Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Summer Ends

Room 202, empty now but soon very full

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Found Literature, or, Pants Meat Transcended

A shameful thing it is to derive pleasure from the story of another's suffering. Perhaps it's even worse to try to defend this pleasure-taking as a sort of aesthetic appreciation for the syntax of the narrative.

So the story related at the website provided below--with many thanks to Susanna's Superior Search Engineering--makes me reflect on my own care for my fellow citizens, because there is something wonderful about it, as art. Artless art. Inspired artlessness. I could go on and on ad nauseam about what I find so perfect about it, but I will simply let it speak for itself. It began life as a comment upon Pants Meat--there is mention of meat down someone's pants (try to find it!)--but the story so transcends that subject as to warrant its own place in the pantheon...

See the story here:

Set Kenneth Gene Lett Free

...and contemplate your sins.

Pants Meat

There are those--I live with one--who will be scandalized by this, but I am moved to record a phenomenon that threatens to survive only in one-paragraph police blotter items in tiny local papers and in ephemeral beer-aided conversations between friends. I am talking about the theft of meat by stuffing it down one's pants. I suppose that South Baltimore and Northern Anne Arundel County, in the State of Maryland, is an area not entirely unique in any repsect, and so this post is not only a getting-it-all-down-before-I-forget-it, but also a Call For Papers: Do you have any examples of this sort of criminal, hilarious behavior? Variations of it (see The Shrimp Guy, below*)? Share them, lest these stories be lost in the mists of oral tradition.

Every effort has been made to recall the facts of each incident. However, since most written record of these thefts went out with the recycling long ago, the editors claim no strict adherence to absolute truth. The humor inherent in each situation has been the driving force behind its preservation in memory, so perhaps truth has been sacrificed (but just a little) for the sake of a funny story.

#1--(three, maybe four years ago) A man is stopped at the door of a Severna Park supermarket by store employees, where it is "determined" that he has stuffed several steaks down his pants. The man is arrested.

#2--(a couple of years ago) Two guys are chased out of a supermarket in Severna Park by a store employee who sees them stuffing meat down their pants. Halfway across the parking lot, one of the guys draws a gun and waves it, running, at the employee, yelling "Is this stuff worth your family's lives? [sic]"

#3--(also a couple of years ago) A woman in extra-large sweatpants is stopped in a Washington, D.C. store by an employee who sees her stuffing meat down those sweats. She becomes really defensive, and then, exasperated by the employee's persistence, heaves a great sigh, pulls out the many meat packages, and throws them onto the floor. So there. Take that.

#4--(last year) We actually witnessed this one. A long-sought and transcendant experience. A scrawny young man is confronted by the Locust Point Shoppers Food security guard as he approaches the exit. She has seen him stuff, or suspects him to have stuffed, meat down his pants. He makes a break for the door, but the guard, a sizable woman not to be messed with, grabs him by the shirt, which the meat guy, about to cry (and nearly knocking over my cantaloupe-seeking wife), twists out of. He runs, minus shirt and meat (which came flying loose during his escape maneuver), out the door, leaving the guard holding a sweaty shirt, smiling, surrounded by celophane-wrapped steaks littering the floor.

I know that I have neglected at least one other local Pants Meat incident, but I do not trust my memory enough to reconstruct it. Others must. I will also request opinions on the following question: since in most cases the meat is recovered, how do you, gentle readers, feel about a "Half-Price! Pants Meat" bin?

*A friend of ours once worked in the D.A.'s office in the Bronx. She tells the story of a regular customer of the Bronx criminal justice system who would steal shrimp. He'd go up to a seafood counter and order a pound, or more, of raw shrimp, and as soon as the clerk would hand him the bag of little guys he'd bolt out the door. Usually he would get caught. On one occasion, a policeman saw him tearing down the street, bag of shrimp in hand, and gave chase. The Shrimp Guy ducked into a medical clinic or some sort of office and ran through the maze of cubicles and exam rooms to the bathroom. The policeman found him there, on the floor, furiously dumping the shrimp down a toilet, trying vainly to flush the evidence. Busted! Nothing down the pants, but I like the story.


Monday, August 22, 2005

Good Idea?

