Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tug Life by Jeff Alphin

In Jeff Alphin's delightful comedy, a Fells Point Maryland tug worker with a fondness for practical jokes finds a kindred spirit with whom to conspire.

Rusty couldn't get off the Harriet Moran fast enough. Two weeks of knuckle busting and fried bologna had him hopping the bulwarks and bouncing off the tire fenders onto the gull-shit-splattered docks of Canton like a state fair rubber frog.

What he called his Papillon moment. For although he would inevitably return to this 92-foot 3005-horsepower Devil's Island, for the next 14 days he was a free man. Just enough time to blow through his tug money and report back to the boat in paper pants. 

Rusty hoisted his duffel and started walking down Clinton Street, lengthening his stride with every step, no longer one of five turtles sharing the same floating shell. He tried not to grin too broadly at the hangdog faces of the replacement crew shuffling aboard for the next run.

Tug life.

Sleeping on a closet shelf, showering in a box, shitting down a pipe. Tater tots by the bag. Towboat coffee. The 24-hour rumble of diesel until you can't remember what quiet is. Chip and paint. Splice and coil. Disassemble. Reassemble.

Six hours on that seemed like 10, six hours off that felt like one. The kind of sleep deprivation they serve at Guantanamo. The flashlight in your face announcing your watch just as the dream mermaids begin to surface.

Hit the pillow. Hit the deck. Back. Jack. Do it again.

Until it was over, and Rusty became the proverbial sailor in port. Two weeks out, two weeks off. It had been his life for the last seven years.

He had no beef with extremes.

After picking up his check at the dispatch office, Rusty navigated the maze of back alley shortcuts to the row house he shared with a professional cheerleader and a cruise line magician. There was nobody home.

He shook out his duffel in the tub, turned on the shower, stripped down and began to grape stomp the diesel out of his boat clothes until he ran out of hot water.

Stepping into shorts and flip-flops, he took a look in the mirror, wondering if the haircut he'd given himself atop a rolling sea with kitchen shears could be fixed.

Rusty liked to keep enough hair to feel in a breeze, but not so much that it got in his way. His lifelong nickname had nothing to do with its color (Rusty was a sandy blond), but was bestowed upon him at age five by his mother while washing a hamper-load of skid-marked briefs.

Currently his wet mullet was so uneven he appeared to be leaning to the left.

The rest of him was no centerfold either. A purple yellow bruise spread across his left forearm like a liquid lightshow courtesy of a runaway fire hose nozzle. The high contrasts of his tan lines looked cartoonish.

However, despite the battering ram that was able seamanship, his leg bone was still connected to the thigh bone, etc, and for a 36-year-old slab of chewed up jerky he was in pretty good shape, still a first round draft choice for pickup football.

As a rule Rusty didn't waste time at sea dreaming about the inaccessible luxuries of port, and kept his mind in the same spot as his feet. But now, back in the Point with the world's oyster shucker bouncing in his callused hand, he found himself hungry for the side dish he missed most while aboard the tug.

An appreciative audience.

For although Rusty knew plenty of deckhands he'd happily share a beer (or rewatch Kingpin) with, none of them were on this last ride. And if you got on with a bunch of assholes, it made all the difference. Which he had, and it did.

Of all the hardships that came with the job, it was the only one that got to him. Because Rusty was funny, and it was a damn shame to be the only one on-board who knew it.

Admittedly, like Ernie Kovaks or Alan Abel, Rusty's humor was hard to define. Part prank, part performance art. You had to meet it halfway. And sleep-deprived ass draggers don't take an extra step for anything.

As a result, his material played to crickets; Bill Hicks to an Ash Wednesday crowd.

For Rusty, it was the quantity and quality of communal yuks (or lack thereof) that drew the line between a good gig and a grind. To chew a shake-and-bake hotdog at 3:00 in the morning while banging knees at a kid-sized table in comatose silence was the kind of bummer that made him want to kick the capstan.

