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Belliveau Blog

Author Jeannette Belliveau:

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Her books:

An Amateur's Guide to the Planet

Romance on the Road
Belliveau's discount travel links
Now reading:
Ace of Spades Ace of Spades
by David Matthews
Harrowing but compelling look at growing up mixed race in Baltimore.
Now watching:
The Office: Season 3The Office - Season Three
Subtle brilliance from the leads and the minor characters -- Angela, Phyllis, Kevin, Oscar, Toby and Ryan -- only increase the hilarity exponentially. .........................
Now listening to:
Complete Studio Recordings Complete Studio Recordings
Led Zeppelin
Incredibly, Zep now have an entire station to themselves (Channel 59) at XM Radio.

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May 11, 2012

My latest green project: "The Butt Stops Here"

ButtStops3.jpgA can, spray paint and the paint markers.

Noticing some of the younger neighbors leaving cigarette butts strewn on the sidewalk -- and giant floating matts of the non-biodegradeable butts along the Canton waterfront -- I decided it was better to light a candle (or cigarette cherry ...) than curse the darkness.

I asked Lillian Crawley of Lombard Hardware for some cans to make butt holders with. She came up with the first three. I said I didn't want to pay more than $1 for each but she kindly donated them. Her husband Kenny, who used to letter signs, used paint markers to letter a few and came up with the fetching arrow on top of "The Butt Stops Here." See Kenny's prototype below and to the right.


Lillian suggested filling them with sand and drilling drainage holes in them. And so I did. I found "free" sand from the collapsed bricks and mortar from my neighbor's house demo project.

As part of being green and salvaging materials, I used some red spray paint I had lying around and brushed some surplus grey paint with a brush freehand-style to make the lettering. This looks just awful -- there's a line between homespun and ugly, and it was crossed. I tried to photograph them for before & after photos but I guess I didn't do something right w/ my new camera. That may be for the best!

So I went to Utrecht Art Supplies and got a pretty light yellow, pro quality spray paint, and some paint markers of my own, since I'm terrible at freehand lettering with a brush. So that was around $20 for supplies but necessary I feel.

I Googled a bit to learn how to make stencils. I printed out a paper with Stencil font of what I needed for the cans and found scrap Mylar and plastic around the house -- I'm trying to salvage everything for the project. Tried to use a soldering iron with a fine tip but that just rounded the edges. So I ended up using an X-acto knife that I had received as part of a tool set belonging to my late brother-in-law. He had neatly taped extra blades to the knife, so I put a fresh blade in and tightened the knurled metal collar.

The resulting stencil isn't perfect but it's better than my freehand efforts!

Today I found around six cans in recycling bins so I can make a few more of these. Win-win-win-win-win -- salvaging items, keeping them out of a landfill, learning how to stencil, keeping our sidewalks cleaner and helping the environment. Oh and meeting nice neighbors outside who smoke and who REALLY are happy to get one of these cans!

A can to the right of the steps at Ann's Grocery. I asked the leader of our local street gang to ask folks to use it, and she readily assented.

May 22, 2011

The life and times of Pierre Belliveau

Typical pose in my office.

pierre copy.JPGJuly 5, 1995-May 21, 2011

Also known as: Mr. Devotion Boy, Pondicherry, Petey-arey, Big Red, Reddy Freddy, Padary, Alessandro del Piero, Petey, Pwer-boy, Mr. Pete, Mr. Pierre Boy, Mr. Flaps, Fabio

Pierre came into our lives in 1999 via Sheltie Haven Sheltie Rescue, outside of Frederick, Maryland. The photo at right was with his online description for potential adopters. He had a dossier from his foster family that would rival that of a human adoption placement agency in terms of thoroughness. Unlike confident, center-of-his-own-universe Beau, Pierre was something of a trouble child who needed help.

"He's got baggage," said Laura Lane-Unsworth, his foster caregiver over the phone, before we even met Pierre. Sheltie Rescue was looking for someone experienced with dogs to handle this fellow, turned in with the name Petey. He was a bit overweight at 66 lbs. in rescue (we got him under 50 lbs. for the rest of his life.) "He has a talent for finding food," she said, and had stolen pizza and a bagel. He was low man on the total pole in his foster house of three dogs and two cats, a pattern he would repeat with us.


First photo of Pierre at meeting in Frederick. Lamont commented on his glow-in-the-dark teeth.

He was turned in because he bit a child in his previous home in Baltimore County, where the family had bought him at a pet store. "He was a wreck around kids," she said. "He couldn't handle the noise level." His owner considered euthanizing him but finally tracked down sheltie rescue. She called to see how he was doing every week until she heard he'd been placed.

While overall a friendly and affectionate dog, he failed at a walk-in exhibit of rescue dogs in Frederick. He reacted badly to a man there, growling and lowering himself. 


A visit to Twinbrook to meet my parents. My mom commented on his evident devotion to me from the start.

3---PierreTwinbrook.jpgPierre meets Matt and Skipper, right.

"He needs molding and work on obedience," she said. "He could be a wonderful dog. He's not a push-button dog like a golden retriever. He's not a biter that can't be trusted. He's a joy in the household now."

Laura said she would keep him if she had more time to work with him.  "And one more thing -- he's gorgeous. He has a white stripe and he's a sweetheart." He was a very feeling dog who played a bit too roughly, but corrections squelched him. A balance needed to be found where he could be confident and well-behaved. He was very smart and sensitive, exuberant, vigilant and protective and most of all needed to be "molded." "He's like a big puppy, taking everything in," she said. 

Could he handle the pit bulls in the neighborhood I wondered, as Beau had been victim of an attack. "He's strong," Laura said. "He wouldn't cower."

We arranged to meet Pierre outside Frederick at a house full of fostered shelties. He was a giant among a fish-school swarm of average-sized and tinier dogs. I took him out back to see if he would get along with Beau and climb an agility seesaw. All went well and we signed the adoption papers, paid our $100 and bought him home on July 3, 1999.

He was a good-looking as advertised, a honey sable verging into a reddish color, such that Big Red became one of his nicknames. He clambered happily into Lamont's Saturn, completely willing to try a new life. We went to a McDonald's in Frederick and he and Beau happily competed for fries.

OnDuvet.jpgSneaking onto a duvet.

Petey seemed an absurd name for this very beautiful dog who looked nothing like the "Little Rascals" Staffordshire terrier. He needed a new name for a new life, and Pierre became it; close to his old name but more elegant. Whenever he behaved like a Petey though -- anxious or a big goof -- we trotted out his original moniker.

Perhaps due to all the changes and stresses in his life, Pierre developed an ear infection. He was strong and bit me when I tried to put medicine in his ears. I was concerned that he was too much to handle and called Sheltie Rescue back. I realized he was closed to being euthanized before arriving at sheltie rescue and it really was the Last Chance Saloon for him.  I just dominated him and made it clear he had to behave and not bite as I put in the medicine. The second time, I had Lamont hold Pierre while I put the medicine in, and things went much better.

An interesting thing happened the third time I put in the medicine. His ears were better, and Pierre was a trusting angel who lay still and well-behaved. He turned out to be a reasonable dog with adults, who behaved unless he was in pain, but never could relax around children. His groomer found him reasonable and intelligent, and if she proceeded with him gently he behaved even as arthritis got him more and more in his senior years.


Pierre still comfortable and glossy coated a month ago.

His most prominent nickname over time became Mr. Devotion Boy. He didn't live the adventurous life Beau did, going to Montreal and Yellowstone, being bitten by a pit bull, but he was steady and quite devoted to the members of his household, as shown in the photos below.


Pierre and housemate Megi, above and below, had a love fest, as her family had shelties as well.


Edited to add: He did have one small adventure, on a walk on the old piers near Bo Brooks soon after I got him. He disappeared completely and didn't respond to my calls. I looked in all directions and under the piers -- no luck. I ran around to near the Getaway Sailing School and sure enough, his pretty red head was bobbing in the water as he swum around the point of land. I called him to the boat dock, and a construction worker helped me haul him out of the water, as he hadn't lost his excess weight yet. I was struck by how relieved I was to see him and how bonded we were already, and bought the worker a couple of six packs of beer in thanks.

Pierre's main friends after myself and Lamont were housemates Micheleen, Mark (a jogging buddy), Catharine, Megi, Katie, Joanne and Laura, and outside the house he loved Lillian Crowley of Lombard Hardware, Janet Cook and Dr. Jane Hungate. In his last week, we made a little trip up to the hardware store and he was relaxed and happy with Lillian's familiar demeanor even though he was mostly blind and a little disoriented.


Dressed up for the Ravens, in his  favorite place -- Lombard Hardware, and outside the store below.



Oh no! They are closed for a holiday! Who will give us treats?

He had problems with a pancreatis attack in July 2009 but was otherwise quite healthy until he began to suffer from Cushing's disease. This led to a lack of muscle tone in his hind legs and he had increasing difficulty walking in his last month, but could be lured along with a peanut-flavored dog biscuit from the Baltimore Dog Bakery.

Pierre pawned by one of the cats from coming in the hallway.

I sensed that he didn't have much time in his last week, as he sometimes collapsed after a step or two on his walks, so he got a shinbone from Whole Foods to chew and the special dog biscuits. As much as I could, I rubbed to top of his white-blazed head and the sides of his face and stroked his back the way he liked. He panted in what seemed to be discomfort but the petting soothed him, and I thought as long as he was soothable I would delay setting a euthanasia date.


Tummy rubs needed to be accompanied by the rhetorical question, "Is it tummy rub time Pierre boy?

On Thursday, I took him to his vet, who gave me painkillers, antibiotics and arthritis medicine to see if he might rally over the weekend. I was prepared if necessary to euthanize him, but the vet recommended a different course.


Running at Betty Hyatt Park, soon after we bought him home.

On Saturday, a beautiful day for the running of the Preakness here, I wanted to go see the visiting Nationals at the Orioles' Camden Yards, but a friend I invited couldn't make it. So I was home as Pierre took a turn for the worse in the afternoon, and he died as I held him as I tried to move him to a more comfortable position in our back alley, where he rested in the shade. He was gone at 5:50 p.m. He managed to escape euthanasia on three occasions and is our only pet to have died at home.

We took his body to Pet ER in Towson for ultimate cremation, and the staff thoughtfully set up his comforter-wrapped body in an exam room for a little version of a private wake. We stroked his still-pretty fur -- he looked like he was sleeping -- and said our goodbyes. We'll get an urn with his ashes, a pawprint and a lock of fur in a few days.

Thank you to those who saw the good in Pierre: Carol Guth and Laura of Sheltie Haven Sheltie Rescue; his original owner who surrendered him; Dr. Pam Nesbitt of Essex Middle River Veterinary Center; Lillian, Micheleen, Megi, Dr. Hungate and Mark and others of the Friends of Pierre club.

beauperemums2-copy.jpgHanging out back with the chrysanthemums.

During a blizzard.
Dressed up I think for the Women's World Cup.
2010 picture.
One of the most revealing pictures of Pierre, locked on my expression during a walk in Gwynns Falls.

PierreDeck1.jpgOn the deck, photos above and below. He smashed a hole in the railing so he could go eat compost.

With Beau on right at Betty Hyatt Park.

Betty Hyatt Park in autumn.
Chillin' with "The Pack," including Casey, Olivia and Beau.

January 3, 2010

Baby Boy's 21 years in the 'hood


The corner where Baby Boy met his end, the morning after.

“Pop-pop.” Pause. “Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop.”

Without saying a word to each other, Lamont and I began moving. I heard him pick up the phone and report to 911, “There’s been a shooting at the corner of Pratt and Durham streets.”

I climbed cautiously to the roof deck to peer out on the corner, which was strangely empty. No pedestrians, and few parked cars, given that many Hopkins students were gone for the holidays. I looked over neighbors’ roofs to see if anyone was fleeing yet another police raid at 1811 E. Pratt. Nothing.

No sign of smoke or glitter that it could be fireworks, either. Lamont was right: The sound was louder, sharper, more human directed.

We walked together downstairs, out the front door and rounded the corner onto Pratt. Already an ambulance and numerous police cars were on the scene, and officers were beginning to tape off the crime scene.

A prone figure lay utterly still in front of Pratt Street Liquors, on the drug hot spot we’d been complaining about for years.

“It’s Baby Boy,” said Robert, a neighbor. Without thinking, I began walking toward the figure. A police officer ushered me back and began unrolling tape. Dozens of neighbors gathered on both sides of the scene.

Medics hovered over the victim. He didn’t waggle a foot or a hand, like NFL players do to signal they are OK after a bad hit. Deputy Major Bill Davis of Southeastern District came over. He confirmed it was Baby Boy. “Pretty bad,” he replied when I asked how he was doing.

“I’ve known him since he was a little boy,” I said in shock, still hoping it wasn’t him. The victim was loaded into a gurney, his face largely obscured by an oxygen mask. That smooth forehead topped by bristly black porcupine hair. My stomach lurched. It was Baby Boy, unless there somehow was another similar-looking 21-year-old Lumbee Indian kid running the streets.

Lamont stood near the ambulance, his brow knitted in concern. I walked toward him, saying to Robert as I passed him, “I loved Baby Boy.” The words just came out. Robert shrugged. “We watched him grow up. That’s why we called him Baby Boy.”

Kinlaw Craig Jones was declared dead on arrival at Johns Hopkins Hospital, around 12:30 a.m., Dec. 27, 2009.



James Jones, left, and Kinlaw Craig Jones, right, enjoy an ice cream on Ann Street. My 1998 photo shows Craig's open expression and crinkly-eyed grin.

Baby Boy and his brother, James, lived with their grandfather, who was said to pass the time “huffing” (sniffing) glue, at 109 S. Ann St., one block up. I asked Baby Boy his real name one day, and learned that his family called him Craig, his middle name, not Kinlaw. I called him Craig thenceforth, to keep the street a little bit at bay. His father and mother also lived in the neighborhood but did not raise him or James under their roof.

They were among 10,000 Lumbee Indians, originally from the Carolinas, who now live in East Baltimore. Kinlaw is a common Lumbee surname, along with Locklear and Jones.

Craig had gotten lead poisoning as a child, and as a result was short in stature, but still strong and clever. That combination caught my eye. I thought this kid might be able to help solve a problem.

I asked Craig the father for permission to hire Craig the son to run a new circuit to my refrigerator. The rehabbers of my house had left the fridge on the overall kitchen circuit, and it blew constantly. I couldn’t myself crawl under the heating ducts the 60 feet or so back to the crawlspace area under the far end of the kitchen. Craig looked like he was small enough to squeeze past the ducts, brave enough to essentially tunnel in dirt dating from the 1840s, smart enough to follow my instructions.

The father gave his permission. I put an old T-shirt over Craig’s clothes, sent him along with a flashlight, a trowel for digging and the end of a length of 12-gauge wire, and he delivered the wire to an area underneath the fridge, where we figured out a way to haul it through the drywall. He backed his way out and stood in the basement by the crawlspace opening with reddish Maryland clay dust in his raven hair, on his face and the T shirt.

“Stand right there,” I said, and got a broom to brush him off. He took some cash in payment and nodded when I said to ask his mother if he could keep it, having said very little, and headed off.


The house where Craig grew up, 109 S. Ann St.

After that, Craig and his sidekick, Michael Cuffey—“Fat Mike,” tackled many more house rehab projects during summer vacations. We called Fat Mike “Big Mike” to his face to spare his feelings. He was a much taller and heavier Lumbee kid, like Craig with a mother battling addiction problems, and raised by his grandmother, Miss Linda, up on the 1900 block of Pratt Street.

They tore the plaster off the central stairway and wielded a Sawzall like a light saber, wearing their dust masks. That their edumacation hadn’t made great strides was on display when asked to do anything involving reading, writing and arithmetic.

“Here’s the wood vices,” I said to Craig. “Put them away downstairs in the drawer labeled ‘vices.’” He tried his best, but couldn’t spell well enough to figure out where to put them, and came back upstairs to ask for my guidance.

“You worked six hours at $5 an hour. What do I owe you?” Neither could say.

They excelled however at a few things, including buying rap and eating. Big Mike loved DMX’s rap album “Ruff Ryders, Ryde or Die Vol. 1” and carried it over every day in an ever more tattered CD cover to play while they worked. I tried to play them some more Old School music, while they waited stoicly for DMX to reappear on the boom box. Lamont was appalled when after unrelenting exposure I broke down and bought DMX myself, with his gangsta lyrics. We changed the main line of one of the worst offending songs to “I love my shelties and but where’s my corgis?” from the original lyric involving lovely "n" and "b" words.

Craig, Mike and I went for lunch most days that summer of 1999 (gauged by the release of “Ruff Ryders”) at the McDonald’s at Highland Avenue and Pulaski Highway in Highlandtown. “Give me some fries n-----,” Craig ordered Big Mike one day. The word made me wince. They listened respectfully but as if dealing with a senile old fogey to my explanation of why the “n” word was pretty bad. It just wasn’t bad to them, the music they loved swam in the word. They humored me enough to not use it in my earshot.

Big Mike was sloppy at the work, while Craig was methodical and determined. When we finished the stairs, I gave Craig other work whenever he came by. He did a flawless job cleaning the kitchen floor. I peaked at him once as he worked, and he was focused and meticulous. Often he asked, “Miss Jeannette, will you hold my money for me?” I put it in an envelope. This is how you bank in the city, when you are small and the kids on the bus might rob you.

It was obvious that Craig, then about 11 years old, would make an excellent drug salesman, being streetwise as he was, as well as under 18 and thus not eligible for adult sentencing. “Craig, you are smart and strong, and the drug sellers will want to have you sell for them,” I said one day at the Highlandtown McDonalds. “They are using you, you will be at risk and they will get away with making money off you. If you ever need money, come to me, I’ll give you some work.”

He listened and nodded.

By this time, he was less solemn and often quite jolly as we worked together. We drove off to get supplies for another project, and got in the drivethrough at the North Avenue Taco Bell. I made up a Ruff Ryders-type rap about what we were going to order at Taco Bell, and how it would compare to McDonald’s, and Craig giggled happily and just said, “More!” He was always laconic, and sometimes unintentionally adult. “Ain’t that a mother,” he said once to my complaint about something.

Lamont took him to soccer on two occasions, and we both noted he was far more willing than the true bad-to-the-bone street kids to try new experiences.

Craig and James showed up one snowy evening to borrow our snow shovel and make money shoveling. They returned happy with a fair showing of earnings, but soaked to their knees. We gave them some of Lamont’s much too big clothes and belts to hold up his pants. While their clothes tumbled in the drier, we made them hot chocolate and hung out in the dining room. The brothers were like stray cats, they had found us and picked us, and for that night at least, they were with two adults that got along well and didn’t “use” and spoke kindly to them. After a similar visit, Craig asked to lie down for a while. After a few hours, I tried to shake him awake. Something about life exhausted him that night, and he wouldn’t wake. After a while, I just threw a blanket over him and let him stay. Somewhere in the back of my mind was whether he needed to be formally fostered, but he had a mother and father of his own, right in the neighborhood.

Craig’s grandfather, known as Mr. Bob or "Pop Pop," moved out of the neighborhood, over to Erdman Avenue. I still saw Craig in and out of the neighborhood. Granddad, a solemn, high-cheekboned, quiet and very Indian-looking man, came down with throat cancer. I delivered Craig to him one day, in a grim public housing project. He couldn’t talk. He did gesture for me to look at the baby pictures of Craig and James, framed on a shelf, with their black eyes and bristly hair looking like papooses in a tintype from an early American settlement.

Somewhere around 1999, Craig’s grandfather died, and Craig lost his tether of stability. In August 2004, he committed an armed robbery. We didn’t see him for a while while he was put away. He returned a summer or two later, much more muscled and ripped and tattoo’d. Was that Craig sitting on the parking lot barricade beside the Ann Convenience Store? I walked by with the dogs. He put his head under his T shirt, hiding from me. “Craig is that you?” No response. “Craig, I know that’s you.” He stayed under the shirt.

He was on the bookstore corner a few days later with a giant thug pal of his. “Hi Craig.” This time he kept his head unhidden. “You know what you’re like?” He looked off into space, humoring me. “A salmon, you know what that is?” Shake of the head, no. “It’s a fish that comes home to the place it was born, year after year.” He looked a bit amused.

He built his rap sheet. August 2006: drug charges. June 2007: Implicated in the notorious killing of a U.S. Marine home on leave a few blocks north of here, on the border of the Washington Hill and Butchers Hill neighborhoods.

He was out again, racking up drug charges in November 2007, July 2008 and August 2008.

The prosecutors who work with us in East Baltimore wanted a community impact statement for Baby Boy at a sentencing hearing held Oct. 21, 2009. They made a plea for input at our community association meeting in September, if memory serves, noting that they had caught him with a driving violation and gotten him back in jail on a relatively small charge. And they wanted to put him away for longer. No one ever wrote a statement for them, and I’m sure the prosecutors were very disappointed. Craig’s drug trading was far more discrete and less blatant than that of other dealers. He walked quietly in the shadows of the trees on Ann Street, to and from his deals. We wanted the more blatant, cheesy dealers put away first. In retrospect, we probably should have suggested that Butcher’s Hill take the lead on keeping him in jail; he dealt drugs in our area, and probably was our worst homegrown criminal, but he got tangled up with serious violence only off his home territory.

If he had been kept in jail, he’d likely still be alive, and have a chance at redemption.

I saw him alive the last time this past summer, as I rounded the corner of Ann and walked with Pierre up Pratt. He was on the corner of Pratt and Durham, the south side, steps away from the north side, where he would be executed later. He stood with some of the other hoodies, them sullen and vacant as ever in my presence, Craig alert and aware but relaxed. I was happy as always to see him, because of our history before his grandfather died. We exchanged smiles and a soul shake. “How you doin’,” he said, his voice and accent now thoroughly street, like his one-time muse DMX.

