A little green water turtle alive and 34

This Just In ...

July 31, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

Remember the turtles? The little green water turtles, about the size of a silver dollar. Pet shops, discount stores and tourist traps sold them by the thousands -- and probably by the millions -- for a long time. You supposedly could make these reptiles feel at home by purchasing a "habitat" for them -- usually a round plastic dish adorned with a plastic palm tree. The sight of little green turtles sulking in tepid water in a dish on someone's television set was a fairly common sight in Baby Boom America.

What happened? About 25 years ago, the government banned the sale of tiny turtles because they could spread salmonella bacteria among children. But even before that, the turtles died off left and right. By the thousands. And probably by the millions. They died from disease or starvation. I knew kids who taped cherry bombs to them to celebrate the Fourth of July. The water turtle fad was one of those great American marketing schemes; it's hard to believe any turtle came out of it alive.

In fact, until the other evening, when Margaret Sullivan stepped out of her rowhouse in Hampden with one in her hands, I thought they were all dead.

Her turtle was about 10 inches long, about 8 inches wide, 4 or 5 inches thick. It had "good color" and bulging eyes that were clear and alert. It looked healthy, as though Margaret had just snatched it from the wild instead of the plastic dishpan on the floor in her kitchen.

The Sullivans purchased the turtle at the Murphy's five-and-dime on 36th Street. To be specific about the year of purchase, Margaret summoned her daughter, Mary Sullivan, from a nearby rowhouse.

"Let's see," Mary said, "my brother Mike is 40 now and they bought the turtle when Mike was 6."

That means the turtle came to live with the Sullivans in 1962, which means it's 34, as old as Paula Abdul and Tom Cruise. (Dr. Bruce Hornstein, veterinarian in Mount Washington, has pet-store water turtle that's 41 years old. Its name is Winky, it weighs about 8 pounds and lives in a tank in one of Hornstein's examining rooms on Sulgrave Avenue.)

The Sullivans paid 25 cents for their turtle -- a female they named Mike -- and kept it in one of those little plastic "habitats" until it grew too large. (A second turtle, purchased at the same time, escaped from the Sullivans' back yard during a long-ago rainstorm and hasn't been seen since.) For all these years, the Sullivans have provided Mike The Turtle with a plastic basin of water, access to a floor register to warm himself and roaming rights throughout the rowhouse. Mike The Turtle gets along fine with Margaret's dog and, when her cat had a litter, he moved in with the kittens -- waddled across the species barrier, so to speak, pulled a "Babe."

What does a 34-year-old water turtle eat?

"Ham, bacon and eggs," Margaret said.

"Scrapple," added her son, Rubert.

"Imported ham and cheese," noted Mary.

If Mike has a cholesterol problem, it sure doesn't show.

No eggs, one gun

This is what I call a last-slice-of-pizza story because it reminds me of a shooting in North Baltimore after an argument between "friends" over the last slice of a pizza. The pizza shooting occurred almost 20 years ago on Guilford Avenue. This one, which involved eggs, happened Sunday evening in a house on Garrison Boulevard.

According to police, a 17-year-old manboy (that's what I call someone still trying to make the passage) went to the refrigerator to get some eggs. When he couldn't find them, he questioned his 19-year-old cousin. They got into an argument that ended badly. Police said the manboy grabbed a .22-caliber revolver he kept in the house and shot his cousin. In the head.

The cousin was treated at Sinai Hospital; he'll survive the shooting.

Meanwhile, his manboy little cousin is being charged as an adult with attempted murder. Too many handguns, too many fools with them.

Lasting image of Ali

Despite Saturday's bombing in Centennial Olympic Park, one of the lasting images of the 1996 Summer Games will be from the opening ceremonies -- Muhammad Ali, his left hand shaking and body trembling from Parkinson's disease, atop that high stadium ramp, awash in light, holding the Olympic flame, as the crowd cheered and cried. It was a magnificent moment, a great tribute to a great man. And guess what Rush Limbaugh had to say about it?

"They're just lucky Atlanta didn't burn down that night."

And he said it scornfully, barely under his breath, during his national radio show. I would call it a new low, but that wouldn't be fair; I don't listen to Limbaugh enough to say. However, I remember a distinct low point in 1993, when the big man engaged in a cruel, minstrel show-style mockery of Magic Johnson's elocutionary skills. At least in my sampling of his broadcasts, Limbaugh can't seem to resist the urge to ridicule famous and popular black men -- even Muhammad Ali, one of the most courageous and honest among us. Al Franken is right.

This Just In appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact Dan Rodricks at 332-6166 or by writing to The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

Pub Date: 7/31/96

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