"If you can't laugh at yourself," he would quote to their expressionless faces, "you're going to miss out on all the fun everyone else is having."

But back in Fells Point - the neighborhood that brought you rat fishing, Edith Massey and Johnny Eck - Rusty's body of work set a comic watermark, beginning with the "Try Me!" exhibition of 2009.

With a roll of day-glo orange "Try Me" stickers he'd lifted from the Save-A-Lot produce department, Rusty canvassed the neighborhood, slapping the little adhesive starburst everywhere he went, and dotting the landscape like a paintball target backstop.

Originally intended to stick on fresh fruit and vegetables, the advertising labels began to appear on everything from lingerie mannequins to market codfish to the tousled heads of tourist children.

Try Me!

Rusty kept the roll of stickers on him at all times and before long you could a spot a fluorescent starburst buzzing in every corner of the hood; on stoplight crosswalk silhouettes, the marble breasts of the mermaid statue, and the back of Julio the barber's pants.

Try Me!

The locals had no choice but to notice, and soon a new catchphrase crept its way into the neighborhood vernacular. Try Me! became interchangeable with "Hello," "Sure," "Call me later," "Let's dance," and "How 'bout a shot?"

Try Me! The new Fells Point "Aloha."

Rusty's targets became even more brazen and outlandish. The morning crowd at Butts and Betty's roared during the live winter advisory upon the sighting of an orange splash on the weatherman's fedora. The stripper pole at the Ritz got hit so many times the girls stopped scrubbing them off. And under the heading of How'd He Do That? a pigeon carried the message all the way to Locust Point.

Try me!

The notoriety of the canvassing made Rusty feel like a Fells Point Zorro, slashing a trademark Z in his wake. But there was more than one letter in Rusty's clown bag.

With a red bow and some white paint he transformed the Conradin Kreutzer bust into the Utz potato chip girl. On the post below a snow-route street sign, he bolted a hubcap he'd found in the gutter and labeled it "Emergency snow gong," attaching a sawed-off broom handle on a string as striking mallet. With some two-for-a-dollar bags of plastic Civil War soldiers he'd found in the back of Hi's Variety, he super-glued the Battle of Fredericksburg to the folding table at the Laundromat. 

And today, free from the tedium of splicing rope and thumb wrestling lock nuts, Rusty felt his inner artist itching to express himself, or as Rusty put it, "the little bird between my ears is starting to flap its wings."

Locking up the row house, he headed out into the day.

Rusty walked down Broadway, passing underneath the gun shop's oversized .45 Smith and Wesson signboard, catching a whiff from the Peruvian chicken takeout, and nodding to the guys through the open door of the paint store before pulling to a stop in front of the head shop.

There in the window was a life-size cutout of famed Baltimore Clipper Ship Captain Thomas Boyle advertising the upcoming Privateer Day, Fells Point's first major tourist trample of the season. A windfall for the neighborhood's glut of competing bars, but lousy for elbow room and parking, even with a residential permit. Rusty noted the date and breathed a sigh of relief that by then he would be safely at sea, far from the maddening festival crowd.

For a moment Rusty considered absconding with the good Captain and putting him behind the pilot wheel of an off-duty water taxi when he noticed the head shop was having a sale on whippits. It was certainly a day for it.

Rusty was a man of simple appetites, and nitrous oxide, if not for his ancestry, would have no place in his stable of recreational drugs, save the occasional party balloon. No, before Rusty discovered his roots he had been a man of tall boys, dime bags, and other people's leftover Percocets. The 45-second laughing gas buzz he associated with the back counters of Ocean City tee shirt shops hardly seemed worth the effort.

But Rusty came from huffer stock, and once aware of his anesthetic-loving forefather, became charmed with the idea of upholding this bad-boy family tradition. Like the kid who chews his dad's brand, pops his knuckles to emulate a favorite uncle, or speeds through the turn because Granpappy ran 'shine, Rusty partook of the "sweet air."

