Scalping of different kind is evidence of some human madness


August 26, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

Bear in mind that it actually required a little self-restraint to keep from telling you about the Fourth of July scalping on South Highland Avenue. This particular scalping was not the kind one observes on the way to Camden Yards -- the secondhand selling of Orioles tickets above their original cost -- and the practice that only a players' strike could stop. Instead, the scalping to which I refer -- and, until now, have kept in the clip file marked "macabre" -- was a violent crime that occurred in Highlandtown. It was reported to and recorded by Southeastern District police, then passed along to readers of the East Baltimore Guide, buried with the larceny and stolen car reports in that weekly newspaper's crime roundup, and certainly lost by most of us in the film-at-11 of the busy holiday weekend.

The man-on-man attack occurred in the wee hours of Independence Day. Apparently, the scalper was arrested while "shearing" the top of the head of the scalpee. In the mind of the arresting officer, this violent attack with a sharp instrument was unusual enough to warrant exotic description; "scalping" being much more colorful and provocative than "aggravated assault."

It was the same mischievous hope of provoking sensation -- not necessarily devotion to the public's right to know -- that tempted me to pass along this novelty of a crime story. But I resisted.

Until today. And it only gets a mention today because the rest of this column concerns itself with acts of kindness, not cruelty, and I didn't want you to get the wrong idea about my sensibilities.

I knew of the scalping, and kept the anecdote ready for when I needed dramatic evidence of human madness -- as though there were not enough exhibits already marked as evidence -- or a contrasting backdrop to more inspiring tales.

You don't need me to tell you that life in the Patapsco Drainage Basin is full of midnight horror stories. There's always a macabre cruelty out there. And if not, there are too many homicides and rapes, abused and abandoned children, con men and shysters, glue-sniffers and thieves, bigots and vandals, creeps and perverts who make up the daily dockets and news reports.

So it must be the resignation to this bleak fact that has caused random acts of kindness, and the reporting of them to This Just In. They come from city and suburb, and they are reported with the same measure of astonishment apparent when people tell me of bizarre tragedy. Some people seem a little embarrassed to be relating the stories, having made the assumption that mugs like myself are only interested in the weird and the sensational. (Where'd they get that idea?)

Here's a little schmaltzy summer tonic for the human condition.

$10 bill returned

"Maybe it's no big deal," Jody Martin tells me, "but I had to tell someone about this." In haste to get home with supper the other night, Martin stops at the Eddie's supermarket on North Charles on his way to Rodgers Forge. "I don't like to take too much money in that store because I might spend it all," he says. "So I take a ten, a five and three one-dollar bills." He goes in the store and, while at the checkout, notices that the $10 bill is missing. Store employees look for it. So does Martin. "Ah, forget it," he finally says, and returns to his car to get the money he needed to complete the purchase. A woman is sitting in a blue Honda, waiting for him. " 'Did you lose a $10 bill?' she asks me," Martin recalls. "It was on the pavement and she had picked it up and waited there until someone had come looking for it. I know it's not a big deal but still, how many people would wait around to see if they could find the person who lost a $10 bill?"

Smiling toll takers

I don't know what got into Joe Shaney, who works down at the Coast Guard yard in Curtis Bay, but he wants to shout something nice about the women who collect tolls at the Key Bridge. "No matter what time it is or who's on watch," Joe says, "those women are ever so pleasant and always smilin'. I just wanna thank them! Say thanks for me, Dan." All right, already. Thanks!

Infrequent flier

Shirley Robinson took her first flight on July 11, from BWI to Los Angeles aboard USAir 1143, and it was white knuckles all the way. She squeezed The Sun so hard the guy sitting next to her couldn't help but notice that Shirley was suffering infrequent flier stress. "I was scared to death," she says. "I couldn't speak. The man held my hand, he talked to me, he calmed me down. He worked for Martin-Marietta and I can't remember his name, but please tell him I said thanks."

Renewed faith

An 82-year-old man named Jack ("Please omit my last name") took the Amtrak from Baltimore to Newark and, along the way, was awed by the kindness of strangers. At Penn Station, an unidentified man carried Mr. Jack's suitcase down to the platform for him. A woman let him have her seat while she went to the cafe car. Then the woman's husband gave up his seat. Then a conductor found Mr. Jack a free seat in another car and carried his bag to it. At Mr. Jack's stop, a young woman reached overhead and grabbed his bag for him. Someone carried it to the front of the train. Another someone carried it to the platform. "These events renewed my faith in humanity," Mr. Jack says. "Although I have never given up."

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