F for First

A rare foray into fiction.

NPR used to do contests called Three Minute Fiction, I’m unsure why they stopped. In 2013, I wrote a piece for this and sent it to Tim and to NPR. Round 11 in May of 2013 was “Finders Keepers: Write a story in which a character finds an object that he or she has no intention of returning.” I (obviously) did not win but what’s weird is that one of the winners chose the EXACT SAME object as I did. Here’s that story.


And here’s mine:

“A S D G H J K L,” Mr. Filbert reads from his keyboard. Its home row had 8 keys only yesterday.

“A S D G H J K L!” he crescendos. Lenore glances quickly enough, she thinks, toward his desk. Mr. Filbert, however, is hardly deterred from drawing her into the 23rd time today he’s bemoaned his missing F key.

“I just don’t see the lure, Lenore! Miscreants, their games!”

He continues his rant, but in Russian. Lenore crouches behind the laptop cart feigning Mr. Filbert’s required power button checks.

“21 – off, 22 – off,” she pretends to scratch on the clipboard he’s provided. Instead, she’s drawing a dog. Her mind replays Mr. Filbert’s accidental poetry. I just don’t see the lure Lenore. Its paws are wheels, five careful dots along each edge. Lure Lenore. Lure Lenore. Lure Lenore.

A student enters the office as she focuses on a cartoonish left eye, her Bic wearing a label pre-scolding: MR. FILBERT. Three years have taught her the cadence of pre-pubescent gaits.

Dale Tyne squeals, “Mr. Iiiillllbert, can I have my computer password again?”

A pregnant pause and Mr. Filbert breaks into his vigorous pacing ritual – desk right, desk left, by the microwave, a loop around the shelf, and back to desk right. Knowing what Mr. Filbert’s disregard means, Dale’s untied shoes scamper past the laptop cart.

Midway into lap three, Mr. Filbert blurts words Lenore has translated herself. Lately, he’s been favoring “bull shit” in Portuguese. Her delicate script leaves “Lure” above the dog’s pointy ear.

“Did you hear that scoundrel? Ilbert? Ilbert?”

At Lenore’s silence Mr. Filbert peers over the cart. Looking up at him, her head hovers above her seated bottom, which spills out around her, coated in polyester brown.

“Lenore, we need to find our villain. Is Tyne on the suspect list?” he asks, his torso flanking the top of the cart.

“I – do think we added him earlier.”

“Well children cannot destroy property and go on their merry ways, Lah-nure.”

“We’ve already called in so many for questioning–it’s become a joke in the entire 7th grade.”

“Oh really, Lah-nure? Well why don’t you just go back to drawing your puppies?” he says under gray eyebrows. “Yes, I will defend the integrity of our equipment uh-lone. Tyne moves up the list!”

“Principal Glick said we can’t profile a student because he has a pas-”

“Profile? I can’t even spell profile right now, Lah-nure! This is about more than F or all the other keys. It’s about respect! And Glick? She has some nerve! She’s on the list!” he exclaims raising a hairy hand above a bald head, index finger protruding.

“Always suspected she has it out for the library. This is our 10th missing key in three years!”

Mr. Filbert huffs to the cafeteria in hot pursuit of his daily cheese steak sub. In 13 minutes he will be seated, dipping French fries into the center of the yellow paint and faux leather scooped from a bucket into a sub roll for his blissful consumption.

Lenore takes note of the time, retreats to the back office, and opens a drawer near the old transparency machines. Lenore unscrews the cap of her E6000 superglue. Chemical concoctions fill her nose as she pulls a small black square from her pants. She introduces the clear goop to the back of a small F key. She affixes both to a wooden board in the drawer.

“F – REELENORE,” she says out loud for finality.

She gently closes the drawer, unsure what step lies next but certain that her backwards project is the first step of many.