Dr. Horace Buchanan. Practicing professor at the esteemed Baltimore College of Dental Surgery. Frequent contributor to the American Journal of Dental Science. Rusty's great-great-great grandfather.

The first time Rusty's great-aunt showed him the sepia photograph, he kneejerk blurted, "W.C. Fields."

It wasn't the trademark nose of the rascal comedian Dr. Buchanan possessed. The striking similarity was in the eyes. As straightforward as the portrait was in setting and pose, there was the unmistakable twinkle and squint of an inside joke. He was putting you on.

This was confirmed, as Rusty's great-aunt returned the portrait to its place on the shelf, declaring Horace, "More full of mischief than Houdini's hatband." Which only made sifting the tall from the tales of his storied life and career that much trickier.

For although it was well cited in published medical journals that Dr. Horace Buchanan had indeed guinea-pigged himself to be one of the first men to undergo the effects of the Clover Gas Ether Inhaler while still in its experimental stage, it was far more difficult to substantiate the claim that he once pulled his own bicuspid one night after hours while higher than a sycamore cricket.

Horace's bio became fuzziest concerning his bimonthly get-togethers, which he described in his diary as, "A professional roundtable assembled for the purpose of procedural discussion in a relaxed setting," or as one fifth-year student recorded in his journal, "Experiments in patient empathy."

No one gave the gatherings much thought until the morning-after when a prominent colleague was seen about downtown, shoeless, and grinning like a loon in the pouring rain.

Speculation as to what elixirs might be hidden in good doctor Buchanan's satchel began to fire the public imagination, and the rumor mill turned, despite the efforts of Horace's two sisters (one a spinster, the other a clergyman's wife) to stifle the hearsay with assurances that the at-homes were little more than an excuse for gentlemen to get together for a game or three of whist.

Still, the general consensus - constructed from a hodgepodge of tavern talk, a housekeeper's diary, and accounts passed down by Mrs. Horace Buchanan herself - was that whatever was transpiring behind the doctor's latched study door was anything but civilized; instead a howling, incomprehensible din of deranged doctors unhinging their minds with the latest in anesthesia. A Hydefest.

In an era when accredited practitioners shared the dental profession with untrained ivory snatchers, quacks and charlatans, speculation as to which category Horace fell into would forever tack a question mark on his legacy.

None of which mattered to Rusty. He was proud to call Doc Horace kin. Over time he took to signing birthday cards and wedding-guest registries as Mr. Gasser.

Checking his wallet, Rusty walked into the head shop.

There was no one on the park's giant slope. Rusty walked to the center of it, found a Rusty-sized patch of thick grass, checked for dog crap, and splayed out.

In an effort to thwart the wrong kind of attention, he ripped into the bag of multicolored balloons, blowing up and tying off until there was a small bouncy pile in the grass beside him. This way he would just look like a guy getting ready for a kid's party over in the picnic area, and not some vagrant sucking on an inflated happy face and swooning like a deep sea diving Bozo the Clown.

Rusty stretched the rubber lip of a large yellow one around the dispenser and cracked a canister of N2O into it with a pneumatic exhale, feeling the cold of escaping gas on his calluses and maintaining a careful grip as the balloon found shape.

Pinching off, leaning back and closing his eyes, he inhaled slowly, falling fathom after fathom into the enveloping pressures of the deep. Through the brass crossbars of his imaginary diving helmet Rusty watched as his enormous red clown shoes touched down on the ocean floor with a sandy poof.

For the next hour he dove and resurfaced, changing out and clanging tanks like Cousteau's first mate, sucking life through his regulator and rolling back over the side to dive for pearls, explore the cave, wink at the nurse sharks, and laugh at the crabs.

The first lightning bugs had begun to flicker when Rusty returned to the terra firma of Patterson Park, sitting up with the giddiness of a post-operative organ recipient, waving at an unleashed dog, and muttering, "Jackpot fellas," to some ducks quacking over an abandoned lunch bag that still had some crackers in it.

