Codes: They may not be racist, but they are classist. While I may be able to save up for a special dinner, I cannot necessarily always also afford to buy a $300 suit to wear to said dinner. It's an extreme example, but it does exist.

That said, I still don't fully understand why people are in a huff about their "rare night out" (if you wanted to go out more, have fewer kids). I go to a restaurant for the food and the drink and the service. I couldn't care less about the other people around me, unless they are being loud and obnoxious.

Marc Fisher: But does how they dress alter how they behave, and aren't they more likely to be exactly what you don't like--loud and obnoxious--if they are dressed just as they would be at a rowdy bar?


Dress up -- at least for court: Having been to court to contest a traffic ticket, as a witness, and to sit in the jury pool, I've always dressed up. For traffic court, it amazes me that people would wear jeans and flip flops or sometimes shorts and not think that it would give the judge a bad first impression.

Marc Fisher: Interesting--on many juries, the unstated dress code kicks in right after jury selection. People who came to jury duty dressed like slobs spiff themselves up for the days when their trial is actually meeting. Might be that they're just conforming to the garb of the lawyers and courtroom workers, or it could be that they come to recognize the gravity of the job and so they dress accordingly.


Anonymous: Marc: You ask: "For some reason, the once-ironclad rule that people dressed fairly formally for an orchestra concert has dissolved, and now you get everything from jeans to suits and most anything in between. Why would this be?" I think it's because of ambiguity. When the standard was clear -- a tuxedo -- everyone knew what to wear and making a choice was easy. Now it's wide open, with little guidance. That's what happened.

Marc Fisher: Right, but that ambiguity hit orchestra concerts in a way that it really hasn't to nearly the same extent with opera or dance. Would be an interesting demographic study to analyze the audiences to find the distinction.


Church dress: Dress codes in church are based on how we are viewed by others in the world. God couldn't care less about our appearance.

Marc Fisher: Right--and we could all pray at home, too, except that we tend to see religion as a social pursuit.


Those who insisted in showing up in jeans and t-shirts were given the bare-minimum service required to serve them a meal. The tips weren't great from them, but in my experience, tips from these people weren't great anyway, so no loss.: That's not fair, You can't admit you treated them badly just because of you appearance and then claim they would have tipped you low regardless. You made yourself clear to those folks and they simply followed your script.

Marc Fisher: There is a self-fulfilling prophecy thing going on there--absolutely.


Uncomfortable Women's Clothes: While I agree that womens clothing (pantyhose, high heels, bras) are much more uncomfortable than a shirt and tie (at least a properly sized shirt and tie), I will defend men to this extent...I don't know of any restaurants that require women to wear pantyhose and/or high heels!

Marc Fisher: Right, but as the restaurateurs in today's piece note, the problem with dress is mostly with men--women tend to be much more willing and eager to dress up.


School uniforms/dress codes: So not the same thing. I went to public school in PW county not that long ago, and having parents in the lower middle class bracket, I would have loved to have school uniforms.

However, going to see Avenue Q two nights ago, I wore jeans and my mother was appalled. But I don't own any other kind of pant!

Marc Fisher: Yikes. You should. At least as an experiment, to see if you are treated differently, to see if you feel or act differently. And let us know what you find.


Rockville, Md.: I don't mind putting on a coat and tie. And I do on many occasions. But most who object to casual clothes are really snobs. I had just as soon stay away from them. Casual does not have to be from the foot of the bed.

Marc Fisher: I really have not heard from folks who object to casual clothes--what they object to is casual dress in places where it's not welcome.


Hey, I often go to restaurants in the sweats I slept in: But I'm a slob.

Marc Fisher: That's the last word on that topic for today...we can come back to this next week if you want.

Just a couple of quick ones and we're out of here...


Paper in landfills:: Paper, while degradable, needs the right conditions to do so. If you knew where to dig, you could head out to any landfill used in the 1940s and read about the attack Pearl Harbor on a dirty, but otherwise completely legible newspaper.

Marc Fisher: And one more on this....


Paper or Plastic: The paper and the plastic both end up in the landfill. The plastic takes up less room in the landfill, and the paper doesn't really degrade that fast that it makes much difference once it's in the ground surrounded by all that other junk. Get reusable bags, everyone.

Can you really use those small plastic bags as reliable garbage bags anyway? I reuse mine several times, but I don't put garbage in them. They are too thin and get holes in them.

Marc Fisher: Good point.


D.C. vote: Why is it again that D.C. can't just become a state?

Marc Fisher: Ask folks in the 50 states.


Dressco, DE: I hope Sietsema is reading this!

Marc Fisher: Tom is always well-dressed.


Marc Fisher: That has to kick things in the head for today. Thanks for coming along, folks. People feel very strongly about how they dress, which just goes to show that even those who appear to dress as if they don't care, do. Or something like that.

Coming up today on the blog: The story of a D.C. school teacher in an NFL Hall of Fame mystery.

More on Raw Fisher every day--back in the paper on Sunday.


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