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Change of venue
Glam, Charm, and the Whole Damn Thing
Sorry to have cut out on you so abruptly last week. The short reason is, we moved house. Plus we did so on a hurry-up basis, as the wife had arranged a visit from her globetrotting father, but with only short advance notice and about three weeks before our expected move-in date. The Aged P’s arrival will also be the occasion for a massive influx of in-laws who could not be accommodated at our old, small house but can be, after a fashion, in our new, bigger one. I say “after a fashion” because repairs and renovations have been going on at this new house for months, and are not yet finished.
The resulting chaos necessitated a few days off the clock. In truth I could use several more. I am typing this amid piles of boxes and furniture that cannot be moved into their intended places because those places are occupied by, for example, a washing machine, a gigantic sander, and what I understand is known in the building trades as debris, while heavy machinery roars on the floor above. I am at intervals assured by the contractor that deadlines will be met, and then they float past like life preservers from a wrecked ship.
I should be grateful that as much has gone as well as it has; nothing we moved has broken as far as I can tell, and at least the guests will have rooms in which to flop, and working showers and toilets.
The cat, however, is enraged by the noise and disorder, and made her displeasure known very early yesterday morning by first making a racket so that I would be awake for it, and then shitting on my laundry bag.
The move promises some adventure on two counts. First, we bought rather than rented this place, which makes me a homeowner, something I never ever wanted and frankly don’t want now, though at the moment I am too numbed by the sweep of events to fully feel the shame and terror.
Second, we moved out of DC, to Baltimore.
This was the wife’s idea. It was not one to which I was warm and I can’t say even now that I am completely bought in (except financially, ah ha ha ha ha ha). There are parts of the city impoverished, broken-down and crime-ridden to an extent that I haven’t seen first-hand since my East Village youth, and if one is tempted to laugh off the city’s (and state’s) corruption, a look at these effects of it will sober you up fast. It ain’t all Mencken and crab cakes.
But! From what little I have seen I can say this: One of the things that bitterly disappointed me about DC — which longtime readers will know I very gamely gave the benefit of every doubt, and aspects of which I came to admire — was its lack of glamor. I know that seems trivial, but let you tell me what I mean by it.
I lived a long time in New York, which is super glamorous. Media attention is part of what makes it so — a cynosure is by its nature glamorous. But it strikes me that what really makes any person, place, or thing glam-worthy is a combination of money and style. Both, not one or the other. You don’t have to have the money yourself to enjoy its transitive quality; even my down-at-heels punk-rock life was klieg-lit and glamorous. But all the money in the world wouldn’t do it if the subject lacks style, though some chancers like Trump create simulacra of style that can fool some people.
DC in my experience is long on money but very, very short on style. The people can’t dress for shit and it’s hard to think of any new thing built there that rewards contemplation even on the surface terms of glamor. I mean it’s nice that they have all those restaurants and shops down by the Navy Yard now, but all they really say is, “Here is money.” Same with the giant condo towers that keep poking up all over the city, from which one never sees tenants emerge, let alone congregate on the streets like, well, the social creatures known as human beings normally would. Like I always say, it’s one square mile of Federal Plaza surrounded by nine square miles of Queens. (Except Queens is glam now, I understand. What a world!)
Baltimore is poor. Well, there’s money here, obviously, but as I mentioned it ain’t getting spread around. But it is stylish, and at ground level. First there’s the old vestiges, like the beautiful old brick and stone and wood buildings and civic improvements (like the parklike divider in the middle of Eutaw Place graced by fountains and this ridiculous planter) that no one bothered to destroy because there was no money in it. But also there are effulgences of self-expression. I mean, this place is all over murals, and I gotta say they beat the snot out of the New York and DC equivalent – even the happy-clappy Civic Pride stuff like The Love Project.
And the people! Went to a Giant up in Waverly the other day (BTW this city has food deserts for real; our local Sav-a-Lot is like a parody of a ghetto grocer, even the Dawn dishwashing liquid is locked up behind lucite) and every third or fourth patron was visually remarkable — like the young girl in multi-pastel-colored muslin and matching makeup, the portly lady sitting out front in a smart black-layered ensemble and sequin-covered cap, and the skinny person in tight cords and filthy striped shirt wearing their bandana-mask in full-on train robber mode down to their clavicle. Even the MICA kids, from whom one has every right to expect insufferability, put enough individual spin on their hipster affect to render it charming.
Charm City is in fact one of Baltimore’s sobriquets, which is hilarious when you’re looking at the crime maps (goody, I see bike theft is popular in my neighborhood!) but understandable when you meet a few of your neighbors. (When Ciroc went briefly missing I asked one such if he’d seen her, which initialized a little speech that began, “We used to have a great many cats all over the place here” and ended with the guess that perhaps she had found a companion and would be uninterested in returning.) It's not glamorous. No cameras are transmitting these personal innovations to the nation at large. There is style but no money. But if you have to choose between one or the other, I’d say that’s the pick. I am extremely cautious about even mentioning the old Baltimore cultural touchstones, but I really am reminded of what John Waters made out of trash and attitude. Dawn Davenport thought it all very glamorous. Who knows, maybe she was right.