John Kelly's Washington

John Kelly
Washington Post Metro Columnist
Friday, July 24, 2009; 12:00 PM

Post Metro columnist John Kelly was online Friday, July 24, at Noon ET to chat about haircuts, vacation and summer camp.


John Kelly: So, haircuts: Why are they so fraught with drama? I have two daughters and hair issues consume their thoughts. One daughter has semi-curly hair and she'd rather have straight hair or, ideally, "wavy" hair. The other has voluminous straight hair (when I think of Hermione, I think of her: hair that has its own gravitational field) and goes back and forth on the issue of bangs.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bangs are the Devil's work. Nothing good can come from them. And yet both daughters experiment with them from time to time, forgetting that the LAST time they got bangs it ended in tears. (I guess bangs might work for some people, but it's rare.)

I think it's mainly women who obsess about their hair, but men do it too. I've done it. I remember as a 13-year-old fighting back tears after particularly gruesome haircuts--or what I perceived to be PGHs. When I lived in England as a teen I remember going with a friend as we both got our hair cut. He had frizzy curls that defied parting and yet somehow the barber hacked a part in his tresses. I remember that after Adrian saw himself in a mirror he said, "Don't boys part their hair on the right?" He thought there were rules about such things.

So I want to hear your haircut horror stories.

And your summer camp stories. It's the last week of my Send a Kid to Camp campaign, and I have the subject on my mind. I didn't really do summer camp as a kid. I went once to a sleepaway Boy Scout camp--and it was fun--but I didn't do the annual trip to some lakeside, Indian-themed camp full of tradition. My girls did and they looked forward to it every year. (Unlike the Colonial era-themed camp that each went to once and still have nightmares about. To this day they start shaking when they see a mob cap or a flintlock.)

Is camp the child's version of a vacation? I ask because I'm counting down the days -- nay, the minutes -- till I go on vacation. In a way, my mind has already departed. It's just my pesky body that's been left behind. Every year it seems I need my week at the beach more and more. What are your plans this summer? Or have you already gone and come?

Let's take it away.


Unpleasant ride on the subway: John, I ride the subway every day. Why is it that sometimes it's so unpleasant as far as uncomfortable seats?

I feel like I'm sitting on something. Does it mean that the springs on the seat are worn out? Sometimes I will move because it's so unpleasant, but that doesn't always help. Normally I sit in the first row of seats near the door (but NOT the ones facing towards the center).

And what is the problem with some of these operators that jerk the train around? And those who announce a station, come to a complete stop, and then start up again without warning so standees have to grab for the nearest available hand-hold? This drives me crazy, but I'm afraid to get on the intercom in case that makes it worse.

Recently one operator did this three times at the same stop. Would it do any good to note the car number and complain to metro? Would they ever do anything?

John Kelly: Let's start with the jerkiness: I've noticed it, too, and I think it's because the trains are being operated in manual mode now, as Metro tries to figure out what went wrong with its computer system in the Fort Totten crash. All trains are also pulling to the end of the platform. Train operators seem to be jockeying around more to stop in exactly the right place. I've even noticed that they bother moving just a foot or two. They must have their reasons. I don't think complaining will do much good, though Metro does have a Customer Comment Form on its Web site.

Uncomfortable seats? I haven't noticed that. Do you have your keys in your back pocket or something?

As for other Metro problems, I received two unsettling e-mails from readers in the last couple days. One was from a reader who was on a train in station when the doors opened on the wrong side: It was the side facing the wall, not the platform. Luckily nobody fell out. The other was from a woman who noticed that a little door on a driver's compartment was open, revealing buttons to push to stop the train. I hope that as Metro focuses on the circuit problems, it isn't neglecting other issues.


Middle Age, USA: Hi, John. I turn 40 tomorrow. Any advice?

John Kelly: Get your affairs in order: will, living will, irrevocable trust. Start putting Post It notes on your possessions, inscribed with who should get them after you die. You're on the downhill slide, my friend, so you may as well be ready. Contact people you have wronged and offer them your apology. Order a hospital bed to be delivered to your living room.

Or you could have a really kick-ass party that features lots of alcohol.


Inland Empire, Calif.: Hello Answer Man,

My wife and I would like to do something nice for friends of ours who threw a great baby shower for us, then immediately packed it up and moved to England where the Air Force decided they were needed. I'm hoping your time across the pond will enable you (or any of the chatters) to come up with a great thank-you gift idea ($25 -$50) they would be excited to receive and use in Her Majesty's Land. They have a daughter age 7 and a boy age 5, if that helps at all. Thanks and cheerio!

