Hooked on Hookah


Hookah bars have strategically set the minimum age to enter at 18, tempting young adults who are not quite grown up in the eyes of the law (at least not enough for a rum and Coke) to come in, kick back, and inhale different smoky flavors. Clusters of Baltimore college students gather at popular pipe-centric establishments such as Ice in Towson – where you can sometimes find a two-for-one special – Arabian Nights at the Inner Harbor, and Red Maple on North Charles, which doubles as restaurant/bar. First two don’t serve alcohol, but places like Ice let you bring your own alcohol. The hangouts are often filled with young hipsters, youngster hippies and artsy types, from 18 to their early twenties. At restaurant/hookah hybrids, you can usually spy a more sophisticated crowd of 30 and 40-year-old regulars, too.

But as usual, with every pleasure comes sacrifice, and even a so-called “water pipe” packs real risk. What most of these hookah-smoking scholars may not know (or choose not to register, unless they read the scoop last week in The NY Times) is that the fruity, flavored smoke contains tar and metals just like cigarette smoke and can be linked to the exact same types of diseases. Not to mention hookah smoke has super high levels of carbon monoxide, from being heated with charcoal. The worst part is that the sharing of hoses puts you at risk of contracting herpes and other contagious ailments. Gross.

But to each his own I guess. Unless universities start banning hookahs, like they’ve started to in Connecticut, Louisiana, and Oregon, over eighteen-ers will likely continue socializing over the exotic water pipe. Until the next terrible-for-you trend comes to town.

Have you partaken of the hip hookah and, if so, what’s your experience been?

What the State’s Richest Employees Have in Common


Who said working for the state doesn’t pay?
    While choosing the right college major may net you more (or less) money, maybe your best bet is to work for the college itself. Yes, the university system is where the money’s at — at least in Maryland, where the top ten highest-paid state employees all work for the University System of Maryland, primarily in the School of Medicine.
    2010’s top earner was Stephen Bartlett, chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and chief of surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center. His base salary last year was $864,786. That number doesn’t include bonuses, speaking fees, or payments for appearing on television; once you include those numbers, Gary Williams, head coach at the University of Maryland, surges to the top — his base salary was $450,869, but those extra earnings add up:  his total compensation for 2010 was $2.3 million. (Williams retired after the 2010 season, so maybe he was just trying to earn a little extra for retirement?)
    Governor O’Malley? His (relatively) paltry $150,000 per year put him nowhere near the top of the list. Maybe he should consider a second career in academia.
    What else do the top earners have in common?  Well, they’re all men; only two women make it into the top fifty. The highest-paid woman entering the list comes in at #22 — Claudia Baquet, an associate dean and an advocate for underserved communities. We hope she doesn’t feel too lonely up there at the top.

Three Brains!?


Has Baltimore’s oppressively hot and humid spring got you trapped in your reptile brain, thinking only of survival? Considering heading to an air-conditioned theater to stimulate your mammal brain with films of love, honor, and courage? Maybe feeding your new brain with some yogic meditation before bed? 

“What’s this?” you ask, “Three brains!?” Yes. Well, at least according to this poet and this neuroscientist.

In his essay “Poetry and the Three Brains”, poet Robert Bly seizes on Paul MacLean’s three-brain hypothesis, originally formulated in the 1960s, and discusses the model’s spiritual and literary implications.

The basic idea is this: the human brain as we know it is made up of three separate brain structures, each representing a separate step in evolution. The innermost (and, according to MacLean, evolutionarily oldest) brain Bly calls the “reptile” brain. It is concerned with our physical survival. The second brain structure, the largest of the three, Bly calls the “mammal” brain. It is responsible for courage, love, and feelings of community. The third brain, a thin layer of tissue that covers the mammal brain, Bly calls the “new” brain. By far the most complicated of the three brain structures with millions of neurons per square inch, it is credited with wild leaps of imagination, wisdom, and spiritual enlightenment.

Bly believes our bodies send energy to our three brains in a different proportion at different times. For example, a mountain climber in danger of falling may for a period of time inhabit his reptile brain exclusively, deftly finding the life-saving footholds that carry him to safety. Upon reaching his destination, he finds he cannot remember how he got there.

Similarly, the ancient Norse berserker allows his mammal brain to take over when he enters the trance-like state in which he fights with death-defying fearlessness. (Parents, you may be familiar with this state. It’s the same trance you enter when a referee unjustly calls a foul on your son or daughter and you leap out of your seat to give him a piece of your mind.) The mammal brain briefly took over in Baltimore city upon the election of Barack Obama, with spontaneous celebrations in the street.