Dear Baltimore


Dear Baltimore,

It’s been a week…again. We lost Gil Sandler yesterday, though WYPR plans to run his Baltimore Stories every Friday for the foreseeable future. We hit 300 homicides on Wednesday. There’s a 7 year old boy missing and someone turned in a rocket launcher through the gun buy-back program. I spent three minutes on the phone being screamed at by a very angry parent and then cried for the subsequent two hours. And in her irrational rant with which I could not possibly disagree more, I hear the plight of this city. I hear frustration and ire and an inability to restore and sadness and resignation and misguided action and biting the hand that fed you and misunderstanding when someone is just trying to make things better.

Poor Baltimore, you’re so tired. You’re old and creaking. Your veins are swelling and exploding, arteries are clogged and rotten. Water main breaks abound and with winter beginning today, that’ll only increase as you get cold and 200 year old pipes freeze, expand, and swell beyond their encasings. It adds up, doesn’t it?

You have an irregular heartbeat in the form of a city government tripping over its own ego and stabbing in the dark at problems that go so deep with blindfolds made of the hunger for power.

The arthritis in your joints, at the intersections of people who stayed apart for centuries, is where the cartilage has worn away but instead of healing together there’s clashing. Your bones click as you try to move forward and layers of synovial fluid pops, a reminder that you’ve been here for hundreds of years and movement and change come with audible reminders of your stagnation, your stuckness, your old bones and natural inclination toward the way things have always been.

Your vision is blurred from tears, being poked in the eyes, and several lost fist fights. It’s hard to see what you need when you can’t actually see. When you can’t see the intersection of Penn and North or the blood stains over east. Do you see the people who are trying? Trying to make their lives better, trying to make your people better, trying to make you better? Not to mention your hearing. Surely it’s past its prime and fading. Is it drowned out by whirrs and dirt bike vrooms?

You’ve had a headache for years. Each murder is another concussion slamming your brain against your skull. Another lost resident. Another person who maybe hadn’t been given a chance at something better.

But Baltimore, you’re not dead yet.

You’ve still got 611,648 souls that look to you to rest their heads each night. Do you need a diet? Therapy? A massage? Antidepressants? A stiff drink? Probably all of this and a lot more. But it’s possible. And there are people who care. People who see your ailments and come up with Neosporin and Bengay and ice packs in the form of nonprofits, ideas, vigor, and optimism. You’ve still got a pretty face in your 19th century architecture, the birds in your parks, the public art that adorns your streets, walls, and most unlikely nooks.

Baltimore, you can’t give up because we haven’t. We the renters, the homeowners, the out of towner transplants, the apologists, the celebrants, the generational residents, we are here. And we need you to be a home. To open up those grandma arms and cuddle us against a fluffy bosom. Make us feel appreciated and welcome and lucky to be yours.

So as we look to 2019, Baltimore, make this year different. Make this a year with a life record rather than a murder record. Make it a year in which you come out of your elderly fog and you start to feel better. We start to feel safer. Make 2019 a year of positivity and love and growth. Make it a year where you don’t let people make fun of you for being “murdery” or backwards. Make it a year in which people proudly say, “I’m a Baltimorean.” Make it a year when the Orioles win the pennant. Okay, that one was a joke.

Make it a year that people look to Baltimore, from around the world, and say, “Look at Baltimore. She has her problems. But she knows how to heal herself and lift up her people.”

I believe in you, Baltimore. Of course, it’s really up to us, isn’t it?




PS: How to help:




The New Ideal

Hampden’s Avenue has multiple personalities. Some reflect its past, others its present and future, and many present an attitude of “That was then, this is now.” The second chances abound.

If you’re awake soon after the methadone clinic lets out round one, you’re likely to walk through a tunnel of cigarette smoke and strange both whispered and yelled negotiations by those working to shed what ails them. Wool hats and jackets are year-round attire. The choice venue through the early morning light is outside of Royal Farms’ headquarters. Classical music tumbles out of the speakers, onto the ears of the daily sidewalk ornaments and seems to faze no one.


By the time the sun fully crests the hill on Chestnut Avenue, a new crew floods the pavement. They’re young and they’re hungry and they’re not here for the methadone. No, but vices and attempts at betterment still call out to them. They traipse in and out of shops and, in their swirl they snag drinks stirred with almond milk and paper bags with handles. The dawn crew still malingers but they’re watered down by wool sweaters and shoes that make clopping sounds and a palette of washed denim. They use the valets and shopping baskets in boutique stores and they stop to sniff things, soy candles and book spines and incense cones.

