John Kelly's Washington

John Kelly
Washington Post Metro Columnist
Friday, October 9, 2009; 12:00 PM

Post Metro columnist John Kelly was online Friday, Oct. 9, at Noon ET to chat about the people and stories that don't make the front pages, plus his latest columns.

Today: John welcomes Paul Feinberg, who was the subject of Kelly's Photographer Takes an In-Depth Look at Outsiders column this week. Feinberg's pictures of Another Washington are currently on exhibit at American University's Katzen Arts Center.


John Kelly: Howdy folks. Thanks for stopping by. My guest is local photographer Paul Feinberg. I put some of Paul's photos up on my blog.

The images are all that's left of a Washington many of us remember from 25 and 30 years ago. Pool halls, tattoo parlors, strip clubs. Paul was drawn to those sorts of places. His day job was an an engineer at Goddard Space Flight Center, but photography always captivated him. Please share your memories of that Washington.

Or talk about anything else on your mind. This week we met Jon Simon,

who researches word for the Oxford English Dictionary

. And yesterday I wrote about

the acorn explosion

. Oh, and I posted another cool photo on my blog today. It's of

one of the kaleidoscopes

going in to the 14th Street Bridge. Cool art or dangerous distraction?

Paul says he's a slow, hunt-and-peck typist so I'm pounding out his answers.


Washington, D.C.: I have really enjoyed Mr. Feinberg's creative work. My question: the world seems to have gone digital -- does he prefer digital or film photography, and why? Thank you.

John Kelly: Here's Paul:

"Not only is all 'Another Washington' film, I still shoot with the same type of camera I used back then, the Nikon F-2 and F-3 which I've been able to update by buying almost new on eBay.

"The only digital I shoot is family snapshots. The reason I don't shoot digital is because you have to think differently. You're aware of certain technical things that you have to do and compensate for, when you shoot digitally, where with a film camera you don't have to think about anything except the image. I don't even shoot with the automatic features. It's all manual. That's the way I learned. I'm suspicious of a lot of digital photography because it's manipulated and it's not the real image. It can be altered. In the commercial world you have to send in image digitally so there is a digital part of organization that I'm becoming knowledgeable about--out of necessity.

"I think digital might destroy photography. The emotional content for me goes out with digital."


Arlington, Va.: We saw a bald eagle flying over Rosslyn on Wednesday afternoon from our office window. What a sight!

Just thought I'd let you know.

John Kelly: Very cool. Did it have a fish in its talons?


Takoma Park: Apparently Metro ridership is down. As a New Yorker I'm spoiled when it comes to subways and find Metro largely useless, inconvenient and overpriced. But it seems to me ridership has been steadily increasing until this recent downturn. While D.C. has been hit relatively hard by the economic downturn, generally the Washington area hasn't suffered as much as the rest of the country due to its proximity to so much of the Federal Government, so I can't believe the decrease in ridership is totally due to the economy. Any thoughts?

John Kelly: I do think the economy is having an affect. If unemployment is up, people aren't gonna have to take the train to a job. I myself am not riding Metro as much, but that's because I'm working from home most days as the newsroom is renovated. I'm delighted to be saving money. Also, there are probably some people fed up with delays, accidents, slow downs, closed stations on holidays, etc. They're probably figuring: "You know what? It's less aggravation to just drive." Some people may even be afraid, given the accident.

What about the rest of you? Are you riding Metro less for any reason?


Arlington, Va.: I'm a regular reader of your columns, blog and discussions. Every year you have a school you promote for money to come through our grocery store customer cards. I was wondering why the schools never sign up with Harris Teeter or any of the other stores? Don't you and they realize that this is not just a Giant/Safeway town anymore? Teeter has stores in DC now, it's not just a suburbs thing anymore. The schools could get so much more money if they could sign up with all. I want to support the schools you push, but I never can b/c I shop at Teeter. Every year I think it will change, and every year it doesn't. Very disappointing.

