The Chatter: February 2015

Firsthand accounts of what's going on in Baltimore.

By Ron Cassie - February 2015

The Chatter: February 2015

Firsthand accounts of what's going on in Baltimore.

By Ron Cassie - February 2015

Baby New Year poses on 34th Street. -Photography by Ron Cassie

Cargo Vessels

December 23, 2014

Amid the Christmas decorations, tree, and lights, sit hundreds of gift-wrapped shoeboxes, stacked along the walls of the cramped Stella Maris Seafarers' Center in Dundalk. Sent by local churches, schools, and charities, and filled with toothpaste, shaving cream, gloves, and scarves—as well as pens and stationery for writing home—some 1,500 presents will be delivered by volunteers to seamen docked at the Port of Baltimore this season.

"The sailors come from all over the developing world: Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, former Soviet bloc countries, most working on eight- to 10-month contracts," says Monsignor John FitzGerald, who oversees the center, a mission of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. "It's a lonely life. They miss holidays, the births of children, and funerals of parents."

Part logistics hub, chapel—FitzGerald celebrates Mass in four languages—and Internet cafe, the center provides services to 12,000 seafarers a year, many of whom e-mail and Skype with family from its computers. Volunteer van drivers also offer seamen, often in dock for only 12 hours, the chance to refill prescriptions at pharmacies and, like the visiting Chinese seafarers today, to shop for themselves or loved ones at their favorite American stores like Walmart and Best Buy.

"Everything in the U.S., you can buy in China. Bose headphones, UGG boots, and iPhone 6, but it costs a lot more. [An] iPhone 6—$150 more," says Jianteng Li, 36, in heavly accented English as his mates pose for photos in front of the center's Christmas tree, still apparently an exotic religious artifact in a country that remains officially atheist.

"My wife e-mailed me," Li shrugs and smiles. "She wants UGGs. Two pairs."

King for a Day

South Linwood Avenue
December 30, 2014

There is free ice skating here later for kids participating in Baltimore's 75th Annual Doll Show, but right now they're busy playing with their favorite dolls—the term is applied broadly—and looking forward to the contest. It's a beauty pageant of sorts for toys, and the rules are simple: entrants must be 14 or under and may only enter one doll in one category—such as foreign, antique, best stuffed, action figure, or most unusual. "The judges ask the kids questions about their doll, which is great, because they get to talk about something they love and be taken seriously," says Trish Jefferson, who's been coming since 1957 and is watching her granddaughter run around the rec room inside the Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro Family Skating Center.

One 5-year-old enters her obviously well loved, worn, stuffed panda, which she's had, she explains, since meeting Tai Shan, a giant panda, at the National Zoo.

"How old is your panda?"

"One-hundred and thirty," responds the girl, not missing a beat.

After the category winners receive their ribbons, two overall winners are named the show's official King and Queen. Along with trophies, they're handed authentic-looking crowns and seated in a throne for pictures. "Queen" Kimore Spencer, 12, won for her vintage, box-kept, African-American Barbie. Edward Clark, 11, won both "most unusual" and "King" honors for his dead baby shark, preserved in a jar. "A friend of my father's brought it from Florida," he says, proudly, noting it's a blacktip shark as he points out the telltale fin markings.

Afterwards, in line for skates, he adjusts the crown still atop his head.

"I've never ice-skated before," he admits, "but I'm not taking this off."

Hampden's Ball

34th Street
January 1, 2015

"Somebody get me the time," pleads 58-year-old Bob Hosier, pacing in his row-house living room in a diaper, bonnet, and bib. Surrounded by friends and family—including an actual baby whose diaper is being changed on the sofa—Hosier is nervously trying to sync the televised New Year's Eve ball-drop in Times Square with the light-post ball-drop he's been rigging up in front of his house for the past two and a half decades.

"It takes 22 seconds for our ball to drop," explains Hosier, who, along with starting the audacious holiday-decorating phenomenon known as the "Miracle on 34th Street," appears each year as "Baby New Year" at midnight to anxious throngs. "If it took a full minute, I'd need a 60-foot pole and the city wouldn't go for that."

Just before the climatic moment, Hosier kisses his wife and daughter, and then, as fireworks fly, he opens his front door to wild applause, popping champagne as he waves to the crowd.

"There he is!"

"Hey, Baby New Year!"

"Oh, that's one sexy diaper!"

Fortified by 100-proof Old Grand-Dad, Hosier mingles with members of the fawning, and, for the most part, only mildly intoxicated crowd, who offer toasts and kisses, rub his belly for luck, and pose for delirious selfies.

"You know," says an onlooker to his girlfriend, "waiting for him to come out of his house every year, it's like he's our version of Punxsutawney Phil."

"The difference," his date smiles, scanning the beefy, nearly naked Hosier, "is just a little less hair."

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