The New Ideal

Hampden’s Avenue has multiple personalities. Some reflect its past, others its present and future. If you’re awake soon after the methadone clinic lets out round one, you’re likely to walk through a tunnel of cigarette smoke, guttural yelling, and involuntary movement. Wool hats and jackets are year-round attire. The choice venue through the early morning light is outside of Royal Farms’ headquarters. Classical music tumbles out of the speakers, onto the ears of the daily sidewalk ornaments and seems to faze no one.

TheIdealBus

By the time the sun fully crests the hill on Chestnut Avenue, a new crew floods the pavement. They’re young and they’re hungry and they’re not here for the methadone. No, but vices still call out to them. They traipse in and out of shops and, in their swirl they snag drinks stirred with almond milk and paper bags with handles. The dawn crew still malingers but they’re watered down by wool sweaters and shoes that make clopping sounds and a palette of washed denim. They use the valets and shopping baskets in boutique stores and they stop to sniff things, soy candles and book spines and incense cones.

A few flicks of a cigarette butt away is The Ideal Arts Space, for now a dance hall that hosts classes such as swing dance and salsa and a church on Sundays. And like many things in Hampden in the past couple of decades, The Ideal is soon to be a phoenix rising. 

At the turn of the 20th century, life in Hampden centered on cotton mills. Cotton was trucked up from the south and then processed into fabric or cloth at Mt. Washington Mill, Meadow Mill, Mill No. 1, and so forth. Before the Great depression, Hampden was economically booming. And the motto we now see stretched across stock photos of ethnically diverse people advertising giant apartment buildings, was true back then: “Live, Work, Play.”

TheIdealOld

IdealProgram

TheIdeal1938

IA700_IdealTheatre_Baltimore_1980sSalvationArmy

IB600_IdealTheatre_BaltimoreInterim

IA601_Baltimore_IdealTheatreWoodruffs

IdealCurrent

In 1916 The Ideal was one of 129 theaters on Baltimore’s main streets. Its next door neighbor for decades was another theater called The Hampden.

The Ideal Theatre and The Hampden were the two premier movie houses in the neighborhood. They catered to the success of Hampden through the first half of the century. But, when multiplex movie theaters began wooing crowds with options, The Ideal and The Hampden went the way of the once active mills. 

If the revitalization of the mills is any indication, one might not be surprised to find that The Ideal will soon have a new use, a new crowd, while keeping its old school charm. Hampden’s mills now house restaurants, shops, galleries, athletics, nonprofits, offices, and apartments, all of which nod to the past with exposed concrete, massive factory-like windows, and the occasional old rusted appliance on a ledge somewhere.

The Ideal, which closed in the ’60s, cycled through as a Salvation Army, other retail ventures, an antique shop, and the dance hall we know today.

Plans to add to the story of The Ideal are now in the works as self-described serial-entrepreneur, David Rosenberg, is teaming up with the Five and Dime Ale House to create a multi-use entertainment venue. For the current residents of 21211, the new idea concocts mostly visions of giant SUVs circling and then plopping themselves in front of old marble stoops, stoops the drivers do not ascend everyday. But if you’ve met Rosenberg, for even a handful of minutes, you’d know he has already thought of that. 

Rosenberg, a native Baltimorean and graduate of the University of Maryland, has certainly dabbled. He started in the clothing business, jumped to chocolate and candy stores, did a stint with Mr. Coffee, and most recently has worked for New York Life. He consults, he strategizes, he conceptualizes. Rosenberg’s favorite word is “immersive.” He sought to create an immersive shopping experience at his clothing stores, then an immersive visit to his candy stores, and finally the same full-service comfort at New York Life. Now, he has his sights set on one of his hometown’s main streets, The Avenue in Hampden with a vision for The Ideal that eschews the lingering retail slab wall that lines the interior to this day. A vision that harkens back to a marquee that once read, “Talking pictures at their very best.” A vision that puts “Play,” back into “Live. Work.”

Rosenberg presents his concept with the confidence that this will work, and he makes you believe so too. “This marries two things, my passion for music and my passion for creating an immersive experience.” It’s a combination of two things he loves. Rosenberg has played with a few bands himself, and currently plays once a month at the Cat’s Eye Pub in Fells Point. Rosenberg describes his vision as a performing arts venue with mostly music, some comedy, and he welcomes Baltimore institutions such as Stoop Storytelling. 

The team working on The Ideal, which Rosenberg hopes to open by July 1, includes acousticians, architects skilled at bringing out historic features, and consultants who will ensure that the sounds of the street stay outside and the music remains in. Though passersby won’t be able to hear the shows, they will be able to peer through several panes of glass and see the show and in Rosenberg’s mind, want in.

Why this? Why now? “There’s no place for live music. The only good listening room is Creative Alliance. This will have more capacity, food and beverage, and a lot of bands.” Rosenberg already has food and beverage figured out through the next door Five and Dime Alehouse. He has been toying with flex seating area on the stage level and permanent seating on the street level.  “There will be walk-ins because it’s Hampden. I think this is really gonna be a crown jewel for Baltimore,” says Rosenberg. “I love Baltimore,” he says. “Baltimore is one of the best kept secrets on the East Coast.” 

Rosenberg rattles off Baltimore’s tiny size, the harbor, the diversity, the authenticity, the warmth. What’s it missing? Performing arts space. “All these bands and talent are jumping over Baltimore with no place to play.” Rosenberg wants to fill that void. 

Rosenberg has worked out a deal with Johns Hopkins Keswick to use its garage at 37th and Chestnut Streets. A shuttle will pick guests up from the garage and cart them to the venue. All part of the immersive experience.

To sweeten the deal for the parking-anxious, residents of 21211 will be able to purchase discounted tickets to shows at Rosenberg’s Ideal.

And with Hampden’s xenophobic past, one in which outsiders were traditionally unwelcome, it could be a challenge for The Ideal, despite its century on The Avenue, to find a comfy home in its latest Renaissance. But another one of Hampden’s traditions is rebirth. So why not The Ideal, all over again, over 100 years after its start.

Two Weddings and a Funeral (not in that order)

First, did you purchase your ticket for the Peace and Presence Yoga Flow yet? Karen and Lauren did!

 

Have you ever seen Death at a Funeral? If not, go find it, rent it, watch it. It is the single funniest movie I have ever seen. I was thinking about a line from it recently and thought about some of the pieces I’ve written for important occasions. I love writing pieces for people I love. I give you: a speech, a eulogy, and a “reading.”

 

Aubrey

10.22.16

Aubrey

Thank you all for being here, for traveling far, for your love, and for the unbelievable celebrating that is about to happen. Thank you Mom and Dad for giving me THE world’s most amazing sister. Thank you, Edie and Nick, for giving me a brother, that is not a dog for once…well…Lochdawg? Oh well. Thank you all for hosting this incredible party to celebrate these gorgeous people. I also want to shout out Mary Lou, our beautiful, unstoppable grandmother who inspires us every day.

I think I will flip the script a little and start with Lochdawg or Chris. You all know how I met Aubrey so that story is less interesting.

Back when I first started dating Chas, he was on one of those drinking teams, you know the kind  that occasionally plays softball? I assumed he’d grow out of it so I put up with the ridiculous Sunday Fun Days. Little did I know, 8 years later that drinking team that occasionally plays softball would still be a cohesive unit.

Anyway, Chas was the pitcher and I’d go and watch some days but sometimes someone else stepped in and pitched instead of Chas. Other than he was the other pitcher, I knew four things about him: his name was Lochdawg (weird), he drove a very blue car and had very blue eyes, and that he was Canadian. Sometimes, as I understood it, he would be in Canada (his home) so Chas would pitch both games of the double-header.

