Little Man of Steel

by Stephen Michael Berberich

Spring 2020 Connections
Based on a true story from 1967

     Chaos reigned. The nation was at war, protests raged on campuses, cities burned in race riots, and assassins killed popular leaders.
     So, did I worry that my poor grades would get me drafted out of college? Guess so.
     I was worried a whole lot more whether I could buy the white Chevrolet Malibu ragtop with all black interior I’d coveted since high school. I needed tuition dough too.
     Well, heavy industry came to my rescue. Aunt Kay’s neighbor got me a summer job with the big Bethlehem Steel Mill at Sparrows Point in Baltimore. He said he was
management.
     My job title was to be as a roll-transfer man. What the hell was that?
     No matter. That summer, I’d be earning the best hourly wage of any college kid.
     Guardedly then, I drove my mother’s 1956 Plymouth Savoy across East Baltimore through neighborhoods of small post-WWII homes built for returning GI’s on VA loans. I marveled at the consistently neat, framed-in trees and little lawns.

CONTINUE READING CLICK HERE AND SCROLL TO PAGE 29

Loretta’s Great Deal – short story winner, Writer’s Digest

Loretta’s Great Deal

by S.M. Berberich

WD-SSS-Comp-2019-WinnerSeals-WinnerThe hazy morning sun promised another sweltering hot one on that unforgettable July 31, 1955. It didn’t matter, though. Loretta couldn’t be happier. Her delivery truck had arrived.

That burly man in gray and red coveralls lifted the truck rear door with one arm. She saw it there, inside the truck, just as pretty to her as it was in the store window. Loretta darted out of the corner row house, a cup of coffee in one hand and a cold bottle of Coca-Cola for the nice man in the other.

“Thanks madam. I’ll get this baby off for you.”

She watched him pull it out. “Sir, put it back there, please,” she said, pointing to the backyard, past a neat row of red rose bushes and flower beds.

At last, it lay there wrapped in plastic on her grassy yard, eager to give out a giant yawn and open like a big swelling flower bud. She signed the receipt and gave the burly man a dollar tip—generous in those days.

Hands on hips, she said, “It’s one of those new-fangled clothes dryers, sir.”

“I know madam. Must be the first one in the neighborhood. Congratulations.”

The thing didn’t look like much, arms folded up around a shiny pole and covered with twists of plastic roping. But Loretta was pleased. The store salesman said it would be a great help raising her baby. Loretta and husband Pete had been blessed on July 20 with their first child, Valarie.

Pete and Loretta lived paycheck to paycheck in those days and Pete opposed springing for “that weird thing,” he said. But, he softened when Loretta pleaded, “Oh Pete, baby Valerie deserves fresh diapers.”

He’d learn soon, though. His Loretta had the knack for knowing a great deal when she saw one. This deal, this ‘expensive’ purchase, would prove legendary for their growing family. It was that fold-up kind people used to put outside–a single-pole, umbrella style clothes dryer. The crazy thing set Pete back a whole nineteen bucks including delivery.

Life in Baltimore back then was all about the neighborhood. On Loretta’s block, her umbrella dryer was a sensation. In the coming years, she would be hanging diapers out on that thing for not only baby Valarie, but three more baby daughters in short order.

She secretly loved being the first on the block with the umbrella dryer. The neighbors hung clothes on pull-and-pin straight clothes lines on pulleys. Meanwhile, Loretta’s new dryer thing spun around like nothing yet in clothes-drying history. It would literary twirl if you let it, with clothes flying and flapping in the wind in a giant circle of colors and whites. These were Loretta’s home flags! They advertised that Loretta was raising healthy, lively daughters.

Loretta remembered little of her mother. She vowed to make up for her motherless childhood by giving all the time and effort needed to bathe, care and dress her daughters with love and freshly laundered dresses.

She always said that the hot, sticky day when her umbrella dryer arrived was more than a happy day. It was a neighborhood event. Pete got off work early to put it together. With one eye on his bride smiling and waving encouragement from the back stoop, Pete was soon head scratching and fumbling with the web of plastic clothes lines wrapped around the thing until he was ready to put the ‘flower’ into full bloom.

A small crowd of kids and middle-aged women had gathered at the alley, most of the neighborhood ladies with gigantic hair rollers poking through wind-blown head scarfs, like pink toilet paper rollers.

Finally, the ladies gave out a collective gasp as Pete pushed up the dryer arms from the center pole and flung it open. Some cheered. They say one old lady fainted. But, there it was, all sprung out magnificently like an umbrella, just like that sweetheart Bud Collier showed on his Beat the Clock quiz show.

