Sunday, August 14, 2011


I've been in a lower-working-class suburb of Baltimore for more than six months now. Here's the report: It's boring.

Some readers will score me for putting down the working class, but there are interesting proles and dull proles, and what ya got here are the dull ones. This place needs more foreign nationalities -- South Americans, Vietnamese, Pakistanis, Martians, whatever. We need their strange music and funky foodstuffs. This place has none of that. No Jews, either. I miss them.

Nobody has any eccentricities. Nobody has any ambitions. Nobody understands any clever remark. Nobody can comprehend why anyone would take an interest in ANYTHING other than sports, work, eating, procreation, cars and fixing up the house.

I expected to find a few outsiders. You know what I'm talking about: The young person who dresses funny and reads actual books and refuses to fit in with his prole peers and dreams about moving to New York where he can recite poetry in a semi-public garret at 3 a.m. to a bunch of black-clad poseurs smoking clove cigarettes. Well, those kids don't exist out here. All you get are the kids who make fun of the outsider kids, only they have no outsider kids to make fun of.

How did a blanderized burg like this ever spew forth folks as cool as Edgar Allen Poe and H.L. Mencken?

There are a few sinister individuals skulking around these narrow streets, but none of them seem novel or noteworthy. Yes, the beer-swilling shaven-head barechested tattooed merchant marine types do have a certain creep factor, but it's a dull creepiness. If only Smilin' Jack were still around...!

Nobody here joins cults or goes looking for UFOs or pretends to be vegan or collects animal skulls or worships "the Goddess" or builds houses out of beer cans. You can't even find geeks who collect Star Wars toys and design costumes for ComicCon. As much as you may look down on those jerks, you miss 'em when they're gone.

What people do here is smoke. Babies come out of the womb smoking. Cats and dogs smoke. Birds swoop down out of the trees to swipe cigs from the babies. This is all very different from L.A., where smoking has pretty much run its course. (Back in the 1990s, I used to say that anyone still smoking was either a prostitute or an actor. Now it's just the actors. Nearly all actors smoke, except for the guy who played the Cigarette Smoking Man on The X-Files.)

You can't buy liquor from gorcery stores here. If you want to buy a goddamned beer, you have to go to a small, shabby-looking liquor store designed to convey an ambience of criminality, where they make you feel like you're buying heroin or AK-47s or eight-year-old sex slaves, and where you'll receive baleful don't fuck with me because I'll mess you up glares from the barechested tattooed deckhand described earlier.

A local law stipulates that every uttered sentence must contain the word fuck. The gerund "fucking" is simply a signal that a noun is about to arrive: Hey, gimme the fucking wrench so I can fix the fucking car. Like, fuck. It's all fucked, and I don't fucking know the fuck why. No, Jimmy, you don't get no fucking ice cream because you were fucking obnoxious in fucking church and you totally fucking ruined it for fucking everyone who fucking wanted to fucking listen to the fucking sermon. So fucking fuck you you fucking fuck.

I have it on good authority that the original title of Poe's most famous story was the "The Black Fucking Cat." However, I've seen the original MS of "The Star-Spangled Banner," and I can report that there is not a single fuck in it. Then again, Francis Scott Fucking Key was from fucking Annapolis.

Yesterday, I got out of these environs. My ladyfriend had earned a little extra, so she invited me on a date.

We "crossed the bridge" and visited the attractive suburb of Glenn Burnie. Apparently, in this town the term "crossing the bridge" -- i.e., the amazing Francis Scott Fucking Key Bridge -- connotes a class divide, just as people in the San Fernando Valley speak of life north and south of "the Boulevard."

Glenn Burnie reminds me of what the Valley was like before overcrowding ruined everything. Call me a snob, but I like it in GB. The people are still kind of dull, but they tend to be more physically attractive, and they appreciate wordplay. I found a thrift store with an amazingly good selection of books with a top price of $2.49. Good titles, too -- not just J.K. Rowling, Glenn Beck and Jesus Wants Your Brain by the Reverend Marvin Mindkiller.

