A great country, or what?


I STOPPED by Ikaros in Greektown for lunch the other day and ran into my friend Fats Drobnak.

How's it going, Fats? I asked.

"First class. Food good, prices right."

No dispute about that. But this has been quite a winter, wouldn't you say?

"I've seen better."

As have I. The freeze in the East, the California quake, the Inman misstep, the Bobbitt caper, that weird stuff with Michael Jackson, the Tonya Harding unpleasantness . . .

"That girl," Fats interrupted, "she's gonna make a ton of money even if she don't win the gold."

Oh? You believe she's innocent?

"Never said that. But it don't make no difference. Even if she falls on her butt Friday night, the network nuts and movie people and book peddlers will pony up all kinds of front money for her inside story. Happens all the time now."

Can you illustrate?

"Where you been? Take that Fisher girl and that Eyetalian fella a while back. Hanky-panky, and it's all over the tube for big bucks. And that scuzzball teacher down in Annarannel who was messin' with those kids. Had him on Geraldo like he was worth a nickel, which he ain't. And that lady who gave her crummy husband a whack down where it figures to hurt. No tellin' how much her book'll be worth. Terrible!"

Ah, but 'twas ever thus, no?

"Wrong again. If it'd been that way when I was comin' up, Al Capone would've made more dough sellin' his life story than he ever did peddlin' booze. An' Al had quite an operation. I remember. Look, the way things is goin', if they ever let that weirdo Manson outa stir, there's no tellin' what he'd be good for."

You do seem quite exercised about all this, Fats.

"Hey, this is a great country, none better, but they's a helluva lot of things that just don't make sense and plenty of stuff in the family papers that don't belong. And, gen'rally, if you check it out, they's money involved somewhere."

But certainly that's always been the American way.

"Hey, I'm not against makin' a buck, though my hosses haven't been helpin' the cause lately, and neither did the Bills when they couldn't cover the spread in the Super Bowl. I guess they gotta sell papers and TV commercials, but I even think that Bobby Inman was onto somethin'."

You thought him a good choice for Defense?

"Naw, somethin' strange about the guy. Looked funny around the head. Even Clara noticed. And seemed kinda pairannoy a coupla times."

Run that by me again?

"You know, thought they was all out to get him. Still, he made sense here and there. The press game is kinda different today: scratch around for the worst, throw it on the tube or in the papers, and see what sticks no matter how bad it stinks. And the badder the stink, the tougher to figure out where the truth is. It don't help."

That borders on the profound, Fats. You surprise me a bit.

"Look, I never got no A in English, but I been around a while and seen my share. Hell, we weren't pure when I was a kid in Hollantown, but diggin' into private stuff and cashin' in on things that most people would be ashamed of, I don't remember too much of that."

A germ of truth there, I think. Ah, but March is almost here, the days are getting longer and spring can't be far behind. Besides, spring training's in full flower. Speaking of money, in the case of the O's, might it not work to our gain?

"Yeah, my man Angelos is openin' his wallet some, and pretty soon we could be seein' Sabo poke a few out over left-center and Palmeiro hit the warehouse in right. I'm feelin' better.

"Hey, Zino, a baklava for me and one for this guy."

You're a gentleman, Fats.

Many thanks.

Milton Bates writes from Canton.

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