I once worked with Kenny Brown's old man and, in our travels together, we came across all sorts of people living one step away from prison, from eviction, from unemployment, from the mental hospital, from the grave. Kenny's father used to hold his thumb and index finger about a half-inch apart and say, "That close, man, we could all be that close from the edge."
Then Kenny Brown called me. His father's son, all right. He stopped in the middle of the road Monday night because some poor soul was lying, maybe dying, in it. "Late 20s or early 30s," Kenny figured the man's age. "He was crawling across the road. He was all covered with mud. There was blood on his face and arms. He was incoherent." This happened on Wards Chapel Road, about 7:30. Kenny pulled behind a car that had stopped; the woman inside was calling for help on a car phone. Kenny could see the crumpled figure in the headlights. He wore only a dress shirt and pants. "His shoes were off," Kenny said. "I touched him, turned him over and he vomited."
When the police came, Kenny heard something about a "missing person" and a general description of a young man in distress. There were a lot of people standing around shaking their heads.
You come across such a mysterious and pathetic thing, in the relatively even and fluid stream of daily life, and in the relatively peaceful reach of rural-suburbia, and you're left a little awed by the randomness, in form and occurrence, of human suffering. Kenny Brown is still young. I know how a guy his age would feel upon seeing such a thing, in the middle of nowhere, maybe for the first time. I know he felt better having stopped and stayed with that poor soul until the ambulance came. And he felt good about the way others came out of the night to help.
"A lot of cars pulled up in the road," Kenny said. "And one of them evidently hit my car, turned around and left. Hit 'n' run. I found the scratch on the bumper afterward." Which reminds me f something else his old man used to say: "Nothing is ever perfect, the way you want it to be. There's always something."
If you call the main switchboard of the First National Bank of Maryland at certain peak hours -- when "all our representatives are assisting customers" -- you'll hear an inviting female voice with a British accent on a recorded message and think, for a moment, that you've mistakenly reached the Bank of England. Actually, First National is wholly owned by Allied Irish Group plc. of Dublin, which doesn't explain the British accent on the recorded message but comes pretty close.
Speaking of British accents, a fellow named Tim Marshallsay has a fine one and keeps it in Glen Burnie. He called us with his nomination for the Pothole From Hell. It's actually an archipelago of potholes, on Potee Street near Patapsco Avenue in South Baltimore, right where "that guy's always selling stuffed Beavises and Butt-heads and Barneys." Tim described the physical dynamics of the potholes thusly: "When you strike the first pothole, it will bounce you into the second one. The impact will throw you out of your car and land you in the third [pothole]. Your car will stay in the second pothole until another car comes along, smashes into it and then somersaults over you. If you go down there, be sure to take a rope, and be sure to look in the bottoms of the potholes for all the people screaming for help."
Bouquet to the pie-throwers
I only clicked off "Square Off" when the rhetoric got a tad too nutty or mean, or when company came over. Most of the time, WJZ-TV's weekly verbal slugfest was colorful and fun. Four or five people screaming at each other on a Saturday night after supper -- it reminded me so much of my childhood. "Square Off" went on the air the year after I arrived in Baltimore and, the first time I heard it, I was awed. There was no fancy production. Just those four people throwing verbal pies-in-the-face, and splattering the guy in the middle, Richard Sher. The shows he hosted dealt with a wide variety of subjects -- from crime to homosexuality to race relations to crime to education to homosexuality to race relations -- and there was always an element of local flavor. "This show is all about disrespect," Frank DeFilippo once quipped on the air. You knew the panelists, you knew the names they dropped, the issues they raised, the buttons they liked to push. It was a Baltimore TV show that survived long after syndicated shows started to devour community programming. Now, after 17 years the weekly "Square Off" is off, and too bad.
When silence is bliss
What are your Instant Click-Offs? What sounds or sights from your television set force you to reach instantly for the remote control device the way one would reach for a fly swatter to zap a particularly irksome insect?
Here are some Instant Click-Offs:
Ricki Lake; Lawrence Welk reruns on Maryland Public Television; "The Love Connection"; any commercial with Dick Van Patten, Sally Struthers or Sandy Duncan; a "Saturday Night Live" sketch, built on one crude joke, that goes lame within the first minute; infomercials for exercise equipment; video clips of Tonya Harding or Scott Hamilton; and that pot-bellied Louisiana cook with the exaggerated Cajun accent. (I gah-roan-tee I click his fool head off.)