20 May 2014

Going Up

In her Baltimore Sun piece "Elevator Etiquette Dropping Fast," Susan Reimer reports that Emily Post and Miss Manners say that whomever is closest to the elevator door exits first, whether it's a man or a woman. But these manner mavens are out of touch, as in my experience most males remain gentlemen and step aside to let ladies out first (men still open doors, too). It's neither sexist nor backwards, but a gentle stab at beating back the increasingly crass and crude world beyond that little cab.

08 December 2013

People, Not Cars

Twenty-five years ago today, it was announced that the McCormick Spice Company would abandon its landmark Inner Harbor building and the Rouse Company would tear it down. Yes, I wrote everything east of the coma in that sentence three years ago and can't improve upon or add anything to that post (just below this one), except to mention, that as of five days ago, across the street at the new McCormick World of Flavors store in the sad McAnywhere that Harborplace has become, one can buy a snow globe ornament - in honor of the company's 125th anniversary, according to its Facebook page - depicting McCormick's demolished headquarters building, with its birth and beaten-to-death years bizarrely featured prominently). I still remember 8 December 1988 in detail, as my attention in an instant swerved from my new store, opened just two weeks prior, to the immediate task of attempting to harness the outrage of a shocked citizenry. Following an epic battle and a lost lawsuit, a 24-year-old parking lot with a billion dollar view nonsensically remains the highest and best use of this prime site.

Forty years after the Inner Harbor's first spectacular party, the third annual City Fair; 37 years after the tall ships celebrated the bicentennial; 33 years after the opening of the then-groundbreaking festival marketplace that originally was Harborplace; a year after maybe the most glorious event of all, Sailibration - and for countless July 4th and New Year's Eve fireworks displays; Pier Six Pavilion concerts; visits to the National Aquarium, Maryland Science Center, and historic ships - crowds continue to find their way to the Inner Harbor, mostly without motoring right up to it. With more people walking, biking and using public transportation, such as the free Circulator buses, it's time to work towards the elimination of unsightly surface parking lots, including the waterfront one just north of the Pier Six Pavilion. Certainly, we need no new parking structures.

On 5 May 2011 at the groundbreaking for whimsical Pierce's Park, Governor Martin O'Malley stated, as an aside to his prepared remarks, that the 650-space Pier Five parking garage looming over the park site was a huge mistake. Yet somehow Waterfront Partnership's recently announced Inner Harbor 2.0 plan presents this usually one-third empty garage as ripe for what looks to be a doubling in size, in exchange for eliminating the aforementioned adjacent 180-space parking lot.

The loss of the McCormick Building in some ways upsets me less than that, a quarter century on, the road to improving the Inner Harbor is still peppered with such poor planning.

28 October 2010

Demolition Still Makes No Scents

I closed my eyes, inhaled gently, and imagined hard, but the Timonium traffic din quickly short-circuited the conceit that had placed me at the Inner Harbor. How silly; I, maybe more than most, knew the lovely nutmeg scent wafting downwind from the McCormick plant two miles north hadn't perfumed the downtown air for over two decades.

On 8 December 1988, it was announced that the McCormick Spice Company would abandon its landmark Inner Harbor building and the Rouse Company would tear it down. The lawsuit I filed and the "Demolition Makes No Scents" campaign I spearheaded for Baltimore Heritage quickly turned legions of citizens into historic preservationists; I've seen nothing to rival that reaction in all my 30 years of advocacy, and certainly not for a building as vernacular as the spice plant.

But it really wasn't about the building. Intense civic pride for McCormick, homegrown and world-known, fueled the losing fight that concluded with another chink in Baltimore City's ever-eroding industrial legacy.

Less than a mile southeast from where McCormick stood, the displays in the Baltimore Museum of Industry recount the story of what we invented, innovated, and fashioned, often out-churning other cities in straw hats, umbrellas, men's suits, raincoats, bottle caps, silver flatware, canned oysters, coal, beer, soap, etc. It's tough now, though, to tally a fair number of factories still humming within Baltimore City limits. Some companies moved to Baltimore County or far, far away to expand or cut costs, while others merged out of existence. Whatever the reason, the industrial drain sucked away large numbers of jobs employing citizens across a wide spectrum of education and experience. But the building could have found new life beyond McCormick.

I contend I lost my lawsuit because the judges on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals considered the McCormick factory building plain and thus worthless. Demolition commenced in June 1989, but the building put up a valiant, months-long fight as the wrecking ball much more often bounced off of it than landed solid blows. The Rouse Company (now out of business and its successor, General Growth Properties now in bankruptcy), contending the building needed to come down for "immediate soil testing" in advance of new construction, of course never built a thing, landbanking the parcel after demolishing the building to avoid paying property taxes on the improvements.

The last Baltimore Sun article detailing plans for a new building on the vacant site, published three years ago, made no mention of McCormick, a factory so handsome the company long-featured it on their packaging. I choked over Sunday’s auction ad which never references the site’s importance and reduces it merely to a parking lot.

