John Kelly's Washington

John Kelly
Washington Post Metro Columnist
Friday, March 13, 2009; 12:00 PM

John Kelly writes about the Washington that doesn't make it onto the front pages. His five-day-a-week Metro column, John Kelly's Washington, is about the normal -- well, relatively normal -- people who call our region home. It's about the joys and annoyances of living in the most important city in the most important country in the world -- as experienced by those of us who, frankly, aren't that important. His blog, John Kelly's Commons, is a place for readers to carry on a digital conversation.

Today: Join John Kelly and get nostalgic, chatting about why we obsess about our pasts, whether it's where we went to high school or how much better things used to be.

Nostalgia: Spooning Up the Past (John Kelly's Commons, March 13)

A transcript follows.

Discussion Archives/Recent Columns


John Kelly: Hello friends. Wallowing in nostalgia can sometimes seem like being force-fed a rich, cream-based soup. Other times it's like washing off the grime of a hard work day by floating in a lovely warm bath. I try to make my column a mixture of the present and the past, though I can tell you that the past often wins out.

That's what many readers love: the good old days. I noticed that this week I seemed to touch on nostalgia in different ways, whether it was the memories of the

Peppermint Pipers

teen singing group; the man devoted to a

Marlow Heights Web site; or my own musings on the

end of journalism.

Shared memory, of course, is a powerful thing. So today I wondered if people could share theirs, and maybe reflect a little on why it is that we seem to love looking back as much as--if not more than--we like looking forward.


Memories: I remember as a small child, my family and all of my mom's side of the family went to Marshall Hall Amusement Park. I remember the boat ride and the tram ride like it was still yesterday. The also had a ride which I think it was called the Cat and Mouse Ride. it was a small roller coaster that when you got to the corner of the ride, the car did a very sharp 90 degree turn which was pretty scary for a little tyke.

John Kelly: Here's a great link to a 1974 ad for the boat ride to Marshall Hall. Glen Echo, of course, was another popular amusement park. Those Cat and Mouse Rides are murder on the bones. That rapid snap back and forth always throws my spine out of joint. I tend to prefer a cushioned ride these days, though I know there are people who love the old, creaky, will-it-collapse-under-us rides.

Does anyone know if Marshall Hall was any more integrated than Glen Echo? Glen Echo was open to blacks only one day a month, I think.


Already jaded with the presidents: Since we're a government town, instead of presidents racing around the Nationals bases, could we have mascots representing the different cabinet departments? I'd love to see a missile (Defense) race an ear of corn (Agriculture) and a dollar bill (Treasury).

John Kelly: I like your thinking. Mix it up a little bit. Your suggestions are good ones. What could a fourth entrant be? A stamp, for the postal service? Or a mailman? Even the presidents could be spiced up. How about Franklin Roosevelt in his wheelchair? Or James K. Polk. Everyone loves James K. Polk.


The Twilight Zone: Mr Kelly, You are the portal in your discussions today, for your chatters to wish them "LUCK" (Good or Bad) on the 2nd Friday the 13th in 2 months. They have Not entered the Twilight zone, but entered "The Kelly Zone"

Welcome. . .

John Kelly: That's a very good point. I've noticed a lot more Friday the 13ths lately. What's up with that? I blame Bush.

If only I hadn't broken a mirror, stepped on a crack, walked under a ladder, tipped over a salt shaker and crossed paths with a black cat, ALL BEFORE 10 THIS MORNING.


Little Kid Again: I miss the New Zoo Review shows. John, do you remember Henrietta Hippo, Charlie the Owl and Freddie the Frog? And I liked Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. They had shellaphones and shellavisions instead to telephones and televisions. There was none of this digital conversion nonsense.

John Kelly: Sure, I remember New Zoo Revue. Why do all those shows sort of look alike: similar sets, similar characters. To get an idea of how dated they are, consider this: There was always a mailman. That was probably useful, plot-wise, since it allowed a certain regularity and contact with the outside world, but I wonder if kids today would have the same affection for, or understanding of, the mailman.


John Kelly: Here's a show that no one I know remembers: It was called "The Double Deckers" and I can still sing the theme song. It was a joint US-UK production and I don't know if I remember it from living in England in the mid '70s or from seeing here in America. It also featured all the cliches: a fat kid, a brainy kid, a tough kid.