A few flicks of a cigarette butt away is The Ideal Arts Space, for now a dance hall that hosts classes such as swing dance and salsa and a church on Sundays. And like many things in Hampden in the past couple of decades, The Ideal is soon to be a phoenix rising. 

At the turn of the 20th century, life in Hampden centered on cotton mills. Cotton was trucked up from the south and then processed into fabric or cloth at Mt. Washington Mill, Meadow Mill, Mill No. 1, and so forth. Before the Great depression, Hampden was economically booming. And the motto we now see stretched across stock photos of ethnically diverse people advertising giant apartment buildings, was true back then: “Live, Work, Play.”








In 1916 The Ideal was one of 129 theaters on Baltimore’s main streets. Its next door neighbor for decades was another theater called The Hampden.

The Ideal Theatre and The Hampden were the two premier movie houses in the neighborhood. They catered to the success of Hampden through the first half of the century. But, when multiplex movie theaters began wooing crowds with options, The Ideal and The Hampden went the way of the once active mills. 

If the revitalization of the mills is any indication, one might not be surprised to find that The Ideal will soon have a new use, a new crowd, while keeping its old school charm. Hampden’s mills now house restaurants, shops, galleries, athletics, nonprofits, offices, and apartments, all of which nod to the past with exposed concrete, massive factory-like windows, and the occasional old rusted appliance on a ledge somewhere.

The Ideal, which closed in the ’60s, cycled through as a Salvation Army, other retail ventures, an antique shop, and the dance hall we know today.

Plans to add to the story of The Ideal are now in the works as self-described serial-entrepreneur, David Rosenberg, is teaming up with the Five and Dime Ale House to create a multi-use entertainment venue. For the current residents of 21211, the new idea concocts mostly visions of giant SUVs circling and then plopping themselves in front of old marble stoops, stoops the drivers do not ascend everyday. But if you’ve met Rosenberg, for even a handful of minutes, you’d know he has already thought of that. 

Rosenberg, a native Baltimorean and attendee of the University of Maryland, has certainly dabbled. He started in the clothing business, jumped to chocolate and candy stores, did a stint with Mr. Coffee, and most recently has worked for New York Life. He consults, he strategizes, he conceptualizes. Rosenberg’s favorite word is “immersive.” He sought to create an immersive shopping experience at his clothing stores, then an immersive visit to his candy stores, and finally the same full-service comfort at New York Life. Now, he has his sights set on one of his hometown’s main streets, The Avenue in Hampden with a vision for The Ideal that eschews the lingering retail slab wall that lines the interior to this day. A vision that harkens back to a marquee that once read, “Talking pictures at their very best.” A vision that puts “Play,” back into “Live. Work.”

Rosenberg presents his concept with the confidence that this will work, and he makes you believe so too. “This marries two things, my passion for music and my passion for creating an immersive experience.” It’s a combination of two things he loves. Rosenberg has played with a few bands himself, and currently plays once a month at the Cat’s Eye Pub in Fells Point. Rosenberg describes his vision as a performing arts venue with mostly music, some comedy, and he welcomes Baltimore institutions such as Stoop Storytelling. 

The team working on The Ideal, which Rosenberg hopes to open by July 1, includes acousticians, architects skilled at bringing out historic features, and consultants who will ensure that the sounds of the street stay outside and the music remains in. Though passersby won’t be able to hear the shows, they will be able to peer through several panes of glass and see the show and in Rosenberg’s mind, want in.

Why this? Why now? “There’s no place for live music. The only good listening room is Creative Alliance. This will have more capacity, food and beverage, and a lot of bands.” Rosenberg already has food and beverage figured out through the next door Five and Dime Alehouse. He has been toying with flex seating area on the stage level and permanent seating on the street level.  “There will be walk-ins because it’s Hampden. I think this is really gonna be a crown jewel for Baltimore,” says Rosenberg. “I love Baltimore,” he says. “Baltimore is one of the best kept secrets on the East Coast.” 

