News & Community

The Chatter: May 2016

Overheard at Camden Yards, Enoch Pratt Library, and a reading of Last House Standing.

Living the Dream

West Camden Street
March 5, 2016

Glenn Murphy is first in line. Decked in sweats and sneakers, the former high school infielder pounds his mitt, lets out a whoop, and then bends down to field a half-dozen batted balls—all of which he scoops cleanly. The 56-year-old even handles a grounder up against the third base stands at Oriole Park, if a bit awkwardly. On this chilly afternoon, he may be the oldest of the more than 75 would-be ball boys or girls vying for a position, but there’s no typical candidate—schoolteachers, college students, and IT specialists are among those trying out.

The only requirement is you have to be at least 18. At $8 an hour, a love for the O’s is a given. “I had Jim Palmer’s rookie card,” says Murphy.

At the other end of the age spectrum is Annabelle Williams, whose all-time favorite Oriole is center fielder Adam Jones. “I’m only 17,” acknowledges Williams, who also wields a fine glove. “But I turn 18 before the season starts.”

The tryouts are brief. There’s an introduction to the judges, who include Orioles staff and CBS Radio personalities Rob Long, Greg Carpenter, and Reagan Warfield, and then the field test. “I used to have season tickets, so I’m super excited to be here,” says Matt Fouse, 31, a Charles Village artist, who waits for his shot in the dugout as friends of various contestants take photos from the stands. “I gave up the tickets after we had our daughter. My wife’s a night-shift nurse, but she said if I do get picked, we’ll figure things out so I can do this.”


South Ellwood Avenue
February 12, 2016

About the same time Enoch Pratt Free Library CEO Carla Hayden welcomes visitors to the grand reopening of the Canton branch library, a young dad holding his daughter’s hand sheepishly slides in with an armful of children’s books. “We got them from another library, but you can return them to any branch, right?” he asks the woman behind the counter.

Opened in 1886—with Enoch Pratt himself in attendance—the Canton location is the last remaining branch of the original six libraries, but it had been closed for the past four years for renovations. Former Baltimore Sun columnist Russell Baker once described the cozy Canton branch as “a whimsical little cathedral, as it were, to the printed word.”

Among those on hand for the ribbon cutting is 95-year-old Mollie Katz Witow, who was born in Danzig to Jewish immigrants and came here often as a girl. She grew up above her father’s nearby grocery and butcher shop, regularly roller skating down Boston Street to the Can Company—when they still made tin cans there. After graduating from Goucher College, she entered into the Pratt’s librarian-training program.

“I remember I had to wait until I was 8 years old to get a library card,” she says with a smile. “The librarian’s name was Miss Gough, spelled the same as the street. She wore a voluminous black skirt, starched white blouse, and high-button shoes. The first book she gave me to read was called The Keeper of the Flame. It was about an American-Indian father who taught his son to leave little objects along a path so people would know to follow him.”


Loch Raven Boulevard
February 27, 2016

Oh, Baltimore
Ain’t it hard just to live?
Just to live

The Difference, the musical duo of Curtis McGee and Malaika Aminata Clements, are singing a remix of Nina Simone’s hit “Baltimore” before this afternoon’s staged reading of Last House Standing at the packed Northwood Branch Library. It’s a play about the ill-fated East-West High way Expressway that became the “Road to Nowhere.” Ultimately, the project relocated more than 1,000 families and businesses in West Baltimore—a period several audience members still recall.

Written and directed by playwright Sheila Gaskins, Last House Standing is set in 1968 on a rowhouse stoop. The central protagonist is a teenager named Evelyn, who kisses her boyfriend for the first time only to realize he’s moving away because of the coming highway—and she is, too. There are a million financial and emotional issues to wrestle with as neighbors count the families that are already gone and those that remain.

At one point, Evelyn’s young cousin and pals run around as an Arabber plies his trade: “Strawberries, cantaloupes, watermelon, red to the rind”—all evidence of a close-knit community being torn apart. “Oh man, that takes me back,” says a man in the audience.

Though her divorced mother seems in denial that eviction is imminent, Evelyn gains strength after her grandmother appears in a dream to teach her about resilience. It’s a message reinforced in her nighttime vision by the tree in front of her house, which morphs into a defiant, branch-waving, Black Power activist preaching a deeply funny soliloquy about the shared “root shock” experiences endured by trees and African-African communities. The leafy London planetree—found all over Baltimore’s rowhouse neighborhoods—raps about bending, but not breaking in the face of oppression, ending with the chant: “No Justice, No Leaves!”

“You know,” laughs another older West Baltimore native, “I remember those trees, too.”