Johns Hopkins’ Massive Yard Sale

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Not all of us have the stamina for yard sale season. Maybe you’re tired of scouring Craigslist for nearby listings, then mapping out a way to hit the most promising yards in the most efficient way. Instead, maybe you daydream about a a huge room full of many people’s gently used clothes, furniture, and small china figurines.

If so, you’re about to have that disconcerting (yet pleasant) experience of seeing your dream become a reality on Saturday, when Johns Hopkins hosts its second annual U-Turn Sale. The idea is simple — gather together all the sweaters and electronics and books and stuff that college students can’t fit in their cars, and don’t feel like storing until next year; combine that with donated objects from students, staff, and faculty; then spend a month organizing and sticking (cheap!) price tags on things. You’ll (hopefully) wind up with a gym full of objects finding a useful second career, and a host of happy shoppers, glad to get a bargain.

Proceeds will benefit the Johns Hopkins Neighborhood Fund, a plan launched in 2007 aiming to connect the school more closely with nearby non-profits, as well as to the neighborhoods that border its campuses. In the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a closer look at the relationship between Hopkins and its neighbors — but for now, we’re content to go shopping for a good cause.

Ready to Break Up, Hon?

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Last week, you probably know by heart, Hon controversy turned red-hot again as much despised Hon-trademark-owner Denise Whiting’s worker bees issued local Hampden merchants a long list of restricted items they may not sell at next week’s Honfest, including anything bearing the sacred Honfest logo, but also stock merchandise which connotes the iconic Hon look, like cat’s eye sunglasses and aerosol cans.

Last year, of course, locals were shocked and disgusted gangbusters to learn that Whiting not only owns the rights to everything three-letter-H-word-containing, from restaurants to napkins to underwear to feather boas, but since she founded and runs Honfest, she gets to call the stingy shots there as well. Or so she thinks.

Anyway, after Whiting issued her list of demands and restrictions–among them that merchants must not promote religious or political messages in conjunction with Honfest–locals railed again against her control-freaky ways. Some merchants promise they’ll disregard her rules. Certain vocal attorneys have suggested that Whiting’s flier, in as far as she aims to silence topical debate, violates free speech. (We still expect to see politicians aplenty handing out “Vote for Me” messaging; September is right around the corner!)

Without question, we agree with Whiting’s critics: That honey is one piece of work. But another question emerges, as we once again review the wacky Hon aesthetic to which Baltimore has hugged tightly for decades now. What is so appealing about this hackneyed persona, beehive-topped, burly, bespectacled, and beaded? Sorry to say it, but we are so over that gal, nearly as much as we’re over Ms. Whiting’s bad behavior. Really, doesn’t our bright and thriving Baltimore deserve a more stylish mascot? Any alternative ideas? Please let us know what you think, darling.

Time to Worship at the Pizza Altar

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Only two days left til the most anticipated event of Baltimore’s summer:  yes, of course, we’re referring to the opening of actor Chazz Palminteri‘s Italian restaurant Chazz:  A Bronx Original. It’s a dining establishment so momentous that it needs a subtitle. Need we say more?

Well, yeah, there’s plenty more to say. The restaurant’s decor sounds like it’s aiming for a mix between upscale-casual and totally ridiculous:  there are multiple dining rooms “each with its own Bronx personality,” “an unprecedented bar program” (whatever that means), and — maybe you should sit down for this one — a pizza altar.

But the pizza might turn out to be worthy of your worship:  it features house-made mozzerella, and gets baked in a coal-fired oven. One pizza expert pronounced coal-fired ovens 2008’s biggest fad in his annual “Year in Pizza” presentation, so Chazz is moderately on-trend in that way.

And of course with a name like Chazz:  A Bronx Original, the appeal isn’t only the food. As Chazz himself told the Baltimore Sun earlier this spring, “Diners will be sitting in Chazz’s dining room. Boom! One of my movies will come on. They’ll be dining at Chazz, and then they’ll see me on the screen. And then they’ll look around, and Chazz Palminteri will be right there.” No, he’s serious:  “Don’t be surprised to see me working the pizza oven; I plan on being there and being active.”