The building, were it still standing, would no doubt today be Baltimore's hottest harborfront condominium complex. Instead, all that's left is that vacant lot and memories of visits to Ye Olde McCormick Tea House, though some brokenhearted swear they still smell what can only be a phantom cinnamon fragrance.

20 August 2009

Not Your Typical Tchotchke

My dear friend Dan Rodricks stated in his 29 July 2009 Baltimore Sun column: "So most of us go about our business - aware of, but not much engaged in, that other Baltimore immersed in the heroin-and-cocaine scene." Respectfully, I couldn't agree less. In ways both obvious and insidious, we’re all prisoners of this plague.

I returned on 20 July 2009 from a five-day swing through Wisconsin, including three delightful days in Milwaukee that forever altered my view of urban business-as-usual. Expecting a definitive escape from the day-to-day only in the two spent in dairyland, I instead neither saw nor heard trash in multiple economically-challenged Milwaukee neighborhoods, never worried about guns and gangs, never saw the despair drugs inflict on a community. This Rust Belt city simply blew me away - ultra-clean, safe, sophisticated, prosperous, and hip. Flowers abound and nothing's nailed down. All seem in on the secret that civility and tourism go hand in hand - and it's obvious those tourism dollars are funding way more than drug treatment and prosecution.

I completely agree with Dan's statement: "Most of the time, we move about this city with eyes wide shut to the reports of shootings and killings; we love this town, but it's often necessary to look past its problems in order to maintain our relationship with it." But now that a summer of gangs and gunfire at Harborplace have merited a tepid response, at best, from those at the top, I'm not so sure of the rest of his thought: "And, unless you live in one of the poorest neighborhoods, where the reality includes gunfire, and unless you are involved in the drug trade, your chances of being a victim of a homicide are low." I'm responding as a person who habitually traverses, alone and unafraid, any part of this city. Perhaps I should re-think that routine.

The awareness that the drug culture affects almost every aspect of how we live and (try to) do business in Baltimore is such a sad souvenir of my trip and a month later, I am still turning this thing over, furious and frustrated that my beloved native town seems forever, intractably held hostage by drugs.

25 December 2008

My Christmas 2008 Prayer

The heartbreaking photo on page three in yesterday's City Paper of the man who often panhandles near the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, who is missing so many pieces of himself I can't bear to count, made me think to read last year's My Christmas Prayer. But in that missive, it's the wind-up - all I had read in the Sun that day - not the pitch, that I'm still chewing over, maybe because today I collaborated on another stunning image with amazingly gifted Sun photographer Amy Davis, for perhaps the last time, for maybe my last Sun food story. I am told the budget for most freelancers was wiped out, and with that, my favorite paying, creative gig since 1991. There's symmetry, at least - Amy was the first Sun photographer with whom I worked.

I've taken to weighing our emaciated hometown newspaper of record every morning; it was at its lightest ten days ago at 4.95 ounces (update on 26 January - 3.7 ounces). Usually awaiting me at 4 AM, thanks to my carrier who knows I really really must have my paper first thing, I pick it up and utter, yes, a prayer, that it not be the last time to appear in my vestibule.

Bizarre, but true - I have never missed reading a Morning Sun, Sunday Sun, or Evening Sun (may it rest in peace) since kindergarten - reading the paper in arrears the few brief times I ventured from range. A priceless childhood memory, and no doubt the impetus behind the obsession, is of sitting with my father every morning, he with his coffee and me with my tea, reading the paper in silence. In fact, I was not allowed to speak until he finished the paper. He often disappeared to soak in his tub and converse about what he had just read with Carl Schoettler, a career, now-retired, Sun reporter. My daddy got lots of Sun ink, making the news (often hilariously, when being a hometown character was akin to being a hero) and also commenting on everything in endless letters to the editor.

And so I followed in his footsteps, insisting on a cone of Sun-reading silence; doing newsworthy, albeit not so crazy things (hmmm, well, there was that front-page goldfish incident); writing letters and commentary; making decades-long friendships with reporters and photographers; but also being lucky enough to write food and features stories and style photographs.

Uh, sorry to be post-tense so post-haste. But when the Sun and the Washington Post are set to share content and even the solvency of the New York Times is questioned, I naturally think the Baltimore Sun probably mirrors that (lack of) fortune. And BTW, the check for my last story and photo bounced and I'm doubting I'll get paid for what I just wrote and styled.

My Christmas 2008 prayer is that 365 days from now, I am still getting the paper, whatever it weighs, through my mail slot (at 4 AM, please) and that none of my friends or anyone else at the Sun is bought out or booted in the process.

Heck, I'll go for a miracle - that a local interest buys the paper and pulls it back from the brink and that youngsters - and their parents - again find that starting the day with the newspaper is non-negotiable.

09 October 2008

Udderly Important

I had my yearly mammogram on 1 October, the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month - not consciously planned, but very appropriate, as this year I'm once again reminded of how the disease hovers around my family, swooping in and picking off (or trying to) relatives of all ages - one cousin was 37 when it struck (she won).

