The Nose

By The Nose

Published in City Paper, June 29, 1994

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Baltimore Confidential

It wasn’t so long ago that the Nose was unemployed and had time to waste on weekdays. A favorite afternoon activity, after reconnaissance missions by bicycle through Baltimore’s lesser-traveled neighborhoods, was dropping by the Second Chance Shop, which occasionally operates out of the basement of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, to check out the dusty wares.

The Nose felt quite lucky to find a $2 ramshackle bar set with a light on top that read “Whisky Bar” and felt marginally literary for having purchased a 50-cent copy of a time-worn classic: Washington Confidential, by the wonderfully sleazy pseudojournalists Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer.

The cover jacket touts Lait and Mortimer as “famous newspapermen” who print “the whole truth as they saw it.” The Nose found this sales job quite appealing, and, surprised to find a chapter entitled “Baltimore Confidential,” eagerly turned to see what the poop in Baltimore was in 1951, when Lait and Mortimer got the lowdown on our Mobtown.

Having some knowledge of Baltimore’s corrupt past, the Nose was not surprised to learn that ours was “a perfect boss-run burg” where “most citizens are openly on the side of the law-breakers” and “the concepts of liberty and non-interference play into the hands of the hoodlums and the harpies.” Even better, “any and all forms of vice are tolerated and protected.” Finally, “there’s a price to pay for everything, and it’s not much.” This was a town the Nose, with our yen for jobbery, intrigue, and excess, could learn to love. No wonder Baltimoreans drip nostalgia like sweat off a whore’s back in August.

Lait and Mortimer made much of the sex shops, gambling houses, and dirty politics that made the Block/City Hall area “one of the most vicious and lawless areas in the world.” These were the days of Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., a Democrat who was cozy with the kingmaking Mafia but also headed the U.S. Attorney General’s Continuing Conference on Crime and Corruption. Councilman Jack Pollack, at that time a kingmaker in his own right, was a former bootlegger and had once been arrested, but not indicted, on murder charges.

The Nose’s job would be so much more entertaining if strait-laced Mayor Schmoke had such nebulous connections, or if council members had such colorful pasts. Too bad our legislators have since brought corruption aboveboard, where it is regulated and obscured by campaign-finance laws and scrutinized by the public according to sunshine laws. But the Nose expects there is still plenty of viciousness and lawlessness in and around Holliday Street.

Nasty Noise in the Council

Viciousness, indeed. The Nose recently smelled burning flesh in the City Council chambers, where a bill to kill the two-year incinerator moratorium and approve a replacement incinerator on Pulaski Highway singed a few council members’ fingers. In the midst of the legislative posturing over the issue, innuendo regarding council member Wilbur “Bill” Cunningham, whose health-and-environment committee was to hear the bill, was aired.

Anti-incinerator council member Perry Sfikas suggested that Cunningham, who is an employee of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies, had a conflict of interest over the issue because incinerator owner Willard Hackerman is a major Hopkins donor with a healthy measure of pull at the university.

Once Cunningham – known for his feistiness – caught wind of the accusation, he cornered Sfikas, moments before the gavel came down to start the June 6 council meeting, and bared his prominent incisors. “You piece of shit,” Cunningham seethed. “That was a low, fucking, shitty thing to do.”

Sfikas bore the insult silently, perhaps because he was at the time afflicted with a painful-looking virus that pocked his gums and mouth with open sores, a situation that left the usually logorrheic legislator with the ability only to make guttural noises that barely resembled speech. Sympathetic but always ready for a good story, the Nose felt privileged to be privy to such a display of legislative personality.

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