John Kelly: First, thanks for being a regular reader. Second, some of the schools do sign up with other stores. Next week I'll be announcing that Hart is with Harris-Teeter and Target. (Oops, I guess I just announced it.) You're right that we're not just a Giant or Safeway town, but most schools in depressed areas in the city are lucky to have ANY grocery store by them, let alone a Harris Teeter. That's why many of them, if they're signed up at all, are only signed up with Giant or Safeway.

But, as I said, we're in the process of signing Hart up with Harris-Teeter, so stay tuned. And thanks for your support.


Washington, D.C.: John--what's going on around the Naval Observatory? The nuclear clock digital display has been removed--will it be replaced? And it looks like they are adding a new fence around the grounds. If the existing chain-link fence was good enough to protect probably the most-hated vice president ever, then it should be good enough to protect Biden. Why are they wasting money on a new fence?

John Kelly: I called the Naval Observatory. The clock is in the shop. It's only a year or two old but there were glitches with it. They're hopeful it'll be back in a couple of weeks. And, yes, the chain link fence is being replaced.


Washington, D.C.: Why were you so attracted to burlesque?

John Kelly: Paul, why were you? The naked women?

"That part has always been there: the curiosity and the voyeurism. But there's been another part, too: the part of identifying with someone struggling to make a better life. And that was coupled with the thought that their way of life was coming to an end because it was too innocent for the taste of that time. It was suggestive and illusion and at that time people were experimenting and wanted explicitness. So as I watched the performances, which I was able to do because of story for The Post, over a period of four or five months, I grew to know and respect and like these women and even male MCs and performers who had been in the business for years, who still were hoping for a happy ending. That mood predominated, as opposed to the voyeurism. I grew quite close to some of them."


Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: So your guest isn't convinced about the resolution limit of digital over conventional film? Or does resolution not matter to his art?

I suppose he's still shooting ASA 25 Kodak High Contrast copy film?

(Like I did when I was a photojournalism major in college in the late 60s).

Thanks much. HLB

John Kelly: Here's Paul's answer:

"It has nothing to do with the resolution of the film. It has more to do with the emotional way I approach thinking about a shot. But, no matter what he resolution is, for the most part you can tell when a photo is digitally derived. You get different qualities in the color and shading. It's never been the resolution that's been an issue. It's been using the cameras as a substitute of my eyes, without any manipulation that the digital process involves. I still use Tri-X and ASA 64. I don't need 25. I like the grain structure of film."


Acorns: Wasn't it last fall (or maybe the fall prior) when several prominent botanists decried an unusually low number of acorns from oak trees?

John Kelly: I seem to remember something like too so I quickly searched for those stories. But I couldn't find it. I think you're right. Maybe we had a "usually" low level of acorns.


University of Alaska at Fairbanks: So whose tweets do you subscribe to?

Not your own, surely.

Go Nanooks..

John Kelly: Hmmm. Let me try to remember. I've actually been too busy to Tweet much this week--or look at Tweets. I subscribe to some journo types like Jay Rosen from NYU. Also, the British comedian/actor/bouldevardier Stephen Fry. And Rob Pegoraro. Only about 100 people, because I'm distracted enough as it is. Do you have any recommendations?


"I think digital might destroy photography. The emotional content for me goes out with digital." : Yes, and moving pictures will destroy live theater, and television will destroy movies, CDs sound "cold and artificial" and...come on, guy. You can dislike taking digital photos without screaming that they're the Antichrist.

John Kelly: Paul says: "It isn't a personal thing. I have nothing against other people's utilization or enjoyment of digital photography. I just feel comfortable with the processes of film."


Washington, D.C.: What are you photographing today that we will look back on in 20-30 years and feel somewhat the same way about as we feel when we look at the Katzen photos?

John Kelly: Here's what Paul has to say:

"I'm aware that the major changes take place in revitalized neighborhoods, which because of their previous cheaper way of life, have a lot of small business that I'm interested in which will disappear. Some of the neighborhoods in that process are Hyattsville, Brookland and even Wheaton, which I like for another reason: all the small shops that are ethnically diverse. I've always enjoyed small neighborhood bars but they're being offset by a different kind of meting place: the coffee shops, which I think will dramatically change in the next 25 years. I also have an interest in the teenage trendy places of clothing, and especially of food, like smoothie shops, which have a memory for the kids but won't be around in that form in the next 20 years."