Rosenberg rattles off Baltimore’s tiny size, the harbor, the diversity, the authenticity, the warmth. What’s it missing? Performing arts space. “All these bands and talent are jumping over Baltimore with no place to play.” Rosenberg wants to fill that void. 

Rosenberg has worked out a deal with Johns Hopkins Keswick to use its garage at 37th and Chestnut Streets. A shuttle will pick guests up from the garage and cart them to the venue. All part of the immersive experience.

To sweeten the deal for the parking-anxious, residents of 21211 will be able to purchase discounted tickets to shows at Rosenberg’s Ideal.

And with Hampden’s xenophobic past, one in which outsiders were traditionally unwelcome, it could be a challenge for The Ideal, despite its century on The Avenue, to find a comfy home in its latest Renaissance. But another one of Hampden’s traditions is rebirth. So why not The Ideal, all over again, over 100 years after its start.

Two Weddings and a Funeral (not in that order)

First, did you purchase your ticket for the Peace and Presence Yoga Flow yet? Karen and Lauren did!


Have you ever seen Death at a Funeral? If not, go find it, rent it, watch it. It is the single funniest movie I have ever seen. I was thinking about a line from it recently and thought about some of the pieces I’ve written for important occasions. I love writing pieces for people I love. I give you: a speech, a eulogy, and a “reading.”





Thank you all for being here, for traveling far, for your love, and for the unbelievable celebrating that is about to happen. Thank you Mom and Dad for giving me THE world’s most amazing sister. Thank you, Edie and Nick, for giving me a brother, that is not a dog for once…well…Lochdawg? Oh well. Thank you all for hosting this incredible party to celebrate these gorgeous people. I also want to shout out Mary Lou, our beautiful, unstoppable grandmother who inspires us every day.

I think I will flip the script a little and start with Lochdawg or Chris. You all know how I met Aubrey so that story is less interesting.

Back when I first started dating Chas, he was on one of those drinking teams, you know the kind  that occasionally plays softball? I assumed he’d grow out of it so I put up with the ridiculous Sunday Fun Days. Little did I know, 8 years later that drinking team that occasionally plays softball would still be a cohesive unit.

Anyway, Chas was the pitcher and I’d go and watch some days but sometimes someone else stepped in and pitched instead of Chas. Other than he was the other pitcher, I knew four things about him: his name was Lochdawg (weird), he drove a very blue car and had very blue eyes, and that he was Canadian. Sometimes, as I understood it, he would be in Canada (his home) so Chas would pitch both games of the double-header.

Fast forward two years, we planned to go celebrate the final Memorial Day at the Eby Family Beach House by hosting 25 of our friends for the weekend. Apparently, this blue eyed blue car-ed Lochdawg overheard Chas talking about it and said, “Oh that sounds fun. That sounds like something I’d like to do” so along he came. I like to say that Chas and I both fell in friend-love with Lochdawg that weekend. Chas, for Lochdawg’s strong stomach, I’m guessing. And me, for his kindness, sense of humor, and great taste in music. From there we all hung out constantly.

About a year later when Aubrey had moved home from college, I went to a work event with her. In the car on the way, I invited her to hang out with my friends and me afterward and passingly mentioned that the only friend of Chas she was allowed to date was Chris. Aubrey agreed to come along to meet up with my friends. The very second we walked into Cat’s Eye Pub, it was like SHWOOMPPP. They did not stop talking all night.

Now, the funny thing about accidentally setting up your sister with your good friend is that they BOTH give you the play by play. So I’d talk to Lochdawg, “Oh you’re going to Annabel Lee? That sounds great, she will love that” and then I’d talk to Aubrey 10 minutes later, “Oh he’s taking you to Annabel Lee? That’s adorable!” Anyway, you’re all welcome. We wouldn’t be here but for my careful coaching of both parties.

