If you’re headed to the Mt. Royal Tavern, a Bolton Hill landmark and beloved home-away-from home for many generations of Baltimoreans, you’d better bring cash if you plan to drink because they don’t take American Express Visa Players Club anything but cash. If you plan to drink and swear, you’d better bring a roll of quarters. Because there’s a new “cuss bucket” in town and it seems like everybody’s talking about it. Recently fed up with the increasingly profane language being bandied about by patrons and the occasional bartender, the owners plunked a “cuss bucket” behind the bar, collecting twenty-five cents per swear word. The nominal tinkling of coins can really add up when the crowd is watching local sports or American Idol. In the first month, the Cuss Bucket netted $110 that was donated to the SPCA. The latest charity to benefit from the crowd-gone-vulgar is the Baltimore Zoo.
Beverly Lowry was born in Memphis and grew up in Greenville, Mississippi. She has lived all over the country but now–except when teaching in the mid-Atlantic states–lives happily in Austin. The author of six novels–including The Track of Real Desires and Daddy’s Girl–she has also written three books of nonfiction: Crossed Over: A Murder, A Memoir, about her friendship with Karla Faye Tucker who was executed for murder by the state of Texas in 1998; Her Dream of Dreams: The Life and Triumph of Madam C.J. Walker, and Harriet Tubman: Imagining a Life, a biographical portrait of the great American hero. She has also published work in such periodicals as The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Granta, The New York Times, and Redbook, and is the recipient of an NEA grant, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence. She teaches at George Mason University in the MFA program, and is the current Julia Kratz Writer in Residence at Goucher College.
Tell us about the nonfiction book you are currently writing, as you serve as visiting professor at Goucher. And why does the material move you?
I am working on –and under contract to write–a book about a currently unsolved case of multiple murder in Austin, in which four young girls were herded to the rear storage room of an I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt shop, where they were forced to strip naked, then were shot dead one by one, their bodies burned, for the most part, beyond recognition. This occurred in 1991, and is one of those crimes that shocks an entire community and changes it forever. (I use present tense on purpose, since the murders still haunt the town.) Almost 20 years ago, Austin was about half the size it is now, much more laid back and easygoing, to be sure, but not the hippie paradise many imagined it to be. The most consistent comment I hear about murders from residents is, “We lost our Innocence then.” I question the truth of this but they don’t budge from that certainty.
Do you already know which book you’ll write next?
A novel, I hope. I have written a train wreck of one already. Who knows if I’ll go back to it. Train wrecks are hard to revisit. Lotta twisted metal to unbend and separate.
What is your writing schedule like, when you are balancing teaching and book building?
Not easy. If I was writing fiction, I’d just get up and do a few hours’ work. Writing a book requiring research, interviews, study, is way different. When writing a nonfiction book, I start out with an exhaustive timeline, into which I feed quotes, statistics, information and–maybe most importantly–my own comments. Which, in the end, provide the narrative line. Eventually. The timeline of the new book now takes up about 140 pages. Will probably end up 200 or so. Exhaustive. I said.
Do you find that it’s more difficult (or somehow easier) to write about events in Texas when you’re spending time out of your home state?
Not especially. Once I start reading my notes or the trial transcripts, I’m there. No matter in which city or state I sit reading.
What do you like most about Baltimore?
Oh, the openness of the people and the ease I’ve found getting around. The biggest problem I’ve had coming to know the city is the weather. The first two months I was here were all about snow and ice. Not great for long walks around Fells Point or Mount Vernon. Or anywhere else. I like the food, the casualness. It’s a city that, as far as I can tell (and this is presumptuous of me even to make a comment since I’ve been here only three and a half months) that seems needlessly apologetic. I keep running across people who make comments that seem to say, “Well, we’re not DC, or Philadelphia, or New York…” Do people really feel that way? I’m not sure. I belong to the Waverly Y, where I’ve met a lot of warm and lively women in the locker room. That’s been nice. The lifeguards remain cheerful despite raucous kids and the boringness of sitting staring at the water for hours at a time. And I love the Waverly farmers’ market. I was in New York last weekend and Saturday morning remembered I was missing it and felt sad. I listen to WTMD which reminds me of the Austin public radio station, KUT. Also love the Charles Theater even though I haven’t had time to go very often. And the Belvedere Market, where the cappuccinos are particularly good, and the people exceptionally pleasant and helpful. They also sell a mean vegan brownie, tasty even for us omnivores. I have bought four Beaumont Pottery mugs there so far, and had planned to go up to the place where they throw the pots but may not make it. Also like the Dell in Wyman Park, where my little dog Walter and I have made many friends, he many more than I. I’m crazy about the apartment I sublet from Merrill Feitell also, which has three great windows overlooking Calvert. Fells Point may seem touristy to others but I love walking around there, purely love it. Wish I had time to go back a hundred more times. Marion Winik introduced me to the hot yoga classes at Charm City Yoga. I have railed endlessly against hot yoga. But hey, I’m in a new town. Might as well experience what’s going down. I also like the way the people dress in Baltimore. Much more fancifully and colorfully than its sister city, DC, where fashion is a steady stream of black. I can sit at an outside table at my neighborhood coffee hangout, Donna’s, and watch people swing by endlessly, and find young mothers particularly daring and softly happy in their dress. I know that racial problems exist in Baltimore but find attitudes much more congenial here than in DC, where I have lived for a number of years in my peripatetic life.
