Graffiti-bashing 'Hon' police could give lessons to militants


February 07, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

Muslim fundamentalists, trying to overthrow the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, last week warned foreign tourists to leave the country for their own safety. But, according to wire reports from Cairo, many tourists shrugged it off and went ahead with trips to the Pyramids, Pharaonic tombs and other ancient sites. "The militants are a threat," said an American named Vanessa Taylor while visiting her husband in Cairo. "But you could get killed back in Baltimore on any corner of the street for no reason."

Breaking Hon Man's heart

I hear in Hon Man's voice the weary exasperation one might expect from a good-humored jester who has been beaten by the dull-headed dragoons he was trying to entertain. The goons are crushing Hon Man's civic spirit. The boobocracy appears to be winning.

Every time Hon Man staples one of his laminated "Hon" signs to the "Welcome To Baltimore" greeting on the median strip of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, some dim foot soldier for the Department of Transportation comes along and removes it. Some days, Hon Man attaches his three-letter word -- the Bawlmeresque term of affection -- to the wooden welcome sign, and it's gone within hours. "They're going full tilt against me," Hon Man said Friday, his voice betraying fretted nerves and a broken heart.

What's the big deal? What's the harm? Why would anyone bother? I called DOT, and the official spokesperson rattled off the "official policy on graffiti." And that policy calls for the removal of graffiti on any state property within 24 hours. And, as charming as the "Hon" sign might be, leaving it there would be "sanctioning graffiti."

What horse hockey.

Hon Man doesn't use spray paint. His sign, while unmistakably homemade, is not ugly. And, more importantly, his attempt to add provincial flavor to an otherwise dull sign -- and to sweeten Baltimore's greeting to visitors -- seems to have won much favor among tourists as well as the thousands of commuters who pass the welcome sign on the way into town each day.

Barring the possibility that one zealous contra is conducting a personal campaign against Hon Man, there looms the greater possibility that some high-ranking state official, his forehead swelling with indignation, fired off an edict that Hon Man be stopped. I figure this big shot screamed at some midlevel public works suit, who turned around and screamed at some low-level roads crew boss, and that's why Hon Man has to keep printing signs.

If that's the case -- and, until I hear other-wise, I think I'll believe it -- that state official, whoever he is, gets February's Loathsome Sluggard Award. OK, laughing boy, step forward to claim your prize.

Just like that

Comes before us Baltimore County crime report, No. 94-026-1127, a police officer's recounting of events transpiring on the evening of 1-26-94 at a store along Liberty Road. According to the report, a gold-toothed man, 25 years old, wearing a black sweat shirt and white tennis shoes, walked into the store and asked to look at some boots. The store manager showed the gold-tooth some boots. The gold-tooth had a question about the boots, so he and the manager walked to the front counter to ask another employee the question. What was the question? The report didn't say. It noted, however, the appearance of a black semiautomatic handgun in the right hand of the gold-tooth.

The manager and his cashier handed over $123 from the register. They further complied with the robber when he ordered them to a rear room. The robber looked for the store safe, failed to find it and left. The manager, 38 years old, chased after the gold-tooth and followed him down a side street. As the two men reached a nearby parking lot, the robber stopped and appeared to be loading or unloading the gun. At this point, the manager shouted the following words:

"You couldn't hit me from there if you tried!"

At that point, the gold-tooth turned, raised the gun and fired one shot at the manager.

The manager was right. The manager was lucky. The bullet went winging off into nothing, as far as anyone can tell. (There was a gas station behind the manager.)

A week later, when I contacted him, the manager was embarrassed about the incident and asked me not to identify him or his store in this column. I told him his words were memorialized in the police report. He seemed like a rational fellow who, in a moment of hyper-excitement, did something utterly irrational. I asked if, in the perfect vision of hindsight, it was anger or stupidity that compelled him to dare the gunman. "Yeah," he said, "that's it."

'Life in the office'

The Baltimore City Life Museums are looking for women who served as secretaries in the 1940s. If you took dictation, typed, went for coffee, answered Mr. Dithers' phone -- if you were the person on the other end of Mr. Potter's intercom -- contact Dale Jones. He wants to interview secretaries from bygone Baltimore, record their oral histories about "life in the office" and turn his findings into a script for one of the museums' live "Heroes Just Like You" performances in April. Call 396-3524.

This Just In appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If you have an item for the column, write to The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278, or dial 332-6166.

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