John Kelly: Mmmm. Good question. If My Lovely Wife is reading I'll bet she might have some ideas. They do have Starbucks in England and something like a Starbucks gift card might get some use. Peanut butter and decent chocolate chip cookies are especially hard to find over there but if they're in the Air Force they have access to a commissary and thus can get American stuff.

You know what might be good is family membership in English Heritage. We got it eventually. It allows discounts at all sorts of historic properties in Britain. I wish we'd gotten it when we first got there, because we ended up paying non-member rates at a few places before realizing we could save a fair amount of money. It's more than 50 bucks, though.

Any other suggestions?


Should the Surgeon General be slim?: Should the Surgeon General be Slender? (The Checkup, July 22)

Yes. And abolish the Body Mass Index!

Do You Believe in Fairies, Unicorns, or the BMI? (Devlin's Angle, May 2009)

John Kelly: Well, I guess it depends on whether you want your Surgeon General to be a good doctor or to be a role model. Probably both, preferably. But if you can only have one, I'd rather have the former. When I was in my 20s I saw a doctor whose office was full of plaques about the marathons he'd run. He was incredibly fit and handsome. I decided I wanted to see HIS doctor, the same way you should always go to the barber with the messiest hair in a shop, since he cuts everyone else's hair. (I'm keeping with the hair theme today.)

As for BMI, we who can stand to lose some weight know it. It's not like we have a hidden condition that a test will reveal. I don't know the purpose of BMI. Isn't a better test trying to zip up your pants in the morning, or seeing yourself in a bikini? And apparently the best way to lose weigh t-- and be healthy -- is to eat less and exercise more. Who knew?


John Kelly: The Associated Press is reporting that GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas will vote against Sonia Sotomayor. No big surprise, I guess, but this language struck me as odd:

"The Texas Republican, whose constituents are one-third Hispanic, acknowledged that his decision to oppose Sotomayor could carry political risks and said he was announcing it with 'regret and some sadness.'"

Shouldn't that read: "one-third of whose constituents are Hispanic"? Can you be one-third Hispanic?


Bad Haircut: Four months into my marriage, my husband I decided to dye my already-dyed blonde hair to black. I hated it. Getting back the blonde hair took nearly $300 and three visits to a salon, and it only got it back to light brown. At the end, we decided to get a haircut too. But the woman made me look like Carol Brady with all the layers. I bawled for days and wore the hair in hats or ponytails for months. Not one picture of me during this time exists.

John Kelly: Are you sure? I think I found one.

"My husband and I decided"? See, that's asking for trouble right there.

There does come a moment in these tales where you're sitting in the chair and you realize it's all going horribly wrong. You sit there with a forced smile on your face as the hair falls to the floor or the highlighter is troweled on. It's like a horror movie.


Thinking About Lunch: John, what type of jelly do you like on a PB and J. Strawberry or grape?

John Kelly: I prefer strawberry. Grape is like pouring Nehi on your bread.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hair -- I am in my 50s, and thinning on top. Looks fine from the front and back, not so fine from above. I do not part on the side, so am not facing the comb over decision, but I am facing the day when I have to decide on short-short or bald. My older brother went short-short a few years ago, and looked like an old man.

John Kelly: Why short-short? Couldn't you just grow it long in a heroic effort to distract people from the bald part?

My Lovely Wife swears to me that women don't care if their men go bald. Is that true? Of course, her father was bald, so maybe that counts for something. The truth, however, is that I don't care whether she doesn't mind if I'm bald. *I* don't want to be bald.


Arlington, Va.: Last week's chat item on civility at concerts brought to mind the only time I saw a brawl at a concert -- it was a Wolf Trap! Robert Palmer was surprised to see the audience sitting down, as is the norm at Wolf Trap. He told us to get up and dance and if anyone has a problem with it, "tell 'em to shut the --- up." Well, someone took that advice, and several punches later, they were escorted from the park.

John Kelly: I'm going to see The Music of John Williams tomorrow night at Wolf Trap. I hope a riot doesn't break out during the E.T. Overture.


Can you be one-third Hispanic? : Wouldn't that be odd?

John Kelly: Maybe some of the math majors from last week can explain. If your mother is a quarter Hispanic and your father is half Hispanic, would that make you one-third Hispanic?


Arlington, Va.: Hi John, For the person with Metro seat issues, it's been my observation that their preferred seat -- first row near the doors -- have got to be the most used seats on any given train. Those are the seats that someone sits in the minute someone else departs them. I never sit in those seats.

John Kelly: So maybe you're feeling the fiberglass platform from below? Do the seats even have springs?

