'Hon' fans are like catsmarking their territory

March 29, 1994|By WILEY A. HALL

I agreed with Sun columnist Michael Olesker when he wrote Sunday that the controversy over tacking "Hon" to the "Welcome to Baltimore" sign on Route 295 has gotten way out of hand. But while my colleague wondered why some people remain so adamantly opposed to adding the word to the sign just south of the city, I wonder why other folks are so gosh-darned insistent.

Why, people, why?

Why insist that "hon" reflects the soul of this city when a significant portion of the population says it does not?

Why insist that the endearment is charming and cute when so many of us are not amused?

What hidden, inner needs are you trying to satisfy here? Are you like cats, insisting on marking a territory as your own, heedless of the need to share?

Yeah. I think you are like cats. I think you are marking territory.

I think that in some deep, dark, buried niche of your souls you do not want to share this town.

This whole thing started innocently enough. Some guy -- Evening Sun columnist Dan Rodricks calls him "Hon Man" -- tacked the word "Hon" to the bottom of the "Welcome to Baltimore" sign. The idea, see, is that sometimes, some people in Baltimore refer to each other as "hon." Waitresses supposedly use the term a lot. I've even heard a couple.

Anyway, the state tore down Hon Man's sign. And Hon Man put it up again. And the state tore it down again. And Hon Man put it up again.

At this point, the power struggle between bureaucrat and rebel was mildly amusing. In fact, my sympathies, as always, were with the rebel.

But then people in this town began waxing poetic about the social significance of "hon"; about how the endearment captures the soul of this city; how it recalls the golden age of Baltimore, when this was a city of neighborhoods and neighbors; when this was a good, honest, lovable, no-nonsense, hard-working, blue-collar town of colorful ethnics who spoke something called "Bawlamerese."

Even the legislature has gotten into the act. A few weeks ago, the state Senate adopted an amendment offered -- jokingly -- by Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, to withhold $1 million in highway funds unless Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke agreed to add "hon" to the sign. Some people objected. Sen. Larry Young threatened to sponsor a "Welcome to Baltimore, Bro" bill. But my colleagues denounced Young, another Baltimore Democrat, as a spoilsport.

Meanwhile, the mayor has agreed to a summit conference with Hon Man in an attempt to resolve the controversy. The mayor supposedly was joking, too. I bet the mayor and Hon Man really do meet. And I bet some kind of accommodation is reached that would allow "hon" to remain on the sign.

You see, supporters of Hon Man pretend this controversy is all in good fun, but I believe they are in earnest. I believe this issue will not die until they have their way.

But I find this romantic hankering for the golden age of Baltimore mildly offensive 'cause it just ain't so. This good, old, working-class town had a mean streak in it that was a mile wide and a couple of fathoms deep. Langston Hughes called the city one of the "most segregated" in the country. The late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall never forgave this city -- his birthplace -- for the racism he experienced as a young man. Sprinkled throughout the town, like warts, are monuments to the old Confederacy.

Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and a host of other ethnic groups have been able to force their way into the economic, social and political fabric of Baltimore only after a long struggle. And, in fact, that struggle continues.

True, this struggle would be much harder were it not for a core of decency in this city. But all in all, we would be better off celebrating the promise of the future rather than paying homage to a nonexistent past.

For these reasons, I oppose "hon" every bit as strenuously as others fight for it. If the state won't rip Hon Man's sign down, I might do it myself. And if the legislature penalizes the city by withholding $1 million, Mr. Mayor, give me a call if I suddenly get rich. I'll write you a check.

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