According to Bly, energy is transferred to the new brain by denying the concerns of the reptile and mammal brains. He points to ascetics of every spiritual stripe to renounce material wealth, sex, and violence, all of which are major concerns of the other two structures. Reading surrealist poetry and meditating on Zen koans (short spiritual “riddles” that defy rational explanation) may also frustrate the reptile and mammal brains, and—here’s hoping—spark enlightenment.

Today, much of Paul MacLean’s three-brain hypothesis has been overturned in the field of neurobiology—for example, all vertebrates possess a “reptile” brain; at least some nonmammals have a “mammal” brain; and the “new” brain isn’t really all that new. Whatever the neuroanatomical reality, the concept of three separate structures governing human behavior is psychologically compelling and can be a useful way to understand our inner conflicts.

Have you had experiences in which you entered your reptile brain, perhaps when you narrowly avoided a car accident? Did you witness great mammal brain takeover when Do you regularly practice yoga, meditation or something else to tap into your new brain? Let us know. 

Own Your Look!


Welcome to Sartorial Baltimorial, our weekly street chronicle of a Baltimorean who expresses his or her personality in dress. We sent out fashion writer and stylist Mary Ellen Brown and Annapolis photographer Lee Kriel to cast their trained eyes and I.D. local personal style at its best. – The Eds.


Yoga instructor Elaine caught our eye with her natural beauty and incredible dreadlocks as she entered Whole Foods Market in Mt. Washington.


Tell me about your dreadlocks. Is that your real hair?

Yes. I haven’t brushed my hair in eleven years.

Eleven years. Wow! How do you wash it?

Like a mop! It’s wash, wash, wash (makes washing noise) and then squeeze, like a mop.

What did you dress for today?

I’m a yoga instructor so I have to wear something that won’t get in the way of my movement.

Of course you’re a yoga instructor! What do you usually wear?

Most days I wear a girly top and yoga pants.  I have to be able to move.

Thanks for talking to us.

You made my day! 

Modern House in Glyndon With Deep Design Roots

“Cloud Seven” in Glyndon is not exactly obvious (check out the listing here). There is plenty that disappoints; the bad renovation (please, people, just stay in period!!!), the incongruent cutesy decor and the “crazy Aunt Janet liked to paint” artwork. Is that a turkey mounted on the wall? Enough said. However, there is an allure in the bones of the house. I mean, just look at the photo of the house at night. Magical, right? Well, a dig into Cloud Sevens past reveals a history that explains it all, including ties to one of the most celebrated pieces in modern design.
Cloud Seven was imagined by the renowned architect James Rose for Wilton Dinges in 1960. Rose’s design focus was the fusion of indoor and outdoor spaces (note the glass walls). He is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of modernism in landscape architecture (more on him here). No surprise then that Mr. Dinges hired him, as he shared his passion for design. In 1944 Wilton, an engineer, started the company Emeco which specialized in tooling and dyes. Yawn. A renowned perfectionist, he led the company to success with many perfectly practical products. Double yawn. Then, in an effort to invigorate his business, he decided to incorporate his love of sculpture (particularly Rodin) into his work. Simply put, he added some form to the function. It was with this new philosophy that he designed the Navy Chair (cue the collective design-geek sigh). Designed for use aboard Naval ships, the chairs were said to have a 150-year life and be able to withstand a torpedo blast. (Dinges threw one out of a sixth story window as a test; it had two minor scratches.) Perhaps also appealing to the Navy men was the rumor that the seat shape was based on Betty Grable’s derriere. Cute. Wilton had a hit on his hands and went on to produce thousands for the government. Fast forward to the late 1990’s when design aficionados started to go retro and homed in on the utilitarian objects produced during World War II…re-enter the Navy Chair. It wasn’t until a certain Philippe Starck (arguably the most influential designer alive today) began to use the chair in his projects, however, that a star was truly born (Philippe talks about the chairs here). The chair is now a world-wide trend you can find everywhere: bars, cafes and offices. (No joke, I saw a McDonald’s outfitted with them the other day). With all their popularity, there are many knock-offs, but it is heartening to know that Emeco (Mr. Dinges died in 1974) still produces the Navy Chair made with the very current 80% recycled materials. 
Cloud Seven is currently on the market for $1,777,777, which includes the four-bedroom house, 40 acres, pool, barn and the bragging rights to all that cool history. I say buy it, embrace its modern-organic design and for the love of God . . . throw some Navy Chairs in that bad boy when you decorate!

The Ultimate Stick Flick: Crooked Arrows


Lacrosse fans and film lovers unite: Crooked Arrows, set to shoot this summer, sounds like a mainstream sports movie with heart, smarts and accuracy, telling the fresh story of a skilled Native American lacrosse athlete, Joe Logan, and his relationship to his reservation.