Loretta’s dad, William, was next to arrive at the event, returning from work to his home he now shared with his daughter and new son-in-law until they could afford their own place. William opened the back gate from the alley, and, by God, there stood that thing Loretta had been goin’ on about for weeks. Upright and firm on one skinny silver leg; it was a grand monument to modern progress during those happy days in post-World War II America.

“See Papa, it opens like an umbrella and spins around. Has 220 feet of line. Baby Valerie’s diapers, all of our clothes, sheets, towels, even Pete’s uniforms, all can dry in fresh air,” she told her father.

He gazed at the ingenious invention on display for all the world to see (Well, the world from the alley, that is.), smack dab in William’s cherished patch of green, his leisure spot, his bit of wilderness in the asphalt city.

“Some design Retta,” he said while easing in through the kitchen door to sniff for any intriguing aromas of supper.

She smiled with mild relief. He didn’t complain that her dryer might eliminate horseshoe tossing, whiffle ball, cook outs, or neighborhood bull sessions on long summer evenings.

Loretta watched him and guessed his thoughts. “It comes with a metal sleeve for the pole to slide into and out of the ground, Papa. Pete put that sleeve in a big cement bucket in a hole to make it stable and secure. It’s a new idea. You can pull the dryer out of the ground and bring it into the house. I’ll show you. Come on.”

“Ah huh, what’s for supper, Retta?’ he said. Being mechanically astute, a master machinist at Westinghouse, William figured that his daughter and quiet son in law had wasted their money. Surely the metal contraption would soon rust away in that Maryland’s soggy weather.

Loretta was a 22-year-old, beautiful brunette of German stock who could sing like Judy Garland as she did housework or tuck her daughters into bed every night, much to the pleasure of anyone passing by her open windows in summertime.

By 1966, Loretta was full commander of the laundry. No one dared touch the laundry but her. She cared that much about cleanliness and raising good kids. Loretta and Pete’s four daughters were always pretty, healthy and in fresh, clean outfits, thanks to their Ma.

When they needed more living space, they bought a detached house in the county. She would not miss the neighborhood, but worried, “Good Lord, what’s going to happen to my dryer? Say what you will about my daughters, but don’t mess with my umbrella dryer,” she joked.

The first thing in the moving van was, you guessed it, Loretta’s umbrella dryer. When they moved, she even had Pete dig up the ground socket, cement bucket and all, and then anchor it in soft sandy loam behind their new home.

Versions of the umbrella dryer were first patented more than 100 years ago. But it took the expanding economy after WWII to become popular, and some are still on duty, still servicing families well, still filling laundry with sun and oxygen, still saving energy for folks who know a good deal when they see one, like Loretta.

The umbrella dryers are now mostly in older neighborhoods where there are no snooty home owners’ associations like those on new cul-de-sacs and high-end track villages prohibiting “unsightly” backyard clothes lines.

So, don’t look now, but it’s already July 20, 2012 and old Grandma Loretta is still happy, sitting in her backyard, sipping a cup of coffee, talking with neighbors and, oh yes, waiting for the clothes to dry on her umbrella dryer. Yes, the same one.

That weird thing didn’t rust away, but is still standing strong, while millions of broken electric and gas clothes dryers clog landfills nationwide. She’d kept it painted and out of the weather all those years. Loretta’s umbrella dryer today would be called green technology–energy efficient, environmentally progressive.

With the help of her daughter, Loretta lets go of her dryer pole and shuffles across her yard to say hello to a neighbor. “Hi there, my baby Valerie turned 57 today. Wanna come to our birthday party? It’s for Valarie and that reliable umbrella clothes dryer over there. She’ll be 57 too, on the 31st!”

#

 

Novels (chose and click below each description to purchase or to read on Kindle)

 

New!! Trout Heaven: 

51FfoENi-8L (3)Everyone in Sassafras County stays clear of the quarantined Crater Lake in fear of toxic coal spoils from the meteorite crash decades earlier. Everyone, that is, except two precocious teenage brothers who skip church one Sunday morning to try out their new rod and reels in the mysterious lake. They are amazed to land dozens of giant rainbow trout. Naturally, the state lifts the quarantine, recognizing a potential for tourist revenues. Along comes sleazy Vacation Inns and Resorts, Corp. to develop the lake, leading to a tacky town called Trout Heaven. Meanwhile across the valley, famous investigative reporter Henry Clyde Ford is frustrated with writing his memoirs in his log cabin retreat. His peace of mind and once pristine view are ruined by the new resort and town. Then came a strange knock on his cabin door …

