Observing, overhearing life's oddities


November 04, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

Observed (by TJI reader Ray Garfield) at the grocery store: "A young lady checking out six or eight cans of food, all of the 'Healthy Choice' and 'fat free' variety. As the cashier finished checking out her groceries, she asks for a carton of Marlboro Lights. I winced. Appears to me she can't make up her mind whether to live longer or die earlier."

Overheard (by a friend of TJI) on Light Rail: "I caught my daughter smoking the other day. Made her put it out. But she really did look cute! I told her that if she wants to smoke, she'll have to wait until her birthday next year. She'll be 13 then."

Observed (by TJI reader Carol Meyers) on the door of Senator Savings Bank in Towson: A sign that says, "No cash on premises."

Observed (by new mom Elise Saltzberg) after she discovered that her husband's name had been left off their baby boy's birth certificate: "My husband David and I were somewhat amused by this snafu and, at the same time, anxious to get the matter corrected. I finally spoke to [a woman] in the Division of Vital Records. That the baby's mother and father were married to each other seemed novel to her. She didn't know quite what to make of it. It must be such a rare occurrence to have a baby's birth registration form filled in completely [by a parent] that the data entry clerk just automatically filled in 'Not Stated' in place of the father's name. When I told her that my husband and I have been married since 1989, she again sounded befuddled."

Observed (by longtime community activist Willa Bickham) from Mount Street in Southwest Baltimore: "I don't get to see much of the vulgar and entertaining rich [TJI, Sept. 25] but I do see the poor getting poorer each year. It's hard to walk from my desperately poor neighborhood to the Inner Harbor. It's two worlds. You ask if anyone is bothered by this. I am, and I know that hatred and racism are class warfare; we move further apart from each other every day. Ordinary life has slipped away from most of my neighbors. Where do all these yachts come from? The harbor grows faster with them than our grass does in this rainy year. I can hardly see the water at the harbor now."

Portuguese pride

As the son of a native of Portugal -- the name "Rodrigues" was changed a long time ago to its current form by a clueless American bureaucrat -- I was interested in (and more than a little surprised by) Baltimore City Council Bill 279. It seeks to include "Portuguese" in the city's official recognition of Hispanic minorities. The bill, introduced by 5th District Councilwoman Helen Holton last week, expanded the definition to include anyone of Dominican Republic or Portuguese origin.

The Portuguese -- originating from Portugal, Madeira, Cape Verde or the Azores -- are certainly a minority population in the United States and just about everywhere else; the diaspora is thin but extensive.

It wasn't always this way.

Four or five centuries ago, my honorable (and not so honorable) ancestors explored (and exploited and enslaved) major slices of the globe, from South America to the Far East. The Portuguese actually had an empire. But what happened? When the Spanish, the British and the Dutch turned up the heat -- when things started to get messy -- most of the Portuguese empire-builders said, "The hell with this. Let's go home and grow some grapes, harvest some cork, maybe do a little fishing." Lisbon, however, held fast to its African colonies, Mozambique and Angola, and didn't abolish slavery until the late 1800s. The Portuguese didn't let go of the colonies until 1975.

My bloods were Madeirans; by the time my father was born on that lovely island west of Morocco, his family had been off the Portuguese mainland (distanced from the political dictatorships there) for several generations and, from what I've been able to learn, they were banana and flower farmers; some of them likely worked on fishing boats. Then, they did what half of the population of Madeira did over the last century -- they left. They went to Brazil or Canada (we're heavy in Toronto) or the United States. They went quietly, too. And settled in. And, like so many other immigrants from so many other countries, they enriched the United States with the diversity we should celebrate and never decry. I think I'll raise a flag for the Portuguese at next year's Hispanic Festival.

Ringing up receipts

This is getting to be a habit, but it's a good one, so here goes: The Renaissance Institute's annual class project -- to collect cash register tapes from Giant, Safeway and Metro and redeem them for classroom computers for a Baltimore public school with the greatest need and the best student attendance -- is up and running again. This year, 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.

Baltimore fiction

Ken Follett's new book, "The Third Twin," is set in Baltimore, and he'll be here soon to promote it. Baltimore is not much of a presence in the book, but we do find a "Jones Falls University," (an Ivy League institution) and Roland Park (described as "an affluent suburb"). There also is this description of the city's rowhouses: "As in many old Baltimore streets, there was a row stoop, a communal front porch that ran the length of the row, where neighbors sat cooling themselves . . ." How very odd.

Pub Date: 11/04/96

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