Silver Spring, Md.: So how do we know these glove pics weren't "posed?" I mean, many people will pick up and place a glove in a visible location in hopes of the owner seeing it -- I think your Sligo Creek milepost glove is an example. Taking the next step -- putting a glove in a visible, and photogenic, location, might be awfully tempting. Glove Me Tender: What Now for Our Art Project? (John Kelly's Commons, March 12)

John Kelly: I'd love to think they were posed because it would suggest people actually care about having their photo included in our Big Glove project. But I think my requests are too weird and diffuse (send him photos of lost gloves? huh?) to inspire such actions.

I will say that this morning I took my THIRD photograph of a glove in the yawning mouth of the Forest Glen Metro station. That entrance is like the Bermuda Triangle of lost gloves.I suppose someone could be dropping them there just for me.


Old Timer: I miss the Two Guys department stores. They had everything you needed.

John Kelly: I don't remember Two Guys. Did they find three more guys and become Five Guys? Or did they find one more guy and become Three Brothers?


What could a fourth entrant be: Maybe a giant "L" to represent lobbyists, we need some love these days.

John Kelly: That's a great idea. In fact, have three lobbyists chasing one missile from the Defense Department. But is it hard to run in Guccis? (Sorry for the outdated reference.)


Washington, D.C.: Something I've been pondering as I read more and more of these chats (yours and others'). Can you recognize regular questioners by their syntax and other features of their submissions/questions?

John Kelly: I had this same thought last week. What I thought was: I SHOULD be able to recognize regular questioners. I've been doing these chats for something like five years. The odder geographical locations stick in my mind. There was a fellow from Mount Hebron, Pa., I believe, who used to comment quite a bit. And when you have a chat handle like "Arlington Gay," that's memorable. It's harder when there are a lot of "Silver Springs" and "Washingtons." Often, it's the subject matter that I link with a certain person, not necessarily their "name." So for a while we had a guy who said he had stumbled upon proof of his wife's affair. It was always nice to hear from him.

My problem is I can't remember anything anymore. It's a wonder I even have pants on most days. And when chat time comes around, I tend to live in the moment, focusing intently on that particular chat without connecting it with chats in the past or chats in the future. I'm like a chimp, but the kind that DOESN'T stockpile stones.


Waxing Desperate, Va.: Hi John! Since your tagline on today's chat schedule reads "John Kelly Waxes Nostalgic," I thought I would appeal to you to educate your many readers (if any of them need it) on the proper use of "wax," the verb. Besides the common "wax on, wax off" usage, "wax" means to grow, like a waxing moon, or to become, as in waxing eloquent. It does not mean "to speak."

I read the following phrase in a piece on Sunday: "As a society, we wax fondly about 'classic' beauty...." No, no, no! We can wax nostalgic, or passionate, or even derisive, but we cannot wax fondly, unless the transitive object of the waxing is a classic automobile.

Please help get the (correct) word out, John. I've all but given up on "home in on" (home, not hone) and "nimrod" (a hunter, not a nincompoop).

John Kelly: Funny, I was just looking in the dictionary and "nincompoop" is right after "Nimrod." I'm surprised "nimrod" doesn't have a secondary definition as "dolt," since that seems to have come into usage. I've always been bothered by the phrase "Nice move, Ajax," since Ajax was one of the greatest Greek heroes.

I will certainly do my part to correct the misusage of "waxing," but it begs the question: Isn't "

begs the question

" a more pressing issue? People get that one wrong ALL the time. It doesn't mean to raise a question, but to state a logical fallacy or make a circular argument.


Beltsville, Md.: Price George's County does try to be a nice place to live in, but I feel it needs to try harder. One of my friends calls PG county Piled Garbage, and it's hard to drive anywhere that you don't see trash in the parking lots, streets, everywhere, so I think it's important that a much higher effort be made to keep it clean and pleasant.

John Kelly: Surely it can't be all that bad? What I do wonder is why nothing seems to change at the top of Prince George's County. There always seems to be a steady supply of stories about questionable political deals, mis-spent public money, etc., but no one ever seems to get punished. Do citizens just not care, or are these stories exaggerated?