Fast forward two years, we planned to go celebrate the final Memorial Day at the Eby Family Beach House by hosting 25 of our friends for the weekend. Apparently, this blue eyed blue car-ed Lochdawg overheard Chas talking about it and said, “Oh that sounds fun. That sounds like something I’d like to do” so along he came. I like to say that Chas and I both fell in friend-love with Lochdawg that weekend. Chas, for Lochdawg’s strong stomach, I’m guessing. And me, for his kindness, sense of humor, and great taste in music. From there we all hung out constantly.

About a year later when Aubrey had moved home from college, I went to a work event with her. In the car on the way, I invited her to hang out with my friends and me afterward and passingly mentioned that the only friend of Chas she was allowed to date was Chris. Aubrey agreed to come along to meet up with my friends. The very second we walked into Cat’s Eye Pub, it was like SHWOOMPPP. They did not stop talking all night.

Now, the funny thing about accidentally setting up your sister with your good friend is that they BOTH give you the play by play. So I’d talk to Lochdawg, “Oh you’re going to Annabel Lee? That sounds great, she will love that” and then I’d talk to Aubrey 10 minutes later, “Oh he’s taking you to Annabel Lee? That’s adorable!” Anyway, you’re all welcome. We wouldn’t be here but for my careful coaching of both parties.

But I actually might not be right about that because a couple years ago Lochdawg wrote me a beautiful birthday note (he writes very heartfelt notes), he thanked me for setting him up with his soulmate but added that he liked to think that since they are sincerely, definitely meant to be together that he likes to think they would have met anyway. And as I look at them today and have watched them grow together over the past 5 years, I think deep down I know that his truth is the right one. They are here together, married, because they are meant to be. I don’t think a strong enough word exists to explain how happy I am to see my sister marrying her best friend, one of my best friends.

Aubs, you are absolutely stunning, not that I am not used to that. She passed me in height when I was 11 and has basically looked like a model ever since. Aubrey and I are only 18 months apart and with that comes an understanding of the world that only she and I share. We were, after all, raised by Nancy and Dick.

We have grown up completely symbiotically. We are like those trees that has roots that wrap around one another and grow up all twirled. And with Aubrey, that’s easy. She just loves. She always talks about how Joe, her dog, “loves to love,” but Aubrey that’s because YOU love to love.

There’s a character in the book The Secret Lives of Bees named May Boatwright who feels the feelings of all people around her. She takes on the emotions of everyone she sees. I remember reading that book like a million years ago and thinking: Wow that’s Aubrey. She is the most empathetic person that only a fictional character can match it. I know she’s exploding with emotions right now, a room of 200, wow I can’t imagine. But that’s my sister. And I think in this world, it’s empathy like Aubrey’s that we can really all use more of.

Chris, I know you’ll take care of our girl and she will certainly take care of you. And now that I have been married for four months and am an authority on marriage, the simple advice I want to give is communicate, listen, and apologize.

Aubs, I can’t believe the stars aligned this well to be able to give me a sister like you but I know every single day how lucky I am to have you, to be your co-tree, to be your sounding board, and to have you be my own. You are such an incredibly caring, driven, and brilliant woman.

You put up with me selling you candles out of my bedroom and making you pay me $20 so that I wouldn’t complain to Mom that you were allowed to shave your legs a year earlier than I was. You supported me through so much anxiety, through school and working in a school, and anything that I need to say out loud. Guys, I can’t believe two of my best friends are joining eternally today. My heart is through the ceiling. I love you. I am proud of you. Congratulations.

 

Elf Catz

2.3.18

IMG_9922

Amanda Eby 4 year old iPhone Photography (selfie) (c)

The first word that comes to mind when I think of Grandma Freida is “sugar.” Maybe more than anyone I have ever met, she was made of it. The only person I ever heard her say anything bad about doesn’t deserve to have his name uttered here. She was so sweet that you couldn’t help but just stop and marvel at her. Like, “Where did you come from?” And the answer to that is, a lot of places. As a military kid and wife, she moved around a lot.

She’d spout off states and towns that sounded like they were out of 1950s musicals–and most likely, they also were. She always maintained that her favorite place she ever lived was Blueberry Hill, Tennessee. She’d stare off into the distance and describe it like she was writing a poem out loud. And that’s how she was. In that tiny body, she held onto all the places she loved but also all of the people she loved. She’d tell me about her mother and her father and her sister and her best friend Beryl, her pet cat, and certainly about Stan.

She’d tell me about people in the very next room too: Cindy, Skip, Chris, Chas, Robin and John Christian, Carole and Martin, Luci and Sarah and Rob and Kattie and RJ, about Gabby, about Aubrey, about my own parents. She’d tell me about her new friends from church and Anne from next door and Sierra her card-playing friend, and she’d go on about someone whether dead or living to the point that she’d get tears in her eyes telling you how wonderful and special that person was to her. She’d even tell me about myself. And all that time I’d be looking at her like, Wow. You are made of love…or sugar, or both. And you must come from a place with a fruit in the name like Blueberry Hill.

Speaking of places, back in December Chas, Cindy, Freida and I went to go see The Lion King at the Hippodrome. It was a special treat, a night out, Chas and his girls. I drove us down and had Freida riding shotgun. She was on a medicine that made her a little loopy and as I hugged corners and searched for a parking spot, she sat next to me laughing. At one point she blurts out, “Of all the places in the whole world you could live, why would you ever choose to live in Baltimore!?” And as a Baltimore-lover, she is the only person I will allow to say that and get away with it. Yet in all her years of living here, I had never heard her say anything even remotely negative about it. Again, another reminder of what a sweetheart she was. But, I actually think she really liked it here.

Back in September I stayed with Freida for a night. My Gram was in hospice at the time. Freida insisted she’d go with me to visit her. The second she walked in, my Gram, who was having trouble speaking at the time but was still mentally there, said, “Freida!” and it was like she’d gotten out of that bed, and given Freida a bearhug. She was so excited. She shuffled over to my Gram, embraced her, and started telling my Gram all about her granddaughter. It was among the most beautiful and the most difficult things to witness. And looking at them, I thought my heart might explode–luckily it didn’t.

I’d like to end with a detail about Freida that always amazed me. She had two dolls she kept. And, they slept in her bed. One must have been the prototype of Snoopy–literally–like it had to be the first Snoopy ever created. The other was a girl doll with a face drawn on. Cindy can tell you their stories. I’ve heard them but forgotten. I do know the girl doll was from Freida’s great grandmother, someone I heard a lot about over the years. And again, she lived like hundreds of years ago but Freida would describe her as if she’d just gotten back from a visit with her. Anyway these dolls may have been terrifying to someone who didn’t know their story. But to Freida they were family. I used to like to go up to her room when we’d go over to Oakdale for dinner and say hi to her before she mosied down. I will never forget the first time I watched her tuck the dolls in under their doll-sized blanket. And the last time I visited her at Oakdale I pointed to the dolls and said, “Grandma, do you want me to get the dolls under their blanket?” And her response was, “Well, it’s a little warm in here, don’t you think?”

So goodbye for now to our Grandma Freida, to Cindy’s mother, to Chas and Chris’s grandma, and to everyone’s friend. But I know that with tears in our eyes, we will continue to talk about her in vivid detail, like she’s just in the next room.

 

Tim and Maddy

10.29.17

MaddyTim

Sierra Smith Photography

Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy…

 

JUST KIDDING.

 

I don’t remember meeting Tim, which I think, is telling–not of him but, of “fun,”

When I first met Maddy she wore a dinosaur Halloween costume made of a hoodie and some felt.

When I first saw them together I thought, “Wow, those are two pairs of really light eyes.”

When I first heard them together, I couldn’t stop laughing.

To combine the wittiness of these two is almost unfair. How are the rest of us supposed to even seem clever?