We were at Costco once when they had a deal on a black leather arm chair. It was so comfortable when I sat in it that I had to get one for our living room. We got it home, took it out of the box and I plopped down in it. It was nothing like the chair at the store. Then I realized that literally thousands of butts had sat in the display model, softening the cushions and smoothing down the leather. After five years of home use I think ours is finally achieving that level of comfort.


Hair horror: When I was in third grade, my mom decided I would look "cute" with short hair and a perm. My hair looked like Shirley Temple on steroids. It was traumatizing.

John Kelly: That would be a good name for a band: Shirley Temple on Steroids.

I was talking with a stylist yesterday and she was saying that though she was tested by the state board on doing perms when she got her license, she's never actually done one as a professional. They just aren't in demand now. I wonder if they'll come back, like ritual scarification.


Rockville, Md.: Dear John, As a father and expert on all matters, when is the time to have a will drawn up? My husband and I have a 19 month-old son, but no will. If we don't have a will, doesn't everything automatically go to our son? Also, who would get custody if we don't have a will? My parents live in a different state and my in-laws live in Maryland. Our siblings live out of state. Thanks for your thoughts.

John Kelly: I don't know who would get what if you both died. I think that if one of you died, the other spouse would get it. Custody is even trickier. Any lawyers care to weigh in?

What are your wishes, as far as custody goes? You should probably agree on something and then approach the person --your parents, his parents, whatever-- and tell them. We probably first did our will about 10 years ago, when my father-in-law died. I was convinced that if I didn't do a will, I wouldn't die.


God Forbid: Are you saying curly hair is outta style?

John Kelly: No, I'm saying perms are out of style. Unless I'm wrong. Who wants to confess to being permed?


Permanent fix: Not exactly a haircut horror, but awful all the same. Wanted to look nice for fancy wedding in S.F. Decided to have "body perm." Carefully warned stylist that hair was pretty sensitive to treatment. Cut to look of pure horror on face of stylist as she rinsed solution off my scalp and beheld the head of Medusa incarnate. She didn't charge me for the perm, and I never went back there again. And still cringe at the pix of myself from the wedding.

John Kelly: A "body perm," huh? What's that exactly? Is it anything like these?

I think chemicals and hair is a bad idea. Too much risk of Agent Orange type damage.


"Isn't a better test trying to zip up your pants in the morning, or seeing yourself in a bikini? ": Um, John, when's the last time you looked in the mirror and saw yourself in a bikini?

John Kelly: Why, just the other day.


One third Hispanic: It is impossible to sum up inverse powers of two (one-half, one-quarter, one-eighth, etc.) and come up with EXACTLY one-third.

The reason is analogous to why you can't write 1/3 in decimal form in a finite number of places, e.g. .33333... repeating forever.

John Kelly: What if cloning was involved?


One-third Hispanic: You can't be exactly 1/3rd Hispanic, no.

If you don't mind fudging a bit, you can get close. For example, if 1365 of your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents were from Spain (or whatever), then you would be 33.3251 percent Hispanic. Close enough for government purposes?

John Kelly: Si.


Can you be one-third Hispanic?: If your mother is a quarter Hispanic and your father is half Hispanic, would that make you one-third Hispanic? 1/4 + 2/4 = 3/8

John Kelly: Fun with fractions!


Wills: If you have a child, you need to have an estate plan. Put the money in trust for the kid, name a guardian, name a trustee for the money (doesn't have to be the same person as you choose for the guardian!) -- but for your kid's sake, do it now. Tragedy can strike, and do you want both sets of grandparents and an aunt or uncle or two fighting about who is going to raise little Jimmy?

John Kelly: That's what I thought. But would the kid be entitled to the estate automatically? Of course, even if he was, I suppose the guardians would have some control over it until he was of age.


Re Rockville: Do a will now. I just went through a really bad time because my aunt died without a will, and I now have to wait to be designated as her executive which could take up to 90 days before I can even bury her. What if both you and your wife died in an accident? Where would this leave your son? Please for your son's sake and the remainder of your family, please put together a will or at least a power of attorney that can be drawn up to only to be used in case of death or disabled where you would not be able to make decisions.

John Kelly: It's not fun thinking about this stuff, but it does have to be faced. It's the more unpleasant side of parenthood, and hopefully it won't be necessary.


Stylist horror: Not a haircut horror, but close. I went to a salon to get my eyebrows waxed. Nothing else to do that day. The stylist takes one look at my natural auburn hair and asks if I ever color it. Now, I'm used to this, so I give my normal response: "you can't get this color in a bottle." "Oh, no, that's not what I meant," replied the stylist. "I meant to cover your grays." I have about 5 gray hairs, give or take one or two. I'm not bothered by this. But she brings it up again and again, and when I leave, she says that "when" I realize I should color my hair, I should come to her. WHAT?! I will not be seeing that stylist for any service.

