May 23, 2024, 06:29AM

Flowers On the Wall

A time when Baltimore had storefronts, restaurants and cheap rent. What year is it (#495)?

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Liberally paraphrasing the long-deceased sportswriter Jimmy Cannon (1910-73)—in 1959 he was reportedly the country’s highest-paid sports columnist, $1000 a week from the New York Journal-American—Everybody Asked Me And There’s No Buts About It, below are several elbows-crashing thoughts that erupted in my consciousness in the past week.

First up, baseball fans, I watched the Red Sox-Cardinals game (two so-so teams that aren’t yet ready to pull the string on 2024, but might about three weeks from now) on the Roku channel on Sunday afternoon and the broadcast was miles and miles superior to Apple+ MLB attempts, and, no dispute expected, the awful “Sunday Night Baseball” on ESPN, a running joke since Jon Miller was relieved of his duties in favor of yappy former baseball stars, Yankees toady Buster Olney, and a play-by-play guy so dull I can’t remember his name. The Roku show had too many interviews while the game was in progress—revealing that Tyler O’Neill, a Card-turned-Sox probably didn’t score high marks in high school English, as opposed to Sox pitching coach Andrew Bailey, brainy and funny—but the pairing of Chip Caray (now the “voice” of the Cardinals, who’s excellent, with a Vin Scully low-key patter) and NESN’s Will Middlebrooks, who’s the “color guy” for a lot of Sox games. There was ostensible non-partisanship from the pair (Will was over-caffeinated) but they quietly rooted for the teams they cover.

I assume—perhaps mistakenly—that Democrat U.S. Senate nominee Angela Alsobrooks has more on the ball than Tyler O’Neill, but her tweet last week was strange: “My name is Angela Alsobrooks, and I am the Democratic nominee in the most important Senate race in the country. If we lose in Maryland, we will lose the Senate majority. I need your help to grow our movement. Can you retweet this and give me a follow to spread the word?”

A touch self-important? She defeated Rep. David Trone, who spent $61 million of his own money on the primary—so ubiquitous were his ads that I’m certain a percentage of Marylanders were turned off—and that was impressive, but “the most important Senate race in the country”? She could lose to Republican opponent Larry Hogan (a Never-Trumper who served two terms as the state’s governor), and the Democrats might convincingly (Dem Senate candidates are polling far better than Biden) retain their majority.

Shifting gears, I’ve always liked British journalist Charles Moore, a sensible conservative who wrote the following in his latest Spectator column: “I find the phrase ‘deep dive’ useful. As soon as you hear it, you know that the person offering it is not to be trusted. It is one of a growing collection of official words and phrases which mean the opposite of what they state. Others include, ‘We welcome the report’, ‘We take allegations of x very seriously’, ‘Your call is important to us’, ‘We’ve been very clear’ and ‘diversity’.” Moore, who received a lifetime peerage in 2020—a weird British tic, just like the rock stars presented with the honorific “Sir”—is 67 and I hope he writes for many years to come. Unlike President Sippy Cup, who said recently he worked for civil rights since he was 15 (1957!), I doubt Moore, if active as an octogenarian, will claim he was at Dunkirk, the eyes and ears for Winston Churchill.

In general, I’m a fan of graffiti—although not on operating storefronts—since it livens up a city and gives you something to ponder while walking. But jeepers, the quality varies. A couple of weeks ago I was at a Charles Theatre matinee, went to take a leak, and above the urinal, in pencil, was the word “fart.” Why would anyone bother? I remember in the 1980s, at the café Louie’s in Baltimore, the men’s room was awash in multi-colored mini-art and often salacious comments, about who-was-doing-who and revenge missives. Some nasty shit, but more imaginative than a meek “fart.”

In the accompanying photo from many years ago, nine of us posed in downtown Baltimore, a road trip for several who lived in Manhattan, including my wife Melissa (on the left with the box suitcase, perhaps a hand-me-down from her knee-slapper grandparents, Buzz and Bernice), who was seeing Tinytown for the first time. New York always picks your pocket, but on this occasion I remember a quick stop at a hotel bar where one of our party lodged. The tab for three cocktails and a Coke was $11.98. I won’t give away the year, but it wasn’t 1951.

I bring that up in relation to this year’s presidential election: the windy New York Times columnist Ezra Klein, in a mash letter of advice to Joe Biden on how to reverse his disapproval numbers, included a list of issues in a recent Times/Siena poll about voters’ top concerns. Surprise: despite the non-stop coverage of the Mideast standoff—no one but the U.S. government is “standing with Ukraine” anymore—scored just two percent. The economy and inflation combined for 28 percent, followed by immigration at 12 percent. Klein, like fellow Times bunco man Paul Krugman, insisted the economy is strong, strong and stronger (and the vitals are improving), but tell that to anyone in a supermarket, fast-food dump, restaurant, Walmart or sports venue.

Take a look at the clues to figure out what year the photo was snapped: Nelson Mandela is released from prison after 27 years; British cops seal off Brixton after a night of protests over the poll tax; the biannual coup in Haiti takes place; Dave Grohl joins Nirvana; Jesse Owens is awarded a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal; Boris Yeltsin isn’t yet ridiculed as a wandering drunk; the peculiar David Souter takes a place on the U.S. Supreme Court; The Smashing Pumpkins record their first album Gish; Octavio Paz wins the Literature Nobel Prize; ARTZ is born and Dexter Gordon dies; Die Hard 2 is even more successful than the first; Roddy Doyle’s The Snapper and William Boyd’s Brazzaville Beach are published; Billy Bragg’s The Internationale is released; and Summer Squall wins the Preakness Stakes.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023


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