Tim told me that when they first met, he thought,

“This is someone I can trust,

whom I’ll love,

with whom I’d like to embark on a journey.”

That’s what continues today: a journey.

Of belly laughs and end of a long day back rubs and Barry Glazer’s pink nose and three matching La-Z-Boys…oh wait, those are already a thing.

A journey of teamwork and pillow talk and loading the dishwasher the right way and jokingly bickering over whose turn it is to turn off the overhead light. (It’s definitely Tim’s.)

A journey of shared accounts and Home Depot trips and planning the next vacation.

 

Maddy told me that when she looks across the room at Tim, she thinks, “Look at how wonderful he is.

How could I possibly have gotten so lucky?

This is my forever.

There is no one better in this world for me.”

You’re right, Maddy, about some things, but this isn’t luck. Tim is a sign of your merit as a sister, daughter, friend, and now a wife.

And Tim, Maddy is a reflection of your kind heart, intelligence, humor, and general goodness.

You two are stellar humans as two and unstoppably fantastic as one unit.

I will end with my rewritten version that claims to be an Apache blessing but may also derive from a 1947 novel called Blood Brother. Either way, I don’t have permission to rewrite it so don’t tell on me.

 

Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter to the other.

If you do feel rain, you will together enjoy the sound of its patter on an old Baltimore awning and the way the Natty Boh sign lights up against a gray blue sky.

Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.

Like a bonfire in the Loughlins’ front yard on a November night.

 

Now there is no loneliness.

 

You are two bodies but there is one life before you, and one home.

On O’Donnell St.

 

When evening falls you will look up and there she will be.

He will take your hand and she will take yours and you’ll turn together to look

at the road you traveled to reach this – the hour of your happiness.

It stretches behind you as the future lies ahead, a long and winding road

whose every turning means discovery, old hopes, new laughter, and shared tears.

The adventure has just begun.

 

Lastly, did you purchase your ticket for the Peace and Presence Yoga Flow yet?

Nuns, a gnome, Nancy, and more

I attended another Mr. Kyle photo class. I love how walking around with the purpose of capturing interesting images forces you to pay attention. There are so many jarring, strange, and beautiful sights there are in a neighborhood, maybe even one you already know well.

291.IMG_1221

just another…

285.IMG_1215

stoop on the side

292.IMG_1222

stoopside

278.IMG_1208

criss-cross

281.IMG_1211

closed till further notice

276.IMG_1206

bouquet

269.IMG_1199

afternoon light

270.IMG_1200

Baltimore?

271.IMG_1201

berries

265.IMG_1195

blue and green

 

251.IMG_1181

close sesame

 

244.IMG_1174

245.IMG_1175246.IMG_1176247.IMG_1177

248.IMG_1178

gnome on a bicycle

 

 

250.IMG_1180

last of the season

242.IMG_1172

black and white

238.IMG_1168

layers

235.IMG_1165

claws

236.IMG_1166

wannabe leaf

230.IMG_1160

(caption included)

233.IMG_1163

MEWS

226.IMG_1156

cornerstone

229.IMG_1159

beer plants

216.IMG_1146

olive branch

221.IMG_1151

sister partly shaded

222.IMG_1152

Rod Iron

212.IMG_1142

Rod Iron II

204.IMG_1134

Aubrey

210.IMG_1140

boot scraper

198.IMG_1128

the top of the key

200.IMG_1130

heads

194.IMG_1124

other heads

195.IMG_1125

worth looking up

182.IMG_1112

dizzy

179.IMG_1109

spires

169.IMG_1099

not a bad alley

170.IMG_1100

stalking “sisters”

173.IMG_1103

dedication

165.IMG_1095

craggy

152.IMG_1082

may they rest in peace

153.IMG_1083

Nancy.

155.IMG_1085

seasons change

147.IMG_1077

welcome to 208

141.IMG_1071

142.IMG_1072

friends

143.IMG_1073

white noise no more

134.IMG_1064

stamps

136.IMG_1066

TO MARYLAND WITH LOVE

137.IMG_1067

Mr. Kyle

138.IMG_1068

Nance.

132.IMG_1062

contradiction

133.IMG_1063

diamond district

128.IMG_1058

Frederick oversees

129.IMG_1059

pane pains

124.IMG_1054

switch-down

119.IMG_1049

We ❤ Baltimore.

120.IMG_1050

Sheet Rock

116.IMG_1046

Spread it.

111.IMG_1041

new world

098.IMG_1028

public art

099.IMG_1029

you are a child of the universe

100.IMG_1030

(caption included)

103.IMG_1033

everything dances

096.IMG_1026

shell

089.IMG_1019

basketball pride

092.IMG_1022

Erin

087.IMG_1017

star

088.IMG_1018

tremors

082.IMG_1012

shadow X reflection = this

070.IMG_1000

urban sandcastle (beware of falling rocks)

073.IMG_1003

back alley fish

068.IMG_0998

chain, chain, chain

060.IMG_0990

diagonal

052.IMG_0982

curl

054.IMG_0984

improvise

043.IMG_0973

rooted

258.IMG_1188

over the dome

256.IMG_1186

on the dome

Dear Future Self

Dear Future Amandy,

This is a weird time and I don’t doubt that whenever this letter resonates with you in the future, that’ll be a weird time too. Generally, all the times are weird, aren’t they? If I think about past Amandy, I know she couldn’t have dreamt up the details of this life. But, I guess that’s the case with most people.

When you look back at the age of 30 and the year 2018, I hope you remember the growth you reached, the moments of peace you found, and the love you felt and gave.

Harnessing what sometimes feels like an absurd amount of energy, an innumerable collection of ideas, both interesting and atrocious, and general untamable excitedness is challenging. But that’s who you are now. And it’s really fun. Though, you might not always be this way. And that’s okay too.

Whatever you’re doing right now, think back. Remember what it was like to have a brain swimming with ideas for Baltimore and for the girls, for yoga, for your willing and unwilling friends and family? Do you still think that way? Do you still envision the best ideas at 4 a.m.? Do you still wake up before the world to write? Do you even write anymore? I realize I sound critical of you and I don’t mean to. I’m sure you’re fine, but I hope you continue to make it your mission to be more than “fine,” to make Baltimore more than “fine,” to make the people around you more than “fine.” Remember this?

20181121-DSC_8702

Credit: Sierra Smith Photography

If you’re reading this and feeling stodgy and weighed down, step outside, look up, and take a long set of deep breaths. Put on something cute. Do a few rounds of surya namaskar A. Write down what’s in your head.

What does Emma look like now? I already know she’s brilliant and amazing. Does she think you’re insane? Does she have siblings? Cousins? Did any come from you and Chas? Go look at a photo of Baby Emms and remember what that was like. Here’s one for you…

IMG_3215

Did you make an addition out of the basement? Did Chas ever get someone to fix the upstairs bathroom before the roof caved in? Does the rain shower still not work? Did hair stop growing on your feet? Are you still waxing your armpits? How many more countries have you and Chas visited? If it’s been a while, check Scott’s Cheap Flights. Go somewhere.

Did you get a dog? Does he smell? Does Chas let him sleep in the bed with you? Is there still U.S. Mail service? When’s the last time you sent thank you notes to the people you love? Does the dollar store still exist? Is everything still a dollar? I am scared to ask this, but did Trump actually win a second term? Are we still a country? If you haven’t done any activism lately, think of some cause that makes you feel alive and get after it. How about this–do you remember this?

Nasty Women

How many yoga classes are you teaching per week? How many are you taking? Do people live on the moon? Did you ever try running for office? If so, why? How’d that go? If not, why not? How about Chas? What’s his career like? Did you and Mom ever get your noses pierced? If not, maybe send her a text and see if she’s still interested. You only get one life, and one nose–it might as well be decorated.

