Memo to cranky old man: Consider a life of QUIET desperation


October 17, 1994|By DAN ROPDRICKS

Here's the scene: A busy night at the paint counter at Home Depot, Perring Plaza. Here's the lineup: First, a man wearing a tie and carrying a cellular phone; behind him, an attractive young woman with religious icons for earrings; third in line, an older man with a sour mug. The third man is impatient and cranky, obviously guided by the principle that, once served, one is always first in line -- even if one walks away and returns later.

There's only one clerk on duty, and he takes a good deal of time and care serving the first customer, who appears to be a novice do-it-himselfer. From the end of the line, the older man becomes increasingly surly. "I don't see why he thinks he can spend so much time with one customer," he grumbles. He sighs heavily. He huffs. He taps his foot. He fumes. "Maybe it's because I don't have a tie on."

The older man continues to exude impatience and annoyance. He makes grunting noises that betray a profound dissatisfaction with life in general. Suddenly, a second paint clerk appears.

"Who's next?" he asks.

"I AM!" the old man snaps, nudging in front of the young woman with the funky earrings.

"I need a gallon of this," the old man declares, pointing to a tranquil pale green in his paint brochure. "Walden Pond."

Nice choice. Very transcendental. But didn't anyone ever tell this guy that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation?

Wal-Mart's gap gulp

I see where a Mr. Frank Howard, who gets paid to make such statements, says another Wal-Mart is "needed" in northwest Baltimore County. Needed? "We think there's a gap we can fill." Gap? Owings Mills doesn't need a Gap; there's one in the mall. Of course, by "gap," Mr. Frank Howard probably means the 16 acres of wooded land his company wanted to tear up and pave until citizens of Owings Mills rose up and screamed. For now, Wal-Mart has abandoned its plans. But don't bet this company will do a Disney and pull out. "We've already started looking around," Mr. Frank Howard says, and by that he means for another gap to fill. It could be -- and I know this sounds crazy, given the glut of stores already in existence -- that by "gap," Mr. Frank Howard means a hole in the consumer marketplace. I guess there just aren't enough places to buy Rubbermaid products and shampoo by the gallon; the Owings Mills-Reisterstown corridor "needs" a 149,000-square-foot warehouse store that will suck up more open space, create traffic hassles and put more pressure on local retailers, maybe even drive some of them out of business. But hey, Wal-Mart would be providing this facility as a public service. Meeting a "need." Filling a "gap." Makes you all warm and fuzzy, doesn't it?

Predictable surprise

Can I have a show of hands? Was anyone out there really surprised last week when American Joe Miedusiewski decided to endorse Parris Glendening for governor? Though predictable, the announcement was held back for dramatic effect as some kind of big surprise. No one -- repeat, no one -- was to know until the Democratic primary loser called a press conference. There was talk that Miedusiewski, who had zinged Glendening in the primary campaign with sarcastic rhetoric and radio ads, would jump party lines and embrace Republican Ellen Sauerbrey. (Hey, his buddy, William Donald Schaefer, endorsed George Bush in 1992.) So, the wraps were on -- until a media advisory arrived by fax the morning of Miedusiewski's press conference. It gave the time and place, and nothing more. But the fine print at the top of the sheet supplied a phone number for the originating fax -- in the Glendening campaign headquarters. Surprise, not!

Dubious distinctions

A while ago, we asked for answers to the question, "What is Baltimore?" We sought short definitions that distinguish the Queen City of the Patapsco Drainage Basin and surrounding communities from all other metropolitan areas. We received this from a Ms. Susan Powell: "Baltimore is the strange Orioles attire, people wearing black and orange all the time." (This reminded me of the comment of Big Little Joey Peske, who said, "You know you're a Baltimorean when your entire Sunday wardrobe consists of Orioles giveaways.") Ms. Powell also noted provincial practices in hair treatment, particularly in eastern Baltimore County. "It's where some women favor that dyed coal-black hair while others prefer the bleached peroxide platinum blonde with the 2-inch black roots. That is Baltimore."

Explaining Martha

There have been no takers on my challenge to explain the extremely strange artwork of Martha Drew Gatewood, currently hanging at Mencken's Cultured Pearl near Hollins Market. I am looking for a 100-word essay on Gatewood's wallpiece, "Aliens Go Bowling In Utah and Find True Love." No one has met the challenge yet. However, there was this letter:

Dear Mr. Rodricks,

I cannot speak to 'Aliens.' Indeed, I have never been able to explain Martha's work. However, for a free burrito, I will attempt to explain Martha.

Very truly yours,

Louana M. Lackey

(Martha Gatewood's mother)

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