John Kelly's Washington: Who cooks what in your family? Are you a chef or just a wannabe?

John Kelly
Washington Post Metro Columnist
Friday, October 23, 2009; 12:00 PM

Post Metro columnist John Kelly was online Friday, Oct. 23, at Noon ET to chat about the people and stories that don't make the front pages, plus his latest columns.

Today: Who cooks what in your family? Are you a chef -- or just a wannabe?


John Kelly: Greetings, chatsters. I come to you on this cloudy afternoon from my Silver Spring chat bunker. From somewhere comes the sound of leaf blowers. My view: Why blow leaves now when the trees are still laden with the things? Better to wait till they're all down. Like in February.

My columns were typically eclectic this week. By Friday I usually can't even remember what they were. Let me look.... Oh that's right. Answer Man kicked things off with info on a new(ish) statue outside the Mexican ambassador's residence. Then I had a column about how most men--well, me--love to think they're great cooks even though they don't do the backbreaking day-to-day cooking that feeds their families.

Tuesday was a column about Eddie Mends, a kid from Flint Hill High who ran 98 yards for a touchdown--and then sat on the bench. Wednesday I went behind the scenes at the horse show. And yesterday was about the return of Montgomery Donuts--in Arlington County of all places.

What else is in the news around here? Well the swine flu virus vaccination has become the MUST HAVE fall accessory. (I haven't even gotten my regular flu shot yet. You?) Oh, and have you noticed anything different about The Post these days? Redesign: yes, no, maybe?

Your turn....


Loss of movie listings from AMC: I called AMC and told them that I was going to avoid going to their theaters since they aren't interested in letting us know that the movie times are (having removed them from the Post).

A fellow from their managmement team called me back a few hours later. He appreciated my calling and wanted to let me know what they see as the problem.

He said that the Post charges $x for movie ads and that they could charge that much because the Post had y circulation. Now that the circulation has fallen, the price for the movie ads is still $x - no price break due to the loss of eyeballs on the page. They decided it wasn't cost effective to pay the regular rate for fewer readers.

He assured me that their management team was staying on top of this and that they'll change their plans if (I guess) movie attendence drops off.

Thought you'd find this interesting. I certainly did. I still avoid their theaters. (My husband and I probably see 6 shows a month so if they lose enough folks like ourselves, it might make a dent.)

John Kelly: Boy, you're really on top of things. Thanks. Perhaps our ad or circulation people should hire you.

I understand AMC's argument, though I notice they charge the same ticket price no matter the quality of the movie. Should I really pay the same to see an Adam Sandler movie as for a Robert DeNiro movie?


Rockville, Md.: John, did you know the woman you wrote about who wanted to massage horses has a successful human-massage office?

John Kelly: Yes. That was the whole issue. The Maryland board of chiropractors forbade anyone with a human massage license from massaging horses. She wanted to do both and couldn't understand why the mere fact that she had a human license forbade her from touching an animal. After over a year of legal tussling she won.


Baltimore, Md.: Paid death notices: John, I am directing this question to you in your guise as Answer Man. (Also, I don't know who else to ask.) I regularly read the obits and, as a result, am often giving the paid death notices a once over -- particularly the lengthy ones, which can be quite poignant. On Tuesday, two such notices ran for people who had no connection to the Washington area -- one for a 62-year- old man from Connecticut and the other for an 83-year-old woman from Illinois. I read them over and over, trying to see if a sibling, or grandchild, or anyone close to the deceased lived in D.C., or if the deceased had gone to school here, or ever worked here, but there were no connections.

My obvious question is, why do families place these notices in an out of town paper? Thanks.

John Kelly: I asked our obits editor, Adam Bernstein, and he said this:

"The New York Times regularly has obits (both articles and paid ads) for people who have died and did not live in its immediate circulation area. Just like any major newspaper, we do the same -- both in our staff-written features and in the paid ads."

I would add that perhaps people from out of the area feel like they want to be part of a historic newspaper of record. If you (or a loved one) live and die in a small town somewhere in the country you may feel like you won't get sufficiently memorialized there. Sorta like those ads you sometimes see from people promising to solve the Middle East crisis. Putting that ad in the East Toadlick Gazette is one thing, but if you want to be taken seriously, you put it in The Post.


Mt. Lebanon Pa.: Which of these Halloween costumes will really take off this season?