Arlington, Va.: Okay, I remember a local (I think) kids show where children went on and got prizes. I don't remember much else (including the name)except the theme song the host sang (don't ask me how I remember this) started "Does anyone here have an aardvark? Every one here has a right and left ear, but nobody here has an aardvark". Does that ring any bells for anyone else?

John Kelly: Not me. Anyone?

I remember a show on Channel 4 called "The Beth and Bower Half Hour." Bower was a dog puppet, I think, and Beth was a 12-year-old girl. When I was in high school I was on that show, along with some kids from the drama department. We did a scene from "Pippin" I think. Beth sort of frightened me. She looked like she was barely holding it together under the crushing pressure of fronting a Saturday morning kids' show. Years later I mentioned her in a column and then exchanged e-mails with her and she said, no, she loved doing the show.


Bada Bing, N.J.: Remember when' is the lowest form of conversation.

John Kelly: Wasn't that a running gag in "American Pie"?

What do you do when someone says that? Do you deftly change the subject or do you just walk away with a disgusted look on your face? Or do you stick around, smiling through gritted teeth as your friends talk about HR Pufnstuf and the the Sleestaks?


Aardvark: "Wonderama" starring Bob McAllistor.

John Kelly: How's that for service?

According to a 1998 obit in The Post:

Bob McAllister, 63, a magician who hosted a three-hour Sunday morning children's television program called "Wonderama" from 1967 to 1977 in New York and who had hosted a children's show in Baltimore, died of lung cancer July 21 at his home in New York.

In 1978, he hosted a new show called "Kids Are People, Too." The show won an Emmy for ABC, but the network soon replaced him.


Thin Mints: My Girl Scout cookies were just delivered (by the mom in the office). She says the sales of all the peanut-themed cookies were down this year. What is your favorite Girl Scout cookie?

John Kelly: Delivered by the mom?! When my younger daughter was still selling GS cookies I always promised that if you bought some she would deliver them in her uniform. She'd come down here after school and go through the newsroom. Now THAT'S service.

My favorite: Samoas, of course. There's no question. They have it all.


Ajax: It's not "Nice move, Ajax." It's "Nice move, Ex-Lax."

John Kelly: I thought it was "Nice movement, Ex-Lax."


Alexandria, Va.: Is Bernie Madoff a shanda for the goyim?

John Kelly: I think he's a shanda fur di humans.


Shanda fur die goyim

: to do something embarrassing to Jews where non-Jews can observe it.


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: re: waxing

Secretary: "The Dean is furious. He's waxing wroth."

Quincy Adams Wagstaf (Groucho): "Is Roth out there too? Tell Roth to wax the Dean for a while."

John Kelly: Ah, that's lovely. That must be S.J. Perelman. I went through a spell where I was reading a lot of his humor and he loved jokes like that.


Burke, Va.: Someone asked if you recognize people who post here ... I live in Burke and like to post sometimes, but there is another 'Burke' out there who usually posts before I do. I sort of look out the window and wonder if he is next door -- or down the street -- or in my basement ... I may need to move to another city.

John Kelly: He's calling from inside the house! (What movie is that from? I can't remember.)

Perhaps you could change your handle to "East Burke, Va." or "North Burke, Va." Or is Burke too small to actually have compass points?


Hmmmmmm: John why does my agency's firewall prevent me from opening your suggested links. It says the links contain porn. What's up with that, John?

John Kelly: Erm. Porn you say? I'm pretty sure they're all YouTube links. Your agency probably just doesn't want you wasting your time, I mean THEIR time.

Of course, they do say about porn "you know it when you see it."


Aardvark: BTW, you can get answers to questions like this real fast by typing "anybody here have an aardark" into the Google search engine.

The Wiki entry on Wonderama comes up, with such facts as:

McAllistor was upset that an ad for a Charles Bronson film ran during the show. He took out an full-page ad in the New York Times, telling people to stop watching. He was soon replaced as host.

John Kelly: Type it into Google? What, and put Answer Man out of a job?

Re, the Bronson ad: Ah those were the good old days, when people actually had standards.


