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The Alameda is a wide, tree-lined street. The 1890s were the era of the City Beautiful Movement and in 1893 the landscape architect firm, Olmsted Brothers, was engaged to survey the city of Baltimore and make recommendations. The Alameda was one of several boulevards built during this time period to connect parks. It runs through the neighborhood of Coldstream-Homestead-Montabello. CHM is by no means a wealthy neighborhood, but it is not the sort of neighborhood that is associated with urban dysfunction. Predominately African-American and working class, it’s the sort of neighborhood that is often forgotten in discussions of our cities that reduce everyone to caricatures.

A broad boulevard in Baltimore

Yesterday, the Alameda sadly was home to the 200th homicide of the year in the city of Baltimore. The police have not released the identity of the victim. The Baltimore Sun called it part of a “wave of killings the likes of which hasn’t been seen in four decades.” When the loss of population Baltimore has experienced over the past 40 years is taken into account, it may be a wave of killings the likes of which have never been seen. The month of August has averaged one killing a day. This rate has not let up. Since the death on the Alameda, the was another shooting victim on the other side of town, on McCullough Street.

This does not take into account the shooting victims who are injured but not killed. In the same article in the Baltimore Sun:

Three other people were injured in two shootings early Monday morning. At about 12:35 a.m., officers found a 29-year-old man shot multiple times and a 19-year-old woman shot in the abdomen on the 1300 block of N. Carey St. in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, police said.

At 3:40 a.m., officers responded to the 500 block of N. Bouldin St. in the Ellwood Park/Monument neighborhood, where a 24-year-old man was found shot in his abdomen.

 

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As a few people who have spoken with me privately know, the riots in Baltimore have cause to me to question many common liberal beliefs that I once accepted. Even more, it’s driven a real wedge between me and people with whom I’ve been in agreement in the past. It has made me feel something of a political outcast and a pariah. I’ve abandoned comment thread I used to frequent. Today, I read this comment by David Simon, the creator of the tv show The Wire:

What’s happened in Baltimore with that riot was inevitable and understandable — but what drove me crazy about a lot of the immediate response, particularly from outside of Baltimore, was it’s not only inevitable and understandable — it’s good. I’m not talking about the protests, which were epic and good. But a riot is a riot is a riot. And burning is burning and looting is looting.

The demeanor of the people writing from London and New York with the dilettante’s stance of saying, “This is how these people get to be heard, and they won’t be heard otherwise,” you know what? Right now we’re trying to end mass incarceration, we’re trying to end over-policing, we’re trying to end this draconian behavior. The optics are such that for the votes and for the consensus you need in the rest of America, what’s playing on CNN and what’s going to play on CNN, inevitably, is the fires and the looting, and the optics were horrible.

Also, I live in a city [Baltimore] that hasn’t recovered from the riots of 1968. L.A. can have a riot, New York can have a riot, London can have a riot, and they’ll be fine in a year. Something bad happens in Crown Heights in New York? Eh, it’s bad for Crown Heights, but New York’s going to go right. It’s the financial capital of the world. London, a world capital. Baltimore is a second-tier city. We just stopped losing population for the first time in 40 years three years ago, and you tell me that the riots are a good thing? Fuck you. Come to Baltimore and say that. I live there. I was particularly incensed at the insouciance with which people were proclaiming that the riot — that when it gravitated from being mass civil disobedience, which I admire in every sense and want to see continue, to what we were seeing — was a good thing. Fuck you. You don’t live here. You don’t know what a riot is. You don’t know what it could do to the civic firmament.

I don’t think what happened in Baltimore was “inevitable and understandable,” at least not in the way I believe he means it. The rest of it, I understand completely.

Regarding the population, from the Baltimore Sun last March:

The new estimate released Thursday shows a small decline of 611 people to 622,793 people for the year ended June 30, 2014. The dip followed two years of growth that added about 2,500 people to the 620,889 living here in July 2011, the summer before she set the goal.

So they are far from out of the woods.

I’ve been staying away from politics publicly but obsessing about it privately. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get my thoughts in order and write it down. I’ve taken a look at conservative sites, but I still don’t agree with them either. I also don’t like what I feel is the pressure from liberals to fall in line with things I don’t believe.