Palminteri had apparently spent years searching for the perfect place to launch the Italian restaurant of his dreams. Then he stopped by Aldo’s in Little Italy while he was in town performing his one-man show based on “A Bronx Tale” — and ended up eating there ten nights in a row. The man does his research:  after settling on a Harbor East location, Palminteri went on an “exhaustive pizza discovery tour of the New York area” with a couple of Baldwin brothers.

Sounds like it’ll fit right in with the expensive kitsch-that-doesn’t-know-it’s-kitsch of the rest of Little Italy. Let us know if you stop by!

The History of the Sno(w)ball

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The snowball (it is most often spelled with w), by its Baltimore definition, is cheap, easy to make, refreshing, delicious, and even hydrating. And yet for whatever reason, it is virtually nonexistent in all but a few select cities across the United States,one of which, of course, is Baltimore.

Although today this signature treat comes in a variety of artificial, neon flavors, its origins are much more natural.  In ancient Rome and Japan, rulers and wealthy citizens dispatched servants to the mountains to collect snow, which they then flavored with fruit or honey.  Many years later, the Japanese brought this idea with them to Hawaii.  The American Industrial Revolution made ice commercially available for the first time in history.  Cooler, northeastern states would ship enormous blocks of ice to places like Florida and Louisiana.  The ice route passed right through Baltimore, where children would ask for shavings of ice – shaved, not crushed.  As this became customary, mothers began to prepare syrups to flavor the shaved ice.  Egg custard, a simple combination of eggs, vanilla, and sugar, and one of the easiest flavors to make, is still a favorite in Baltimore today.

Twenty years after the snoball made its debut in Baltimore, it was so popular that theaters sold it to patrons during the sweltering summer months.  Because theatergoers were generally the wealthier citizens, snoballs developed a reputation as an upper-class commodity, just as they had in ancient times.  Half a century later, the country fell into depression and snoballs became a national phenomenon.  They were easier, and more importantly cheaper than ice cream, and became fondly known as “Penny Sundaes.”  During World War II, materials like cream and rock salt were too precious to be used for ice cream, and once again snoballs were there to fill the void.  But once the war ended and people were no longer driven to frugality by depression, the snoball’s popularity slowly diminished.  These days one can still get a true snoball – shaved, not crushed – in Baltimore and Hawaii, as well as New Orleans, Philadelphia, and the Jersey Shore.

A “snoball” is not to be confused with a “snowball” or a “snocone.”  Though in its youth, the modern day snoball was likely referred to as a “snowball,” these days, in a society that uses phonetic spelling as an excuse for poor spelling, we have dropped the offending “w.”  A snowball is an icy lump thrown at others during the winter.  A snocone, apparently, is not a real thing.  Those who use the term are hopelessly out of it.

The old favorite flavors are still around – egg custard, root beer, skylite – but in recent summers new flavors have joined the menus at local snoball stands.  I recently visited the stand nearest to my house and was surprised by and then skeptical about the wide variety of choices.  For example, if I were so inclined, I could get an ice cream flavored snoball.  I don’t know what generic ‘ice cream’ tastes like, since in my experience ice cream comes in different flavors as well, and I also don’t know why I wouldn’t just buy ice cream, instead of ice cream flavored ice, but I guess some people enjoy it.  If I were completely insane, I could order a Shrek flavored snoball.  I was so mystified by this that I asked the kid behind the counter about it and was informed that it was a combination of chocolate and spearmint, because those are “swamp colors.”  Mint chocolate is also on the menu, so maybe people order the Shrek flavor after they’ve asked about it and decided that, yes, what the old mint chocolate flavor was missing a good, old fashioned swamp association.  I don’t know.  There was also a Cars flavor, which I didn’t even question.  I guess its just unleaded regular on ice.

