Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Not the Change in Tone Jay Was Looking For

Oops. I posted that last entry before reading Jay’s Declaration of a Change in Tone. Sorry. I’m halfway into a bottle of wine, I just had a cup of coffee, and my Internet connection is frustratingly spotty. Not to mention I’ve been very far from America—in more ways than one—for the last few days and I’m still feeling around in the dark for my rocker.

And being this far away from America, at Disappearingink’s International Undisclosed Location, means it’s more difficult to change America for the better when I see what’s wrong. I planned this move a while before the election, and to tell you the truth, after the election I wanted to stay and fight. But I didn’t. I left. Now when I see Bush say these things, more smoke shoots out of my ears than usual. I don’t think I’m alone.

So I’d like to pile on the Baltimore love fest. I love, love, heart Baltimore. Hate it sometimes, too, but that’s because I grew up around there. You have to get away from Baltimore, I think, or be from somewhere else to fully appreciate it.

It’s small. After a couple years, it’s the same people, the same culture, the same bars, the same museums, the same drama. It’s not a city, like New York, where you can be relatively anonymous, discovering some new scene or place every day. Wait, that’s not true. You just have to work a little harder to find it, that’s all.

We’re all on top of one another. Rich and poor, black and white, sophisticated and stunted, cosmopolitan and provincial, conservative and liberal. Not like DC, where everyone in NW agrees with each other and says—in complete ignorance of the rich culture in the other quadrants—“it’s so trannnnnnsient.” Nope. We’re right on top of one another.

And the result? People say awful things about one another. There’s conspicuous racist conversation. But you know what? As much shit as they talk, white and black working class people in Baltimore actually get to know one another. They’re friends. They’ll say ugly things about race behind each others’ backs, but they’ll always step up for their friends no matter the color (insert Obligatory Official RUFNKM "Only a Pawn in Their Game" Nod to Class Trumping Race here). Of course, this is the lesser of two evils, but it’s less evil than in other places.

And you can walk into any bar and talk to anyone. Those of us who decide to stick around Baltimore are weird, we know it, and there’s nothing we can do about it. A city of eccentric strangers, talking. No pretension. We see through each others’ bullshit, and if you don’t understand Baltimore, we certainly see through your bullshit.

We crank up the weird factor pretty high. High Zero. AVAM. Just look at our exports: John Waters, Frank Zappa, David Byrne, Oprah Winfrey. Many more I’m forgetting, plus the fact that there are tons of great, more-creative-than-weird artists, musicians, playwrights, dancers, etc. in the city right now. And they do it because they love it, and they don’t need a lot of money, honey.

And we have a history of talented iconoclastic artists and philanthropists. Cone, Holiday, Mencken, Tupac, Hopkins, Barth, Key, Marshall, Pratt, Peabody, Fitzgerald, Ponselle, Glasses Philip and Ira, Drs. Carson and Carter.

We don’t climb, but we know what matters. There’s no pretension. Baltimore has more working class renaissance men (and women), more barfly savants than any town you’ll find.

And although Baltimore has many problems, we have a history of fighting for solutions: Philip Berrigan, Catonsville Nine, Bea Gaddy, and tons of young people like Gin Ferrara, Rebecca Yenawine, and David Miller who are using the arts to give the children of Baltimore the equal opportunity they should have had in the first place.

The reason I like Baltimore—and I’m presuming this is why Jay likes it, too—is the same reason anyone could like any city. You have to do something, get involved, if you are going to get anything out of living here. You can’t just show up and be entertained. It’s a weird little place, and it draws a certain kind of person. So no matter what we look like or what we do, we all have something in common, and I think we get along pretty well.


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