Washington Post


Like Charlie Brown, Christmas depresses me on the whole. Perhaps because the build-up is so long and disappointment is practically guaranteed by the time the day arrives.

I confessed this sentiment last year and I still stand by it. I’m trying to get better – really. These days I’m sorely tempted to blog all depressing stuff but I really shouldn’t. We know everything is going to crap these days but I don’t need to rub anyone’s face in it. Instead, I’m going to try to find some funny stuff (although not necessarily Christmas stuff) and hope it makes you chuckle. Here’s my effort for today (the article title alone is great):

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Ginkgo-Lined D.C., Capital of the U.S., and Now P.U.

The bouquet of a ginkgo tree’s fruit has strong notes of unwashed feet and Diaper Genie, with noticeable hints of spoiled butter.

For the District government this winter, it is the smell of defeat.

This year, arborists working for the city tried a new solution for the stinky fruit, which has plagued residents for decades. They injected more than 1,000 ginkgo biloba trees with a chemical to stop them from producing the fruit.

Whoops.

The chemical didn’t work, for reasons that scientists still don’t understand. Now, instead of less ginkgo stink, Washington has its worst case in years — a bumper crop of nastiness that is studding sidewalks and sliming dress shoes from Capitol Hill to Kalorama.

“Uuuuugh. Uuuuugh,” said Christine Lombardi, working the front desk of the Hotel George near Union Station. Out front, a ginkgo had been dropping berries for days. “It’s just awful because people step on it outside, and then they bring it inside the hotel, and people think somebody got sick.”

I always knew that Washington stinks but I had no idea I should be blaming the ginkgo. Go figure.

Pullman Porters Helped Others Reach Their Destination – washingtonpost.com

So much cultural meaning is packed into the figure of the Pullman porter — racial pride and racial guilt, the faded glory of the American railroad, a level of customer service now extinct — that it seems beyond mere mortals to inhabit the myth.

Three avatars of the age did just fine yesterday, nevertheless. They were the best-dressed gentlemen in Union Station: Not in the starched white jacket, bow tie, pressed trousers and blue caps of their old profession, but in sharp business suits, each man displaying — and they did not plan this — a colorful pocket handkerchief.

But then, of course. A Pullman veteran knows everything there is to know about self-presentation, about working a room, about coming out on top in the daily status wars — maintaining one’s self-respect without threatening the status of those who think they are superior.

“A certain profile of man was successful out there as a sleeping car porter,” says E. Donald Hughes II, 53, who put himself through the University of Maryland making beds and shining shoes on the railroad. “We could think on our feet, and we could turn things around to our advantage very quickly and make you think that you were in control when in fact, you weren’t in control.”

My dad worked for several railroad companies throughout his career. As family, we did most of our travel by train. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until I was a teen since none of my friends ever traveled this way.

My favorite memory is having my 7th birthday on the train while we were traveling from Baltimore to Montana. We were having dinner on the train (full service with lots of linen and silver) and I was a little grumpy that I wouldn’t be home with the cake and presents. Just before we were to order dessert, the waiter brought out a lovely birthday cake. I’m certain my parents asked what could be done and at a previous stop, someone went and bought a cake for me. Everyone sang Happy Birthday and I felt so special.

My parents always taught us to be respectful to the porters and waiters. They were not babysitters or playmates – they had work to do and we should respect that. We always said called them “Sir” and said “please” and “thank you” when they helped us.

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Cupboards Are Bare at Food Banks – washingtonpost.com

The Capital Area Food Bank, the region’s primary distribution center, reported that it had about 230,000 pounds of goods on its shelves this week, down from 570,000 pounds at this time last year, officials said.

The short supplies, which are hitting food banks and soup kitchens across the nation, stem from a combination of factors: Federal supplies of excess farm goods have dropped, in part because of the summer drought and because farmers are selling more of their products internationally. Donations from grocery stores, a major source for food banks, have fallen as supermarket chains consolidate, increase efficiency and tighten inventory controls.