The snoball has come a long way.  Literally all the way around the world.  It has had its ups and downs, and while it has fallen out of favor with much of the nation, Baltimore remains faithful, reopening stands summer after summer, inventing new, bizarre flavors, and packing hundreds of cups with syrup and ice – shaved, not crushed.

Desperate Housewives of Roland Park

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On February 1, 2009, my eight-year-old daughter Jane, my miniature dachshund Beau, and I pulled up behind the moving truck in front of our new home in Baltimore, a sage-green rowhouse on a tree-lined street. As the movers began to unload, I went in to make sure everything was clean and ready. It was, except the basement, where a crew of workers were still remodeling a rocky, inhospitable cave into a usable room. The contractor had explained that the job was bigger than he’d expected and they’d probably be around for several weeks after I moved in. No big deal, I said. I didn’t need the space until both boys came home to visit from college.

I stuck my head in the basement door to let the workers know I’d arrived. “Buenas dias!” I called.

Within the first few hours, one of my new neighbors had stopped by with a plate of chocolate chip cookies and her daughter Julianne, also a third-grader. When they left, they took Jane with them to their house. So I was alone in the kitchen, hanging pots on the rack over the stove, admiring a nice frying pan the previous owners had left behind, when an attractive, loose-limbed Latino man in a knit ski cap came upstairs to fill a bucket with water. The minute he set eyes on me, a look of interest crossed his face.

I stepped to the side to let him get to the sink and his paint-spattered plaid flannel shirt brushed my arm. Our eyes met. His were liquid black.

Gracias, senora,” he said when the bucket was full, and turned to go back downstairs.

Como te llamas?” I asked.

“Humberto,” he said, flashing me that smile again before he shut the basement door. He had a way of gazing at me as if I were Aphrodite.

By this time, it had been over a year since my husband moved out. The only man I’d been  with in that time was … my husband. But now that was over; it had been six months since I had last driven over to his house like a zombie and thrown myself onto his bed, the vortex of sexual energy still swirling between us. Half a year, but still I’d felt physically ill that morning when I realized there was a woman at his house. I had called at 8 a.m. with a frantic last-minute question about some stuff he’d left in the basement. When he didn’t answer the phone, very unlike him, I called again. I called his landline and his cellphone about three times each, then texted and emailed. When he finally picked up at 10:30 and shouted, “What the hell do you want?” I absolutely knew.

Honestly I’d known since 8:01.

Have I mentioned the man’s initials are tattooed on my shoulder?

 

My marriage to Crispin Gallagher Sartwell, Ph.D. had ended badly, brimming with blame and misery on both sides, and I’d been unhappy for years before we split. But I had yet to untangle myself emotionally, and I still had either nightmares or sex dreams about him every night. I might never get over it, it seemed.

Nonetheless, now that he was with someone else, that was that. I had to move on. But what to do? Go online? Hit the bars? Beg my friends to fix me up? Start cruising the Central Americans in the basement? Or somehow adjust to a life without love, sex or passion?

The way I saw it at the time, only one of these choices was totally out of the question.

The way I saw it at the time, those were the choices.

Jane started school the Monday after we moved in, so I was alone in the house with the construction crew. Sitting at my desk grading papers, I was surprised when I felt someone standing behind me.

Que haces?” asked Humberto.

Trabajo,” I replied. I speak very little Spanish, but I was able to explain that I am a writing teacher. And a writer. I gestured to my books, sitting on the shelf. Something about the way he looked at them suggested that it wasn’t just that he didn’t read English. It was that he didn’t read.

Tu no lees?

He shrugged. “No mucho.

I pulled down a book whose cover shows a picture of my first husband and me with our baby sons. He pointed to my name and tried to pronounce it. “Mah ree on … Weeneek. Es tu?

Es la historia de mi primera, um, mi primera… marriage. Mi esposo es muerte de SIDA.

His eyes widened. My first husband died of AIDS?

Hace mucho tiempo,” I said. “16 years.”

He shook his head sympathetically and touched my cheek.

Most of our interactions were no longer than that. A couple of times a day, he found a reason to venture upstairs. If I was at the desk, he’d come up behind me and touch my shoulders or stroke my hair. If I was in the kitchen, he would just stand there and look at me.