Charles Street, Baltimore, 9:05 am

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Anachrony 2, or, Harper's Ferry on a Very Hot Day

Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, is in a very beautiful place. For you who have never been there, where the Shenandoah mixes with the Potomac--the place where they have for eons, judging by the height and steepness of the cliffs--the steepness of the rock and the tenacity of the trees and the two rivers meeting, all overshadow the sights and sounds of the highway across the Shenandoah from the town.
The town itself has the strangeness of a museum where people also live and work. The historical strictures and monuments and National Park Service signs sharing space with tchochke stores and "No Trespassing" and handmade "This Is Private Property" signs leaves me feeling a little uneasy. The natural world upon which the town is built, though, more than makes up for the weirdness.
The historical instruction of the place is worthwhile. The little fire engine house where Colonel Lee captured John Brown after a long firefight is a good place. One can go inside the undecorated brick rooms, free from information plaques, sit on an old wooden bench in the coolness, and think about what Brown must have been thinking.
Just across the street from this little building is the monument whose photograph leads this post. It is called the Heyward Shepherd Monument, and many people have argued about it.
What do you think about it?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Round Here--Part Three: An Incident I Remember

The girls of Towson Street and environs grow up fast. The middle schoolers cuss on the street, worse than I do now, in private, when I am drunk and talking about the Administration. They smoke, in that disturbing, histrionic way children handle cigarettes. Their mothers smoke, too, and I suppose the kids learn the mannerisms in part from the elders. Isn't much of smoking done for emphasis anyway? Nothing like waving around a bundle of leaves on fire to make sure people understand that you really mean this.
One night we were walking back home down Fort Avenue, and a group of the girls was flitting about the steps of Good Counsel, smoking and cussing. Not the usual conversational South Baltimore cussing, but a harder, meaner, direct cussing. They were cussing at (with? against?--prepositions are the most difficult thing, apparently, for foreign speakers to learn in English.) an older man taken to drink too much and sit on the bus stop bench. An American Flag was involved. I don't know where the girls had gotten it, but each one took a turn treating it roughly: jamming it into the yew planter on the corner, jabbing it with a cigarette, threatening to throw it into the street...and all the while the old guy on the bench across the street sat there in a writhing conniption, yelling in a cigarette-burned voice that "you goddamn girls should know better...have some goddamn respect...OH! GOD! Why are doing this?..." All the while the girls were running around, each one with some new idea of an outrage to inflict on the flag in order to torture this man. Also all the while, of course, they were yelling back at him with obscenity-littered explosions, waving their cigarettes in the air. It looked and felt like a variation of the LP cover of the copy of the Symphonie Fantastique we had when I was little. Hieronymus Bosch would have done something really nifty with the scene.
This was, if I recall correctly, a school night.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Contemplate That Which Is Before You

Our Lady of Good Counsel steps, August, 2005
Mass is at 11:30.

Friday, August 12, 2005


Sheep, Howard County Fair, 2005

For Photo Friday.

Round here--Part Two: signs of life

Locust Point still works. From most places in the neighborhood one can see the big blue port cranes, cargo ship superstructures rising above the rooftops, the stacks of the sugar factory. It's not a loud place, but is filled with sounds. Sounds and smells.

The smells one smells here:
  • The deep yet sharp odor of molasses from the Domino Sugars plant. This is a fun field trip--out to the factory to see what sugar boat's in town, to see where it's from. This week it's the Shinyo Challenge (27,940 dwt/mt).
  • The city-harbor smell of salt water and diesel fuel.
  • An occasional gas leak.
  • Fried bar food. Many bars here.
On a typical day and night, I hear these sounds in the neighborhood:
  • Starlings
  • State Police helicopter on its way to or from the Shock-Trauma unit
  • The brrr-be-beep of those cell phones with the walkie-talkie function--often at night, in the hands of young men in baggy denim shorts, t-shirts and backwards caps.
  • Ships' horns out in the harbor--also usually at night. Few sounds can compete with this for goosebump-inducing thrill. Sitting in bed, reading about North American forests, or Willa Cather stories, and in through the window comes the broooo, broooo, broooooooo--news from some faraway place. A friend recently asked us how it is that we have lived here for a whole year and have not jumped aboard stowaways for Cathay or the South Seas. I don't know. The holds of the ships are full of cheap TVs and cars, but late at night one drifts into romance.
  • Train sounds. A close second to the ships'. They couple and uncouple in the yards a couple of blocks away; they blow their whistles before crossing that industrial end of Andre Street; they hum in their diesel constancy.
  • Trucks. At the end of our street is an operation called Perishable Deliveries, Incorporated. Often at night we hear the trucks, a low rumble way down the block, slowly and ominously heading our way. I suppose that either these trucks are quite full of perishable deliverables, or that there is some sort of speed restriction on this residential street that causes them to drive so slowly, but the effect is sometimes actually frightening, like some enormous, dark thing is coming this way, bringing destruction and horror with it. Our cat certainly thinks this when the truck passes.
  • The Department of Public Works guys who show up on the block every couple of weeks to fix this or that. Usually one or two do the actual work, and the other three or four stand around and offer advice on how to do the work, how to live, how to love. One day it was an older guy cussing out a younger one for thinking he knew everything. "Stan' back, evrybody, cuz GOD's talkin! He knows ALL! GOD's gonna tell us the thing! Ha!" Etc..., for about a half an hour, while the younger guy fiddled with a handicapped parking sign outside our front window.
  • Domestic disputes ("F#ck you, you f#ckin drug dealer! I'm f#ckin callin the f#ckin cops, that's it. You f#ckin blew it! You tell that assh#le that the f#ckin both of you are goin' t' f#ckin jail!" Etc...); drug-induced breakdowns; kids arguing in the alley.
  • Dogs

