It was a chilly…

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…walk to work in shorts Monday morning, but what could I do? My pants were at the office. As I mentioned earlier, with what seemed like the advent of hot weather, I decided to leave my work clothes at work and change there. (The car is currently rusting in someone’s driveway in Montana, so I walk to work, which means that – during the true summer heat – I arrive at work looking like I’ve been dipped in water.) Then the hot weather went away. Meanwhile, I’ve been wondering if I should send out an email at work, letting everyone know of my new sartorial practice. Closed doors don’t mean a whole lot to most people where I work – or, rather, they mean that you should say “sorry to bother you, I saw your door was closed, but…” when you barge in anyway – so at some point I just know I’m going to find myself barring the door with my body, half-dressed, explaining what I’m doing to someone who just wanted to ask a quick question about uploading something to the web site. Assuming I bar the door in time. Then there’s the fact that, with our office layout (two rowhouses), it’s possible to go the whole day without seeing some of my coworkers; there are some people I only see first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening. Will they think I’ve switched to working in clothes more suited to a Sunday afternoon bike ride? On the other hand, if I never see anyone anyway, what does it matter what I wear?

Throughout the day, as I worked in my office overlooking the intersection of 25th and Calvert, I was treated to an incredible number of sirens on passing emergency vehicles. I always hear some, since I’m only about six blocks from the fire department’s station number 12 in the 800 block of east Calvert, plus both Calvert and 25th streets are pretty major thoroughfares, but yesterday it was like they were never going to stop. I went to the Baltimore Sun‘s web site just now and I wonder if the article associated with this headline might have some explanation: 4 men shot, 3 fatally; city homicide toll at 100. I assume all of that happened yesterday, but there doesn’t seem to be an actual article to go with the headline, at least as of 7 a.m. this morning. Or maybe that’s all that anyone thinks is worth reporting at this point. Yes, the sky remains blue as well. (Update: the article is now up here.)

Speaking of what a great place Baltimore is to live, the coworker with whom I’d been discussing how awful but common it is to see area kids fighting or abusing each other on the street came in with a story from her weekend. She and her boyfriend had been to the farmer’s market on Sunday and decided to drive up to Belvedere Square afterwards (where, for those of you who don’t live here, a yuppie-ish clientele can enjoy gourmet grocery stores, wine bars, and little restaurants, all in a little pedestrian mall). Their mistake was taking Greenmount/York, which is one of the ten streets most likely to make you wonder why you still live here. Stopped at a light, she saw a group of about a dozen young high schoolers suddenly attack another boy about their age. The fight spilled out into the street. I’d like to have ended that sentence “stopping traffic, as passersby broke up the fight,” but that doesn’t really happen here. The poor kids of this city essentially have the value of litter in most people’s minds: a nuisance, but not a big one if you learn to look away. So, of course, everyone just kept driving by. Really, though, I can’t say I blame them, under the circumstances. I’d think twice about intervening with a group of upper elementary schoolers behaving this way in this city, and these guys were a lot older and bigger than elementary schoolers. Besides, a bar brawling type I used to know in the Coast Guard once told me he’d rather be attacked by 15 than by 2 or 3, since, with 15, they’re so cramped together that they mainly end up hitting each other and don’t have any force if they do connect.

I’ll take his word for it.

Then, as I was walking home, I passed the always crowded and incredibly filthy bus stop by the gas station on 33rd near Greenmount just in time to hear a young woman – who appeared to be in charge of about three children – scream “shut up!” at one of the children. A little further down the block, another young woman was crossing the street behind me, and the three-year-old walking with her apparently wasn’t moving fast enough for her. “Come on, you little -!” Some might say she showed restraint by not finishing the sentence, but you have to wonder about someone who accuses a small child of being “little.” Anyway, anyone see any patterns here, with implications for at least the next generation or so, no matter how many mayors pledge to reduce violence in this violent little town?


After I got home from work, I gave myself a haircut. Every few years I get into this phase where I want extremely short hair. Some people call it a shaved head, although I once went through an actual razor phase and I’d like to keep my terms precise. My current practice is merely to use electric barber’s clippers without the plastic guard. (Using a razor is too time-consuming.) It’s not to everyone’s taste, but for some reason it’s always been an ideal look of mine. I wouldn’t be the slightest bit upset to wake up and find myself cue-ball bald one day. No hairs, just a head.

