STEVE’S STILL AROUND…DOWN BUT NOT OUT…YET
The story of Stephen Douglas Nelson, born December 7, 1950, is one of many sides, and ultimately, if he’d ever been arrested and sent to jail, the home he lived in might still be in his family. Strange as it seems, police and locals alike were sympathetic to Steve and his beleaguered brother Stanley.
The way it played out is a disaster in a way and a blessing in another.
For many years Steve was a fixture around Bel Air…I used to give him coats, clothing, shoes…and sometimes food…he lost it all, and now is on the street, temporarily staying in a motel room on Route 40…west of Aberdeen, that’s where I tracked him down recently. Sad and a shame, the parents’ house on Atwood road was left to his brother, Stanley Nelson…so Steve would ‘always have a home’…but Steve let some bad types stay in the Atwood road house, neighbors complained, finally the Feds came in, raided it, and took the house…now Stanley is left without his rightful inheritance… the United States Marshal Service sold the property for $80,000 to a Bel Air insurance agent on April 28, 2003. Stanley could never afford to buy the house back in today’s market, not that he would if he could.
Steve allowed locals to squat at his home, a befriending gesture that attracted con-men and criminals and transients. With that going on, neighborhood kids tormented Steve to the point, drunk and wild, he would verbally attack the ‘attackers’ and when police were called it was Steve who was arrested.
Whether it was a planned ‘set up’ by police, whereby a man with a long list of arrests for drugs and robbery wound up at 16 South Atwood in 2001, or just happen-stance, Steve Nelson’s life was about to change forever, and his parents’ wishes that he never have to leave his home were smashed.
I witnessed the on-going battle and knew it was headed for more trouble. I wouldn’t want folks that Steve allowed living there, living next to me. Kids and grown-ups can be cruel, and often pick on folks like Steve.
There would be Steve sitting on the front stoop of his home, with the woven-reed Christmas decorations of reindeer all smashed apart, in disarray. “Why don’t they leave me alone, I don’t start this stuff, they do,” he said.
Unfortunately, he is generous to the people he should trust the least. They see his soft side, and they milk him for it. He never learned from his mistakes.
From time to time as I noticed the ‘off center folks’ of Bel Air, Steve would be hitch-hiking along Route 22 heading to the community college. No matter what the season there he’d be ‘thumbing’ with his big wool coat, and long, tattered scarf, beard blowing in the breeze.
He was harmless for sure…a loud mouth at times, belligerent at times, needing a bath lots of times, needy at times, broke most of the time…and always wanting a sip of scotch whiskey.
I took him food and loaned him money. And know what?…He would re-pay me most of the time. He would stake out the little studio I had at 30 East Pennsylvania Avenue early in the day. When I’d pull in there he’d be on the front steps. Or I’d slip into MaMa Nick’s on Main street at the end of a darkroom day and there’s Steve at the bar calling out for another ‘Natty Boh.”
Steve would ‘just be’ around town. There were many who came off as too good to speak to him, or acknowledge his presence…I can only ask them what’s the harm in speaking to anyone, regardless of their station in life or manner in which they present themselves?
Bel Air’s current chief of police is two years younger than Steve, and grew up knowing of Steve very well. “He was into music like a couple other of my pals, but he was always off center, he played music and was in a band,” the chief noted. “I honestly question the claim that he had an I.Q. of 183, he just didn’t seem that smart to me.”, states Chief Leo F. Matrangola.
“After his mother died, Steve became a total nuisance. Between January, 2000 and August, 2001 there were 75 police responses to his house. Everything from dog fighting, gun fire, disorderly persons, drug dealing, medical assistance. I told Steve this had to stop; it was affecting the entire neighborhood. There were many warnings, and finally, our department issued a ‘zero tolerance’ policy.”
“Steve would let anyone with drugs use his home, and one of them was a police informant, and when we learned of drugs being brought to the house, Judge Angela Eaves signed a search warrant and we carried out a raid which led to his arrest and others. The house was forfeited to the Federal Government, and on June 5, 2002, the U.S. court noted the owner did not file a claim on the property, he defaulted.”
“Honestly, Stanley pointed out he worked for the Federal Government and did not have the money to mount a claim and buy the house back, so it went to auction,” Chief Matrangola said.
This is meant for those among us who knew Steve, and haven’t seen him in a long while. He’s in a bad way now, and most of it is by his own hand. This is not meant for pity, just a means of keeping up with a town character that hasn’t died and gotten their little mention in a sparse obit.
We are not safer or better off with Steve gone from his parents’ home on Atwood road…some would disagree with that ’…in the long run some folks among us treat the less fortunate, ill-fitting, misfits with disdain. This is just the way small town America operates. To the many that have a curiosity of Steve, these words are the best way to convey what’s up with him.
Steve is an Eagle Scout…and at one time had it together…He’ll turn 59 on December 7th. His future is uncertain. Some folks who knew Steve when he attended Harford Community College and when he lived at 16 South Atwood Road in Howard Park have commented on him.
His older brother Stanley refers to him as ‘Steven’ and when Steve signs his name, it’s all one word, “stephenelson”. “When he was 7 years old my parents, Stanley and Ertie Walls Nelson, gave him a ukulele for Christmas. He hit a couple bad notes, and took it outside where we were shoveling snow, and smashed it to bits.”
In the tenth grade Steve was sent to the Maryland Training School for Boys because of truancy. While there he learned to box. He served his time and in 1970 his mom bought him a VW beetle. Soon after, he was involved in a serious accident, hitting a tree, totaling the VW and landing in the hospital in a coma for 22 days, according to Stanley.
“After the recovery from the wreck is when the drugs started, the paranoid-schizophrenia and poly-substance abuse. Steven was going to the college, had over 60 credits in sociology. Then dad died in 1988, and mom in 1991 Their will stated a ‘life time living right for Steven to stay in our home, until he died. It was to be my inheritance for taking care of him,” Stanley remembers.