Did you ever write a book? Maybe a few? If not, why? Look at all these blogs–read through them. One or more of them could surely become a book. Even Bobby Ray alone could be a book. Write it. The world might need what you have to say.

Whereever you are (likely Baltimore, duh), whatever you’re doing, what ever you’re writing and teaching and learning, just know that it’s exactly where you’re meant to be. And if this Amandy nudges you in a few right directions, so be it. Despite her greater instincts toward self-doubt, she’s already pretty wise.

 

With love,

Amandy

 

PS: I share this with the world instead of just tucking it in a drawer, because I encourage you to do this too. Tell your future self what your current self thinks.

Still That Karaoke Singer from Hon Bar

This is a continuation from last week. If you haven’t read last week’s blog, please read this first. 

“Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel—only worse. For the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within dozens of people who work for him, drink with him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability. A Sinatra with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations through the entertainment industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy.”

-Gay Talese, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” Esquire Magazine, April 1966

Thinking about Frank Sinatra with a cold, and other similes above, I don’t think Bobby Ray would ever tell you he’s lacking anything. I don’t know if I’d call him glass-half-full, or just that the concept of the fullness of a glass is so far out of his vision, that it’s irrelevant. He’s just Bobby Ray and at the very least to him (if not to others as well), he lacks for nothing. Though, he’ll also tell you, he doesn’t have much to begin with.

“I came into the world banging my head on the way in,” says Bobby Ray. “I’ve been here before,” he says as he looks at me, half making sure I believe him, half I can tell he doesn’t give a shit if I believe him. This is his truth. “I had to write it all down,” he says.

When he talks of the vision that recurs for him assuring him that he’s reincarnated he says, “I know it’s true because it never changes. I got one of those old black copy books primers to write it all down. From before I entered this life I have memories. I have no reason to lie,” he tells me, and when I think about it, I guess he’s right.

“I had to really come to grips with this over a long period of time, whether I concocted it or it was a childhood dream or just the truth and that’s why I wrote it down. And it’ll never change.” Then his talk parades into a place where I get lost, of merging your unconscious and subconscious with your conscious. “We are talking right now through conscious mind, subliminal and the unconscious mind.” And as I start to lose him, he spells a word I must have missed completely, without being asked. He’ll do that, spell things for you, even when you’re not taking notes. His story of his pre-birth-image, he says, “This is like god’s memory in the subconscious mind.”

“Before I entered this life I was awakened in my soul body. I was out there in the darkness of space. It was like my eyes were open but I wasn’t a physical being. Under my vision was the earth and over here were these voices and they were female.” He points to where the voices came from. “There were two of them and they may have been like ancestors,” he points over his right shoulder with his thumb.

“I had my ears and eyes. I was looking ahead and listening to them. I was seeing the earth and they were talking about me coming to the earth, how I was gonna be, and I heard them and I got scared.” And this one ends.

He launches into memory two. “I looked down and I saw these little stick figures…it was my parents getting ready to copulate. I got scared and I went under again.”

And the third, “The next time I became conscious I was in the womb, fully formed.” And a side step. “My father was an ass. He was unedcuated and not refined. He had my mother locked in when he got her pregnant with my brother. Men did that to women back then. She was tiny. He was Fred Flintstone and she was Wilma.” He comes back to his vision. “I’m awakended all of the sudden. My mother was upset. She’s in a rocking chair rocking me in her belly, apprehensive about my father coming home. I’m seeing through the womb. I saw him come through the door with his paint overalls. She’s rocking me really hard like she’s worried about him coming home and I wake up. I’m psychically gifted, did a lot of psychic work.”

And finally, “I’m hung upside down by my ankles, soaking wet, just got slapped on the ass at the old Mercy Hospital down on Calvert Street.” He digresses and his memories get lost again as he returns to the reasons he believes he’s found them in the first place, “I’ve taken many awareness-increasing, consciousness-expanding sacrements. I did a lot of clinical acid, peyote, mescuplic, STP, DMT, I still make DMT by looking at the sun.” (See last week’s entry for specific instructions from Bobby Ray.)

Bobby Ray shifts in the backed stool at Mom’s Market. He’s sitting in “figure four pose” as we talk, and he tells me that he knows that he’s often in yoga postures. While he holds his body in asanas, Bobby Ray measures life in musical eras–I think it might be easier for him than one’s typical time stamps.

He tells me about the time period from when he was born and up through Elvis. Then he talks of the “blues shouters and how “the spirit was there” and Big Joe Turner and the “jumpin’ blues.” Then, he says, in 1956 everything changed. He launches into a description that draws out some Bobby Ray style nostalgia. The rockabilly era through 1959.

“All these country boys really came out of the woodwork. Such American soul,” he says so intensely. “I remember getting up on Sunday morning with my brother and watching these old black and white films of these hillbilly families in the Appalachian families up in the hills. The best country music you’d ever want to see, double guitar, it was raw American country music.” It’s like he’s still watching the show in front of me on his old black and white, as trails of ironic boots and post-workout millennials padder by. 

He launches into one short non-music tangent, “In 1960 when Kennedy came in, this new look, Joe College, cool guy, more polished, the president was a cool guy. The early 60s everybody was cleaning their act up.” But it’s short lived. “I was 15 years old, a sophomore at Calvert Hall, everything was gray when Kennedy died, for about 90 days. Everything was grey. Until February 14, 1964 when The Beatles showed up on Ed Sullivan and the whole thing changed again.”

He tells me that The Beatles were “diff-er-ent” when most people use only two syllables. “I didn’t know how to process it. That changed the whole nation. All the way through 1969. Anything The Beatles did, they were the spearhead. Then they met Bob Dylan and George got turned onto LSD by his dentist.” I realize that anyone could google this information, but there’s something about Bobby Ray’s telling and I’d much rather hear it from him.

“They were trippin’ their brains out. That translated into their music. Deep esoteric metaphysical soulful head music. After Woodstock, August of 1969, November, I’m stationed on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi, we hear over the television. We hear Nixon is president and Spiro Agnew is VP. Spiro says, ‘The Beatles are writing anti-American lyrics in their music.’ Four months later the Beatles broke up.” 

He tells me about 1972 when Glamrock arrived, followed by Kiss and David Bowie, and Bobby Ray says, “It got back to cutesie wootsie in a different way. The police would see you and follow you, harass you, if you had long hair. 1969. A quarter ounce of marijuana in 1969–it was a felony.”

But then the record scratches. And Bobby Ray stops his musical timelines.

“In 1970 I got discharged from the military, addicted, mentally and emotionally disabled. I found a special diet shop. All I could do was make myself as strong as possible. Fought it that way all the way through.” 

Bobby Ray explains that half of him was addicted to drugs and the half was trying to get healthy and strong. “One side of me has a needle in its arm, the other side wants only vitamins and minerals.”

His struggle has been his own, if you ask Bobby Ray. It’s his struggle to fight through alone, too. “Knowing you got a problem, 50% of it is already solved. You’re already halfway there. You can change anything. I feel like should’ve died four times. I’m still trying to overcome stuff, little things,” he says. 

Bobby Ray returns to his pre-determined death time and again in conversation. He seems to love his ability to dodge it, but also he’s amazed by his own aptitude.

“I was supposed to die 24 years ago. 24 years ago, I was at a seminar at the natural food store, on macrbiotic theory and meal, by Murray Snyder. Michael Rossoff–acupuncturist and lecturer–was outside and he was reading peoples’ palms. I’m watching and listening to him. He was telling him how long he was going to live and when he was going to die. So I asked him when I was going to die. He said 45-46. And I’m 24 years old at the time. He said ‘You chose that. That’s why it’s on your palm. You choose how long you’re gonna be here when you get here. But you can change that any time you want.’ That was in the fall of 1972…Zen buddhism and macrobiotics.”

