Great and gruff character, Melvin Perkins, passes into legend

Somewhere along the way, we lost track of Melvin Perkins. A lot of people thought he was dead.

He is.


Melvin died after a heart attack July 30, two weeks before his 70th birthday, and we're just now catching word of this Maryland legend's passing. Sorry about this breakdown in our journalistic vigil. I hadn't heard from Melvin since 1986 when he called collect from a nursing home. We know he was a candidate for mayor in 1987 (and many times before that). But apparently none who knew of Melvin's death fully appreciated his life and thought call the obit desk.

For the record, Melvin was one of the great, albeit gruff, characters of all time, a perennial candidate in constant need of a shave and a shower. His presence on the Maryland political scene was like crab grass -- not pretty, but something you could count on. He was the Skid Row candidate; when he ran for public office, he did so as a pauper. (As a matter of fact, one of Melvin's many civil suits established the right of paupers to run for office without paying the usual filing fee.)


Running for mayor in 1983, he promised housing for his brethren poor, many of whom had been displaced with the demise of pensioner hotels. "The mayor [William Donald Schaefer] says there are no flophouses in Baltimore," Melvin declared. "Well, then! Let's build one!"

He was the wise fool, espousing a political philosophy cultivated in hoosegows and saloons from Baltimore to Hagerstown. "We've had plenty of congressmen who ended up in jail," he cracked. "What's wrong with a congressman who started out in jail?" In 1978, Rep. Goodloe Byron, the incumbent Democrat from Western Maryland, died during his re-election campaign. That left Melvin the unopposed Republican in the 6th Congressional District, and the episode received national press attention. Byron's widow, Beverly, won the election. But for a few brief, grungy moments, Melvin Perkins had the spotlight. He even went to court to get his name changed to Goodloe Byron. A judge denied his request. Headline in The Evening Sun the next day: "Still Melvin Perkins."

/# Now and forever Melvin Perkins.

Play-by-play team

The play-by-play team of Gail Parker and Michael Keach debuts this weekend. They'll be behind the mikes in the broadcast booth at Center Stage, calling "The Triumph of Love" for blind patrons at the Sunday matinee. At six performances this season, theatergoers with visual impairment will wear lightweight radio headsets that carry an FM signal with the Parker-Keach play-by-play into one ear. Tricky stuff here. Parker and Keach must provide description of stage action, but not too much; they must avoid stepping on dialogue and confusing their listeners. We wish Parker and Keach well. If they need a break over the winter, maybe Center Stage could book Jon Miller and Fred Manfra to call "Das Barbecu" before they go to spring training.

Seeking tackiana

Tackiana is my word; I claim coinage. The word combines "tacky" and "Americana," and it refers to all manner of things cheap and outlandishly unbecoming, often found along the flea market-yard sale belt that runs from Manchester to Dundalk to Glen Burnie to Arbutus. We love tackiana. Cobra lawn ornaments, crucifixes made from Popsicle sticks, portraits of poodles with eyes that move -- we're talking world-class kitsch. Our pal, Turkey Joe Trabert, recently acquired a hand-carved wooden crab with a shell that opens to a jewelry box. "And, to top it all off, it was electric," Joe said. "It had a little light bulb inside." To die for! If you've got a piece of tackiana -- you know it when you see it -- drop a line with a description, or send a photo. Share!

White elephant lure


The city's newest idea for luring people to Market Place, home of twin white elephants (the Fish Market and the Brokerage), is, basically, Venice, right? They're talking outdoor cafes and vendors' kiosks on schooners and barges docked along the Lower Jones Falls canal. I like this idea. But let's not forget the gondolas and the gondoliers. Little Italy is nearby, so why not run some gondolas up the canal for a little after-dinner espresso and tiramisu? And the city could hire Peabody voice students to sing a little Verdi, a little Puccini and a very little Lou Monte.

Ironically, this proposal comes just as some Baltimore culture vultures and a certain local restaurateur are planning a Night of Italian Opera at Pier Six. Some time in 1995, it's hoped, major opera singers -- we're talking La Scala-class -- will perform a concert at the pavilion. A ticket gets you dinner at a Little Italy restaurant followed by the night of arias. Benefits go to AIDS research. I can't say much more at this point. But yo, watch this space.

If you've got an item for This Just In, give me a call on 332-6166, or drop me a line at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert Street, Baltimore, Md. 21278-0001. Love to hear from you.