Read this story and see the heart of a real priest.
If you have never heard of Balmer Merlin, you have never been a resident of Baltimore, Maryland. It is not that the natives are in too much of a hurry to pronounce the t--that would be natural enough to New Yorkers--or to treat an or with the appropriate sound. What makes them say Balmer is simply that they are laid back: They see no reason to put consonant strain upon the tongue.
This trait is evident in that the purpose of a marble stoop is less for climbing to a front door than for settin'. Settin' is very much like sitting, but not if one sits up straight, or arches forward to muse like the Thinker. For settin' means sort-of-sitting, and doing so wholly without attitude. Baltimore has many other charms and grand local traditions. Among these are things innocent, and things (to use an old word) fond, in the most uninnocent way.
A Fond Thing
From the tenth floor of a building near the Inner Harbor, the office of an attorney for whom I do special work to supplement the not-quite-enough income of a Continuing Anglican priest, I see all the way to the hill where once stood Memorial Stadium. The stadium, the place where the Orioles won a couple of final World Series games, is gone. Gone too is the plaque that stood in the parking lot beyond the left field bleachers where, in 1966, landed the longest home run in city history, hit by one of my boyhood heroes, Frank Robinson.
What needed tearing down was not Memorial Stadium but one of the fond things in city tradition, a thing so fond to Balmer hearts that it has been given its own place in the town's unique canon of what many seem to regard as sacred tradition. In walking distance of the attorney's office is the corner of Baltimore and President Streets, that block of Baltimore Street known in many quarters of the world not simply as a city block, but as the Block. It is even celebrated by men in Paris, which about says it all.
Once, when I was in this attorney's office, he asked me if I could make inquiries in an establishment on the Block about a girl who strips there. His firm specializes in helping uninsured hospital patients obtain eligibility for the Medical Assistance program (known in some states as Medicaid). I declined to be seen entering such an establishment, reminding him that I am a clergyman. "Oh, of course," he said. Besides, employers on the Block do not keep the kind of records we need for the Social Service caseworkers.
The case was given to me anyway; I am very used to working with such clients to obtain Medical Assistance for them. The girls are young, rather pathetic, addicted to heroin, and thanks to their urgency to get a fix with any available needle, infected with HIV. I have gotten to know many of these young women, once they give consent. Indeed, from their medical records I have known them quite intimately.
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