He returns to 1972 so often, it makes me want to inquire about why this year was so significant. Maybe it’s obvious in his stories but still, I’m sure he’d have a reason tied to numerology or history or diet, or all of the above. He launches into the year of his pre-determined death.

“You know where I was on my 46th birthday? In city jail in N Section. I was on there for a 200K bail for marijuana. They put me with murderers, rapists, and [nationalities] who sold cocaine who had no bail. And I was under durress.” (Bobby Ray loves the word durress.)

“I was in there with one black guy. He was trying to appeal his sentence. Two cold blooded murders. The last night I was in jail, I had spent 114 days in the place. I was told I was gonna get murdered. They openeded the cages for dinner and I sneak down to the shower so I can get a shower before they let me out the next morning. The murderer walks in with three guys behind him. Bob, how would like me to kill you right now?” Bobby Ray explains that he just kept on showering, finished, and then “walked back to the cage.” He showed no fear. He looked the guy in the eyes and didn’t flinch. And they spared him. 

Bobby Ray suggests, “You let your enemy destroy himself. If your opponent is trying to intimidate you with fear and you don’t show it, you don’t feed him anything. I wasn’t afraid. They [cops, I think] had stuck a gun to my head an 8 mm, I had 4 pounds of pot, I was struggling, I had a drug record, a drug habit. Veterans wanted to put me on chemicals and lobotomize me.” He rattles off his list of issues again. 

“But I’m like a phoenix rising,” he says as his hands lift like he’s picking up a beach ball. “The greater the struggle, the greater the reward. Why am I still alive? Why didn’t I die? [Rossoff] told me I could change it. Over the years of struggling and studying while I was trying to survive. With diet, exercise prayer, I did it. I kept gleaning all these things from different religions and lifestyles. Tauruses are like that–we extract things from our environment that work practically and we discard the rest. Over the course of decades I’ve done that with religions and cultures. I became universalized with all the sacraments. These things have worked into a lifestyle that I customized to who I am now.” 

And amidst a tangent about growing up in east Baltimore, hearing about the street lamp lighters who used to go down Harford Road and light each street lamp, every night, one at a time, and about the new gas buses that came around in the ’50s, and a pack of Camels for 32 cents, Bobby tells me that Baltimore is a Scorpio-run city (and so is New Orleans, he says).

He tells me that growing up in a violent neighborhood, as a guy thrown in the midst of lowlives, military, jail, poverty, and trying to get along with people that “the world is an ugly place, it’s cold,” He says again, “It’s cold.” And then he starts signing “Riders on the Storm” aloud. “I can relate to that,” says Bobby Ray. 

So I ask him toward what I thought was the end of our conversation, “What did you want to be when you were a kid?”

“Kinda who I am now,” he says. “Someone who was evolving. I didn’t want to be a mechanic or anything I saw around me. I’m a master barber, a numerologist, an astrologist…” And then he starts talking about his face surgeries. He has a spiritual connection with Frank Sinatra, he says. He’s been in touch with Sinatra’s spirit before, while chanting one of his mantras.

So that’s who Bobby Ray is. He’s a phoenix, a spiritualist, a karma-changer, a master barber, an astrologer-numerologist, a recovering addict, a pothead, a chanter, a Buddhist, recently, a right-wing Republican, a Silician-Irish man, a sharp-dressed, overactive, introspective septagenarian. He texts me weird jokes around 9 p.m. now. He’s 40 years older than me and I can barely keep up. He’s a rider on the storm, a survivor, a unique cat. All of that, and a karaoke singer. Maybe he’s out of his mind, or maybe he’s more sane than all of us.

 

That Karaoke Singer from Hon Bar

“Frank Sinatra, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something. But he said nothing; he had been silent during much of the evening, except now in this private club in Beverly Hills he seemed even more distant, staring out through the smoke and semidarkness into a large room beyond the bar where dozens of young couples sat huddled around small tables or twisted in the center of the floor to the clamorous clang of folk-rock music blaring from the stereo. The two blondes knew, as did Sinatra’s four male friends who stood nearby, that it was a bad idea to force conversation upon him when he was in this mood of sullen silence, a mood that had hardly been uncommon during this first week of November, a month before his fiftieth birthday

Sinatra had been working in a film that he now disliked, could not wait to finish; he was tired of all the publicity attached to his dating the twenty-year-old Mia Farrow, who was not in sight tonight; he was angry that a CBS television documentary of his life, to be shown in two weeks, was reportedly prying into his privacy, even speculating on his possible friendship with Mafia leaders; he was worried about his starring role in an hour-long NBC show entitled Sinatra—A Man and His Music, which would require that he sing eighteen songs with a voice that at this particular moment, just a few nights before the taping was to begin, was weak and sore and uncertain. Sinatra was ill. He was the victim of an ailment so common that most people would consider it trivial. But when it gets to Sinatra it can plunge him into a state of anguish, deep depression, panic, even rage. Frank Sinatra had a cold.”

-Gay Talese, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” Esquire Magazine, April 1966

It is not 1966 and I am not Gay Talese. Robert Murray “Bobby Ray” Barnaba is not Frank Sinatra and his health issues well-exceed a common cold. But if you hear Bobby Ray sing on a Friday night at Cafe Hon on the Avenue in Hampden, Baltimore, you can close your eyes and almost imagine that Sinatra found his way out from six feet under.

IMG_3160

“I got this jacket for $2 down at the church. 100% silk.”

Not knowing much about Frank Sinatra as a person, I’d say that he and Bobby Ray have only a handful of things in common. They’re Sicilian. They’ve been in a few fights and would have the scars to prove it. Olive skin that’s seen some wind and wear. And they can croon. Although the parallels may stop there, Bobby Ray has found his small stage, his loyal audience, his look and his voice and his repertoire. And he shares it with the willing every Friday at Hon Bar karaoke after 10 p.m. while he sucks down a few “long necks,” or what others call, Blue Moon bottles.

He landed on “Bobby Ray” because Barnaba was getting butchered too badly. He’ll tell you in not so few words, that every letter has a numerological value. Bobby Ray somehow equals a 9, “a good number to be out in the public eye,” he says.

Then there’s the Bobby Darin influence. “The first karaoke song I sang was 10 years ago. ‘Beyond the Sea,’ Bobby Darin. I loved it all along. Later I found out he was born in May, he’s a Taurus, year of the rat, had an Italian last name they used to butcher,” says Bobby Ray.

“He got Darin from a Mandarin restaurant–took off the front part of the word. And I thought, I got an affinity with this cat and I love his music. Too bad he died early, I’m keeping his spirit up.” 

Bobby Ray will rattle off details about his bouts of West Nile virus, about biosuperfood, about the natural food store, and about how he changed his own karma. He will tell you about his studies in astronomy and numerology. He will list names and dates like he’s been studying for this test all night. He’ll tell you about Geminis and full moon Sagittariuses. He will tell you how if you stare directly at the sun, you can get a high, that he’s trained himself by staring at weak rays and gradually increasing his tolerance to stare directly up at an August sun at two in the afternoon. And he will tell you about what he calls “the sacraments,” LSD, peyote, mescaline, acid. Then he’ll tell you how he moved beyond those very sacraments, how he got clean, well, relatively clean, on his own without help.

Bobby grew up in Waverly near the intersection of Gorsuch Avenue and Independence Street. Educated at St. Bernards by the Mercy nuns, in 1962, Bobby went to Calvert Hall College High School for two years and hated it. “Freaking hated it.” He said his highest marks were in religion so they tried to get him to be a priest. His response: “That’s when I started doing drugs.”