Thank you great-great-great-granddaddy. That's some perfect gift for a guy fresh off a boat.

N2O. Painkiller. Stress reliever. Creativity sparker. Mental comic book. With the sudden burst of renewed energy coursing though him, Rusty wondered if the gas's other use as monopropellant fuel was limited to rockets, as he contemplated a climb to the top of the hill just to roll back down like a shaggy blond log.

Rusty spun on a lopsided axis, unsure if the wobble was due to a broken barstool or his recovering equilibrium.

"Hey Margaret."

Philadelphia soul whispered from mismatched stereo components. Rusty pantomimed a "turn it up" knob twist and she bumped the volume on her way to the cooler for his usual.

"You're back."

"Ta-da." Rusty tilted the cold beer and punctuated with a soda commercial ahhhh. "What'd I miss?"

"Same ole. We had a party for Julio."


"We thought so, but somehow in translation we got the wrong month. He said something about "mayo" and Billy Half Ear thought he was talking about the month but he just meant mayonnaise like everybody else. And it didn't help that in Puerto Rico the name Julio also means July. None of which matters because his birthday is not until September. But I'd already made enchiladas, so we had the party anyway."

"Sound like fun."

"Yeah, it was. He taught us the shing-a-ling."

"I don't know what that is but I hate to have missed it."

While at sea Rusty often longed for a live feed from Margaret's Bar. Missing out on one of its howl-at-the moon throwdowns created pangs of regret akin to waking up from a nap to learn the Giant Kraken had just resubmerged. And yet he couldn't stop himself from wanting all the details.

"Today's the first day of May right?"

"If it's not it's close."

"You guys do anything for Opening Day?"

"We were gonna have a cookout but we got a thing from the fire department says we can't grill in the alley anymore."

"What? You've been grilling there forever."

"Yeah well apparently there's some ordinance and we're violating it. Threatened to shut us down. Letter said they've received complaints."

"Who in the hell would do that? Newbie move in?"

As in any tight-knit community, a new arrival was a subject of common interest. The years of Fells Point being solely inhabited by workers, artists and bohemes were long gone, and the appeal of buying an alternative lifestyle with a checkbook had become a rite of passage for many young professionals. Realtors stayed busy.

In the tradition of a true melting pot, the neighborhood would extend a moderately warm welcome to anyone making the conscious choice to join our little sideshow by the sea.

As long as they stayed cool.

But if sometimes the local color became too lurid, and the newest members of the homeowner association started getting stickler-ish about nonsensical phrases like "reasonable hour" and "sidewalk ordinance," they'd soon find themselves on the receiving end of a collective stink eye, and the moving van would be back before next Halloween.

"Not on this block. Jim thinks it's the place that just opened where the Scratch 'n' Dent used to be."

"What new place?"

Margaret pointed east. "Across from the copy shop. Pour Ann's. You haven't seen it?"

Rusty turned to look in the direction Margaret was pointing, forgetting there was a wall there. "What's it like?"

"I've never been in. The owner drives a Hummer. Ronnie says they play XM Contemporary and have a lot of plasma screens."


"But he said the burgers were pretty good. But nothing to write home about."

"So they couldn't compete with the smell of Jim's which are from paradise and you give away anyway so they call the fire department."

It was true. A spatula-wielding Jim would have you salivating five blocks downwind.

Margaret forced a smile and popped a beer of her own. "I'm not accusing anybody, but someone is definitely fucking with us. Last week a guy from the liquor board was in here wanting to see my entertainment license."

Rusty sat up, excited. "You guys start having bands?"

"If you call Bobby Spoons and Mr. Lucky playing harmonica along with the jukebox a band, then yes."

"Somebody complained about Luck and Bobby Spoons?"

"I guess."

