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March 1, 1998

Your Electronic Backfence

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Dear Neighbors:

The medusa-headed governance of the District government continues to produce conundrums. Several weeks ago, Rep. Tom Davis and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton warned District residents that four straight years of balanced budgets would not necessarily mean a return to home rule. This was a useful warning, because many residents assumed that that the control period would be over in two-and-a-half years, assuming that we are in our second year of a balanced budget. Congressional Republicans like Davis are insisting that they see service improvements along with balanced budgets before relinquishing control -- otherwise the control periods remain. However, the control board is now effectively responsible for improving city services. Therefore, if they fail, they keep their unpaid jobs. Or, as Joseph Heller wrote so presciently in his novel "Good as Gold," "unless, of course, they don't." Go figure.


>From Sunday's Washington Post: "On an average nonevent day, fewer than 500 people patronize the other tenants of the [MCI] Arena, including the Velocity Grill Sports Bar, Modell's sporting goods store, and the National Sports Gallery. The 7-Eleven store in the Shaw neighborhood several blocks north generates more traffic than that."

I argued this point to Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis on the Derrick McGinty Show two years ago. Economic activity depends on the number of customers crammed into a limited amount of space and how efficiently merchants can relieve them of their money. Colossal buildings that remain empty most of the time in the middle of the city's most expensive real estate are not economic engines, but wasted space. The Greeks and Romans knew this when they planned their cities and 7-Eleven's. The same argument holds for the convention center.

Alternatively, place a 7-Eleven in the MCI Arena and the cops will move south.


Care for an elegant solution to the District's and country's pressing foreign policy problems? Let the CIA install Marion Barry as President of Iraq. The District is relieved of an inept leader, Barry makes his Middle East trip (forget first class, fly him on Air Force 1), and the Iraqi people really, truly, deeply receive vastly improved managerial leadership. Barry moves up the political food chain, bringing executive expertise to a land that can sorely use his special brand of magic.

What to do about Saddam? How about placing him in charge of District parking enforcement? We would hardly notice a difference.

Jeffrey Itell March 1, 1998


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Pickpocketing Alert
Phil Shapiro @

I volunteer at Chevy Chase Regional Library and heard from the library staff this afternoon about a pickpocketing scam that is making its way around DC branch libraries. The scam is perpetrated by three well-dress African Americans (two men, one woman) who prey on senior citizens. When a senior is spotted leaving the building, one of the men drops a watch on the ground in front of the victim. During the ensuing commotion, the other two lift the wallet from the victim. The scam has been spotted at Chevy Chase Regional Library and at Tenley Library. Chances are this threesome is perpetrating the scam in area stores and other public places, as well. The woman has been seen wearing a fur coat. The men are in suits. They enter the library at different times, but leave together.


Corporation Counsel
Peter Luger @

"The current Corporation counsel, John Ferren, is a well respected former appellate judge who is just the kind of person one would hope would be elected as attorney general."

About a year or so ago, a car hit a transvestite. When the fire department arrived, they began administering first aid. Upon finding out the "woman" they were treating was really a man, they stopped treatment and began making remarks such as, "the bitch has a dick." The victim died. It is debatable whether the withholding of treatment contributed to the death.

The family filed a lawsuit against the fire department under the DC Human Rights laws which includes a ban on discrimination based upon sexual orientation as well as appearance. The "well respected" corporation counsel's original written opinion concluded that the fire dept is not covered by the human rights law (he retracted that later) and that the fire dept employees, while on duty, had a first amendment right to say whatever they wanted, especially because it was true. He conceded that they used poor wording, but it was a fact that the "woman" had a penis, so the bitch did indeed have a dick. After getting blasted by gay rights groups, he finally retracted that part of his opinion as well.

John Ferren has no business practicing law, let alone being Corporation Counsel nor future Attorney General of DC.