As people who stop by here regularly may have figured out, although I frequently agree with criticisms from the left about what is wrong with society, I tend to not agree about the solutions. For example, capitalism results in economic injustice, but we won’t bring about a more just society through a planned economy.

The extreme left seems to want to justify and romanticize the actions of the rioters in Baltimore last night. Baltimore is a poor city. It is bleak. There is great economic disparities and great injustices. However, the riots will only serve to exacerbate that injustice. Not only will no good come of it, but bad will come. Many areas of the city already lack basic things like drugstores and grocery stores. Businesses don’t want to open there. There’s a high unemployment rate. When businesses are robbed and set on fire, it makes it even less likely that the new businesses will want to open. That means fewer services and fewer jobs, and the cycle worsens.

The rich, the supposed oppressors, felt not one ounce of pain last night. Who was scared last night? Was it someone on an estate far away or someone in a small rowhouse? The cars that were torched probably didn’t belong to the wealthy, and if they did insurance would replace it. Here is an image from The Baltimore Sun of a woman who had to abandon her car at an intersection. There were images of cars at that very same intersection that were set on fire last night. Last night I saw a video of a family that had to flee their burning home. They were, in all likelihood, no wealthier than their neighbors.

Ta-Nehisi Coate’s article for The Atlantic criticizing non-violence is slightly less ridiculous than an article by Shawn Gude in The Jacobin, but they share the same image, one of young man on a bicycle, seen from behind, fist in the air, apparently defying a line of riot police. The concluding lines of The Jacobin article read:

If the future is uncertain, one thing is clear: it is only through resistance and struggle that a new, more just Baltimore will be born.

Another image shows the same young man from the front. It is a credit to the photographer, Algerina Perna, that it is such a compelling image. It is nearly monochromatic. The gray, smoke-filled background. The uniforms of the police officers creates a dark gray horizontal line. With the police slightly out of focus, the viewer’s eye is brought to the young man in sharp focus in the foreground. His red shirt pops out against the grays. Visually, his arm breaks the line of the police officers. His dark fist is prominent against the pale gray of the smoke. It is a strong image of defiance and rebellion. Yet, how much substance is behind that image?

Because in the second image we can see him from the front, we see that he is wearing a gas mask. This allows us to identify him as the person in this video. In the video, while the newscaster interviews someone who appears in multiple videos, we see a fire hose hooked up to a fire hydrant in the background. Someone punctures the fire hose. With the camera now focused on the hose, we see a thin young man wearing the same red and gray jersey, wearing the same gas mask, puncture the fire hose. He flees on a bicycle. There is something especially despicable about someone who hampers the efforts of firemen. Last night, in Baltimore, there were reports of rioters throwing rocks and bottles at firemen.

Later, elsewhere in the city, there was a building under construction that entirely burned to the ground. It was one of the most widely shown images because the fire was so dramatic and the news crews had good footage of it. The building was intending to be a center to provide community services and housing for seniors. A local church had been working on it for eight years. Eight years of work destroyed in one night. Eight years of work by local people for local people. Meanwhile, where were the rich of the area this past weekend? Attending the Maryland Hunt Cup. Frown at the privilege if you like, but recognize that the riots did not have any affect on the people who attended that.

It is simply a fantasy that riots and “rebellion” has even the remotest possibility of overturning the established order. However dramatic and compelling the image is, it is just that, an image, and it is a shame that people are seduced by it.

‘Cause I’ve seen blue skies
Through the tears in my eyes
And I realize I’m going home.

 – I’m Going Home“, by Richard O’Brien from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”

Several times, I’ve started this post and I keep stopping. Baltimore is something of an underdog city and I have enough of an instinctive sympathy for underdogs that I can’t help feeling almost guilty for hating it. To put it in the most neutral terms possible, I just haven’t been able to fit in here. Perhaps it’s my fault. New York is perhaps the last city to need one more booster, but there we go. I like New York.

