Pennies for Poe

Near the diner grill, a bowl of change for the literary giant

April 13, 2011|By Laura Vozzella, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore schoolkids collected pennies nearly 150 years ago to save Edgar Allan Poe the indignity of lying in an unmarked grave. Now another "Pennies for Poe" campaign is under way, this time with the intention of sparing his North Amity Street house from closure.

Which brings us to the fishbowl on the counter at G&A Restaurant on Eastern Avenue, not far from the grill where Coney Island hot dogs sizzle.

How does Baltimore's literary giant get mixed up with a Highlandtown diner?

Rafael Alvarez, that's how. The author, Highlandtowner and former Baltimore Sun reporter is president of the Poe Society of Baltimore.

"Madison Smartt Bell did it for five years before me, and he'd had it," Alvarez said when I asked how the presidency came his way in 2009.

"I became president the first year the Poe Toaster didn't show up," he said. "My administration came in on a historical note."

He'd rather not have another milestone — the closing of the Poe House — happen on his watch. So even though his role as president is ceremonial ("I lay a wreath on his grave once a year"), Alvarez decided he wanted to do something to use, as he put it, "the bully pulpit of my presidential status."

The Poe House lost $85,000 in city funding last year and has been told it must find a way to make do without public money.

Alvarez asked Andy Farantos, owner of G&A, to put a fishbowl out on the counter where people can throw in pennies.

Why G&A?

"I'm personal friends with the guy who owns the joint, and he said, 'Yeah, go ahead. Put up the fishbowl,'" Alvarez said. "That's how things work in Baltimore."

Groupies in high places

In Tunisia and Egypt, Twitter helped topple governments. Here in Maryland, it's helping government leaders flirt with celebrities.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake tweeted Wednesday @MayorSRB: "Just finished hosting Common at City Hall. He's here filming a movie. Ladies ... he's more fine in person (Shhh!..I didn't say that)."

Sun City Hall reporter Julie Scharper, who brought that tweet to my attention, also came across Gov. Martin O'Malley's tweet to Bruce Springsteen last week.

Writing as @GovernorOMalley, the guitar-strumming gov tweeted @springsteen: "I quoted your @nytimes oped in a speech last night http://bit.ly/hV7EiS Next time you're in MD, let me know. I'd love to meet."

Too soon to say if SRB's tweet will be unrequited, but it looks like O'Malley's probably is. Spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the governor has not heard back from The Boss.

Book for a marathon session

Filibusters are supposed to slow the legislative process, not speed book sales or promote exercise fads. But state Sen. David Brinkley's choice of filibuster reading material this week might have some of those unintended consequences.

When the Frederick County Republican wanted to stall a vote on granting in-state tuition to certain undocumented students, he took the Senate floor to read aloud from Christopher McDougall's "Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen."

The book, which promotes barefoot running, suggests that high-tech running shoes are to blame for many running injuries. (Sounded good to my husband when the book came out a couple of years ago, until he wound up with plantar fasciitis.)

Brinkley is not a runner, much less a barefoot one.

"Hell no," he told me by phone. "If you saw my physique, you'd know I wasn't a runner. I bike. If you're 220 pounds, you got no business running."

But he is nonetheless taken with the book.

"I'm into it," he said. "I just bought it the day before. I was at a Borders bookstore waiting for my daughter; she was going back to college. I looked down and I became fascinated by it."

Brinkley got only five or six pages into the book before the Senate agreed to send the tuition bill back to a conference committee. But that was enough to hook some listeners.

"I had four people send me an instant message and email, 'Tell me about that,'" he said. "This is the first time that somebody read something on the floor that people were actually enjoying listening to."

laura.vozzella@baltsun.com


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