But I actually might not be right about that because a couple years ago Lochdawg wrote me a beautiful birthday note (he writes very heartfelt notes), he thanked me for setting him up with his soulmate but added that he liked to think that since they are sincerely, definitely meant to be together that he likes to think they would have met anyway. And as I look at them today and have watched them grow together over the past 5 years, I think deep down I know that his truth is the right one. They are here together, married, because they are meant to be. I don’t think a strong enough word exists to explain how happy I am to see my sister marrying her best friend, one of my best friends.

Aubs, you are absolutely stunning, not that I am not used to that. She passed me in height when I was 11 and has basically looked like a model ever since. Aubrey and I are only 18 months apart and with that comes an understanding of the world that only she and I share. We were, after all, raised by Nancy and Dick.

We have grown up completely symbiotically. We are like those trees that has roots that wrap around one another and grow up all twirled. And with Aubrey, that’s easy. She just loves. She always talks about how Joe, her dog, “loves to love,” but Aubrey that’s because YOU love to love.

There’s a character in the book The Secret Lives of Bees named May Boatwright who feels the feelings of all people around her. She takes on the emotions of everyone she sees. I remember reading that book like a million years ago and thinking: Wow that’s Aubrey. She is the most empathetic person that only a fictional character can match it. I know she’s exploding with emotions right now, a room of 200, wow I can’t imagine. But that’s my sister. And I think in this world, it’s empathy like Aubrey’s that we can really all use more of.

Chris, I know you’ll take care of our girl and she will certainly take care of you. And now that I have been married for four months and am an authority on marriage, the simple advice I want to give is communicate, listen, and apologize.

Aubs, I can’t believe the stars aligned this well to be able to give me a sister like you but I know every single day how lucky I am to have you, to be your co-tree, to be your sounding board, and to have you be my own. You are such an incredibly caring, driven, and brilliant woman.

You put up with me selling you candles out of my bedroom and making you pay me $20 so that I wouldn’t complain to Mom that you were allowed to shave your legs a year earlier than I was. You supported me through so much anxiety, through school and working in a school, and anything that I need to say out loud. Guys, I can’t believe two of my best friends are joining eternally today. My heart is through the ceiling. I love you. I am proud of you. Congratulations.


Elf Catz



Amanda Eby 4 year old iPhone Photography (selfie) (c)

The first word that comes to mind when I think of Grandma Freida is “sugar.” Maybe more than anyone I have ever met, she was made of it. The only person I ever heard her say anything bad about doesn’t deserve to have his name uttered here. She was so sweet that you couldn’t help but just stop and marvel at her. Like, “Where did you come from?” And the answer to that is, a lot of places. As a military kid and wife, she moved around a lot.

She’d spout off states and towns that sounded like they were out of 1950s musicals–and most likely, they also were. She always maintained that her favorite place she ever lived was Blueberry Hill, Tennessee. She’d stare off into the distance and describe it like she was writing a poem out loud. And that’s how she was. In that tiny body, she held onto all the places she loved but also all of the people she loved. She’d tell me about her mother and her father and her sister and her best friend Beryl, her pet cat, and certainly about Stan.

She’d tell me about people in the very next room too: Cindy, Skip, Chris, Chas, Robin and John Christian, Carole and Martin, Luci and Sarah and Rob and Kattie and RJ, about Gabby, about Aubrey, about my own parents. She’d tell me about her new friends from church and Anne from next door and Sierra her card-playing friend, and she’d go on about someone whether dead or living to the point that she’d get tears in her eyes telling you how wonderful and special that person was to her. She’d even tell me about myself. And all that time I’d be looking at her like, Wow. You are made of love…or sugar, or both. And you must come from a place with a fruit in the name like Blueberry Hill.

Speaking of places, back in December Chas, Cindy, Freida and I went to go see The Lion King at the Hippodrome. It was a special treat, a night out, Chas and his girls. I drove us down and had Freida riding shotgun. She was on a medicine that made her a little loopy and as I hugged corners and searched for a parking spot, she sat next to me laughing. At one point she blurts out, “Of all the places in the whole world you could live, why would you ever choose to live in Baltimore!?” And as a Baltimore-lover, she is the only person I will allow to say that and get away with it. Yet in all her years of living here, I had never heard her say anything even remotely negative about it. Again, another reminder of what a sweetheart she was. But, I actually think she really liked it here.

