Baltimore, books

Welcome to Baltimore. Don’t go out at night.

Baltimore since Thursday has been sunny and inviting, reminding me of nothing so much as Berkeley. This may have nothing to do with its resemblance to Berkeley, but more that everyone in my family views Berkeley, California as the apotheosis of location.

I spent the day before yesterday learning about my housesit – plants, cats, more plants. I was warned, strenuously, not to go out at night. K and I drove to her community garden in Druid Hill Park, where I saw, for the first time, okra in its natural form. I get to water and eat it, and I also get to drive S and K’s Volvo. The parking brake, passenger-side door, and gas gauge do not work, but it moves!

At night, I took the Volvo out, braving the traffic of Baltimore for the first time. People here drive like they’re on skateboards, and most of the streets are one-way. I picked up my friend T and J, both residents in Hopkins medical. We went to Bo Brooks on the waterfront and ate enormous crabs with our bare hands. I was warned, for the second time, not to go out at night. I took them home, as they both work much harder than anyone else on the planet.

I was temporarily startled when the Washington Monument loomed up in the middle of northbound Charles Street like the resurrection of the Hermai, but realized I could drive around it. Spent the rest of the night finishing THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt.

I almost bought a copy of THE SECRET HISTORY in Chicago, but didn’t. The edition looked too new and blue. I wanted it to be creepier, somehow, after all the hype about this book. And then I found it waiting for me when I got here, in S and K’s tall, academic bookshelves. It is, of all things, a proof copy from before publication, with a Bennington bookstore bookmark in its pages. So cool. S went to Bennington, where Tartt, Bret Easton Ellis, and others also did. I had forgotten.

I have been reading it in bed with a great sense that the book followed me from Chicago to Baltimore, along with what makes me me. This has been reassuring. One of the reasons I’m going back to academia, for a time, is a sense that some portion of my identity which lives only in university libraries has been lost, or lessened. Finding the book here makes me feel like I am on the right path.

I finished it at about 2 AM and didn’t sleep very well – but I’m always glad to lose sleep to something well written and troubling. It’s about a group of classics students who lose their moral bearings and start killing people. (I’m giving away nothing that’s not in the first sentence – the book isn’t a mystery, but a road map of ethical deterioration.) I dreamed of a person with his head smashed in.

All these warnings about not going out at night, plus TSH, made me kind of jumpy about letting the cat in at 2 AM. I sort of expected to be shot.

Nothing, however, happened. Calvert Street was quiet, suburban, streetlit, car-parked and spotlessly clean. I think the Baltimoreans are a little excessive about their warnings. I am not going to disregard them, but I just want to point out that I let the cat out without either of us sustaining any injuries – and the cat seems to live outside all night and return home without gunshot wounds.

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