During the first week of 2008, my older sister, who was 49 when breast cancer was first diagnosed, went into the hospital five and a half years after chemo and radiation ended, and almost didn't come out. She was hospitalized for months, including more than a week when a tangle of tubes, including a huge one down her throat and into her chest, kept her alive.

This intelligent woman felt a lump two years before her initial diagnosis, yet fear kept her from confronting it. I thought about this as I had my mammogram, though I had to think fast, as the entire procedure totals barely five minutes.

I have little patience with women who pass on this exam because they say it hurts. Get a grip. They say they don't want to know. Get over it.

Imagine, instead (and I pray that's all I ever have to do) knowing the physical and mental pain of surgery and its aftermath, chemo, radiation, and then relapsing and doing it all over again, all because you delayed having a mammogram. Imagine your family's pain.

Not having health insurance or not having enough is no excuse - it's easy to find a mammogram for free or on a sliding scale. How can you afford not to do this?

18 July 2008

Table For One

Google "dining alone" and read the comments in response to mine on Elizabeth Large's blog piece Table For One At Ruth Chris and it looks like eating out alone at a special occasion place is a fear greater than public speaking. Those who do it are just generally considered pathetic losers - probably by people afraid of their own shadows. I normally don't care what others think; still, with this being Smalltimore, I wondered how weird it might look should I run into a business associate. Everyone to whom I mentioned my plan practically "shook their heads in pity," to quote Mary Chapin Carpenter.

But I wanted what I always want for my birthday dinner and with none of the usual suspects available to accompany me, I dined alone at The Prime Rib tonight. No big deal. And in fact . . .

I got to truly focus on the food. Other than one or two hamburgers a year, I eat beef only at The Prime Rib (why bother anywhere else?), and as that's rare (pun intended), I savored and appreciated the experience maybe even more. I'm pretty sure the slab of prime rib served me tonight was the most tender I have ever eaten. OK, it was food porn. In lieu of no appetizer, I had my two favorite sides, the stuffed baked potato and the creamed spinach (in EL's blog, I asked which restaurant meals were worth the $$$ because they could not be duplicated at home, and I certainly cannot copy this because milk and meat can never meet in my kosher kitchen). I got to rip the ends off all the bread. I was served some incredible chocolate thing, on the house, with a candle. I was fussed over without a big fuss, never waiting for anything, including endless refills of their excellent coffee.

In EL's blog, I wondered about weirdness for me, the staff, and other patrons. But the place is dark, I had on a big, gaze-obscuring hat, and without my trademark tiny dark specs, I can't see anyway, so if I was being stared at, I didn't know. The staff couldn't have been more gracious, when I made the reservation and requested my favorite table (and probably everyone else's) and when I was there. I was occupied with - no surprise - one of my BlackBerrys, working on a piece for my EBDI blog. And when I couldn't stop looking at the top of the piano - it was like staring at a map of the EBDI footprint - I googled commentary on an ee cummings poem shared with me by someone who used to occupy valuable real estate in my heart. I thought about the various good and bad buttons pushed today and who pushed them, and had yet another one pushed as e-mail from a far-away friend arrived with the bread and butter. I made my annual "A Year In The Life" list, of all the things, good and bad and just thangs, that are new and important since the last birthday. Not that I need a tally, but, jeez, it's been a most meshugana twelve months.

On my twenty minute walk home, made safer courtesy of Artscape, and defraying maybe two minutes intake of that just-about-perfect meal, I renewed the vow I make every year on my birthday, really an edict from my favorite philosopher, Eleanor Roosevelt, "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face . . . do the thing you think you cannot do." Cross off confronting the social taboo of fine dining alone. Would that everything were such low-hanging fruit.

29 June 2008

Brother, Can You Spare A Tummy Tuck?

I scored some blueberries, nectarines, and blessedly, white peaches, this morning at the downtown farmers market, but this bounty cost a ransom. It’s not the farmers’ fault, of course.

This week and last, Doug Woerner, my quince and main white nectarine and white peach man, has been beside himself with the almost lack of business at the Pimlico and Howard Park farmers markets. Fixed incomes just can’t stretch. I'm grateful for the option of fewer niceties to afford the meteoric rise in the cost of healthy eating, but just like medical care, food at an affordable price should be an unalienable right.

And speaking of health care, the lead story in today's Sun details doctors who are closing their practices because of the ever-increasing cost of doing business. My two most important doctors, both with huge practices, retired early for this reason. Here, in a city and a state with the world's most famous medical institution and a plethora of other extraordinary hospitals, it's projected that we'll have a shortage of doctors.

Money makes the world go around - to be sure, it's a simplistic view of complicated economic theories way over my head, but I wonder how close we are until the escalating cost of everything, fueled in part by the unceasing price of oil, brings us to a full stop.

As I jumped from the Sun’s front page to finish the story, I encountered an ad for - I swear - a well known plastic surgeon's fifteen percent sale on cosmetic surgery. Things must already be worse than I thought.

06 June 2008

Be kind, be kind, be kind

Today is 40 years since the death of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. I still hold him and his ideals in great regard, of course, but I also admire his eldest daughter, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, whom I've neither met nor have ever had any contact.

