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Roughly Speaking Dan Rodricks: Commentary and conversation on life in Baltimore, Maryland and the USA

Rodricks: On a rainy day in Baltimore, Dr. Seuss and Gil Sandler bring sunnier possibilities to mind

It was another banner week for Baltimore — the police commissioner resigned because he hadn’t filed tax returns for three years, and the City Council president said he didn’t understand why the commish had to go; there was more talk of Pimlico’s owners moving the Preakness out of the city; a sportswriter in Boston, the Smug of the Universe, declared the Orioles the most dysfunctional organization in Major League Baseball.

Plus, it rained, and it drizzled, and then it rained.

So I did two things for my cloudy mood: I read some Dr. Seuss to first-graders and had lunch with 95-year-old Gilbert Sandler, the most Baltimorean of Baltimoreans. I had a taste of the future and of the past, and the beef enchilada wasn’t bad, either.

I’ll start with the first-graders of Ms. Jeana Patti at Leith Walk Elementary School in northeast Baltimore. Two of them, Destiny and Jade, met me in the school office. They had me at hello. I once had first-graders of my own, but that was some time ago. I had forgotten how extravagantly cute 6- and 7-year-olds are. How shy. How polite. How curious. How easy to laugh.

The others were waiting for me on a colorful rug in Ms. Patti’s bright and neat classroom — Bryson, Tamari, Zhekaih, Tyon, Karter, Peyton, Braylon, Tayla, Cniya, Darren, Anthony, Amari, Jessenia, Rylan, Zion, Zeineib, Anton, Karter, Deontre, Ryleigh, Zyiah, Caleb and Ryan.

I think it was Rylan who asked me to read a Dr. Seuss book, but don’t hold me to it. It might have been Ryan.

The book was, “Oh, the THINKS you can Think!” It was classic Seuss, conceived to inspire as well as entertain: “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”

There were cartoons, in the familiar curly-droopy style, of unusual creatures with strange names — Jibbous, Snuvs, Vippers and Guffs. Other Seussian words, pronounced with zeal, thrilled the children and made them squeal.

It was a good start to “favorite book day” in Ms. Patti’s class, and as I left her students, I heard, against the drumming of dreary news in my head, something like a prayer: May you grow up healthy and safe, strong and smart. May the grown-ups around you love you, support you and always encourage you. You are the future of Baltimore, and may the future Baltimore be better than the one we have now.

A few hours later, I had lunch with nonagenarian Gilbert Sandler, chronicler of the old city, a master raconteur who for many years told stories about the Queen City of the Patapsco Drainage Basin in the pages of The Baltimore Evening Sun and, later, on WYPR.

We met in the dining room at Roland Park Place, where he lives. I had soup and the enchilada. Gil had soup and ice cream.

He’s had some health issues. And still, each time we talk or exchange emails, he cracks a joke about current events, then releases impassioned pleadings about his beloved Baltimore. He worries about his hometown, about leadership in City Hall, about crime, and about the schools — especially about the schools.

He becomes disheartened, but he never gives up, never loses faith that someday it will all be better.

Gil’s alma mater is City College. He’s been a supporter of the speech and debate team for years, and he established, through the Baltimore Community Foundation, the Gilbert Sandler Fund for Speech and Debate at City College. It has grown to $700,000, supporting the team as it travels to compete in tournaments on college campuses.

City College, and the debate program, are Gil’s pride and joy.

So you can imagine how the death of Ray Antwone Glasgow III hit him in the heart.

“I am sick to death with this news,” Gil said.

Glasgow was a City College junior, a good student and a captain of the lacrosse team. He was shot to death in Southeast Baltimore two weeks ago. The now-former police commissioner said Glasgow was not the intended target. Police made an arrest in the case last week; they charged a 20-year-old with a 17-year-old’s murder.

The violence among Baltimore’s young represents failure at the core levels of family and society, the failure of one generation to provide safe passage for the next. If you’re old enough to remember life in Baltimore — in America, for that matter — before all the gunfire, these times must look like anarchy and collapse.

At lunch with Gil Sandler, we didn’t speak of these things. Instead, I told Gil about the wonderful first-graders at Leith Walk, and the promise I had seen in their eyes. At some point, the playful Sandler started reciting great lines from movies. One was from Marlon Brando, in “Viva Zapata!,” and it went something like this: “If your house is burned, build it again. If your corn is destroyed, replant. Never give up!”

drodricks@baltsun.com

twitter.com/DanRodricks

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