D.C.: It's SMOOTH move, Ex-Lax.

P.S. Samoas. They're like legal, edible crack.

John Kelly: If you ever see me walking down the street, shoeless, disheveled and muttering, you'll know it's because I'm looking to score some more Samoas.


Cameron, N.C.: Two Guys: A forerunner of Walmart? Back in the 50s-70s, I used to work in the grocery dept 40 years ago. They figured out they could make more money from the real estate -- Vornado.

John Kelly: I interviewed a 91-year-old guy yesterday whose father used to run a grocery store in Washington, back when almost every Eastern European Jew who emigrated to DC would find a storefront, buy a counter, throw his lot in with these Jewish businessmen's associations that would buy in bulk, and open a grocery. It sounded like a lot of work. I'd prefer real estate too. It never goes bad, right?


Arlington, Va.: This may be a somewhat unfair question, since I grew up in NYC rather than here, but anyway:

Does anyone remember Officer Joe Bolton, the host of the "Three Stooges" show? Most of what he said on the show consisted of admonitions along the "don't try this at home" line. The show was sponsored by Bosco. Anyone know what Bosco was? (I assume it's no longer sold.)

John Kelly: Bosco is a chocolately syrup you add to milk. Apparently you can't get it in Maryland, but you can get it at Kroger stores in Virginia.


Tampa, Fla./Ex 4Corners Guy: Am I the only FLORIDA chatter here?

John Kelly: Any Floridians in the virtual house?


Arlington, Va.: I have a question related to the content of this chat.

Since this is a moderated chat, obviously only messages chosen by the moderator or the host get posted. In the comments areas of news stories and columns, on the other hand, presumably there is much less regulation. I have seen some unintentionally hilarious rants in the comments sections -- do you also receive a certain proportion of vitriolic, rambling, illiterate posts?

John Kelly: No, no one who comes to my chat is vitriolic, rambling or illiterate.

You're right that the moderator--the multi-tasking Rocci--prunes the questions before they get to me, but I don't think we get too many oddball posts. It's probably more common on chats like Milbank's or Kurtz's, where there's political content.


Rockville, Md.: John, Do you remember Trampoline centers? I remember when I was about 10 (in 1960) I lived in Houston and there was this outdoor center were they had rows of trampolines placed over holes were one could bounce around to your hearts content. I think it cost something like 50 cents for 30 minutes. I never heard of them anywhere else. There were no spotters to stop you from falling off so I suspect they maybe went out of business due to liability issues.

John Kelly: What a great idea. I wonder if they played Cher's "Gypsies, Trampolines and Thieves" over the PA system.

I always was jealous of kids who had trampolines. Of course, the first broken neck at Trampoline Center probably spelled its doom. Now you can get trampolines with all that netting around them, but even so there's always going to be a bit of risk.


About Burke: Burke is one of those more or less amorphous places -- unincorporated -- that are more of an idea than a place. Burkians would no doubt disagree, but it is part of Greater Springfield -- another "idea" rather than a "place." It's a peculiarity of Fairfax County. OTOH, I'm addressed in Falls Church -- but don't live precisely in the city limits. (Don't get me started on references to "The City" when speaking of same.)

John Kelly: At least you don't live in the "Alexandria section of Fairfax County." That has to be its own special hell.


Reston, Va.: Hi John: Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the Photoshop contest. I missed the boat on the whole thing as I've been traveling the past few weeks. But, I can't wait to participate next time! Have a fabulous Friday the 13th and an even better Tuesday, the 17th.

One of my favorite Irish blessings...

May you have the hindsight to know where you've been the foresight to know where you're going and the insight to know when you're going too far.

John Kelly: Thanks. I thought the entries were pretty funny. I have another idea that I'll announce in a few weeks, when the weather is reliably nicer.

Enjoy Tuesday. I haven't decided where to spend it yet. In close proximity to some Guinness, I hope.


Waxing Relieved, Va.: Thanks for the soapbox space, John. My dictionary (Am Heritage) has "Nin, Anais" between nimrod and nincompoop, but it's a pretty hoity-toity edition. Anyway, I can trace the whole "nimrod" debacle back to a Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd cartoon.

"Isn't 'begs the question' a more pressing issue?"