She and I have much in common - a strong committment to volunteerism, fathers who were cut down in their early 40s at the hands of madmen, and an unshakable belief that from grief - from which we agree there is never closure - we must find hope, effect change, and always always push forward.

I once heard her convey a massively important piece of advice she said her father often repeated - be kind, be kind, be kind - shorthand for the Golden Rule - the root, the essense, of civility. Indeed, just about two thousand years ago, the great scholar Hillel, demonstrating he could teach the entire Torah standing on one foot, needed cite only the Golden Rule.

Today's headlines detail the colossal challenges left in the wake of $139-a-barrel oil, with kindness unfortunately not the cure. So I'll focus on the almost matter-of-fact, race-and-genderbending achievements of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and their new-found detente, made possible via respect and civility. America will recover from our economic mess. There's hope, there will be change. We are most definitely pushing forward.

21 December 2007

Welcome To The Third World

Appalling, astounding, atrocious. And those are just a few of the "A" words that children at some Baltimore City public schools will not be able to look up in a dictionary because their schools lack libraries. Today's Baltimore Sun article, "Keeping Up With Tomes," also describes barely more fortunate schools having libraries but no librarians and libraries with few and/or outdated books, such as Thomas Johnson Elementary School, where the dictionary is from 1956. Repeated calls to various departments of the Baltimore City Public School System yielded no one who cared to supply statistics on how many schools lack libraries, librarians, and up-to-date books.

Thank goodness for the Trudy and Joe Kaufman School Library Swap Foundation and Girl Scouts Troop 714 from Ellicott City for donating 1500 books and 50 pounds of art supplies to Thomas Johnson Elementary School, but the need for charity to make up for what should be fundamental is shameful, shocking, and sickening.

20 December 2007

Fade To Black

For twenty-one years, the North Charles Street windows of the Craig Flinner Gallery have brimmed with large, graphic, colorful antique French posters, bringing a particular joie de vivre to the street. Inside, the walls are jammed with more posters, maps, and paintings and share space with antique and vintage furniture, architectural salvage, ephemera, and other surprises. Glorious colors and patterns and textures abound. This is the type of sophisticated, yet affordable shopping Baltimore City needs more of, so the news that the gallery will close its doors in March, after a total of twenty-five years in Mount Vernon, should send the Downtown Partnership, Charles Street Development Corporation, Historic Charles Street Association, Baltimore Development Corporation, and Mayor Sheila Dixon into overdrive.

Businesses catering to the carriage trade once lined North Charles Street, though shifting demographics and fear of crime shuttered many decades ago. Still, retail persevered along what was often known as Baltimore's Fifth Avenue. The confidence Harborplace inspired marched north, and the gallery was just one of many new retail ventures opened in the 1980s and 1990s, flourishing and expanding several times over.

But in the past few years, the retail climate changed, and not just along Charles Street. The homogenization and relative convenience of the mall shopping experience, whether prized by consumers or forced down our throats or both, siphoned off ever-increasing numbers of shoppers more interested in being able to go to any Williams-Sonoma in Anytown, USA to buy the exact copper cookie cutter set shown on page six of the catalogue, and to carry purchases to their cars parked for free in mall lots (even if the distance to the door measures in multiple city blocks). Retail has further evolved/regressed in some markets as consumers have tired of the antiseptic sameness of enclosed malls and fake main streets have popped up. Some are built in faux architectural styles and others make no pretense, but the stores are still mostly interchangeable from strip to strip.

As Charles Street retail moved out, more offices and restaurants moved in. While not a bad thing in and of itself, the lack of a critical mass of shops created a downward spiral in the number of shoppers. Combined with the ever-persistent parking shortage, Mr. Flinner, a Baltimore City resident and true-blue advocate of cities, made the wrenching decision to pack up and move. He understands the pall his darkened, cavernous retail space will cast over the neighborhood, yet he is powerless to fix what ails this main street, including customers who are increasingly more interested in the Disney version offered at White Marsh and Hunt Valley, where everything is predictable and the colors are all the same.

19 December 2007

Another Unfortunate Corporate Slogan

It's official - the latest batch of rosemary shortbread cookies was the most expensive ever. A few dollars worth of butter, flour - uh, sorry, this recipe goes to the grave with me - turned into a four hundred dollar adventure, as it fried my fairly new six-quart KitchenAid mixer (already a replacement for the first six-quarter). One foot to the right stands my 30 quart Hobart behemoth, capable, I'm sure, of mixing cement. It was the only piece of bakery equipment I kept when I sold the building housing the Old Waverly History Exchange & Tea Room and was the single most important element around which my tiny 125-square foot Bolton Hill kitchen was planned. Years ago, the acquisition of this mixer allowed me to change my business model, so to celebrate its relative retirement, I had it outfitted in black autobody paint (along with sistering a floor joist and adding a new electrical circuit) before it assumed its new pride of place.

