Tunneling Toward Sunshine


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After the Apocalypse

Ocean City, MD Boardwalk 12-2011

Ocean City, MD Boardwalk 12-2011 (Photo credit: Lee Cannon)

My hometown of Baltimore and my favorite home-away-from-home, Ocean City MD, both survived Hurricane Sandy with remarkably little trauma.

Of course, during the 14 straight hours my husband and I were bailing water out of our electric-powered basement sump pumps after the power went out and the three cold, dark days it took the utility company to get our power back on, it felt somewhat traumatic. But compared to what our neighbors just to the north in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut have been living through, we recognize that we were barely inconvenienced. We are counting our blessings.

I’m also thankful that Barack Obama was re-elected and citizens in my home state of Maryland voted in favor of marriage equality and offering in-state college tuition rates for the children of undocumented immigrants. Our country has to move towards more tolerance and equity, and I think both these measures are steps in the right direction.

I’m worried about how divided our country is right now. But my own political (or, more accurately, moral and philosophical) beliefs are so strongly held that I understand why people fight for their own principles, even when I can’t understand why they feel as they do. As the James Taylor video I posted says, though, there are certain things we should all be able to agree on — particularly “our desire to see the world become a place in which our children can grow free and strong.” Check it out if you’re not familiar with this brilliant piece of poetry.


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Oh, Sandy

The current buzz around the Mid-Atlantic is about whether Hurricane Sandy is going to make Halloween a little more memorable than usual around here. Some experts think the storm may converge with a pre-winter cold front and another storm and create what someone from the National Weather Service calls “Franekenstorm,” with the potential for record flooding and destruction.

Yee-ha. At our house, we’re still recovering (at least emotionally) from the derecho storm that hit here the night of June 29-30. Besides a week-long power outage (in record heat), we had a 90′ oak tree shear off and smash down on our deck. It took three months and about $12,000 (thank you, Travelers insurance!) for our deck to get back to normal. But multiple huge oaks still surround our house and yard — it’s frankly one of the things I love best about our neighborhood, usually — and every time there’s a storm with high winds, I get a little freaked out.

We’re also beach lovers, with a small but much-loved beach condo in Ocean City, Maryland. We’re oceanside, not oceanfront, but the dune that separates our little three-story, 1970’s-era condo building from the endless swells of the Atlantic Ocean is only about 10 feet high. Two winters ago, “snowmaggedon” wiped out a huge chunk of the beach, so it makes me a little sick to think what Frankenstorm might do. When will people realize that the old margarine commercial was right — It’s not NICE to mess with Mother Nature!?

Anyway, I’ll be checking the weather reports obsessively over the next few days. It’s not an uncommon hobby here on the Mid-Atlantic coast, where the Appalachians protect us from much of the worst winter weather. Although Maryland is south of the Mason-Dixon Line and therefore, technically, a Southern state, we really don’t act that way — EXCEPT when there’s an inch or two of snow in the forecast, and then we all obsess about it, scarfing up plenty of toilet paper, bread, milk and other emergency rations.

For now, to paraphrase my favorite rock star, Bruce Springsteen: It’s not 4th of July in Asbury Park, so Sandy, please, head out to sea!


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Gotta dash

As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve gotten this far in reading my blog, I am — like Emily Dickinson, apparently — “inordinately fond” of the punctuation known as the em-dash. I can’t seem to write anything of any substantial length without a lot of those just-the-right-length little lines lighting up my page.

I’ve come to believe it’s because my brain is so non-linear that I can scarcely get through one thought without a related thought intruding. It’s the way I speak — much to the frustration of those listening, I’m sure — and it’s definitely the way I write. I’ve had writing coaches try to wean me off the em, but so far I just haven’t been able to break the habit (but if I did, I could always turn to the parenthetical phrase as a little linguistic methadone to take the edge off).


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My jailhouse mama

Ray Rice #27

Ray Rice #27 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, the memories that came flooding back when I saw this news item today. A New Jersey mother is accused of boarding a school bus to confront the kid who had been bullying her 9-year-old daughter.

Some witnesses say the NJ mother didn’t just curse, but also slapped the bully, and I’d never condone that. In general I wish adults would act like adults and show some restraint. Yes, insist on an end to bullying, but model good behavior for kids, rather than just demand it. I’m glad more and more people (like Ravens RB Ray Rice) are taking a stand against bullying and doing it in a positive, productive way. But I understand how a mother can get to the point of doing something irrational when she feels that her child is being traumatized.