Of course, but I didn't want to be greedy. People's eyes tend to glaze over when I try to explain the correct usage. The best I can do is tell them to never, ever use the phrase.

John Kelly: If you're suggesting that we open our mouths only when we know what we're talking about, it's going to get awfully quiet around here.


Alexandria, Va.: My wife is looking for a book from her childhood about an old lady and an alligator. Anyone remember it?

John Kelly: Anyone?


Where Am I? Who Am I?: I want my Lincoln Logs back. They were stained with a very addictive coating that tasted bitter ... but soooo addictive ...

John Kelly: YEah, I think they dipped them in Scotch Broth. Or Bovril.


Department Mascots: We could have the bill from Schoolhouse Rock. Not sure what Department, but he's funny.

John Kelly: He'd probably run faster if he loosened that ribbon around his midsection.


Laurel, Md.: Speaking of old kids shows. Remember the girl on The Old Curiosity Shoppe, who also played Felix Unger's daughter on the Odd Couple.

Well, she just had her conviction overturned on that most Hollywood Liberal of crimes -- harassing for animal rights:

Contempt conviction of 'Peanuts' actress is voided (AP, March 13)

John Kelly: I remember her. She was like the go-to girl for TV back then. There were three or four child actors that you ALWAYS saw and she was one of them. Too bad she didn't grow up.


Bowie, Md.: John, do you remember the Central Charge card issued by Riggs Bank? I remember the first money-handling job I ever had was in mall store in 1981 that still accepted it, even though other locations of our chain had dropped it.

John Kelly: Is that the one that was accepted at a handful of DC department stores? I remember a thin cardboard card that had a piece of metal in it, stamped with your unique charge card number. My mother had one. At the store they'd go "cha-chunk" with one of those credit card things.


NoLo, D.C.: My Eastern European Jewish family made the jump from grocery stores to real estate (and movie theaters), so we've got both covered. My brother still has my great-grandfather's butcher block as a workbench.

John Kelly: Those guys worked hard back then. But just think: If we get our own depression we'll get to see what it was like!


Double Deckers!: "Fun and lahfter is what we're ahfter..."

Why can I still sing that but can't find my car keys?

John Kelly: It's nature's way of saying you shouldn't be driving.

The real problem will be when you can find the keys but you can't find the CAR.


Rockville, Md.: re: "Wonderama" starring Bob McAllistoer: I can top that! I remember "Wonderama" with Sonny Fox in Channel 5 in New York. In fact, I was on Wonderama on August 17, 1961, at the tender age of 8. Each week, the show had a spelling bee and a Simon Says contest. My dad wrote to WNEW-TV stating in no uncertain terms that I was the best speller in the second grade in New York (or at least at P.S. 202 in Brooklyn), and that the producers should have me on the show. Unfortunatley, they wanted kids who were in the third grade and up, and I technically missed the mark (I suppose I could have entered the bee, but if they found out that I wouldn't officially be in the third grade for another month, there would be a terrible scandal, and my mother would have too hide her head in shame because I lied about my age. Anyway, I did end up in the "Simon Syas" contest, and to my surprise, me, Mr, 'Do this" himself ,actually won! Did I win a model race car set, or a new bicycle? NO!! I won two tickets to Freedomland, an American History theme park in the Bronx, which closed down two years later and became Co-op City, the world's largest publicly subsidized co-opertive housing development. I always tell people that I won two tickets to Co-op City, but that's another story. Anyway, the show was taped on Thursday and broadcast on Sunday, My parents, and assorted aunts, uncles and cousins, all went to my grandparent's apartment in Crown Heights to watch the show. I was terribly embarrassed by the whole thing, but I watched the show anyway and had a good laugh. There was also a segment later where Sonny Fox interviewed four kids, including me, but that's another story to be told way in the future.

John Kelly: See the kind of celebrities we get coming to this chat?


Takoma Park: OMG I'm a loyal Orioles fan, but I'd switch to the Nats if they got the Schoolhouse Rock "Bill" to be their mascot.

Speaking of nostalgia, Schoolhouse Rock is how I memorized the Preamble to the Constitution, which actually came in handy in law school. (Is "come in handy" still okay to say? Now I'm paranoid.)