Hobart made KitchenAid mixers, but sold the division off some time ago. A quick Google search found endless comments lamenting the KitchenAid mixers of yore. The current slogan, "For the way it's made," certainly leaves me puzzled. The customer service rep this morning refused to tell me who could better explain exactly what that means and why it's supposedly a good thing. She wouldn't even divulge the name of KitchenAid's CEO, saying instead that should I chose to complain in writing, my letter would be "directed" to an appropriate person. One thing is for sure - I will be directing myself to another company to replace what isn't even close to being made the way it used to be.

18 December 2007

Cricket's My Cup Of Tea

Three weeks ago, the inaugural Steamed Female item concerned the second meeting held by the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks for a proposed cricket field and mused if this were really a controversial issue. Yesterday, the Baltimore Sun ran a front page article reporting that the field would be contructed, to the tune of $25,000, but that it would be considered temporary.

Look, if I were queen, er, mayor, I'd be on the horn at this very minute, chatting up the Maryland Cricket Club, offering to build them a permanent field next to the highly Victorian and extremely fabulous Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Druid Hill Park. Can you imagine a more perfect setting, for both players and spectators, and also for tea time, a requirement written into the official rules of the game? Let me repeat that - tea time is required.

You may quote me: should Druid Hill Park become a cricket mecca, I will resurrect the Old Waverly History Exchange & Tea Room to run the afternoon tea concession.

17 December 2007

Urban Fields Of Green

All the newfangled light bulbs, high-tech insulation, and single-stream recycling in the world can never stamp out the carbon footprint resulting from the plowing under of farm after farm and the further aftermath of this ultimate form of anti-green violence.

Developers seek a blank page, but that’s also available just outside of downtown - witness the staggering transformation of the area directly north of Johns Hopkins Hospital, under the direction of East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI), and the more-fabulous-by-the-minute Harbor East area. It will soon commence in Upton, with the rehabilitation of eighty decades-vacant rowhouses, and in the Oliver community, which touches EBDI’s northwestern boundary.

One developer friend referred to these large-scale rehabilitation and build from scratch projects as urban farming. I met plenty of developers, in my former job as the asset manager for the City of Baltimore's Department of Housing and Community Development, looking for opportunities to farm pieces of the city’s twelve thousand vacant buildings and lots (and there are thousands more under private ownership). When – not if – the scarcity of energy pushes and freezes the price of a gallon of gas north of five dollars, commuters fighting their way into the City of Baltimore, and armies of developers, will recognize that acres of abandonment are the next green pastures.

16 December 2007

How Un-Green Was My Valley?

My 6:00 AM, next-to-last 2007 chat with Doug, my downtown farmers market quince guy, was dismal for reasons completely unassociated with the cold rain or the price for which he will dump end-of-season apples, but the sale of his next-door neighbor's 150-acre, Gettysburg-area fruit farm. Houses will be planted - $600,000+ houses, which the developer predicts will be bought by people working in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia. For two years, Doug, who previously had never even attended a simple community meeting, led the charge to derail the sale, armed with what he hoped was a zoning technicality. The only victory realized, however, was getting the density decreased from one house per acre to one house per three acres. Broken friendships and bad feeling were left in the wake, but that will be the least of it once the destruction of the orchard and this rural area commences.

So it was ironic that I arrived home to the front page Baltimore Sun article about the dwindling of Maryland scenic byways. Recent rare ventures beyond Baltimore City limits have taken me to areas I assumed were somehow protected and would always remain pristine, shocking me with vista after vista sullied with inappropriate, poorly designed, cheaply constructed, non-contextual cardboard crap. On these journeys north, I encounter very early to mid-morning unbroken lines of traffic resembling nothing short of a mass evacuation into Baltimore City.

15 December 2007

Food For Thought

I couldn't live with myself unless I reported that my visit to the Rotunda Giant this afternoon went flawlessly. I didn't witness any of the things I've been going full-tilt about for the past three days (OK, three days plus nearly two decades). Not a one. It was pleasant. And I got the closest parking space to the door. Must be the magic of blogging.

14 December 2007

Why Is That Still My Giant?

I exchanged a precious pie-making hour the day before Thanksgiving for a conversation with Giant Foods' consumer affair advisor's assistant, explaining how and why "My Giant" has continued to let me down. My goal, however, was not merely to complain, but to get the chance to make informed suggestions to the regional manager, who filled my request for a phone conversation, committed to quickly righting the wrongs, but declined my offer of a walk through the store.

Three weeks later in this renewed pursuit, I can't understand how it's still business as usual at the Rotunda Giant, with overflowing trash bins, empty shelves, a lack of carts and cashiers, and more (or less, as it were).

Loyalty, convenience, familiarity, and solidarity with the few remaining long-time employees keeps me shopping there against my better judgment. There's no place high up enough the food chain to complain as long as I continue to be a glutton for punishment.

13 December 2007

That's My Giant?

I lament the passing of the late-1990s era of the ill-advised corporate slogan. There was BGE's "That's What We Do," always so useful when a customer service rep would inform me of what I considered much too long a wait to fix a hot water heater or whatever. I remember one day holding the phone to the TV so the rep could hear their commercial playing. Saying "I thought that's what you do" always helped speed techs to my door.