Mensa having a preacher at their monthly meeting was certainly not the first time I felt alienated here, but it was the one that finally clinched it. It said to me, “No, you will never make friends here.” It’s been four years and there is probably no one here with whom I will keep in touch after I leave with the exception of my sister and brother-in-law. The cost of living is so much lower here than in New York City that I kept hoping that somehow I could make it work, by traveling more, by doing things that I was unable to do in New York like gardening, but it just wasn’t enough to make me happy. I suspect the isolation was making me a little bit nuts. It’s funny, because I’m introspective and just a touch introverted people think I should do well alone. It’s quite the opposite. Since I’m not especially gregarious I need many opportunities to make contact with other people in order to take advantage of the few occasions when I feel moved to reach out.

They say you take yourself with you wherever you go, but in my experience that just isn’t true. I’m not the same person in everyplace, or at least I don’t behave in the same way. Some people find New York too hectic. One friend left after 9/11 for that reason. I’m just the opposite. To me, everyone here in Baltimore looks like they are walking with the weight of the world on their shoulders. It makes me feel like everything is hopeless. Furthermore, the place is ugly. For better or worse, I’ve always felt very sensitive to my surroundings.

I know that the popular belief these days is that depression has a biological source, but I’ve always felt that living in Baltimore was a major contributing factor in my depression. I guess I’m going to put that to the test. Just the thought of moving back to New York has made me significantly more cheerful during the past week.

A few good things have come out of moving here. I feel closer to my sister than I have since we were teenagers. I had a chance to live in an architectural masterpiece. A former boyfriend from New York said that he heard that living in a place like this is not as enjoyable as it sounds. That is totally untrue. The building and the apartment are great. If I could bring it to New York with me I would. However, in New York I would never be able to afford it. I had a chance to learn programming and to learn more about plants.

People do choose to live in one place over another for a reason. Sometimes it’s a job or family, but many people go to New York for New York itself.

Well, I’m going to be pretty busy during the next couple of weeks. I have a new place to fix up and an old place to get ready to sell.

Get my sister Sandy
And my little brother Ray
Buy a big old wagon
Gonna haul us all away

….

Oh, Baltimore
Man, it’s hard just to live
Oh, Baltimore
Man, it’s hard just to live, just to live

from “Baltimore,” by Randy Newman

So, in my pathetic attempt to ease my social isolation, I joined a few organizations.

Now, I just got back from my “daily constitutional.” Because everyone insists exercise is the cure for depression, I exercise every day. Yesterday, I lifted weights at the gym, which is depressing but just barely bearable. Today is my day for a walk/jog. It’s really more of a power walk than a jog, but I try to keep up the pace. Shortly after starting out I started feeling those chest pains again, you know, the ones the doctors say are in my head. I guess they are. It’s probably anxiety. My route is about 2 and a half miles. In New York it used to be five, but due to the fact that Baltimore is a dangerous city it’s hard for me to find a route that’s more than two miles. And it’s really boring. I do the same route over and over and over. It it gives me a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how much I hate my life. How much I hate my body. How much I hate Baltimore. How difficult it is simply to not get fat. How futile this attempt to lose weight is. Then I tell myself that it should be for health, not appearance. Then I start to wonder why I want to prolong my life when I hate it so much. I don’t want extra years of being lonely and men don’t want healthy, they want anorexic. I start feeling like a caged rat on a wheel.

I arrive home feeling remarkably angry and wonder whether or not I should take an Ativan.

I sat down to write. My mind wanders when I walk and although most of the thoughts are how I hate myself a few aren’t. I’ve been working on a novel and few ideas were about that and I sat down to write those down. Then it seems that I had saved something else with the same title as the working title of my novel thus overwriting everything I’ve written over the past few months. Fuck.

I managed to find another copy elsewhere, so I didn’t lose everything, but my bad mood went to even worse.

Now, don’t ask me why, I started feeling really, really lonely. I just want some company. Is that too mush to ask?

Apparently, in Maryland, it is.

I mentioned having joined some groups to try to meet people. Okay, one thing is the sketching, but it’s early on Saturday morning and I woke up late today. I haven’t been able to get to it for two weeks running and I doubt I’ll get there tomorrow. I’ll try. But this is why I fucking hate Maryland and Baltimore. It’s Nowhereville. Could you imagine living in New York and having to wait for Saturday morning to roll around again in order to do something.

Okay, well, I also joined Mensa. Well, once a month they have a film night and tonight was the night, but I didn’t look at it until it was too late. Don’t you know, they go to an early show. I could have gotten to it if I had thought to look yesterday, but I didn’t. Now, I’ll have to wait a month.

So, do they have anything else on their agenda. Yeah – tomorrow – Saturday – Mensa is going to a GUN RANGE!!!! I’m suicidal, but I’m not fucking stupid. I know well enough that I should stay away from guns for the foreseeable future.

Now, what else is Mensa doing?

July’s speaker is Walter Jones, a graduate of Yale University and Howard University Divinity School, and his presentation is titled “We’ve Come this Far by Faith”.  Walter describes it as a brief gospel history lesson, portrait of a people, and folk sermon rolled into one.

Guns, God. What next? An anti-gay protest? Did I join Mensa or the Tea Party?

Man, I miss New York.

The past few days I was actually feeling something close to normal. Now tonight, it’s not quite ten in the evening and I’ve been quietly crying for about an hour. Ten is the hour when I stop playing music and dial the noise down significantly and right now, I feel like I’m looking at a very long strange night.

It’s so strange what can trigger a depressive episode. It seems so trivial. If I were to tell you what the trigger is you’d think I was nuttier than you do already. I can see that this is going someplace not good and I don’t know how to stop it.

All I wanted to do was sit outside alone, have something to eat and read a book. I’d been cleaning my apartment and doing my laundry. I hadn’t eaten anything all day and in the late afternoon I had this idea that I would go take a break at a little Asian noodle shop that has some seats outside. Aesthetics matter a lot to me and I wanted to just spend an hour someplace attractive and pleasant. The shop itself is hideous, but they have some tables outside in an area that’s very pleasant. Of course, the place was closed.

It’s a little hard to explain why this upset me so much. Earlier this week, I was feeling like I just don’t want to be a basket case anymore. I hate exercising, but I exercised everyday this week except Friday, and that was because my mother had some problems with her email, so I went over there to help her. I’ve been good about cooking reasonably healthy meals at home and, most importantly, I’ve tried to be productive in a work related sense. I know that for a mentally healthy person, this is just normal behavior, but it took quite a lot of discipline and forcing myself to follow through. I just kept telling myself that I want to get better, I don’t want to be an emotional mess.

Two weeks ago, I cleaned my bedroom for what must have been the first time in over a year. My sister helped me and we cleaned out a small part of my closet. Or maybe that was last week. I’m not sure. Anyway, today, I tried to do the “routine” cleaning. It has to be understood that I’ve fallen behind on my cleaning by about two years, maybe longer. That doesn’t mean I haven’t cleaned anything at all, but I feel that each week I don’t do quite as much as is necessary to keep up on things and slowly, week by week, I’ve fallen behind and I could spend a full week, everyday, all day cleaning and not get my apartment, apartment not house mind you, to the level of tidiness of the average person. I don’t aspire to be a model of tidiness, just average.

So, my idea was, more or less, that I would do my routine cleaning, take a break in the late afternoon, have something to eat in a pleasant spot outdoors, taking advantage of the good weather, and read a book. It was a beautiful day today and the idea of a break kept me going. I didn’t want to cook because I didn’t want to dirty dishes. Also, I wanted to get outside as a sort of necessary “mood enhancer.” I’m not overly fond of the food at this noodle place, but it struck me as good enough and I really liked the idea of taking a break with a book.

So, of course, it’s closed. I began walking to another place that’s about a half a mile away. At the end of the block I paused. That place is very unattractive. I started feeling depressed just thinking about it. There was another place that’s much closer, but that’s even more unattractive, plus they have televisions. I stood at the corner not knowing if I should turn right, turn left and go back home or turn around and go to the other place. It was the idea of spending my break not only indoors, but in truly ugly surroundings, that had me stumped. It wouldn’t be much of a respite. If couldn’t have a respite, I might as well go back to my place, so I started walking back. I didn’t want to make myself some eggs because I’d have to dirty a pan and I was trying to tidy my place. I thought about ordering in, but the easiest thing would be pizza and I was trying to eat a little bit more healthily.

I got back home and I found I was crying, not hysterical, just crying. I just felt so defeated. It’s hard to explain.

I did eventually get myself some dinner, but it was in a really ugly environment. Worse yet, next door there is a sports bar and I had to listen to the sports news blaring throughout my entire meal.

Now, I’m home alone and I’m crying again. I’m not even sure why. It just feels like everything in my life is ugly and lonely. The worst part of it is that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

 

The huge snowstorm we were told to expect turned out not to be so big. Still, I went outside hoping to get some nice seasonal shots.

The huge snowstorm we were told to expect turned out not to be so big. Still, I went outside hoping to get some nice seasonal shots.

I walked around the corner to a street of pretty townhouses hoping that there would be some nice decorations.

I walked around the corner to a street of pretty townhouses hoping that there would be some nice decorations.

A surprisingly large number of people still had pumpkins out. I missed a shot of a squirrel eating one.

A surprisingly large number of people still had pumpkins out. I missed a shot of a squirrel eating one.

The temperature was supposed to drop all day, but instead it rose and the snow quickly disappeared.

The temperature was supposed to drop all day, but instead it rose and the snow quickly disappeared.

Then I spied one of my favorite little birds, a Northern Mockingbird, in a sapling.

Then I spied one of my favorite little birds, a Northern Mockingbird, in a sapling.

He waited patiently while I circled the tree trying to get a better shot.

He waited patiently while I circled the tree trying to get a better shot.

It's good that they're not timid birds because I had to take my time and focus manually.

It’s good that they’re not timid birds because I had to take my time and focus manually.

Finally, he flew into a tree and was quickly joined by two others.

Finally, he flew into a tree and was quickly joined by two others.

Here's the third bird.

Here’s the third bird.

My sister insists I should tell this story. I’m a little hesitant.

My mother has moved to Baltimore. She’s spent her entire life in New Jersey. As far as she’s concerned, Maryland may as well be a foreign country. She’s having regular panic attacks and temper tantrums about how she doesn’t like it here. She doesn’t like the culture. She doesn’t understand how things work here. Why are there so many four-way stops? Why are there so many traffic circles? Why are the bagels so bad? Where can you get a decent slice of pizza? Making matters worse, she has no sense of direction. “I feel like I’m living in a maze,” she says constantly, her little blond head barely above the steering wheel. Yes, she’s getting to the age when people start shrinking. She’s already locked herself out of her apartment once. She said, “I’m worried that I’m developing dementia.” She’s not near dementia yet. I’m not really quite sure how to explain it, but her perception is fuzzy. She’s gotten a little slow on the uptake. She was always a smart, energetic woman, and now her reaction time is not what it used to be.

So, her television was very old and barely worked. When she moved, she decided to not take it with her. Now she needed a television. She hates television. When we were kids, if we watched tv, she would come in and yell at us and tell us we were getting dumber by the second. But it’s the modern world and everyone has to have a television whether you like it or not. But… she’s not going to spend money on one. So, she calls me up. She needs a tv. A big tv, because she’s half blind. And it needs to be cheap. She wants the cheapest big tv I can find for her.

“Your brother-in-law said go to Best Buy. I don’t want to go to Best Buy.”

“Okay. Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t know Baltimore. Isn’t there some sort of little appliance store some place. Sometimes places like that have good deals.”

So, I take to the internet and call her back. “Okay, I have a list of a few places we can get a t.v., but the cheapest place is Best Buy.”

“I don’t want to go to Best Buy. Aren’t there any little stores.”

“Well, I found one called Joe’s Appliances, but they don’t have prices on the internet,” I suggest. “We can go there and see.”

“They’re closed,” my mother informs me.

“How did you know that?”

“I got lost the other day. I saw a big sign, Joe’s Appliances. I thought, ‘Oh, good.’ So I pulled into the parking lot, and they’re closed.”

“Okay, then we have to go to Best Buy whether you like it or not.”

“Oh,” my mother says.

