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December 01, 2001
Mark Abernathy: He made Fells Point a better place to live

By Alex Dominguez
from the man's humanity to man dept.

I drove into Fells Point for the first time in March of 1989, parking a 1979 Ford Bronco, complete with jumping bass decals and U-Haul trailer in tow, on the cobblestones outside of Bertha’s.

``I’ll have a beer, ask about the neighborhood,’’ I thought, sunlight streaming past grey clouds scudding over tugboats at the end of the block.

``What can I get you,’’ the t-shirted, curly-haired young bartender said, stopping his discussion for a minute.

``I don’t know, what’s this Oxford Class, is it English?’’ I said, picking one from the dozen taps.

``I think it’s made in Glen Burnie,’’ he said, dispelling any pretense.

``Where is that, Scotland?’’

``No, it’s in Anne Arundel County,’’ he said, looking down and stopping to let me hear his constrained ``hee-yeh’’ kind of laugh for the first time. ``Yeah, it’s near the moors of Linthicum.’’

The joke wasn’t on me, he was laughing with me, realizing I wasn’t from the area.

I drank my beer, he resumed his conversation with Dan about some bar overlooking a river somewhere, and what a deal it would be if either one of them owned it. The discussion shifted, a question came up, and Mark _ unwilling to suffer a barroom discussion between the uninformed _ pulled down a dictionary to find the answer.

``A bar with a dictionary, this is a place I can handle,’’ I said.

I didn’t realize he was only 19 or 20 at the time. He made me feel like there was a reason to move to the neighborhood. While others said they were reading Jack Kerouac, we lived on the waterfront with the bums and tugboat crews.

His sister, Karen, bartended more often than he did, commanding attention with her long dark hair and bracelets that covered half her forearms. A negative word hardly came from Mark’s mouth as he sat on the customer side and we all soaked in what we had discovered _ the mix of art students, drunks who had plied the streets for too long, longtime residents being slowly priced out of their neighborhood, and recent graduates amazed that their college days weren’t over in Fells Point, they just had to go to work instead of class.

I soaked in the beer and the liquor and the scene for years. Mark was always there. I bought a building, built a coffee shop, and he came in to get coffee, a sandwich and cigarettes on the way to see his sister, or the boat he had moved onto, or the job he got making beer.

Mark fell off the boat and drowned as Thanksgiving turned into Black Friday. I don’t know why.

I’d like to think there’s a reason. His new job would have taken him to northern Virginia, that obviously wasn’t to be. We remain behind, saddened by his loss and thankful for what he brought us.

Posted by Alex at December 01, 2001 01:02 AM
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