Dr.Gridlock's Communication Problem
Steph Faul @

I've finally figured out Dr. Gridlock's problem: He doesn't have a telephone. That's the only possible explanation for his bizarre reporting style, which does not involve checking *anything*. More evidence: He has no e-mail address, which usually requires a phone. For those who are interested, the "road rage specialist" mentioned today (Thursday) is none other than myself, a fact he could have discovered by calling the radio station. I assume that he is writing from a remote cabin in Montana, and sends his columns in by carrier pigeon.

While I'm ragging the Post, what is it with them and their maps of Friendship Heights? A few weeks ago they showed Harrison Street continuing into Friendship Boulevard, a bit of geography that would surprise local residents. Today (Thursday, again), they don't show any street continuing to Friendship Boulevard. One hopes their stories are more accurate than their cartography, but none of it inspires confidence.

Steph "Some days I dream of not having a phone, myself" Faul


No Fair
Ed T. Barron @

The Transit Authority held a special "twenty-five cents" fare yesterday on all Metrobuses in celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Metrobus System. Not everybody was invited to join in the celebration, however. Roomie and I boarded the eastbound Mass. Ave. bus tossing in our two bits each under the gaze of the smiling bus driver. From the back of the bus we watched in awe as others boarding at later stops dutifully fed their buck and a dime into the collection box under the still smiling gaze of the bus driver. There was no sign on the collection box, no words of "reduced fare today, only a quarter" from the bus driver, just a knowing smile. I say NO FAIR on the part of the WMATA.


New FAA Regulations at Ronald Reagan Airport
Paul McKenzie

(Courtesy of investment bankers, lawyers, government officials, and other witty office workers who spend too much time on computers.)

1. A portion of all ticket sales must be routed to Iran. 2. Vegetarian meals will consist only of ketchup. 3. All stewardesses shall be referred to as "Mommy." 4. First class seating will drastically improve, while coach class will be moved to the baggage section. 5. No flights will depart between the hours of 1-4pm for "nap time." 6. Ticket prices for wealthy passengers will be slashed to increase air travel by the poor. 7. All passengers are required to shred all travel documents before boarding.


Hey, Don't Diss Our Bicentennial Hydrants
Jean Lawrence @

Well, I guess Carl Bergman wasn't dissing, so much as mentioning and funny he should. I was part of that program, ye these many eons ago. It was a program sponsored by Woodies (remember them?). They supplied the paint and the copyrighted schematics (designed by some woman in Ohio) to anyone who would spend 6 hours in the heat and fumes painting the things. I really got into it! All told, I did 13 of them. I had two crews. We alternated weekends. I did them from April to the 4th of July. The thirteenth? I figured I'd earned it, so I designed my own. Hunter Thompson. He was wearing a little yellow Hawaiian shirt and had greenies and black beauties painted on the ends of his flanges. We placed it outside the offices of Rolling Stone on 15th Street. When the police came along to inquire and kibitz (as they always did), they asked "who this one was." I looked them straight in the eye and said, "This is Dr. Thompson. He ran for president." They nodded sagely. Well, he DID! On the DRUGS AND VIOLENCE ticket.


John Griffiths @

Always appropriate, but especially in light of hydrantgate, here's a quick scene from "The Simpsons" for everyone's ironically detached chuckle of the day:

Marge: Come on everybody! Whatever happened to good old fashioned town pride? Lisa: Mom, It's been going downhill ever since the river caught fire.


Lovely Marion, Meter Maid
Jeffrey Hops @

By all means, parking meters should be replaced -- but what has gone unmentioned in this story is that the yearly revenue from parking meters is appox 2.5 million/year where the cost of installing the new "high tech" versions will be 25 million. That means that the "break even" (so to speak) point is, roughly speaking, ten years. Add in the costs of personnel for installation, upkeep and regular collections, and we are talking, potentially, about a break-even of fifteen years. Nor have I seen mention of how these meters are going to be any more secure than the ones beheaded by the operation responsible for the last round. The costs of implementing reasonable social policy (in this case, providing an adequate supply of short-term parking) may be worth the costs of the meters. On the other hand, if that is the goal, it could be more profitably achieved by limiting on-street parking in the Central Business District ("CBD") and other commercial areas to one hour, with a fifty dollar ticket to violators. That would keep the CBD clear and impose substantially less capital and personnel costs than the meter proposition -- which already has the stink of yet another sweetheart contract.

