02 Apr Three Phone Calls in Twenty Minutes

Friday afternoon I was napping on the couch because I was feeling run-down. The phone woke me just as I was sinking into a Marianas trench of dreams. The call was my doctor with results of my annual check-up. He said my numbers would look better if I lost 10 pounds. Maybe he was being polite. Ten doesn’t seem like a lot. In the span of decade I’ve gained 25. It sneaks up on you. One day you turn around and, well, there it is. I went through a period where I swore my pants were shrinking in the wash. “Lose the weight,” my MD all but promised, “and you should level out.” I told him I could do that. But, then, after he hung up, I wondered: “Can I?”

I returned to my couch and settled in again. Napping on the couch is a guilty pleasure. It’s the best sleep I get. But not this time. Before I could reacquaint myself with dreamland, Jill called upstairs to me in a panic: “My car is gone!” She had parked on the street because in our garage (on her side) sits a ten-foot-wide, eight-foot-tall cabinet she bought at an auction last week. The cabinet will go in her office. But right now it sits in the garage. Very large and in pieces. “Who would steal an eleven-year-old car?” she exclaimed. “Nobody,” I agreed as I met her in the kitchen. We were both peering out the window. The block was cleared of parked cars for rush hour. She phoned the police and learned that her car had been towed. “I guess I didn’t read the street signs well enough,” she concluded glumly. It would cost her $260. Cash. If we didn’t pick it up immediately at the short-term impound lot downtown, it’d be transferred to lot near the county line tomorrow.

Five minutes later, as we were getting ourselves together for our trip to the impound lot, the phone rang again. It was a social worker at Central Booking. She said she was calling on behalf of Will, our young friend who helps around the house. Will had been arrested for assaulting his sister. He needed bail. The social worker said, “He’s gonna lose it if he doesn’t get bailed, he says.”

I’ve never been to central booking. It’s one of those nightmarish places that television cop shows never make scary enough, probably because film can’t capture that kind of scary. You’ve got to be there to feel the creepiness, like standing in front of a hungry tiger and feeling its hot breath on your face. Will had 30 days to wait in jail for a hearing — regardless of whether or not his sister was going to press charges.

Will and his sister have always had a tenuous peace, at best. Will had just asked me, the day before, for an advance so that he could help his sister pay her utility bill. Obviously something had gone wrong. But something is always going wrong between those two. Family, what are you gonna do?

The downtown impound lot sits under the Jones Falls Expressway (JFX). The passing traffic overhead sounds like bowling balls trundling down their wooden lanes. A hard noise. You’re not allowed to take photos inside the fine-collection facility, which looks like a tiny brick house. I waited outside. Jill said there was lots of cursing inside. $260 cash is a tough ticket for people of modest means—and they’re the ones most often getting towed.

Once we liberated Jill’s car, we searched out a bail bondsman. There are lots in Baltimore, but few are open after five. We ended up at Big Boyz in Highlandtown. Crystal, a skinny young woman with elaborate fingernails, walked me through the process: you hand over a recent pay stub, you let them do a credit check, you pay $100 down on the $500 fee (which is ten percent of the bail), you sign that you’re good for the total if the parolee jumps bail.

Here’s how Will go into trouble. He was staying with his sister. He was eating a banana for breakfast when his niece—his sister’s little girl—asked for a piece. He gave her some. A minute later his sister saw the girl eating a piece of a banana and yelled at Will for being too cheap to give the girl a whole banana (these were Will’s bananas). Will said, “She didn’t ask for a whole banana.” His sister cursed him out. Then threw him out. They struggled over his luggage and she fell. Then her husband attacked Will. His sister phoned the police. The police report records that the incident started with an argument over a banana.

Family — what are you gonna do?