while i haven’t written in some time, in light of what’s happening in baltimore right now, i feel this pressing need to speak out. i’m not even sure what i want to say, but i want to say something in defense of this city.
i’m certainly not qualified to speak on larger issues at play here – socioeconomics and cultural divides, race, class, policing, and politics. but i live here so i’m qualified to comment on a few things.
holly (my partner of almost 14 years, in case you’re new to this blog) and i moved here, to southeast baltimore, in 2006. it was supposed to be very temporary. and like many “temporary” things, it’s turned out to be…not all that temporary. and here we are, almost 10 years later. you hear that a lot around here.
i moved here kicking and screaming. oh my gosh did i kick and scream. moving here (from washington, dc) was a crash course in…everything. i’ll be honest with you: it’s not easy to live here sometimes. dc this is not. but it’s not meant to be dc because it’s not dc. it’s baltimore. and now, suddenly, i find myself wanting to stick up for this city. because, while i may not love it here, it is my home.
i’m not going to sugarcoat it for you: yes, it is dangerous here. yes, it is dirty. and, yes, the rat population is out of control and they will eat you alive if you’re holding a bagel in your hand outside after midnight. but you know what? it is damn homey. and our neighbors actually care about us. they check on us. when we got married, they supported us, even when some of those closest to us did not, they did. all walks of life, all different colors and backgrounds and accents and languages and everyone said congratulations. we saw your story in the baltimore sun and we just want to say congratulations. even the neighborhood drunks teeter-tottering around. we never expected that. and we’d only lived here a couple years back then.
now, nearly 10 years in, we have a little community. when you live this close to one another, you’d assume you have a community, but that’s not always the case. in this age of having a thousand “friends” on facebook (but, when push comes to shove, you never talk to anyone on the phone anymore and sometimes you’re lonely as hell), and everyone’s “crazy busy,” it’s nice to know that a couple of blocks of tiny row homes all huddled up to one another, the people inside of them, they give a damn. community is still a thing here. community lives in baltimore. and that’s more than i can say for any other place i’ve ever lived.
somehow, in the midst of our sometimes-chaotic neighborhood, holly and i have built a life here. weird dirty ice cream trucks make the rounds til 10pm blaring christmas music in the middle of summer. mice give you the finger while they’re squirming on sticky traps. cats shit on your roof. but people watch your car for you. they ask how you’re doing. neighbors you know can barely put a meal on their table slip a holiday card in your mail slot. everyone mourns the friendly neighborhood drunk, the one that always waved at you from his second-floor window, the same one he hung out naked from, when he quietly dies from cancer. and when the mail lady that everyone loves dies from a heart attack on the job, you talk on your stoops about her, wiping your eyes, pausing with a lump in your throat because you can’t even fathom her not knocking on your door anymore and you shake your heads in unison because life in a mystery and this city has bright spots of light in it all the time.
kids ask you to play catch with them. you watch them grow up right before your eyes. you help the lady a few doors down with her resume and she lands an awesome new job. your other neighbor, a heating and air guy, fixes your air conditioning in the middle of the blistering hot summer just because he wants to. even when his knees are killing him from working all day, he climbs up on your hot asphalt roof and works on it til the sun’s down. all he’d like in return is to crack open a beer with you, so you drink one with him now, then buy him and his wife a case later. your greek neighbors across the street bring you an easter bread with a colored egg in the middle. a guy you’ve barely ever spoken to clears off the ice from your car and around your tires just because. a mystery person shovels the whole block. people knock on your door before noon to remind you to move your car for street cleaning so you don’t get a ticket. that all really happens here. in baltimore. “smalltimore,” as the locals call it. because you wind up knowing everyone. and everyone knows you.