Biggest Baltimore turnoff? Or least favorite aspect of life in Baltimore.
The weather, which Baltimore can’t help. For reasons cited above. Oh, and I forgot another good thing. The Eddie’s near me has great crab cakes.
Which classes are you teaching at Goucher, and how has your experience been at the school?
I am the Julia Kratz Writer-in-Residence and am teaching a fiction workshop. I have had a fine time with the students, and their work has been a steady source of admiration and respect. They are a great group. We read most of the stories in last year’s Best American Short Stories, chosen by Richard Russo, the discussions of which the students did as much to lead as I did. I love teaching fiction and mostly get hired in nonfiction posts, so this has been a treat. I’ve been invited to come back next spring and have accepted.
Do you always scoop up after your dog? I don’t. Not always.
To most people, admitting that you don’t clean up after your dog every single time is like confessing that you enjoy kicking young children. So let me be clear. I’m not saying it happens often, but it does happen. Obviously, I always clean up if he takes a dump in the middle of the sidewalk, or in a public place, on campus or on someone’s property. No question. If I didn’t, I know what would happen. With my own eyes, I’ve seen people letting their dogs take a dump in the middle of the sidewalk, and I’ve heard people yelling at them from passing cars. I don’t want to be shouted at in the street. Even when I do clean up, it’s not always good enough. Once someone even tapped my on the shoulder to point out to me that I’d “missed a bit.”
So one more time: I always clean up after my dog in the city. But in the countryside? In the park? Really? Is it such a crime? I know they say dog poop is full of microbes and viruses and bacteria that could end up in the water, but I’m sure it’s nothing compared to the pollution caused by human waste. I know they say children are at risk from contamination and I suppose people might slip on it, but it’s difficult to see how something so natural could be so dangerous, especially since we’re surrounded by toxic waste, air pollutants, oils spills and chemical leaks, not to mention ozone, lead, traffic fumes and everything else that’s supposed to be contaminating the earth. Surely human beings are far worse polluters than the most incontinent dog.
Tonight at 7, at Atomic Books in Hampden, two authors share readings from their celebrated new books set in Africa. Susi Wyss’s ultra-readable The Civilized World, a Novel in Stories (Holt Paperbacks), follows five women, black and white, as they confront obstacles great and small, in a quest to find balance, even happiness. Wyss, who works in public health, was inspired by her aid work in Africa; the interwoven stories are set in five African countries and in the U.S. Booklist notes, “Whether in Africa or America, the characters in Wyss’ linked stories navigate a world ‘that could knock you off your feet when you least suspected it.’ Wyss grants her appealing characters a mesmerizing mixture of fresh starts, second chances, forgiveness and redemption.” Glen Reteif’s The Jack Bank: A Memoir of a South African Childhood (St. Martin’s Press) tells the story of a difficult boyhood spent in a strict all-male boarding school world, and of Reteif’s coming of age at the close of apartheid in the late 70s, while also coming to the realization that he was gay. Robert Olen Butler calls The Jack Bank, “[A] memoir with the deeply resonant power of the finest fiction.” Baltimore-based fiction writer Kathy Flann hosts the event.
