Write of Passage

Willett's Baltimore Transitions / Expressions

Willett .

Willett .
Baltimore, Maryland,
June 15
Write of Passage, Inc.
Willett Thomas is the President of Write of Passage, Inc., a 501(C)(3) communications, training, and publishing organization formed in 2010 to assist underserved artists and writers. She is also a freelance writer, writing in and about Baltimore. She recently relocated to the neighborhood of Greenmount, where the exterior shots of the HBO series, The Wire were filmed. She's pleased to report any rumored resemblances to the television series are greatly exaggerated. *** Like us at Facebook ;-) http://www.facebook.com/WriteofPassage

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AUGUST 20, 2010 8:33AM

Finding My Balance

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I’m fascinated by most things Baltimore; it’s hard not to be. 

I’m intrigued by Baltimore’s rowhouses, especially those built in the 19th Century.  Tall and regal, short and stout, Federal, Queen Anne, or Greek Revival in style, thousands of rowhouses as quintessential to Baltimore as the people often found draping their stoops.  

I am especially intrigued with how these houses, most Photo by Max Glanvilleoften those with stoops making up three to four steps, usually have no rails, and if there is a rail, it’s mounted to stoops with five or more steps, and consists of only one rail. It’s one of the many things that gave me pause when considering purchasing a home in the city. Hard to fathom, but yes, rail scarcity -- not crime, high unemployment, a fleeing middle class -- was foremost in my mind.

Where are the rails?  Were there ever rails?  Having been raised without rails, do Baltimore’s children have an innate sense of balance?  Sure, I could install my own rail(s), but what about everyone else? Why don’t they want rails?  Is there some secret rail conspiracy that I, being new, a gentrified poser, will never be privy to?

“Of course not,” my realtor Oral assured me as we began my search. “There is no great Baltimore rail conspiracy.” I doubted this. I also understood that Oral was simply not invested in getting to the bottom of this thing. Though a long-time city resident himself, he still could not explain why there were no rails. Perhaps I offered, it’s because so many of the houses’ original stairs were marble, and to install a rail would cause the marble to crack. The stare he gave back was a blank one. His silence further proof that he's never given Baltimore rowhouses’ missing rails the least thought, and that his lack of interest would continue long after our conversation ended.

For me, it was more than rowhouses with missing rails. It was as if all these thousands of either totally armless or partially armless sentries were there to tell me something.  As if the rows, sensing my apprehension, also questioned my Baltimore purchase: “If your balance is unsure, as yours clearly is, then this place called Baltimore, home to John Waters, Hi Hons with high hair, The Wire, and a crazy amount of chain-smoking, is definitely not the place for you.”

Even as the movers sped off, my decision to relocate to Baltimore continued to leave me feeling unsteady.

This became more evident, when the snows, 80 or so feet, arrived this past February, blanketing Maryland and most of the East Coast. I not only got to shiver in my new home when the boiler the seller tried to pass off as new went out, but was also shaky at the thought of having to navigate my rail-less stoop heaped with ice and snow.

With the removal of a clot in the artery of my left leg six months earlier, I was still teetering and was apprehensive about how I would navigate even three steps without a rail. At my house in D.C. there were rails. There were also neighbors, along with a significant other, and other friends quick calls and short drives away, all of whom had my back. In Baltimore, I was alone. I was also shaky.

Of course, I soldiered through. Me and my supersize ergonomically designed blue snow shovel. So much so, I overheard men at the end of the block who were taking turns shoveling the church’s sidewalk remark, “We need a shovel like that lady has. That’s a good shovel.” 

I survived the Blizzards of 2010, and having done so, I was beginning to feel more confident in my footing and about my city of choice. My health was good and I was meeting lots of great people, and had been able to pick up a couple of temp assignments paying enough to keep the lights on and my stomach from talking back to me. And, I hadn’t once reached for the phone to call the ex. Truthtold, mister man hadn’t crossed my mind for quite some time.

Then just when I was starting to feel more myself than I had for some time, I allowed myself to be knocked off kilter. Rumor had it that a friend of a friend age 55, was getting married yet again, her third marriage to my none.

Leaving  D.C. as I had – by the skin of my teeth, before  getting tossed to the curb with all my possessions, I had had too many issues to deal with to get hung-up about my recently revised single status:  I needed to become healthier; having narrowly avoided foreclosure on the old home, I needed to avoid having the same happen to the new home, and last, and perhaps the easiest to do up to this point, I had to put to bed the romantic notion that things could remotely work out with a good guy, but still the very wrong guy for me. With such a laundry list of gotta dos, who had time to get hyped about finding Mr. Right?  With the announcement of my friend’s friend’s engagement—God, three times, what a little man piggy! -- it seems I did.