1. Balloon Boy 2. H1N1 3. Roman Polanski 4. Bernie Maddoff 5. Phillie Phanatic 6. Soupy Sales 7. You pick 'em

A moment for Soupy, please.

Thanks much. HLB

John Kelly: Would would be the perfect Balloon Boy costume? Would you just vomit and then say, "I'm Balloon Boy"? Or would it be better to dress up as the actual BALLOON? Get one of those mylar reflective blankets that you can buy to keep in your glove compartment in case your car breaks down in a blizzard. I would think a Dan Snyder costume would be pretty scary this year.

I'm gonna post some great photos on my blog of old Halloweens in Washington. There was a time when everyone wanted to dress up as Pac Man.


Alexandria, Va.: John, I have an odd question and thought you'd be the perfect person to (hopefully) answer it. When Air Force One lands from having been overseas, do customs agents come on board to process everyone? I'm thinking more of the press corps and others onboard than the president, but perhaps he has to fill out a declaration form, too. How is this handled? Hoping you're curious enough to find out for me, as I've tried and failed to find answers. Thanks!

John Kelly: I asked our White House press corps and they said that the president's staff collects the reporters' passports and customs forms and gives them to Customs. The passports are processed as a group and then returned to the journalists. Nice, huh? No waiting in that line at Dulles.


would be the perfect Balloon Boy costume?: No, you would look down at your feet, shuffle uncomfortably, then look up and say, "You said we did this for a show."

John Kelly: That would be a good team costume idea. Get a friend to be Dad. "I resent the implication that this could have been a hoax."

Or buy a dozen Mylar balloons and Giant and tape them all over you.

Another photo I found in our files: Saddam Hussein masks. From the FIRST Gulf War.


My obvious question is, why do families place these notices in an out of town paper? Thanks.: Because, as you point out, people like you regularly read the obit pages and find some of these stories quite poignant.

John Kelly: While our newsroom is being renovated a lot of us from Metro are thrown together in one big, uncomfortable room. The Obits writers are the hardest workers there. People KEEP DYING. Thus, they're always on the phone. Many readers don't understand the difference between an obituary (a news story, done free [obviously]) and a paid death notice, which often includes funeral information.

It's interesting looking at the difference between obits and death notices in our paper, and between obits in our paper and those in small town papers. In small towns you see things like "So-and-so was called to Jesus on Oct. 17." We don't do that.

But obits are tricky things. I remember after I wrote my grandmother's obit for The Post, several older family members were quite upset with me at the funeral. Two reasons: I had said she was divorced. (Great shame for a Catholic family, I guess.) And I had said that she died of cancer. (There used to be some stigma about this.)


Tampa, Fla.: Would you be so kind, as to send me 1doz chocolate raised doughnuts from Montgomery Doughnuts? When you do, please make sure the counter clerk places wax paper over the doughnuts, so the chocolate doesn't stick to the box. Thanks John =)

John Kelly: Call him up. I bet he'd do you a deal. Of course, it'll cost you.

Yesterday My Lovely Wife FedExed some brownies to our daughter at college. I think it would have been cheaper to call a bakery there and have them deliver.


Chantilly, Va.: I'm retiring next week (YAY!) and decided it was time to get the Internet at home. After much thought I opted for Hughes Net, since I have DirecTV.

Have I done a bad thing?

John Kelly: I don't know. Is Hughes Net run by reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes? Oh, wait. He's dead.

Anyone out there have experience with them? I have Verizon DSL and people keep telling me I should switch to cable broadband, which is Comcast where I live. Are the downloads really "blistering"? Sounds painful.

Congratulations on your retirement. This week I learned how to say "I don't work, I'm a retiree" in Italian: "Io non lavoro, sono pensionato." Perhaps it will come in handy for you.


Anonymous: "Should I really pay the same to see an Adam Sandler movie as for a Robert DeNiro movie?"

Need more information. Little Nicky less than Raging Bull, but The Wedding Singer more than Righteous Kill. (Boy, was that one awful -- I couldn't believe a DeNiro/Pacino project could be THAT bad. It's like a photo negative of Godfather II, or even Heat.)

John Kelly: We've been on a movie binge lately: "Frost/Nixon" and "Lars and the Real Girl" from Netflix. Enjoyed them both. "Lars and the Real Girl" is about the best movie that can be made about a guy who thinks a sex doll is really alive. And at the theater lately we've seen "Zombieland" (fun, if grosser than "Sean of the Dead"), "The Informant" (fell asleep; first time I've done that since seeing "A Bridge Too Far" in Switzerland as a teenager), "Julie & Julia" (loved the latter; hated the former) and "Up" (fun for all ages!).

