The proprietor of the Pussycat Show Bar and Lounge sidled up to the counter at Pollock Johnny's Cafe on East Baltimore Street today and fulminated so furiously over an athlete named John Elway that his cheeks turned red.
"Elbow, Ellsworth--I don't care what his name is, the guy's got no right knocking the Colts or Baltimore," Larry Hanover rasped, slapping a quarter on the counter. "I saw him smirking on TV last night. The guy's just a spoiled brat. If he came down this street with that look on his face, somebody'd be darn liable to punch it off him."
Here in Baltimore, otherwise known as Charm City, the Baltimore Colts' decision Tuesday to pick Elway first in the National Football League draft, and the much-heralded Stanford University quarterback's firm resolve not to play here, were greeted with some consternation by many inhabitants.
In the heart of town on Baltimore Street, which joins the banks, theaters and subway construction of the west side with the fast food joints, show bars and peep shows of the east, the reactions of the denizens ranged from venom to humor.
A few people, like Hanover, couldn't remember Elway's name. But everyone here seemed to have a definite opinion one way or another about what this athletic phenom has said about the hapless Colts and his plans to play almost anything and anywhere but here.
Despite Elway's repeated claims that he wouldn't play in Baltimore no matter how much money the Colts gave him, the team drafted him anyway. It was then that Elway, interviewed on national television, said it was likely he would instead accept a lucrative offer to play baseball in the farm system of the New York Yankees.
That, in effect, added civic insult to civic injury. For if there is one thing that's definitely hated by sports fans in this hard-working, hard-hatted, Oriole-loving city, it's the New York Yankees.
"If John Elway doesn't want us, then we sure as hell don't want him," said John Lumaro, a construction crew foreman, as he helped lay cement in a subway station entrance. "He ain't no savior, anyway. There's life after Elway."
"He's just a hot dog," growled Frank Bressi, a bricklayer who was on hands and knees scraping a bit of mortar off the sidewalk. "He ain't the only jerk who can throw a football. The guy's gotta be nuts. This is the greatest town in the world."
At Sista's Card and Gift Shop even Rosalind Posner, the manager of the shop and a self-described nonsports fan, added an opinion. "I think if Mr. Elroy came here and saw what we had to offer, he might change his mind," she said, watching lunch-hour pedestrians stride back and forth.
"We have a beautiful harbor, tourist attractions, museums . . . . "
"Tell him about the aquarium, Ros," a fellow worker interrupted.
"Yes, the aquarium, of course," she went on, "not to mention Sista's Card and Gift Shop."
Several blocks east, amid the cluster of strip joints and peep shows known as the Block, a strip joint bartender named Mark Lacy turned the volume down on the radio strapped around his neck and put it quite succinctly: "If you see what's his name, tell him to go to hell for me."
If there's one place on the Block where opinions are rarely reserved, it's Pollock Johnny's, a gritty neighborhood institution surrounded by peep shows that dishes out polish sausages and half-smokes and doubles as a video arcade parlor.
Hanover was there yesterday, along with the cop on the beat, J.F. Stephens, and workers Rich Kahler and Jimmy Crist, and Elway was on everyone's mind.
"Ah, the guy just don't want to play for a loser," Stephens said. "Can't blame him for that."
"Thing is," Hanover went on, "Baltimore's always gettin' a bad rap. This brat ain't helping us one bit."
"I don't care about none of that," Crist said, slapping mustard on a hot dog, and wiping perspiration from his brow. "All I'd like is to have some of that cash he's gonna be gettin' from somebody."
Up the street, as lunch hour ended and white-collar workers returned to their skyscrapers, storeroom clerk Walter Peltz leaned against a building while waiting for a bus and declared:
"Ain't none of them football guys worth a damn. I wouldn't mind it one bit if they all left town. When was the last time the Colts won a game, anyway?"