Words: Did you read The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester about the OED? Really should have referenced it in your column. It is a fabulous story about the OED's birth.

John Kelly: Well, my column was about Jon Simon, not about Simon Winchester's book.

But, yes, it's a great book. I enjoyed it, although **SPOILER ALERT!!!** I cringed when the Madman cut off his own penis.


Baltimore, Md.: John,

I remember my dad teaching me about driving etiquette and techniques from the time I was 5. My mom ended up teaching me how to drive but we started very early. As in not yet legal early. I got over a year of driving in every condition to every location possible with my mother in the car. Since I wasn't legal, I only drove with her. We rode on the Beltway at normal speeds (60-70), in the rain, in the snow, in traffic -- in heavy D.C. traffic and it taught me how to handle myself in a car. My dad taught her how to drive... so she had the same style of driving I was raised with. I try to engage in proper/safe driving practices with my 12-year-old now, but sadly she seems to think I'll be driving her around forever because she has no interest at all. When she does though, I'll make sure to drive with her for a very long period of time prior to letting her drive on her own.

John Kelly: Do you let your 12-year-old drive now? I guess if you had a big estate, crisscrossed with empty roads, you could do that, though it doesn't sound like that's what you did as a kid.

But, yes, there definitely are advantages to driving in all sorts of situations, though it's probably best to be 16 or 17 when that happens--or whatever the law is in your particular state.


Acorny: Cannot believe you or Akers did not mention the huge acorn deficit we had last year. There were several stories about it and it was noticeable in my neighborhood -- no acorns last year.

John Kelly: I wonder if it has anything to do with ACORN, the embattled social services group....


Washington, D.C.: Here's my suggestion for how the District can fill the parking garage at the new shopping center in Columbia Heights. Encourage people going to the Nationals games to park there, then take the green line to the game. If you live on the Red Line there can be a substantial wait for a Red Line train once you get from the park to Gallery Place. Then you have to get from your Red Line station to your home. This way, you cut down on your travel time while not having to pay to park right by the stadium. Granted, this proposal doesn't increase revenue until April, but I hope that District officials are thinking of other ideas like this to increase usage of the parking garage.

John Kelly: So you see that as an inducement for people who would normally drive all the way to the ballpark as opposed to Metro all the way? I drive to Silver Spring and Metro from there, so driving to Columbia Heights wouldn't make sense. I think it would be a fairly narrow audience that that would appeal to, but maybe I'm wrong.


Arlington, Va.: John,

One can be overwhelmed, and one can be underwhelmed. Can someone simply be whelmed?

John Kelly: I am currently whelmed.

But as I'm in Paul Feinberg's basement, I don't have access to The Post's multi-volume OED to consult.


John Kelly: What do people think about Obama's Nobel Peace Prize? I was pretty surprised.


Rockville, Md.: Hi John, I was in Crystal City for work this week, and I noticed dozens of Air Force officers in camo fatigues and boots. It seems to me that years ago when I worked down there, most wore flight suits. That got me thinking...if they are in Crystal City, they are working at a desk. I know the Air Force has a uniform that's just slacks and a button-front shirt. Who or what determines the uniform of the day? (I admit I was jealous...the fatigues looked more comfortable than my suit.)

John Kelly: Good question. Do we have any soldiers, airmen, sailors or Marines out there who can explain?


Acorns: I don't have any oaks near me, but I have a black walnut next to my house, and it too is having quite a crop this year. (Not to the extreme of 3 or 4 years ago -- there was on year that was insane -- but still notable.) I assume there's some correlation. Maybe the combination of a really wet spring and relatively cool summer? Anyway, I'm just glad it seems to be nearly over -- the heavy shelling of my roof has been freaking out the cat.