Now I'm trying to decide about "Where the Wild Things Are."


Beltsville, Md.: We used to have a Montgomery Donuts here in Prince Georges County. Maybe everyone resented that.

Best part of MoCo was driving on Gude Road in Rockville, and suddenly being reminded that's where their bakery was.

John Kelly: They do give off a definite aroma. I took a dozen back to the office in a pizza box. People were looking at me funny on the Metro. I'm in my suit and tie, fedora on my head, and I've got this huge pizza box on my lap. Every now and then there'd be this sweet, sugary whiff from the box. Donuts.....


Baltimore, Md.: Out-of-town death notice query guy again: I appreciate Adam Bernstein's comment, but you don't run staff written obits for people who had no D.C. connection unless they are well known or accomplished in some way (e.g., I am sure you will have one for Soupy Sales.) I mean, if I am the surviving brother of John Doe who spent his whole life living quietly in Moline, Ill., you aren't going to write and run a staff obit if I contact you, right?

And I think your reasoning behind running out of town paid death notices is exactly right -- "Look, grandma was in the Washington Post."

John Kelly: Yes, that's correct. We write a staff obit if you are from the Washington area, lived here long time (20 years) or had some sort of achievement. You can be a janitor who lived in Annandale your whole life and you will get an obit. A lot of papers won't do that. And if you invented Silly String or won the Nobel Prize or had a No. 1 single for three months in 1978 we'll also probably write an obit, even if you never set foot in Washington.


Buyer's remorse: If the only thing standing between you and being able to retire was the mortgage on a condo you'll never be able to sell, would you consider defaulting? Does it make me a bad person that I'm seriously thinking about this?

John Kelly: No, what makes you a bad person is that you're asking me, a person who has never balanced a checkbook. Ask a trained financial professional. I bet Michelle Singletary probably knows, too.


Sykesville, Md.: I LOVED Montgomery Donuts when I was a kid and patronized the last lonely outpost (in S.S.) with my kids until they shut down.

No other (commercial) donut compares. I HATE that greasy mouthfeel you get with the other ones, even their plain donuts have it.

We also used to stop by their bakery and donut outlet on Route 28 in Rockville.

I can see I'm going to have to make a pilgrimage. Maybe I'll take the kids...

John Kelly: I wonder if he's going to have to up his daily output. The donuts are only a tiny portion of what he does at the Slice 'n' Dice, which is really a Cosi or Panera-type place. It was kind of funny to see all the salad fixin's and pizza stuff and then see this narrow band of donuts, a tiny outpost of MoDo in Crystal City. But they tasted pretty good to me. (I'm glad I had opted for a salad for lunch.)


Westcliffe, Colo.: You could go as a National Guard helicopter prepared to shoot down the balloon had it strayed over Denver Intl. Airport.

Or that Larimer County Sherrif, guy. He'd make a great outfit. Bald head, clueless look, clearly uncomfortable calling out Homeland Security to apprehend the Jiffy Pop mobile. LIVE on national television.

Considering how many folks were taken in by the hoax, bat guano seems like a great costume idea.

Rufus in the Sangres

John Kelly: Here's another team costume idea: One person could dress as a bat and the other could dress as a wind turbines. It might get messy, however.


Arlington Gay: John, we used to have Comcast. The HD TV was unreliable and I had to reset the router way too often. We switched to Verizon FIOS over 2 years ago. We're very happy with it. Change from DSL to FIOS if its available in your area.

John Kelly: There's one vote for FIOS. I just don't like the idea of bundling up too many things: TV, internet, phone. It seems if one goes, they all go.


Pet Peeve, Md.: My pet peeve has always been newspapers which number their pages with numbers first, then letters, and now you're one of them. Your column should be on page B3, NOT page 3B. Ugh.

John Kelly: It bothers me too. I don't understand why we did and I harbor a hope that we might change it back. You think of the section first and THEN the number. When you tell someone where you live, you don't say "Apt. 710, 1700 Massachusetts Ave." You give them the name/address of the building first, and THEN the specific apartment number.

It will take me a while to get used to the redesign, though I will say that the body type looks cleaner and easier to read. Bylines look a bit squashed, though.