He went to City College and repeated 10th grade, survived junior year, then dropped out. So he joined the Navy and got his GED. Bobby Ray says, “You don’t need all that. You get all the basics down.” Then he launches into a story about a kid who grew up in the ’20s who sold papers and ended up owning half of Howard Street. “Fourth grade education.” For Bobby Ray, the exception often proves the rule. 

But even if he didn’t finish school, he’s constantly learning. His “teachers” these days are the authors of the books he reads. “One of my favorite quotes,” he says, is Einstein, ‘Education is something you get when you forget everything you learned in school.’ Great I didn’t fuck up.” 

Bobby Ray said that in school, they weren’t teaching him what he wanted to learn. He was nearsighted and undiagnosed. “I’m squinting going what the hell are you talking about?” Pretending to put on his first pair of glasses, he says, “I get my eyes again. I’m like Mr. Magoo.” He blinks hugely to show his new ability.

“I was the little one. I was a little guy. I wasn’t big. I wasn’t hairy. I wasn’t aggressive. I wasn’t athletic. I was intellectual. Everybody was calling me names and pushing me. It was the ’50s,” he says. “To be an asshole was to be a guy. [The neighborhood] was mostly working class. I was the more artist philosopher type, around all these rednecks, greasers, and the biker parties down on Gorsuch Avenue. I knew a kid named Motor Snyder. Motor–that was his name,” he says laughing.

Without notice, Bobby Ray launches into a story about his reincarnation. “I’ve been here before,” he says. “I have xray vision in my third eye.” And all of this might sound whacky to the typical person but then he throws his whole story out there–memories he has of his own infancy, visions of his ancestors. He lets the world, or anyone who will listen, take it at face value. “What have I got to lose? I’m an open book.” Open, he certainly is.

 

To be continued…

I have 9 pages of notes from talking to Bobby for about 3 total hours. I will continue this next week.

The Day I Ordered Turkey Lunchmeat

I wrote this during my MA in Writing. I also read an abbreviated version of this piece at our thesis reading at the end of the program in May 2015. It remains one of my favorite pieces although I just renamed it, again (never did find a title I liked). Thank you to my friend Tim Cyphers, who helped me sharpen it several times. 

 

 

The grocery store is an awkward place to run into someone you once knew. You could see the same person many times and, if encounter number one was uncomfortable, number five is excruciating. You make a quick duck into the cleaning supplies aisle—knowing you need no cleaning supplies. The person, of course, will also need cleaning supplies, and Swiffer Sweepers aren’t good cover. I find it’s best to get in, check off your list, and get out.

On a grocery trip to the Giant near my house, I am not worrying about awkward encounters. I’m thinking of food. All thirty-five members of my homeroom have realized I am not as hardhearted as my raised left eyebrow and crumpled lips would seem to indicate. I’m exhausted from full days of my focus-deficient seventh graders, and by the time the sun begins its leisurely spring descent, my stomach is in high hunting mode. Leaving produce, I guide my leafy greens toward the deli. A family stands in front of me. Man, woman, boy. And girl.

I study the fabric paint on the girl’s T-shirt and think about the odd practice of a commemorative T-shirt that’s unwearable in six months, yet undiscardable for a lifetime. Two boxes of shirts like this one rot in my basement: not sentimental enough for drawer space, too specific for Goodwill. Reading the haphazard red and silver glitter paint on cotton I make out “Pre Pre” on the back. Steve Prefontaine? Prepubescent? Prenup?

She and her brother receive a ham sample from behind the deli. She turns around to eat the pink sliver and there: her image rushes from my corneas, courses through my occipital lobe, and races, violently, through my synapses to a memory.

We stare. We know. No need for small talk. No breeze to shoot.

And, because it’s too much, we look down. In unison.

***

Three years ago, newly twenty-two, I chose to hide my age. Five teachers deemed this group unteachable, untamable, intolerable…impossible, and left the students behind. In these choppy teacher wakes lay trampled posters of kittens canoodling novels: “Snuggle Up to a Good Book” and wallet-sized images of middle school students now adults somewhere else. A dusty computer monitor, in one corner, powered to life like a jet plane in turbulence.

By January and by teacher number six (me), these students no longer thought of themselves as students. Some were proud. Like arrogant prizefighters, they beamed up toward imaginary rafters. Imaginary teacher resignation letters hung like banners of hard fought championships. I just wanted a vertical slash in the win column.

The homeroom would be the greatest contest. Convincing the Morgans just to sit sparked a clash of eye rolls, by both parties. Collecting homework mimicked begging for money on a median. Then I had to coerce twenty-seven fire-breathing dragons to listen, learn, and worst of all, to write something down. This was English after all, and I’d yet to gather enough evidence to definitively state that all of them could read.

Yet, small glints of hope kept me on my path. Ronald finally handed in a homework assignment. Armani asked me to read over a short story she’d written. By March we won a competition against other homerooms to collect the most money for Leukemia. We had started to work together. We were one. We devoured our victory donuts with football team cohesion—I, the fearless quarterback.

I didn’t bother to tell them that I slipped another teacher enough cash to surpass the group who should have won first place. I would not lose—we would not lose.

March rolled on, and April brought more marrow to my strengthening backbone, more calluses to my toughening skin. Despite the Morgans (L. and G.) still refusing to sit, and my literacy investigation still inconclusive, I could finally end a week without crying alone in my office, which I had done all winter long.

One April Wednesday, with my patience thinning like the female students’ clothing, I read the moral lesson of the day to the class, above a persistent hum about Who. Would. Be. At. Hot. Skates. One frequent and diverse lawbreaker wandered in late, so smugly casual that I had to show my power.

“Why are you late?” I said, both verbally and with my trusty eyebrow.

“I don’t know,” she said, not granting eye-contact respect.

“At this point, you’re up to an afterschool. Sorry ‘bout it,” I sassed back.

Dramatically, I pulled the white form and its attached yellow carbon copy from the file on my cart. I shook out the papers, attracting the attention of the front row. I slammed the pages on the table. A judge pounding her gavel.

I branded her name and checked off her offenses. I depressed both copies. Yes, this detention would go down in history. I signed my name as monstrous as the form would allow, waved the sheets just once in the view of the whole class, then shoved them down on her desk as if the wood was going to give. I challenged her, again, to meet my eyes. She declined, opting to apply pink lip-gloss with her small pointer finger instead.

Knowing I’d meet with the excess gloss on the underside of the desk later, I stormed back to the computer to send the attendance.

My detention victim and a friend stood at my cart—my filing cabinet, desk, and classroom—retrieving supplies.

Both victim and companion watched me as I aggressively clicked “P” for present next to each name in the computer attendance list, intermittently looking up at the two girls from the back of the room. Click, click, click, click, finally lock eyes. Click, click, click, click, lock eyes. Click, click, click, click, lock eyes. They kept staring back at me.

I figured my mascara had already found its way above my right eyelid. They were probably making fun of the small black streaks of residue that pointed to my forehead everyday by a certain hour—my own five o’clock shadow. I agreed that it was kind of funny as I hit “save” and returned to the front of the room. Victim and companion settled back into their seats to ignore me in favor of another round of lip-gloss application.

After class, I wheeled my cart back to my closety office. I rolled in and slammed the door, still running on the fuel of assigning the afterschool detention. I checked for food in my teeth and mascara above my lid, finding neither. Settling into my chair, I hoped for an uplifting email. Opening Outlook, I reached for a water bottle that rested on my cart and put it to my glossless lips.

I threw two gulps to the back of my throat. Quickly, I spit what I could back into the bottle. Perfume and alcohol flooded my mouth, torched my nose, and clawed at my throat. Coughing and spitting, I shot up out of my chair. Frantically, my eyes darted from wall to ceiling to floor. I stuck out my tongue to scrape off the taste.