He was on his road to his ultimate fate. Yet it was still a horror to see his poor still body, to watch him depart with strangers in an ambulance, to read later in the paper he had been shot in the head and shot repeatedly as he lay fallen.

The Baltimore Sun reported in City surpasses '08 homicide total:

The man, identified as Kinlaw Jones, was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:30 a.m. Sunday, Agent Donny Moses said. Jones had a long criminal record, according to electronic court records. He was convicted of drug distribution in December 2008 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, with nine years, seven months and 21 days of that sentence suspended.
In June 2008, he was acquitted on charges of attempted first-degree murder, pleading guilty to assault and possessing a deadly weapon with intent to injure. For that conviction, he received five years in prison, with four years and about four months suspended. He was charged with violating his probation in October 2009, receiving a two-year suspended sentence.

Homicide put several of its aces on the case, including Detectives McGraff and Joseph C. Landsman, the model for Jay Landsman on "The Wire," whose findings are reported in the Baltimore Sun's Cockeysville man arrested in deadly Pratt Street shooting:

According to charging documents, witnesses identified Antonio Edwards, 26, of the 6000 block of Clovercrest Way in Cockeysville as the man who shot Kinlaw Jones in the 1800 block of E. Pratt St. Witnesses said the men were arguing when Edwards pulled out a gun and shot Jones several times, then stood over him and continued to fire, Detective Joseph C. Landsman wrote in charging documents.

So that is our story from our version of “The Corner,” where many who visit my deck -- fellow publishers, carpenters, others -- look down on Pratt and Durham and see the predictable way the trading down there is going to turn out for everyone. Even the police were appalled that he died at 21, the 235th fatality of 2009. Officer Zayas, who covers our local beat, had recently warned Baby Boy of a drug turf battle on Pratt Street and to stay a few blocks away for a while.

I agree with what Lamont wrote on my Facebook page:

“I used to take him to play soccer when he was really tiny, I mean really tiny. He was a good kid. Its disgusting to see him like that. The people who led him down that road should take a look at themselves and be ashamed, though I know they won’t.”

Kinlaw Craig Jones, Oct. 27, 1988-Dec. 27, 2009


December 10, 2009

Coach Wes and the Hampstead Hamsters


Lamont "Wes" Harvey poses with the Hampstead Hill Academy soccer team, from left: Anthony, Kameron, Zoe, Eric, Christopher and Brooke.

Had fun shooting Lamont coaching one of the local charter schools in Baltimore, Hampstead Hill Academy. The kids wanted to call their team the Hornets, but I nicknamed them the Hamsters for the heck of it. The most charming part of the dynamic, which wasn't really clear until I got home and looked at my photos, was his dealing with a young player with a lot of heart named Anthony, a third-grader who claimed he was a year older to get a chance to play.


Anthony, at right, tries to dribble against opponent Kevin in red pinney, playing for Patterson Park Charter School, while teammate Alex lunges forward.


Kevin readies one of many shots.

KevinWeb.jpg Kevin's got plenty of confidence to provide his view of a play counter to the coach's. "Kevin's complaints and comments were remarkably sophisticated," Lamont says. "Most were to the point and had just the right amount of justification, while being only slightly weighted towards Patterson so as to appear neutral. The picture of Kevin is an incident where he was clearly fouled, but I explained that I allowed it to play on because he still had possession and it resulted in a shot on goal. Blowing the whistle would have rewarded Hampstead by stopping the play."


One of my favorite photos ever, as Anthony (right) yowls over a Hampstead missed shot, and Alex (blue socks) and Kameron (white socks) slump dramatically. "Alex had a break away, and hit the post, just barely missing a chance to tie the game," Lamont says.

Players2Web.jpg Alex challenges Kevin.


My favorite action shot, with six players trying to get in on the action.


Lamont coaches as Kameron readies a throw-in.


Lamont makes a point, lit by a lowering autumn afternoon sun.


Anthony and Alex try to hold back a rival player.


Anthony rubs his eyes in embarrassment as Wes makes an emphatic point, while Alex looks on.

ZoeshootsWeb.jpg Zoe tries a shot. "Hampstead's success often depended upon the willingness of the boys to use Zoe up front," Lamont says. "Though Alex and Kameron were the driving force of the 4th-5th grade team, when they included Zoe in the attack we were able to beat Wolfe and Patterson. "Anthony and Christopher were pretty fearless in their challenges. It took a bit of work to get Brooke to challenge the boys. My solution was to have Brooke take our goal kicks, this kept her involved."

After all the drama between the coach and the youngest player, remember the top photo to see Anthony's ready smile as he poses with his coach. Here it is again:


October 21, 2009

God bless and keep Marcia Moriarty

Marcia&Sibs.jpg Marcia Moriarty, foreground in wedding dress, on her wedding day and 50th birthday, July 11, 2009, with me (second from right) and my brother and sisters.

Our brave cousin Marcia passed away this morning at 1:20 a.m. in Boston. She was diagnosed suddenly with liver and pancreatic cancer on May 20, six months ago.

Shortly after we heard the shocking diagnosis, we received happy news, that Marcia and her longtime friend Arnie Baker would be getting married on her 50th birthday. Four of my siblings, my cousins and aunt and myself attended the happy day in Quincy, Mass.

Arnie let us know after the wedding that he, Marcia and her daughter Alison would come to D.C. to visit my parents. I thought that was lovely thought but unlikely to happen given her grave prognosis. Sure enough though, the trio came to Washington for a cheerful visit that showed not only respect and courtesy to my parents but tremendous fortitude, as Marcia chatted at my sister's kitchen table about playful battles with her brother growing up and rescuing stray cats who had 28 kittens en toto.

She was too sick to talk to us in recent weeks but always in our hearts. On Sunday, her favorite cat, who slept at her feet, stood up on the bed and looked at Marcia and then looked at the ceiling. Her spirit seemed to be passing to Heaven. From Monday til this morning, her body battled, but her husband and daughter told her early this morning it was OK to let go.

September 12, 2009

Rooftop urban gardening


Tomatos, peppers, beans and marigolds to deter bad insects flourish on my roof deck garden.

Fascinating article in today's Washington Post, Raising The Root: Some City Dwellers Are Hoping Rooftop Farming Will Bear Fruit.

NEW YORK -- Like many a farmer, Ben Flanner rises with the sun. Like most crops, his need water and weeding -- bright tomatoes and fragrant basil, delicate nasturtiums, mottled melons and black eggplants, mustard greens, puntarelle, peas, beets, beans, kale -- about 30 fruits and vegetables in all, and then there are the herbs.

But his farm is not like most farms.

His farm is three stories off the ground.

Beyond it is a sweeping view of the Manhattan skyline. Below it is a TV and film soundstage.

Flanner's 6,000-square-foot farm is on a rooftop in the industrial Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. He hopes it can become a model for others who want to grow food but lack space.

I'm getting giant bell peppers this year off my rooftop garden, the size of small pumpkins, with the addition of vermiculture, and just planted some cool-weather spinach two days ago. I find rooftop gardening rewarding for the reasons mentioned in the article, consistent sun, controllable soil conditions and lack of pests. Some photos:


Beans against a vista including the Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River.


Some ginormous bell peppers from the roof deck garden, fed by worm compost.

June 16, 2009

Thanks for your messages regarding Casey

LamontCaseyWeb.jpg Lamont holds Casey in her glory days as a giant purring fluffball, aka Fat Kitty. He reminds me that as she got thinner, as seen in the photos in my previous blog entry, she was renamed The Artist Formerly Known as Fat Kitty.

Thanks to all for your messages of condolences regarding the loss of our senior cat, Casey (Miss Casey enjoying cat heaven).

My sister Maureen sent For Every Cat An Angel, a simply wonderful little picture book that I promptly reviewed on

We also received kind and thoughtful e-mails from our other siblings.

In addition to wonderfully written cards from both her vets, Casey was remembered by our former housemate Cassie and her friend Jeff, who wrote in a sympathy card, "We have good memories of her sleeping in her favorite spot on the couch, and her warm and friendly purrs," which pretty much sums up Casey in her mature years perfectly.

Lamont also found the photo above, which although a bit marred on the surface, captured Casey in her more spectacular incarnation when we first got her at about age 8. She was striking and gigantic and well-groomed.

He reminds me that as she lost weight over the years, he called her "The Artist Formerly Known as Fat Kitty." That spurred my memory that I used to call her a Fat Kittycat and a Fat Brown Tabby, to her purring delight every time.

And our former neighbor, Lynda Maslanka, notes, "Sounds like Casey had a peaceful, quiet, respectul passing. Could we all be so lucky? Truly the last gift you could give her."

Thanks again, everybody.

May 22, 2009

Miss Casey enjoying cat heaven

Casey visits Lamont at the computer. Her very pronounced tiger stripes are evident in the photo.

Also known as: Quesadilla, Miss Exploradia, Miss Chirpadea, Miss Squawkadia, Miss Barfadia, Miss Persnickety.

March 1991-May 9, 2009

Casey Belliveau first came into our lives 10 years ago. We had mice periodically invading our house every autumn at the first cold snap. I mentioned this casually to my mother.

She said, "I think Jim is trying to give his cats away due to Judy's allergies." I relayed that Jim's cats were being given away to Lamont, just conversationally, not as a request to take them. He said, not "oh really," but "OK."

Once I figured out we had leapt into the realm of actually acquiring Casey and Oliver, I called Judy who was very happy that they wouldn't be picked up by strangers as a result of an ad at the grocery store bulletin board and that instead they would stay in the family.

I first recall seeing Casey in the 1980s at Jim's house, where she struck me as large, calm and good with visitors and children as she strolled around the living room. The gentle and less confident Ollie would generally flee at the arrival of guests.

Jim termed Casey a princess who was always perfectly groomed. When she transferred to our household, where I had no clue how to interact with a cat, she knew who to train her adoring eyes on.

"This is a GREAT CAT!" exclaimed Lamont with the enthusiasm of a child at Christmas upon Casey's strolling out of her cat carrier onto our dining room table. She was in his arms purring as loud as a motorboat engine. He renamed Casey as Miss Quesadilla and they were great friends from that day forward.

Lamont understands cats. When Casey snuck out onto the roof, he was less panicked than I, and just put out a saucer of milk for her, to which she promptly arrived out of the dark night. Hence one of her nicknames, Miss Exploradia.

Two weeks ago today, we put our Casey, at this point 18 years and two months old, to sleep.

Until the Tuesday of that week, she had been booking around competently, as was her way, but on Wednesday she crashed, issuing an odd meow and staggering a bit as she walked. She was drinking nonstop at the pet fountain and wrinkling her nose at her food dish (indicating nausea).

It seemed like a rapid-fire version of the kidney failure that gradually befell our sheltie Beau in his last year or so.

We were more businesslike than with prior pet deaths in losing Casey. Having been through the loss of Oliver, we were more prepared. We loaded Casey into a cardboard box lined with warm sweatpants, put a shovel and tarp in the trunk of the car, and drove her to Essex-Middle River Veterinary Center.

Lamont never wants to euthanize our pets, feeling that everything living wants to live, but even he acknowledged that Casey was not longer automatically purring on hearing his voice or being petted. I was aware that toxins were raging uncleansed by the kidneys in her body, and that she must be not only sleepy all the time but fairly uncomfortable, and didn't want to deal with her in end-stage pain or confusion.

She was brave and uncomplaining at the vet. We made a bed out of sweatpants on the examining table. Dr. Zulty was very kind. He gave her a sedative, and she was so compromised that her breaths slowed to once every 40 seconds or so, even prior to the final overdose of anesthetic. She, our oldest pet of all, had a simpler passing than either Beau or Oliver. We knew to leave by the back door of the veterinary center, and we drove off to bury her.

Lamont dug a grave for her six feet west of Oliver's. I wrapped her body in a sweatpants leg cut to her size to serve as a shroud. Lamont said as we laid her to rest, "I'm going to miss your white whiskers."

"I'm going to miss your lynx-tip ears," I said. Even no longer alive, her coat was a beautiful blend of tan, copper and brown as I laid her gently down and we each gave her some pieces of cat food for her journey to heaven.

"You were a very sweet cat, a good brave girl, no trouble even at the very end," I said.

Photos don't do Casey justice. She had a broad nose that was the prettiest brown shading of a lion. She was talkative, chirping and purring like a motorboat when fed or petted or upon seeing Lamont.

For a big cat who loved food, she was very mobile, and managed to book up our stairs when some of the treads were missing during an improvement project, while Oliver, Beau and Pierre, as well as most of the humans, were all stranded.

Casey was popular with our housemates and flirty with men in particular. She seemed to have imprinted on my brother Jim during her first eight years and Lamont for her last 10.

Our housemate Justin was also fond of her and wanted to take her to Hopkins parties to show her off. Our later housemate, Joanne, made a cast of her pawprint for posterity, and was amused by Casey's outgoing nature. She once gathered a group of nursing students in her room to prepare a demonstration poster, and Casey sat in the middle while they worked around her.

Lamont had a call-and-response with her:

(In deep voice) "Miss Quesa-dilla!"


"Miss Quesa-dilla!"


In her last days, she didn't squawk or purr in response, she was hollow eyed and weak in the neck.

The vets that had treated her over the years were sad to hear about her crash. Dr. Pam Nesbitt of Essex Middle River had saved her life in 2003 when she got kitty anorexia (hepatic lipidosis), and she called leaving a heartfelt voicemail after her colleague Dr. Zulty euthanized Casey. We also got nice condolence cards from not only Essex Middle River but also Dr. Carine Klimentidis of Doc-Side Veterinary Center here in Upper Fells Point, who also helped with Casey's care in the final months when she was less able to be driven to Essex, and we would walk her, ever lighter as she fought thyroid and kidney issues, in our arms to Doc-Side.

Casey was adopted as a kitten from the SPCA of Anne Arundel County, as were Oliver and his fine replacement, Olivia. (Don't hesitate to get a kitten or cat from there, the staff and volunteers socialize them so much they behave more like affectionate dogs.)

We miss her but know she had a great, great run, making it past her kitty anorexia at age 12 and eventually to age 18.

As her back got more arthritic, it was necessary to put something by the litter box for when she missed the inside. The Group One Litter Welcome Mat is fantastic to keep your litterbox area clean if you have an older cat.

Here are some photos of Casey to keep her memory:

Casey in her favorite spot on the daybed in the living room. Our acquisition of Olivia in November 2005, the young female in the foreground who loved to harass Casey, made her life less picture perfect. Casey never cared for Oliver or Olivia or some kinds of cat food, leading me to label her Miss Persnickety.

Casey on the windowsill where she ate her meals. She was usually a hefty 11-pound cat but declined to only about 4-1/2 pounds in her final weeks.

CaseyLastWeb.jpg A last photo of Casey shows her pretty lion nose, lynx-tip ears and white whiskers. She couldn't keep her body temperature warm, so I took her up in the sun on the roof deck the morning of Friday, May 9.

March 21, 2008

Stuff White People Like: The Wire

"The Wire" creator and executive producer David Simon with Andre Royo, who plays the character Bubbles.

This is just too classic, from the blog Stuff White People Like: Entry No. 85 is "The Wire," our homegrown, just-completed crime drama produced by former Sun colleague David Simon:

Though white people have a natural aversion to television, there are some exceptions. For white people to like a TV show it helps if it is: critically acclaimed, low-rated, shown on premium cable, and available as a DVD box set.

The latter is important so that white people can order it from Netflix and tell their friends “they are really into and I watched ten episodes in a row in the weekend. I’m almost caught up.”

If you attempt to talk about an episode they have not seen yet, they will scream and cover their ears. In white culture, giving away information about a film or TV series is considered as rude as spitting on your mothers grave. It is an unforgivable offense.

Recent series that have fallen into this category include The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and most recently The Wire.

For the past three years, whenever you say “The Wire” white people are required to respond by saying “it’s the best show on television.” Try it the next time you see a white person! Though now they might say “it WAS the best show on television.”

For more hilarity, visit the entire site, Stuff White People Like.

Here's another great line, true in my experience discussing "The WIre" with people from anywhere from D.C. to Alaska:

If you need to impress a white person, tell them you are from Baltimore. They will immediately ask you about The Wire and how accurate it is. You should confirm that it is “like a documentary of the streets,” the white person will then slowly shake their head and say “man” or “wow.” You will be seen in an entirely new light.
I've been meaning to round up some of the kazillions of links looking at "The Wire" and David Simon, focusing mainly on how he trashes the Sun in the final season, the fifth, just concluded.

I was surprised at how harsh Simon was toward his previous employer. Without the Sun, Simon doesn't become a Baltimore cops reporter and meet the homicide detectives that led to his first book, his first network series, and ultimately to his second series with HBO.

Also, I think all workplaces are a Faustian pact for a writer (or artist), caught by definition between wanting to write or create what you want and having to deal with inpenetrable bosses in exchange for this little thing called money.

At lunch with another former Sun colleague, we laughed away at the spectacle of seeing people we worked with -- Bill Zorzi, Laura Lippman, Jeff Price, David Ettlin, Steve Luxenberg and many other real former staffers -- on screen. My lunch buddy made a great point asking why Simon attacks former Sun editors John Carroll and Bill Marimow by proxy, when their predecessor, editor Jim Houck, was truly clueless in our eyes, as seen by a post-Sun career that sent him into invisibility, as Carroll and Marimow continued to do high-level news editing post-Sun.

Here's a second friend from the Sun making a similar point:

I didn't know Simon but remember him storming around the newsroom like a panther. He was an early believer in his own legend. Of course James Houck was the managing editor then. What an empty suit. Why isn't he one of the named evils in the series?

At least Carroll and Marimow had significant careers before and after. What ever became of Houck? He vanished. ...

Everybody was unhappy in those days -- 1986 and 87 -- and I gather nothing ever really changed. It was rather depressing, now that I remember those times. In retrospect I entered the newspaper industry at arguably its high-water mark, when financially, editorially, and institutionally, it was the best it ever was going to be. From then on things ran downhill, not just at the Sun, but everywhere.

In fairness to David, Carroll apparently (after I left to go to the Washington Post) coddled a reporter named Jim Haner, who may have made up stuff for his stories, but not to the extent "The Wire" character Scott Templeton did.

My friend quoted above may think that '86 and '87 just before things ran downhill. Maybe ... the timing point is interesting, and it seems also though that a whole lot of talent -- including gifted editor Steve Luxenberg, who decamped reluctantly to the Washington Post to make his mark there -- was still going strong at the Sun.

My memories of David Simon at the Baltimore Sun:

My first week at the Sun was in January 1987. David wrote a series on Little Melvin, the Baltimore drug kingpin. As I recall, it ran for five days including over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and Baltimore's black community was riled over feeling slighted by the series' timing. I heard some very quiet grumbling on the copy desk that someone on Metro should have been aware of this clash and worked around it. I think the copy editors were embarrassed too at their more minor role in the oversight.

Later, I had to copy edit a story by David glorifying some criminal or other, that was supposed to run on a Monday. I think everyone else on the copy desk had steered around the story because they didn't want to deal with it.

I spent Sunday unable to get in touch with him or his editor on the fact that the wording in the intro was attempting, I thought unsuccessfully, to give the criminal's stream of consciousness on how he justified his outlaw behavior, but it made it seem as if the reporter's own voice was endorsing the behavior. I added with my boss's permission and as artfully as possible, a brief qualifier that the thought process belonged to subject of the portrait. David showed up Monday to ream me out, standing over me as I sat at my desk. It was an unnerving experience. I explained the point of view had a problem and we couldn't reach him or his editor and that was pretty much that. He seemed fascinated with the underworld and seemed quite determined not to be bourgeois in judging it.

Years later, David's first book, "Homicide," was accepted for publication. I wanted to write and have publish a book idea on my travels, which later became An Amateur's Guide to the PlanetAn Amateur's Guide to the Planet. I asked David if I could treat him to lunch and pick his brains on the process of getting an agent. He agreed to go to lunch with me at the nearby Bridge restaurant and told me how he got his agent (he walked into a D.C. agent's office and presented the idea, rather confidently, I gathered) and a lot about the book publishing process. I remain grateful for his guidance and gave him an acknowledgement in Amateur.

When we run into each other, at funerals for example, I am always glad to see David.

Oh I remember one other encounter ... right after I arrived at the Sun, he came up and said, "You used to be a reporter at the Montgomery Journal, and you interviewed me when I was in high school," at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High. I thought didn't recall the meeting but thought that was sweet, and you will see in the Mark Bowden profile below the extent to which David really, really knew and wanted to be a journalist, and found meeting me -- the schools reporter at the local county paper -- something to file away in the memory banks.

He's one of the Sun's noted alumni from a time of great talent at the paper, which also included Lippman and Stephen Hunter, whom I blogged about here.

David Simon with Michael K. Williams, who plays Omar, "The Wire's" most compelling character. Here Williams' discusses his shock at what happened to him on the show.

Anyway, here are links galore for anyone wanting to follow the debate that exploded in the East Coast media.

'The Wire' loses spark in newsroom storyline. From Sun TV critic David Zurawik:

... the newsroom scenes are the Achilles' heel of Season 5 - with mainstream entertainment sacrificed to journalistic shop talk, while fact and fiction are mashed up in the confusing manner of docudrama.
Simon's own response to Zurawik's article:

The story is fictional, but it is rooted in concerns about out-of-town chain ownership, wholesale cutbacks in the newsroom, the declining scope of coverage and the continued influence of the prize culture in newspapering, up to and including the temptation among less ethical practitioners to hype or manufacture the news.