Back in September I stayed with Freida for a night. My Gram was in hospice at the time. Freida insisted she’d go with me to visit her. The second she walked in, my Gram, who was having trouble speaking at the time but was still mentally there, said, “Freida!” and it was like she’d gotten out of that bed, and given Freida a bearhug. She was so excited. She shuffled over to my Gram, embraced her, and started telling my Gram all about her granddaughter. It was among the most beautiful and the most difficult things to witness. And looking at them, I thought my heart might explode–luckily it didn’t.

I’d like to end with a detail about Freida that always amazed me. She had two dolls she kept. And, they slept in her bed. One must have been the prototype of Snoopy–literally–like it had to be the first Snoopy ever created. The other was a girl doll with a face drawn on. Cindy can tell you their stories. I’ve heard them but forgotten. I do know the girl doll was from Freida’s great grandmother, someone I heard a lot about over the years. And again, she lived like hundreds of years ago but Freida would describe her as if she’d just gotten back from a visit with her. Anyway these dolls may have been terrifying to someone who didn’t know their story. But to Freida they were family. I used to like to go up to her room when we’d go over to Oakdale for dinner and say hi to her before she mosied down. I will never forget the first time I watched her tuck the dolls in under their doll-sized blanket. And the last time I visited her at Oakdale I pointed to the dolls and said, “Grandma, do you want me to get the dolls under their blanket?” And her response was, “Well, it’s a little warm in here, don’t you think?”

So goodbye for now to our Grandma Freida, to Cindy’s mother, to Chas and Chris’s grandma, and to everyone’s friend. But I know that with tears in our eyes, we will continue to talk about her in vivid detail, like she’s just in the next room.


Tim and Maddy



Sierra Smith Photography

Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy…




I don’t remember meeting Tim, which I think, is telling–not of him but, of “fun,”

When I first met Maddy she wore a dinosaur Halloween costume made of a hoodie and some felt.

When I first saw them together I thought, “Wow, those are two pairs of really light eyes.”

When I first heard them together, I couldn’t stop laughing.

To combine the wittiness of these two is almost unfair. How are the rest of us supposed to even seem clever?

Tim told me that when they first met, he thought,

“This is someone I can trust,

whom I’ll love,

with whom I’d like to embark on a journey.”

That’s what continues today: a journey.

Of belly laughs and end of a long day back rubs and Barry Glazer’s pink nose and three matching La-Z-Boys…oh wait, those are already a thing.

A journey of teamwork and pillow talk and loading the dishwasher the right way and jokingly bickering over whose turn it is to turn off the overhead light. (It’s definitely Tim’s.)

A journey of shared accounts and Home Depot trips and planning the next vacation.


Maddy told me that when she looks across the room at Tim, she thinks, “Look at how wonderful he is.

How could I possibly have gotten so lucky?

This is my forever.

There is no one better in this world for me.”

You’re right, Maddy, about some things, but this isn’t luck. Tim is a sign of your merit as a sister, daughter, friend, and now a wife.

And Tim, Maddy is a reflection of your kind heart, intelligence, humor, and general goodness.

You two are stellar humans as two and unstoppably fantastic as one unit.

I will end with my rewritten version that claims to be an Apache blessing but may also derive from a 1947 novel called Blood Brother. Either way, I don’t have permission to rewrite it so don’t tell on me.


Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter to the other.

If you do feel rain, you will together enjoy the sound of its patter on an old Baltimore awning and the way the Natty Boh sign lights up against a gray blue sky.

Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.

Like a bonfire in the Loughlins’ front yard on a November night.


Now there is no loneliness.


You are two bodies but there is one life before you, and one home.

On O’Donnell St.


When evening falls you will look up and there she will be.

He will take your hand and she will take yours and you’ll turn together to look

at the road you traveled to reach this – the hour of your happiness.

It stretches behind you as the future lies ahead, a long and winding road

whose every turning means discovery, old hopes, new laughter, and shared tears.

The adventure has just begun.


Lastly, did you purchase your ticket for the Peace and Presence Yoga Flow yet?