But saying "That's My Giant" or more accurately, asking "That's My Giant?" usually never remedied whatever complaints prompted me to chat Giant Foods up, though after every third call, I'd invariably receive a fifteen dollar gift certificate. Still, it would have been entirely more satisfying to have had my complaints about the Rotunda Giant's complete lack of shopping carts (unless they're supposed to be roaming free in the parking lots), empty shelves, dearth of cashiers, cashiers who don't say thank you, cashiers who talk to everyone but the customer, etc., taken seriously. Compounding my frustration was the new Rehoboth Beach Giant, which customer service reps and regional managers spoke about in reverential tones.

A particularly infuriating Thanksgiving week shopping misadventure motivated me to dial Giant's corporate number once again. More tomorrow, but be forewarned the piece's working title is "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose."

12 December 2007

Rotunda Giant:

Two words guaranteed to provoke a reaction, from both regular customers and pretty much anyone at their corporate office - the former, groaning; the latter, nervous tittering.

A little context - in 1967, my parents bought their elegant WWII-era brick Menlo Drive house not for the mahogany paneled den or the carved valances with sheafs of wheat or the Stuart kitchen, but because it was twelve houses from the Giant. My mother filled a shopping cart three to four times a week to feed seven, and in between those full-blown excursions, usually I, of the five children, was sent walking the two-tenths of a mile to buy stray items. My mother refused to shop anywhere else - too dirty - and besides, employees proud and grateful to work for Giant made the store a lovely place to shop.

And so the Giant became the only place I, too, shopped. A 1985 move to Charles Village rendered the Rotunda location my primary store. I have shopped there literally thousands of times since, but because the store is so highly dysfunctional, I often ask myself why, particularly when nearby options abound.

Please stop by tomorrow for part two.

11 December 2007

1-800-GIVE LIFE

I'm used to the once-a-week, in-the-evening calls from the American Red Cross to the blood donor in my house, beginning approximately fifty-six days after the last donation, so I was surprised by the call at ten o'clock on Sunday morning. But blood supplies, always tight, are exceptionally so at holiday time.

It's personal with me. My niece, Jade, was diagnosed four-and-a-half years ago, at age eight, with exceedingly rare and often fatal aplastic anemia. Last week she celebrated her thirteenth birthday. She is alive and thriving for three reasons: a miracle, Johns Hopkins Hospital, and donated blood. Her recovery was so amazing that she and her parents are ambassadors for the American Red Cross.

If searching for the antidote to what you may consider the over-commercialization of an essentially religious occasion, please consider giving the thing you hope you never have to receive. My family and I, and ultimately, someone you will never know, thank you for your generosity.

10 December 2007

Less Ink, Please

Six o'clock Sunday morning found Doug, my downtown farmers market quince guy, hunched over the City Paper looking mortified. Seems he was reading it for the first time and having latched onto the Murder Ink column, was suddenly, after decades, feeling vulnerable and unsafe in the City of Baltimore. There was no convincing him that the murder rate isn't any indication of his relative safety in downtown or most of Baltimore.

While a vast majority of homicide victims have serious criminal records, some certainly do not, though it doesn't change the fact that the dead were sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers. However, as a member of a club no one would ever want to join, I get a free pass to say running such a column is just too damaging to civic confidence.

09 December 2007

Latke-making Advice

Ignore every recipe you've seen. Here's what you should use for eighteen nice size latkes. If you don't know what to do with the ingredients, e-mail me.

Three pounds baking potatoes, peeled and shredded. Four small to medium onions shredded. Three eggs. One-half heaping cup matzo meal. A little salt and pepper.

This is really important: don't overload your disposal with potato and onion peels. Have a plunger handy.

And schedule in time to degrease your kitchen. Even the strongest oven hood isn't strong enough.

08 December 2007

Chanukah Miracle Needed

Rabbi Mark Loeb of Beth El Congregation was eloquent in his remarks Thursday night at the Senator Theatre as he prepared to light the third Chanukah candle, describing the story of the holiday as the struggle of the few over the many. His words were especially poignant, delivered as they were to maybe only twenty souls who bothered to show up to see the magnificent 1971 Norman Jewison film, Fiddler on the Roof.

07 December 2007

Dirty M-F

The pleasantness of my shopping experience dissipated quickly with the M-F barrage emanating from one of the store's employees. I listened for about a minute, then made my move. I told him, calmly and civilly, that such language was hardly appropriate for a retail establishment. I didn't tell him that he sounded like stupid, ignorant gutter trash. He apologized and slinked off.

Two weeks ago, while standing outside my house at dismissal for Mount Royal School, a grandfather spoke the dirty M-F half a dozen times to his first-grader grandson in the space of my nineteen feet of sidewalk. I called him out on it and he used the M-F on me.

The soundtrack of a particularly memorable - badly so - shopping excursion to the Pikesville Target, chock-full of frum women and children shoppers, featured continuous M-F bombs from the lips of several store employees. I asked, but the manager was MIA. I kick myself for not pursuing this at a corporate level.

It's everywhere, as every part of speech. It's coarse, ugly, and unimaginative. Once reserved for shock value, the only thing shocking about it now is how we constantly enable it by tolerating it.