One day, I decided to use Dr. Sartwell’s Amazon Prime account so I could get free shipping on some books I needed. This turned out to be the very last time I ever used it, because I saw that he had sent a copy of the Kama Sutra to his new girlfriend, who lived in New Jersey. I nearly passed out, even though I realized it was my own fault I found this out, it was none of my business and it was no surprise. I told myself to stop thinking immediately about whether this meant she was an innocent who needed to be initiated in the ways of the world or a super-freak who would try things I never imagined.

But — did we ever even look at the Kama Sutra together? We did have a bunch of crazy electric dildos and stuff from when I did an article on sex-toy home parties for a women’s magazine. I was thinking of the thing that looked like a rubber tarantula and fighting tears when suddenly Humberto appeared behind me.

For the first time, I got up out of my chair and turned to face him. He put his arms around me and I leaned into his chest. He was muscular yet soft, much bigger than me where my husband was about my same size, and there was a sweet unselfconscious quality to the way he held his body, as if he’d never given much thought to his abs, his pecs or his quads, which makes sense when you come from a place where hunger is the biggest physical fitness issue.

Our hug lasted a minute or so, then we pulled apart. “Tu pelo,” I said, looking up at him, running my hand through his newly cropped hair.

No te gustas?

I smiled. “Me gusta mas largo.” If this meant I like long hair, it was only sheer luck.

It went on like this for weeks — hugs, looks, confusing conversations — until I began to worry. By now all the other guys knew what was going on. Did they talk about us? Did he talk to them about me? What if they told the boss?

In fact, the other men were unfailingly nice to me, extremely polite and always helpful when I needed something. Every day, they all trooped upstairs and asked me if it would be okay to microwave their lunches, and we usually exchanged a few sentences about how great the basement was turning out.  At some point, Humberto stopped going back down with them to eat. Instead, he sat at my kitchen counter and opened his plastic container of food and his bottle of orange soda.

Que es eso?” I wondered. It smelled so good. “Tu cocinas?

No, he didn’t cook it himself. He explained that the ladies on his street sold plate lunches to go for the working men. “Ven aqui,” he said, putting a forkful in my mouth.

Having lived 20 years in Texas, I loved this kind of food. In fact, this food could be the reason for the 20 years in Texas. I showed him my jars of pickled jalapenos and habaneros and bottled hot sauces and told him how I love to cook frijoles negros and frijoles pintos. He wrapped up a bite of beans for me in a homemade corn tortilla.

“Mmmmm,” I said as the masa melted in my mouth.

The next day, he brought me a foil package of fresh, hot tortillas.

When Jane got home from school, I rolled one up for her with butter and jam. “Humberto brought these for us,” I told her gaily. “Isn’t that so sweet?”

“Humberto?” she said, eyeing both me and the snack with suspicion in her big blue eyes. “Is he your boyfriend?”

“No, silly, of course not.”

“Then why are you always talking about him?” she said.

Well, Miss Third Grader, that was a good question.

At this point the crew was almost done in the basement and began alternating my project with other jobs. One day, Humberto pulled out his cellphone and asked me to put my number in it. I couldn’t think why since we could barely talk to each other, but I did it anyway. Sure enough, he called me often. He said Hola, I said Hola, then he would say something else which I had to ask to him to repeat 200 times until we gave up. Then he said Adios and I said Adios.

Though we never kissed, unfortunate progress was eventually made on other fronts. He would run his hands over my body, but had a way of pinching whatever he got hold of that I couldn’t stand. It wasn’t your usual two-fingered pinch, but a whole-hand squeeze, as if he were juicing a particularly resistant citrus fruit. Finally I used Google Translate to look up “pinch.”

No me pellizcas,” I told him.

Pellizcas?

Como eso.” I did to him what he was doing to me.

He chuckled and pushed my hand away, but also looked a little hurt. No matter, I hadn’t gotten anywhere because the next time we were together he started doing it again. Had no woman ever told him about this problem before? No one would like this technique, I was sure. Didn’t they complain?

