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Welfare for arrogant Cooke is no deal


The governor of Maryland is said to be perplexed at the depth of opposition to the state's financial support for professional football. What was he expecting, a group hug? There's been public opposition to a lot of things -- Oriole Park at Camden Yards comes to mind -- but it didn't matter. And it won't matter this time. But here's my guess on why six out of 10 Marylanders turned against state funding: The Jack Kent Cooke deal in Prince George's County.

Most taxpayers had resigned themselves to a couple of hundred mill for a Baltimore stadium. Even people who were lukewarm to the whole idea back in the mid-1980s saw the reward from a baseball park at Camden Yards and got on board for a sportsplex. The hunt for a franchise finally ended in Cleveland. We wanted the NFL, we got it.

But how much NFL?

Along came the arrogant Cooke and his team with the repulsive name, and a proposal for more state welfare for a millionaire -- $73 million worth of infrastructure. This ran the bill up to $273 million and turned people off.

The governor can't warn us to prepare for cutbacks in federal funds and to expect less from government, he can't keep snipping at programs for the poor, while expecting ordinary people to embrace Art Modell and Jack Kent Cooke. The governor wants a group hug, but he's not going to get it.

A shining beacon

This winter being what it is -- too long and too cold -- I have had ample opportunity to chop my way through cluttered indoor spaces. I have emptied and reorganized desks, cabinets, closets and toy chests. I have restored order to the basement and the attic. I have sorted through clothes, appliances, newspapers, magazines, canned goods, fishing tackle, shoes, boots and socks. I have culled the good stuff, purged the junk and salvaged things that deserve a better fate: a desk lamp long in need of repair, three pairs of pants in need of alteration and a fine Panama hat in need of cleaning.

I actually removed these objects from my nest and placed them in my truck. This forced me to deal with them.

The hat and pants were easy. I took them to the Boulmetis family on North Eutaw -- Lou and his wife, Judy, run Hippodrome Hatters and took my Panama; Uncle Sam at the tailor shop-dry cleaner next door took the pants. They'll be ready Wednesday.

But what to do with the lamp?

Charlie The Lamp Man, who operated out of a Cross Street storefront in South Baltimore, died some years ago. He was old, curmudgeonly and serious about the science of lamp repair. He never seemed happy to see me, but did superb work. His shop was crowded with lamps of all makes and models, wires, globes, and small barrels and boxes filled with more wires and more globes. He wore a cap and thick topcoat, and worked from a seat in the middle of the clutter; he looked as though he had been sitting there, rewiring lamps, since the dawn of the light bulb.

But Charlie is gone.

Where do we find such men, content to be good at fixing one thing -- just one thing -- their entire lives? There seem to be fewer of them, partly because of the disposable nature of modern life. We are a nation of buyers, but in order to keep buying we need to keep throwing away. Throw away enough lamps, and pretty soon we've lost the old owls who know how to fix them.

"There's an old-time lamp repair shop in the Antique Row along Howard Street," a fellow named Sam Biederman was happy to report. "Some months ago I had occasion to have a lamp repaired. Found this name in the phone book -- Herstein. The typical old-timer running the place is a nice, patient perfectionist in repairing lamps. And he doesn't gouge customers. He must have fussed with my lamp for three-quarters of an hour. How much? Three dollars!"

I found Louis Herstein and his younger assistant, Ralph Williams, among lamps restored and lamps undressed in a cluttered shop (of course a cluttered shop) in the 800 block of N. Howard. I had to wait in line for service.

"That have some sentimental value?" Mr. Herstein asked as he examined my lamp, implying that sentimentality could be the only reason someone would want such a homely thing repaired. I liked the gentle sarcasm; it's what I expected to hear, what I wanted to hear.

After some fussing and grumbling, Mr. Herstein came up with a prescription for the lamp's new life. As he filled out a repair order, I told him I was in no rush.

"Oh," he said, with another wink at sarcasm, "I'm sure you'll be able to live without that lamp a little while longer."

I left the lamp in old hands, in good hands. I'm glad such hands are still at work.

Buyer's remorse

I like the sounds of this bill from state Sen. Larry Young: It's the 15-minute refund. If you buy a ticket to a movie, but announce within the first 15 minutes that you find the sound quality poor, the picture imperfect or the theater uncomfortable (no air-conditioning or heat, gum on your seat, etc.), you would be entitled to a refund or readmission to a subsequent film. Me for that. But then, I don't own a movie theater, either.

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