Last week, this became even more the case, when I met Redkin riding the free Purple Circulator meant for tourists, but ridden more often by those like myself, people who want to run errands, but who don’t want to deal with the parking situation downtown or the mobs of tourists at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

It was midday, the worst time to ride the Circulator. Several stops before my own, the driver stopped to let more people board, filling the bus to capacity with shoppers and tourists. I moved my bags to free up the seat next to me. Unlike the ten or so people to board before him, only Redkin opted not to bypass the free seat. I found this interesting, people tired and sweaty who’d rather stand, crowding the aisle than take a seat next to a stranger. I admit to being pleased when Redkin sat next to me. It was good to know that there was at least one person other than myself who understood the commodity of an empty bus seat, a man who clearly recognized a good thing when it presented itself.

Redkin, a financial planner, originally from Turkey, was taking his guests, a party of six or so friends visiting from France, on a tour of B’more's sights and sounds. Our short time together, we discussed everything from our obligation as citizens of a free country to dig deep, do more to help one another, on to the fine job Stephanie (yes, we feel free to address B'more's mayor in the familiar) is doing so far. We also touched on relationships, all the hard work that must go into making a romantic partnership, or any coupling, really, a successful one.

The conversation I shared with Redkin was just what I needed. And, considering our driver’s need to take a not so quick ten minute break mid trip, and that the Circulator’s air-conditioner couldn’t have possibly been going full blast, having such a seat companion was a nice departure from what I would have been doing if he hadn’t sat beside me: sweating profusely and fanning myself as if that would have made a bit of difference.

Our conversation was a good one. Good enough to merit several quick looks down at his hand to remind myself that yes, indeed, he was involved. This was confirmed by Redkin when he winked at a member of his party, a man who, I noticed, had been taking in our every animated word. “Oh, that’s Paul, my partner, my boyfriend, the person that makes my life so great and wonderful, and me the magnificent specimen of human that I am,” Redkin offered. Of course, I’m paraphrasing, but not by much.   

Redkin’s coupled status did not surprise me, neither did his being gay. That’s because almost every great guy I’ve met since arriving in Baltimore has been gay. And it’s not like I hang out in gay spaces. By gay, I mean those venues that exclusively cater to gay clientele. My Baltimore experience has been one of just living my life, then without much to do on my part, some guy will enter my space and we begin having what proves to be a wonderful, often funny, always thought-provoking conversation. Then another guy comes by, squeezing in on our time, space, to such an extent that I am now forced to question if what I thought was happening between us was real or simply imagined, now that we’re a threesome, that’s actually a twosome, with me ending up odd girl out.  

Years ago this encounter with Redkin would have been a “double drats! foiled again!” moment.  Today, I’m happy for him, for his partner Paul, who I smiled broadly at across the aisle to show this. He smiled too, nodding, moving in to be closer to the one he has made such a life affirming impact on, all the while looking me up and down, head to toe, injecting, switching the subject to some domestic matter (theirs), one which completely excluded me from the conversation, putting me in my place.   

I understand Paul’s watchfulness. Is she one of those desperate, predatory females? No, Paul/Ted/Jeff, and/or Scott, I’m not. Still, with the quiet and settling of my Baltimore life, I find myself wanting what these couples appear to have. Who wouldn’t like to have someone at their side to listen as intently as Paul’s Redkin, or someone there to help with the snow shoveling those times when back to back blizzards hit? 

No, I don’t think this is too much to ask of a city with thousands upon thousands of rows, that behind one of those doors there’s a guy not gay (not that there's anything wrong with this), who has superior listening skills and doesn’t mind taking turns shoveling snow. And even if it is, then, I'm open, willing to compromise somewhat on the shoveling, do my part, getting cold and wet, enduring frozen hands and feet -- this I'm willing to do as long as he has no problem making the hot chocolate and keeping the fire stoked.      