06 December 2007

Support Locally-Owned Small Businesses

I'm from Russian pushcart stock. For thirteen years, I ran a small emporium (see the sidebar) featuring a tea room, bakery (ultra-fancy wedding cakes and cookies, etc.), antiques and gifts, and historic preservation and interior design consultation. I worked very hard and was rewarded with lots of regular customers. They're the backbone of any business.

Floods of fresh, intriguing boutiques, hand-in-hand with new and rehabbed buildings, are helping transform certain swaths of Baltimore. I wrote about a number of these shops in the December issue of Baltimore Magazine. But as I visited each business, I wondered if it would still be there a year from now.

Look, I'm going to be direct and maybe even blunt. Check out new places. If you like them, frequent them. Keep patronizing old favorites, too. It's up to you to insure they won't be gone the next time you come a'calling

05 December 2007

I Surrender

It's silly to complain about what we can't control or change. Nonetheless, I loathe winter. Blessed/cursed with low blood pressure, I'm always cold and must hibernate under four or more layers of clothing, and that's before donning outerwear. While I'm immensely grateful to own houses in both Bolton Hill and Rehoboth Beach, every year I fear the volatile price of oil and propane. And then there's snow.

I'm not snow-phobic. I don't need to prepare because I'm always prepared. I mostly work from home, so I can usually limit my interaction with it beyond shoveling, though any such encounter narrows my footwear options to styles I find less than appealing. I know - it should be my worst problem. Wall-to-wall, we're-all-going-to-die TV coverage, a Baltimore fact of life, is annoying. I will admit snow is pretty, but it gets ugly fast.

I do appreciate how cozy snow makes me feel in my house. And my block, always so picturesque with the median park, fountain, and rowhouses and institutional buildings in varying late-nineteenth century architectural styles, does wear winter white particularly well. But all in all, the only good thing about winter is fur.

Sitting here now in my tiny kitchen's only chair, watching the snow softly falling on the back porch, I am noticing how snow piled up on the balustrade's finials has morphed their round form into a shape perfectly echoing the dormer windows of the magnificent carriage house providing backdrop. And from my perch, the finials align faultlessly with the dormers, as if I had planned their placement from this exact spot so that I might witness this utterly astounding vertical symmetry every time I sit down.

I painstaking plotted almost every detail of this room, the back porch, and the formal garden. My calculations, my specifications drove contractors to distraction (though how they pointed with pride to the results). Visitors often note the precision and care with with I have designed in the details - and you know who is in the details, according to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. But not only can I not take credit for what I have just seen, I also can't explain how, even with this same perspective every day for years, this realization has eluded me until now. Why?

Maybe it was something in the stillness and the quiet that freed my mind and let it roam - made possible by surrendering to something exactly opposite of my perfectly-planned spaces and not at all under my control.

04 December 2007

Happy Chanukah at Sundown Tonight

No time for deep thoughts - busy getting ready to kick off the Senator Theatre's Chanukah gift to Baltimore - eight days and nights of Fiddler on the Roof on the big screen.

Shown will be the original full-length theatrical version, filmed in Technicolor and featuring glorious four-track magnetic stereo sound. Showtimes are 12:00, 4:00 & 8:00pm. Admission to the Senator Theatre is $9. Plenty of packaged kosher snacks are available. Menorah lighting by celebrity guests will immediately precede each 8pm show. The schedule is:

Tuesday 4 December – Marc Steiner - WYPR-FM
Wednesday 5 December – Andrew Buerger – Baltimore Jewish Times
Thursday 6 December – Rabbi Mark Loeb – Beth El Congregation
Friday 7 December – Richard Sher – WJZ-TV
Saturday 8 December – Rebecca Hoffberger – American Visionary Art Museum
Sunday 9 December – Cantor Melvin Luterman – Emeritus, Temple Oheb Shalom
Monday 10 December - Jonathan Palevsky – WBJC-FM
Tuesday 11 December – TBA

Skyboxes are still available. What a fantastic place to have your Chanukah latke party! The cost is $125 for the balcony party space, plus the standard $9 per person (up to 40 seats are available). Please call Gayle at 410.323.1989 or e-mail office@senator.com for more information.

03 December 2007

It's Nice To Be Nice

A highly successful writer friend told me recently that no colleague has bothered to comment on his work in years. Too busy, he says.

Johns Hopkins University professor Dr. P. M. Forni's Choosing Civility encourages people to take notice and acknowledge each other. Acknowledgment is the grease of human interaction, the root of civility. This is so basic. How can anybody NOT do this?

I believe there's plenty of attention being paid, though not nearly enough follow-through with acknowledgment and praise. Those who do not get often do not give.

There's no set amount of blessings in the world, no need to ration good feelings. Nice is not a pie with a finite number of slices. Please pay attention. This is important. It's better to give than to receive. Say something nice. What goes around quickly comes around.

