Thursday, November 20, 2008

The City That Spits

The City of Firsts--true, but historical.
The City that Reads--hopeful, but not necessarily connected to reality; opens us up to "irony."
The City the Breeds--stop.
The Greatest City in America--well, um, I
like it here, but...(see also: The City that Reads)

I propose a slogan for our Baltimore that is current, true, without the invitation to ridicule. Every day that I leave my house, I see at least one person spit. I have been known to spit, true, but I confine my spitting to those times when I am in my own yard and have gotten some nasty thing or other in my mouth. Spitting in public strikes me as an ancient habit, from the days when it was ok to throw soda cans and potato chips bags out the window of the Buick while driving down the avenue--from the days before that public service advertisement with the Native American on his horse, looking down into the river of trash, a tear in his eye. Certainly people spit in public in other cities, but I live in this one, and every day, I see at least one person spit. To wit:

  • 12/01/08 8:41 am Saratoga Street at Howard, African American man, 30s, in an ollllllld white Honda. Another open-the-door-at-a-red-light-and-drop-one. The young woman beside him seemed to be unconcerned.
  • 12/01/08 8:43 am Saratoga Street at Park Avenue, same as above.
  • The intervening days I spent, mostly, in Lima, Ohio, where, during my entire stay I saw exactly one person publicly expectorate.
  • 11/21/08 2:43 pm Howard Street between Fayette and Baltimore. Some will argue that this does not count, and that today, so soon, is the long-awaited Day Without Spit, but: while I did not actually see it happen, I very nearly stepped in it, a vast, very fresh pool of it on the bricks. In lieu of a witnessed spitting today, I will give you a greatest hit from about a year ago. My wife, driving home, saw a woman on Howard Street near the light rail stop at Saratoga. At this stop there is a signpost, attached to which is a little cannister ashtray. The woman in question, holding a cigarette, took a big swig of mouthwash, and, from a distance of about four feet, expelled it, in a wide spray, in the direction of, but not necessarily into, the ashtray. Some mouthwash, made it in, I guess, but only incidentally.
  • 11/20/08 Thursday: 12:06 pm Eutaw Street at Lexington Street, in the crosswalk in front of Lexington Market: 50s African American man, leaning forward on one foot, looking down, into the pavement.
    • 11/20/08 Thursday: 8:54 am Howard and Fayette Streets, outside the McDonald's: 40s African American man. Big one, out into the street, with a splat audible over the sound of an approaching light rail train.
  • 11/19/08 Wednesday: 9:13 am Howard and Saratoga Streets: late 20s white guy with his head shaved, professional appearance. Let fly in a long arc into the rising sun.
  • 11/18/08 Tuesday: 3:52 pm Saratoga and Charles Streets: white woman in her 50s(?), slight, white-haired, rather eccentric/hip-looking in patched stockings and a floppy hat. Face twisiting, downward looking hock onto the sidewalk.
  • 11/17/08 Monday: 9:23 am 33rd Street, near City College High School: African American man, 20s(?), driving a Buick (yes). Open door at stoplight, drop one onto the street. This seems to be the preferred method of spitting in Baltimore. It is also, incidentally, a favorite way to empty the car ashtray.
I will keep this running tab, updating it, and noting--should it ever come--the day I leave the house and do not see a single person spit.


Fell's Point (a lost-and found from two years ago...)

Long ago here, in this space, I began writing about the neighborhood we lived in at the time. As with most things I begin, that subject--Locust Point--remains un-fully-examined. I am not going to write today about Locust Point. Today's Point is Fell's. From it one can see Locust, across the Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River. We visited it today, and stopped here:End of the Bond Street Wharf

For a little bit we sat here, watching the tug "Jupiter" from Philadelphia (built 1902) pull up, discharge two passengers, then pull away into the river. The harbor was awash in tugs today, and from all corners their whistles thick, ancient, wooly sounded. As we walked back up the wharf, the loud, clear whistle of the Domino Sugars factory began singing. A ship was unloading there, but it seemed that the whistle was a bit of play. It ruled the harbor, a blue jay on the highest branch.

Fell's Point is something like a Baltimore Georgetown. Which is to say it is nothing like Georgetown. Tourists go there, yes, and it has bars and a Ten Thousand Villages store, and some sketchy guys in the park, and yes, some of the bars cater to the backwards-hat-wearing fraternity Midlantic Man set (ask me about that demographic sometime), but it is still a pleasant place to spend a few hours, night or day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"I Love Baltimore!"

This story comes from the late Greg Riley. Hadn't seen him in years, then one night, we're in the Wharf Rat a bunch of us (the one on Ann Street, the old one, the one that serves beer in glasses), and Greg Riley comes up. We never spoke much at school, except on the soccer field. The Greenwaves then were like the Azzurri--a soap opera of talent and crisis. Some people liked Mr. Riley, some did not. I didn't know him well enough to judge.
At the bar that night, though, we traded Baltimore stories. He lived on the East Side, down around Canton or Highlandtown or Greektown someplace, in a building that once was a warehouse. Lotta those around here. He lived on the first floor, and had a little porch, or deck in the back. One day he and his girlfriend were going to grill some chicken. He got the grill set up on the deck, got it lit, and went inside to get the food ready to cook. He came out a few minutes later, and the grill was gone. He looked and looked for it, but no luck. Gone.
The next day, he told a neighbor about this. The neighbor laughed. He had seen a guy, pushing a flaming grill down the street, stopping every couple of seconds to wave and blow on his hands, saying "Ow! Ow! Ow!"

Now, this is an implausible story, I grant you. And, we were in a bar, both of us with a beer in hand. However--and I suspect that Baltimore is not the only city in America where this is true--living here makes this implausible story quite believable, particularly the part where someone sees a man pushing a flaming grill down the street and treats it as just one event in a normal day. As Mr Riley himself ended the story: "I love Baltimore!...Every day I see something completely ridiculous!"

Later that night, he said goodbye, got down on his hands and knees to pull a book out from under the jukebox (Anna Karenina? Tristram Shandy?), and left. Never saw him again.


South Baltimore Haircut

I went to Joe yesterday (702 E. Fort Avenue, Regular Haircuts Only-No Appointments, 410-837-0469), because it has been too long since my last haircut: Beth has been threatening to cut off my "rat tail" for a couple of weeks, and because Joe charges 8 bucks. Sometimes (like yesterday), he cuts the front a little uneven, but so what. I think he does it because he thinks I am going to use Brylcreem to hold my part in place.
Every time I go, no matter where our talk begins, he ends up telling this story (if you know the white Baltimore accent, hear it strong in the words):

Lemme tell you somethin about how things is different now. I moved outta the neighborhood four years ago, so this was, what, five years ago? when we had a big snow, 20 inches. There were these young people, couple-a guys, on my street, they nehhhvvverrrr shoveled the walks. My daughter's lookin out the window and she yells to me "Hey, get the movie camera! Yer not gonna bleeve this!" And those kids, come out the house with snow shovels! Did they shovel the sidewalks? No. And this was a Monday...We watched them walk--then we followed them, cause we, y'know, wondered, all the way down to Mother's [a bar on Charles Street--p], where they shoveled the sidewalk in front of Mother's, so they could be sure and watch Monday Night Football in the bar! Can you bleeve it? It jus goes to show how things have changed.

Every time, my haircut comes with this story. Now knowing it, and having read, seen, heard enough things like this, you know a lot about what is going on in South Baltimore.