A friend who gets up even earlier than I do called yesterday morning, before I'd released the hounds or seen the morning paper. "The world has gone mad," he said. "Jeff Toohey gets 18 months for molesting children, and Philip Akbar Shabazz gets three years for overdue library books."
Indeed, The Sun reported yesterday two stories - one stacked above the other across this very page - from the Baltimore County courts.
In the Circuit Court, we had Judge John G. Turnbull suspending all but 18 months of a five-year sentence for Jerome F. "Father Jeff" Toohey, the former Roman Catholic priest and Calvert Hall chaplain, for sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy he was supposed to be counseling through family turmoil back in the 1980s.
The same day, in District Court, we had Judge Norman R. Stone III sentencing Shabazz to three years in prison for stealing hundreds of books - valued at $679, according to court documents examined by The Sun - from the Baltimore County Public Library.
Eighteen months for the sexual predator.
Three years for the serial library book checker-outer.
What Shabazz did was weird - and apparently rare, according to an official quoted by Sun reporter Nick Shields - but I guess Stone felt a need to send a message about theft from libraries:
Books - good.
Stealing books - bad.
But, come on. What's with this judge?
Shabazz gets twice the jail time for eloping with Bad Girlz as a priest gets for abusing a boy?
I'd make Shabazz clean library restrooms for six months - or, as he enjoys books so much, teach adults to read - not send him to jail. (OK, maybe he should get a little jail time, 30 days or so. They built that $74 million extension on the county detention center; they've got to keep the place booked.)
At one point, Shabazz was able to check out 60 books from various branches in one day. He had more than 400 books outstanding and owed the library $8,400 in late fees before anybody in the library system seemed to wise up.
There's something wrong with a guy who does that sort of thing, I agree. (It sounds like a fetish of some kind, if you ask me for something purely speculative.)
And I think the serial bibliothief Philip Akbar Shabazz needs to pay the county back for the books and for the fines - and have his many library cards suspended - and he should probably sit in a cell and eat bad chow for a few weeks. But three years?
Give us a break.
Every once in a while - too infrequently, I'm sorry to say - we hear from Kurt "Skip" Kolaja (pronounced Ko-ly-ya), formerly of Baltimore, now of the Eastern Shore. He moved across the Chesapeake several moons ago, and he's still getting used to small-town life over there, still observing things with a filmmaker's eye. And there's good reason for that: Guy makes films.
He's always good for a story, and Skip filed this one via e-mail and cell phone. (They have those things in the Crumpton area now.) While he wasn't taking notes at the time, Skip has a trained ear for this stuff, and promises the exchange went as reported.
Last week, he stopped at his favorite seafood store to buy crabmeat. The daily special appeared in large red letters on a hand-painted sign in front of the store. Skip walked in, approached the tiny woman behind the counter and asked about the special.
"When," he said, feigning incredulity, "did muskrat get to be $2.75?"
The woman got the joke and said that the price had been $3 a pound just the day before.
"You know," Skip said, "I have never tried muskrat. ... Never thought of them as a food source."
"Well," the woman answered, "my husband just loves 'em. Matter of fact, he's just finishing up some he made last night. They're leftovers he's havin' for lunch. I'm sure he'd have let you try some, but he's done.
"I don't eat them either," the woman continued. "They look good and they smell great, but I dunno, I just can't bring myself to try one. [My husband] says they're one of the cleanest animals goin'. They clean all their food and are constantly cleaning themselves. We sell a lot of them."
The woman then listed other exotic foods she and her husband had sold in the place - frog legs ("We sold a lot last year"), eel and beaver.
"Beaver?" said Skip.
"We sold two this week about this big," the woman said, holding her hands about two feet apart. "And last year we sold a big one. ...
"Pound of backfin then?"
"Please," said Skip.
"It's a dollar off today."