02 December 2007

No Free Lunch

Doug, my downtown farmers market white nectarine, white peach, apple, and quince guy, is a worried man. Business is off - way off - at the market, and not just for him. Our country's current economic woes impacted vendors' sales even the Sunday before Thanksgiving. A manager at a local independent grocery also reported a drop compared to last year. Compensating for high energy bills, deflated real estate values, and Christmas by shrinking a holiday menu is pretty radical and puts the magnitude of the problem in scary, crystal-clear perspective.

This morning, Doug was particularly fretful about his apples, expressing concern, for several reasons, that he would have to dump thousands he unexpectedly now cannot sell at the processing plant down the road from his farm. His gorgeous and routinely few end-of-market season apples are usually turned into applesauce for the plant's largest customer, Walmart, but the beast instead is currently desperate for apple juice, generally made by pressing inferior apples. Doug hates the thought of his perfect apples being underutilized. And dumping apples at this plant nets him one dollar a bushel, as compared to eight dollars for that same bushel at the market. But even more astounding is that Walmart pays the processing plant in dribs and drabs, so the plant in turn must pay Doug that way. It will be until June that Doug gets paid in full, so he in turn must lay off his tree-trimming staff.

This sickening tale illustrates Walmart's death grip on America's economy. Those discounts come with a price

01 December 2007

Kvetch of the Day

Oy, just try to put down the paperback ("Now with more kvetching!") New York Times bestseller Born to Kvetch - Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods, by Michael Wex. For your trouble - and $13.95 - you'll get "a delightful excursion through the Yiddish language, the culture it defines and serves, and the fine art of the complaint." This, and Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish, is all any Jew or goy needs to learn to curse without going anywhere near four letter words.

Today in the page-a-day section of the calendar portion (calendars are big business) of my favorite (though very goyishe) bookstore, Browseabout Books, in Rehoboth Beach, I saw Born to Kvetch 2008. Bought it, cracked it open, found it disappointing.

Context is everything in understanding Yiddish, and the limited format of a four inch square calender, with half the space wasted - the cheap paper is printed on one side only - doesn't allow for much. Don't trouble yourself or your wallet for the $11.99.

30 November 2007

Same-Sex Marriage

The Baltimore Sun ran an article yesterday about the economic impact of same-sex marriage in Maryland. The wedding industry is virtually recession-proof - I know this directly by having been in it for over a decade - and the addition of same-sex celebrations by residents and also tourists would generate an estimated "$14 million in tax revenue" over three years. A study showed that "extending marriage benefits to gays could result in a net gain of $3.2 million a year" in other types of tax revenue.

No such article would be complete without a loathsome dig from Doug Stiegler, executive director of the Family Protection Lobby. "Three million is such an insignificant number compared to the other social and cultural impacts on families and children. You are going to spend more than that if we have a heavy snowfall in January."

29 November 2007

Confessional

If you read my sidebar piece "What's So Funny," you know I'm Jewish. Very. I was raised Modern Orthodox, still belong to Modern Orthodox synagogues, and keep kosher homes here and in Rehoboth Beach.

Chanukah, which begins this year on the evening of Tuesday 4 December, has absolutely zero to do with Christmas. There is no such thing as a Chanukah bush. Outdoor Chanukah decorations are practically non-existent, except for the handmade ones, and that would be every single thing adorning the Chanukah House, owned by friends and family. My only connection to Christmas, besides parties and dinners with friends who celebrate it, is the Christmas display I create every year at Montgomery Park and my huge, boxed decorated cookies.

OK, there is one more thing - and this is not my confession - most years on Christmas Eve I go to Saint Mark's Lutheran Church on Saint Paul Street to revel in the Tiffany interior (as an historic preservationist who's eyeballed amazing things, this ranks darn near the top), see my friend Reverend Dale Dusman in his yellow moire frock (he says he sees all his Jewish friends on Christmas Eve and one year right before the service he gifted me with a Madonna head that looks exactly like me), and hear the heavenly music. Of course I don't sing or participate, I just listen. And after all, fellow Heeb Irving Berlin did write "White Christmas."

I'm a huge Josh Groban fan - a Grobanite. That's not my confession - keep reading. Josh's mother is not Jewish and so it doesn't even matter that his father once was (he converted away from it) - Josh is not officially Jewish in any way. A few weeks ago, I read several glowing reviews of his Christmas album, Noel, and I couldn't stop myself fom buying it. And now I can't stop myself from listening to it. Yes, yes - my confession - and oddly, there's a song on Josh Groban's Closer album called "My Confession."

I listen while I'm riding my exercise bike and I like to turn the cuts with choirs up very loud. My neighbors on either side must think I've gone bonkers and abandoned my religion. I have tried to cut myself off, but I can't.

As if to realign my chakras or bathe in a mental mikvah (talk about your mixed metaphors), I chase Noel with the soundtracks from either Yentl, The Prince of Egypt, or Fiddler on the Roof.

I have a feeling this will be become a tradition.


28 November 2007

Pimm's Cup, Anyone?

Baltimore County's Department of Recreation and Parks held their second meeting last night for a proposed cricket field on county-owned land near Loch Raven Reservoir. Second meeting? Can this possibly be controversial?