RAFAEL ALVAREZ: THE ALLEY HOUSE - All that is not given away is lost
This is a story about dancing for nickels.
Of all the be bop, doo wop and hip hop crazes to come along – the Frug, the Freak, and the Flintstone Flop – my favorite is the Median Strip Shuffle.
They’re doing it all over Crabtown, especially during rush hour when traffic stops for the light: on Russell Street just before Ravens Stadium; all along Northern Parkway; at the on-ramps to Interstate 95; up and down York Road and pretty much anywhere there’s enough room to limp past a line cars with a solicitation scrawled on cardboard.
The secret to the shuffle is exaggerating the extent of what may or may not be wrong with you to elicit enough sympathy (empathy is asking too much of people headed to jobs they both loathe and need) for a few sticky coins from the cup holder. For my nickel, the champion of this sad song-and-dance was a homeless heroin addict named Raoul, the namesake of a Puerto Rican barber who gave me my first haircut in Baltimore Highlands in the early 1960s.
Somewhere, my folks have home movies of the event, during which I cried. Raoul Jr. was a smaller version of his old man, with whom he once worked side-by-side barber chairs. Raoul Sr. cemented the loyalty of my father by not charging for haircuts when Dad and the Seafarers International Union were on strike against local tugboat companies in 1966.
The affable barber with the pencil-thin moustache forfeited the friendship a quarter-century later by not paying his respects when my grandfather died. How young Raoul went from cutting hair on Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard to living on the streets downtown, I don’t know. Like many tragic descents, I imagine it was by degrees.
About 15 years ago, I saw him doing a Super Shuffle – a rhythmic, crippled gait ornamented with tics and tremors – near the corner of Charles and Fayette. Though we hadn’t seen each other in decades, and never outside the barbershop, Raoul remembered me. I bought him coffee and didn’t mention that he was now walking as well as anyone else on the street.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
A Different Perspective
Even if you don't register and vote in The Mobbies Awards (but please do!), I encourage you to take a little time to visit some of the many sites listed there. There are other neighborhood blogs, and there are statewide news sites -- all are worth a glance. One that I like to visit often is Investigative Voice. The writers there really do dig below the headlines and write about stories that the mainstream media ignores. And they often write from an angle that is much more thought-provoking than anything else. For example this post: