Baltimore vs. Brooklyn
January 5, 2013, West North Avenue
“I have been here once or twice and, for some reason, I like Baltimore,” deadpans Matthew Zingg as he steps on stage at The Windup Space. “It sort of has a small, nondescript place in my heart.”
Outside, artfully disheveled twenty- and thirtysomethings, mostly in knit caps, plaid shirts, jeans, and eyeglasses, stand near bicycle racks smoking cigarettes. Inside, the tables and bar are packed for a literary “competition” between poets from New York’s most populous borough and Charm City, which doesn’t mean there aren’t funny asides and wry observances about urban life in both locales. “We’re city people,” says Allyson Paty, Brooklyn’s second reader. “We pull an invisible bubble out from our own heads and create a protective space.”
A copy of the New York Post, always good for a laugh, sits nearby.
Before intermission, Baltimore’s Alicia Puglionesi reads from her “non-verbal” dictionary, noting the contradiction in defining actions, which are inherently non-verbal, with words. Someone requests a word beginning with the letter “I” and she chooses to describe “information,” comparing its movement to a person: “It comes,” Puglionesi says shyly behind her large-frame glasses, “and never says where it went.”
Later, writer Eric Nelson, self-deprecatingly admits he’s actually from Queens and recalls a past Baltimore visit with friends for another poetry reading. “It was at Hexagon [since closed] and we stayed overnight,” says Nelson. “The next morning, we’re walking down the street to our car, and a big jeep pulls up alongside us and this guy rolls down his window and yells, ‘Die hipster scum.’
“We still laugh about that.”
Guns & Ammo
January 13, 2013, York Road, Timonium
Just inside the 38,400-square-foot Exhibition Hall at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, a gun show vendor offers authentic Nazi daggers and Japanese swords, as well as Civil War cannonballs, for sale to collectors. Nearby, Pittsburgh’s Eric McElearney, owner of EMac’s Tactical Shop, and his father, Art, sell sealed buckets of emergency foodstuffs, which include rolled organic oats, millet, brown rice, green lentils, pinto beans, and pancake mix. The buckets potentially provide weeks of meals, in case of power outages—or societal breakdown.
“People call it ‘Doomsday preparations,’ after the National Geographic show [Doomsday Preppers],” Eric McElearney explains. Nearby, a dealer shows off Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, priced at $2,860, 20-round magazines included. A potential buyer is told that 30-round clips can’t be bought or sold in Maryland, but that “you can drive down to the Pennsylvania line, buy and sell it there, and bring it back.”
In the rear, a vendor hands an unloaded Glock pistol to Stephanie Nowowiejski. She went target shooting with her boyfriend for fun, and is shopping for her first gun. The first Glock, Stephanie says, feels too large. The second, too small. “We’re low on inventory with the run after the Connecticut shootings,” the vendor says. “Clayton has one on his hip, but we can’t show you that,” he adds, gesturing toward Otto Police Supply owner Clayton Otto, who lifts his shirt to reveal his legally concealed weapon. “It’d be too dangerous.”
Everything Must Go
January 21, 2013, Sparrows Point Road
On a cold, muddy, morning outside the former United Steelworkers Local 9477, men sip complimentary coffee in paper cups before stepping onto chartered buses for a tour of the property that once housed the world’s largest steel mill. Hilco Trading, which bought Sparrows Point in a bankruptcy sale, is offering previews of the mill’s vast stock of heavy equipment, machinery, trucks, and tools for an online auction of “an industry,” as one visitor—a former steelworker here—puts it.
At the first stop, everyone exits the bus and two Colorado reps from EVRAZ North America, which operates several smaller mills, inspect 200-ton transport trucks known as “slab haulers.” A rep from O&K American Corp, headquartered in Japan, is also aboard with several retired or laid-off Sparrows Point workers, coming for a last glimpse of the corrugated warehouses, tin mills, machine shops, rail cars, and loading docks.
“I came here in 1962, right out of Kenwood High School, into an apprentice program,” says Lawrence Knachel, glancing out a bus window. “We had 27 softball teams. Shipping side used to play the steel side after work.”
Inside a drafty repair shop, a former steelworker, in the hot tin mill for 39 years, mans a security post. A Midwestern manufacturing rep asks what caused the plant’s closure. “Everyone has a different reason,” the ex-steelworker says, shaking his head inside a yellow hard hat, giving the question some thought. “I’ll tell you, though, the other day I got home and my wife was crying. ‘My grandfather worked there all those years,’ she says. ‘My dad worked there all those years. You worked there all those years.
‘And now you’re shutting it all down.’”