Available on Amazon.com and Goodreads.com

Fatal Deadline, published 2017

finalFatal_Deadline_Cover_small (2)Fatal Deadline is a novel about murder and terrorism during the housing crisis, as told through the eyes and ears at an understaffed, small weekly newspaper.  With the kind of zany humor of “His Girl Friday” and perilous risks taken in ‘All the President’s Men,” this newspaper mystery arrives with a unique twist. The only reporter on the trail of the big story is a wide-eyed, 19-year-old neophyte.  Christopher Gilley–new real estate reporter for the Maryland Inquirer–is the real deal. His skills are the envy of veteran reporters at the suburban weekly. In this, his first, real job, Chris has simple goals: to get out of poverty, write good copy, and make Ma proud back home in their small town in West Virginia.  His humble goals are dashed at high noon on May 14, 2007 when the paper’s story of the century drops squarely into his lap. o report theT big story, however, his only sources are hardcore criminal gangs, drug dealers, predator lenders, strippers, thugs, and crafty urban women–the likes of which he’d never known back home.

Available on Amazon.com and Goodreads.com

Night at the Belvedere, published in 2016

Night at the Belvedere is a paranormal novel set partially in a hotel contrived by author S.M. Berberich and the overactive mind of social misfit Nick Esposito, based on the legendary Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore, Md.2Night_at_the_Belvede_Cover_for_Kindle (2)

“An enjoyable read. A highly entertaining, imaginative novel with memorable characters and packed with interesting Baltimore history.” H.S. Parker, author of the bio-thriller “Containment.”

“An epic tale revolving around a man who has not fully achieved validity in his own mind. He appears to go into ‘trance-like states’ with flashbacks, hearing and seeing things others don’t see. Characters in his family tree have been perceived by him as ‘larger than life’ and his own individuality was not fleshed out partly because of the power of their personalities, their stories, their social standing and style. The family thinks magically and mythically.” Dr. Pamela Armstrong, Maryland psychologist.

” Nicky Esposito is the brooding, day-dreaming, sharp protagonist whose penchant for history takes him on some strange, paranormal journeys back in time. He can vividly view historic events, such as the tragic 1904 fire that destroyed much of downtown Baltimore, a slave auction, and the transmission of the first telegraph signals to Baltimore’s B&O Station.” Kevin James Shay, author of “Death of the Rising Sun: A Search for Truth in the John F. Kennedy Assassination”

Available on Amazon.com and Goodreads.com

 

Rare Newspaper Mystery, Fatal Deadline, Now in Paperback

From the desk of  Stephen Michael Berberich ©

 For immediate release:                                  Contact: Amazon.com

Exciting Novel: “Kid” Reporter Scores/Fumbles Inquirer Story of the Century

He witnessed a murder/terrorist bombing, but must defy his editors to expose the truth.

RHODESVILLE, MD,  Aug. 14 – With zany comedy of His Girl Friday and perilous risks in All the President’s Men, a new newspaper mystery, Fatal Deadline, arrives with a unique twist. The only reporter on the trail of this big story is just a wide-eyed, 19-year-old neophyte.51bM6pcTw9L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

At a time when newspapers were in a freefall, and the housing market had collapsed, Christopher Gilley—new real estate reporter for the Maryland Inquirer—is the real deal. His reporting skills are the envy of veterans at the suburban weekly. In this first job, he has simple goals: get out of poverty, write good copy, and make Ma proud back home in the Appalachians.

His humble goals are dashed at high noon on May 14, 2007. Chris is an eye witness to an evident terrorist bombing of the offices of notorious predatory mortgage lenders. The prodigy reporter swings into action, filling three stories that afternoon, expertly reporting the bombing and discovery of land-developer Johnny “Boss” Martin’s body in the rubble.

But, when witnesses see Chris “escaping” from the scene, the police tag him as a suspect, prompting managing editor Michele LaProbe to remove Chris from his story. Frustrated with the paper’s failure to investigate, he goes undercover, against the wishes of his editors, to find and report the truth of the murder and bombing.

Hardcore gangs, drug dealers, racist lenders, strippers, thugs, and crafty urban women—the likes of which he never knew back home—are his only sources. Will the kid hunter of truth become the hunted by the criminals, and face his Fatal Deadline? Or will he live to reveal who really killed Johnny “Boss” Martin and destroyed his First Union Credit & Mortgage tower, known locally as the FUC’M tower?

