Standoff over, all quiet on the Berkshire front

Normality: Cars with out-of-state license plates still cruise by, but now that Joseph Palczynski is gone, neighbors can enjoy the same old, same old.

March 28, 2000|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Now what?

Well, the truck needs washing. It's an old chore, but it feels brand new in Berkshire. Get your son, get the water hose, go outside and wash that `'98 Dodge. Nothing else for James and Jimmy Justice to think about. No need to think about that ugly business over on notorious Lange Street. The longest week in Berkshire history is history.

"Now we can start living our normal lives," Justice says.

Hear that loud quiet? It's the sound of a story having left through the door it came in through at 7520 Lange St. Joseph Palczynski took three people hostage there March 17 and held them for four days. Now, in the wake of all that crime tape and videotape, it's back to the same old neighbors and routines, the same old pleasures and problems.

Justice, a carpenter and cabinet maker who lives on Dalton Street, is back this week doing side jobs. His wife, Brenda, is back to her routine: Getting her husband's lunch ready. Getting the kids, Jimmy and Brandi, off to school. Doing some housecleaning and if there's time, checking in on "All My Children." That story never gets old.

Directly behind No. 7520, 76-year-old Raymond Eberwein is spending this week in a novel way; he probably won't be on TV. He's waiting to get his famous truck back -- the faded blue Ranger with 18 bullet holes in it (he saved a few bullets). He hopes they didn't bend that tire rim when they towed it last week.

Two doors down from No. 7520, Dorothy Hulbert, one of the few homeowners on Lange Street, is enjoying her hostage-free week with her companion, Lady. The cocker spaniel was trapped in the house for four days with no food or water. As is customary, Hulbert will be swing or line dancing Friday at the American Legion Post.

And 72-year-old Joe Byrd (he was on the news, too) is back rummaging for aluminum cans, as people shout "Bird Brain" at him. He doesn't care. This is his neighborhood, too. And he'll keep collecting cans and picking up the newspaper for people who might have trouble walking.

All seems right with their world again. But tricky emotions and issues remain. Palczynski's reign of terror has brought out the good, the bad and the ugly in this wedge of Dundalk.

Berkshire is lined with hard-working families, who are quick to picnic together but who mind their own business in a neighborly way. (Some people have talked more to each other this month than they have in years.) "Salt-of-the-earth people," says the Rev. Jack Ward at a nearby Roman Catholic church, Our Lady of Hope.

But like other communities, Berkshire has issues. People who don't care about their yards or care about the language they use. Rowdy kids, drugs, drunken scuffles, renters vs. homeowners, old-timers vs. "new people" -- and now Lange Street vs. every other street. More than one person wishes, with a grain of exaggeration, that the Berkshire Apartments on Lange Street could be razed.

"I wish they would have blowed up those apartments. That's where we have our problems," resident Beverly Vaeth says. "If they were out, it would be a much better neighborhood."

Stepping back, what do alleged drug dealing, rowdy kids, or even sloppy yards have to do with a seriously disturbed man taking hostage three people who just happened to live in a $400-a-month apartment on Lange Street? Nothing.

But the ordeal, neighbors say, brought to the surface submerged neighborhood issues.

"When you put a spotlight on a community, you're going to hear all of it now," says Baltimore County Police Dept. Capt. Lawrence Suther of the Northpoint precinct. "Up until this point, I barely heard of Lange Street. But I'm hearing from neighbors about narcotics activity, and we're following up on that end."

One thing about Berkshire, it doesn't sugar-coat its opinions; there's nothing subtle about the place. People will flat-out say they don't like other people. "Neighbors from hell," neighbors have called other neighbors. A few people want to move out. Others think they should revisit the idea of forming a Neighborhood Watch group.

"Maybe what happened is a blessing in disguise," says Kathi Albanese on Dalton Avenue. "We can see what kind of work needs to be done in the neighborhood, and try to solve our problems."

So, will Berkshire become closer after this horrible ordeal? "That would be nice," says Brenda Justice, wishing it more than believing it. Or will a rule of reality apply? The one that says even after a despicable act committed against a neighborhood, people return to what is familiar, safe and comfortable.

"We got closer to the neighbors we were already close to," says James Justice. "But as far as Dalton and Lange Street conversing back and forth, I doubt that will ever happen."

The question in Berkshire is no longer "How do you feel?" but rather "Now what?"

Palczynski is dead and gone.

They are alive and here.

The life

Here's a roadside look at Berkshire:

Hear those sparrows? Better yet, walk along any street and watch hedges explode with shooting sparrows. Easter decorations abound.

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