John Kelly: Does rainwater bead on your eyebrows after you get them waxed? I know that happens with my Datsun.

My Lovely Wife threatens to color her hair. For most of her adulthood she has had a quite striking gray streak, a Bride of Frankenstein swath that people in checkout lines feel compelled to comment upon. The streak is spreading.... I think she looks just fine. And getting on the hair color wagon just means a never-ending battle against roots, right?


Sidewalk statistician again: Since we get half our genes from our mother and the other half from our father, if your mother is 1/4 Hispanic and your father is 1/2 Hispanic, that makes you 1/8 + 1/4 = 3/8 Hispanic.

3/8 = 37.5 percent 1/3 = 33.3 percent

So actually, your scenario comes pretty close to being 1/3 Hispanic. And you claim you have no Math skills. :)

On an unrelated note, I wanted to let you know that being forced to use a strong password is completely useless as far as improving network security. Here is the link to an article about this to give to your Washington Post IT gurus, and hopefully they will rethink their policies and you will not have to suffer needlessly any longer:

Do Strong Web Passwords Accomplish Anything?

Good luck!

John Kelly: Thanks. The password suggestions from readers this week were actually quite helpful, as far as coming up with a new password is concerned. I don't know how good they are at actual network security. Maybe we need retinal scanners or something.


Body perm: A body perm, which I always heard called a "body wave," is not supposed to make your hair curly; it's supposed to give it body. Make it wavy or fluffy enough to make the time you spend with the blow dryer worth it. I have the world's finest hair (and by that I do not mean that it is terrific; I mean that it is like baby hair, silky but incredibly limp and flyaway; it has to be forced at gunpoint to do anything but hang perfectly flat straight down in my eyes) and I used to get body waves back in the day.

I've since found products that, combined with the blow-dryer, will fluff up my hair enough that it doesn't look slicked down.

John Kelly: I think half of the women in the world spend their time envying the hair of the other half. My curly-haired daughter wishes she had the straight hair of her Asian girlfriends. They wish they had her waves. The grass is always greener.... And sometimes the hair is greener, if you're a bottle blonde in a swimming pool.


Grape is like pouring Nehi on your bread.: Hahahaha. My husband swears that grape is The Only Acceptable Jelly for PBJ. I agree with you. I use orange marmalade, peach, or anything BUT grape.

John Kelly: I object to the consistency as much as the flavor. It's like Jell-O that's gone wrong somehow.


Are you saying curly hair is outta style?: Yes, don't you see all those ads for the hair flattener (that's not what it's called...). I ran all over town trying to find a curling iron, now everyone is doing the opposite, steaming the hair flat.

John Kelly: Yep. The ambient temperature in my house rises by 5 degrees whenever any of the females are going out, since it requires the flattening iron to warm up. I worry that it can be as damaging to hair as chemicals. On the plus side, it really heats up tortillas quickly!


Re: Will Question: ANY relative or claimant could try to hack at your estate if you don't have a will. And remaining relatives could be fighting each other for custody. Also, you MUST (really!) have mutual general durable powers of attorney, so that if one of you is disabled and/or incompetent, the other can legally act (to bring suits, make claims for insurance benefits, etc). Being married, civil-unioned or related by blood confers NO legal right to legally act for your spouse, parent or child - EVER. There are NO exceptions.

- Probate Lawyer

John Kelly: Got that? It sounds like the time to act is now.


Hairror story: Not so bad, because I'm low maintenance. Made an appointment with my 10-year hairdresser to do my hair the morning of my wedding. I'm usually a shampoo and go gal, but every bride wants a special 'do' for her wedding and help fitting that tiara in! Her shop is not usually open on Sundays (I know, most folks get married on Saturday, but Sunday fit everyone's schedule and was cheaper), but she assured me she'd come it. I sat out front for an hour and the left a message when I got home. I rushed to the garden were the ceremony was, late and with flat hair. Luckily my sister was calming and helped me get the tiara in. A bridezilla would have had a fit, I was just worried X was okay. Wedding was beautiful, flowers blooming -- nature provided all the decoration we needed, and no hairspray to ruin the atmosphere. All's well that ends well.

John Kelly: I'm sure you looked lovely. (Doesn't every bride?) And your hair was probably the last thing people were looking at. You're right, though, that if you were on reality TV you would have returned to the shop with a flamethrower.


Ashton: Okay folks: Remember, nightmare haircuts are just grows!