That's a lot for any newspaper to endure and The Sun has been very tolerant. And while the Chicago folks ordering up buyout after buyout might want to pause for reflection, Editor In Chief Tim Franklin is right: The people on the ground in Baltimore, though there are less of them, are doing the most to produce the best newspaper they can. He and his staff have nothing of which to be ashamed in that regard, nor was it our intent to in any way shame them. We believe in the themes we have pursued and we believe these problems plague The Sun as all other major papers, some currently, and some under previous regimes. But none of that takes away from the work still being done in Baltimore.

Here's The Angriest Man in Television by Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, in The Atlantic:
For all his success and accomplishment, he’s an angry man, driven in part by lovingly nurtured grudges against those he feels have slighted him, underestimated him, or betrayed some public trust. High on this list is his old employer The Baltimore Sun—or more precisely, the editors and corporate owners who have (in his view) spent the past two decades eviscerating a great American newspaper. In a better world—one where papers still had owners and editors who were smart, socially committed, honest, and brave—Simon probably would never have left The Sun to pursue a Hollywood career. His father, a frustrated newsman, took him to see Ben Hecht’s and Charles MacArthur’s classic newspaper farce, The Front Page, when he was a boy in Washington, D.C., and Simon was smitten. He landed a job as a Sun reporter just out of the University of Maryland in the early 1980s, and as he tells it, if the newspaper, the industry, and America had lived up to his expectations, he would probably still be documenting the underside of his adopted city one byline at a time. But The Sun let David Simon down. So he has done something that many reporters only dream about. He has created his own Baltimore.
From The New York Observer: Whose Bastard Sun: If The Wire Is Wrong, Why Is Baltimore's Paper So Bad?
The Sun that I covered for Baltimore's City Paper in the '90s was the Sun of Mr. Carroll and Mr. Marimow. It was redesigned and ambitious and on its way to Pulitzer glory. It was also a damaged and declining newspaper.

How can both those things be true? It comes down to a disagreement about the purpose of a newspaper. Mr. Carroll and Mr. Marimow's Sun was a place for young, talented reporters to do ambitious stories. It was not particularly dedicated to covering the news in the city of Baltimore.

That's because the Sun of the '90s was not a Baltimore newspaper. It was a colonial holding of The Los Angeles Times, which had bought it in 1986. Actually, The Times had bought two papers, The Sun and The Evening Sun—in a sense, it had even acquired a share of a third, as the Sunpapers absorbed staff and features from the collapse of the Baltimore News American. But by 1995, The Evening Sun had been folded into The Sun, and Baltimore was down to one daily-paper newsroom. Buyouts, ordered from the other side of the country, were clearing out the veteran employees.

'The Wire' finale is a cop-out for a once-great show: More from Zurawik:
In my preview of the season, I termed the newsroom scenes the "Achilles heel" of the series. Worse, they became a cancer that grew deeper and deeper into other parts of the drama as the season wore on.

The problems began with the depiction of a newsroom that lacked any sense of the urgent new-media priorities in the real ones today. Worse, from an entertainment standpoint, it was filled with stick figures and former journalists who couldn't act a lick.

And this is in such stark contrast to the series' richly nuanced treatment of larger-than-life gangsters, played by superb actors. Watching the gears turn inside the mind of Jamie Hector's Marlo Stanfield was one of the great pleasures of the series.

The arch-villains - editor James C. Whiting III (Sam Freed), managing editor Thomas Klebanow (David Costabile) and reporter Scott Templeton (Tom McCarthy) - behave more and more reprehensibly in the finale without viewers getting any sense of their moral reasoning. Whiting and Klebanow go on to commit unpardonable journalistic crimes.

Given the way Simon has identified them in interviews as having been inspired by two real-life newsroom executives who once worked at The Sun, former editor John Carroll and former managing editor Bill Marimow, the term character assassination does not seem too harsh for what he has attempted to do in Season 5 of The Wire. Embracing the controversial genre of docudrama like never before, Simon has repeatedly blurred fact and fiction this year. Take just the matter of chronology. Simon left the Sun in 1995, and the people on whom he bases his villains are long gone, yet he presents events set in the newsroom as if they are taking place at The Sun today.

Is it any wonder that so little truth has emerged from such a stew?

December 23, 2007

A remarkable vet: Dr. Lisa Tuzo

I've written before about the thoughtful care our geriatric sheltie Beau received from Baltimore mobile vet Dr. Lisa Tuzo: here in The Life and Times of Beau Belliveau and Dealing with Beau's end of life.

My friend and soccer buddy Rachel sent me an interesting e-mail this week, it reads as follows:


This past weekend, my cat had an emergency related to her heart condition and I was advised to put her to sleep. A friend of mine recommended I ask her vet (Dr Tuzo) to come to my house to put her to sleep instead of taking her to my vet's office. Dr Tuzo rearranged her schedule on Saturday and spent almost 3 hours carefully observing my cat & determined it was not time to put her to sleep. It turns out she was right.

I was incredibly impressed with Dr Tuzo's care.

I just "googled" Dr Tuzo and your Beau blog entries came up, and I can see Dr Tuzo also provided great care for him. So I thought I'd pop you a note.

So that's another vote of confidence in Dr. Tuzo. She seems to be quite a gifted veterinarian. Both Rachel and I highly recommend her especially for older and very sick animals. More on the situation with Rachel's cat:

My cat's condition last Friday was dire (blood clot resulting from her long-standing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy condition). I was told by both the hospital and my regular vet that there would only be a small chance she could pull through and it would require lots of tests/treatment & money with no guarantees of recovery. They recommended I put her to sleep soon. I decided it would be best to have her be put to sleep at home. A friend gave me Dr Tuzo's name - Dr Tuzo had provided exemplary end-of-life care for her dog when he was ill last year. Dr Tuzo rearranged her schedule on Saturday in order to come by my house.

In the meantime, my cat had miraculously started recovering on her own (this normally does not happen in her condition). I did not know she was recovering, but Dr Tuzo explained that she was. She decided the cat was not ready to be put to sleep. She carefully and patiently went to work like a detective. Pets can't tell you what's wrong with them - Dr Tuzo has all kinds of techniques to try to figure out what's wrong. She spent almost 3 hours observing the cat (the advantage of having a vet come to your house is they can observe the cat in their own environment - walking, eating, peeing, etc - can't do this in a vet's office). She was extremely dedicated. She gave me a plan of action to move forward with and pain medication to hold the cat over until she could be brought to the cardiologist. She touched base with me daily to check in & discussed the situation with the cardiologist first thing Monday morning.

The cat has been evaluated by the cardiologist and is on a new medication regime now & needs to be retested periodically. She is stable and happy now. There is a chance her condition can be put under control, although there is also a chance her heart could fail. We'll just have to wait and see...

I'm not sure what would have happened if Dr Tuzo did not come by on Saturday. There's a good chance the cat would have been put to sleep at my vet's office.

One of the problems is that I did not follow-up with some tests I had my vet do earlier this year. Lesson is: if you ask your vet to do a test, don't assume they will call you if the results are bad. They might neglect to call you. Call them back and ask them to look at the report & tell you what the results are.

Note how Dr. Tuzo provided followup care and a sincere interest in Rachel's cat. This reminds me, I have already used her twice for followup telephone consultations, for which she later invoiced me at my insistence, when our sheltie Pierre developed a limp. One great thing about this vet is that she will give you a solid 30 minutes or more of the kind of information pet owners crave but can't seem to get from a busy office vet, and she knows how to explain things simply or in detail, depending on your level of interest.

Information on how to contact her is at her Web site, Vet2Go, here.

June 13, 2007

Baltimore's troll colony: The story behind the story

A story on the Gwynns Falls Trail, and its photo of the Carrollton Viaduct.

A friend came to Baltimore three or four times to report and photograph a story on the Gwynns Falls Trail. She wrote a very interesting Road Trip for the Washington Post, A Trail Full of Charm in Baltimore, May 20.

It was a blast getting to find a secret pocket of peaceful, green Baltimore over the winter and spring when I was invited to accompany my friend on several of her trips.

One interesting facet of wandering the trail, formerly famous for running through Leakin Park, where Baltimore's murderers dumped their dead until the installation of pillars to keep vehicles off the trail, was its revelation of more than one hidden human world along the trail.

Take a look at this photo of the Carrollton Viaduct in the original story, above. It took two trips for us to find this pretty vista, one that reminded me of the Pont du Gard, the famous Roman aqueduct standing in Southern France, although of course the latter is far more spectacular.

In classic Baltimore fashion, the viaduct is tagged with 6-foot-high graffiti and the trees along the banks of the Gwynns Falls are festooned with shredded plastic trash bags. Neither of these can fully detract from its green beauty.

As my friend photographed the viaduct, a group of boys appeared high above us, crossing the viaduct, heedless of the fact a train could come any minute. She finished shooting and, feeling a bit like potential prey, we zoomed away to a busier area of the trail.

We noticed other somewhat strange goings-on. As we strolled along an area not far from the Carroll Park Golf Course, a hillbilly couple emerged from shrubbery along the stream. He was tall, muscular, with a ball cap and tattoes on his bare tanned arms, she was small, blond and skinny. They wouldn't meet our eyes, and went to his red pickup in the golf course parking lot. Open-air sex? An affair? Shooting up? Who knows?

The couple were part of a stream of hillbillies using the railroad tracks -- not the trail, mind you -- as a thoroughfare between parts of SoWeBo (southwest Baltimore). They streamed along a ground-level, north-south part of tracks and climbed up also on the east-west, elevated viaduct running at a right angle.

I could never make it across the viaduct with my fear of heights, but SoWeBomorons sauntered along its unguarded edge without concern.

My friend and I poked along an unofficial leg of the trail that continues under I-95. She seemed a little nervous during much of the trip that we would be jumped by youths.

Still, she was curious as to why park officials said that due to rights conflicts around I-95, they had to move the labeled Gwynns Falls Trail onto busy streets near the Ravens stadium, yet unofficially, we could see that a spur of the trail continued its sylvan way beside the Falls.

I was thinking about how much this trail under a highway reminded me of my commute beside the Campbell Creek Trail, and under part of the busy Seward Highway, when I worked in 2004 in Anchorage. While I was musing about Alaska, my friend hollered for me to turn back.

She had noticed sleeping bags, personal belongings and more graffiti indicating human occupation on a broad ledge above the trail. It seems that a community of Baltimore's homeless lives under this stretch of I-95. We got confirmation of this when we continued to Patapsco Valley Sales for some buying of planters at wholesale prices. A member of the staff said that near their shop -- which is probably 1.5 miles away from the golf course -- they see homeless people emerging from under the expressway to go about their daily wanderings.

Do we have an entire, colony of semi-subterranean gnomes, trolls and hobbits under several miles of I-95 in Baltimore?

Cue "Under the Bridge" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers:

Under the bridge downtown
Is where I drew some blood
Under the bridge downtown
I could not get enough
Under the bridge downtown
Forgot about my love
Under the bridge downtown
I gave my life away.

I sense a book or at least a news article here somewhere.

May 15, 2007

'The picture' of Beau and Lamont

Beau and Lamont in Rockville circa 1996.

Neighbors continue to comment on how much they enjoy my collage on Beau's life, published here (scroll down): The life and times of Beau Belliveau.

Lynda Maslanka mentioned how cute she thought Beau's puppy picture was. Blaire Freed noted instead the rather amazing photo of Lamont and Beau, cropped above, that I took about 11 years ago in the backyard of my parents' former home in Twinbrook:

I still love that photo of Beau and Lamont on the grass, with the EXACT SAME FACIAL EXPRESSION! It's uncanny, and I wouldn't have believed it if it weren't a pre-Photoshop photograph. Beau is such a good-looking example of his breed, and Lamont is a handsome guy, so the picture is all-around terrific.

I replied:

Thank you so much.

When I first saw the print, I thought not only are they both so vibrant, and with identical expressions, but also it was an honor to me as the woman behind the camera that they would "shine on," human and animal, for me !!!

May 9, 2007

The life and times of Beau Belliveau

Also known as: Bobo, the Bodacious Beau-Bear, Bugbear, Bugbearian, Little Bear, Mr. Lop Ears, Clap-Clap, Wiggleworm, Lingard Beau Monde, Shingard Beau Monde, Beau Toaster.

Dec. 28, 1989-Nov. 7, 2006

"Beau was very clever, very curious, very different, very special."
-- RoseMarie Moran, early 1990s housemate.


"Where's the other one?" people ask me frequently as I walk Pierre, our 11-year-old sheltie.

Some of our neighbors been holed up all winter and are now strolling outside again.

The "other one" is Beau, our smaller, mahogany-sable sheltie that we had for almost 17 years.

I've had a difficult time writing about Beau's loss, and six months have passed since Nov. 7, when a vet came to euthanize him in our home. This has to do with being busy, mainly, but I certainly owe it to Beau to get his story finished. My earlier post, Dealing with Beau's end of life, was more to do with his loss than his life, but it was somewhat incomplete on his loss as well.

So now I'm telling some neighbors for the first time that Beau is gone. They are freshly sad while I am accustomed by now to his departure, and they brighten up when they see I am chipper, especially given the details of how we were able make his passing as gentle as possible.

Many people seemed to know and like Beau, as I noted in this blog entry, Thank you to FOB (Friends of Beau). Also, people are curious when I tell the story of the mobile vet we had come to our house, and they ask for her card, of which more later.

Beau has been asked for by everyone from the street Arabber who sells us bananas and corn in season to neighbors on more distant alley streets and Lamont's soccer teammates.

Loss of a first pet

It's tough when you know early on with a pet that you love him way too much, because it's such a sappy admission. But I did love Beau enormously. I was the most ridiculous of childless yuppie puppy owners, taking him on walks around Fells Point when he was only a few months old, stopping every so often to let him sip water from a tiny Tupperware container.

In fact, we got a Pierre, from Sheltie Haven Sheltie Rescue, in 1999 ostensibly to take over house-guarding duties, and in reality to have Pierre serve as love shield against Beau's eventual demise. I once edited a Baltimore Sun business story on the importance of "laddering" investments in bonds so that they don't all become mature at once. It seemed prudent also to ladder the acquisition of pets, given our bonds to them.

Around Jan. 7, 1990, I first laid eyes on Beau. He was 10 days old and about the size of a guinea pig. I had wanted a sheltie puppy with a white blaze, like my brother's dog, Conan. But the breeder, Lingard Kennels ("Shetland Sheepdogs of Lingard") in Burtonsville, Md., only had one sable male, and he only had a little white splodge above his nose, not a full blaze.

The puppy was laid in my lap by a kennel aide. I impulsively kissed him on his forehead. I met his unremarkable dam (Natalie, registered as Lingard Kiss) and his spectacular father, Ch. Lingard I Am Magic, who had the kennel name Stripe. Stripe was full of life and charisma, merrily jumping up on the gate of his kennel to greet a visitor, and Beau inherited Stripe's confident extroversion, if not his flawless white blaze.

When he was 6 weeks old, I got a call from Lingard Kennels that "your puppy is ready," and I went to pick him up, receiving some Xeroxed instructions on what to feed him.

The young Beau was ridiculously cute. He didn't look like a puppy, more like a Disney toy so saccharine as to give you diabetes -- tiny dark eyes like the buttons on a rag doll, tousled white ruff, floppy ears. You can see a picture here in his memorial collage.


This collage recalling some moments in Beau's life was e-mailed to many of our friends. I have about 80 replies in condolence.

In February 1990, Beau came along to Upper Fells Point to what would be his home for nearly 17 years. I set up an area, barricaded by cardboard boxes, under the microwave shelf in the kitchen for him to sleep.

The next day, at 6 a.m., piteous howling woke me up.

My new puppy had knocked the boxes apart and was sitting in the middle of the kitchen, front paws neatly together, with an expectant look of, "First I'd like to eat, then I'd like to go outside, then let's play. Let's have a great day!"

It took me a while to figure out what to name Beau, but my work colleague at the time, Kathleen Gaskell Blankenship, came up with Beau as a play on my last name. This of course later gave Lamont a great opening when I was complaining about how vain it was for Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott to name her dogs Schottzie (not only that, but Schottzie 01 and Schottzie 02).

"That is really ridiculous, to name a dog after yourself," I railed, prompting the single-raised-eyebrow treatment from Lamont.

Young Beau was all about playing. Easily for an hour or more when I got home from work, he would chase my wiggling fingers, jumping back and forth over my knees and around my back. The world was his oyster, and he did comical double takes upon first site of anything new: wrens hopping on the sidewalk, my bug-eyed Indonesian masks on the wall.

A full moon, 50,000 miles away, drew growls and barks of alarm, one of the early signs that his brain processed light differently than that of a more placid dog. One day he clambered on the coach, put his front paws on the back cushions and growled at a mysterious spot on the exposed brick. The rehabber had left a drip of glossy varnish on the otherwise matte bricks.

Beau would chase reflections off car bumpers refracted into the living room and growl at moonbeams on the bedroom floor.

He chased a laser pointer with maniacal abandon. Sometimes I ran the pointer from the front of our rowhouse to the back laundry room, and he would fly the entire 80 feet, scattering rugs in the process and sometimes banging into the drier. Later I figured out that I could stand on the field at Betty Hyatt Park in East Baltimore and run the pointer back and forth along the exterior wall of the tennis court and pretty much wear him out that way.

Ceiling fans

His barking, hopping, spinning reaction to ceiling fans, either in our house or spotted through neighbor's windows, was one of his most marked behavioral oddities. My brother Paul theorized that as a sheepdog, he figured chopping ceiling fans resembled the beating wings of raptors coming to snatch a lamb from the flock. It made some sense.

Beau sang marvelously, with sirens or church bells especially, but also whenever a pack member left for work. That was something that our former housemate Rose recalled. Beau taught her Mindy and our Pierre how to sing, but they never really learned and have never sung again since he was gone. "I am here, where are you? Come join me," is the message of the wolf howl, according to animal behaviorist Desmond Morris.

Later, Beau would also bark at anything out of context. One day he saw a tall man in a yellow hat, walking in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. He was out of context. Beau barked steadily. I wondered if there was some way to make money on a clever small dog who knew what was in context and what wasn't but I never figured out a way.

"He's communicating with the Eighth Dimension," my Star Trek fan friend Ed decided. Ed sent me the following nice note upon learning of Beau's passing:

The Beau I knew looked like Beau at one year in the top right photo of the collage. He was a fine fellow -- in addition to loyalty to you and fidelity, he impressed me as almost scary-smart, at least way smarter than me. Not to mention more fleet of paw than anyone I have seen.

"He was the cutest puppy I ever saw," Clay Perry wrote me.

When Beau was four months old, he became the youngest dog at that time ever approved for work with the Pets on Wheels program, which matches dogs and cats to nursing homes, where they visit and cheer the patients. He loved two of the seniors at the old Fairmount Homes especially, and each saved him crackers. He also loved children, and would trot up to them confidently, sometimes putting a paw on each shoulder if they were really tiny and commencing to wash their face.

We had an event-filled time together. He survived my missing part of his first spring to go on a fellowship in Hawaii. When I returned, he licked my face with joy. A little time later, I learned he had a grand sense of humor when he began hiding behind trees at Betty Hyatt Park and peeking around with a grin before hiding again.


One day, when Beau was about 2 years old, I walked him up Pratt Street to Patterson Park. A woman screeched her passing car to a halt and yelled, "Is he a male?" She lived on Madeira Street and had a female sheltie in heat. I loaned Beau to her for a night, and the woman and her partner had made the mistake of roasting a chicken in the oven that same night. Beau was more interested in begging for delectable chicken than mating with the female, and that was the beginning and end of his career as a sire.

When I traveled on my own, I could leave the young Beau with our housemate, RoseMarie. When I went to Brazil for three weeks, Beau slept waiting by the front door for two nights. On the third night, Rose told me, "OK, come upstairs Beaubeau," and he obediently followed. He got to watch the movie "Beethoven" with Rose and her cocker spaniel, Mindy.

Beau and I also traveled a lot. He went camping with me at Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware, and then took a big swing out West to Teddy Roosevelt Park in South Dakota, followed by Yellowstone, where he was riveted to the bison. He followed them visually from our highup overlook, every fiber of his being wanting to herd them.

His intensity caught the eye of some nearby French tourists who announced, "Regardez le chien." Later a coyote walked near to our car on a side road. When I squeezed out of the car to take a closer picture, Beau did his best to escape, nearly succeeding in running free and joining a Rocky Mountains coyote pack.

Le petit collie

Lamont and I took him to Montreal, where he was termed in French a mini-collie or petit collie. Lamont was permitted to take him in the bookstore Chapters and up the escalator to visit my book talk.

Beau also accompanied me on a book tour to Kentucky and Ohio, where Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington had no problem letting him hang out during my talk, crated in their staff room. They love horses in Lexington, home of the Kentucky Derby, and they love dogs too.

Wearing his yellow small-dog lifejacket, Beau went sailing with Lamont and me, and also with my friend Suzanne. He had a lucky and full life.

Only when he was older did he become sedate enough to be a cuddle pup and body warmer. If I got cold in the night I could lay him beside me, his sweet-smelling soft ears by my cheek, his head on my shoulder, my hand on his flank, me ignoring his very quiet "urmf" of exasperation at being pressed into Three Dog Night service.

Into each life some rain must fall, and for Beau it was being bitten by a pit bull when he was about 6 years old.

I was getting ready to visit our neighborhood hardware store and another dog owner was exiting the door. Her dog swung its head at Beau and he didn't react. We checked his body for a bite but couldn't find it.

Later that night, Beau miserably greeted Lamont when he came home from work, walking up to him and butting his head in his chest and remaining still, and we checked Beau again. This time, deep in his belly undercoat, we found two puncture wounds, indicated by weeping clear fluid.

After two operations to repair the necrotic and infected tissue, he was a quieter and more subdued little dog. The pit bull bite really took a lot of the wind out of his sails.

The incident did get him into our local paper, The East Baltimore Guide, in an article about the perils of pit bulls that featured a photo of our sheltie, shaved ribs and wounds visible. He also appeared in the Guide a second time in 1999, wearing campaign ribbons for a mayoral candidate.

