So Gloria Brennan had this CD player in her Pikesville beauty salon to provide music for the customers. But the thing started skipping, so she took it to the Circuit City store on U.S. 40 where she'd purchased it. The store serviced it for $65 and returned it. But, Gloria soon discovered, it still skipped.
So she put the thing back in the box. She carried it to her two-door BMW. She placed the box against the side of the car so she could open the door. She was chatting furiously with a friend, Grace Follmer, who was on the other side of the car. Gloria was gabbing; she was not paying attention. "I was on a sugar high maybe," she says, "too many doughnuts or something." Both women got into the car. Gloria started the engine. Gloria shifted into reverse.
CRUNCH! Suddenly, the CD player wasn't skipping anymore.
But did this stop Gloria Brennan from taking the CD player back to Circuit City, claiming it still skipped and demanding her $65 back?
No. Leaving the flattened machine in her car, she entered the store, approached the operations manager, Rich Granger, and made her claim. When the manager asked to see the machine, Gloria explained about the car and the crunching sound. Granger started to laugh. But Gloria had a point: "Why would I have unplugged the machine, wrapped it, and put it in a box if it was working?" She won the argument. The manager gave her a $65 credit toward the purchase of a new CD player.
Contract on the poor
Who says the Republicans don't have an urban policy? It's right there in the Contract with America: a reduction in aid to the nation's poor and an increase in prison space. Beautiful.
"The Gingrich Contract intensifies the growing hatred and disdain for the weakest in our society," Brendan Walsh writes in the March newsletter of the Baltimore Catholic Worker, based at Viva House on South Mount Street. Walsh knows more about "urban policy" and speaks with more moral authority than all of the smug pundits who have embraced the Gingrich agenda. He and his wife, Willa Bickham, have been feeding, clothing and counseling people in Southwest Baltimore since 1968. They fight while others pontificate.
The average daily number of people coming for a meal at Viva House last year was 272. "We never thought the family would get this big," Walsh writes. Unemployment and underemployment are what have hurt Baltimore the most in the last three decades, Walsh says. "Forty-nine percent of the people (ages 16-64) living in our neighborhood are not part of the work force," he writes. "Understand this statistic and then combine that knowledge with the fact that 46 percent of the work force in Baltimore earns under $20,000 annually in constant 1990 dollars (U.S. Census Bureau). . . . The United States now imprisons a larger proportion of its population than any other government in the world. There are more than a million people in federal and state prisons. There are at least another million people in county and city jails. No jobs. Plenty of jails. A new economic order."
The poor have become scapegoats in America's post-Cold War malaise. Walsh writes: "As our soup lines grow longer, we hear more and more epithets screamed at people waiting for bread -- scum, wino, panhandler and the unprintable. Poor people are not viewed as God's ambassadors, the people who herald the kingdom. . . . Workers in Baltimore were not consulted when major industries closed or fled the city. Workers never decided that tourism, hamburger flipping and part-time, low-wage jobs were desirable. They were left out while business skipped town in search of profits. They did not deserve this."
Of life and limb
"I've never been in a tree. I get a nosebleed at the top of a ladder." -- from Allen Butler, owner of the Wye Mills tree company that is caring for that 370-year-old national champion southern .. red oak near Galesville.
A precious life, well-lived
One afternoon last fall, I spoke with John Duvall, 37 years old, married, the father of two little kids, and in the fight of his life. John, who had just had his tumorous right arm and shoulder removed in an effort to stop the spread of cancer, was people-watching in Fells Point when he spotted a man hooked up to an oxygen tank and smoking a cigarette. John was awed, but not embittered, by the irony of that moment. His message was simple and strong: Life, no matter how unfair it might be, is precious, every breath. "John was a truly loving, Christian, funny, giving man," said a friend named Robin Trenner, who reported his recent death to me. "He will be much missed by all of us and long remembered for his kind, generous, gentle and very wise nature."
John's own words appeared in the booklet from his memorial service: "I never sought greatness. . . . I approached life with just a few simple goals: To get married, have a few children, then to love my family with all my heart. . . . These goals get you treasures, like the twinkle in your wife's eyes when you tell her that after giving birth to two kids she still looks great, and you're not lying. Like the warmth of your son's hand on a brisk winter morning, as you grasp it in your own and walk him into day care. Like the unbridled expression of joy, complete with wide-open, slobbering mouth, when you jump in front of your toddler and say, 'I'm going to get you.' To me, experiencing these things is greatness."