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America’s Second Harvest, the country’s leading hunger-relief charity, is projecting a shortage of 15 million pounds of food this year at its more than 200 network food banks. That would be enough food to serve 11.7 million meals or fill 400 trucks.

At food banks from Maine to Florida to California, “demand is up, and food is flying out the door faster than ever,” spokesman Ross Fraser said.

“Our inventories are as depleted as they’ve ever been before,” Fraser said. “Our food banks keep calling here saying, ‘My God, you’ve got to help us. We desperately need help.’ “

The above text are just excerpts from the linked article. During this time of holiday giving, please help your local food bank if you can. I donate to America’s Second Harvest – they are a great group.

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Tightening the Beltway, the Elite Shop Costco – New York Times

It’s so strange to see this article from the New York Times about Washington’s elite shopping at Costco. I’ve been shopping there for years so it’s no surprise to me that there are deals to be had there, especially for party planners.

To its benefit, Costco has carefully fashioned an upscale-downscale image, and their stores do better in high-end locations, said the company’s chief financial officer, Richard Galanti. In the Washington area, the highest volume location is its store in the Pentagon City neighborhood of Arlington, Va.

“WE knew that we would attract government, we would attract ambassadors, we would attract military personal, we would attract the parties and embassies,” said Joe Potera, the chief operating officer, referring to the Pentagon City store. “We have thousands of sheet cakes during all the major holidays for Pentagon parties, for ambassador parties, for staff parties in the capital. It’s kind of a destination.” Costco also has a chocolate shop that produces molds of the Capitol as well as the Pentagon.

In case you are wondering, the woman in the picture is Sally Quinn, journalist and Washington hostess and wife of Ben Bradlee (former editor of the Washington Post).

I shop at the Pentagon City Costco, too. I’ve never noticed a famous Washingtonian there but I probably wouldn’t recognize them.

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Wipe Away a Tear For Mr. Whipple, And 2-Ply Times – washingtonpost.com

Dick Wilson, the actor who played Mr. Whipple in more than 500 Charmin commercials from 1964 to 1985, died Monday at age 91, at a hospital for ailing movie and television actors, way out in the San Fernando Valley. He’d done other parts, in sitcoms, but showbiz can only be counted on to give a guy one sure thing, if he’s lucky, and Wilson got to be Mr. Whipple, forever.

Wilson died on what just happened to be World Toilet Day, in which global health advocates and public bathroom accessibility proponents annually remind us that not even 20 percent of the planet’s population enjoys daily access to a clean, working toilet — to say nothing of “squeezably soft” rolls of tissue.

This just made me smile.

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Seeing the Light at Last – washingtonpost.com

This weekend saw the opening of the courtyard at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture (aka the Old Patent Office Building and home of the National Portrait Gallery). So far the reviews have been good. The link above is for the Washington Post article. I won’t post one for the Washington Times – they hated it.

Staff were given a coupon for a free “non-alcoholic” beverage from the new cafe so I went over and got a hot chocolate and sprang for a chocolate brownie, too. It was good hot chocolate but could have been a touch richer in flavor. The brownie was thickly iced and very fudgey – and expensive at $3.85.

The courtyard is quite stunning and I’m certain it will be the place that parents will bring their kids to run and burn off energy. I just hope they don’t wipe their grimy fingers on the cases in the galleries – just another thing to clean in the morning.

If you are in DC, I recommend dropping by to see the courtyard but please stay to see the collection, too.

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Live! – washingtonpost.com

This time a not-so-shameless plug. My brother’s group, Woods Tea Co., is playing tonight at the Alden Theatre at the McLean Community Center here in northern Virginia. The Washington Post called Howard (second from the left in the photo) for an interview and ran the linked piece in the Fairfax edition last Thursday. Soon I shall head out to see the show.

Check out the band’s website for sound clips and schedule.

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