Novelist Jane Smiley wrote this in A Year at the Races in the context of Thoroughbred racehorses:

A love story, at least a convincing one, requires three elements: the lover, the beloved, and the adventures they have together. If the lover isn't ardent, then the story isn't a love story. If the beloved isn't appealing, then the lover just seems idiosyncratic or even crazy; and if they have no adventures, then their love is too easy, and they have no way of learning anything important about themselves and one another.

Beau and I had surface adventures -- Montreal, Ocean City, South Dakota, Yellowstone, pit bulls, and sometimes even our daily walks in Baltimore -- and then we had a deeper adventure when he became geriatric around age 14 or 15.

Becoming an ancient

At 16 he was older than geriatric -- in a word, ancient. "Beau you are going to live forever," Dr. Nesbitt of Essex Dog and Cat said after one visit. But added to his congestive heart failure in his last year was kidney failure. It was tough to treat both, because the first requires lowering fluids in the body and the second requires increasing them.

We just did are best to juggle the amount of Lasix he was receiving and to avoid treating his arthritis with Ascripton anymore, since that might hurt his kidneys.

There wasn't much else to do except feed him pureed food orally by plastic syringe and reward him with ice cream, yoghurt and begging strips that he would eat on his own.

I think he wanted to live. In his last six months, that required essentially providing hospice care for him, though I didn't quite realize it at the time.

In May 2006, when I was at the BookExpo America in Washington, D.C., Beau wouldn't eat for Lamont. I wasn't surprised, and tried to tell Lamont tricks to the process. I often had to warm his food to room temperature and switch brands often to capture his interest, or tear up begging strips and put it in the food. He would often walk up to his food and lick his chops and walk away. I thought he was being difficult and only later learned that licking the chops is a sign of nausea (poor guy). When he wouldn't eat anything, then I resorted to pureeing.

What would have been easier would have been feeding him one of the Hill's canned prescription diets that goes straight into a syringe without pureeing: the one called a/d Canine Feline. I only found out about this the last week of his life, from Dr. Nesbitt.

He had perhaps only one or maybe two accidents in all of those last six months. I made sure to take him outside whenever he woke up from a deep sleep, as well as three regular times a day. He couldn't safely cross our busy street, so we just curled around the block, just walking up Pratt Street and back. Pierre probably suffered a bit for lack of exercise on our turtle-like walks.

On the Fourth of July, I missed my husband's family's party because they couldn't accommodate Beau in an air-conditioned spot and it was too hot for him outside. I didn't want him uncomfortable. I was largely tied to being home at around 3 p.m. to make sure he could relieve himself.

Beau suffered in the summer heat and had no appetite. He rallied when the weather changed in mid-September.

During these months, before going downstairs, each morning I would pause on the landing outside our room to gather the pets for a rebonding session. "It's another day for you, Little Beau," I would whisper, Beau under one arm, Pierre the other, a cat strolling by requiring stroking too.

He finally crashed noticeably at the beginning of November. I was in a tizzy when I took to Beau to his vet at Essex Dog and Cat Hospital on the Thursday before he died, when Dr. Nesbitt said we could euthanize him right then. He was prone on the exam table, disinterested in the world around him, the worst he'd ever looked.

Bringing Beau home

I called Lamont to ask what to do. He said to bring Beau home. I was happy to do so. Euthanizing our cat Oliver exactly a year before at Essex Dog and Cat had been rough (see Goodbye to a fine grey boy).

"He's just old," what Lamont said, what I wanted to hear, but you could smell the uremic, or ammonia, smell in the living room, where Beau spent the day, and our bedroom, where he spent the night, and know this wasn't just age, it was kidney failure, and it couldn't be comfortable to have those toxins overwhelming your bloodstream.

I began to call local vets to get the numbers of mobile vets who might do home euthanasia. Only two returned my calls.

Patti, the wife of Dr. Patrick Maizels of Harford Mobile Veterinary Services (410-937-9463), was one. She was a fount of tremendous information about hospice care for dogs with terminal illnesses. Only then did I realize I had in fact been offering hospice care for months, and doing so without expert guidance, which apparently is the norm for many pet owners, who improvise their way without good information from their regular vet.

She said that canine kidney patients have a lot of acid in their blood that creates ulcers at the back of the throat that spike after they have eaten and more toxins enter their bloodstream. The ulcers recede after a few days and the pet feels like eating again, repeating the cycle. She also recommended Hills A/D pet food and stage 2 baby food (without onions). "They really have to like what's in front of them," she said, "anything else makes them nauseous."

We set up an appointment for Dr. Pat to visit Wednesday, but I later switched to the other vet who returned my call, who could make it to our house earlier.

Dr. Lisa Tuzo (443-631-3800) also called and confirmed what Patti had told me: the up-and-down state of kidney patients makes it enormously difficult to determine the right time to euthanize. "The animal rallies so that euthanasia is hard to plan," she said, but "It's better to be one day too early than one day too late." That made a lot of sense. The animal could well be flat-out miserable, and it was not going to get better.

She said the main sign of time for euthanasia was when the pet's eyes became miserable and withdrawn. "Letting nature take its course is not kindest, it's not making him die more easily," she said. "Starvation kills kidney patients, and it's extremely painful."

She recommended small feedings, every couple of hours. She could visit on Tuesday rather than Wednesday, so I switched my appointment from Dr. Pat to Dr. Tuzo.

Dr. Tuzo agreed to assess Beau, charging an exam price, for whether it was time. By the time she actually arrived, it was clear due by Beau's disinterest in the world and weakness that it was indeed time and he did not need an exam to confirm this.

When Dr. Tuzo arrived, after a morning when I dreaded the noise of every car parking on our street, it was clear that Beau was in a bad way, immobile on his fleece bed.

Running in his dreams

He had however been his younger self in his dreams, able-bodied in his imagination until the very end, including the morning of his euthanasia, when his paws twitched in his sleep as he chased seagulls.

Dr. Tuzo explained how Lamont's mantra, "He's just old," was what I wanted to hear, even though I felt he was deteriorating markedly and in fact not just old. Sure, old dogs sleep a lot, but heavy heavy sleep indicates the fog of kidney failure and that the pet is in a bad way. Lamont feels that "everything living wants to live," and would not be inclined to euthanize a pet. I however did not want Beau to suffer seizures, tremors or undue suffering, which is why the information from Patti Maizels and Dr. Tuzo about end-stage kidney failure and potential suffering was valuable.

My friend and neighbor Blaire Freed helped quite a bit in those last days. She was present when Dr. Tuzo returned my call and helped me process what I had been told. She had bought the 23rd Psalm for Beau in Hebrew as well as food for me, and provided petting time for Beau. She said she thought it was time to say goodbye.

Beau waits on his fleece bed in our living room for the mobile vet to arrive. Behind him is a copy of the 23rd Psalm in Hebrew, prepared for him by his friend, our neighbor Blaire.

When Dr. Tuzo arrived at noon on Tuesday, Nov. 7, I had prepared by putting Beau on his soft fleece bed on the day bed in the living room, where Dr. Tuzo could administer to him comfortably. I put a plastic sheet on the daybed in case Beau lost control, but he didn't. I had made sure that he had a slightly smaller breakfast that morning. He looked nice because I had taken him to Doggie Depot six days earlier for a bath. Senior dogs lose interest in grooming, but I wanted him to go out with dignity.

Dr. Tuzo came in and gently stroked Beau, who was clearly very zonked by illness. She said it was definitely time. I showed her his shiny white teeth, which I had brushed daily for years, and his clean coat, bathed in the past week and brushed minutes before.

Pierre, our housemate's shepherd Sipsey and the cats watched in curiosity, which in Pierre's case turned to distress. With his teeth, he began ripping up loops out of the living room rug. How he sensed the transition about to occur I don't know. Guess he picked it up off me.

Dr. Tuzo prepared Beau with a sedative. She took her time over the next hour. Beau relaxed and after a while she added some anesthesia. She gently flicked his left rear paw, and he didn't react. She said, "I'll send my mother to say hi to him," upon Beau's ascent to Heaven. I was touched and didn't speak. A few tears fell down my face and landed in his still-white ruff.

The vet finally gave Beau his third shot, and his heart stopped. It was a much better situation than Oliver's euthanasia, with just two shots and him vomiting, on an exam table at a vet's office, after a tearful ride with his owners, the year before.

She let me have some time with him and then asked for something to wrap his body in to take to her car. I found a towel and carried Beau out myself.

A thin, fevered body

His little body, thinned from 30 to 20 pounds by long illness, was not cold yet -- in fact it was very hot as though he were in a final fever. He was a bit floppy in a way a living creature is not. I laid him in the back of Dr. Tuzo's vehicle and rearranged the towel to cover him and thanked her. She would return in a week with his ashes.

"You'll be seeing him in the corners for a few weeks," the vet predicted correctly. That night the heavens opened with heavy rain like tears. I got up the next day ready for another round of care for an ancient dog, and it was not longer required. It took me a while to realize that Beau was no longer a burden to me and no longer suffered.

I felt sad but utterly relieved that I had found a mobile vet for his last day.

The vet had let him go via three shots, not two as in a vet office, with the extra shot designed to gently, gently sedate and anesthetize him, so that departing this world was like sinking into a warm and comfortable bath, without fear.

The countdown to the Dr. Tuzo's arrival at the front door was horrendous, but Beau's dying was sweet and perfect for him, in the sense of no uncomfortable final ride to a cold steel exam table. "I've seen dogs stressed by that ride," Dr. Tuzo confirmed to me. Getting a mobile vet for reasons of comfort and familiarity with the home seemed fitting and almost obligatory for a pet that had been such a fine companion for many years.

After my hospice care ended, it was a relief on many levels. Partly it was less work, partly I had a clear conscience on how I had cared for my first pet, partly it was the fact that the hospice care had frankly been a grind.

I put a few links for anyone dealing with these issues in my earlier entry, Dealing with Beau's end of life, posted a week after his death.

Beau had such a wide range of friends. Jill trimmed a bit of his striking mahogany sable coat to take to her hairdresser for color matching, because it was an intriguing purple-black in some lighting conditions. Marci loved his "little mouse eyes," and he did have small intense eyes of darkest anthracite.

After all he meant to so many people, his passing had to be an honor to his life.

I had read John Updike poem Another Dog's Death, about bringing a vet to the home to put an aging pet to sleep, and thought that was the only way to put your pet to sleep. "In a wheelbarrow up to the hole, her warm fur shone," Updike wrote, and it reminds me of how hot Beau felt after he was euthanized.

Favorite memories

Beau was a moocher who hung around the kitchen in hopes of caging a morsel from us or our housemates. "No Beau," would say our mid-1990s housemate, Barbara Kersteins, before she in a moment of weakness would slip him some cheese.

Some of my favorite memories of Beau are his greeting me when I returned from Hawaii, and him grabbing the end of my scarf and pogoing backwards for block upon block as we went to Patterson Park. He was also adept at attacking my shoelaces based on unknown stimuli, possibly related to my attempts to cross busy lights, such as the one in front of Harborplace.

My best memory of Beau is standing with Lamont at the stretch of Ocean City near the Fenwick Inn, high up in the 130s. He ran like streaming silk, his legs a blur, his bushy tail fluidly caught in his backdraft, undulating gently, Pierre barking behind, much bigger but barely able to keep up with Beau, who was lightning in a bottle. Beau had to keep all those seagulls off the beach, and would obsessively track them and race parallel to the waves to make sure they didn't land on the sand.

This activity went off-limits for him when he was 10 and began to cough a lot, and we found out he had an enlarged heart and was headed (very gradually, since it took seven years) toward congestive heart failure.

I received 80 or so condolence e-mails upon his death last November and was quite grateful for everyone's support. Beau became part of my life toward the end of my longest stint at the Baltimore Sun and many folks from that era of my life were contacted and reconnected to. In fact, I had lunch with old friend Peter Meredith and essentially got a job by contacting Clay Perry, whose wife works at The George Washington University.

My favorite e-mail again came from my friend Ed:

Maybe I am misanthropic; I cannot conceive pain sharper than losing one's most trusted companion. There is life with and life after, no shades of gray. As some other author wrote, and I adapt -- Let God get his own Beau; Beau is mine (or I was Beau's). I am sorry, very sorry about Beau.

Possibly useful links

Last hours of living describes two ways of dying for advanced kidney patients (human). My fear that Beau would possibly suffer the less frequent modality of terminal delirium (vs. the more common outcome of great sleepiness and death) led me to decide to euthanize him, and well as the distinct odor of ammonia in his exhalations. It seemed to me if his blood were so full of impurities from his failing kidneys, he must be in a fair bit of discomfort.

Goodbye, friend by Gary Kowalski (book link to author describes how some pets seem to welcome their euthanasia:

One veterinarian I know with a small animal practice in New York says she firmly believes that most creatures know when their time is up. They are ready for their departure. That opinion is shared by Connie Howard, who directs our local humane society. She told me how in the middle of a sub-zero Vermont winter her cat had unaccountably gone into hiding under a porch -- not a location the animal would ordinarily choose for a midday siesta. Connie had not even realized her pet was sick. But the cat, which had end-stage renal disease, seemed to know exactly what was happening. It was doing its best to die.

Too often, though, people are not ready to take the step that is needed to assist their pets over the threshold. Some want their animals to die "naturally," not realizing that a "natural" death can be quite painful and prolonged. Then when nature proves too ruthless to be borne they call people like Connie or my veterinary friend for a dose of mercy in the middle of the night.

The book includes a postscript on ceremonies to honor the loss of a pet, which is what I hope to do in writing down Beau's story.

Chesapeake Pet Crematory
8717 Green Pastures Dr.
Towson, MD
(410) 321-1005.
If your pet should die naturally and you want to have it cremated, you can bring to this funeral home for humans that also helps pet owners. The cost is $100. You must call ahead and the body must be bought in a closed container. Hours are Monday to Saturday, 9 to 5. The ashes are returned to you in a white acrylic container.

April 26, 2007

Baltimore for budget travelers

Baltimore is sufficiently offbeat and off the beaten track to be of interest to foreign backpackers.

I'm going to take a stab at looking at lodging, things to do, media and guidebooks in this blog entry. Let's start first with the prospective reopening of Baltimore's youth hostel.

Fortunately for those on a budget, Baltimore long-closed youth hostel looks like it is on the verge of reopening.

A Baltimore Sun story on April 10, entitled "Volunteers prepare their hostel takeover: Group renovates mansion so tourists can visit Baltimore without breaking the bank," tells about the revival of the hostel:

After eight years without one, Baltimore is close to welcoming a hostel back to town.

The opening, a rare occurrence for the languishing national hostel scene, means travelers to the city will once again be able to find safe lodging that costs less than most hotels' continental breakfast.


MacLeod and about 10 volunteers have been working for years to raise money from private sources and renovate a deteriorated Mount Vernon brownstone. They say the hostel, at 17 W. Mulberry St., could open as soon as May.

It will be the only hostel in a major Maryland city - the only other Maryland hostel is in Knoxville, near Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

Baltimore's last hostel, which operated from the same location, closed in 1999, shut down by the local branch of Hostelling International because of poor management.

I was spurred into researching the question of Baltimore for budget travelers by an excellent e-mail from Ryan, a member of the Travelerspoint Travel Community, who e-mailed me:

I'm hoping to get your advice on Baltimore.

There is a group of three of us coming to visit Baltimore for three days in early May from England -- we are flying into BWI airport.

I must say I'm having real difficulty finding accommodation of the budget variety and am quite reluctant to pay the exorbitant prices that the chain hotels are requesting in the Inner Harbor area.

Do you know of any hidden gems or what areas to perhaps look towards? Just to let you know we won't have a car.

Also, what would you recommend doing with our time in Charm City?

Hi Ryan, I would start with the youth hostel -- see if they can accommodate you specially, even though they aren't open yet -- try them at Friends of Baltimore Hostel, 410-576-8880, acknowledge that you know they aren't open yet but can they help you?

Other lodgings

The Mount Vernon Hotel would be the next place I would check. Then The Tremonts --ask for the business rate.

Other options for essentially freeloading with other travelers are these:

It's a long shot, but you could put a notice on Baltimore's free Craigslist, in the sublets-temporary section, seeking help with cheap accommodation for a few days.

Here's a list of Baltimore area hotels, with addresses and links, compiled by the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Here's Expedia's list of discount hotels in Baltimore. They start at around $126. They also list a Best Western outside town at $76 a night, but that would require a car.

Here's the TripAdvisor list of discount hotels. These start at about $129.

Where did Ryan eventually end up staying? Well here's what he told me:

I certainly had a look at the Mount Vernon hotel, however I finally managed to get a room at the Days Inn in the Inner Harbor area. By securing an online special advanced rate, plus the fact that three of us will be sharing this room, as well as taking advantage of a particularly healthy pound-dollar exchange rate -- we have managed to offset the amount to roughly $50 a night each. This is not too bad for three nights but would not be pleasant for someone looking to travel the length and breadth of the country over an extended period of time.

Ryan also asked about things to do and see. Let's look at some ideas now.

Things to see

Most everyone agrees on this list of things to see:
  • American Visionary Art Museum

  • Little Italy, which has free open-air movies on Friday nights in the summer.

  • Fells Point -- walk around. I will try to ink to my story on this.

  • Fort McHenry

  • Walters Art Museum

  • USS Constellation

  • For kids

    National Aquarium
    Maryland Science Center
    Port Discovery

    Fun stuff

  • Crab cakes at Faidley's in Lexington Market

  • Walk around Hampden, visit Cafe Hon

  • Greektown: Samos restaurant

  • Ride the water taxi from the Inner Harbor to Fort McHenry and Fells Point

  • The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum

  • Museum of Industry

  • Cool neighborhoods

    Mount Vernon
    Upper Fells Point


  • A Baltimore Orioles game.

  • A Baltimore Blast game. Funny and very local!

  • Arts

    Center Stage


  • 1st Mariner Arena

  • Pier Six Pavilion

  • Rams Head Live!

  • Sonar

  • Events

    CityPaper Daily Highlights

    Places to eat

    CityPaper Online Eats.
    The current hotspot for the beautiful people is Pazo. Do try to check it out!



  • Baltimore Sun

  • Baltimore City Paper onlline

  • Baltimore magazine


  • WBAL radio

  • WJZ

  • WMAR

  • WYPR-NPR radio

  • Local chat

    Sunspot forum-Local news, take a look here to see what local people on this lively and friendly forum think about Things to do in Baltimore, Best Place to eat crabs in Baltimore and Best cheap eats in Baltimore area.

    Here's a discussion on things to do in Baltimore on the Lonely Planet Thorntree -- Baltimore.

    Traveling to D.C.

  • Take the MARC local trains -- the Camden or Penn lines.

  • Or Amtrak -- more expensive.

  • Or Greyhound buses -- note, the station is in a very inconvenient part of town.

  • From BWI: Take the B30 Express to the Greenbelt Metro station, part of the Washington Metro.

  • Miscellaneous

    Lonely Planet guide to Baltimore

    Please contact me if you have any suggestions on cheap places to stay in Baltimore or other recommended updates to this blog entry.


    May 22, 2007: Here is an article in the New York Times, 36 Hours in Baltimore, with a roundup of places to see and visit.

    The article lacks a list of budget hotels and notes incorrectly that"

    Discerning locals go to Obrycki's (1727 East Pratt Street, 410-732-6399;, known for a homemade peppery crab spice that, pardon the blasphemy, rivals Old Bay. The faux-fancy décor (stenciled brick walls and fake windows) is not why you came. It's the freshness of the crabs ($43 for a dozen mediums), in an establishment that commendably shuts down for the winter when the local catch is lean.

    Obrycki's (a half-block from our house) is not visited by locals, who consider it expensive and the food oversalted.

    November 14, 2006

    Dealing with Beau's end of life

    This collage recalling some moments in Beau's life was e-mailed to many of our friends. I have about 70 replies in condolence. Lamont also printed a few for me, which I have mailed to friends who do not have e-mail.

    A week ago today, our sheltie Beau (see "Thank you to FOB, Friends of Beau") was euthanized in our home by vet Dr. Lisa Tuzo.

    Beau made it to 16 years, 10 months. Because he was battling kidney failure, which is an up-and-down disease, and because dogs stoically try to hide their pain out of a wild survival instinct, it was difficult to pick a time to let him go. I hope to return to this entry and flesh out some of the issues we faced for the benefits of other pet owners, who may not be aware of home care of canine kidney patients, hospice and home euthanasia options.

    Some links I found helpful:

    Evaluating pain in pets with kidney problems

    Life Support Issues: Kidney Failure. Great question -- this is exactly the information I sought without success. Was Beau in a lot of pain from kidney failure, or just weak and sleepy? I do not find the answer provided by the hospice nurse adequate. I will try to get more details on this matter. When I asked my regular vet about palliative care for Beau in his final days, she said, "He's not going to get better." That was not helpful -- palliative care is by definition not curative, but aims at reducing symptoms or pain.

    Dr. Tuzo is herself interviewing humans with kidney failure to try to determine their level of pain. This information should be invaluable in applying the facts to our pets who cannot speak for themselves.

    One aspect of kidney failure is the odor of ammonia on a pet's breath, from toxins once cleaned by the kidneys and now circulating in the blood. Even if the pet doesn't suffer tremendous pain, one can only imagine this failure of an important body system, and their tremendous thirst as individual cells try to cleanse in place of the kidneys, places them in a difficult position. Beau suffered from uremia, tremendous weight loss (from 30 to 20 lbs.), dull coat and seemed feverish toward his last few days. Kidney failure seemed less menacing than say cancer but still places a tremendous challenge to the body.

