Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"I Love Baltimore!"

This story comes from the late Greg Riley. Hadn't seen him in years, then one night, we're in the Wharf Rat a bunch of us (the one on Ann Street, the old one, the one that serves beer in glasses), and Greg Riley comes up. We never spoke much at school, except on the soccer field. The Greenwaves then were like the Azzurri--a soap opera of talent and crisis. Some people liked Mr. Riley, some did not. I didn't know him well enough to judge.
At the bar that night, though, we traded Baltimore stories. He lived on the East Side, down around Canton or Highlandtown or Greektown someplace, in a building that once was a warehouse. Lotta those around here. He lived on the first floor, and had a little porch, or deck in the back. One day he and his girlfriend were going to grill some chicken. He got the grill set up on the deck, got it lit, and went inside to get the food ready to cook. He came out a few minutes later, and the grill was gone. He looked and looked for it, but no luck. Gone.
The next day, he told a neighbor about this. The neighbor laughed. He had seen a guy, pushing a flaming grill down the street, stopping every couple of seconds to wave and blow on his hands, saying "Ow! Ow! Ow!"

Now, this is an implausible story, I grant you. And, we were in a bar, both of us with a beer in hand. However--and I suspect that Baltimore is not the only city in America where this is true--living here makes this implausible story quite believable, particularly the part where someone sees a man pushing a flaming grill down the street and treats it as just one event in a normal day. As Mr Riley himself ended the story: "I love Baltimore!...Every day I see something completely ridiculous!"

Later that night, he said goodbye, got down on his hands and knees to pull a book out from under the jukebox (Anna Karenina? Tristram Shandy?), and left. Never saw him again.



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