A fond farewell for 'Tambourine Man'

This Just In ...

November 13, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

Missing from this year's Halloween party in the streets of Fells Point was the one little man who never needed a costume or mask to get your attention -- Johnny "The Tambourine Man" Johnson, or "Junior," as his old friends called him. His nose was a russet pear, his grin was toothless, he wore loud jackets and overcoats, and he kept a battered tambourine tied to his belt. When he heard a jukebox through the open door of a bar along South Broadway, Johnny banged the tambourine in time to the music -- and not very well.

For all this he will be remembered.

Johnny (also known as "Catman," also known as "Tambourine John") died recently in his room in Fells Point, where he had lived for decades. He was 81. (Truth be known, a lot of people will be happily surprised to hear that John lived this long. Seven years ago, he showed up at a party at the Polish Home Club and someone yelled: "Tambourine Man! He lives!" To which a fellow named Baseball Billie Jones replied: "You call that living?")

The son of a merchant seaman, the Tambourine Man had traveled all over the world with his father before returning to Baltimore and settling down in Fells Point. Legend has it he was disabled 40 years ago from an on-the-job injury in a laundry. For as long as anyone can remember, he was part of the gritty human scenery of Fells Point -- the funny little Tambourine Man who loved to read and drink and tell stories and laugh and, if the spirits moved him, get thrown out of bars.

He's affectionately remembered by the old crowd from Turkey Joe's as "a classically trained tambourine player who sacrificed everything (including a steady job and regular baths) for his music." They're throwing a party to remember the Tambourine Man and to pay his last tab -- $865 for his cremation. The place: Max's on Broadway. The date and time: from 5 p.m. till whenever Nov. 26. The $10 cover charge will go to the Tambourine John Fund. There are plans to have a brick bearing his name placed in the walk around Fells Point.

Getting cold feet

I know it when I smell it and I've been smelling snow panic in the air. Come on now. Admit it. You've been getting nervous. The three supermarkets I hit Sunday night were all jammed; I had to wait for parking spots to open. Don't tell me all those shoppers just happened to plan it that way, either. (Now that I've said that, I shall get myself to the hardware store. I need a new shovel.)

Midwest mettle

Quote worth note -- from a guy in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where 27 inches of snow fell over the weekend: "We really only have two seasons up here," said T. J. Miller of Trout Lake, Mich., near Sault Ste. Marie. "Snow and bugs."

Samaritan sought

The women of Mystery Loves Company, the Fleet Street bookstore, have a whodunit to solve. On Friday, Paige Rose and Kathy Harig were in a rental van on their way to Philadelphia when a tire blew on Interstate 95 near White Marsh. It was during the height of the day's heavy showers. Get this: A truck driver stopped, walked back about a quarter-mile in the rain, helped them get off the road and changed the tire. Rose and Harig know the trucker's name was Mike, that his license tag started with 60A. He now has a Mystery Loves Company sweat shirt for his efforts. But who was that mystery man? They'd really like to know.

One for the records

Letter received by a Halethorpe man, a client of Community Mental Health Centers, from the fiscal manager of Baltimore County's Bureau of Mental Health:

"Our records indicate that you still have an outstanding balance of $0 for services rendered at one of our facilities. State regulations require us to forward delinquent invoices to the State of Maryland Central Collection Unit. The CCU adds an additional 17 percent to the balance owed. If you do not respond by October 31, 1996, we will forward your balance due to CCU. This is your [third and] final notice."

No wonder this guy needs mental health services.

Sounds of Sullivan

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