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I own the cleanest home in America!
I received an advertising flier in the mail the other day. I was a little brochure that said "Cleanest Home in America! Kelly Family." Beneath that was a street sign with the name of my very street on it.
Wow. It's as if the Cleaning Authority ("a leader in the green house cleaning industry") knows everything about me. Either that or it bought my name from a mailing list then used some fancy print program that personalized each piece of junk mail it sends out. What's unsettling is the photograph near the address label:
That's us. That's exactly what my family looks like. Where could the Cleaning Authority have possibly gotten that photograph? Do they have a mole at MotoPhoto? Did one of their ninja cleaning women lift it from a photo album while we were all asleep? I'll have to scan through my archived security tapes, unless they messed with those, too.
Meanwhile, let me introduce the Kelly Family, the family that lives in the Cleanest Home in America:Continue reading this post »
Pete Ragusa: A Nighthawk walks away
The Nighthawks, with Pete Ragusa, lower right.
For about as long as anyone can remember, the Nighthawks have been pumping out a roiling blend of blues/rock/bluesrock/rockabilly/country/rhythmandblues/Americana. And for as long as anyone can remember, Pete Ragusa has been pounding out a steady backbeat on the drums, the big, thumping heart of the Nighthawks' music. Pete joined the Nighthawks in 1974, two years after it was formed by harmonica ace and singer Mark Wenner.
Thirty-five years Pete was in the band, which is why it's a little hard to get your head around the news that he played his last gig as a Nighthawk last Saturday at Glen Echo's Spanish Ballroom.
"I'm still kinda numb from the decision I’ve made," Pete told me yesterday. There had been no announcement, no "Pete's farewell gig!" promotion. He'd just been thinking about a change, talked with Wenner about it, and decided to amicably hang up his sticks.
Well, his Nighthawk sticks. He'll still be making music. "I don’t know what I’m gonna do," Pete said. "I know tomorrow I'm gonna sit down and practice my writing discipline, writing songs, maybe getting together with new people to write with."
I asked Pete what the last song he played as a Nighthawk was. He couldn't remember. But then he does have a lot of memories crammed in his 60-year-old head. It wasn't long after the Nighthawks were founded by Wenner (a Bethesda-bred blues fan and Columbia grad) that they were being called "Washington's prime suppliers of boogie." (Washington suffered from a boogie deficit then.) Wrote Post critic Richard Harrington: "A bar owner’s dream, the Hawks have filled a thousand and one nightspots with raucous boogie that drives people to drink.”
At its peak, the band was playing 300 nights a year. Wenner books the gigs. Pete would do the logistics: getting the deli trays ordered, making sure the PA was adequate, finding the hotel. The Nighthawks are the quintessential working band, grinding it out night after night, loading up and moving to the next gig. "One day I may just calculate all that mileage," Pete said. "I’m sure it’s well over two million miles."
With the Nighthawks, Pete was able to pay with such greats as Muddy Waters, Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins. He sat in the drummer's stool behind such local lights as Catfish Hodge, Tommy Lepson, Tom Principato and Bill Holland. He played on more than 20 albums.
Pete got his first snare drum when he was 11. He graduated from Bladensburg High in 1967. "Growing up in Washington back then was an incredible advantage for anybody who loved music," he said. "The radio was just saturated with every kind of music you could want to hear."
There was WOOK and WUST, WEEM and WPGC, not to mention WOL.
"On WOL you could hear James Brown on one song and hear Jimmy Reed the next. The next song would be the Righteous Brothers. They played it all."
Pete describes himself as a "groove" drummer: He lays down the beat without any fussy fireworks, playing what the song demands. That's the way he's paid his bills for the last 35 years.
Being in any job for that long could seem like a grind, and Pete admits there were times when he was worn down by the hassle of the road. But then the band would get on stage, the camaraderie would kick in and "we'd hit a groove and we just rolled with it. It's kinda like floating in air sometimes."
Pete's being replaced in the Nighthawks by Mark Stutso, who used to play with guitarist Jimmy Thackery (who used to be a Nighthawk). "He’s a great drummer and one of the best vocalists I know around," said Pete. "I’d just like to close by wishing the band the best of luck in the future."
Zorn free, or: Bye-bye Jim
Say what you will about Jim Zorn--and most people have already--it's hard not to feel sorry for the guy. The Redskins head coach was apparently fired early this morning, dismissed after his flight back from California, escorted by security from Redskins Park.
Now, the security may have been to give the guy some respite from the media that has been circling around Zorn like vultures over a crawling cowboy, but still....
That Zorn would be gone by sunrise was the worst-kept secret in the NFL. (Wow, that's the first time I've ever typed "the worst-kept secret in the NFL." I felt a little shiver run up my spine.) Even now, dictionaries all over the country are being updated to include a photo of Zorn with the listing for "twisting in the wind." "Zorn" will enter the lexicon as a new verb. (It will have many definitions: "to be in over your head; to trudge to your inevitable doom; to work for the world's worst boss.")