John Kelly: So true. And yet read this next post:


Arlington, Va.: My younger sister and myself always had haircut appointments together. The hairdresser said that we would look great with short hair for the upcoming summer. Tears followed the haircuts. I tried to hide under the desks at school the next day (4th grade), and my sister told off an elderly lady when the woman called her a little boy. It took a full two years to grow it back out to barely chin length.

John Kelly: But I bet it was refreshingly low maintenance.


Suggestion for a Password: You take the square root of your month, day, and year of your birthday, add your initials (but spell them backwards), the color of your mood ring when you first wore one, the date of your death according to the Death Clock, and end it with the adjective that best describes your bond with your toilet paper.

John Kelly: Ah, so mine would be 33.75KFJpurple2/29/2037temporary. Don't go stealing it, folks!


Bowie, Md.: John, in your banner photo, are you talking your hat off or putting it on? (Also, are you a lefty?) John Kelly

John Kelly: I can't remember. I think I'm actually just holding it above my head. And for some reason I wear my watch on my right hand, even though I'm right-handed.


Hair coloring Con: At 51, I've finally decided to stop the hair coloring and let it be gray. (Been going gray since my mid-20s!) One of the main reasons I'm doing it is the time and cost involved. With a haircut, it's over $200 to have my hair colored and highlighted. And I have to do that once a month. Also, it takes at least 3 hours for the entire process. Pffft -- I decided I have better things to do with my time and money!

John Kelly: And here's the counter argument:


Hair color Wagon: Yes, it's always a battle with the roots. However, as a Woman of a Certain Age, whose hair (judging from the roots) is what I call "elderly squirrel"-colored, I will color it until I'm out of the workforce. I'd like to keep the mystery of how old I am.

John Kelly: Age discrimination may be illegal, but subtle favoritism is probably rampant. Of course, isn't there the danger that your character-filled face (imbued as it is with life's experiences) won't match your dark hair?


Fractions: 1/4 + 2/4 = 3/8!! No. 1/4 + 2/4 = 3/4, or 6/8! Come on people, 3rd grade fraction math -- find the common denominator, which you already have in 4. No need to convert it to 8. Besides, 6/8 is, obviously, same as 3/4.

John Kelly: But I think they're averaging, not adding. Right?


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: John Kelly: That would be a good name for a band: Shirley Temple on Steroids.

They could do a speed-metal version of "On the Good Ship Lollipop."

My hairline is following in my father's footsteps, as it were. Where I once could grow a full head or curly hair, I now have to get it cut before it gets what I call the "mad professor" look.

John Kelly: Ah, the joys of age.


Washington, D.C.: Your wife is correct -- women really don't care if men go bald. And, on most men, bald looks better than trying to cover up the beginnings of baldness.

Also, I once tried a new hairdresser in D.C. I should have known not to proceed when he asked if I wanted to touch up my highlights (I don't have highlights). He did a complete hack job, and I ended up with a weird girl-mullet. It looked as if someone had taken a weed whacker to my head. I had to have another stylist fix it, and she ended up cutting 5 inches off to get it even.

John Kelly: No wonder so many of us stick with someone decent once we've found them. Flitting around is like being promiscuous: You might end up with the hairstyle equivalent of an STD.


Advice For Women:: Never wear a haircut more expensive than your outfit.

John Kelly: Are you counting the shoes?


Summerland, Calif.: I had my bangs permed once. I looked like a poodle.

John Kelly: Well at least you were hypoallergenic.


Fire Dept Horses: Hi John, I really enjoyed your column last weekend on the Washington D.C. Fire Dept. horses. My grandfather was a D.C fireman sometime in the 1910s-20s, and growing up, I clearly remember the photograph my grandmother had of my grandfather standing next to the fire horses. I do believe one of my aunts now has the photo. Your column certainly brought back that memory! Thanks!

John Kelly: You're welcome. Answer Man will have more on that subject this Sunday. Stay tuned.


Washington, D.C.: Hair cut horror NOT: For about three months earlier this year I was in too much pain to get my hair cut (priorities, people...), so my hair grew much longer than what I -- and other people -- were used to. I received so many compliments on the new length that I no longer get my hair cut as frequently. I save money, too!

John Kelly: We should all give it a try!

Thanks for stopping by. Sorry if things got a little girly. Those of the male persuasion may have been turned off. Next week we'll talk about carburetors, I promise.

A reminder that I'm still accepting donations for Send a Kid to Camp. I'll announce the total next week, before buggering off on vacation. (Odd how that subject didn't come up today....)

Answer Man will see you in the paper on Sunday, and barring misfortune I should be back in the chat saddle in a week. Enjoy the weekend. Be safe.


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