Unscrewing the lid, I saw it. Globs of Purell, recently popularized by Swine Flu. I nearly rushed out the door to find the perps, but stopped myself. I stared at the wood grain and thought of all I had just lost. I began to weep. Letting go of the knob, I could not find refuge in the hallway now, red-faced, eyes spewing tears, scratched voice unable to speak between sobs. There’s no way I could face The Hallway.

They had stolen another victory late in the ninth inning. My win column empty. Still.

A few periods later, the “legal” proceedings unfolded, I learned that the girls were expelled. That day, the principal suggested I visit a doctor. When I returned the next morning, teachers thanked me for continuing to show up. Kids asked me if I was okay.

“I heard you went to the hospital, Ms. Doran. You still here?”

“I thought you was dead, Ms. Doran.”

I later found out that one of the girls, Daprea, also known as “Pre Pre,” wrote me an apology. “Ima start off saying that I didn’t mean no harm.” Said she wished she could take it back. Each exclamation point dotted with a small heart. This was not the way I set out to forever alter lives.

***

Three years later, while pondering deli nitrates it registers who I’ve just locked eyes with. I can’t say, “How are you?” I can’t tell her good luck. We will not meet in the dairy aisle and repeat a series of cliché exchanges. She won’t follow me to the checkout and ask how teaching is going.

We just look.

I know that her life changed with me. She probably does not realize that mine changed with her, too, or that I hated that they expelled her. Or that I wished I could have written back to her apology. That I didn’t get sick. That I didn’t throw up. That I didn’t have the allergic reaction she mentioned in her note. That yea, I cried, but I always cry. That I knew I could have taught her a lot. That I’m older now. That I can control a class. That people do my homework, and some of them can read. That we all do stupid things to other people even when we like them. That really, she gave me a compelling war story. That the poisoning made my coworkers finally, truly respect me. That I forgave her the day I read her letter.

And I hope that my look portrays some of what I feel because I can’t say it out loud. They order ham. I order turkey. And I get the hell out of the grocery store.

Solutions > “They Should Really…”

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

 

Complaining is incredibly contagious. Water cooler talk, teachers’ lounge loose lips, bitch sessions, venting, unloading, releasing. We all do it. Frankly, we probably all need to sometimes.

It’s natural to have a desire to release emotions and events and share something you don’t want to carry on your own. It’s natural to point out problems in one’s world. Surely, there’s enough to talk about, you could be occupied all day.

There are entire websites and even departments of organizations dedicated to complaints. If you have a complaint for the Baltimore City Police Department, you can call, email, write and mail a letter, or go in person. I shudder to think of the traffic of this website (for the curious, it’s Comcast’s own).

In an episode of This American Life, Sarah Koenig’s mother lists what she believes are The Seven Things You’re Not Supposed to Talk About. Her list includes: period, diet, health, sleep, dreams, money, and route talk. In the show, Sarah tackles these topics and tries to find stories that her mom will find interesting that are about these topics. I have to say, I freakin’ love Sarah’s mom. When she elaborates why each item is boring, her first reason is pretty much “nobody cares” and secondly, though she doesn’t point this out in an explicit way, they’re all complaints. While I am with Sarah and I admit there are exceptions to these topics always involving complaints, I too believe there are exceptions that can be interesting. But overall, Sarah’s mom is my “Spirit Brit.”

Complaining is necessary, sometimes. But solutions are just better. And by god are they more interesting! I don’t write this to dissuade you from sharing your woes with me–in fact, I like when friends and family turn to me. But, expect me to immediately launch into solution-mode. That’s what I do. Aside from real tragedies, I will not tolerate you whining. You wanna wallow? I am not your girl. Because we will move right to plans A, B, and C.

Being solution-minded is not easy. It requires an intense level of persistence, a generous scoop of naïveté, layers and layers of optimism, quarts of ingenuity, a wide range of humans to discuss with, a smattering of yoga, and obviously, at least one legitimate problem. For most of us, the problem is the easiest part.

My maternal grandfather was a complicated and a complex person (I had to look up the difference). Without getting into the network of details that made him that way, I will explain only why he relates to this piece. When Grandpop spotted a problem (as first-world as it was), he would solve it. The ceramic rooster in the kitchen looked too dull? He spent half a day shellacking it. Need to work on the car but there’s no place to put the portable phone when you’re in the driveway? He created a phone cradle which was a wooden cup lined with carpet that he screwed right into the outside brick wall. (Non-sequitur: it occurs to me now that he must have had his own masonry drill.) Not sure where the tools go? He created his own map on the basement wall with outlines for each of his tools to hang in the most correct spot. When the creepy doll that sat on the edge of the shelf next to the fridge kept getting knocked down, he superglued it to its perch. He created curtains for the windows in his shed. Solutions.

My mom must have inherited this from her father but in a much different realm. Earlier this week, her name was in print in the Baltimore Sun with an idea for our squeegee boys. The mayor is about to invest $2 million in guards for the boys who wipe windows at intersections. I like the squeegee boys. I like asking them about their lives. I enjoy offering them granola bars and I ask them to help me with the murkiness of the inside of my windshield because my heating and AC are broken. That said. It’s a bit much. We all have windshield wipers and wiper fluid and you know, we need the windshield to be transparent enough to even drive to the very spot where the squeegee boys are. So here’s Nancy’s solution. It was on WBAL radio several times the next day because multiple radio hosts loved and had to share her idea.

I’m in a business of solutions. Children come to us in all stages of joy and trauma and energy and depression and obsessive and withdrawn. We ball up all of this, and we try to help. Generally, people who work in schools (and actually work) are maybe best labeled as solutionists. Teachers do much more than teach. Assistants do much more than assist. Principals do much more than prince. We are in the business of youth solutions. That’s not to say that our kids are broken, but navigating the world for the first time is basically just a never-ending series of problem-solving situations. Just between Wednesday and Thursday of this week, I encountered the following: talking a Jehovah’s Witness through the process of reading about Greek mythology because she was failing ELA; finagling a field trip to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum (still working on this); talking a parent down in hysterics WHO ALSO WRITES IN ALL CAPS; hosting math tutors for girls who are failing 7th grade math; scolding scholars about the safety issue of being 12 minutes late for Crochet Club; attempting to fill the gap of a music program by organizing a singing group with another school; selling three hoodies to scholars who are cold in the building; and so on and so on. Are you planning on being late for Crochet Club–do you need my services?

Baltimore is not a place for the problem-minded. It is fortunately a place for the solution-minded. An orientation to solution-mindedness is a mindset. It’s a way of thinking.

Two of my least favorite sentence starters are “They should really…” or “Why don’t they…?” Because, honestly, who in the holy fuck are they?

You are they. I am they. We are all they. He, she, it are all they. They is even they.

Baltimore

I know I talk about the Baltimore Ceasefire Movement a lot. This is a recent message from Ceasefire. I saw this after I had finished writing and posting this piece. They really get it!

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama.

If you see a problem and you want to talk about it, fine. But then talk about the solution. There’s nothing more unattractive about a person than complaining without seeking a way out, no matter how tiny the pinprick. And for most of the people reading this piece, I’d imagine the problems we encounter have solutions or at the very least, management strategies.

The next time you’ve got a complaint, see if you can do something about it. Because, sure, complaining is contagious. But couldn’t solutions be too?

Something I love about children is that they’re still flexible. You can still convince them that not all is lost. That problems can be solved. That solutions do exist. And I think, this is often a disappearing art for adults. Somewhere along the way we lose that belief in solutions like we lose our belief in the tooth fairy. And that, my adult friends, is something we can all stand to learn from children.

FullSizeRender

Let Emma Lou teach you. She says you should start by voting. You can type your address into google to check for your voting location and hours here.