Which is why I feel sorry for the guy. Has anyone else had so public a fall, so drawn-out a dismissal? (The answer: Yeah, plenty of people. I just can't think of them at 6:30 on a Monday morning.) The worst was when the TV cameras would cut to Zorn on the sidelines. There he'd be, with his clipboard and that haircut, an odd look on his face. We've all made that look. It's the look we make when we trip over a sidewalk crack and then glance around quickly in the hope nobody saw us. It's the look we make when we run into the girl we've always loved--and her boyfriend. It's a sort of flushed shame that we try to mask with a forced smile or a businesslike mien.
In that strange calculus of "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," Zorn was a friend to all of us who think that Dan Snyder has not been, shall we say, a good influence on the Redskins. And now Zorn is gone. I hope he spends the next month lying on the beach some place warm. He deserves it.
Answer Man's quiz: the teacher's guide
Did you take the Second Annual John Kelly's Washington D.C. Trivia Quiz? I'll admit that most of the questions were pretty arcane. A few of them I knew the answers to ahead of time; most I had to dive into the archives to write. Here is background info on these strange bits of local lore:
1. The Washington Monument is topped with a tiny pyramid made of:
When the Washington Monument was completed, aluminum was a much more expensive metal than it is today, trading at about the same price as silver. The aluminum pyramid at the top of the obelisk serves as a lightning rod. Here is everything you ever wanted to know about that little metal pyramid. And here is a great
photo of the tippy top.
2. Who described Washington, D.C., as "the head-quarters of tobacco-tinctured saliva"?
b. Charles Dickens
It's always Dickens, isn't it? The famous English novelist didn't enjoy the time he spent in Washington during his 1842 tour of the United States. Besides the spitting he encountered in Washington--there were spittoons everywhere, he noted--he was waited on by slaves. He found that experience unsettling. He called Washington a city of "magnificent intentions"--it hadn't yet grown into its clothes. You can find the text of Dickens's book online. Here's the relevant tobacco chapter.
The rest of the stories...
With 2009 drawing to its inevitable close, today in my column I look back. Here are links to the original stories about some of the folks I introduced you to this year:
Jamal Brown: "A City Boy Who Loves Horses Goes Galloping Toward His Goals," April 9, 2009
Stephen Powers: "Arlington Man Watches Over Unsung Monuments to D.C.'s Origins," May 14, 2009
Scott Kreger: "Using Pocket Change and Stickers, He Offers Thanks for Soldiers," July 7, 2009.
Jon Urban: "Folding His Career and Planning to Deal His Own Luck in Another," July 9, 2009.
"In Las Vegas, a lesson in life as well as the cards," Nov. 4, 2009.
David Kowlessar: "If necessity is the mother of invention, meet its inner child," Nov. 5, 2009.
Here are some other people you may remember from my column this year:Continue reading this post »
Do you believe in magi?
When was the last time you read O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi"? What's that? You've never read it? What's your excuse? Here's a link, courtesy of Auburn University: "The Gift of the Magi."
The language seems a bit antique now. (What's a "pier-glass" anyway?) And I'm not sure I even understand the last few sentences. But the story has stuck with me ever since I first read it as a boy.
O. Henry was known for his gentle wit and his surprise endings. A self-taught writer who worked as a pharmacist and a banker (and spent three years in jail for embezzlement!) he was considered "corny" by many of his peers but he had a gift for plotting, an ear for the way common people spoke then, and an economical way with words (he had to: he was incredibly prolific).
I remember sitting in a Unitarian church in Cambridge, Mass., in 1998 when "Magi" was being read as part of the service and thinking: I wonder what happened next? So I was inspired to write "The Rift of the Magi," published in my column in 2004. The next year I updated the story with some grasping yuppies in the starring roles. In 2006 I imagined what it would be like to grow up in the family O. Henry wrote about.
For me, the O. Henry story is as much a part of Christmas as tinsel or roast turkey. The moral of the story? I suppose: It's the thought that counts.
The Gift of the Magi: The Sequel
From Dec. 27, 2005
By John Kelly
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And 60 cents of it was a coupon for a 12-inch cheese steak at Jerry's Subs.
Three times Delia counted it, trying not to think of the FINAL NOTICE she'd received from the cable company or the $9,783.42 MasterCard bill she'd only just opened.
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
Delia sighed, then shuffled to the stove to make herself a cup of chai. She looked about the kitchen, the chili pepper Christmas lights she'd strung above the sink a silent, blinking rebuke.
The kitchen was small but well-appointed. There was a convection oven, of course. And a programmable, in-wall Miele coffeemaking system with milk-frothing arm. Other necessities were arranged on the countertop, like icons atop an altar: a KitchenAid mixer, a tiny blowtorch for caramelizing the sugar on creme brulee, a lever-style corkscrew that opened wine bottles in one easy motion.
This last was engraved with the letters "JDY": Jasper Dillingham Young. He was the young man of the house, Delia's groom, a handsome junior executive.Continue reading this post »
Snow dogs: Frolicking in the flakes
The sincerest form of flattery
Hey, did you see the Express yesterday, the sassy, Post-owned, Metro train-clogging freebie? Get a load of the front page:
No, down there, at the lower left:
So grab yourself a fedora, then grab it!