The comfort of familiarity

September 15, 2001|By JACQUES KELLY

ALL OF US will remember where we were this past Tuesday, the brilliant, sky-blue September day when all those images of New York and the Pentagon started flashing across our television sets.

I found myself in one of my neighborhood gathering places, the Charles Village Pub, one of those unsung community assets, an unpretentious joint devoid of bad attitude. It proved to be the right address on this terrible Tuesday.

I dropped in for lunch and could see by the unusually large crowd already gathered this was no normal third day of the week. Owner Steve Marzo and waiter Jerome Manley were running around like theirs was the only bar open in North Baltimore. On a normal Tuesday, there might have been 10 people in this refuge. By the day's end, they had done twice their normal business.

One of the commodities I needed this past Tuesday was some steadying assurance. Food always provides a diversion - and let's face it, a good pub lunch takes your mind off the immediate troubles, if only for a lunch hour.

There's nothing quite like a restaurant menu that has remained largely unchanged over all the decades to supply that essential sense of stability.

As a child, the pub was known as the Blue Jay, named after the Johns Hopkins University mascot. It served good food then and still does.

That day, I glanced down at the list of club sandwiches, the ones named after our local schools - Goucher (chicken salad), the Loyola (tuna) and the Hopkins (roast beef). That roster of clubs has been on that menu since I was first old enough to get a triple-decker in my mouth.

I thought of all those afternoons, maybe 35 years ago, when our great family friend, Dorothy Croswell, would have presided over a Blue Jay lunch then snatched up the check when it was over.

Dorothy, a social worker of high principles, would have never ordered an alcoholic beverage. But she did savor those restaurant-style potato chips. And she would have had a few things to say about terrorists and our national grieving.

Food aside, there was much consolation in the groups who'd gathered there. Tables of Hopkins students dialed and redialed New York on their cell phones. The bar, the line of booths and tables filled up with the regulars: the house painters who'd cut off work early, the lawyer with the gray hair, the man who looks like a retired Maryland Casualty actuary.

The women who smoke heavily on a calm day had doubled their nicotine intake. I was not keeping track of their bourbons - or anyone else's.

With the pub now at capacity, it seemed as if this little corner of Baltimore had delivered the goods, the company. It worked for me. And as I walked out into St. Paul Street's warmth, I felt better, assured that if nothing else, we were all in it together.

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