Chicken Little's on the line, but the sky is not falling


October 07, 2005|By LAURA VOZZELLA

There's Ron Swoboda, the Sparrows Point ballplayer who broke his hometown's heart with a great catch in 1969, trying to pay his respects to Miracle Mets teammate Donn Clendenon.

But there's so much on his mind: His house in New Orleans. His cancer-stricken mother back in Baltimore. And midway through the poem teammate Ed Charles is reciting at last week's Shea Stadium memorial service, Swoboda's cell phone rings.

Or rather, it clucks, thanks to the ring tone selected by Swoboda's grandson.

"Just as he's getting into this emotional piece [in the poem], I hear chickens clucking," Swoboda said. "It was my neighbor calling saying, `Hey, your electricity is on.'"

That odd jumble of grief, good news and occasional comic relief pretty much sums up Swoboda's past month, spent mostly in Baltimore, nursing his mother and taking refuge from Hurricane Katrina.

"It's all surreal," Swoboda said. "Everybody's trying to envision things that you cannot envision. You're in so many places in the same time. One of our cars is in Houston. Cecilia [his wife] is in Baltimore. Both our heads are back in New Orleans.

"You feel like you've lost about 25 percent of your intelligence because you can't focus on things. So many things down the road are just unknowable. You just can't know."

Earlier this week, for the first time since the storm, Swoboda made it back to New Orleans, where he has done broadcasting and community outreach for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Triple A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.

His century-old shotgun house, in the Uptown section of the city, hadn't been flooded. His biggest problem was "a refrigerator from hell" that "needs to be dollied out of here."

He expects to return to Baltimore in a few weeks, when his mother, Dolores, 80, is well enough to come home from a rehab center.

"My mom's the important thing now," Swoboda said. "I love my house and I love living here, but this is just stuff. The important thing going on right now is in Baltimore."

Have yourself a merry little Christmas; just turn on the lights

Rail all you want against the Christmas-industrial complex.

There's no stopping the Santa-themed steamroller that crams your mailbox with catalogues and your head with Bing Crosby long before Halloween.

Take the city of Frederick, where the holidays are already upon us.

City workers started stringing Christmas lights downtown this week. Yes, this week. The first in October.

The project actually got kicked off in the dead of summer, when municipal elves started checking the white lights, strand by strand, to make sure all 270,000 bulbs were in good, twinkling order.

"It is a tedious task," says Nancy Gregg Poss, spokeswoman for the city.

Poss says the lights inspire people to give the gift of electricity. Shop owners and residents put out extension cords in spots where the lights can't be hooked up to city poles.

"Their electric bill goes up a little bit," she says, "but they do it for the look of it."

Now if only laggards like Macy's and L.L. Bean would get into the spirit.

Not first, but a close third

Guess I got carried away the other day when writing about Molly Shattuck. I said the Ravens cheerleader-mom, who recently showed up with bikini and kids on, was first featured in The Sun. We did beat Sports Illustrated.

But two local magazines apparently scooped us here at 501 N. Calvert.

Baltimore magazine featured Shattuck in its September issue, and Style magazine in its October issue. Both landed on newsstands in late August - days before The Sun's Aug. 28 story.

So which one broke the story on the pushing-40 pom-pom girl? All I know is, with Deep Throat outed, I was ready for another good journalistic mystery.

We'll let the Pulitzer judges sort it out.

Still life with Harley-Davidson

Lots of artists set up their easels in old Ellicott City, eager to re-create the charming yellow firehouse and quaint storefronts.

Nancy Tankersley paints the Harleys.

The bikes might seem out of place as they thunder down Main Street, shaking glassware from doily-draped store shelves.

But there's a good bit of grit to the place.

Yes, there's a tea room, along with store after store that look like grandma's attic. But there's also a tattoo parlor and a bunch of guys who drink all day long on the banks of the Patapsco.

Tankersley is drawn to some of the less-precious scenes.

The bikes. Their leather-clad riders, downing beers at a bar. The cooks who sweat in the kitchen at Tersiguel's. The tangle of wires dangling from telephone poles.

"That's what's neat about Ellicott City," says the Easton-based artist. "It's real. It's kind of evolved on its own without somebody coming in and planning it from the top down."

Some of Tankersley's work is on display through Oct. 16 at the Andrei Kushnir/Michele Taylor American Painting gallery, 8289 Main St. It's part of an exhibit by the Washington Society of Landscape Painters.

And if you're looking for sweet scenes of the city, there are plenty of those, too.

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