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Columbus statue can find another world

THE BALTIMORE SUN

I see where some people already have declared Zurab Tsereteli's colossal statue of Christopher Columbus a monstrous eyesore that, if brought here from Russia, will harm the aesthetic appeal of Baltimore's glorious harbor entrance.

Hold on now.

I know people who love to take boat rides out of the Inner Harbor, down the Patapsco near the Key Bridge, just to see what's cooking at the chemical plant. Once, on an evening cruise that had a Hawaiian theme, Turkey Joe Trabert excitedly pointed out to everyone the Patapsco Sewage Disposal Plant near Wagners Point. During a rockfish expedition near Fort Carroll, we noted numerous large rats, some of which crawled precariously close to the waterline and probably invited the attention of hungry rockfish.

So, we're not talking Oahu here.

I love our harbor, inner and outer, and recognize it for what it is: the industrial ramparts of the port of Baltimore - terminals and rail yards, mills and heavy-metal infrastructure - followed, as you pass Fort McHenry and approach the Inner Harbor, by the kind of splendid scenes we like to see on postcards.

Do I think a 306-foot statue of Columbus, weighing 1,200 tons and standing taller than the Statue of Liberty, should be erected at the water's edge just south of Little Italy?

No, and it's not just because of my long-standing complaint with Italian-Americans that we have no business celebrating Columbus' achievements because our ancestors laughed at him and sent him to Spain for his venture capital.

There's already enough going on near Inner Harbor East.

I think Big Chris could work well farther south, below the Key Bridge at Fort Carroll, his bronze and brawny presence fitting perfectly against a backdrop of Sparrows Point and Dundalk Marine Terminal. Moreover, it's a completely wacky idea - taking a statue the rest of the world doesn't want - and I'd bet cash money people would actually visit Baltimore just to get a gander at the big guy. Think of the tourist action it would generate for local businesses. (Captain Harvey's, on Dundalk Avenue, would sell twice as many cheese-steak subs.)

One thing, though: Columbus doesn't happen without $20 million for shipping and handling. Here's where I get off the boat, friends.

I think the people of the former Soviet Union, evidently eager to get rid of it, should send the statue as a gift in return for the billions in military spending we Americans did to force the collapse of communism. We helped those people discover a new world. They owe us.

Absent artist

Remember Tony DeSales, the street-corner artist who worked his pen and brush at Exeter and Fawn, in Little Italy, as often as the gods allowed?

He's been AWOL for a few months, and restaurant customers have noticed the absence of the bohemian who sketched city scenes and created his own line of postcards. Just so you know: I hear Tony moved to Mount Holly, N.J., where he has a job with a construction outfit. He's also doing some tutoring up there. Hey, Anthony, drop us a postcard, huh?

Ducking traffic

A mother duck was leading her troop of 10 fuzzy ducklings across Mountain Road in Pasadena when the little ones became separated from her by the concrete median - with traffic whizzing by. They were rescued by Jesse Cornwall, a 23-year-old lTC self-employed auto mechanic, his hands black with oily grime. Cornwell stopped his car along the entrance ramp to Route 10, waved cars away from the little critters and herded Mama Duck around the median. She was reunited with her brood and they all waddled back to the marshy side of the road from where they'd come. High fives to Jess.

A Royko story

Mike Royko, the Chicago columnist who died recently, told a million good stories. Here's one involving a Baltimore boy, Babe Ruth, or at least his spirit.

One night 20 years ago, Charles Finley, owner of the Oakland Athletics, brought a large group of Midwestern Baptists into Billy Goat's Tavern, Royko's storied watering hole. The church people had been Finley's guests at a game between the White Sox and the A's, and now he was taking them on safari to see the seamier side of life. The church people ordered Cokes. The A's manager, Alvin Dark, stood to preach about clean living, clean thinking and being righteous and pure. He told the group how he had turned away from drinking and womanizing and being rotten to people.

All of this made the Billy Goat regulars depressed. One of them, a red-eyed man nursing a beer, interrupted.

"Ain't it true that Babe Ruth used to run with all kinds of low women, and that he drank lots of booze, and he ate like a pig, and was a real disgusting sinner?"

"Yes, I'm afraid that is true," Dark said.

"Well, then tell me this," said red-eye. "If a team was made up of nine Alvin Darks, and it played against a team made up of nine Babe Ruths, who would win?"

"Well, I suppose the Ruths would," Dark answered. "He was the greatest player there ever was."

"Yeah, that's what I think, too," shouted red-eye. "So let's all drink a shot to the memory of Babe Ruth and dirty living."

Wrote Royko: "The regular customers gave him a standing ovation. Those who could stand. And that's how the spread of clean living was checked in Billy Goat's Tavern that day. Hallelujah!"

! Pub Date: 5/14/97

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