Brandon Routh (Superman) just signed to play lead–Routh happens to be part Kickapoo, according to PR rep. Steve Rash (Can’t Buy Me Love, Bring It On: In It to Win It, and he, too, part Native American, incidentally) will direct. Open auditions for team players (+ cameos and extras) are being held in lacrosse-leading states Long Island, Connecticut, New Jersey–most recent casting stop happened in Baltimore on Memorial Day weekend. See website and Facebook for details.

Plot is family-friendly familiar, yet set on new territory. After college, Routh’s Logan seeks to modernize his reservation, by bringing in a casino. His dad, the tribal chairman, says, “Look, before you build a casino, rediscover your spirit.” Logan’s spiritual challenge? To coach the reservation’s rowdy lacrosse team. Once Joe finally gets the kids up to speed (playing like a team, thinking like a tribe), they go stick to stick against a fancy prep school and, we’re guessing, show the rich kids how the game’s done.

What we find especially engaging here is the nod to Native American heritage. In fact, modern day lacrosse is a variation of a series of games played by Native American communities. The Onondaga tagged the sport dehuntshigwa’es, meaning “men hit a rounded object,” while the Ojibwe word for the sport means “bump hips,” and the Eastern Cherokee, “little war.”

“We set out to an honest lacrosse story and, in the process, discovered that we needed to tell an honest Native American story, too, because Native Americans invented the game,” says producer Mitchell Peck (Priest).

Todd Baird dreamed concept and sold Peck, who played star lacrosse at Collegiate; script by Todd Baird and Brad Riddell. Todd Harris (The Kids are All Right) also producing. With Mark Ellis (Eight Men Out, Invictus, Bad News Bears) of Sport Studio directing athletics. Says PR: “Mark has directed every sports movie… They want to get the lacrosse accurate.” 

Rep also tells Fishbowl that Crooked Arrows crew intended to shoot all parts in Baltimore, but due to limited tax breaks available in Maryland for film production, they will work primarily in Boston. Peck says some shooting will occur on actual reservations in New York State.

Production aims to complete film and screen at the Maryland Film Festival by spring 2012. Because we’d like to catch it, we wish Crooked Arrows all the swift victory.

PA Eighth Graders Take Baltimore Field Trip to Hooters?


Eighth graders and chaperones from Berwick Middle School in Pennsylvania couldn’t find a single restaurant to accommodate the group of about 100 during a field trip to the National Aquarium last week.  About 20 eighth graders and chaperones splintered off and had lunch at Hooters.

School Superintendent Wayne Brookhart said he has received no complaints about the restaurant choice from parents.

Not where we’d want our kids to go on a school field trip. Just sayin’…

Sheppard Pratt v. Ruxton: He Said, She Said


By now, most north Baltimore residents know the basic facts about the controversial group home that Sheppard Pratt Health System has purchased on LaBelle Avenue, a street of small homes and cottages in Ruxton. How developer Jim Carroll purchased, in foreclosure, the shell of an unfinished house to build his 5,000 square foot “dream home.” How some neighbors were concerned about the size of the building, but listened to his genial reassurances. And how a very short time later, when he realized that his children were grown and that a six-bedroom home with a large parking pad on a half-acre behind the Graul’s dumpsters might not be where he wanted to spend the rest of his life, he put it on the market.  Luckily, (arched eyebrow) Sheppard Pratt was there with an offer of $1.4 million for a house that needed no work at all to become a short-term home for wealthy people recovering from depression, anxiety, and/or addiction. This series of events has many La Belle Avenue and other Ruxton residents feeling duped, and wondering about the possibility of a prior agreement between the former homeowner and venerable mental health hospital.

Recently, Baltimore Fishbowl talked with neighbors who had toured the Carroll house before building was finished.  Naturally, no one wants to be named, but they did add a little fuel to the fire of speculation. “I’m not a builder, but even I could see that the interior was very cheaply constructed. I was surprised that Jim didn’t have higher standards for his own house,” said one neighbor.  Another neighbor “thought it was weird that every bedroom had its own bath attached” and that the house had an industrial grade sprinkler system.  Finally, we heard that “he (Mr. Carroll) has flipped houses in the past.” 

Hindsight, of course, is 20/20. If Mr. Carroll had planned all along to offload the house to Sheppard Pratt, it would naturally imply that the two parties had had some initial discussion prior to the building. But hospital spokesperson Bonnie Katz firmly denies this, and Jim Carroll is not talking. And another Sheppard Pratt staff member and Ruxton resident also seems doubtful, saying that “it’s just not the way the hospital operates” — that they are neither as far-sighted nor organized as this kind of planning would indicate. 