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Round here--Part One of a Few: The Silo

My temptation is to turn every first thing into some sort of manifesto, but that is tedious, and sometimes I try not to be tedious, and I began posting things here in a vague way with vague ideas etc etc etc...but tonight I figure I would just begin with the neighborhood.
Baltimore is neighborhoods. I have lived in other cities, and some (Pittsburgh particularly) are neighborhoods in ways similar to Baltimore--unlike the city where I grew up, San Jose, which has maybe two, three neighborhoods people know the names of. Did you know that San Jose is the third-largest city in California?
Mm hmm.

Baltimore is neighborhoods, and the one we live in right now is Locust Point, formerly Whetstone Point.

Allegedly, heroin is a problem down here. One night over pints at J. Patrick's down on Andre a longtime local praised the neighborhood like this: "Yeah, you could leave your front door unlocked--I wouldn't--but you could if you wanted to. All our druggies have jobs, so they don't need to steal for money..."

The tallest structure here is this:
In 2001 it closed for good. Archer Daniels Midland owned and operated it, until the pier leading from it to the water collapsed. There was some argument over who should fix the pier, and ADM figured it was cheaper just to walk away. Now a developer (notice the crane jutting up from the middle of the silo complex) is turning it into a shopping mall and condos or some such thing. If you were to look out from our bedroom, you would see this:

The people who are trying to turn this former grain storage facility into living space hollowed out the silo complex in order to build a parking garage in the middle. There was half-joking talk in the neighborhood of a six foot deep tide of rats flooding the streets when the work began--but only half-joking, as you might imagine. A sort of vermin-gallows humor. No such thing happened, probably to the disappointment of some of the old-timers in the neighborhood. They would have appreciated the irony and the spectacle, if not the actual rats.
A statistic floating around a couple of years ago informed us that there were five rats for every man, woman, and child in Baltimore. Beth, of course, wondered, "What happens if you move? Do you get to keep your five rats? Or do you leave them for someone new moving to the city? Who watches your rats when you go on vacation?" Etc.

Surrounding this building is the development of several brand new blocks of townhouses, priced these days over 500 Grand. Most of them were sold, of course, before the graders had even smoothed out the industrial vacant lot dirt. I would guess that before each one is actually occupied by people, it will have been sold two or three times, and each seller will have made a killing.
Father Ray, priest at Our Lady of Good Counsel, talking about these new homes and their certain effect on the values of existing homes here, said once, "It's the end of Locust Point as we know it."

Even this neighborhood has neighborhoods. A couple of weeks after we moved in, we stopped a couple of doors down to exchange greetings with some neighbors. There were two older women, an older man, and a younger family--man, woman, toddler (I did not ask them about their 15 rats), all out on the stoop.
"Hi, hon. I'm Peachy."
"My name's Dolores, but nobody calls me that. Everybody calls me Dickie."
The older man remained quiet and nodded.
The young father introduced himself, his wife, and their child. I asked if he lived here. He answered, "No, we live over on Richardson. We're just visiting."
Richardson is the very next street over.
Many of the homes in Locust Point have never been sold.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Sequoia Sempervirens

For Photo Friday. Beth took this one.

Friday, August 05, 2005


Hickory Street, Baltimore

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Memorial to the Citizens of the District of Columbia who Served their Country in the World War

There is shade under it.