Perspective: Baltimore/Amandy

Last spring, I took my absolute first stab at photography with Humans of Hampden, a piece I based on Humans of New York, a significantly more popular, well-known, and more talented artistic collection.

I borrowed Sierra’s old camera and literally just hit buttons and turned wheels until the camera worked to take photos. Somehow, I got a few I found worthy of a blog and with the powerful captions people gave me, I had something I was proud of.

Last weekend, I, on the total fly, joined a photography class, thanks to Shar and to a great guy I can’t help calling “Mr. Kyle.” Mr. Kyle (only in his mid-30s) does projects at Lillie May and a slew of amazing things in Baltimore. He’s just one of those people. And Shar and I (and lots of Baltimoreans) are both so grateful to know him.

In Mr. Kyle’s Perspective: Baltimore Adult Photography Class, I took the following, around Mt. Vernon, The Bromo District, Westside-ish, Lexington Market, and other micro-neighborhoods in Baltimore.

 

IMG_2564

Sun-bathing elephant.

IMG_2566

Skill. (Love taps, not pictured.)

IMG_2583

Lutheran air quotes.

IMG_2596

Birth-year.

IMG_2613 2

Moon.

IMG_2615 2

Two feet on the ground. Twice.

IMG_2616

Moon, too.

IMG_2624

From where I’m sittin’.

IMG_2639

Floral snack.

IMG_2644

Stacey is a whole snack.

IMG_2650

Teacher.

IMG_2680

Dad.

IMG_2685

“Little Buddy.” A tea cup, long chair Chihuahua (yes, I had to look up how to spell Chihuahua).

IMG_2689

The forgotten in focus.

IMG_2692

Loitering reflection.

IMG_2695

Study.

IMG_2706

Soaring liquor bag litter.

IMG_2710

Through the spikes.

IMG_2724 2

My Sister’s Garden.

IMG_2727

Gutter Poet.

IMG_2742

Beauty.

IMG_2748

Hope.

IMG_2749

Swirl.

IMG_2757

Steadfast.

IMG_2763

Y.

AAmandaandKyle

Convex Amanda and Kyle.

Aambition

Ambition doesn’t stop. Oh wait…

AAmericanDarling

Raised. Zoom.

AAmericanDarlingOut

THE American Darling.

AATA

A T A

Aatreegrows

Lose ya head.

ABelieve

Blurry belief.

ABrian

Flyin’ Brian.

ABrokenHeart

Unwhole.

ACivilianHeadFormwithEgg

Civilian Headform. Egg.

ADali

Modern real-life Dali.

ADivide

Division.

ADontFixTheSidewalkPaintIt

Repairs needed.

AEyes

Eyes.

Afacade

Facade.

AFallenSoldiers

Unwanted progress.

AFriends

Friendship reflected.

AGold

Mislabeled.

Ahairshop

Hair and hood.

AHeadless

Someone cared for this once.

AHeadless2

Don’t lose ya head, two.

AHeyBaltimore

Hey Baltimore!

AHighVoltage

(caption included)

AHome

Baltimore is HOME.

AHowCanWeFocus

Can you?

AHowtheMightyHaveFallen

Lore and yore.

ALeglessPatioChair

Yard recliner.

Alet'sbuildafence

Invest in the fence. Forget the yard.

AModernRuins

Modern ruins.

ANotaCar

Alternative bumper.

ANuts

Nuts. Since 1896.

Apants

Pantsed.

Apapertorso

Torso.

Aphotogs

Photogs.

APloy

Who named this street?

Aprofile

Profile.

APushorPull

Push or pull?

ARelic

Museum piece.

ASharProfile

Love.

ASmash

“[…]the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” -Jack Kerouac

Atherewasastage

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms. Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice, In fair round belly with good capon lined, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws and modern instances; And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slippered pantaloon, With spectacles on nose and pouch on side; His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” – William Shakespeare

Atheroadtothemonument

Stay in your

Atops

Hats.

ATouchDown

Glory-free touchdown.

AUnholyCross

Unholy cross.

AVodkaPlant

Vodka plant.

AVrksasana

Vrksasana (tree pose).

AXandYs

Intersections.

Ayouareachild2

“You are a child of the universe, 
no less than the trees and the stars; 
you have a right to be here. 
And whether or not it is clear to you, 
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” – Max Ehrmann

AYouAreOkay

YOU ARE okay.

Reflection

Pre-splash.

 

The Hardest Thing to Gain, the Easiest to Lose

IMG_2913

Photo by and photo of Icsha J., graduate of LMCJ, taken in a summer program called Youth Perspective Baltimore, launched at an exhibition by Muse 360 this week. (Icsha is not the “young lady” below.)

Dear Young Lady,

Do you know why vulnerability is so scary? Do you know why sharing yourself with someone else is such a challenge? Do you get why revealing your truth makes you shaky? Why you won’t share your secrets? Or say more than “fine” when asked how you are?

What’s funny to me is that all of these ways that you live, are the opposite of the way I live. I thrive by letting people in and sharing myself and treating my friends as family. When someone asks how I am, I leap at the chance to give the good, bad, and the ugly. This doesn’t make me better, maybe it makes me crazy. But I have no walls (and no filter).

But for you, I get it. I get why you operate in the opposite way.

It’s because when you let down your walls, you’re letting someone care and likely, you’re caring for that person too. You could get hurt, attached, broken, or worse, start caring about someone else. To quote the little kid with the big ears in Love Actually, “[What could be] worse than the total agony of…love?”

If you toe the line, if you keep cool, if you stay quiet about feelings and things that matter, you can be neutral. No extremes. No joy and no pain. When you tell me a half-truth or omit something important on purpose and I find out later, it doesn’t feel as bad as it would with another person. Because it feels like you’re protecting yourself.

But here’s the thing, hon. Trust is the hardest thing to gain and the easiest to lose.

Maybe I’m also holding back my trust because I know you’re not always telling me the truth either. But as much as I care about you, I’m not here for me.

I already told you this, but I’ll tell you again in this letter I’ll never show you. The other day when I was with the Ceasefire Squad in East Baltimore and they were burning sage and hanging posters, the owner of a liquor store came outside of his eyesore of a shop. He told us we couldn’t hang a poster on his boarded up garage. He didn’t trust us. Why would people want to hang a poster that reads, “Nobody shoot anybody”? Did we think that a poster would prevent “them” from shooting, he asked. Why didn’t we ask him first? Couldn’t we see he owned the whole building? From the glass-walled-inventory, to the boarded up windows, to the storefront crowded with people boozed up on things they didn’t need to be spending money on. From the sign for a failed campaign for State’s Attorney to the trash on the sidewalk, from the rat haven alley to the corner so stumbly-traipsed. And then again, “They’re still going to shoot each other,” he said. Because gestures tiny and gargantuan, when filled with love and hope, are hard to trust. Because why would someone care about this city? Why would someone care about this corner? Why would someone care about the people on this corner?

Or in your case, why would someone care about me?

Your story echoes throughout this beautifully broken city. Even when I don’t know someone is suffering notes of what you’ve suffered, that’s where my heart goes and it leads to my brain and I feel empathy that no one asked for. I see you all over the place. Older versions, younger versions, male, female, whatever. You.

Young lady, there are lots of ways to be. But you have to trust. You have to trust that there are more options than the ones you’ve known. I throw hope and love and questions and conversation at you and it’s confusing to you. I get it, I confuse myself, and I have no idea if I know even how to help you. But every time it feels like the Spanish Inquisition when we’re riding in my car, know that this is my way. This is my way of breaking down your walls, of showing you that I care, my way of inviting you to trust in me. Because I might be hard for you to understand, but I’m trustworthy.

So while your future feels uncertain, look around for what is certain. And know that while vulnerability and sharing and trust are really hard, that’s because they’re worth it.

Love,

Ms. Eby