Possible explanation: I was not able/allowed to watch much TV throughout most of my early years. Maybe Mr. Clean featured prominently in one of the first commercials I ever saw. I have the earrings, too. I was about to write “although I prefer to associate this [i.e., the earring-wearing] with my sailorly heritage (among other things, I am named after a sea captain),” but then I looked up Mr. Clean on wikipedia and found out that he’s supposed to be a sailor, too. Maybe the venerable corporate mascot is imprinted on me in some primal way that modern science can never hope to understand, but better him than the Quaker Oats guy.

[The cleaning product’s] mascot is the character Mr. Clean, a muscular, tanned, bald man who cleans things very well. According to the company, his image is supposed to be that of a sailor, although most people think he is a genie based on his earring, folded arms, and tendency to magically appear at the appropriate time. Mr. Clean has always smiled on the packaging, except for a brief time in the mid 1960’s when he was frowning on the package. He also has never talked.

I’d give anything (well…) to see a picture of the scowling version, but even more intriguing is to think about why there was one. Was the scowl in response to some miscalibrated marketing research, or was the company saying something? Let’s see, the mid-1960s: the Vietnam War was heating up, Malcolm X was killed, civil rights marchers were being beaten and menaced with dogs on the television. That’s a lot to scowl about right there, but maybe Mr. Clean’s personal life just wasn’t going well and it was only a coincidence.

Lately I’ve been doing some freelance work for a new client, some very basic stuff, really just proofreading and offering suggestions on a web site (but probably with more in-depth stuff to come), and it’s fun to be stretching my brain on a subject I’ve never dealt with before. As I come to what I’m sure are the most elementary realizations about the subject, I find myself fantasizing about being the outsider who comes up with a solution that no one else has thought of. All of the engineers and programmers, sitting around the meeting table, nodding their heads and smiling, saying “that’s a good idea.” Whether this could ever actually happen is an open question, but, either way, it’s nice to be branching out a little.

Across the street, as I typed up these notes, someone was mowing his lawn with a weed-whacker. We used to do that, too, but finally Kirk (not his real name), the most persistent of the local itinerant yard guys who work the neighborhood, caught me at just the right time with just the right pitch: late on a still-busy Sunday, the last dusk of a weekend when I’d sworn to myself that I would mow the lawn, this guy knocks on my door and offers to do it for four dollars. Since then, he’s kept us as customers with the pricing genius already apparent: so cheap that you’d almost feel stupid doing it yourself. (As opposed to how lazy I feel, now that I reread that sentence. Ahem.) He’s already been by twice this season – three times actually, if I count the evening he showed up staggering drunk, without his lawnmower, thankfully, drumming up business with the first spring weather. He’d been away all winter in Florida, he told me, which explained the tan, although he seems to get dark enough working shirtless here in Baltimore all summer that this is probably his permanent tint at this point. When I’m paying him, I often have the condescending thought kudos to you for trying to earn an honest living, instead of going out and robbing people, a thought based on assumptions about this city and human nature generally that I’m constantly trying to disown, but there they are.

When A. and I returned home from our wedding last fall with a car full of still-wrapped Christmas wedding presents, Kirk was just pushing his battered old mower past on the sidewalk as we pulled up. He smiled hugely when he learned that we had just gotten married and had to shake our hands to congratulate us. His hand was so weathered and calloused that it felt more like a piece of wood than like human flesh. He told us of being in his brother’s wedding, a few years back. His brother, who worked for a tugboat company, had arranged to be delivered, with his groomsmen, aboard one of the company’s crafts. After the ceremony, he and his bride departed the same way. This wouldn’t be to every bride’s taste, I’m sure, plus there would be all sorts of things you might feel stupid complaining about later if you’d gotten this large an insight into your husband’s psychological makeup this early on. Would it have been safe to wear white, even? Still, I’ve always had a fondness for tugboats so this is definitely the second-best wedding I know of.

Some days I can’t tell if what I’m doing here is writing or merely a compulsion. At least I’m not as compulsive as this guy. In a way I admire him, though – I have always been intrigued by prolific diarists, but I guess that’s different from having to become one. (If you follow that link, make sure you read this comment on the same page.)

And the helicopters circled overhead as I drifted off to sleep, the police sirens howling in the night…