Rusty made a face and drank, digesting the news that he might never enjoy the bar's complimentary grillables while listening to Bobby Spoons clank his silverware along to The Pogues ever again.

"And don't get any ideas Rusty. Richard was already in here talking about collecting cockroaches and setting them free in there. Last thing I need is an escalation. I break the smoking ban every twenty minutes and if anybody complained about dogs in here I'd lose half my customers."

Rusty showed his palms. "Who me?"

"Yeah. You. The same guy who strung a banner advertising twenty-five cent drafts and dollar body shots over the door of the Lemko retirement home for Mardi Gras."

"Hey that was the most exciting Fat Tuesday those assisted livers have had in a long time."

"Whatever. No funny business, yes?"

Rusty silently took the fifth, and drifted in thought, his gaze gravitating to the dust-crusted collection of oddities behind the bar. Not since his first visit to the Museum of Natural History had a group of miscellaneous relics fascinated him like this one.

A terrapin skull clamping down on a dried rose; a cross-eyed rubber fruit bat; a lower plate of false teeth; kabuki mask; log cabin constructed of petrified Slim Jims; a Rube Goldberg-inspired scrap wood martini shaker; a daguerreotype of a South Seas pirate beheading; a bird shot-riddled mallard decoy; small human ribcage; and a Price Is Right name tag.

At some point the bar had become the depot for bizarre curios. If you came across something odd, you brought it in to Margaret and hoped to make the cut.

"Anything new back there Margaret?"

Remembering suddenly, Margaret threw her arms up as if topping the first hill of the Cyclone and did a bunny hop down the bar. "Yes!"

From behind a cardboard tray of microwaveable sake bottles she retrieved a bell jar and clunked it onto the bar. Something was pickling in it.

Rusty reared back, gripping the bar rail to prevent himself from toppling backwards.

"What the fuck is that?"

Margaret grinned proudly as if she'd won a blue ribbon with it. "What's it look like?"

"A severed penis is what it looks like!"

Margaret was beaming. "One of pups found it while out with Jim. Behind the dumpster at the Royal Farm. Thank god she had the sense not to eat it. Brought it back here and dropped it at my feet, like a gift. You can see some tooth marks there, just under the head."

Rusty found himself unwilling to touch the jar, and leaned forward for closer inspection. "I'll be goddamned Margaret. That's a penis."

"We were pretty nervous at first. Jim wasn't crazy about the idea of calling the cops to report possession of a severed penis. Susan was in here and I asked her hypothetically what she thought one might do 'if they ever found such a thing' and she spit-laughed cider through her nose."

Rusty raised quizzical eyebrows as Margaret held a beat for effect.

"Frank the Artist has taken up whittling."

Rusty didn't blink, maintaining his expression of WTF?

Margaret pushed the jar closer. "That's a potato."

There were four prominent Franks in Fells Point: plain Frank; Dr. Frank, who until the bust passed out pain reliever scrips like restaurant flyers; Viticus Frank, whose Lithuanian bathtub liqueur was a holiday tradition; and Frank the Artist, who until this moment Rusty had associated with sweater vests and his painstakingly accurate needlepoints of historical neighborhood landmarks.

"Good Lord!"

"Susan said he saw some documentary about a woman who did penis plaster casts, went home and picked up a potato."

Margaret held the jar at eye level and spun it slowly, like a 42nd Street pawnbroker. "I gotta say, for a guy just starting out, he carves a helluva dick."

Rusty squirmed sideways off his stool with an odd tingle, as if there was some kind of crotch voodoo at work.

He stood and put his nose to the glass. "He even made the veins the right shade of purple."

Margaret's eye looked three times its actual size as she stared into the jar from the other side. "Susan said he borrowed a tattoo gun from Read Street Ink."

"Hole-lee-shit." Rusty struggled to make sense of it, gripping his jaw like a split finger fastball. "So... he didn't like this one and instead making mashed potatoes he makes a special trip to the Royal Farm dumpster just to throw it out?"