The truth is, I liked it so little that I was beginning to cool towards him. Yes, he was cute but the pinching delivered a message to me that nothing else had.

Really, we weren’t right for each other.

But to put it in Pokemon terms, the ability of looking must be stronger than the ability of pinching, because looking beat pinching in this Poke-battle. When Humberto called a few days later to say he wanted to come over and see me, I didn’t ignore it or pretend I didn’t understand, as I had in the past. I made a plan. He would come on a Saturday, when Jane would be with her dad in Pennsylvania. I’d drive over to where he lived and pick him up around noon — except for the bus, he had no other way to get here.

It took about ten minutes for him to give me the directions since he was saying Fayette but I was hearing Fie-jet, so didn’t recognize the name of one of the biggest streets in town.

The day of our date, I was nervous. Why was I doing this, if I didn’t really want to? I guess it seemed like my best chance or even my only chance to have sex, which I obviously had to do as a phase in my recovery. I put on black yoga pants and a stretchy, V-necked black shirt, and I drove across town to the barrio, where he was waiting for me, standing in the rain without an umbrella.

He was dressed up, sort of heartbreakingly, in an ironed shirt, pants of shiny, thin material and black lace-up shoes. Though I liked him better in the hoodie and ski cap, I appreciated the sense of occasion. When we got to my house, I offered him something to eat. He didn’t want food, but drank plenty of champagne.

With my laptop open on the coffee table and Google Translate running harder than a shredder at Goldman Sachs, I was able to learn many more things about Humberto than I had before. Such as, he had three kids at home in El Salvador whom he hadn’t seen for four years. And their mother — his wife? he was vague on this — had left him. (Actually, it looked to me like he had left her.)

The kids? Didn’t he miss his kids?

Oh, yes, he did.

This is a sexy conversation, isn’t it?

He was tossing the ball for Beau, which only showed how uncomfortable he was, since he usually treated the dog as some kind of large rodent. Despite the champagne, neither of us was the least bit bubbly as we trooped grimly upstairs to the bedroom.

He took off his shoes and lay on top of the quilt.

I took my shirt off — somebody had to do something, right? — but when he started some half-hearted pinching through my black bra, I rolled away.

Then he said, “No tengo un condón. He olvidado.

He forgot his condoms? This seemed kind of hard to believe, so we confirmed the translation. Condón. Profilactico. Preservador. Perhaps I should try to tell him that my tubes were tied so we didn’t need the condón.

Su marido murió de SIDA, no?

Oh, okay. AIDS. Right. I could have attempted to explain that I didn’t have the HIV virus but really, I just wanted to put my shirt back on. Meanwhile, he looked about to cry. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

Estoy muy triste,” he told me. “Mi vida — es muy triste.

Porque? Que es la problema?

Es mi hermano,” he said, and the tears rolled. He told me that his brother was trying to come to the United States from Salvador and was stuck in Mexico. He needed money to pay the coyote or they would keep him there. It was very, very dangerous, like when Humberto himself came he almost died. So, maybe could I please give him some money? He looked at me with tortured hope, his dark eyes wet.

“How much money is it?” I wondered.

He told me.

At this point, my eyes also filled with tears and I leapt off the bed. I mean I felt bad about his brother and I knew I wasn’t Aphrodite but this was really pretty far to fall.

Before I took him home, we sat on my front porch with Google Translate and had as serious a conversation as we could manage. I tried to explain how I felt, and to reassure him that I knew how he must feel. I didn’t think he meant to hurt me, but he had, and I didn’t have three thousand dollars to spare.  Also, I told him, you should never ask a woman for money in her bedroom. It just isn’t done.

He may or may not have understood, he may or may not cared, but it was time for me to drive him back to Fie-jet, where I would give him two twenties toward the cause. Then, if I knew what was good for me, I would close Google Translate forever and sign up for Match.com, where I might not find love but I would at least find people in my age group who spoke English.