How high-tech to parking meters have to be? A high-tech gumboil machine still only dispenses gumballs. $2,500 per meter sounds excessively expensive for a machine whose primary operating mechanism is comprised of a gumball machine connected to a $2.00 digital watch. I smell another "control" board deal. The Control Board is no less immune to cutting sweetheart deals than Marion -- its just that the Control Board's corruption has the US Congress' seal of approval.


In Praise of Jury Duty Experience
Joan Eisenstodt

Finally, a pleasant DC govt. related experience! Had the one day/one trial gig to do .. and had been deferred three times - w/ no hassles and w/ pleasant people on the other end of the phone. Finally went this past Monday. Didn't end up on a jury but am impressed with how nice and efficient the folks who work in the court were, how well treated we all were, how much better the chairs and atmosphere were, and how well this end of our court system works.

Curious tho': Why does this work when so many services don't?


Red Light Running
David Nickels @

I'm convinced that drivers in DC need a crash course (no pun intended). I know it's really bad when, as happened this morning, coming south on Connecticut Avenue when I stopped for a real red light at Porter Street a stream of cars went by me from the lane to my left and the car behind me, after honking its horn, also went around me to go through the light. Given anybody's awareness of what cross-traffic from Porter Street (going downhill to the park) is like -- it's potential suicide here!!


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Housing Sitting Query
Jeffrey Itell @

A friend of mine is looking for a long term house-sitting opportunity (minimum of 6 months) in NW DC. The person is a very responsible working adult. Pets are fine. Please contact me if you know of a situation -- or if you have advice in how to find a NW DC house-sitting situation.


DMV Question
Bob Levine

I just sold an old car and does anyone know how to return the plates that I took off of it to the DMV without my having to go down there and wait in line to do it?


Edna Small @

A friend is seeking a companion for one or two music courses she has signed up for at the ILR at A.U. Handicapped, she can bring a companion to help her navigate, and who can, of course, attend class too, free of charge. Both are Wed, classes, the morning on opera, the afternoon on Schumann, Shubert, and Stravinsky. If interested, call Heather Faulkner at 202-237-7076. P.S. They start this week.


10th Annual Klezmer Contra Dance. Saturday, March 7, 1998, 8:30 PM at Tifereth Israel, 7701 16th Street NW. Admission $10.

The Klezmer Contra Dance is an annual fundraiser sponsored by Fabrangen Project Hope and the Tifereth Israel Social Action Committee, with the proceeds benefiting formerly homeless DC families helped by the two congregations. The dance features Klezmos, a local band whose lively music is perfect for contra dancing (think square dancing without the squares) and caller Robin Schaffer. Beginners and children welcome.

Fabrangen is an alternative Jewish congregation with many members who reside in MT. Pleasant. For the last ten years, we have been helping two formerly homeless families with a total of 12 children between them. The Klezmer Contra Dance funds tutoring and enrichment activities for the kids, as well as basic assistance with food, clothing, shelter, and parental employment.

For more information: Richard Gladstein (301)434-3786 or Clare Feinson at


Marquis de Sade at the Footlights
David Sobelsohn @

Footlights--the modern drama discussion group--meets monthly to discuss plays from the modern theater. Membership & attendance are free. At our next meeting, Monday, March 23, we will discuss the play Life Magazine called "one of the most sensational theater works of our time": "The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade" (1964), by German playwright Peter Weiss. Our meeting will feature director Jesse Berger, whose production of "Marat/Sade" opens March 12 at the Washington Shakespeare Company. We will meet at Luna Books, 1633 P St., NW (just E of Dupont Circle). Dinner starts at 6:30 & our discussion takes place from 7:30-9:30. You can get a copy of "Marat/Sade" at Backstage Books, 2101 P St., NW. For reservations or further information call 202-484-8303, send e-mail to, or visit our website at


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Kibitzing by Jeffrey Itell. Copyright (c) 1998. All rights reserved.

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