"He's hoping someone finds one and calls the cops. Been planting his best ones in places one might normally toss a freshly lopped dick. Told Susan that making the East Baltimore Guide crime blotter was on his bucket list."

Rusty could relate, immediately wondering why he hadn't set the goal for himself. Surely there was no more entertaining police blotter on the planet. Criminal nutball at its best; attackers wielding magic 8 balls, Roman candles and ice scrapers while fighting over pulled pork sandwiches and puppy piddle pads. The neighborhood weekly had a knack for wording the latest roundup of crime with such deadpan hilarity that it read like a Reader's Digest "Sordid Life in These United States." To live within its archives was a brand of immortality. Rusty kept a running transcript of highlights in his head.

A man was hit over the head with bottle of hot sauce during an argument with his girlfriend... a wedding ring was reported stolen while its owner danced in a singles bar... the suspect replied, "We will fight you guys 'cause we are like fresh fish and gravy"… someone entered a home through a rear window and took a computer and a beer... the suspect told police he was on his way to the travel plaza to catch a Greyhound bus to Cameroon... robbed her of cash and a bag of hair extensions...

"Well that's understandable." Randy said with total sincerity.

Margaret tapped her temple. "Frank has some strange magic going on alright. Smiling like Ghandi with a trash bag at neighborhood cleanup one day and pitching a fit the next because the market lunch counter didn't get his eggs right."

Rusty worked up the courage to tap the lid. "Goddamn that would fool anyone. What's it soaking in, vinegar?"

"Yeah. Jim thought it would be the best way to preserve it. There was no way he was gonna keep it in the fridge. For about five minutes we were stupid enough to wonder where we could get some formaldehyde."

The jester in Rusty's head jangled with the possibilities of this Holy Grail of novelty items. "Can I borrow it?"

"No, Rusty," Margaret returned the jar back to its hiding place. "You most definitely cannot."

Rusty tapped the anchor-shaped door knocker and got his Eddie Haskell on as he watched Frank the Artist slowly make his way to the door through a half circle of mottled glass.

"Hi Frank. Rusty." Rusty extended his hand to the diminutive man who was now blinking up at him from behind large lenses. "From the neighborhood."

Frank removed his glasses and blinked a second time.

Rusty had prepared nothing, and like the rest of his day, just kept winging it.

"Um, Frank, I heard from some people that you've been doing some sculpting" - the blinks became a squint - "with potatoes."

Frank's eyes opened naturally for the first time. "Who told you that?"

"Well let's see, Susan for one, when we were having lunch."

"You had lunch with Susan?"

"We meet at the lunch counter in the market sometimes. Great shrimp salad, but man can they fuck up some eggs."

"Yeah? They fucked up your eggs? They fucked up my eggs."

Frank gave a self-satisfied smile and Rusty made his pitch.

"So listen Frank, I heard about these amazing potato sculptures and I was wondering if you'd sell me one."

"You want to buy one? What did Susan tell you exactly?"

"That you had a real gift. I'm sure I can't pay you what it's worth, but I know a genius idea when I hear it."

"You're shitting me."

"I'll give you twenty bucks."

"You're full of it. But now that I get a better look at you I think you're the same guy I saw setting up the Battle of Antietam on the hood of a Volvo, so come on in."

The house was tasteful, cozy, and immaculate. Pulling back an oriental rug to reveal the iron ring of a trap door, Frank descended, advising Rusty to watch his step.

As Rusty lowered himself into the underground space, Frank switched on a fluorescent magnifier lamp to reveal a small workbench scattered with an assortment of cutting tools and a peeler. Three adjacent shelves were crammed with jars of detached penises. Dr. Moreau's preserves.

"Wow Frank, you've been busy."

"I've been on a roll. I don't know why I find it so therapeutic. Memories, wish lists, fantasies and some experiments. Like this one." Frank pointed to an oblong orange lump in the bench vise.

