If you live near Michael Phelps, don't answer the phone

How's this for gold-medal motivation? On July 31, just days before he headed to Beijing, Michael Phelps shelled out $36,538.46 for property taxes on his $1.7 million Fells Point townhouse.

That $1 million bonus Speedo dangled for tying Mark Spitz's seven golds? Taxes will eat that up in 28 years.


Maybe it's the city's high tax rate, or the real estate slump, but Phelps will have precious few neighbors once he's back from Beijing.

His 4,080-square-foot townhouse is one of 10 built last year on the waterfront at the end of a cobblestoned Fells Point street. Priced from $1.4 million to $1.85 million, they boast marina views, hardwood floors, granite counters and - no small luxury in that part of town - parking!


But only three of the 10 units have sold, one to a pair of doctors, the other to what passes for royalty around here: a pothole heir. (More on him later.)

Perhaps the lack of residents at this luxury complex will give Phelps some privacy. But so far, the opposite is true for his few neighbors.

Using the tech savvy usually reserved for omigod!-quality messaging, Phelps fans have mined real-estate closing documents and struck gold: the cell phone number and e-mail address for the guy who lives two doors down.

"I'm getting text messages from girls, 'Oh my God! He's so cute!' " said A.T. Ward, aka Arthur Thomas Ward IV, the aforementioned pothole heir.

(His grandfather, the late Arthur Thomas Ward Jr., was a Baltimore surgeon who dabbled in his father's paving business and wound up creating the blend of plastics, asphalt and chemicals used to patch potholes. I'll admit I'm not certain that Ward, 25, is living off a pile of grandpa's pothole dough. He wasn't saying what he does for a living, so that's my best guess.)

Who knew love-struck teens could be so handy with public land records? And not just them. "I'm getting e-mails from companies," Ward said. " 'We know you're his neighbor. Can you make an introduction?' "

Ward has barely had an introduction himself. Phelps bought the townhouse last Halloween but has been off training in Michigan ever since. Phelps has said he'll really move in upon his return from Beijing.

"He's only been here for two weekends," said Ward, who nevertheless met Phelps and found him to be "a real nice guy."


How not to seek notice in the newspapers

The good news for Baltimore bakery Capitol Cake, fruitcake maker to the astronauts: It was the subject of a Wall Street Journal piece the other day.

The bad news: the headline, "Pay No Attention to the Mice Behind the Pallets."

The article was all about an FDA inspection back in May that turned up loads of rodents at the warehouse used by the bakery, whose fruitcakes have flown with astronauts on Christmastime missions since 1994.

"The FDA's recently released letter to Capitol Cake President John Kunkel said agency inspectors found ample evidence of a lack of pest control, including: '[L]ive rodents observed along side a rodent trap, running under pallets containing finished food products and collapsed boxes used by your firm, and a live rodent that you brushed off of your shoulder onto the floor, and then kicked under a pallet holding finished food products,'" the paper reported.

When I reached him Friday, Kunkel acknowledged the problems, though he did dispute the rodent-on-the-shoulder bit. (He said the mouse ran across his foot.)


The company, established in 1922, "has never had an issue with the FDA," Kunkel said. But after some corrugated packaging used for a seasonal item sat for a long time in the warehouse, he said, "we had some mice who set up in there."

The bakery has since passed FDA and city inspections. "We addressed it," he said. "We cleaned everything up, made some procedural changes and on we go."

Connect the dots

Michael isn't the only Phelps with an endorsement deal. Chico's has created the Debbie Phelps Collection, The Wall Street Journal reported the other day. From the Travelers No Tummy Pant ($62) to the Persian Luster Zariah Jacket ($55.99), it's all stuff you can cram into a suitcase without worrying about wrinkles. "You can spot a Chico's woman anywhere - you've seen this one in the stands at the pool in Beijing," says the Web site. ... New York Post headline on a story about Phelps' 12,000-calorie-a-day diet: "Phelps' Pig Secret: He's Boy Gorge." ... Enough Phelps already! "And Obama's running mate is ..." read the subject line of the e-mail issued Friday afternoon. I clicked, only to see this: "... not Marc Steiner. He's too busy bringing you great radio!" Steiner will be in Denver for WEAA during this week's Democratic National Convention. "We're going to be covering everything inside and outside the convention, from demonstrations to what's going on inside," he told me. He'll also find time to blog for the The Guardian in London. ... Comptroller Peter Franchot hosts a reception in Denver tomorrow for Maryland's delegation to the convention. The "very special guest"? Wendell Pierce, who played Detective Bunk Moreland on The Wire.

Laura Vozzella's column also appears Wednesday and Friday.