The wise thief locks your car so no one can steal it from him


Can we all agree that it is somewhat unusual to get a call from a man who claims to have rented your stolen car? Is it just me, or do you find that as strange as I do?

A real estate agent from North Baltimore -- we'll call her Teresa for the purposes of this column -- reported that her Volvo was stolen from her driveway one night this fall. A few days later, the phone rang at her house. She spoke with a man calling from a pay phone. The man said he'd been driving a Volvo and had found Teresa's address and phone number in the glove compartment. "And he said he had rented the car for $40 from another guy in West Baltimore," Teresa recalled. "I told him, 'Well, that car is stolen.' "

At that point, the man became anxious to dump the car. "But he wanted his money back," Teresa said. "He asked if I could pay him the $40. I guess he felt gypped." Teresa refused to pay ransom. The man told her where the car was parked. She called the Western District and soon Baltimore cops recovered the Volvo.

Another car, this one a Pontiac, was stolen about three weeks ago from a church parking lot, also in North Baltimore. The owner of the car -- just call her Joyce -- owned the Club but apparently had forgotten to lock the anti-theft device in place before going into church.

Two weeks later, as Joyce drove along Northern Parkway in her other car, she spotted her stolen Pontiac, right near Belvedere Square. On closer inspection, she noticed that the person who had driven the car there had locked the Club on the steering wheel! (Didn't want to take any chances, I guess.) Joyce found a pawn ticket with a man's name and address under the driver's seat. She turned it over to a young police officer, who looked at it and said, "This might be evidence."

Tip of the cap

Seven years ago, Aaron Zuckerberg, a pediatric anesthesiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, got an idea -- right off the top of his head. You know those surgical caps doctors and nurses wear in operating rooms? The paper shower caps? They're sanitary but boring. So Zuckerberg -- smart guy, fun guy -- had a great notion to put a little splash into hospital fashion. "Wouldn't it be nice," he wondered, "to have something fun to wear, especially for the kids? Something not so scary?" Zuckerberg's wife, Abbe, a pediatrician, fashioned a few caps from cloth printed with kids' stuff -- teddy bears, birds, baseball players. Zuckerberg wore them to work. The hats were a hit.

Soon a cottage industry developed. Several doctors bought the hats, as did cancer patients. The Zuckerbergs now make them in three styles and a multitude of prints. "The hats have made a big difference," Zuckerberg says. "It has helped those who wear them establish a rapport with children. They bring some cheer into the hospital. When you're working with sick kids, we need that."

The mad man cometh

The last time I saw Tommy DiVenti he was in the Cross Street Market at an after-hours party; he was standing inside a ring of yuppies wearing cowboy hats and drinking imported beer.

Suddenly, right there on the cold concrete floor, DiVenti contorted into a slow-mo, stop-action mimicry of Lee Harvey Oswald's murder.

No one asked DiVenti to explain his act. We accepted it as performance art, vintage DiVenti, spontaneous and surreal. DiVenti is Baltimore's leading subterrestrial -- "I'm so far underground I'm buried alive" -- and his Apathy Press Poets regularly publishes works from the literary demimonde.

You won't find Apathy books in the Establishment bookstores -- they're spineless, and so are the stores -- but offbeat shops like Atomic Books carry the stuff. One of DiVenti's favorite writers is Carl Watson, who will read from his collections of gritty short stories Sunday night at Mount Royal Station.

"Carl's work is honest and funny and dark," DiVenti says. "He's a basically harmless mad man for the new age." Watson writes about transient hotels and desperate people. His stories are like Tom Waits songs.

"I don't know how old he is," DiVenti says of Watson. "In his 40s, I guess. But he looks a lot older. He has the features of an ageless shaman."

Fruit-flavored genius

Ingmar Burger, our Remington correspondent, reports a new confectionery appearing in local convenience stores: "Fruit Flavoured Jelly Hot Dogs." Enclosed in cellophane, it is a spongy, miniature replica of the great American tube steak. Ingmar wonders how such an odd thing came to be:

"Picture this. . . A group of well-dressed candy company executives sit around a table plotting their strategy for the coming candy season. Suddenly one exclaims, 'I've got it! Hot dogs!' Another yells, 'Jelly hot dogs!' They look to the chairman sitting quietly at the head of the table. He draws on his cigar and slowly blows five smoke rings. There is a magical glint in his eye, a wry smile on his lips. All is still. Then the chairman whispers, 'Fruit flavored.' The men nod in agreement. They are in the presence of genius."

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