John Kelly: I got an e-mail from a reader who's been taking a beating from the walnut trees around his house. And another from a woman whose husband filled to trash cans with acorns he had swept up, a hundred pounds' worth. The way Scott Aker explained it to me, some tree species just schedule explosions of seeds every so often. I suppose it could have something to do with certain meteorological conditions but I think it's more to fake out predators that want to eat all the seeds. The trees go: You want seeds? Try to eat all of THESE.


Metro: I have been a Metro rider for 10 years but last month I gave up due to Metro woes and started driving. It's a little sad how much I'm enjoying being in my car! My commute from Alexandria to Union station is shorter by car and much more enjoyable.

John Kelly: When I have a few bad Metro experiences I vow to take the car. Then I drive the car and sit in horrible traffic and I remember why I like the Metro so much.


Can someone simply be whelmed?: "But I, beneath a rougher sea, Am whelmed in deeper gulfs than he."

William Cowper thought so.

John Kelly: But doesn't it sort of mean "overwhelmed" in that context? Perhaps, like "flammable" and "inflammable," it means the same thing.


McLean, Va.: Did anyone who was in the Tysons area yesterday around 5-ish notice anything strange? My co-worker said she saw what appeared to be a parachutist in the sky. She took a picture with her iPhone; I saw the pic, and there's definitely a blob there, but I can't tell what it was.

I looked on WTOP's Web site, but there was nothing there. Anyone else see this supposed parachutist?

John Kelly: Anyone?

It wasn't me.


Pentagon: We are at war. Hence the camos.

John Kelly: Sir, yes sir!


Service Uniforms: My husband (non military) works for the Army. The commander of each agency determines what the "duty uniform" is to be. The Army guys (even those driving desks every day) typically wears BDUs (fatigues) in solidarity with the active-duty deployed.

John Kelly: Thanks for the details. One of my favorite memories of growing up was my father coming home in his flight suit. It seemed so neat to me to have a job where you wore an outfit covered in zippers and velcro.


Acorn Drought: Yes -- last year's lack of acorns left the squirrels starving, to the point that they cleaned out my bird feeders EVERY DAY, and chewed through the suet feeder. (Anecdotally supported by the owner of the wild bird store.) Little buggers would eat anything.

John Kelly: Have you noticed whether there's any change in squirrel activity this autumn?


Maryland: Paul -- this might only be tangentially related, but I figured I'd ask. Can you speak a little to your opinion of authenticity? It seems like a quality that people feel they've lost somehow. Someone can look at your photographs and say they're authentic. Are we less authentic now? Are we differently authentic? I get tired of folks saying the 'burbs or revitalized downtowns are less authentic than yesteryear. I'm also in the middle of wedding planning, and there is so much emphasis on authenticity. Has anyone been to an unauthentic wedding?

Just some rambling.

John Kelly: Hmmm, says Paul, that's a deep question.

"In my own family, one-to-one communication is lessened these days. Instead of talking in person or on the phone, it's text messaging. I think the same thing is happening where we get our services. There's less direct communication on a personal level between the places we go for services. Consequently we don't know people as deeply as we may have known them in the past, when things were more personal. I think we're more protective today, based on fears of being accepted at different levels, and fears of being exposed in ways that may be embarrassing.

"Authenticity, all it means is you have some time to build up some trust, in which you can be not fearful of personal inadequacies in your life you're afraid how people will react. You're more trusting. You can find that today, but it's harder. We don't take the time to build up the trust in our relationships.

"The authenticity that I found in my photographs had more to do with trust, because we mutually were able to not be fearful of what we were telling each other about."


Hyattsville, Md.: John, what do you think about women who wear sweatpants on dates?

This is a question on the Hax chat. I thought a little cross-talk might be interesting.

John Kelly: If it's a jogging date, fine. Otherwise, tacky.


What a bogus Peace Prize!: Them Yuropeens are trying to bribe Obama not to be Bush. Makes me want to invade something!

John Kelly: I'm supportive of Obama, but I was pretty surprised this morning. I say we invade Belgium.


But doesn't it sort of mean "overwhelmed" in that context?: Yes, exactly. The word "whelmed" got "over" attached to it as an intensifier.

John Kelly: Or as Orwell would say: superdoubleplusgoodwhelmed.