John Kelly: I have fond memories of those Saturday morning interstitial news reports on CBS with Christopher Glenn. Remember those? When they stopped doing them and Glenn became an "adult" correspondent I had trouble taking him seriously.


Viera, Fla.: Another one...right across from the stadium where the Nationals are training.

John Kelly: I wish I was there.


Richmond, Va.: I remember the alligator book ... will take longer to remember the name. Poster, check back here next week.

John Kelly: Is that a promise? We can get a theme going. And a sub-specialty in reuniting readers with their dim and distant memories.


Blacksburg, Va.: It's probably Crictor (old lady and a snake) but it could also be Loveable Lyle (family and a crocodile). Of course, then there's the Rich Old Lady in Babar...

At any rate, if she hasn't found it yet it's probably because she is thinking of the wrong animal.

John Kelly: Another possibility. Crictor is relatively recent though. I remember reading it to my kids and it had just come out.


Washington, D.C.: I wish I WERE there.

John Kelly: You too, huh?


Arlington, Va.: It's "Smooth move, Ex-Lax."

Also, 'nonplussed' means perplexed, NOT "it didn't faze me."

John Kelly: In other words, it means the opposite of what everybody thinks it means. Doncha just love it?


Washington, D.C.: John! I am a repatriated Floridan and deeply feel those roots. I am also the original Florida Chick. I see someone is out there using my moniker and I don't like it one bit! I've been here for years with that moniker and now this new kid is on the block submitting multiple questions to chats using my name. But I am from northern Florida. Pensacola specifically, where most people are born in Florida, not these wannabes who come from Michigan and Maine and settle in Tampa and call themselves Floridians.

John Kelly: It looks like someone is using your "Washington, D.C." handle, too.


Burke is one of those more or less amorphous places -- unincorporated -- that are more of an idea than a place. : Thats because of the screwy way Virgina is organized. It took me several years after moving here to get used to the idea that a "city" wasn't part of a county. And if you didn't live in the "city" you weren't really from there no matter what your address said.

John Kelly: Then there's where I live: Silver Spring. Not really a city.


"Alexandria section of Fairfax County.": Real estate agents use this all the time to deceive. You can tell when you see an ad for a townhouse in "Alexandria" that is for $490K, which is not possible if it is in the City. Check out the address and you are guaranteed to find the Metro stop it is "close to" is Huntingdon or Franconia Springfield, not King Street. There is nothing wrong with being near Springfield, but agents try to lure unsuspecting buyers in with promises of "Old Town charm" when the house is 30 mins from Old Town.

John Kelly: And Silver Spring stretches from the District line to Pennsylvania to the north and West Virginia in the West.


Silver Spring, Md.: I believe in later Greek and Roman literary tradition, Ajax became a muscle-bound oaf, sort of like Popeye.

John Kelly: I'm a purist. I stick to early Greek and Roman literary tradition. I mean, it all jumped the shark after the Bacchae.


Regular bloggers: Several years ago on another chat, someone calling himself Dave from Chantilly would write in almost every week. Then I believe he got a job and no longer chimed in.

Some other Dave would write in as "Not that Dave."

John Kelly: It sounds like if we're going to have any real sense of community, you're all going to have to come up with very memorable names. "Silver Spring" just isn't going to gut it any more.


Richmond, Va.: The Alligator Under the Bed. (1974)

Author: Joan Lowery Nixon

John Kelly: Whoo-hoo! Success!


GWB: Hey John, do you remember when the country was prosperous, we had very little immigration problems, and war was virtually unheard of. Now, then thar were the good ole days.

John Kelly: I do remember them. But I didn't know they were the good old days until they were over!


Arlington Gay: And when you have a chat handle like "Arlington Gay," that's memorable.

I've been having a really bad day but you just brightened it up a whole bunch. Thank you!

John Kelly: You're welcome.

And thanks to everyone who stopped by today. I have to say goodbye. If this was a kid's TV show we'd all sing a song ("Just so you know/It's time to go/But it's not so bleak/We'll see ya next week!") and the costumed alligator and game warden and mailman would dance around, and the little girl would close her storybook and go to sleep.

Until then... good night.


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