Worse than out of state obits: One year anniversary announcements...Yes, you must be proud to have reached your one year anniversary, especially in this divorce-prone climate, but please, who cares? This is on par with the Christmas letter. It's a "look at us! We are great and so perfect!" A wedding announcement? OKay. A 25-year anniversary? Okay. Anything in between? No thanks.

John Kelly: People really do one-year anniversary notices? Wow. But I guess that's good for the newspaper. In fact, I'm thinking if AMC doesn't put their ads back we may want to suggest three-month anniversary notices.


Washington, D.C.: Re defaulting on a mortgage on a condo: Even if you are retired, you will need to maintain your credit rating if, for example, you want to finance a new car. Also, is this condo the poster's primary residence? If so, where will he/she live in retirement?

John Kelly: Good things to consider.


Arlington, Va.: Buyer's remorse

Defaulting and walking away from your mortgage can and will jeopardize your security clearance and the ability to hold your govt job if you are a Fed.

Such actions must be reported to your security officer.

You made a mistake too bad. Wait a couple of years and might be even.

John Kelly: More advice. Thanks.


Rockville, Md.: "I have Verizon DSL.."

Juhn -- this is serious -- do they charge you a monthly "dial up" fee of $9.99?

The reason I ask is that for the first two years they charged me for that fee -- even when I wrote to see why they charged it. I never dial up anything for DSL. Then they refunded three months of charges.

Now they do not charge it.

Do you pay a dial up fee?

John Kelly: I don't know. I'm awful with money. I should just burn it in a pile on my front lawn. I may pay it, since we also have a landline phone through, I presume, Verizon. I guess a landline phone is for suckers too, huh?


Fedoras -- : Just curious -- when you're out and about in your fedora, do you remove it when you enter a building? Would you do the same with a baseball cap? (Noticing more and more men at restaurants and such, sitting with their baseball hats on.)

John Kelly: That's a good question. I remove it. But sometimes that can be hard, if my arms are full. I always thought you were supposed to remove a hat inside (that's what the military does). But then I'll see old movies and guys'll be inside with their hats on. I don't really know all of the old rules of headgear. I should look in some old books.


Washington, D.C.: I think Sheila Johnson should take her horse show to Virginia where she and her new Republican friends can enjoy each other's company, and leave us and our streets to the usual construction roadblocks.

John Kelly: Aw, I like the show. I think it's kind of neat that there are horses stabled outside the Verizon Center. It can't make traffic that much worse than it normally is. There was a time when D.C. was full of horses. I like this annual echo of that.

Weird thing I didn't know: Bruce Springsteen's teenage daughter is a top competitive show jumper. She'll be here this weekend, supposedly. Kinda goes against the whole blue-collar, Joisey working-man thing....


a condo you'll never be able to sell: You'll be able to sell it someday. Condos were a drug on the market for several year, several years ago, and they recovered from that.

John Kelly: I assume you mean a "drag" not a "drug" and also that you are right.


Clifton, Va.: Have had FiOS for 3 years+ with no problems. For HDTV its the best since its signal is not compressed. Unlike DirecTV and Cable which is severely compressed FiOS gives you a HD pix that is very close to that of Blu Ray.

Their Internet is faster than my work Internet.

Phone service is reliable.

And don't forget every year you call and negotiate the price with them. I need to call in two weeks and negotiate. I contact DirecTV and Cox and get a price as new customer and then compare it to my FiOS. I then call and say I can save $253 with Cox and $230 with DirecTV a year what can you do to keep me as customer? Last year they upgraded me for on my Internet speed, through in their top HD package and got my bill by $15 a month. Not bad.

FiOS has the best picture and sound out there for your TV. If this isn't important than go with who you like!

John Kelly: FIOS is winning. Where are the cable supporters?


Oakton, Va.: John,

My Halloween costume is National Health Care. That is guaranteed to scare everyone I meet.

John Kelly: Oh, Rush....

I could use me a little national health care. We somehow maxed out our insurance this year, meaning we pay a higher percentage on doctors' bills between now and the end of the year, unless we first hit a higher out-of-pocket threshold. For the first time ever I've been thinking about whether I REALLY need to go to the doctor. That's an awful feeling. I can't imagine what it must be like to ALWAYS have it. Why can't we have national health care. If the bloody Swedes can do it, we can.


