MONDAY, the name of Glenn Harrod jumped off the back page of the Maryland section of this newspaper, mentioned in a story about the death of an inmate at Patuxent Institution in Jessup. This particular inmate, who was found unconscious in his cell over the weekend, had been given a life sentence for his part in the armed robbery and murder of Harrod in 1980. I've never forgotten the case or Harrod's name because it marked -- if such a thing can be marked on a calendar -- the beginning of a period of inexplicable, almost random violence in our community.
Harrod, a 20-year-old senior at Morgan with dreams of being a music teacher, had been working at the McDonald's on York Road in Govans when two gunmen came to the counter and demanded money. Without saying a word, Harrod did as instructed, handing $300 across the counter. The robbers grabbed the money, then stepped toward a side door. One of them fired two shots at another employee and missed. The gunman then stepped back to the counter and, for no reason, shot Harrod in the chest. He died an hour later.
Certainly there must have been cases like that -- a senseless killing after a completed armed robbery -- before Nov. 25, 1980. But my clear recollection is that, more than any other homicide, the Harrod killing got people talking about the increase in firepower on the streets and the quick-trigger volatility of criminals. It no longer seemed to matter that you did as robbers instructed because you'd probably get killed anyway. Any of us could get killed over a few bucks, a leather jacket, a pair of shoes. It was an exaggerated fear, but a fear nonetheless.
I'm sure the day that specific fear blossomed is not marked in any official record, but it's distinct in my memory. If it were possible to peer into and closely examine a community's psyche over the course of time, I bet you'd find a significant scratch -- a permanent wound perhaps -- on the day Glenn Harrod died.
At the movies
Random thoughts while staying indoors to beat the heat: Anyone who thinks Don Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro in the first two "Godfather" movies) isn't better off dead never saw "Godfather Part III." (CBS carried it in prime time this week; I knew there was a reason I held off seeing it for seven years.) Poor Al Pacino. He tried to make the best of it, didn't he? But not even this great actor could bring the best out of Sofia Coppola, the director's daughter, because there isn't a best anything there. ... One could say the same for Al's Baltimore movie, "And Justice For All," which I had the perverse pleasure of seeing again recently, this time on the little screen. Great scenes of Baltimore (circa 1979), but what a mediocre movie, with a script by Barry Levinson. (No, not everything he touched turned to Barry's Gold.) ... If you didn't get to see it at the Charles, "Big Night" is out in video; take my advice and rent it. But trust me: You're going to need some fine Italian food and wine -- takeout from Boccaccio? -- when you do. Not for a minute should you think I'm a cucina snob; my taste in Italian food runs from peasant to lower-middle-class peasant. ("Give me polenta or give me death!" is my motto.) But spaghetti and meatballs will not work as the dinner with this little masterpiece. It deserves more. Risotto, if you can manage, with "Big Night." And may I recommend the 1996 Orvieto Classico, Campogrande, Antinori. ... About "Contact," based on the Carl Sagan novel and starring Jodie Foster, I must steal a line from this fine movie: As a male earthling, Matthew McConaughey is pretty; as an actor he's "an awful waste of space."
On the fly
Bumper sticker on car in Bolton Hill: "Hang up and drive" ... A friend just got back from what he calls the "Poconos Triathlon" for dads and kids -- miniature golf, go-carts and a golf driving range. ... The Paterakis Inner Harbor East hotel deal is the subject of a song by ace parodists Stevie (Steve Rouse of WQSR-FM) and the Satellites, but it's a coulda-been. The song, based on Elvis' "Heartbreak Hotel," could have been great, but the lyrics are a letdown. (Resorting, for one thing, to "diarrhea" for a rhyme.) Steverino, back to the studio! There's still time to save this one.
On Mr. Magoo
I'd like to thank all the guys out there who say they never read my column for reading the one (TJI, July 4) about Mr. Magoo, Disney and the National Federation of the Blind. Never have I received so many letters and phone calls beginning with the words, "I never read your column, but this one on Mr. Magoo ... " And talk about passion! Never before -- no exaggeration -- have I received so many angry letters and phone calls, just about all of them littered with words and phrases unprintable in this newspaper. You'd have thought I was advocating a presidential pardon for Susan McDougal or something. Even I, who used to host a talk-radio show in seven-second delay, was impressed with the quality of the profanity, cheap shots and ugly sarcasm directed at the blind. A lot of you new readers felt free to call me names I'm sure you wouldn't speak out loud in front of, say, your mothers.
But that's what we like. That's what makes this country great -- freedom of speech, pretty good mail service and the best darn peanut butter on earth.
Anyway, thanks. Always nice to pick up some new readers.
Pub Date: 7/18/97