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FROM THE MOUTHS OF BABES TO 'MADAM' ECKER'S DESK

THE BALTIMORE SUN

County Executive Charles I. Ecker last week answered some humbling letters from school children. One began, "Dear Madam"; another started, "Dear Elizabeth Bobo."

Ecker, who for years was deputy superintendent of schools here, could take consolation in the fact that the letters were from outside Howard County. The news that he had defeated former County Executive Elizabeth Bobo last November may not have traveled past the county's borders.

It was Vanessa Plummer of Gaithersburg who wrote the "Dear Madam"letter. It was dated Jan. 14 and written in one sentence, in pencil,on lined paper:

Dear Madam,

I would like to know if you have any information on Howard County if you do can you please get the information and I will appreciate that very much.

Vanessa knows how toget results. No "very truly yours" or any of that nonsense. Instead,she signed her letter, "Your Friend, Vanessa Plummer."

Apparently, Ecker was impressed. There is a note from him in ink on Vanessa's letter, telling an aide, "Please send info from me down. Thanks." He also sent Vanessa a typed official reply on office stationery, personally signed.

In the letter, he thanked Vanessa for her interest in receiving information about Howard County and told her he was sendingher several brochures and history cards about different parts of thecounty that he hoped would be helpful to her.

Unlike Vanessa, Ecker did not close by saying, "Your Friend." His closing was a simple, "Sincerely, Charles Ecker."

Word of Ecker's victory may have reached Rockville at least, because Jeffrey Man began his letter with a "Dear Sir:"

Dear Sir,

I am 9 years old in grade 4. I am doing a report on Howard County. Can you please give me information on the county? I thank you very much.

Sincerely yours,

Jeffrey Man

Ecker wrote Jeffrey a letter identical to the one Vanessa received.

The "Dear Elizabeth Bobo" letter -- which, like Vanessa's, came from Gaithersburg -- was quite chatty. And Ecker was chatty in return. After many erasures on her lined paper, Shayna Anderson wrote:

Dear Elizabeth Bobo,

Do you still have the Enchanted Forest in Ellicott City? When I was little I went there. It was like magic but my little sister was scared of everything. Now she's big and she might like it.Do you have the same school lunches as Montgomery County?

Sincerely,

Shayna Anderson

After thanking her for sharing her interestin Howard County, Ecker told Shayna that the Enchanted Forest is currently closed for renovations but will reopen in the next couple of years as a smaller amusement park.

As for those school lunches, Ecker noted that they are planned by a local nutritionist and not necessarily the same as in Montgomery County, "but I expect many of the meals are very similar."

He then thanked Shayna for writing and told her he had enclosed some other information that she might find interesting as well.

He did not say what that information was.

SOURCE: James M. Coram

SOAKING THE WATER AND SEWAGE USERS

Sometimes the solutions to the thorniest problems are so simple.

Take the county's multimillion dollar budget deficit. Who really knows the exact figure? Who cares, right?

Part of the deficit solution is three simple words: water and sewer. Two things no household can live without.

I just paid my water and sewer bill -- $52.05 for the period Aug. 1 to Nov. 11. That's cheap when you compare it with the cost of electricity.

Actually, my original bill was for only $47.32. But like many people, when I receive a bill that is not due for about a month, I tuck it away in a stack of other bills to be paid later.

Unfortunately, sometimes life becomes so hectic (I blame it on Christmas) that the pile of bills is ignored a few days too long.

That's what happened this time with my water bill. I picked it upto pay it two days after the late fee kicked in.

And what a late fee! Would you believe the county charges an extra 10 percent for tardiness in paying its water and sewer bill? I couldn't.

But there it was in black and white. I owed an additional $4.63. Mama mia!

I groaned and moaned and complained to myself, but then it struck me.

If the county can charge an exorbitant 10 percent late fee on its water bills, why not charge 50 percent? Or better yet, whynot just charge 100 percent?

You'd have to pay or the county just could come out and shut off your water. Then where would you be?

Yep. That's the solution to this present budget crunch.

Sock it to those miscreant late bill payers.

SOURCE: Rick Belz

MAGICIAN'S BEST ACT IS UP ON THE CEILING

Bill Gross isn't playing with afull deck.

In fact, he seems to come up a few cards short the first Thursday evening of every month.

Gross, named "Baltimore's Best" magician of 1989 by Baltimore magazine, performs once a month at P.J.'s of Ellicott City. His next performance is 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. tomorrow.

One of his specialties is the "sign your name on any card and it will mysteriously stick to the ceiling when I toss the deck into the air" trick.

That's why the ceiling of the restaurant is lined with playing cards. I dined there on several occasions and figured it was some kind of post-progressive-pinochle decor.

Ree O'Connor,general manager of P. J.'s, says, "That's the question we get most. People are always asking us why the cards are up there."

Gross entertains the dinner crowd while they wait for meals to be served, performing sleight-of-hand tricks from table to table. Like a true magician, Gross won't reveal his secret, but he did explain his method.

"I get someone to pick a random card from the deck and sign their name on it," he said. "Then they put their card back in and I put a rubber band around the whole deck. When I toss the deck into the air, thecard they signed magically pops out and sticks to the ceiling."

Some of the names I saw etched in eternal glory on the ceiling were Marvin, Jill, Ashley and Cindy. Someone named Jeanine has had her card up there for three years; it is dated Feb. 1, 1988.

"Every so often, a kid will come back here to eat with his parents and will look for his card," O'Connor said. "They get a kick out of it. Bill's a realcrowd pleaser. Very witty."

Gross says his magic is not for children only: "I'll come up to a parent at one of the tables, and they'lltell me, 'Don't start yet. Wait until my kid gets back from the restroom.' Then they find out that a lot of the stuff I do is geared toward adults."

The Baltimore resident even has a witty greeting on his telephone answering machine: "Hello. You've reached the magic number."

It's not quite as glamorous as being immortalized in cement atMann's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles or even as trendy as getting your own personalized brick along the Columbia waterfront.

But having your card stuck on the ceiling at P. J.'s comes pretty darn close.

SOURCE: Marc LeGoff

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