    Animal euthanasia. The final two paragraphs persuaded me that waiting for a natural death for Beau carried too great a risk of real suffering, especially since he wasn't going to get better:

    A word on natural death. Although this may always seem the ideal end, pets do not always die easily in their sleep without help. They may suffer much distress in their final hours, vomiting repeatedly, struggling for breath, or experiencing convulsions. Sometimes, as the organs shut down, the animal may drift into coma, but you cannot count on this happening. If it has become obvious that your pet is no longer enjoying life or showing any enthusiasm for it, it is kinder to put it to sleep and end its suffering.

    Sometimes death can be sudden, as when caused by a stroke or heart failure. This can be particularly distressing to the owner, when the pet had seemed previously healthy, especially if the cause of death is not apparent. You can request the vet undertake a post mortem, but usually these kind of deaths are unpreventable.

    This link also gives a list of a pet's basic needs:

    ... intended only as guidelines when used as a benchmark in deciding your pet's wellbeing. Euthanasia may not be appropriate even if some of these criteria are not met. Each case for euthanasia should be judged on its own merits and your vet should always be consulted beforehand. As the owner you also know your pet better than anyone.

    End of life decision

    How Do You Decide that Today is the Day to Put Your Best Friend to Sleep?

    Euthanasia: Gentle Death, Painful Decision

    When Should You Put Your Dog Down?: How to make a decision you never want to make. I found this article singularly useless, and am surprised Jon Katz didn't do a bit better job on this difficult topic. While he provides interesting anecdotes and interviews, Katz seems so determined to avoid sentimentalism towards dogs that he comes across as a bit cold. He describes some who euthanize their pets when they lose their "dogness," or lively interest in their surroundings, and others who keep hopelessly ill pets on ventilators. For Beau, faced with a heart and kidney patient, the right euthanasia point seemed somewhere in between. Ultimately, you gauge how much of a dog's withdrawal is fatigue and old age, not yet overwhelming the overwhelming urge of living things to cling to life, and try to sense the moment when your pet's withdrawal changes and becomes preparation for the end as disease overwhelms his organs.

    In-home euthanasia

    Euthanasia... What To Expect See the section on in-home euthanasia. Lots of details including the need for a plastic sheet. I got ready the following items: box of tissues, damp cloth (to wipe my own face), checkbook to pay the vet, brush to make Beau look nice. The main thing I forgot was a towel to shroud his body for the walk to the vet's car. Alternately, you could make a cardboard coffin for your pet.

    Another Dog's Death by John Updike. I believe I read this poem in the Washington Post Book World section soon after its 1993 anthologization. It's quite an unforgettable poem that stays in the mind for decades. Updike's writing made me determined to avoid if at all possible the sad (for me) and uncomfortable (for Beau, who couldn't lay down easily in a moving vehicle) last drive to the vet. The poet makes it clear that as awful as the moment is, his dog enjoys calm and collected final moments. I include this poem here because it details better than a how-to link the advantages of in-home euthanasia.

    Hospices for pets

    Without realizing it, I had been providing hospice care for Beau for at least four months -- being certain he was let out whenever he stirred to his feet, pureeing foods and syringe feeding him when necessary, and switching to yoghurt and cool foods. I wish I had known about the growing movement toward pet hospice in this country, especially about place in Virginia listed in my first link. This could have made my bumbling efforts to feed Beau and keep him comfortable (for example, buying him his first bed ever, a fleece one, about a month ago.)

    Veterinary Holistic and Rehabilitation Center (Vienna, Va.)

    The Nikki Hospice Foundation for Pets: History and Philosophy

    Hospice Care in Cats

    Learn More About the Pet Hospice Program


    Hill's a/d Canine Feline (pet food). I had been pureeing a variety of dog foods for Beau in a food processor and syringe feeding him with a catheter syringe from the vet. Actually, I had four syringes that I would fill, refrigerate, warm in hot water, and feed him with. Our vet at Essex Dog and Cat provided some of this prescription food, which did not require pureeing! You may need to mix it with a little water, but then it pulls readily into the syringe, much easier than the pureed dog food, even thinned with water, ever did. Dr. Tuzo also suggests meat baby foods for feeding ill animals.

    Quiet Time Pet BedQuiet Time Pet Bed-- Beau got his first bed in the last month of his life. He still seemed to prefer the floor or carpet but he was so thin this fleece bed with rolled sides seemed best to protect his ribs. He seemed to appreciate being led to the bed and turned one turn to curl into it. Our cats, Olivia and Hanno, appropriated the bed whenever Beau wasn't in it and enjoy it now.

    September 15, 2006

    More on Schaefer's defeat

    Here's a little chart I cranked out on Tuesday's primary for the Maryland comptroller's race, it's derived from the one I ran yesterday.

    CountyPercentage backing Schaefer
    Somerset County50%
    Garrett County47%
    Worcester County45%
    Allegany County44%
    Dorchester County43%
    Baltimore City41%
    Washington County40%
    Baltimore County39%
    St. Mary's County38%
    Harford County37%
    Cecil County37%
    Wicomico County37%
    Carroll County34%
    Caroline County34%
    Queen Anne's County32%
    Kent County31%
    Charles County 30%
    Anne Arundel County30%
    Talbot County29%
    Calvert County28%
    Frederick County26%
    Howard County24%
    Prince George's County21%
    Montgomery County15%

    It shows what I expected to find: former governor and Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer collapsed in Montgomery County, partly because of Peter Franchot's name recognition there, partly because of the governor's many recent gaffes, and perhaps mainly due to MoCo's increasing rejection of centrist Democratic thinking.

    And these numbers may be bad news for current Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

    This thread on the Baltimore Sun talk forum deals with a related issue, the number of Democrats who pulled the lever for other candidates, including Schaefer, but neglected to vote for Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination for governor (this is considered a sign of dissatisfaction with O'Malley, but not on the levels of Dem apathy toward Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who ran four years ago). I wrote:

    My prediction: and I think it actually lines up with the numbers:

    The numbers in this thread show Dems in Baltimore City and surrounding areas rankled at O'Malley. Familiarity has bred contempt, most notably among other Dem officeholders, as well as regular folks.

    HOWEVER, expect O'Malley's June 2004 attacks on the administration ("I'm more worried about the Bush administration than Al-Queda," to paraphrase) to play big in MoCo.

    MoCo probably does not care about MOM's record in the city as much as his anti-Bush stance.

    It is difficult news for Ehrlich if MoCo (and Frederick counties) have grown substantially in population and also gotten more liberal with more unionized federal workers. Take a look at Comptroller candidate Franchot's #s over Schaefer, county by county (I stuck the entire table two-third of the way down this link). Look at the MoCo number for Franchot, a liberal Dem. Unbelievable.

    Thus the numbers game may be uphill no matter what MOM's actual record is and how well Ehrlich's centrism plays in Howard, Anne Arundel, Baltimore County, and the western and eastern edges of Maryland.

    And don't forget MoCo kicking another liberal/centrist Republican, former U.S. rep Connie Morella, to the curb.

    In other words: O'Malley can win despite his mixed record in Baltimore given that MoCo (and PG) can bulldoze him into office regardless of problematic aspects of his governing style.

    Ha! As I write this, I am getting a recorded message from O'Malley inviting me to a Dem rally. Please, politicians, stop these unsolicited calls! No one wanted you to have an exemption from the do-not-call list except yourselves.

    September 14, 2006

    William Donald Schaefer's 3rd-place finish

    William Donald Schaefer donned an admiral's uniform to depart Baltimore's mayoralty for Maryland's governship in 1987. I recall working as a copy editor at the Baltimore Sun the day this story ran.

    A friend of mine served as an election judge in Canton at Tuesday's primary. She related the following anecdote:

    We had 98-year-old women come in and say, "Will you help me? I only want to vote for Schaefer. None of those other candidates. None of those judges. Wait! I don't see his name! [My friend would help them advance a screen.] Wait I still don't see his name!"

    They were not satisfied until they pressed the touch screen for Schaefer. "Now I don't want to vote for anyone else!" My friend would say, "Well we still have to press one more button to record your vote." Finally the seniors would depart the voting booth, mission accomplished.

    With determined support from those with long memories of Baltimore "before," Schaefer still couldn't finish higher than third. Maryland's new electorate didn't see eye to eye with long-timers who found Schaefer pretty much to the end refreshingly unpackaged and straightforward.

    Count myself as one of those (like a 98-year-old lady, but oh well) who were willing to overlook his tantrums. Yes he was egotistical and getting old, but still had his heart in the right place.

    His most marvelous feature lately was his complete lack of political correctness. He said rival Janet Owens looked like "Old Mother Hubbard." He called the Eastern Shore a "s---thouse" after it repudiated him in an election (but he still may run for Ocean City mayor yet). He wanted service workers at McDonald's to be able to speak English.

    He called Glendening "rabbit brain," as recalled in the fun retrospective in the Washington Post, William Donald Schaefer Always Made a Splash.

    Yesterday he recalled as one of the most memorable moments of his career the gratitude of a "little old black lady" who nearly cried at getting her own public housing in Baltimore 30 years ago. It was refreshing somehow to hear a guy just speak out straight, without wondering if his audience preferred the term African-American, or to just duck the issue of color, or to use whatever newfangled neologisms might prevail in 2006.

    With Ron Smith being ailing at WBAL radio and the Baltimore Sun chat forums strangely subdued, at first Tuesday's primary defeat of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer felt vastly underplayed in yesterday's media.

    The Baltimore Sun finally stepped in today with four articles, which I won't link to directly because Sun links go bad after a bit of time passes. You can look up "Schaefer couldn't leave on his own," by Michael Dresser and M. Dion Thompson, which notes the significance of Schaefer's squabbles with former Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening and closeness to current Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.:

    In 2002, Schaefer won re-election and found himself serving on the board with Ehrlich, the first Republican governor in more than three decades.

    From Ehrlich, Schaefer received the deference and respect he never felt from Glendening. He became a consistent ally and outspoken admirer of the Republican governor.

    Schaefer was praised for leading a turnaround of the state's scandal-ridden retirement system, taking over as chairman of the state pension board in the last year of the Glendening administration. Once a laggard in its investment returns, the system has performed strongly over the past three years.

    But on the Board of Public Works, Schaefer was still picking fights -- though his targets were groups that made up a large part of the Democratic base, including minorities, women and gays.

    Then we have "Remember 'Old Schaefer' for service, compassion," by Dan Rodricks, who captures the heroism of Schaefer after Baltimore burned in the 1968 riots:

    A lot of you know what I'm talking about; you remember all those years, the post-riot years, the 1970s and into the 1980s, when Schaefer seemed to be the only one standing, literally, in the middle of abandoned streets to proclaim, "This is a great day for the city of Baltimore."

    Long before his political identity became murky - remember him going off in a pout to endorse First President Bush in 1992? - here was a classic New Deal Democrat who believed in an essential truth: that government, and those in it, could actually do some good. As a matter of fact, for Schaefer, even with his barge-size ego, that's what marked his career - service to people. It sounds corny, but it's true.

    "You have to wonder why some of these people want to run for public office," a friend from Montgomery County said on Election Night while listening to election results on his car radio.

    Interesting as these articles are, they do not convey the shock I feel that Willie Don lost his first election in 51 years. The rest of the state I guess doesn't feel the enduring loyalty to a guy that truly tried to rescue Baltimore, with his efforts to create the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards helping to keep Charm City from descending to a potential fate as another Detroit.

    When I first arrived at the Baltimore Sun in 1987, Schaefer was in his final year (of 16) as Baltimore mayor. On the copy desk, I would write cutlines for photos of the mayor plunging into the Aquarium or departing the city dressed as an admiral on the Constellation. His showmanship, energy and orientation toward helping the city shone through most everything he did as mayor.

    William Donald SchaeferYesterday, he attacked the press, saying it had no heart when they didn't join the staff applause at his valedictory address. You could hear on air someone saying something like, "We never applaud in these circumstances." But Schaefer had made a point of sorts ... making it clear that he felt that Maryland area journalists often judged rather than reported.

    Now what does the third-place finish of Schaefer in the Democratic primary mean? Is it really the political ascendancy of Montgomery County, which has exploded in my lifetime from 165,000 to nearly 1 million residents, while Baltimore has shrunk from just under 1 million to 635,000, to win the Maryland numbers game?

    Have a look at the election board's unofficial tally in the comptroller race.

    Note that Franchot rolled up his votes in Montgomery, Prince George's, Frederick and Charles counties (full of federal employees, increasingly unionized and politically active) and attracted little support elsewhere, and that Schaefer still ran well in Baltimore city and county and carried most of the Eastern Shore that he once disparaged:

    Democratic candidates for Comptroller

    Schaefer counties bold, Franchot counties italics, Owens counties regular font

     PeterJanet S. Donald
    Allegany County1,4231,2382,079
    Anne Arundel County12,48620,04113,659
    Baltimore City16,30823,87827,878
    Baltimore County24,14832,02135,746
    Calvert County1,7402,6671,717
    Caroline County441864673
    Carroll County3,1353,6623,528
    Cecil County1,2401,9401,865
    Charles County3,7733,2502,958
    Dorchester County6381,2561,407
    Frederick County5,0794,2923,372
    Garrett County326386630
    Harford County4,9837,2077,152
    Howard County9,8009,8106,203
    Kent County7931,125852
    Montgomery County57,67019,75413,466
    Prince George's County43,74734,83121,310
    Queen Anne's County1,0561,6451,253
    St. Mary's County2,2192,6552,927
    Somerset County255662903
    Talbot County9611,325919
    Washington County2,5092,2293,147
    Wicomico County1,1532,8912,340
    Worcester County8841,7202,143
    Totals196,767 (36.7%)181,349 (33.8%)158,127 (29.5%)

    As The Sun's Jennifer Skalka writes in "Vote results illustrate power shift to D.C. area:"

    Montgomery has long been perceived by residents from other jurisdictions as out of touch, too liberal and, in recent years, too wealthy to produce leaders with a deep understanding of the state's economic and social diversity.

    But the county's population continues to boom, its steady growth buffered from economic downturns by an influx of federal money.

    The Washington Post makes a similar argument in "A New Day for Democrats: D.C. Suburbs Assert Themselves in Party Primaries."

    The increasing power of MoCo may not be altogether a bad thing. Baltimore's schools remain such a disaster that outside scrutiny of local bungling can be a good thing.

    Is the defeat of a conservative Democrat bad news for Ehrlich, who needs Dem and independent votes to win in November? Or has Franchot won only a plurality of left-leaning Marylanders eligible to vote in a closed primary? And is Franchot a clever campaigner, as is suggested in "Franchot quietly puts together his victory," by Stephanie Desmon, in today's Sun?

    We don't know. It's difficult to tell whether Ehrlich will be in double trouble with the growth in Montgomery County and an anti-Republican mood, or if, as Andrew A. Green also writes in The Sun, "Parties part on vote's portent: Democrats see electorate wanting change; GOP sees an opening for Ehrlich:"

    Republicans dismissed Tuesday's results as the product of an increasingly liberal Democratic primary electorate, a development they said could make it easier for Ehrlich to paint the party as hard-left in the general election.

    It's a message the governor has begun delivering. In one of his most effective television ads, a woman who appears to be an Ehrlich supporter tells the camera that the governor leads not from the right or from the left, "but the center, where most of us are."

    The three pillars of Ehrlich's electoral success, he has said, are the Republican base, independent voters and conservative Schaefer Democrats - the kind who crossed party lines to vote for President Ronald Reagan and who did it again to elect Ehrlich.

    But looking at the primary results, Ehrlich's opponents are betting that the third pillar has weakened and that the governor will have to contend with a less hospitable political landscape than he did four years ago.

    Ronald Walters, a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park's Leadership Academy, said the governor shouldn't ignore the primary results. The state is not what it was in 2002, he said.

    Walters released an analysis this week showing that rather than cutting down on Democrats' voter registration advantage in the wake of Ehrlich's election, Republicans have lost ground in the past four years.

    There are 55,000 new Democratic voters in Prince George's County, he said. Turnout figures from the primary suggest their impact has not been felt, but that between their presence and the success of candidates such as Franchot, Ehrlich has reason to be worried for the general election.

    "He's got to look at that really hard," Walters said. "This has got to be a wake-up call to him."

    Richard Vatz, a professor of political rhetoric at Towson University and a long-time friend of Ehrlich, said it's dangerous to extrapolate too much from the results of this week's election.

    Democratic primary voters tend to be significantly more liberal than Democrats who turn out for the general election, he said.

    "The initial reaction is 'uh-oh' for Ehrlich, but that doesn't mean it will necessarily turn out in that way," Vatz said. "The result is that we have another left-liberal in the race, and the consequence of that isn't obvious to me."

    Hopefully Blair Lee, one of the state's most interesting and straight-shooting political commentators, will also weigh in. Certainly the public will in less than two months.

    August 22, 2006

    Thank you to FOB (Friends of Beau)

    Beau, right, and Pierre at Betty Hyatt Park in Washington Hill, Baltimore.

    Little Beau, our ancient sheltie, has zoomed past the 16-year mark, in fact, he's made it past 16-1/2 years now.

    When he was a puppy, he was dubbed the Mayor of Ann Street for his charisma. That youthful energy I am convinced shot him into his longevity -- he had so much life and fire, that even now with congestive heart failure and kidney failure, he still enjoys barking at ceiling fans and snapping at beggin' strips.

    Now many people are once again being exceptionally kind to him. We have some neighbors generally on the wrong side of the law, with whom I rarely see eye to eye, but they have been very solicitious of our geriatric canine as he makes his turtle-paced walk up and down one block of East Pratt Street. The mother of a notorious local juvenile criminal inquired about Beau and then told me about her mother's ancient pit bull and its medical problems.

    Then there were the four Hispanic kids who kidnapped him for a half-hour at Soccerdome in Jessup last Wednesday. I told them angels were watching them and given them merit points for being nice to an elderly animal. The touching experience reminds me of the benefits of taking an older pet out on exciting little trips.

    The staff at Essex Dog and Cat, especially Dr. Nesbitt, take good care of Beau. "Beau, you are just going to live forever," said Dr. Nesbitt two visits ago, marveling at his easy-going endurance.

    Last Friday, Diane and Barb at Fells Point Pet Center combined to gently groom our little bug-bear so that he never snapped in discomfort. Before his visit, we discussed how sensitive Beau has gotten to being groomed.

    Diane recommended getting him some Dr. Bach's Rescue Remedy from Whole Foods and giving Beau one-quarter of an eye dropper to relieve the stress of grooming. It seemed to work well.

    I think he knows he looks wonderful.

    Finally, thanks to Lamont for occasionally carrying Beau on his walk when he gets tired in the heat, his dog friends Pierre and Sipsey who give him kisses some times, and Olivia, our young cat who shoulders up to him and curls her tail under his chin, while he stands placidly still.

    All are accumulating thousands of karma points as FOB -- Friends of Beau.

    Tips on feeding an older dog

    Beau's appetite isn't the best so let me quickly share some tricks to feeding an older dog. Over time, we have made the following changes to revive his flagging appetite:

    The other important thing is daily tooth brushing with an electric toothbrush and pet toothpaste, focusing on the top molar on either side, which can be prone to tartar. This keeps his breath nice and his teeth shiny white.

    August 3, 2006

    How to speak Bawlmerese

    If you are moving to Baltimore or living here, or just a toorst (tourist) or day-tripper from Warshinn (Washington, D.C.), you will quickly realize that English as she is spoke here has a number of charming variations to standard American English.

    Here are some of the main examples of Baltimorese.

    1. Terms of endearment

      "Hon" is short for "honey" and replaces mister, miss, missus and an actual name when greeting someone. We can't imagine why anyone would find this sexist! Folks are just trying to be friendly.
    2. Places

      Let's start with Bawlmer, Maryland (Baltimore, Maryland), Queen City of the Greater Patapsco Drainage Basin, which has neighborhoods such as Haw'n'tin (Highlandtown) and Lit-lit-lee (Littly Italy).

      Suburbs where residents speak fluent Baltimorese include Dundawt (Dundalk) and Glimm Burney (Glen Burnie), which is in Anarun'l Cownie (Anne Arundel County).

      Further away, you might head Downey Ayshin (down to the ocean, that is, Ocean City) and even to Yorp (Europe).

    3. Your first complete sentence

      Worsh and wrench your hands in the zinc *

      * Wash and rinse your hands in the sink.

      turlits.jpgBaltimorese contains not only place names but many common nouns. Around the house, an old-timer might talk about winders (windows) and the turlit (toilet) and tals (towels) in the baffroom.

      Over in the kitchen, you might want aigs and arnjuice for brefist (get the idea?).

      What's that noise outside? It might be an ambolamps (ambulance), farn gin (fire engine) or pleese sarn (police siren).

      "Turlits" photo taken at the 2005 Honfest by Raymond Cheong. Used with permission.

    4. Driving directions

      If you get on B'lare Rowd (Belair Road), you can head right out to Horfud (Harford) Cownie.

      If you're trying to get to Fait Street in Cayntin (Canton), you better write that down, because that will sound just exactly like Fayette Street. Or you can head toward Haird, better known as Howard Street, a one-time shopping mecca.

    5. Expressions

      If you really agree with all your heart with someone, say, "Ain't it?"

      When asked what you think of a movie, whether you thought it was fabulous, terrible, or average, you can say, "S'aw-ite" (it was all right).

      "Jeet?" (did you eat), "jeet-nuf?" (did you eat enough), "waymint!" (wait a minute) and "wooja ..." (would you) will carry you a long way. What to know what's new with somebody? Try, "snoo few?"

    More resources, hon

    April 24, 2006

    My daily diary of hearing F bombs


    You never know exactly when it's coming ... only that it is coming.

    At some point in every day, you will be subjected to a completely gratuitous dropping of the F bomb.

    Or if you live in Baltimore, let's be more accurate: You may be subjected to near-continual dropping of F bombs.