"A sweet potato? I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam?"

"I thought I'd get a little more culinary. Something to garnish the pot roast on special occasions. Mix things up a bit."

"That would do it." Rusty mentally presented Frank with a trophy for Creepiest / Most Hilarious / Most Retina-Scarring Room I Have Ever Descended Into. "These are amazing, Frank."

"You're very sweet."

"So... any chance you can part with one?"

"Yeah, I don't know. I've got plans for these guys, but I guess I can let you have a factory irregular."

Frank opened a plastic storage tub Rusty hadn't noticed, and gave a "be my guest" wave.

Rusty knelt and extracted a jar containing what looked like a stubby mushroom. He continued to rummage the container, ultimately choosing the tuber phallus with an unnatural bend, resembling a finger crooked at the top joint. It was as impressive in detail as the ones on display.

Rusty extended a twenty but Frank pushed it back.

"Oh just take the damn thing. I truly can't believe you've knocked on my door to buy a potato dick."

"I insist Frank," said Rusty, forcing the bill into his hand. "You've made us all very proud."

Later that night Rusty treated himself to a burger that was indeed pretty good, but nothing to write home about, and waited for the kitchen to close, and then pretended to confuse its swinging door with the men's room.

The next morning he left for Harpers Ferry with his knapsack, an inner tube, a hammock and a tent. On the way he stopped for supplies and called the Health Department.

Three days later he returned to Baltimore, took a shower and went to go see Margaret.

"Did I miss anything?"

The East Baltimore Guide was already on the bar. She pushed it forward along with his beer. "If it was you I don't want to know about it."

His subsequent spit-take shot a good three feet. The stunt had leapfrogged the crime blotter and made the front page.

Grisly Discovery in Fell's Point Pub.

Margaret went for a rag as Rusty wiped his mouth on his sleeve and began to read out loud.

The kitchen staff at the newly opened Pour Ann's Taphouse on Aliceanna Street received a shock Saturday when a detached penis was found in one of the bistro's steam pots.

Felix Diaz, 33, told reporters he was preparing for Saturday's shrimp special and was filling a steam pot with water and Old Bay when he noticed the dismembered extremity bob to the surface.

Rusty tried to maintain a poker face as he choked on his own gut laugh.

After the initial panic, 911 was called by waitress Linda Sharpe, a pre-law sophomore at Towson University. According to police statements, no one at the establishment knew how the penis got there.

An anonymous call to the Health Department later that afternoon alleged that the penis was severely infected with syphilis, which could explain its detachment, according to Web MD.

Laugh water filled Rusty's eyes.

Health inspectors have suspended Pour Ann's food license indefinitely. Proprietor Anne Albright seemed confident Pour Ann's would be open in time for the Maritime Festival this weekend, stating, "We will be serving our delicious American fare at reasonable prices as usual."

Health Department spokesman Jill Bayer described Ms. Albright's claim as "unrealistically optimistic."

Rusty let the paper drop with the kind of insincere empathy six-year-olds use after beating you in Connect Four. "That's some unfortunate timing, if they miss the festival crowds. Especially when they're just starting up and all."

Margaret draped the rag over the sink faucet and began restocking the straw bins. "What I can't believe is that they didn't cut into it before going to press."

"Well I'm sure it's hard for an editor to resist this kind of headline. These are tough times for good old newsprint and something like this really gets the old circulation going. They haven't had this kind of sensationalism since that guy was sodomized with a pack of frozen hotdogs. And if I'm not mistaken the Guide goes to press on Saturday afternoon, so they really didn't have a lot of time to confirm it. I wonder if ole Frank did that on purpose."

Margaret slapped down a stack of coasters with a whap. "Oh please. I'm not asking any questions, but please don't try and pin this on Frank."

"Hey you never know. Once a guy starts whittling dicks there's no telling what he might do. And who's to say it's not a real one this time? This is Fells Point."