So, we get in the car and we go to the store. We find the very same t.v. I saw on the internet, we pick it up. She’s holding one end and I’m holding the other. The sales clerk asks if we need help getting it to the car. My mother replies that we have to get it from the car to her apartment, so if we can’t get it to the car without help we have a problem. She then tells the clerk her life story. “I was born a poor girl in Patterson, New Jersey.” Fortunately, the store wasn’t too busy and the sales clerk managed to smile through the whole story until she brought him up to the current day. “So, now I’m living in Baltimore.”

“Welcome to Baltimore,” the clerk says. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “Please, Ma, don’t start about the bagels.” She thinks New Jersey is the greatest place on earth, and she’s not entirely aware that the rest of the earth does not agree with her. Happily, she responds politely.

The box is bulky, but not heavy, and we waddle to the door. At the door, there’s another young man who’s about six-foot five. He says, “Ladies, why don’t the leave the television here, go get your car, bring it around to the door, and I’ll help you put it in the trunk.” My mother has decided that we have sufficiently proved our ability to carry the t.v., so now we can let this guy help us.

We bring the car around to the front door. My mother says to me, “Stay in the car.” However, I’m a little concerned about her slightly fuzzy behavior, and I insist on getting out. She’s sitting behind the steering wheel, craning her neck, looking around. “I don’t see the guy with the tv.”

“Don’t worry, ma,” I say. “He’ll be there as soon as he sees us.” With that, I get out of the car. The young man walks out of the door, easily carrying the box that my mother and I had to carry together in his big, long arms.

“Pop open the trunk,” I call to my mother from behind the car. The trunk pops open. The man with the t.v. is at my side and he begins lifting the box to place it in the trunk. At the moment, gaping maw of the trunk stars drifting forward. The car is moving. Why is the car moving?

I run to the driver’s side of the car. “Stop the car, ma,” I’m yelling. As I round the side of the car, I see that the driver’s side door is open and a little blond head is emerging. “Stop, Ma! Stop!” I see a leg emerge. “Ma! What are you doing?” The car is continuing to roll forward. “Ma! MA!” Her body is following. Her foot is touching the ground. I’m standing with my mouth agape, the guy with the t.v. is standing with his mouth agape, and a small crowd has gathered. Her other leg emerges from the car and suddenly, splat! She’s on the ground on her hands and knees. The car is still moving forward and it’s picking up momentum on the sloping parking lot. It looks like the rear wheel is going to roll over my mother’s legs. Suddenly, she seems to be aware of what’s happening and she crawls faster than I’ve ever seen anyone crawl. She’s out of immediate danger, but the car is rolling forward. I’m frozen in place.

Suddenly, someone comes from behind me and runs and jumps in the car. I turn to my mother, “Is the brake broken?”

“I don’t think so,” she says. “I think I just forgot to put it in park.”

The man who jumped into the car pulls the car around and parks it where is should have been in front of the store. He gets out and hands the keys to my mother. My mother starts telling him her life story. When we reach the present, when she has just moved to Baltimore, bought a tv and fallen out of a moving car, she concludes, “It’s a miracle that you were here.”

Those words seemed to come out of her mouth in the same slow motion that I saw her head emerge from the car. I was thinking, “No, Ma! Stop! Don’t say that!”

“Will you ladies wait here,” the man says. I have something in my car I want to give to you. With that, he runs off.

His wife, standing by our side, says, “You two can go now, if you like.”

The man comes back with a small booklet, which I immediately recognize as a religious tract.

“Are you ladies believers?” he asks.

I look over at my mother and see that she has the same frozen, half-smile that I’m pretty sure I have on my face. “Um, well, uh, I, uh.” Sounds are coming from my mother’s mouth, but they’re not making any sense.

“Look at all of this,” he says raising his arms in a broad sweep that takes in, not only the Best Buy parking lot, but the strip mall across the street. “Do you think evolution can account for all of this.” I want to say, “You mean the macadam? I think that was a Scottish fellow.” but I bite my tongue. I stand there saying nothing and, happily, my mother says nothing. Eventually, the man has nothing left to say and insists that my mother will find his booklet inspiring.

We get in the car. “I need a drink,” my mother says.

“There’s a wine bar in Hampden….”

“Let’s go.”

This morning my mother phoned. “You know, I realized. I don’t like tv.”