    Last night, I walked our older sheltie, Beau, and got ready to bring him up the front steps. I stopped to chat with two of the neighbors. Neighbor 1 told me about his girlfriend, his future job in New York, his own dog, and minor problems with other dogs who are walked off leash. These little stories required at least three glaringly inappropriate uses of "f-ing" as an adjective.

    Note to Neighbor 1: I nearly flinched each time you used the word -- it felt like being hit in the ear. My mind struggled to come up with a proper way to make this known. Should I have noted brightly, "F Bomb"? Or ask him, "When did the memo come out saying that word was appropriate around women? I must have missed that."

    If there is a such a secret memo, is this more fiery blowback, another unintended consequence, of feminism? Is it the case that now that some women (especially girl gangbangers) think they can swear like sailors, men (especially sons) no longer have a clue about how to behave?

    Anyway, when Neighbor 1 said he was moving in four months, I took the easy way out: Wimping out. It won't be a problem for long if he's moving soon and I avoid him in the meantime. Later I learned that Neighbor 2 (male) was equally offended by the language, and similarly reasoned that Neighbor 1 is moving soon.

    That just leaves thousands of other Baltimoreans who still sling the word around. Professionals, gangbangers passing by on the street, construction workers, athletes, and many in between. Note to everybody: You're not cool, you're not shocking anyone, you're just tone-deaf and making almost every corner of our city coarse.

    Maybe I need to print out the chart above and carry it around Baltimore, the City that F-Carpetbombs Everyone's Ears, to show to people. Guess what -- two-thirds of the public is offended by your language.

    Walking around our neighborhood, I often also hear the M-F Superbomb. From a distance, it sounds like, "m'h fhuh, that m'h fhuh m'h fhuh." Muffled but menacing, the individual syllables of the word aren't crystal clear, but the hostility and anger are. It sounds really ugly -- maybe the ugliest sound humans can make.

    The graphic above was published with an article entited, Poll: Americans See, Hear More Profanity. When I read the article, it reminded me that I have thought about keeping a diary of the appalling language that I hear everyday. If compressed, it would read something like this. All examples are real:

    Hail to my mom, who just turned 80 with a bangup birthday celebration, for knowing what good behavior -- heck, with knowing what a little class -- consists of, and instilling this knowledge in her children, without concessions to being faux-hip. It really isn't as cool as people think it is to throw around bad language once past the junior-high rebellion stage.

    To me, bad language -- especially that of the jock at Du Burns arena -- is (or should be) a rather serious matter against women. Males (but not men, or gentlemen) sometimes use bad language to mark an area as off-limits to women -- as a hostile move.

    Maybe what's really going on is that there is no concept anymore of what being a gentleman entails.

    I confess my own failings in the matter. I am not perfect in abstaining from the F bomb. It is something that escapes the mouth when, say, a hammer hits my thumb, or I am playing goalie in soccer and a shot goes by, into the net. Even then, I try to keep swearing at a murmur, not for the ears of others.

    This quote from the article linked above also sees the F-word as something only for moments of extreme frustration:

    And Donnell Neal of Madison Lake, Minn., notes how she'll hear the F-word used as a mere form of emphasis, as in: "That person scared the f--- out of me!" Neal, 26, who works with disabled adults, says she swears only in moments of extreme frustration, "like if someone cuts me off when I'm driving, or if I'm carrying something and someone shuts the door in my face." Even then, she says, she'll likely use "milder cuss words" -- and never at work.

    Some young folks have bought into the canard that the F word, and the C word (which I truly detest), is "just a word." At Tyson's bar, Slacker pal George goaded me to say "c" word. "It's just a word," he said, his Gen-X pseudo-reasoning as predictable as the sun coming up in the East.

    I thought, "George, I'm not restraining myself because I'm inhibited. I'm restraining myself because it's a matter of having a little class and decorum."

    And I'm restraining myself because, as a writer, I know the power of words. Almost no word is "just a word." All have meanings. It's precisely because of their power that they need to be saved for the right times. I'd say vulgarity may be forgivable if you are hitting your thumb with a hammer. If there's no hammer in sight, save it -- I'm tired of the hammering on my ears.

    April 4, 2006

    Mayo Shattuck the Third, you are ticking me off

    Mayo ShattuckThe president and CEO of Constellation Energy Group, right, stands to gain a cool $70 million from a proposed merger with the parent of Florida Power & Light.

    (This information comes from an April 2, 2006, article by Jay Hancock, "CEG chiefs' gain could help BGE customers," in the Baltimore Sun. I will refrain from linking directly to the article because Sun links go bad quite quickly.)

    These millions are on top of an annual salary of $1 million from Constellation (plus $4 million or more in bonuses). He apparently made $8-10 million a year as the head of Alex Brown, in previous job that he walked away from suddenly the day after 9/11.

    Meanwhile, BGE, owned 100 percent by Constellation, is proposing a 72 percent increase in electricity prices this summer, when rate caps expire, costing most people $743 a year more.

    What this means for our household, in conjunction with the huge hikes in natural gas prices this winter, is a year-round average of $300 a month for heating (natural gas) and cooling (central air conditioner powered by electricity). And with that, we are not even comfortable!

    When I first moved to our Upper Fells Point home in 1990, gas and electric ran $93.40 for my first bill, in February.

    Going from $93 to $300 for utilities over 16 years translates to a 13 percent annual increase, with no benefit in return, in fact, considerably less comfort. $3,600 is a lot of money to pay per year to not be comfortable. I predict some level of migration out of Maryland farther south in response to these bills.

    In the April 2 Sun, Hancock wrote about a paradox whereby BGE consumers could benefit if Shattuck is motivated by the prospect of $70 million, in his very own post-merger pocket, as part of a contract he negotiated that takes effect if Constellation merges with anyone else. With the Maryland Legislature threatening to block the merger with Florida Power unless the rates are rolled back, Shattuck may have to lower our rates so as to get his mountain of cash.

    Mr. Hancock, I follow you in this complicated saga. But what occurs in part of my brain, the part that oversimplifies, is a short-circuit of anger, pretty much a loathing of Mayo Shattuck the Third.

    Dude, ya want $70 million? While we get ready to live freezing cold in the winter and boiling hot in the summer?

    OK, sure, you can have your money IF you promise me to live like Marylanders did in my childhood, suffering through the sticky summers, with childhood photos showing sweaty bangs stuck to our foreheads. Because that's how a LOT of us are going to be living.

    I want you, Mayo Shattuck the Third, to remove all heating and air-conditioning from your car and your Roland Park mansion and your office and your wife Molly's vehicle that ferries her to cheerlead the Ravens at age 39. Sweat and shiver like the rest of us. Or maybe insulate your house's walls with $100 bills.

    I am normally pretty laissez-faire re: market forces and executive compensation and so forth.

    But the greed of Mayo Shattuck the Third, like that of a villain in a Charles Dickens' novel, hits too close to home. It rubs me the wrong way.

    Here is his arrogant defense of his millions in the March 12 Baltimore Sun (article entitled "Constellation's CEO defends rates, merger: Interview with Mayo A. Shattuck III"):

    Sun reporter Paul Adams: Your post-merger benefits package will pay you tens of millions of dollars. How do you explain those numbers to people who are worried about a 72 percent increase in electricity costs?

    Mayo Shattuck the Third: Constellation is the leading power commodity business in the country. We have very talented people here, the most talented in the business. They've created something very special. They get compensated relative to their competitive peers in New York. Now, I could have fielded the junior varsity here to build Constellation, and we would have been crushed by the New York giants. Instead, we made a proactive decision to build the world-class commodity platform, and the individuals that created that need to be rewarded in the same way that the stars at T. Rowe Price and Legg Mason get rewarded. And we're very proud of that, and that adds to the tax base and the health of the community, and I don't believe people should be resentful of that success.

    Dream on, Mayo Shattuck the Third. I don't resent your success. I do resent your greed. It completely undercuts every last bit of philanthropy and public service you have ever undertaken.

    Maybe it's even worse if you are an economic conservative to see such a naked expression of greed as Mayo Shattuck the Third's. This just provides fuel to those who want the inefficient government to handle things better handled by private organizations.

    Our nation's electric grid is mess and in dire need of updating and investment, as we all should have gathered from the blackout in the Northeast United States Aug. 14, 2003.

    Deregulation changed how electricity was physically shared around the country, and an aging grid became a problem. Utility rates actually DO need to go up to address an aging infrastructure, see the conclusion of this explanation in The Industrial Physicist:

    One widely supported answer is to change the grid physically to accommodate the new trading patterns, mainly by expanding transmission capacity. The [Department of Energy] and [The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission], as well as organizations supported by the utilities, such as the Electric Power Research Institute and the Edison Electric Institute, advocate this approach. In reports before and after the blackout, they urged expanding transmission lines and easing environmental rules that limit their construction. The logic is simple: if increased energy trading causes congestion and, thus, unreliability, expand capacity so controllers can switch energy from line to line without overloading.

    To pay the extensive costs, the utilities and the DOE advocate increases in utility rates. “The people who benefit from the system have to be part of the solution here,” Energy Secretary Spencer Abrams said during a television interview. “That means the ratepayers are going to have to contribute.” The costs involved would certainly be in the tens of billions of dollars. Thus, deregulation would result in large cost increases to consumers, not the savings once promised. [Emphasis added.]

    As an economic conservative, I could with some reluctance buy into increased rates for improved reliability and security. No one wants to be on an operating table and have the hospital's electricity go out.

    But higher electricity rates so that Mayo Shattuck the Third can further line his own pockets -- in a merger that has my utility prices decided in Florida?? No way!

    Regardless of how Hancock writes this, and how much I understand the workings of capitalism, the brain goes:

    From the Baltimore Business Journal:

    Both critics and public relations experts independent of Constellation say the company comes off as arrogant, cold and unfeeling toward the plight of customers, especially seniors and those on fixed incomes. And the issue is getting personal: Activists are planning a protest at Constellation CEO Mayo A. Shattuck III's house on March 29.

    All of this political turmoil could have a big impact for the company, which is banking on getting the FPL merger approved by the end of this year. Lawmakers are talking about using the merger as a way to extract concessions from Constellation, including relief for ratepayers.

    "The way this has been handled has left people very angry," said state Sen. E.J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican. "They've taken an attitude that everything's just fine."

    Baltimore already has people too poor to heat and light their homes, witness this story of an 11-year-old boy rushed to Johns Hopkins, where he later died of burns from a house fire because their power had been shut off, and their home was lit with candles.

    As for the rich in their McMansions, they too are going to feel these hikes, trying to heat and cool 4,000 square feet, but presumably they know that if you ride big, you pay big. Or maybe they will wise up and join the Small House Movement?

    There are thousands of families like ours, kind of in the big middle, with a more modest-sized house and once-reasonable utility bills, wondering what to do. We are in Upper Fells Point, which bakes like the rest of cemented East Baltimore in the summer, with too few trees and parks. As heated air rises, our vertical rowhouses turn the 3rd floor into a sweatbox. It takes both central a/c and a room unit to make the 3rd floor liveable, because our 1980s rehab-era heating and cooling set-up lacks zoned systems.

    The house may already be as weatherproofed as it could possibly be. Some years ago we had a thermal inspection -- from Thermal Inspection Services in Allentown, Pa. For $250, the guy brought an infrared camera and provided us with a written report and a videotape showing air leaks in our house. We have caulked and sealed everything possible. The windows are reasonably new and double-paned.

    I'm not sure what we can do barring getting a higher efficiency furnace, which would be extremely expensive. We are probably stuck until the current furnace gives out.

    This is going to be tough.

    Mayo Shattuck the Third, you gall me. As a consumer, I am just mad enough to live in the dark and cold and keep my money from you. And I will not be happy about that.

    For other people, living in the dark and cold will be because they don't have the money to pay their bills and have had their power shut off.

    Our governor in Maryland, Bob Ehrlich, didn't help with a proposed $25 million to help the poor with their utility bills. OK, Bob, I'll be living in the cold and dark, AND be taxed more so others can be a little less in the cold and dark? Is that supposed to be a solution to a problem that is going to hit everybody?

    Why aren't you pushing for new technologies or an expansion of Maryland's nuclear power? Calvert Cliffs seems to be doing fine. Can you imagine the economic boon to our state if we found ways to provide affordable power to homes and businesses?

    Pass the hat to Mayo Shattuck the Third, he's got the $25 million. Maryland taxpayers -- and anyone using heat or air conditioning -- sure don't.

    March 1, 2006

    A get-well wish for Carl Schoettler

    Long-time Baltimore Sun feature writer Carl Schoettler was cruelly beaten in downtown Baltimore after a fender-bender on Saturday night.

    Carl Schoettler, image broadcast by WJZ-TV

    You can read the details, Police seeking suspect in attack on reporter and "3 hunted in attack on reporter" (Baltimore Sun, March 1, 2006) and see a forum discussion here.

    Excerpt from the latest story:

    Witnesses saw a man punch and knock Schoettler to the ground, kick him as he lay unconscious and then attempt to rob him by going through his pockets, according to a police report and police officials.

    The three people then jumped into the van and fled, police said. The van's driver - Gregory G. Kulla of Westminster - has said only that he gave a ride to a man believed to be Schoettler's attacker, Bealefeld said.

    Police said that Kulla has not fully cooperated with them or confirmed that he also gave a ride to the other man and a child. Police have charged Kulla with making a false statement.

    Schoettler, who has worked as a journalist for The Evening Sun and The Sun since 1959, remained in serious but stable condition yesterday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, his son Daniel Schoettler said.

    Condolences and wishes for a speedy recovery go to Carl and his family.

    My own connection to Carl began in 1973, as a sophomore at the University of Maryland College of Journalism. Right after I enrolled as a journalism major, Watergate happened, and UM was invaded by hordes of Woodward-Bernstein wannabees.

    J-majors had a mandatory News Writing class to take, and although I registered promptly for the semester, the class was filled. News Writing was a prerequisite for later classes, and I went to the administration in a state, worried that I couldn't graduate on time.

    UM hired Carl to teach the overflow students, all three of us: myself, Bob Ford and Greg Couteau.

    Our quartet met evenings in an otherwise empty classroom. As I recall, Bob, Greg and I were all thrilled to have, not a j-school professor, but a living, breathing Evening Sun reporter as a teacher!

    Carl was incredibly patient with our very first rookie news stories, brought to him on typed and erased paper. We received mentoring one on one from a guy who knew what he was talking about.

    Carl was one of a trio of teachers, the others being Bob Horowitz and Bill Alsberg of the Montgomery Journal, who taught me the basics of journalism. It's an incredible gift, because so often bigger papers are strictly a sink-or-swim proposition.

    I recall Carl gently suggesting changes to a story, usually prefaced with a humble, "Do you think this would be better if ... ?" He was a coffee fiend, not surprising after a full day as a reporter, and the drive from Baltimore to College Park. We loved his informality, taking little breaks to go to the vending machine, teaching along the way.

    All Carl's students turned out fine. I ended up later at the Baltimore Sun, in fact for one stint copy-editing Carl's feature writing. He never wanted a word changed, but I didn't take offense -- it was his work, and he turned in beautiful stories.

    Greg now appears to be at Defense News, and Bob MAY be at the Philadelphia Inquirer -- I'll e-mail and check.

    So Carl batted 1.000 in turning out ink-stained wretches who remain either in journalism or writing (books, in my case). Thanks again, Carl.

    November 20, 2005

    Thanks for remembering Ollie


    A card my mother sent me on Ollie's departure. It is printed by the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi in St. Francis, Wisc.

    Thanks so much to everyone who responded to news of the loss of Oliver. We received calls, cards, e-mails and condolences from Mom, Maureen, Sharon, Carol, Jim, Paul, Shirdell, Katie, Joanne, Justin, Andrea, Blaire, Lisa, Sarah, Joanie, Laura, the doctors and staff of Essex Dog and Cat Hospital, and others.

    We really appreciate your thoughts and the two cards showing grey cats, above and below! Thanks so much.

    This card arrived from Essex Dog and Cat Hospital -- thank you!

    November 13, 2005

    Well done, Megi


    Megi Morishita poses with two sisters at a nutrition center in Ghana.

    Our former housemate, Megi Morishita, graduated from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore in 2001, after staying with us during the 2000-01 academic year. She was a lot of fun, passionately interested in kayaking and travel, a great conversationalist as we both cooked in the kitchen, and helpful to me as I developed concepts for my forthcoming book, Romance on the Road.

    After graduation, Megi became a resident at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and now is a doctor in an obstetrics/gynecology, in Eugene, Ore.

    She was profiled Sept, 26, 2005, in the Racine (Wisc.) Journal, for a visit she took to Ghana to correct fistulas (a connection between two organs) in local women.

    Well done, Megi! We are very proud of you. It's inspiring to know someone making a difference in the world and embodying what public health is all about.

    We've had an illustrious list of housemates, including Laura, now a professor at American University; Jim, an analyst at the Rand Corp. in Los Angeles; Rose, a nurse in Seattle; Katie, a nurse in Columbia, Md.; Barbara, formerly with Doctors without Borders, who handled the outbreak of Ebola virus in Kitwit, Zaire, as well as maternal health improvements in Rwanda; Justin, a doctor at the estememed Royal Marsden Hospital in London; Mark, a dermatology researcher at Stanford University; Scott, an environmental biologist in Oregon; Joe, who is some kind of math genius and works for a banking firm; Steve, who analyzes X-rays; Muriel, who became qualified in nuclear medicine; and Michelle, a nurse at Johns Hopkins.

    Phew! That is quite a pedigreed group!

    Read or download this article about Megi, Changing lives a world away.

    November 9, 2005

    Goodbye to a fine grey boy


    Ollie enjoys a beautiful final afternoon last week, crouching beside our bike shed. An unseasonal strong warm wind bathed him Nov. 3, as he sniffed our flowers and hung out with Pierre (photo below).

    Oliver Belliveau, August 1991-Nov. 3, 2005 4:30 p.m. RIP

    aka Mr. Olls, the Oll-meister, Oliveiri

    Our fine grey boy has crossed the Rainbow Bridge, Ollie we miss you! The dining room isn't the same anymore but hope you are having fun in kitty Heaven.

    Our sweet Oliver lived to be 14, and survived one bout of feline lower urinary tract disorder in August, but not the second in November.

    If you are reading this and have an older male cat, you may extend his life if you keep him off dry food! Never punish him for mistakes of peeing outside the litter box -- get him tested by the vet and Google on FLUTD (feline lower urinary tract disorder) and diet. Considering buying him a pet water fountain so he doesn't dry out and worsen his urinary problems. And if he is an indoor cat, really think whether you want him vaccinated -- Ollie's medical folder shows he received a rabies vaccine in 2002, at age 11, and I wonder if this was (a) at all necessary (b) contributed to his getting sick a year later.

    Ollie's life

    Ollie came into our lives in October 1997, eight years ago. He spent his first 6 years with my brother Jim in Annapolis, who adopted him as a kitten from the SPCA of Anne Arundel County.

    Mousehunters.jpgJim did a great job raising Ollie and Casey, his other cat. He handled them often as kittens and they turned out well-socialized and excellent lap kitties. We inherited the pair of them after he got married and his wife's cat allergies overwhelmed her. Further, we had an annual mouse invasion each autumn, and our housemate Justin (a medical doctor familiar with hantaviruses) encouraged us to get cats as a countermeasure.

    At Jim's house, Ollie was, in his own mind, a panther in the tree limbs, enjoying looking down on people from high bookshelves and the refrigerator. He was sweet but rather shy. When we first got him, he spent three days under the day bed in our living room, spooked by his new situation.

    Over time he blossomed into a cheery ambassador unafraid to hang out with our guests. Three of our housemates fell in love with his guileless nature and habit of jumping up and arching his shoulders into a petting hand. He talked to whoever got to the kitchen first in the morning, trying to see if they would feed him before I stirred.

    From the Annapolis panther he morphed into a Baltimore tiger at the watering hole, sitting by the water bowl even when not drinking, while the dogs waited him out quietly.


    Sometimes Ollie would "groom" my hair by nibbling at it cat-style, but in general, he was fairly canine -- loyal, not a diva, and better than the dogs sometimes at being a watchdog.

    We've had one intruder, a neighborhood kid, walk on the roof of our house, which is galvanized steel and makes kind of a booming sound if anyone moves around on it. This happened one night when Ollie was perched on my lap as I was reading. Both of us swiveled our heads up at the noise while the dogs did nothing. Seeing Oliver react, I knew I hadn't been hearing things and we went upstairs to investigate. The kid was later arrested.

    "What do you think of when you think of Ollie?" I asked my husband Lamont.

    "He was a sentinel," Lamont said. In his final year he enjoyed sitting on the kitchen floor in front of the refrigerator, getting a blast of the warm air it exhales. "He was on the lookout for mice or anything else that might be moving around. He might not catch a mouse, but he was a sentinel. What do you think about him?"

    "He was gentle," I replied. Even when knocking off my little Buddha and Razorback figures off the windowsill, he did so with delicate little paw cuffs and a face the picture of innocence.

    Casey is a booming purrbox, audible from 10 feet, and quite pretty with her lynx-tipped ears, huge white whiskers, perfectly groomed bronze tiger-striped coat with Abyssinian ticking and fluffy lemur tail.

    Ollie was lower-key animal, and more subtle -- you could hear him purring happily away, but only if you put your ear to his body.

    Of our four pets, Oliver had the quietest resume. He never had the adventures of our shelties Beau (who has barked at the bison herd in Yellowstone and chased seagulls at Ocean City) or Pierre (a rescue who had survived a pet store, a noisy family of wild kids and a tumble into the Chesapeake).

    He had an annoying habit of licking our Venetian blinds and a cute trait of weaving around the plants surrounding our bathtub as though a jungle tiger. He loved making a close study of running water, be it the tub or a flushing toilet.