Back in the day, as we say, I was a smart, four-eyed fat kid who got picked on pretty mercilessly and was fairly used to mean comments from classmates. When I was in eighth grade, one guy regularly took it further. Darrell used to follow me home and, in addition to teasing and harassing me verbally, he would kick me, push me down, pull my hair, knock my books out of my hands — just general hazing that would often send me home in tears. The day I came home with both the knees torn out of a new pair of slacks and my own knees scraped and bloody because Darrell pushed me down on the sidewalk yet again, my mother had had enough.

The next day when I climbed up the Lombard Street hill on the way home from Hampstead Hill Junior High School, with Darrell a few menacing steps behind me as usual, I was surprised to see my mother walking toward us with a determined, angry look in her eyes. Darrell didn’t know who this charging crazy woman was and barely noticed her — until she reached out and grabbed a big handful of his long, wavy hair. His eyes flew open wide as he was jerked backwards by the way she was yanking his hair, and he started protesting loudly.

“Now push him back!” she shouted to me. “Let him see how it feels to be kicked around and pushed down!”

I was in a state of shock. My mother is about as easy-going and low-key as they come, and I couldn’t believe she was actually confronting my tormentor. I was a little humiliated, a little scared… but also felt a huge sense of vindication. While I couldn’t bring myself to punch him, part of me loved it when Mom pulled his red, startled face close and yelled, “Now leave her alone. If you touch her again, I’ll have you expelled from school!”

And with that, she released him and we turned to head for home. I stole a glance over my shoulder, where I saw Darrell pulling himself together as he slunk away. When there was enough distance between us that he was probably fairly certain my mother couldn’t catch him, he yelled, “Crazy bitch!” But he kept going. And he actually left me alone after that.

If this had happened today, my mother probably would have been arrested for grabbing a 14-year-old. It’s pretty hard to imagine my passive, self-effacing Mom in a prison cell. Or Darrell’s parents might have sued (although then we had nothing they could have won). In 2012, Darrell might have come to school the next day with a weapon and done far more harm to me than skinned knees. Nowadays we also know more and better ways to deal with bullies, fortunately.

But for that one autumn day back in the early 1970’s, my mom found a way to keep a bully at bay and reminded me that, no matter how kind you try to be most of the time, once in a while you have to take a stand.


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Injury report: broken heart

Ed Reed and Linda

Here I am with Reed at a Ravens charity event in 2007.

Now that the O’s are done for 2012, our household is focused full-time on the Ravens again. Mike and I almost never miss a game, whether in person from our season seats in Sec. 524 at M&T Bank Stadium or screaming at them on TV. Like most folks around Baltimore, we own an inordinate amount of purple clothing — the better to celebrate Purple Fridays throughout the NFL season.

Since coach John Harbaugh, QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice arrived five seasons ago, the Ravens have made the playoffs every year. Last year they came within one dropped pass by Lee Evans and one missed FG by Billy Cundiff of beating the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game to head to the Super Bowl. I remember all too well the sick feeling we all got when Cundiff hooked that easy 32-yarder wide left, squandering a chance to send the game into overtime and keep the Ravens’ season alive.

Ed Reed‘s never going to play in a Super Bowl,” I moaned, with only a little melodrama. Reed, one of the greatest safeties ever to play the game, is a free spirited ball hawk who, on and off the field, is wildly unpredictable and (mostly) entertaining. But he was drafted the year after the Ravens won their one and only Super Bowl, so he’s never gotten a real shot at a Lombardi Trophy. Ed has battled serious neck problems and other injuries the last few years, and every season there’s speculation that he’ll hang up his cleats. All of us who have spent the last decade watching giddily as Reed picked off one QB after another and screaming “REEEEEEEEEED!” at the top of our lungs can’t help but hope that won’t happen until he gets a ring. When Cundiff’s kick sailed wide last January, part of the heartbreak was for us, but a big part of it also was for Ed Reed.