Wonder of wonders, we stumbled across a top-notch family-run Mexican restaurant. People who leave the southwest expect never to eat good Mexican grub again. Well, Mi Pueblo on the Richie Highway has the best quesadillas I ever laid tongue on. For under ten bucks, I got a superb plate of authentic chicken Mole Poblano, and the portion was generous enough to see me through a second meal. Ask for the spicy tomatillo sauce that they normally don't hand out to gringos. The hand-painted bathroom sinks alone justify a trip from Tennesee, or at least West Virginia. (And no, I did not get a free marguerita for this endorsement.)

In L.A., the best, most authentic Mexican grub is found in cheap places with lots of flourescent lights and a jukebox that blares at rock concert volumes at all times. The jukebox, alas, is part of the culture. I visited a lot of these places when I dated a deaf girl, but my other ladyfriends have preferred the dark, candle-lit family-run joints where the proprietor usually offers some interesting fare alongside the usual combo plate stuff.

I don't eat out much these days, what with the poverty and all. But for a few blessed hours, I felt like I was back home in L.A.


Then we stopped by a Starbucks. There wasn't a single person writing a screenplay on a laptop.

Not home.
I've eaten at several outstanding Mexican restaurants in the South-- at least as good as anything I had in the Southwest. (Never been all the way to the West Coast so I'm ignorant of their chow.)
1) This post reminded me of Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting with Jesus.

2) (Proper) Mexican food does provide momentary solace against all that is evil and ugly in this world.

3) You may think about sending Bill Clinton a note of appreciation for having shoved NAFTA down the throats of the Mexicans in the '90s. Without it the family that runs the place you visited would probably be still attached to its patch of land down south and would never have to face competition from Wall-Mart and mechanized agriculture.
This is so very funny. Please keep writing funny. Laughs are hard to come by these days. I am in a small town in the Ozarks and if you saw Winter's Bone then you know exactly what it's like around here. As a matter of fact the film was shot in the next two counties. You can probably meet the extras in the film by going to yard sales out in the country. I'm from Philly and do I ever miss it sometimes. But I could not be where I am in my head if I were still there. Dagnabbit.
Wait a minute....wasn't there a parade you were raving about recently? And where did John Waters get all those quirky characters from?
John Waters severely misinformed me about Baltimore.
Never heard that disgrace of a Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, drop the F word in public either.

You forgot to mention hearing the crunch of broken liquor bottles underfoot as you walk some of the neighborhoods.
You might want to consider moving to a college/university neighborhood. Surely there's a college or two in a safer neighborhood than Johns Hopkins.

Carolyn Kay
That's why I can't leave here. Despite the smog, the high prices, the lack of much of anybody who speaks understandable English, it's *home.* Let's go down to the Sunset Grill...

And not being able to buy beer at Vons along with my salsa and chips would pretty much break my heart.
Plenty of Mexicans in the northeast, so there are a lot (though not nearly as many as Cali) of good Mexican joints on the east coast. At least in my experience, having lived in Cali with natives (LA area) for a couple years and then moving back to my home here in the northeast. You can't always find them in the out of the way places, but any city of a decent size will have at least on good Mexican place, probably more than one.
Your post saddens me--maybe what you say is true of Baltimore these days, or maybe it's just true of your small corner of Glenn Bernie. Hell, the recession has sunk the spirit of a lot of places. But it's not true of the Baltimore I grew up in or have visited over the many decades since I left there. I've seen Fells Point and other neighborhoods sacrifice a good deal of their charm to yuppie speculators and tourists, but I didn't think the collapse was complete. I'm considerably overdue for a visit to my brother--formerly of Fells Point and now residing in what I still think of as the charming working-class neighborhood of Essex. But I could still swear that Baltimore has characters and character aplenty. In fact, at one time I got to hang out with several of John Waters' original stars (although, alas, I never met Divine) and I tell you, they made it easy for Waters to become the film-maker that he became.

I'm going to have to get to bottom of this and report back to you.
Nobody here joins cults or goes looking for UFOs or pretends to be vegan or collects animal skulls or worships "the Goddess"

Can't help with the animal skulls, but I did find a cult:
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