Monday
Feb142011

Coverage

John Dermot Woods




One afternoon, following a long and lazy bus ride to Dundalk, my companion and I met a man who had nobly graying temples and who gave us many more details about Rabbite’s final days, those spent in his decrepit row house, than we had gotten from the newspaper account in The Sun on the previous Friday. The man had such insight into Rabbite’s decline because he volunteered for the local Meals on Wheels program and delivered Rabbite his lunch every weekday. He was witness to the end of the man whom we believe was the greatest documentary filmmaker the city has known. We met the volunteer in a sign-less pub that we always visited on our bus trips to the southern part of the city, a pub which was usually full of restless men playing mid-nineties post-alternative music on the juke box. It was his gentle demeanor and way of sipping, not gulping his beer, that attracted us to him. We sat down on stools on either side of him, shook his hand, then he told us that for many years he’d been a television news reporter who covered notable house fires for WJZ. Upon first looking at him, we had assumed that he paid his bills as either a gardener or a kindergarten teacher and we were hoping that he would share his ideas of simple daily pleasures, not the politics of media, which we had left our neighborhood up north to forget about. But he didn’t burden us with tales of "coverage" or "breaks." He explained that while he had once been the first on the scene at all of the city’s major fires, he had, in fact, resigned unexpectedly ten years earlier.  It was the night following a conflagration that had consumed a whole block of homes in Butcher’s Hill, the largest fire he had ever reported on, after which he committed himself to the city’s forgotten. He claimed that he had never second-guessed this choice and that he absolutely never watched the evening news (unlike Rabbite, he told us, who watched WJZ every night, at both five and six o’clock). He quickly got a gig driving the Meals on Wheels van and the first meal that he delivered was to the great filmmaker, who immediately recognized the deliveryman as the face of Baltimore’s many fires. Not only did he bring Rabbite his lunch every day, but he ran reels of film back and forth across town for the old man to help him finish the final cut of his last film, The Tribulations of Vacations and Getaways. As he traveled to and from the editing lab, he never dared to open the film canisters and hold the master’s work before the sun to see what the his camera had captured. When Rabbite died, our friend was the first one to see his new corpse. For all of the afternoons they had spent together, he said, all things considered, he never knew Rabbite, even as he laid his small body on the white sheets of his familiar twin bed.