Today the Ravens (5-1 somehow, despite an atypically terrible defensive season) are getting their butts kicked in Houston by the Texans (also 5-1, the only other AFC team with a winning record). The rout isn’t really a surprise; the Ravens are pretty banged up coming into this game, having lost Ray Lewis to what’s probably a season-ending triceps tear, excellent corner Lardarius Webb to a definite season-ending ACL injury, and with a host of other walking wounded. But it’s been even uglier than we expected, with the Texans dominating on both sides of the ball. No matter how prepared you think you are to see your team get beat, it still isn’t any fun.

The Ravens get a bye after today. Here’s hoping Coach Harbaugh and his team spend the time figuring out how to get the D problems fixed, the O in a rhythm and the team back on a winning track. Otherwise, Ravens fans will spend another long off-season wondering whether we’ll ever get back to the Super Bowl and whether Ed Reed will ever get a ring.

[As I was about to hit publish, with the Ravens trailing 36-13 mid fourth-quarter, Ed Reed has gone down on a hard tackle and is very slow to get up, with trainers hovering around him. Not good, not good at all.]


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Yankees, go home

Typical Christmas when we were growing up: Barb and I got lots of orange and black gear.

Last night the Detroit Tigers beat the New York Yankees to complete a four-game ALCS sweep and move on to the World Series. While I wish the Tigers well (my Dad was a Detroit native and Baltimore’s Al Kaline was one of the team’s greatest stars, so they’ve always had a soft spot in my heart), my main reason for celebrating last night’s final score was that it vanquished the hated Yanks, who one week ago sent my beloved Orioles home for the winter.

The Orioles had a thoroughly unexpected, bizarre and wonderful 2012 season. Watching them win crazy comeback games and extra-inning endurance challenges, overcome injuries and hold the Yanks’ feet to the fire right up to the fifth game of the AL Division Series brought back the glory days of Orioles baseball from my youth, when Brooks and Frank Robinson and later Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray kept us focused on baseball well into autumn. I’m especially glad that my 84-year-old Mom, who has loved the Orioles since their minor league days more than 60 years ago, got to experience such an exhilarating and satisfying season.

Mom was at Memorial Stadium on April 15, 1954, when Bob Feller threw the first pitch for the modern Major League Baltimore Orioles, and she and I were together at Memorial Stadium on October 6, 1991, when Mike Flanagan (RIP, Flanny) threw the final pitch there. She was in the stands in October 1966 when the Orioles won Game 4 of the World Series to earn their first world championship, and between the two of us and my sister Barb, we were there for each post-season in between, for “Thanks Brooks Day;” the near-pennant in 1982 during Earl Weaver‘s final season and the following year’s wire-to-wire championship season; through the brutal 21-game losing streak in 1988 and the “Why Not?” season in ’89. Barb and I spent a lot of games as part of the Section 34 Rowdies (where she was “the Dipper Sign Girl” for Rick Dempsey).

We cheered at the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards and for Cal Ripken’s 2131 game, and shed a few tears at his 2001 retirement. Mom and I went to Cooperstown for Brooksie’s induction and Eddie Murray’s. By the time Cal was enshrined, she wasn’t quite up to facing the crowds at the Hall on Hall of Fame weekend — but we made a trip up later that summer to see the commemorative exhibit.

There’s more, but you get the picture. Mom’s a die-hard Orioles fan, and her love for the team has never wavered, no matter how ugly the last 14 seasons were. And this year, she has been absolutely ecstatic to join the Buck Brigade and watch Showalter’s Orioles shock the league.

On what turned out to be the last night of the 2012 Orioles’ season, my husband Mike and I took Mom to Glory Days, a local sports-themed restaurant, where we could all watch the game with other Orioles fans. As the Birds’ bats continued their post-season slumber and the innings slipped by, we all got the sense that our team had finally run out of magic. It was sad to see it end, but the thing that put a lump in my throat was what my Mom said on the way home after the game.

“What a year!” she said, unable to stop smiling as she climbed out of the car and headed into the retirement community where she lives. “I really never thought I’d live to see another winning Orioles season. I can’t wait until next season!”

Books and movies have been made about how sports bonds fathers and sons. I don’t know that I’ve seen the mother-daughter story told. But seeing and sharing my Mom’s lingering joy over the O-mazing 2012 Orioles, I found myself really glad that my husband was driving us home. My own eyes were a bit foggy, for some reason.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled cool-weather passion: the Ravens.

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