    Somehow without any drama, and despite me being a dog person, Ollie grabbed my affection. I guess it's true that you don't pick cats, they pick you. Ollie LOVED women and had not only me but some of our female housemates found him quite winning.

    Ollie thought he was one of the dogs. Here he is with Pierre on his last afternoon, Nov. 3. They had a game where Pierre would bark a deep "Woof WOOF," Oliver would fly upstairs, and then come back downstairs nonchalantly.

    Ollie's sickness

    Ollie first had blood in his urine circa December 2003. He had a number of tests and no obvious reason could be determined for his problems. He went on Waltham's (later Royal Canin) S/O diet. Cost of vet visit: $220.

    He never much liked his prescription food and I continued to give him canned Friskies and some of his dry food. This was probably a mistake. It might have been a better idea to try him on various quality canned foods or even a natural diet, or hand-feed him the S/O until he got used to it. I should have asked his vet, Dr. Pamela Nesbitt of Essex Dog and Cat Hospital, more questions -- was the S/O a lifetime diet? What if he didn't like it? Was there somewhere to access veterinary medical literature on FLUTD?

    Ollie had a good stretch, but blood reappeared in his urine again over the summer of 2005, and I took him to the vet Aug. 8 as it got worse. An X-ray showed stones in his ureter (the pipe from the kidneys to the bladder). "Stones in the ureter are difficult to manage," Dr. Nesbitt said. She recommended taking him to the Chesapeake Veterinary Referral Center in Towson for advice on treatment of this problem and to check on his loud heart murmur, which would require an echocardiogram costing $300-$400.

    "That's not gonna happen," I said stubbornly. Ollie's job as a cat, I figured, was to catch mice, make himself useful, and not run up huge bills in his senior years. Our four pets are supposed to fill ecological niches in the household -- catching mice, acting as watchpets, licking plates, eating cheese rinds and apple cores. Besides, we are a one-income family, and have to watch our expenses.

    We went home. After two days, Ollie began to deteriorate and moan, and tried to hide under our bedroom dresser. It was time to call CVRC. I might feel broke -- but not heartless. By the time I got him an appointment, he was "blocked," i.e., bloody sludge in his bladder had blocked his urethra, the pipe from his bladder to outside his body.

    On Aug. 11, we went to CVRC. I spoke with Dr. Keats. My bottom-line question was, Would spending this money guarantee another two years or so of life for this 14-year-old cat? "He's a gentle soul," I told Dr. Keats, "and I wouldn't want to see him hurting."

    I never got a clear answer. It just seems that no one can predict, and you roll the dice in these cases.

    CVRC presented me with an estimate of $1,300 for treatment. I was beginning to panic. This would run through my limited income as a part-time newspaper designer (long distance) for a chain of rural papers in Alaska. I'd have to hit savings. "Let me think about this," I told the tech.

    She left me alone in the room with Ollie. He seemed perked up by his surroundings, curious and engaged in his gentle way. "Do you think we should try this?" I asked him, rubbing his ears.

    Well, OK, another chance for Ollie. He had a ultrasound ($347) to see what was going on with his urinary systems and an echocardiogram ($429) that found he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy -- a heart condition that could have explained his lethargy. His heart problems did not preclude anesthesia, so we went ahead with surgery to insert a catheter to unblock him.

    After five days in intensive care ($400), with me visiting him to brush him and play with a shoelace, he came home. On the ride to our house I said, "OK Ollie, now you have to do whatever wild cats do to get better, because we are OUT of money!" Total bill: $1,630, higher than the estimate, plus another $50 for prescriptions.

    He had drugs to stimulate his appetite (Valium), and an antibiotic (Clavamox), as well as a beta-blocker (phenoxybenzamine) to slow down his heart.

    Ollie had a rough time but he was a little doll for his treatment. CVRC's techs (one, named Ethan, called Ollie "a lover," meaning a very dear cat) taught me how to give him a pill and to give him oral medication. I also hand-fed him as his appetite was not the best.

    It seemed touch-and-go his first weekend home -- he seemed zonked and drooling. He hated being confined in our bathroom, which doubles as a cat infirmary. I let him outside under supervision, and we hung out together. In the sunlight, and with constant vigilance, he began to improve.

    A last hurrah

    Over the next two months, Ollie became restored, and then he began to seem better than new. Now I kept him strictly on Royal Canin S/O. His coat for the first time in his life grew glossy and thick. He lost a few pounds and seemed more active. All in all, he had a vibrant renaissance.

    He began to prowl around and to chase Casey in a way he had not done in years. I put his old collar and bell on him to kept track of him during his recuperation. He would jingle from the kitchen, and I would call out from my office, "Ollie, watcha doin'."

    For the first time in years, he peed consistently in the litterbox and not, due to fear of pain associated with the litterbox, on the tiles in front of it. I took the top off one of the litterboxes, filled it with Yesterday's News litter, which Dr. Keats had recommended, and placed the litter box base in a larger plastic container (the kind used to mix cement). I put him on the litter each morning first thing, and lavishly praised him and gave him breakfast whether or not he went. Bless his heart, this patience worked where my punishment of his earlier mistakes did not.

    I brought him upstairs on Saturday, Oct. 29, as we watched a DVD. He was affectionate and playful with my husband Lamont, who usually is more partial to Casey, our other cat. Casey had always found her way to Lamont's basket of fresh-washed laundry, and Ollie to mine. They showed their preferences for us, and somehow could tell which clothes belonged to their favorite human despite smelling of the same detergent.

    Sunday, Oct. 30, I put Oliver on his litter and seemed to strain a bit. I often monitored him closely now. On Monday morning, Oct. 31, I walked into the kitchen and said hello to our housemate Cassie. I froze in mid-step -- where was the grey boy's meow of greeting?

    "Where's Ollie?" I asked. Cassie said she didn't know. I pirouetted and found him immediately -- under the table huddled on a chair. Put on his litter, he strained but nothing came out. I called Dr. Nesbitt and took him in to Essex Dog and Cat. We learned Oliver was blocked again, and he was checked in for another catheter. The echocardiogram that CVRC had automatically forwarded to Dr. Nesbitt gave her the confidence to proceed with anesthesia.

    I was confident he'd be home by Thursday, so confident that he had years ahead of him that I asked Dr. Nesbitt if she wanted to clean his teeth while he was under. (No, came the answer: We'll focus on one thing at a time.) This time, there had been no hesitation and second-guessing about beginning expensive treatment. We would pay for it and take it from there. We had bonded more deeply during his recuperation, and I just had faith that I was doing the right thing, even if money was no more plentiful. If anything, it was even tighter, as I had gone through a computer failure and replacement, a recoating of our back roof, and was beginning to hunt for estimates to replace our front roof. Well, savings would just have to come into play.

    I went in Wednesday to brush Oliver and talk to him in his cage at the vet's. Ollie seemed active and ate quite a bit when I was there, and he also seemed feisty and uncomfortable with having a catheter coming out of his rear.

    I planned to call Thursday, Nov. 3, at 11 a.m. to see how he was doing. At 10:20 a.m., Dr. Nesbitt called me.

    "Oh Miss Belliveau," said Dr. Nesbitt, and I could hear her message in her anxious voice. "I'm afraid Oliver isn't doing too well."

    They had removed the catheter Wednesday night and he had reblocked. "Also, his heart murmur sounds stronger than it did Wednesday," she said. They had tried to manually empty his bladder, and to reinsert the catheter without anesthesia, but Ollie had fought the vets.

    Dr. Nesbitt said they could re-anesthetize Ollie and try to catheterize him again, but what with his heart murmur, his age, and the stones in his ureter that might at any time wander out and block him again, well ...

    "Is it time to let him go?" I asked.

    "You can think about it, but let me know if you can by noon or 1 or 2 what you want to do," she said.

    Well, here we were back where we were in August, when I had questioned how to proceed with a 14-year-old cat with stones, a bladder problem and a wonky heart. At least we had given him a chance. It's better probably to try and fail than to try to "guess" a pet's time is up.

    I called Lamont, basically to see if we should go over and put Oliver to sleep at the vet's. Lamont surprised me with his response. He basically thinks animals always want to live, and never wish to die, giving as an example his dog McGraw, who lived til 17 and was not put to sleep during her final weak days. Lamont suggested bringing Ollie back home to see how he would do.

    I knew Dr. Nesbitt wouldn't go for that, but I called her back and told her Lamont's reaction. She confirmed that Ollie would not recover, and would have a miserable last 24 to 48 hours. She had never seen a cat spontaneously unblock, and she had seen blocked cats in the latter stages, and "it isn't pretty."

    We compromised. I would pick up Oliver and bring him home around 1 p.m., and bring him back for euthanasia before the vet closed at 6 p.m. At best, he might have a miracle. At worst, I could hang out with him at home, check him over, spring him from the vet's cage for just a little bit of time.

    I went to Essex Dog and Cat and settled Ollie's next-to-last bill ($860). They brought him out in his carrier. He was growling unhappily, and still had his IV in his front leg, hidden by a pretty red bandage. "Ooh, you are not a happy camper," I said to our discontented cat.

    We drove west along Pulaski Highway, and he was quiet and alert, no longer growling. Ollie did seem to be trembling, but I wasn't entirely sure if it was the car or him. He really seemed to fight against his last hospitalization, and as sick as he was, seemed more content to be heading home.

    It was quite bittersweet to have him home from 1 until 3 p.m. The best part about it was getting to shoot some final pictures of him for this page. He tried to hide behind our bike shed, but otherwise perked up a bit while he was outside. For a few minutes, he clung gently to the front of my sweetshirt, as I enfolded him in my arms.

    ollieailing.jpgHe didn't feel so great in his last hours, as the photo at the right shows him a bit downcast.

    In the house, I put him in a box lined with old sweatpants. He tried to curl up but couldn't fold his leg with the IV. He closed his eyes, but didn't lay his head down in comfort, and trembled slightly but steadily. I had never seen him in such discomfort, and I did not know a cat could be brave and stoic in such a situation.

    I wondered if he was really up for a ride back to the vet, about 30 minutes away. I called three mobile vets regarding home euthanasia but couldn't get in touch with any of them, and the neighborhood vet (Doc-Side) said they didn't do home euthanasia. [Later, Dr. Griffin of Companion Care mobile vet care in Dundalk did leave a message, he is at 410-285-5442 if anyone wants to try him.]

    Oh well, we would go back to Essex Dog and Cat -- at least Dr. Nesbitt, who seemed fond of Ollie, would handle his last minutes.

    In the car, his heart was beating rapidly -- I could see his white locket of fur at his throat jumping, which I had never noticed before. I picked up Lamont at his job, and he took us to Essex Dog and Cat. As any pet owner knows, this is a dreadful experience -- the last drive to the vet.

    The one saving grace was Lamont's steadiness. "Ollie, make a run for it," he said when he got in the car -- a joke but a very serious one.

    We headed east on Orleans Street toward Essex. I was bumping up against the reality that this was Oliver's final hour. With four pets with an aggregate 53 years on Earth, it's inevitable that one would be crossing the Rainbow Bridge. We'd been really lucky not to have been in this situation long before.

    That the first was our unassuming "fine grey boy," rather than our oldtimer Beau, a 15 3/4 year old sheltie, came as a bit of a shock.

    "Oh, there's one detail," I said to Lamont. "It's $60 for euthanasia if you bury the animal yourself, $70 if the body goes to mass cremation, and $200 if you want a private cremation where you get the ashes back."

    We had nowhere to bury Ollie at our rowhouse, which has no yard, and another $200 for private cremation, on top of $2,900 in other expenses, weighed on my mind.

    Lamont said we could bury Ollie at his mother's house.

    I had felt inconsolable until that point, but the thought of knowing where Ollie would rest finally began to calm me slightly.

    Lamont carried Ollie in his box into an exam room at the vet: "Ollie, hurry up," he said, peering down at the grey boy resting on sweatpants, "pee in your box," he coaxed. Lamont also talked soothingly of soccer and other topics as we waited for Dr. Nesbitt, and Ollie's ears perked up and followed his calming tenor voice.

    A tech named Kathy took Oliver away to give him a sedative. That takes about 20-25 minutes to work. He was returned to the exam room as it took effect. A member of the staff brought me a final bill ($60, euthanasia for a pet under 30 lbs.). I could hardly see where to sign the slip through the tears in my eyes.

    Dr. Nesbitt came in stroked his sleepy head. Ollie's pupils grew large. The poor guy vomited three times as a result of the sedative, and we cleaned him up with paper towels.

    "Are we ready?" the vet asked. We nodded. I cradled Ollie in my arms on the exam table, where he lay on his right side on a thick green towel. She cleared his IV, and then put a different solution in the IV. I couldn't detect any change at all in Ollie -- he seemed peaceful -- but after two seconds, Lamont saw his upper rear leg lower quietly to the table. Dr. Nesbitt got her stethoscope and announced, "He's gone."

    She left us with him for five minutes. We smoothed the green towel, and stroked his still-warm and soft fur. Then she came to take his body to the freezer. We would pick him up Saturday for burial.

    Ollie's burial

    Friday night Lamont rented the DVD of "Pet Semetary," as a fitting prelude. Heck, it featured a big grey cat in a starring role! On Saturday, we went to pick up Ollie's body. He was placed in a white cardboard coffin and brought out the back doors so as not to upset the owners of live pets in the vet's lobby.

    We drove the coffin and a shovel to Lamont's mom's place; we could have used a tarp as well to neatly pile the dirt.

    I carefully started cutting the sod including 6 inches of roots to eventually return it to the top of the soil. [More on pet burial from Dr. Michael Fox, the Washington Post's Animal Doctor, who recommends placing a stone over the grave.]

    I only had my running shoes; boots would have been better to drive the shovel. Still, it was extraordinarily therapeutic to dig the grave. Peter Gabriel's song "Digging in the Dirt" played in my mind.

    Lamont went to change into his heavier boots, and on his return made a beautiful grave, deep with perfect square and smooth sides. I looked at a smear of bright red Maryland clay on his black jeans and felt a deep gratitude for his manliness; I had fallen apart at the loss of a pet, he had stayed strong.

    Best of all, he never said, "I can't believe you are falling apart over a cat."

    Lamont was a champ Saturday. We chatted as he dug quite deep. "Imagine what it must have been like to be on the frontier, and have to dig graves for people," I mused. It was a fair amount of work digging a pet-sized grave, for humans it must be quite taxing.

    We each took a handle and lowered the coffin. I placed some ocean whitefish Pounce treats on top. It was time for the eulogies.

    "Thanks for staying with us Ollie," I said. "You were a fine gray boy, and you had an interesting life in Annapolis and Baltimore. The dining room doesn't seem the same without you."

    "I went down to the kitchen last night," Lamont added, "and you weren't lying by the refrigerator, waiting for mice, but maybe you were there in spirit."

    We took turns filling dirt back in. Lamont tamped it down nicely with his boots.

    We drove off, with Lamont announcing, "We're taking a detour." We went to see the grave of Lamont's Dad, who died in 1991, in January (Ollie was born seven months later). I had never seen it before. It was a beautiful afternoon, with trees turning scarlet and light gold everywhere in Northwest Baltimore, and geese feeding on the lake.

    Lamont spoke of the final movies he and his Dad had watched together. I got a sense that my sorrow at losing Ollie had connected him with events 14 years ago. I was again touched that he wasn't making fun of me; moreover, he was finally showing me his father's resting place.


    I never quite got over my panic, when Ollie first got sick in August, at how to pay for his vet bills. We were in some indeterminate place between poor people, who would have let him hide outside behind the bike shed and have a painful passing, and people with good incomes, who might have paid $6,000 for several rounds of catheterization and ultimately a PU operation, which is essentially a sex change that avoids the blockage problem.

    We were in-between economically, and Oliver's health, age and heart were in-between. We let him have a chance, and he enjoyed a renaissance for more than two months. The money question, now that vets are so expensive, never quite left, however. In looking at my files, I realize that I never even filled a second prescription CVRC gave me for Ollie's heart. It went into my files, along with the rest of the paperwork from CVRC, unread and unfilled. I wasn't rejecting the prescription, I was too dazed to absorb another piece of paper. That's how muddled I became at the combination of our cat being sick and the expense.

    Perhaps Ollie's case was somewhat unusual. CVRC couldn't seem to get any crystals from his urine to tell if they'd be caused by a diet too acidic or too alkaline. That would have helped in fashioning his care. I bought him natural, unsweetened cranberry juice to heal his bladder, but didn't dare give it to him since his problems might have been exacerbated if his urine was already too acidic. Like everything else in his case, I was confused. Maybe if I gave him the juice, he'd be healed today. Or maybe he'd have gotten sicker faster.

    I had asked Dr. Keats if there was a way to test his urine to determine its acidity, and he shook his head in incomprehension. "Then I don't dare give him cranberry juice." He shook his head no. Some Internet cat forums describe using cranberry juice, but again, I was at a dead end -- the vet hadn't heard of this treatment, and didn't know if there were strips or anything to do home tests of cat urine.

    If anyone reading this has insights to what could have been done better in this case, please drop me a line.

    olliemeo.jpgAt some point, when it comes to money and health, our fate is in God's hands, and He will provide. Casey was sick with hepatic lipidosis in October 2003, and cost us $1,000. The following year, I lucked into my Alaska newspaper job. This uptick in my finances felt as though generosity to this small creature was repaid manyfold in a fortunate turn of events. You do what you have to do.

    What I don't understand is, why don't all vets and fellow cat owners tell us not to give dry food, or cheap canned food, to male cats ???

    Clearly cats would have died out as a species if their diets in the wild led to stones and bladder sludge that blocked many of the males' tiny urethras and killed them. Now rows of cages at the vets are filled with boys on commercial diets recovering from catheterization, and Web sites talk vaguely about "stress" and "diet" playing a role. Come on!

    Oh well, it is a week later now. Though I still fill hollow at times, I've come to terms with the fact that our family of four pets is not immortal, and the youngest of the remaining trio is 10. I'm relieved that Ollie is no longer in pain.

    And I spent a fair amount of time looking at images of grey cats up for adoption on Petfinder and the SPCA of Anne Arundel County Web site. I've learned, from looking at cats that could nearly be his twin, that Ollie was actually what is called a blue tabby -- darker, with a slate color on a buff background, and more splendid than a silver.

    I am grateful to Ollie for showing me how to be more patient, and also revealing my husband's strength. I noticed the clay earth clinging to Lamont's black jeans cuffs Saturday night. Men just seem to know what to do in some situations, how to behave, how to soothe and how to bury.

    Let me close with thanks to Dr. Nesbitt, who was an angel in Oliver's last minutes, giving him an extra shot for his nausea. She rubbed Oliver's head and called him "beautiful."

    I whispered to Oliver my last words for him, "I'll see you later." As Todd Rundgren sings on "The Afterlife," "You and I have unfinished business," more morning chats about getting some food in the bowl, more half-hour brushings while you purr, sleeping at night on the top of my pillow. Billy Graham was once asked if there would be dogs in Heaven and he replied: “If it’s necessary for our happiness, then they will be there.” Let's hope the same is true for for all companion animals.

    July 1, 2004

    What is O'Malley thinking?

    I am sitting now in the Anchorage, Alaska, public library, reading online the Baltimore Sun. I am wondering if Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley really said:

    I remember after the attacks of September 11, as mayor of the city, I was very, very worried about al-Qaida and still am. But I'm even more worried about the actions and inactions of the Bush administration.

    Given my current distance from Baltimore, it seems almost like a parody of life to read that these remarks landed WBAL jockey Chip Franklin on Bill O'Reilly's show, but I supposed it all really happened. Figures I would miss all this political excitement in Baltimore!

    This is just another example of mayoral meltdown in the city, as our once tough-on-crime candidate that filled many city residents with hope descends like a freefalling elevator into kneejerk liberalism and perhaps even the Hard Left.

    June 14, 2004

    High real estate prices in Fells Point -- and social tension

    This is pretty amazing -- $700,000 loft homes to be built in Fells Point.

    A discussion on the Baltimore Sun's local news forum presents two themes. Theme One, Who wants to spend that much to live in noisy, no-parking Baltimore? Fumes posts:

    For that much cash, I want the driveway, a big house, and a cemetary quiet neighborhood.

    LonelyDove adds:

    Who can afford that much money to live in the city? I don't care if it's Canton, Fells Point, Butchers Hill etc, there is no house in the city worth that kind of money. For the money I would want a hugh house in the county with a built in pool, deck, big big flower bed, lots of trees, central a/c and at least five bedrooms for my brood to run and hide in. My husband and I both work and we could never afford those kind of prices.

    Theme Two: What are the rich folk in their $700,000 loft homes going to do when local Welcome Wagon, the punks, gang-bangers and hoodlums, come a'calling from rotten neighborhoods and public housing a short stroll away? mj posts:

    ... these little regentrification enclaves may be nice, they don't mean a thing if you have a forgotten area located two blocks away or hoodlums from the hellholes crossing over into the "chosen areas"... And that is why he [the mayor] gets so defensive and almost irrational because many people know that all the cosmetic improvements etc do not mean a thing if you cannot get the basics right. Rome is burning and MOM wants to measure his success (and the City's) on whether Fells Point gets a Starbuck francise.

    Bingo! A precious geographic insight. One more time: "... these little regentrification enclaves may be nice, they don't mean a thing if you have a forgotten area located two blocks away or hoodlums from the hellholes crossing over into the 'chosen areas.' "

    What is interesting to me is to see how quickly forum posters pounce on the mayor (MOM = Martin O'Malley) and his attempt to get more Starbucks for Baltimore. You can't see right away why the mayor would have a problem when a developer decides to build $700,000 loft homes.

    But perceptive residents immediate make the real-world connection on the tensions between Baltimore's booming neighborhoods to the south and east of the harbor with poorer, more inland neighborhoods literally half-blocks away.