Our new columnist Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl. Please note: Some identifying details have been changed in the essay above.

Light Rail Railing: Board it to Better it

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Have you ridden the light rail lately? For many in the Baltimore community the answer is certainly no, despite a daily ridership of over 36,000. I’ve recently been taking it more frequently (to avoid drinking and driving, frankly) and I have been appalled at some of the problems with our city’s simple railway. First of all you can easily get away without paying to get on the thing. I have never seen anyone checking a ticket. I know that there are ticket checkers because I have a friend who was kicked off once for not paying but they are too few and far between. The light rail claims to run on an honor-based proof of payment system, but plenty of people still get on without paying, how many no one knows. But this keeps the light rail from making the money it could, which is a shame.

While I was riding the other night some doucher lit a cigar in front of me and about a dozen other people. Really? Who smokes a cigar in a closed train filled with people? While the light rail isn’t as bad as it could be (get off at Lexington Market and see how that other Baltimore property is doing) it could be much, much better. For instance, I admit that I’ve debated getting off before my stop just to escape the smell. And at night there are some predictably shady customers on board.

This all gets back to my original point. None of these things will change unless you start using the light rail more often and pay for it. Support your city. Do that and maybe they’ll able to pay attendants who can check tickets and, I don’t know, keep people from smoking cigars.

 

Arlo Shakur is one of two our summer interns. 

Chic International Jewelry Designer Holds Home Show in Baltimore

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Sponsored Post – Jewelry design team Ruby Kobo comes to Baltimore Friday and Saturday to hold a home show featuring their haute hippie bijoux. The jewelry, sold at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, Fred Segal in Los Angeles, Ikram in Chicago (yes, Michelle Obama’s favorite boutique) sells for two days only at 1013 Boyce Avenue in Ruxton: Friday by appointment only, Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Ruby Kobo designers Yuvi Alpert and Danna Kobo take inspiration from ancient mysticism and their travels to the Himalayas and South America to design a collection with a bohemian air and artistic sophistication. The duo use luxe material, exotic color and original design to take fine jewelry to a new level, one that reflects personal style and a global aesthetic.

Yuvi Alpert grew up in California and Tel Aviv, Danna Kobo in Hong Kong and New York, and their designs represent an elegant East-West influence.  Still, the designers constantly source new inspiration to keep the collection evolving.

Most recently Yuvi and Donna were honored by The Council on Fashion Design of America as winners of the new Fashion Incubator Program. Just one of twelve finalists won a position in the renowned program.

The design team counts among its celebrity fans Julia Roberts, Naomi Watts, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rihanna, Kanye West, and Russell Brand among others.  

To make an appointment or for more information call Lisa at 410-456-8547.

Paramilitary Expert — and Doctor of Philosophy, Too

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Maybe they feel like they’ve got a lot more to learn. Maybe there are subjects they never got a chance to dive into as an undergrad. Or maybe they just want people to call them “Doctor.” Every year, plenty of people head back to school part-time to work toward a degree while still clocking in at their day job. It’s just that most of those people don’t have “track down al-Qaeda” as their day job.

    Yep, that’s right — Michael Vickers, the Pentagon’s top intelligence chief has been taking philosophy classes while also working as assistant secretary of defense, which is maybe why it took him 17 years to graduate from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). So now Vickers can add “doctor of philosophy” to his wildly intimidating resume, alongside “CIA paramilitary operations officer,” “Green Beret,” “expert in martial arts, parachuting and weapons,” and “fluent in Czech and Spanish.”

Yeesh. No wonder he’s head of the Pentagon’s “‘take-over-the-world’ plan.
   

Your Best Body at 74?

