Wearing a black suit with light blue seersucker sleeves and pockets, a white shirt buttoned tightly around his neck, black-and-white striped socks, grey camouflage slip-on sneakers, and his signature pencil thin mustache, John Waters sits next to a vase of red roses adorned with a bow and signs copies of his new book, Role Models, at Atomic Books in Hampden.
Greeting more than 300 hometown fans, the 64-year-old “Pope of Trash” is in his element, signing everything from a National Bohemian beer can and sex toys to X-rays of a man’s broken legs (the guy literally crawled into the store from his wheelchair)—even a baseball, though Waters quips, “I hate sports.”
The faces of those shuffling into the small independent bookstore on this muggy night range from young to old, bedraggled to refined, all united in reverence for a living, breathing Baltimore treasure. Two elderly women waiting in line were Waters’s neighbors of nearly 17 years when he lived near Druid Hill Park. A young family that now lives in Waters’s childhood home in Lutherville is here, too.
When the signing wraps up, Waters looks satisfied. New York is the next stop on his book tour, but he says Baltimore has given him the best turnout thus far. Is he ever surprised by who comes out to meet him? “Yes,” Waters says, but not because of the obscene or outrageous. “The older I get, the younger my audience seems to get,” he says. “And that’s wealth, I think. Not anything to do with money, but the fact that my work has lasted. That’s wealth.”
One Lunch with the Condor
Beneath crystal chandeliers in the grand ballroom of the Marriott Waterfront, nearly 1,000 leaders of arts institutions from all over the country are tucking into iceberg lettuce and blue cheese salads when the lights dim. They have come to Baltimore for the “Half-Century Summit” of Americans for the Arts—four days of events celebrating the advocacy group’s 50th anniversary. The kickoff luncheon is a hot ticket. Political commentator and author Arianna Huffington will speak later, and the Morgan State University Choir will perform—but the buzz in the room is about Robert Redford, the event’s honorary chair.
Weathered but still handsome, Redford wears jeans, a white blazer, and trendy sneakers. He emerges from the wings and ambles across the stage as if he’s just dismounted after a long ride. An older woman in the crowd swoons jokingly and her friends giggle. The star says he usually shies away from appearances like this but made an exception because of his belief in the power of the arts.
“The value of the arts is held back by myths,” he declares. Among them, he says, is that the “arts are not an economic driver,” and secondly, that they’re “trivial.” He notes that his Sundance Film Festival provides Utah $70-90 million annually.
To refute the second point he relates a personal experience. In third grade, his teacher made a deal after she caught him doodling in class: He could present his drawings to the class once a week, if he paid attention. The deal provided self-esteem and direction to the self-described “bad student and bad kid.” “At the time,” he says, “I just thought I escaped [getting into trouble]. But looking back, I think it was a turning point.”