    I dealt with this dichotomy an earlier blog, Baltimore's Upper Fells Point: Worst of all worlds. Who wants both Starbucks yuppies AND your car windows busted in? How does one deal with streams of transient trouble-makers drawn to the magnet of your corner store, open to all hours with a gracious reception to the local dealers, on what should be one of the nicest residential streets in Baltimore, Ann Street?

    We had problems Saturday night/Sunday morning, when a Latin gang rolled on to Ann Street. A vehicle double-parked in front of our house and 10 guys in wifebeater T-shirts got out. They started screaming and swinging baseball bats around a black SUV, then went and banged on a door on Pratt Street. Parked in front of the Pratt Street house they found a second black SUV, apparently the target of their gang activity. They started breaking the windows with their bats and clambering over the hoods of other cars before driving away!

    Rehabbers and developers are trying to get close to $400,000 for houses in Upper Fells Point, no doubt from Starbucks customers, amid gang violence?

    And poster Bud notes:

    700K for a house. Then, the liberal city government will force you to financially support those in other areas of the city that have no desire to fend for themselves. ... and people living in certain areas of the city feel they are somehow "entitled" to your money.

    Baltimore lacks buffers between many of its war zones and its expensive, let alone middle-class housing. It's a geographic curiosity compared to Washington, D.C., where Rock Creek Park (less so now) used to clearly divide rich and poor. I am not advocating economic or geographic apartheid, only noting as someone that tends to analyze social issues in a geographic and spatial manner, that the middle class and the rich will not stay in areas that are not safe, and protection has not changed much since the days of castle keeps and moats. Hence the huge popularity of gated communities in Florida and California.

    In urban Baltimore, we have the perfect opposite of gated communities.

    There is a beauty to our chaos for the amateur sociologist. David Simon had to drive from home to write his book Corner The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, about a drug area in West Baltimore. I just have to sit in my office in the front of my house and turn my neck to look out the window.

    For those who aren't amateur sociologists, or writers or moviemakers, however, the endless stream of transients and problems gets old, and eventually people close out the neighborhood, shutting out friend and enemy alike, or move.

    Baltimore City puts public housing in prime, desirable areas (between downtown and Fells Point, for example, around Johns Hopkins hopsital, and formerly right beside Little Italy) in such a way as to maximize friction and minimize the chance for a truly healthy, propering middle-class district to coalesce around all sides of the waterfront, and lift all boats.

    A realtor once reluctantly pointed out to me, to my pestering about why certain blocks stall and die, how food kitchens drag down Mount Vernon and create an abrupt halt to improvements marching through northeast Butchers Hill and the western edge of Fells Point.

    In balkanized Baltimore, we have oases that attempt stability despite drug toughs who move in on many a corner. You would think someone sitting on property worth 300 to 700K would protect their investment with a bit of sweat equity -- a baseball bat or shotgun -- but people in certain income brackets spend a lot of their time earning the mortgage money and commuting and don't need a criminal record earned in their rare down time as a result of being goaded by street punks quite wise in the quirks of the legal system.

    Hence the unease on the local news forum at seeing a real estate bubble. Hence people that buy an expensive Fells Point home and retreat to live in their back rooms, away from the vagabonding out on the sidewalk.

    The reason a local news forum quickly turns from apparent good news for local homeowners (this project might raise my home value!) to negative assessments of the mayor is that no one has any confidence that education, jobs or public safety are coming any time soon to the poor areas of the city.

    Various theories are afloat on why our once tough-on-crime mayor, now moved on to trivial concerns such as Starbucks for city yuppies, has fallen so short of his initial promise. The most convincing theory is that he relizes that the job of mayor is a one-way ticket to political oblivion.

    Too bad. It'd be nice if the youth who roam down from Chapel and Monument streets were on their way to real jobs, not their posts within the drug economy. Why, the drug runners and dealers are the ambitious strivers, compared to those with no goals at all, except to smash a window or two.

    April 25, 2004

    A dreadful tax plan

    Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's tax plan seems to go out of its way to display ossified thinking on public finance.

    Let's tax people, the mayor's line of reasoning seems to run, where it really hurts — home heating and light and basic telephone service — with no effort to cut frills in the budget, such as the plan to offer tests for erstwhile firefighters 24 times as often.

    The Baltimore Sun (April 25, 2004) reports:

    One proposal would impose a 4 percent energy tax on manufacturers, residents, churches, nonprofit organizations and state and federal office buildings. Another would create a $3.50 monthly fee for cell and conventional phones with billing addresses in the city, and a third would raise the fees people pay when they buy real estate.

    For a household with a $150 monthly gas and electric bill, plus a cell phone and conventional phone, O'Malley's proposed tax increases would cost about $114 a year.

    The mayor proceeds to pull the oldest stunt in the local government book of war: threatening to cut first popular programs, such as police and recycling, rather than more ancillary programs.

    And taxing energy? When the cost of natural gas and electricity has been soaring steadily? I personally have been frantic to lessen our energy use for years now, caulking every seam in our 1848 house, adding Styrofoam plugs to our skylights, installing ceiling fans (new installations -- what a chore -- when you do it yourself to save $$), pulling the ducts in our basement to find crawlspace air leaks and then sealing the duct seams. All these tasks were guided by an infrared energy audit of our property.

    We keep our winter thermostat at 65 degrees (!) and we are paying a lot of money to be not very comfortable. I bet this is the case across much of the city.

    At some point, O'Malley's energy tax is going to send city residents already struggling with the energy costs of running a city rowhome (with their impossibly different microclimates between the ground and top floors) not just out of Baltimore but down to the Carolinas or elsewhere in the Sun Belt.

    Then there's the attempt to further load up our phone bill with yet another line item having nothing to do with service. Over the years, our monthly plan has gone from $15 to $30 so as to fund all manner of dubious taxes and services for the ostensible poor. If the mayor proceeds with this tax, I will be calling Verizon to change our plan, getting rid of Answercall, most likely. Something has got to give in our family budget and it will be that. So we shall see in micro form the way higher taxes exert their drag on the economy.

    April 21, 2004

    Where's the fire?

    Much ado in a Baltimore Sun article (April 20, 2004) about the firefighters' test that resulted in an all-white cadet class in Baltimore.

    "The department, from the division chief of personnel on down, was concerned something like this would happen," said James Gardner, a department spokesman. "It was just one of those anomalies where a great number of minorities did not take the test and, number two, a great number of them did not score high on the test."

    The article presents the views of retired black firefighters that essentially demand that the process of advertising the test, the test itself and hiring be manipulated until more minorities become part of the department.

    In other words, let's start with the skin color results we want, and work backwards.

    The current system seems to reward applicants with experience gained in other jurisdictions, to which one can only say bravo. The one somewhat grey area is that hearing about the test seems to require having an inside track, i.e., firefighting friends already "in the club."

    Gee ... reminds me of journalism! You have to be part of the club to even know where the jobs are. This happens all the time.

    You read the article top to bottom waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the first inkling that for some nefarious reason, the fire department is unfairly screening out minority applicants. And that other shoe never drops. It looks like this year, the same process that in the past produced mixed groups of cadets this time did not.

    The problem, one suspects, lies right under our noses, in a crippled school system and crime-riddled city that per usual does not produce graduates able to do much of anything.

    It is especially alarming to contemplate that "the Fire Department interviewed several black candidates who had passed the entrance exam but in nearly every case the person was disqualified for failing either a criminal background check or drug screening." One wonders about less care being taken in the future with the criminal background check, and the stage being set for the kind of problems seen a decade ago in Washington, D.C., when the city waved in a group of criminals into the ranks of its police.

    Some sense appears in Gregory Kane's column (April 21, 2004, Baltimore Sun) on the flap, wherein he quotes the current fire chief, William J. Goodwin Jr.:

    But by Goodwin's own admission, that same process worked for the eight black and six white command staffers standing behind him. When I suggested that the process that resulted in an all-white class was completely color-blind and in accordance with the law of the land, Goodwin couldn't disagree.

    "Was [the process] fair?" Goodwin asked. "It was absolutely fair. Did we follow all the civil service laws? Absolutely. But the process has to be something we need to do better at. Up front, the process is flawed."

    No chief, the process isn't flawed. You are tumbling in Wonderland, like Alice, where fair means not fair, where colorblind means color obsessed, and where schools can continue to fail because society will rig all jobs everywhere to camouflage its failures of education.

    April 19, 2004

    Jury duty in Baltimore

    What a surprise. Not even one third of the Baltimore residents summoned each day to jury duty actually appear, according to an article in the Baltimore Sun (April 19, 2004):

    Nationally, poor juror turnout has reached a "crisis level," according to the Washington-based American Legislative Exchange Council, an information clearinghouse. Jurors avoid service whenever they can - and even when they can't, according to the council.

    The article does little to explain the fury of the average Baltimore citizen, especially the self-employed, toward the jury system.

    First of all, the city demands you be at the courthouse at 8 a.m., where pretty much nothing happens for two hours except that you get processed and exposed to some awful third-tier video from Blockbuster on the closed-circuit TV.

    Then you get called in to a big room for jury selection. Most of the time, it is to listen to the judge describe that you are being considered to hear the case along the following lines, where some congenital liar with dollar signs in his or her eyes claim that an MTA bus hit them. One feels miles away from any feeling that one is doing one's civic duty to protect the innocent from murder and mayhem. No, it is more often a bunch of litigious nonsense from scam meisters, inventing tales of falling into uncovered manholes etc., who hope that a claim against a public agency will help them buy a new sofa.

    Think I'm being cynical? Then you haven't lived in a declining city with a population so evenly divided between law abiders and law breakers, and with so many scammers exploiting their right to a trial by jury, that jury duty becomes onerous.

    Some jurors with salaried employment no doubt look forward to a jury duty as a break in their routine. People doing day work or self-employed, such as myself and others, can usually be found complaining to high heaven, however, about losing a day's time for cases that are pure nonsense.

    If you actually get on a jury, for a real criminal case, you can usually count on one, two, three or four jurors to ritualistically chant, "Police lie, they lie," so that the merits of the case often have little bearing on the verdict. This is another manifestation of the deep split in this city between law abiders and law breakers, and the many who live in the grey in-between world of scamming.

    Further thinning the jury pool is the absence of Appalachian whites such as some of my neighbors who do construction work. One of them told me he wrote a letter to the jury supervisor saying that he couldn't be on a jury because he was "prejudiced." Another chimed in that he went in person to the courthouse to make the same claim. It's one way to get out of jury duty.

    What's the answer?

    Citizens have voted by stubbornly doing everything in their power to avoid jury service. The court system needs to fix itself by looking into the reasons why.

    April 9, 2004

    Baltimore's Upper Fells Point: Worst of all worlds

    When living in a generally poor Northeastern city such as this, one might reasonably expect to have one of two possible constellations of problems in your neighborhood.

    Maybe you're in a rough area, with drug dealers on the corner, pit bulls owning the park, and so many car break-ins that you just leave a taped shopping bag in the window to avoid your third call to the insurance company in a few months.

    (Not just our sedan, but many others in the neighborhood wear paper-bag windows, and sometimes my walks take place through a sea of shattered, celadon-green safety glass.)

    Or you might be a bit luckier and live in a Yuppified district, where higher home values have driven out the hookers and hillbillies (who actually can be far more intriguing individuals). But in this case parking becomes impossible, with each 15-foot-wide rowhouse needing spaces for two SUVs. Your once private roof deck is ringed by others, with satellite dishes set up exactly to block your water view and chimes hung by those who have never read letters to "Dear Abby" by neighbors driven insane by those who crave quiet.

    In an improving neighborhood, some rowhouses become home to three or four twenty-something girls and their rotating boyfriends, chewing up most of the block's parking spaces, and oblivious to how their drunken revelry at 2 a.m. Sunday morning travels undiminished into your rowhouse bedroom.

    Welcome to Upper Fells Point, Baltimore's eastside neighborhood with the worst of both worlds.

    The neighborhood that first enthralled me when I arrived in Baltimore in January 1987 seems quite tarnished now. Despite constant rehabbing in these parts, and the more than doubling of our house value, life often feels crowded and mean.

    The drug corner

    Walking our two shelties the two blocks to the nearest park crystalizes the problem. The walk has turned into a virtual gauntlet. A drug gang arrives each evening at the corner store at Ann and Pratt streets, slinging bicycles over the entry steps and loitering with pit bulls under the benevolent eye of the Sri Lankan shopkeepers.

    DeWitt, Erika and their crew of dealers arrived exactly two years ago. We had a flurry of calling the police on them, but I think everyone eventually realized that the shopkeepers want their trade and are the crux of the problem. And the more we called police, the more the kids' most hard-core friends arrived to make trouble.

    I know one neighbor who just left Ann Street because of the constant "transients" the store attracts and is much happier on her quiet street in Canton.

    If I steer clear of that corner, I must cross one-way Pratt street outside of a crosswalk and in the blind spot of turning drivers.

    Dog poop

    One block up Ann Street, an unleashed dog with Yuppie owners (new) on the north side of the street charged us on Wednesday night. The south side has long has Jake, another frequently unleashed dog. We can now walk in the street I suppose, or take Regester Street, strewn with broken glass.

    I pick up after my dogs once at the park, stepping carefully around giant piles of turds left by apparently 95 percent of the other dog owners. For this trouble, I was visited today by Animal Control, with a complaint that I (!) don't pick up after my dogs. I showed the officer my stack of plastic bags sitting right beside the front door and demanded to know who reported that I didn't pick up after my dogs.

    Oh ... the complaint is anonymous. Hmmm, do you think it could possibly be a drug dealer, or one of their sympathizers?

    The drug kids operate with complete impunity, and their cohorts work the system to load petty irritants on the taxpayer.

    The neighborhood is now packed with unleashed dogs (and snapping leashed pit bulls) making every walk tense.


    Adding insult to the injury of petty and/or criminal neighbors are the rehabbers, including the flaming jackass who did the property next door and rammed a new roof deck against our chimney with no gap whatsoever. The inspector made him cover the side of the (flammable wooden) deck with a sheet of metal. So much for our water view. How the new neighbors are supposed to stain and waterproof their wood, jammed against our brick wall, is a mystery.

    Our rehabbers, including out-of-town dilettantes who read somewhere that property investment was the next big thing after the collapse, take up parking spaces with their waste containers, spray acid everywhere when they clean brick, and make our neighborhoods filthy, dirty, gravelly messes. Supposedly this should eventually improve Fells Point, but it is a painful process when you have so much substandard housing stock that rehabbing looks like a 30-year permanent condition.

    Some of our neighbors point to our increasing property values. What happens when you simply decide you don't like where you live very much any more?


    I moved to Baltimore with a mind to exploring it like a foreign country, and was amazed by my early encounters with neighbors including Crazie Margie, Crazy Bob (you can see a certain nickname pattern developing ...), Cissy the porch-sitter with the foghorn voice, her nefarious and delinquent grandsons Karl and Bonzo, and Melvin with his safety pin holding his coat together and his "I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up" ballcap.

    Now, our neighbors are people from ... Montgomery County, Maryland, where I'm from. Nothing against that, except that one redeeming feature of being in a discordant area is a few laughs from the colorful characters. Now all these characters have moved, to Pennsylvania and Ohio, no doubt after careful investigation into various Social Service entitlements.

    Let me distinguish between yuppies, who are big into catalogs of home furnishings, and homesteaders, also young professionals but with a certain toughness and realism about real life in the city. I would put my neighbors Blaire and Linda into the homesteaders category.

    What's left for us homesteaders? A yuppie suburb, with more crime!

    March 13, 2004

    Ehrlich vs. O'Malley

    Dan Rodricks captures the cultural subtext surrounding those elk pawing the ground, namely, the mayor of Baltimore and the governor of Maryland, in his column here.

    Now let's look at the substance of their debate, which is over Baltimore's insolvent school system, discussed earlier in this blog.

    As with any system, teacher salaries are the bulk of the operating costs and the first place to look for savings. Rodricks however places teacher union contracts as sacrosant and scolds Ehrlich for daring to look at the most obvious area of savings.

    This places Rodricks as committing the classic liberal error of linking school spending with quality of education. As someone who spent grades 1-8 in a Catholic school, and 9th grade in public school, I can attest first hand how much better the education can be in a school with far lower spending.

    Liberal thinking also routinely places the welfare of teachers above the welfare of pupils. Unfortunately, teacher welfare can be antithetical to student welfare. Just look at the "liberal" and teacher union screams against vouchers to private and parochial schools.

    From what I can see of the public school students in my neighborhood, every administrator, principal and teacher needs to hand back at least half of his or her salary immediately. Whatever is going on in Baltimore classrooms, it's not working.

    The errant police chief's striking wife

    What a stunning fall for former Baltimore police chief Ed Norris, who pled guilty to corruption and tax fraud in his misuse of a slush fund, in part to entertain multiple girlfriends. Now he may lose his pension.

    And what a rotten set of circumstances for his wife.

    Kathryn Norris is tall, blond, striking, intelligent and talented artist, whose large-scale abstract paintings used to hang in her husband's Baltimore office. That tidbit according to the chief himself. I met Ed, Kathryn, and their little blond, curly-haired son at an art gallery down the street from my home about a year ago.

    I know I am not the only woman mystified by his apparent running around.

    In December, the local noon news was on TV at a physical therapy exercise room I went to for treatment of my broken wrist.

    Local TV news reported the charges against Norris. It turned out that I was not the only one of several women in the room who had met or seen the high-profile couple around town.

    Speculation ran rife among us just how furious Kathryn Norris might be. Mike Olesker notes he didn't have the class to even spend his own money on his flings.

    March 10, 2004

    O'Malley: Huge blunder

    What was Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley thinking when he pulled his stunt Monday, misleading the City Council into approving a bailout of city schools by wiping out the city's rainy-day fund instead of letting the state handle the loan?

    And then calling Annapolis to say the city no longer needed a state bailout?

    Jaws of hard-working homeowners dropped across the city as the repercussions began to roll in: Possibly lower bond ratings for the city, possibly burned bridges with the state legislature, and no doubt the image of living in a city that overnight feels like a banana republic, with an incompetent school board, gullible city council and petulant, partisan mayor feuding with his Republican governor.

    How likely are the schools to repay a "loan" from a political mayor, vs. one from a state agency? I can smell my taxes rising now.

    The situation is complex, obviously, but none of this helps either the suffering residents of this city, or its legions of almost perfectly empty-brained public school students. I have in the past hired local kids for various tasks, 14-year-olds who cannot tell me their wages (hours times rate) at the end of the day, or read labels in my workshop well enough to put a tool away.

    Someone is criminally negligent in mishandling not only school money but the lives of young Baltimoreans who can't manage their way into religious or private schools.

    And under O'Malley's plan, the clueless school board gets to stay in office!!

    No doubt Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan is smiling as he contemplates the backlash against his rival for future Democratic statewide office.

    O'Malley came to Baltimore as the good guy who cared about crime. He is now re-branding himself as a petty politician mad at himself because he blew a good chance at being governor by not facing the inept Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in the Dem primary. His dealings with Gov. Bob Ehrlich look nakedly like male elk pawing the ground.

    Voters are without a doubt taking note. I have friends on my soccer team with no children, who barely follow city politics, shocked at what is going on.

    It's personally tough to watch, because I've considered O'Malley the best candidate for the mayor's job and have a good friend in the administration. Friend -- give Martin some better counsel!

    March 8, 2004

    Guardian angels at tragedy?

    How fortunate were the victims of the water taxi accident on Saturday off Fort McHenry in Baltimore?

    Their vessel capsized as potential rescuers, with access to an emergency vessel suitable for an improvised flip of the overturned water taxi, watched.

    If not for the actions of Henry Zecher and other sailors stationed at the Naval Reserve Center at Fort McHenry, about 1,000 feet from the scene of the accident, many more would likely have perished, authorities said.

    Zecher and 24 other Naval Reservists and career sailors in a combat landing craft arrived at the shuttle within minutes of the accident. It was precious minutes before fire and rescue crews were able to get to the scene.

    A wee parallel to the heroism of the World Trade Center firefighters, that is, an example of the manly man's altruism: "Two sailors dived in the water to begin pulling out people. One, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeffrey King, became entangled in ropes after entering the water, so the sailors spent some of their time rescuing one of their own."

    "They're real heroes," said a survivor in this Baltimore Sun account. "They're amazing. Many of them were giving us the coats right off their backs."

    Lt. Cmdr. Art Eisenstein didn't hesitate to jump in to rescue a floating, unconscious 8-year-old girl.

    Bless him and his colleagues.

    March 3, 2004

    “The Passion of Christ”

    Enjoyed seeing Gibson's film last Friday with my friend Janet Cook’s church group. I found it faithful to my vision of the Passion formed by reading my parent’s copy of ChristThe Day Christ Died by Jim Bishop many, many decades ago. Bishop’s book according to my musty recollections was fairly explicit about the actual details of the misery of dying on a cross.

    The scourging was the part of the film that was perhaps the most inhumane of all. Gibson finds a style closer to Fellini than that of any American filmmaker to depict the hideousness of Jesus’s flaying alive -- a touch of the impossible, the unreal, a call to a buried awareness that such bullying could part of human nature.

    I wondered as Christ staggered to Golgotha whether modern crucifixions would deter the crime rate. Certainly scourging looked like it would give pause to any post-Renaissance mind, even the knucklehead population of our drug-dealing street corner here in Upper Fells Point, Baltimore.

    Here’s Richard Cohen’s take on the Passion, terming it “fascistic,” buttressing this observation with rather inpenetrable logic. He does acknowledge not being a typical viewer. One wonders about the futility of this column, an atypical viewer professing incomprehension, which could be summed up by the headline “member of the Mandarin class takes platform to demonstrate Mandarinness.”

    Jeannette Belliveau

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