Apprehension is changed into delight by the magic of song


This guy grabs me the other day, just to tell a story from the streets of the city they call Baltimore: "I'm walking along Centre Street, between Charles and St. Paul, around 4 in the afternoon, and I encounter a man who looks homeless, or at least I think so. He's got his possessions with him, and he's weaving more than walking, and I walk by him in my usual hurry. I figure he'll ask me for money for sure, but he doesn't. Suddenly, I hear singing from somewhere. From behind me. The man is singing, 'Unchained Melody.' He sings so wonderfully and, honest to God, it's the best singing I've heard in a long time, rich and strong and a perfect pitch, right there in the October air. I don't know if he reads the newspaper, but I just wanted to thank that soul for making my day."

Medicine for a TV show

If viewers noticed the role of emergency room nurses expanding in NBC's ratings-hot "ER" over the last few weeks, some of the credit goes to the Emergency Nurses Association. Carla Stemmer, president of the association's Baltimore chapter, was among veteran nurses who spent a week in late September sensitizing two of the actresses from the television drama to the realities of life in the ER. "We had our national convention in San Antonio and the [actresses] spent time talking to us, asking us questions so they would have an understanding of how ER nurses function and play them well in the show," Stemmer says. The first couple of episodes of "ER," which now posts Top-10 Nielsen ratings at 10 on Thursday nights, were a disappointment to Stemmer and many of her colleagues. "Nurses were portrayed as having no brains," says Stemmer, staff development instructor at Union Memorial Hospital. "There would be a scene where one of the nurses would hand an EKG to a doctor and he would say what was on it. Well, that kind of thing. An ER nurse can read an EKG. . . . The actresses left us saying they hoped they could live up to our expectations. I'm more impressed with the show now. The nurses have a greater role. They are more compassionate, more intelligent. The show is more realistic now."

And one will be governor

In last week's gubernatorial debate on Maryland Public Television, I heard Republican candidate Ellen Sauerbrey mention "poor families in Baltimore" in regard to her proposal to allow a $2,000 tax credit for voucher tuition at private schools. Just curious: In her 16 years as a legislator, did Ellen Sauerbrey ever speak a sentence about "poor families in Baltimore" that had some kind of progressive idea attached to it? (OK, she once proposed that public assistance recipients be fingerprinted.) She can champion vouchers all she likes, but it's a bit disingenuous to suggest it as relief for the poor.

Parris Glendening's reference to Sauerbrey as a "multimillionaire" was a cheap shot -- "Playing the class warfare card," as she put it -- but Sauerbrey is playing one of those cards herself, in more subtle fashion.

For instance, her proposal to cut personal income taxes by 24 percent calls for, among other things, a freeze in Aid to Families With Dependent Children. Eliminating automatic increases would save $151 million, according to Sauerbrey's proposal. That would be fine, maybe -- if it hadn't already been done.

Keep this in mind. In 1992, the state cut and freeze-wrapped AFDC grants at $359 a month per family of three, the level of subsidy offered in 1988. Maryland also raised costs of co-payments of medical care (such as dental service, occupational and physical therapy, transportation to treatment) for Medicaid recipients. In addition, the state cut general assistance benefits by almost 25 percent; the 26,000 people on the program lost all medical benefits.

Bits and pieces

This Just In: Ted Patterson's great-looking history on the first 40 years of the Baltimore Orioles (Taylor Publishing Co., $36.95; foreword by Brooks Robinson). It has so many good photographs, many of them from Patterson's impressive collection of baseball memorabilia, that it actually forced me to put down, if only for an hour, the other book I've been reading, Sun film critic Stephen Hunter's sixth novel, "Dirty White Boys." . . . Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden's campaign ads continue to fill the airwaves. Anyone heard from Dutch? . . . Norm Lewis' performance Monday night during Channel 2's 11 o'clock news was a tour de force. It looked like a transporter scene from the Starship Enterprise. (I always thought Lewis was a Trekkie.) The trusty WMAR meteorologist was giving his forecast when some technical glitch caused Lewis to turn silvery-white. Then his back disappeared. Then his arms, then his chest disappeared. Lewis, now only head and shoulders, noticed what was happening in a studio monitor. "Beam me up," he joked. Then his head vanished. "OK, beam me out," said his disembodied voice. Mary Beth and Stan were laughing. One of the funniest things I've seen on local TV since Chris Thomas was around.

What the doctor orders

It has been noted in print, if only in passing, that Dr. Martin Rodbell, the City College and Johns Hopkins grad who shared the 1994 Nobel Prize in medicine, is a longtime fan of Bertha's Mussels. That factoid was not missed by Laura and Tony Norris, proprietors of the Fells Point restaurant. The news story mentioning Rodbell's taste in food is now posted with the exhortation, "Eat Bertha's Nobel Prize-winning Mussels."

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