“From 1979 to 1991 Steven stayed out of trouble and did pretty good all around. Then he started letting people live in the house, He was a soft-touch for anyone needing a place to stay. I honestly believe one of the people who stayed there was set up by the police to inform and deal from the house, and ultimately that led to the charges that took the house by the feds on March 20, 2002, and put Steve on the street,” according to Stanley.
August 1, 2009, Steve was discharged from the program at Key Point for ‘repeated aggressive behavior towards clients and staff.’ As Stanley is sifting through the vast paper work dealing with his younger brother, I notice a framed certificate over his desk, commemorating ’30 Years of Service’ to the Federal Government for his work as a systems engineer at Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
He leans back and sighs…”there’s just no understanding what I can do anymore for Steve, but I’ll try the best I can.”
Chief Matrangola is sympathetic as well, “Steve put people in fear, because of his abnormal behavior, irrational personal behavior, unsanitary conditions of the house, criminal elements hanging out there constantly, just how much could the neighborhood take, after all the warnings something final had to be done. Steve never sold drugs, I know this, and if he had and he had been sent to jail for it, the house might still be in the Nelson family,” according to Matrangola. “It is unusual the way it turned out, but he didn’t help matters any.”
“I remember Steve. I used to talk to him when I was like 16-17…but it was hard, because I think so many people my age back then, used to torment him. 20 years later, when I was coaching wrestling at BA, I used to invite to matches, get him in free and hook him up with concession stand food.”
Keith “Watty” Watson
“Very very interesting. He could be intimidating. I remember his large scarves and picking him up hitchhiking.”
Bob Chance, Environmentalist
“About 35 years ago I picked him up hitch hiking out at the college, he was totally stoned, and told me he was Led Zeppelin’s manager, and he was dead serious, so I acted like that was great and it must feel good to be famous!”
Bubbins Stearns, Bel Air
”Personally I didn’t know him….. Danny lived next door in Howard Park, and someone wrote F*** YOU in huge paint on the side of the house facing Danny’s (Sullivan)….. I just remember what an eyesore that house was when he lived there. (turns out vandals wrote the graffiti on the house)
“Rick Cotton always said when he would see him Steve would do this thing w/his hand & arm and say “tube steak”….and then laugh out loud.”….
Carol Sheetz, Aldino
“Over the years of working in Bel Air each day, I would see Steve sitting alone in the Pizza shop that used to be the Bata Shoe store.
Most everyone who walked passed him gave him wide clearance, going out of their way to keep their distance. I would stop and sit for a minute or two just to see how he was doing, an odd sight to some I am sure with my ever present neck tie and Steve dressed in a somewhat different style.
When Steve left Bel Air I kept that piece that appeared in the Aegis that was entitled: Character Leaves Bel Air. (Not positive of the exact title) In any event his story should be told because few (very few) really knew him.”
C. J. S. (John Sullivan, Bel Air)
“I knew Steve when he was STEVE. He was like the rest of us, just growing up. I didn’t run in the same circles, but i knew him. He lived around the corner from us. It was sad, after time, to see how he had such a tough life.
It could have happened to any of us. But for the grace of God, go I. As the years went by you would see Steve “one of the Bel Air icons.” We called him the Mayor of Bel Air.
There were times when I’d see Steve hitch hiking. Always stopped and picked him up. He’d always have a strange tale to tell, but you knew it was ok. It was Steve.
He’d hold down the corner of Atwood and Boulton Street and you’d see all the riff raff and think why? But as you’d watch this, and interact with Steve, there was just never a bad bone in his body. Never any malice. Just wanted a friend! It was sad to see how the system just ground him up. Sad we have to live in such a world.
Can’t we all just be friends? I think that was what Steve tried to show us all in his own little way. The same thing we try to show our children. To make the world a better place!”
chd (Christopher Holbrook Daiger, Bel Air)
“I have many memories of Steve; we always considered each other friends. When my sons were small we would sometimes go to fortunato’s for pizza, we would often run into Steve there. , He would sit with us and share our pizza .Our friend Joe has a line—‘aint no guarantees’ — so goes the life of Steve, we can only be grateful for our blessings and help others when we can. He who stands on tiptoes is not steady – lao tze”
As ever the most venerable John “Rooster” Adams, York, Pennsylvania
“Don’t forget to include the “Maggie Mae” connection….as far as recollections I do remember you loaning $5 at a time and he would be waiting for you a couple of weeks later at the studio door wanting to borrow another $5…but you would remind him that he still owed you from the last time and, as I recall, sure enough a few days later he would come up with $2 or $3 to repay you…and in a couple of weeks the cycle would begin again.
Didn’t he also often times offer you a drink of whatever booze he had at the time when you would stop and see him outside of his house…or maybe you used to give a blast off of the canteen of scotch and water…maybe both.”
Davey “Bahl” Hanson, Bel Air
The “Maggie Mae” connection Davey mentions was a statement Steve used to make that he, “Bel Air’s own Steve Nelson” actually wrote the song for Rod Stewart. The song is a huge piece of music and I guess Steve used the line to wow the gals early on. “Steven actually dated a girl by the name of Maggie Mae, and all the stuff in the song was about the two of them,” recalls Stanley. “At the time Steve was playing bass in a rock band called Blues British, with Dale Patton, John Fitzgerald and a couple other guys. He was playing with all older guys. They played a lot in Baltimore, could have gone big time, but it just fell by the wayside.” Stanley said.
I tried to nail Steve down one day to confirm if in fact he actually wrote ‘Maggie Mae’. He said he’d forgotten he’d written it. Just another mystery in the puzzle that is Steven Nelson.