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For the second year running, Ernestine Shepherd, 74, has been named the oldest competitive female bodybuilder on the planet by The Guinness Book of World Records. Every inch of the massively motivated Mrs. Shepherd is sculpture, she wears glamorous makeup, a long gray braid, sneakers with sexy heels, and she trains religiously at a storefront gym in Baltimore with Yohnnie Shambourger, a former Mr. Universe. But wait, there’s more virtue! Mrs. Shepherd dines on lean chicken, green veggies, brown rice; she guzzles liquid egg whites; she promises she never craves junkie stuff, not even the c-word (chocolate). We think that’s very cool, attaining mega fitness and preserving the firm well past middle-age–Shepherd also teaches exercise classes. Still, after reading about her latest Guinness honor last week in The Washington Post, we’ve been wondering, how long could most people log miles on foot and lift poundage daily while shunning all foul-for-you food, in the name of perfect abs and added energy? What do you think? Before you answer, we feel it’s crucial to note: Shepherd got fit only in the last two decades, before which time she was a self-described couch potato. Since converting to regular weighty workouts in her fifties, she has completed two marathons and aced a couple of bodybuilding competitions, not to mention snagging these stunning Guinness prizes. Maybe the question we should really be asking is this: If you could achieve one awesome victory before you die, what would that be, and if you knew you’d succeed, would you start right now?

Marion Winik to Contribute Brainy/Confessional Fishbowl Column

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In her new “Bohemian Rhapsody” column for Baltimore Fishbowl, set to launch tomorrow morning, Marion Winik continues the low-boundaries yet eerily relatable approach to storytelling that made her a popular commentator on “All Things Considered” for 15 years. Today a once-widowed, once-divorced, fifty-something single mother, Winik has been writing about growing up, parenting, relationships and various social and cultural matters since the early 80s. Her hope in her Baltimore Fishbowl column is to continue to make people feel better about themselves by revealing her stupid decisions, pushover attitude and amazing powers of rationalization. To be a boon to the self-esteem of her peers: This is why she writes.

Asbury Park, New Jersey native Winik started out as a poet (nonstop, 1981, BoyCrazy, 1986, both out-of-print but online at marionwinik.com.)  In 1987, she began writing essays for a Texas alternative weekly, The Austin Chronicle, and through a series of lucky breaks, ended up on NPR. As a result, magazines like Redbook, Harpers Bazaar, Cosmo, and Men’s Journal began to publish her work and her first collection of essays, Telling, came out from Random House in 1994.

When her first husband Tony — a gay bartender/ice skater she met at Mardi Gras — died of AIDS in 1994, she was left with two young sons. Her memoir First Comes Love (1996) tells the story of their marriage and wrestles with issues like sexual preference, IV drug abuse, terminal illness, assisted suicide and whether there’s really anything good about Disney World. It was a New York Times Notable Book and has been in development as a feature film for many years now. All kinds of fancy people have been involved (Henry Winkler, Ally Sheedy, Kathy Bates, even Pink), but nothing much has ever happened.

Her next book, The Lunch-Box Chronicles: Notes from the Parenting Underground (1998) revealed the surprising bearability of her life as the widowed single mom of two little boys. It was selected by Child Magazine as a parenting book of the year and was made into a pilot for a TV series by CBS/Universal. Monica Potter played Winik, and parts were invented for Steve Carrell, Andy Richter, and a sheepdog. As you might expect, the sheepdog was the kiss of death and the pilot was filmed but never aired.

In 1999, she left Austin for a second marriage in Pennsylvania. By this time she was teaching writing — today she is a prof in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore — and working for O, More, Ladies’ Home Journal, Real Simple and The New York Times Magazine. After a talk at her old high school in New Jersey, she wrote an advice book called Rules for the Unruly: Living an Unconventional Life (2001), since adapted into a greeting card and refrigerator magnet — the real moneymakers, as she will readily tell you. The magnet was followed by Above Us Only Sky in 2005 and The Glen Rock Book of the Dead in 2007.

But what impresses people most of all, usually, is that Marion Winik was on “Oprah.” Yeah, well, it wasn’t awesome as you think. Story for another time. These days she is working on a new book, Love in the Time of Baltimore, from which chapters (“The Boomer and the Boomerang,” “Desperate Housewives of Roland Park“) will be featured from time to time in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

To learn more about Marion Winik, go to marionwinik.com.