Tapes from the groceries, leftovers from the pope


February 26, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

A deadline approaches, so I gotta lead with this: Only one week left for the Renaissance Institute's big class project -- to collect cash register tapes from Giant, Safeway and Metro and redeem them for computers for the Baltimore public school with the greatest need. If you want to contribute, send your receipts to: Save the Tapes, Renaissance Institute, College of Notre Dame of Maryland, 4701 N. Charles St., Baltimore 21210-2476.

This melon a winner

What we have next is, literally, a leftover from the pope's visit to Baltimore last October -- and a story that, once reported in This Just In, belongs in some archives of the weird. (And if we don't have an archives of the weird, we should build one, preferably in Baltimore.) The story involves a bartender and, as in the best of true urban legends, dental impressions. Here goes:

Recall the Holy Father's busy Sunday in the Vatican of America -- arrival at the airport, morning Mass at The Yards, a visit to Our Daily Bread and the Basilica (pronounced by a local TV anchor, "Bass-A-Leeka," and I am not making that up!), followed by a period of rest at the cardinal's residence.

The staff of the Brass Elephant, the very fine midtown restaurant, had been commissioned to cater to the pope at the cardinal's residence. Awaiting John Paul II was a tray of three cheeses and five fresh fruits, farfel pasta with walnut sherry vinaigrette, grilled breast of chicken, grilled vegetables and a bottle of chardonnay.

After dining and napping, the Holy Father departed for the remainder of his visit to Baltimore.

Brad Plymal, an Elephant bartender working the detail that day, went to the pope's chamber to clear away dishes. That's when he discovered the "pope-a-loupe," a piece of melon from which John Paul II had taken a bite. When Plymal saw the papal teeth marks, he knew he had a special souvenir. So, he stuck it in his pocket.

"There were some women with me, I think they worked in the rectory," recalls Plymal, now barkeep at Baltimore Brewing Co. "They were taking hair off the pillows, and saying, 'Oh, the Holy Father's hair,' and taking the soap he had used."

Later, Plymal showed the "pope-a-loupe" to friends. For luck, they placed it against a draw poker machine at a local saloon and promptly hit the jackpot.

Does Plymal still have the precious slice of melon?

"No," he says. "I put it in the refrigerator and it just sort of dissolved."

5) Mad Brad, you shoulda had it bronzed.

Retirement in jail

At first, the Robert Gresham story sounded funny, another one for our Guilty But Mostly Stupid File. But it's more pathetic than funny.

When most men his age are looking at retirement, Gresham, 64 years old, is looking at jail time. He's been there before, too. His criminal record dates back to the Eisenhower administration. Since 1957, Gresham has been convicted of deadly weapons charges, gambling conspiracy, possession of PCP and heroin, a second-degree sex offense and shoplifting.

Most guys "give up the life" by the time they're 40 -- assuming they've lived that long. They clean up, smarten up or soften up; they get tired of the prison scene. Men over 55 have a less than 10 percent probability of committing crimes. So Robert Gresham presents an unusual case -- a senior citizen who hasn't been able to give up the life.

His most recent offense is what made us laugh. Police discovered 58 containers of cocaine in Gresham's coat. They made the discovery after Gresham walked through a scanner -- in the local probation office!

"He gets caught with cocaine going through the scanner at the probation office," Baltimore Circuit Judge John Prevas said last Friday. "Talk about throwing rocks at the jail house window."

Gresham claimed his girlfriend had slipped the cocaine in his coat without his knowledge, and a friend from Narcotics Anonymous backed him up. "You don't go to see your probation officer carrying drugs," she said. "He's not that stupid."

As I said, pathetic is a better word.

Here's an illiterate man, with a criminal record that goes back 40 years, still hooked into drugs and crime. "He completely lacks any moral form of self control," said Prevas, who prosecuted narcotics cases before he went on the bench 10 years ago. The judge said Gresham, and others like him, are "like roaches. They'll never stop." They are a "never-ending, never-ceasing clear and present danger to society."

But defense attorney Harold Glaser said Gresham "is a typical example of what drugs can do to a person. ... He's one of those unfortunate people who falls through the cracks of the system."

I'll bet it was a classic full-system failure, too -- the family system, the school system, the social system, the "corrections" system. The profile of the career offender is almost always the same; you could look it up.

Robert Gresham, unable to give up the life, needed help and either didn't get it or didn't want it, and I'd put money on "didn't get it." (We have an estimated 50,000 drug addicts in Baltimore today, and hardly any serious commitment to help them break their habits. I've a letter from a reader suggesting Baltimore Junkies as a name for the new football team.) Now, Robert Gresham has been sentenced to another five years in prison, which seems to be all we can do for men like him.

If you have an item for This Just In, give me a call on 332-6166, or drop me a line at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278-0001. Love to hear from you.

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