Alexandria, Va.: I want to know how you got into my house and wrote the column on cooking this week. How did you know we bought the largest Dutch oven Le Creuset makes -- big enough for a circus family to live in?

John Kelly: I slipped a credit card between the door and the jam, entered, then set up a web cam. All my columns next week are about you and your...hobbies.


Jersey: Coming in a bit late.

Since I live alone, I do all my own cooking. When I was growing up, everyone in the family cooked, mom, dad, bro amd me. Bro is now retired, so he does the cooking for his family.

John Kelly: Every year I tell myself I'm going to do better, at both cooking and eating. The cooking part always seems so time-consuming.


Wash Post Redesign: I liked you better on page 3 (Page B3, not 3B) because it's easier to fold the paper to make the top section of the 3rd page front and center, than to fold it so that top page of 2nd page is front and center. Fewer steps. And while I'm drinking my coffee at 6 a.m. (thank you Wash Post deliverer for bringing my paper bright and early!) I appreciate having to do less work to get to John Kelly. But I'm sure I'll get used to it...

John Kelly: On the plus side, there's color on B2--or 2B (or not 2B, as Hamlet would say).


John Kelly: I assume you mean a "drag" not a "drug" and also that you are right. : No. The original expression is "a drug on the market." Do some research (or have your assistant do it). Yes, it is morphing into "drag on the market" but that's like "give it to John and I."

John Kelly: My assistant went out with the last budget cuts. A drug on the market, huh? See what you can learn during this chat!


Laurel, Md.: About your formatting changes:

I remember around 1980 the Post TV section changed its tabular format to one very similar to TV Guide magazine, with the channels across and hours in columns.

That lasted three weeks before I suspect your presses were about to be burned down by a mob.

John Kelly: I remember that. I always liked the way we did our TV listings. To be honest, I do mostly use the onscreen guide now. But here's hoping that at least some of our redesign changes might be reconsidered.


Olney, Md.: As a single working mom, I do the cooking, but it's an ordeal at times as I never get home before 7:30 p.m. We eat late, but at least we eat together!

John Kelly: And that's the important thing. It's one of those benchmarks of healthy kids and families. I hope you can keep it up.


Washington, D.C.: Wasn't there an article a few months back about a monument to the last fire-horse, Tom? I can't seem to find it in the archives. Firehorses would have been cool to see in Washington.

John Kelly: I did a few columns about him. Here's one.


Hatless: "always thought you were supposed to remove a hat inside (that's what the military does)" Unless you're under arms. I suggest a 9 mm.

John Kelly: As long as I can wear a shoulder holster. I've always wanted a shoulder holster. I don't even need the gun.


Derwood: Montgomery Donuts! No way! We used to walk there when I was younger! (granted, it was a decent walk...) Pilgrimage it is! Thanks for the update!

John Kelly: I'd take the car this time, though a hike to Crystal City from Derwood is one way to work off the doughnuts.


Movie listings: John, I have to admit that I side with AMC in this dispute. The Post should lower its charges for movie listings. The main reason is not just that paid circulation is down, which is also true, but that free Web sites and your print competition (both free and otherwise) carry movie listings as well. I use for movie listings, not the Post. I understand that your bosses are trying to wring every cent they can out of the paper, but this one is self-defeating.

John Kelly: Yeah but I don't know how the existence of competition should affect pricing. It's not like Ford charges less for cars when a new subway opens up in a city.


Alexandria, Va.: Good afternoon John -- if I write my own obit, can I send it to you? Would you please hang on to it for 30 or 40 years until I am actually dead? I could send you periodic updates if that is helpful . . . .

John Kelly: Sure, just hope I don't lose it. And what about the accomplishments you might have in the next 30 years? Maybe everyone should keep their own obits updated online.


Langley, Va.: My Halloween costume: a fisher cat.

John Kelly: I hope you get plenty of tuna.


Alexandria, Va.: Please tell me that the WP toast brand that was featured prominently on the front cover of the redesign "user's guide" is for real. I'd really like to have one of those. That's the thing about reading the paper version of the Post at the breakfast table -- it always generates some good discussion.

John Kelly: I sent this question to our art director but he must be out of his office. It'd be nice think there's a Washington Post-themed toast maker out there somewhere, but I think it was probably done by computer trickery. Photoshop? Or maybe a brown magic marker?

That's all the time we have today. Thanks for stopping by. Have a great weekend and I'll see you next week.


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