S. M. Berberich is a journalist, photographer, and video producer. His authored works include psychodrama, Night at the Belvedere, and science mystery, The Naked Intruder.

Love for the Dandelion, Please. She’s Due Some.

By Stephen Michael Berberich

For Connections
connections-2017spring     They shine like no other, those bright yellow beams of sunlight peeking from the earth.

     And for me, the dandelion is the truest sign of spring’s arrival. No, it it’s not the robin foraging for worms, not the tiny frogs peeping in the woods, not even the first run of rockfish up the Chesapeake Bay. The true arrival of spring is that unwavering dandelion popping up boldly and assuredly. There seems a resolute confidence in the “heart” of every dandelion. They cannot be stopped.

     I’m told that this true harbinger of spring sets its course early with unopened, fully formed and colorless flower buds just underground. It is true. I’ve peeked. There they were, nestled tightly atop sturdy, thick roots. With that first warm “magic” rain at the end of winter, those pent-up buds push up. They lack only daylight to shine.

     Dandelions are my favorite flowers. Simply by reputation, a dandelion is the brightest sun-yellow of all spring blooms, is botanically evolved to survive magnificently, has served humans since antiquity as food, high-quality nutrients, and medication, is fun for children. Yet, the dandelion is unfairly maligned today as a suburban menace by frustrated perfect lawn seeking fanatics, spraying and cursing the little yellow beauties.

     Phooey I say, to those polluting maniacs.

     If you love plants as I do, you know that the dandelion plant is one of nature’s “engineering” wonders.

     When the flower wilts and drops its petals, the flower head’s brackets curve backwards into that familiar puff ball of delicate parachutes—like an origami trick—feathery parachute each attached to one of as many as 200 seeds that can blow off to travel long distances.

     This trick serves us well, too. For adults camping or hiking, the puff ball serves as a humble meteorologist. It folds up before it rains and opens when skies clear. And for kids, well, grownups have always handed off puff-ball folklore to their children, such as, “If you blow three times, the seeds left tell you how many kids you will have?” Remember that one? Or, “Seeds left there tell you how many years left before you get married.” My favorite was to catch a wayward seed parachute and make a wish.” Funny, they always came true if I shared with my folks.

     I also love the dandelion flower because it is a beautiful composite, not one flower but dozens packed together as one on top of the paper-like hollow stalk flexible enough to withstand hurricane force winds. Again, ingenious.

     Medicinal uses of dandelions by civilizations past—just a quick Google click away—are not for me to list. But, I can attest to the better known nutritional values when I get a lift from eating the young leaves fresh in salad, or steamed, boiled, or sautéed.

     Add a sip of brandy like dandelion wine or my tangy dandelion root coffee, and you know why my favorite flower and true harbinger of spring is the dandelion. Now, if you will excuse me, I must tend to my pet dandelion. She grows huge in the limestone rich soil next to my house. I give my Great Dane of dandelions organic fertilizer to stretch its large, lion’s teeth leaves (French roughly translated: dent- de-lion). The center flower stalk is also taller and sturdier than normal because I trim the side ones. And its 2-inch wide flower makes a puff-ball the size of a tennis ball.

     Try saving one sometime for your pet plant, but not near the neighbor’s yard.

Spring 2017                                                                                                           55

This makes no garden sense, does it?

I am about to harvest an eggplant from the plant on the left in the chicken wire. The picture, I took a month ago, shows how the plant in the chicken wire cage was ignored almost entirely by the nastiest of eggplant bushes, flee beetles. DSC_0195webAt the size of normal fleas the flea beetle would easily jump through the cage. But they did not. This bush was far ahead of the one on the right and the others in the garden. Was it the chicken wire? This makes no sense?

Early Snap Peas Add Nitrogen in Summer Tomato Cages

DSC_0365smallLate last winter I cut an early row into to my winter seed rye to plant snap peas that would eventually fertilize my grape tomatoes.

See the sequence from March to May CLICK HERE.

  • cover a strip of tilled soil with black plastic
  • plant pea seeds in the strip after removing plastic
  • when pea plants are six inches high pull any tiny weeds
  • place tomato cages in a line over the plants
  • allow pea plants to climb and produce pea pods
  • clear a circle of the pea plants in each cage for a young tomato plant
  • mulch the tomato plants.
  • watch the tomato plants thrive as the pea plants wither in hot weather
  • harvest peas and then tomatoes
  • mulch more around tomato plants, suppress dead pea plants
  • nitrogen fixing by the previous pea plants fertilize the tomato plants.