©2010 Willett Thomas

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What a wonderful piece of writing. I feel like I've had a vicarious tour of Baltimore this morning, and I love your observations about being single in a world that sometimes seems to be made up of couples. I especially like " . . . switching the subject to some domestic matter (theirs), one which completely excluded me from the conversation, putting me in my place." Rated.
I loved this and made a bad day better.
Thanks readwillet and rated with hugs
I love reading your posts. You're such a glorious writer! And I remember feeling so defeated as a single person, so many first dates, so many disappointments. And yet I was also aware that my life was just fine exactly the way it was. I decided to just remove all my expectations of finding a partner and just find somebody to go to the movies with, maybe go out for dinner once in a while. It felt much better that way, and in pretty short order I met my partner, though it took me awhile to realize that's what he was, and our son is 8 months old. So if it can work out for me, it can surely work out for you too. The men of Baltimore need to open their eyes!
@MaryAnndroid -- Congrats on the new addition. And thanks for knowing where I'm coming from. I've decided to do just as you did, take things as they come and not keep looking for "Mr. Right" around every corner. At least that's the plan today.
read: I think I know just the shovel you have. I have one too. Can't help but think your shoveling partner is out there somewhere. This was a good read.
My friend, G, is 54, holds an MS in environmental engineering (an almost totally male-dominated occupation), divorced with 2 grown sons. She's essentially happy and enjoys her own life. 2 Saturdays ago she stopped at a Half-Price Bookstore to pick up a couple of books she's behind on from her book club. And there she met C. It seems it was Fate because they've hit it off like nothing I've ever seen before. She wasn't looking for anyone--her life was full and fun already. They're already planning far into the future. I'm to meet him tomorrow (to give my blessing--what can I say, I'm the Old Wise Woman here). I'm so delighted for her--and just a little sad because she doesn't have the time for me that she had before she met C. But I'm making cheesecake--her favorite of all the things I cook--and I'm looking forward to meeting him. So. When you're not looking for something, it's often then that you find it.

I love this, Willett. I love everything you write. Hang on, hang in, hang out. And enjoy this present life! Rated. D
@Yarn Over -- I'm heading to Half-Price Books now. Kidding. You're a good friend, cheesecake, wow! And, you're right. I've had a couple of good girlfriends go by the wayside when mister man came on the scene. I'm sure this won't be the case with your friend. She sounds pretty smart.
Love the way you frame and set this piece. Love your sense of humor as well as your sense of balance.
The way the theme of balance runs through this piece . . . it's subtle by the end, but still there, underpinning the narrator's observations . . . your writing style is wonderful to read . . . very personable, approachable . . .
@Owl -- Your comments always make me want to strive to do better. I very much appreciate the time you spend reading my posts. You're a great reader.
Willett, I love the balance metaphor and your vivid descriptions. I am sure Mr. Right will pop up someday, and knock you off balance.
Is Baltimore still "a Northern city with a Southern exposure"?
Or has this changed?
@Leon -- Yes! It's a small southern town, spread out in a large norther city. My first month in Baltimore, I had so many invites. Just say to someone (the right someone) "I'm new in town" and you've got invites everywhere. B'more's got a great vibe.
this is extraordinary writing R.
I loved the feel of this piece as you wove it from the rails to wanting a good listener. Well done, with such subtle references to the city embedding us in the B'more culture.
Balance is highly under-rated.
I've never been to Baltimore, but if I ever go there, I will definitely keep an eye out for the railing/non-railing ratio in its buildings. Nicely done.
@CarolineK -- I'm on a mission to find out about B'more's missing rails. I'll keep you updated.
A lovely read, and I remember so vividly being in your position. I guess you don't need to hear it from me, but that guy is definitely out there. It's just that sometimes they can take their sweet time.

Here's to rails and available men...cheers!
This is delightful, Willett. I especially enjoyed your description of the bus scene with Redkin. There have been times here in Atlanta when I've run across a man in my daily comings and goings who seemed interesting and interested, but eventually reveals that he is gay. I've made several friends that way, darn it.
@bluestocking babe -- I don't need to hear it, but it's good to hear. Thanks.
I was running late, when I looked at this posting. Kinda' long, so I started to go on. I'm glad I didn't, great writing, again. Thanks~
Great writing as always! I was riding through Baltimore by those Row Houses only because our hosts (two Iranian brothers) were lost and arguing in Farsi which way to turn. I'm glad they turned the wrong way.
I remember visiting a cousins out East and driving through Baltimore when I was twelve. The single thing that impressed me most was the abundance of rowhouses, with their rail-less stoops. Wonderfully written.
Willett, I was just thinking about you this morning, am very behind in my reading, but found this wonderful post. there are many row houses in Philly without rails, a friend of mine lives in one of them and it freaks me out. Your analogy works so well in this story, I'm glad you are enjoying your new city, and hopefully you will avoid mass quantities of snow this winter. Hope the leg is healing up fine,. Peace. RRRRRRRRRRR
@Bernadine -- Thanks for taking a look at this. The leg is way better than it was this time last year. I really do like Baltimore. It's full of wonderful quirkiness. I'm behind on my OS reading too, hoping to catch up some tomorrow. OS writers really can pump it out. Stay cool!
Great piece, friend! Yes, Baltimore is full of frustrations on the dating scene. I was so hopeful dating someone who wasn't in my circle of friends and friends of friends and it STILL didn't work out. And don't get me started on the gay thing. I love my gay friends, but I don't wish to date them. (R)
What I used to love is the alleys. They were my own private paradise. Also the wide open fields around Ridgewood Avenue near Pimlico Race track. Of course this was during the Jimmy Carter presidency. :)
Yes, wonderful writing. Thanks for the pic of Baltimore.