Rusty paused to savor this truth swaddled in all his BS. This was Fells Point.

"But I'll tell you what is real either way is the PR damage," he continued. "Takes a long time to recover from a story like this. People are still calling the Colonial Tavern 'The Crapper' ever since Petey Cornflakes took a dump in one of the pool table pockets, and that was over ten years ago."

Although there was no one else in the bar, Margaret kept up the charade. "Well whatever happened, I guess Frank got his wish."

"I'll say. The man wanted to see his dick in print, and by god he did it."

Margaret gave Rusty one of her sweeter smiles, grabbed a bucket and headed for the ice machine at the back of the bar. "Your beer's on me by the way."

Rusty saluted with his bottle and finished up the article.

Police have no leads at this time and a forensic investigation is underway. If you have any information please call 1-800-IREPORT.

He folded the paper carefully, now a historical keepsake. "I don't suppose you've got any leads?"

"Me?" Margaret called back between ice scoops. "I just woke up."

Rusty walked along the water on Boston Street towards the Sip & Bite in search of a BLT, and a good bench from which to call his mom. She'd get kick out of this one.

On the stoop of an abandoned house he spotted an East Baltimore Guide bagged in plastic and scooped it up, on the off chance Frank hadn't seen it yet. He'd drop it off on his doorstep after lunch.

Turning down a narrow passageway of deteriorating brick and cobblestone, he came to the botanical explosion known as the Flower Alley, scanning the urban garden oasis for a glimpse of its mystery caretaker, a seldom-seen Fells Pointer often referred to as the Floral Boo Radley.

For years he'd been considered the neighborhood's greenest thumb, until he was spotted attaching artificial roses to the bushes he didn't consider full enough. The fakes were better than most, with perfectly matched color and expert placement. For Rusty it was impossible to tell them from the real deal without a good sniff.

Humming Mac Davis' "Stop and Smell the Roses," Rusty did just that. For one fleeting second he fantasized that they might squirt him.

Body part found in Canton parking lot believed cut from embalmed body

January 20, 2001 BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

A severed human penis found in Southeast Baltimore on Thursday afternoon came from an embalmed body, officials said yesterday.

The body part was found in the parking lot of a convenience store in the 2300 block of Boston St. in Canton about 4pm, police said.

The embalming chemicals found in the penis were consistent with those used in funeral homes, authorities said.

Dr. Stephen Radentz, a state medical examiner, said he could not determine when the penis was removed from the body of an adult white male. But he said it looked like somebody "simply cut it off."

There also did not appear to be "any elements of expertise" in the removal, he said.

Police officials said yesterday that they had no clues. "If funeral homes or another organization that deals with cadavers contacts us and informs us that they have a cadaver missing this particular piece of anatomy, we will investigate at this point," said Agent Martin Bartness, a police spokesman.

Two women spotted the penis in the parking lot of the Canton Market, officials said, and told a store clerk, who called police.

If police find a suspect, they might not be able to charge him or her, experts said.

Harvey Morrell, a researcher at the University of Baltimore law school library, said he could find no criminal law dealing with the mutilation of a body in a funeral home.

"There's no real Maryland law on point," Morrell said, though he added: "I'm sure that if police wanted to, they could figure out something to charge them with."

Morrell said the dead man's family could sue the mutilator.

And if someone stole the body part for profit or took it from a burial site, authorities could charge him or her with a misdemeanor.


  1. Well, this certainly gives a whole new meaning to "Mr. Potato." Good descriptions and definitely an off beat sense of humor.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words and taking the time Jim. Next time you're in Fells Point the oysters are on me.

  2. i don´t think there´s anything i can add to Jim´s comment

    but a really good Story

    Michael McCarthy

  3. So glad you got a kick out of it. Thank you reader.

  4. Well written and full of surprises! Rusty is likeable and believable - but I wouldn't like to have someone like him around me too much - life would become too complicated!