Squirrels, Redux: They're not hanging around my feeders so much, but that may be because I also bought (no kidding) spring loaded squirrel proof feeders that they can't get into. And "no mess" food (that unfortunately, even the birds don't seem to like much). At $25-$35 per 20 lb. bag, I really can't afford to feed all of the squirrels in Fairfax County -- which is what it felt like last year.

John Kelly: My father down in North Carolina is in battle with squirrels over his feeder. We don't have a feeder up at my house, but we did at our old one. What finally vanquished the squirrels was Vaseline on the pole, covered with cayenne pepper. The squirrels would jump on, slide down, then like their paws. They came to associate the feeder with a burning tongue.


RE: Overwhelmed and Underwhelmed: John,

We had a similar discussion at a wedding I was at this weekend...

We have the word "Extravagant," extra-vagant. But, can something ever be "Subvagant?" Or simply "Vagant?"

What is vagancy, anyway?

John Kelly: As Elvis Costello said: "There's a vagancy waiting in the English voodoo."


Ask the OED guy: I thought you were whelmed when your boat is covered in water, overwhemed = whelmed + sinking.

John Kelly: Is that where it comes from? It's a whater thing?


Can someone simply be whelmed?: One certainly can. It's what everybody was until "overwhelmed" overwhelmed "whelmed."

But I, beneath a rougher sea, am whelmed in deeper gulfs than he.

Cowper, 18th century

John Kelly: This Cowper guy gets around.


Re: Hyattsville: It's not about wearing sweatpants on dates. It's about wearing sweatpants at all. Some guy said it's a dealbreaker.

John Kelly: I think that guy has a lot to learn about women.


Correction...: ..the Hax convo isn't about wearing sweats on a's about hanging around the house with your bf wearing sweats, watching TV, etc. Which is, totally ok!

John Kelly: Exactly. I mean, if she's not going to wear the French maid outfit, the sweats are okay.


Metro: I still ride, but I noticed we didn't have the increase immediately after Labor Day. It's too bad this accident caused all these other problems -- they really could use the high ridership to get back on track.

Sorry, pun not intended.

John Kelly: I wonder if we've reached some sort of tipping point. For commuting downtown, I still prefer Metro to driving (parking's so expensive). Working at home is growing on me, but there's something unsettling about it too. In a way, it contaminates the home with work.


Potomac, Md.: I completely agree with Paul regarding digital photography. There is no longer any "art" to taking pictures. It's simply become another extension of the dehumanizing world of computer science.

John Kelly: My dad was/is a big photographer and I have his old medium-format Yashica. I just wish I knew how to use it. I can never get the whole f-stop thing, which apparently is really important.


Maryland (authenticity): I think I disagree with you, but thanks for taking the time to answer!

John Kelly: Have a great wedding!


Re: Whelmed: You do realize this was covered in a teen movie, right? I believe it was "10 Things I Hate About You", where two typically ditzy high school girls are walking along saying, "I know you can be overwhelmed, and underwhelmed. But can you ever be just whelmed?" The filmmakers did not, alas, provide an answer.

John Kelly: Boy, between that and sweatpants this chat has gone teeny-bopper.


Three!: You used three of my submissions! Four, if you use this one.

John Kelly: Ding! Ding! Ding! Congratulations. Four submissions and you get a free prize. Print out the chat, circle your submissions and take it to Jerry's Subs. You will get a free small side salad.


I thought you were whelmed when your boat is covered in water, overwhemed = whelmed + sinking.: Well, yeah, but you can be whelmed by just about anything. Don't be an Ambrose Bierce (he insisted that "dilapidated" could only refer to a structure that is falling apart because it is having its stones removed).

John Kelly: And decimate means to reduce by exactly one-tenth.


John Kelly: That's all the time we have today. Thanks for stopping by. And thanks to Paul Feinberg for sharing his thoughts. Try to see his exhibit before it closes Oct. 25. And why not take out your cameras this weekend--whether they're digital or film--and shoot away? Twenty-five years from now you'll be glad you did.


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