Where Sheppard Pratt has unquestionably shown foresight is in realizing the financial possibilities of the home.  With eight people (the maximum number of patients in residence) paying approximately $600 per night, the home could gross Sheppard Pratt nearly $150,000 a month.  In the words of a Neighbors Against Sheppard Pratt Facebook post:  “Would you buy a $1.5 million home if you could earn a profit in 11 months?”   

From the point of view of residents, this is doubly irritating. Not only did a developer flip a house under their very noses, not only will Sheppard Pratt be running a hugely profitable ‘not-for-profit’ facility on their street, but they will be paying the price in terms of increased traffic, potential drop in home values and, most importantly from a neighborhood point-of view, an ever-changing roster of strangers on the block. “Kids run around this street on their own,” a resident says. “I don’t want to lose that.”  

Widespread accusations of NIMBY-ism (not in my backyard) ring a little false. Do people in other, less affluent communities welcome these type of residences with open arms?  Not really, according to a local developer who prefers not to be named. “No one really wants them, but it’s usually a matter of how savvy the community is.  By that I mean [it’s how] organized [they are], and how hard they are willing to fight that decides the outcome” (i.e., whether or not the facility is allowed).  

Neighborhoods are occasionally successful in fighting off group houses or assisted living facilities — sometimes through sheer orneriness, when the developer just decides to go away in the face of hostility; more often through appealing to local zoning rulings. In 1997 in neighboring Roland Park, the Civic League successfully fought the development of an assisted living facility at 4803 Roland Avenue by lobbying against the requisite Baltimore City zoning variance.  In another case in 2009, the city ruled against a zoning change that would have allowed the Baltimore Country Club to sell land to the Keswick Group to build a large assisted living facility.  But for the Sheppard Pratt home in Ruxton, a zoning variance is not needed because the building falls within the “single family residence” designation. According to County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who represents Ruxton, “there is nothing in county law to keep the hospital from opening a group home in the neighborhood.”

At an angry and well-publicized community meeting on April 27th, Marion Knott, a Ruxton community leader and a co-director of No Retreat, the Ruxton-based organization fighting the group home,  stated that “the community intends to fight this vigorously.”  On the Dan Rodricks radio show on WYPR recently, Tom Costello, lawyer and co-director of No Retreat, outlined the primary legal objections: 

First is the short-term, transient nature of the home — an argument that focuses on the intention of the Federal Fair Housing Act and the definition of “group home.” Second is the fact that the home will be run for profit, albeit by a non-profit (Sheppard Pratt). As a commercial enterprise, Costello believes that the home does violate land-use and zoning restrictions. “For-profit activity is not protected by the act, and should not supersede local zoning laws.” The first step, according to Mr. Costello, will be to challenge the licensing process, which will begin in a few months.

So far, the outward signs that the battle continues are a plastic bag full of feces thrown onto the porch of LaBelle Avenue , a flurry of anti-retreat signs, and a stream of Facebook posts on the Neighbors Against Sheppard Pratt website — including an interesting suggestion that neighbors combine assets and buy the property away from the hospital. Behind the scenes, Ms. Knott, Mr. Costello and other members of the community are working within the system to deter Sheppard Pratt from its plan to operate the home. And still other — perhaps most other — Ruxton residents are resigned or nonplussed, ready to let it go and hope for the best. “I assume it’s going to be there,” one said. “And I assume it’s going to be fine.” 



Food Trucks Prevail!


The city and the food truckers yesterday reached an agreement that includes parking restrictions and clearly displayed permits for the trucks as well as food zones between 9 a.m and 3 p.m. Here are the food zone locations:

• The 500 block of St. Paul Place and St. Paul Street, on the east side of the street — one space at each location, for a total of two trucks.

• The 1900 block of East Monument Street, on the south side of the street — one truck at this location.

• The 500 block of Baltimore Street, on the south side of the street — one truck at this location.

• The 300 block of South Charles Street, on the west side of the street — one truck at this location.

• The 500 block of East Fayette Street, on the north side of the street — three trucks at this location.

Food truck operators will also be allowed to diverge from those five locations as long as they follow all other regulations, including staying away from restaurants and displaying the proper parking permit.

Is This the Future of the Inner Harbor?


Looks a little space age-y doesn’t it?

Architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross released renderings of an Inner Harbor revitalization project that will include convention center expansion and a waterfront park.  The project is expected to cost around $900 million and take four to six years to complete.  The drawings depict the revised convention center, both front and ariel views, and the waterfront park.

As our friends at Curbed put it in their story The Entertaining Expansion of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, “Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is a frequent destination for big name musical acts or Orioles fans looking for a place to drown their sorrows, but for the next few years it is going to be one big construction zone.”  True that.

It’s a lot of money and a huge inconvenience but Baltimore’s Inner Harbor needs a facelift.  It’s time.