3620 Falls Road
Like it or not, there will be dancing at the next wedding you attend. Wouldn’t it be nice to be prepared and feel good about it? Charm City Swing offers group swing dancing lessons on Monday nights at Club Baltimore, 8014 Pulaski Hwy (Hwy 40 for $10 or $5 for students). No registration or partner required! Just show up and they’ll teach you the basics, plus some of the fancier steps. There’s also an 8-week series on Wednesdays at the Vietnam Veterans Hall off Holabird, 6401 Beckley St. To check out what you’re missing, Charm City Swing has posted some free dance lesson videos. With a little practice you’ll be ready to jump (and jive) in with both feet, maybe even taking the bride or groom out for a swing.
Yet another Baltimore boy is wearing his heart on his sleeves, then rolling them up to make a film set in his hometown. The Tradesmen: Making an Art of Work (trailer now showing on our home page) a new documentary by 26 year-old Parkville-native-turned-LA-filmster Richard Yeagley explores the modern role of working professionals –hard working professionals: plumbers, painters, stone masons, carpenters, auto mechanics, and numerous other craftsmen. Filmed entirely on location in Baltimore, The Tradesmen opens a powerful discussion about the meaning and definition of work.
The doc features another Baltimorean, star and creator of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs, Mike Rowe, who had to miss the Baltimore premier on May 12, at the Charles Theater, because he was testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation about many of the exact issues that are raised in Yeagley’s film. From Rowe’s testimony:
“Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap is real, and it’s getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled tradesmen are over 55. They’re retiring fast, and no one is there to replace them…
In a hundred different ways, we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a ‘good job’ into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber—if you can find one—is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we’ll all be in need of both.”
Johns Hopkins Office of Cultural Affairs will present one more public—and FREE!—screening on June 2 at 7:15p.m. in the Mountcastle Auditorium (725 N. Wolfe Street). Yeagley and several of the film subjects will be in attendance for a discussion after the film.
A rocker mom is nearly identical to her predecessor, the soccer mom, except she lugs her kids and their instruments to rehearsal and gigs, rather than practice and games, argues with the show directors, not refs, and whoops and hollers from the dance floor, instead of the bleachers—beer in hand. Not just cooler but way more fun.
I know, because I’m a rocker mom, and I have the t-shirt and bumper sticker to
prove it. Most important, I have the daughter—13-year-old Serena, who started
at the Baltimore School of Rock at ten as a guitar player and became a musician.
She took what she learned in her guitar lessons with Jeff Klinetob and applied it
to drums, saxophone, bass, and voice—all instruments she will play this season in
tributes to The Blues, The Rolling Stones, and Lilith Fair. (She also plays with her
own band, the Oxi-Morons, and sits in on guitar and sax with grownup groups like
The Bad Neighbors, Tall in the Saddle, and Chalk Dust.)
Moms and dads who aspire to this level of rocker parent-dom can join Baltimore’s
School of Rock, where each kid gets a weekly 45-minute lesson (on guitar, bass
guitar, keys, voice, or drums) and participates in weekly three-hour rehearsals for
the rock show that’s the best fit. This season will mark Serena’s twelfth show; to
date, she has has learned more than 100 songs—for everything from New Wave and
Elvis Costello to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd (her favorite band).
Parents pay monthly tuition ($300), and there’s no contract or long-term
commitment, though you are expected to stick it out for three months or so, if your
kid is in a show. Like soccer, rock is a team sport—and it’s just as competitive. Kids
who practice and show up prepared get the kick-axe parts; kids who don’t can get
their axes kicked right off a song.
If you’re looking for some rock of the summer camp variety, your kids can kick out
the jams from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for a work week. Boot Camps are for kids ages 9 to
18 and feature U2, the Beatles (both for beginners to intermediate players); Metal
(beginners to advanced), and Led Zeppelin (intermediate to advanced). They end
with a bang on Fridays: a friends-and-family performance, where kids show off the
chops they’ve been polishing all week. For teens 13-18 looking to hone other skills,
Recording & Songwriting and Recording A/V are also offered.
The real value is in what your kid learns by osmosis: that becoming a musician takes
daily practice and discipline, that every member of the band is important, and that
rock and roll will never die.
Janet Decker, General Manager
515 W. Cold Spring Lane
Saturday, June 4 @Bourbon Street
1:00 Rolling Stones
4:00 The Blues
Sunday, June 5 @Bourbon Street
1:00 The Blues
4:00 Rolling Stones
Saturday, June 11 @The Recher Theater
1:00 Lilith Fair
4:00 Pixies v. Sonic Youth
Sunday, June 12 @The Recher Theater
1:00 Pixies v. Sonic Youth
4:00 Lilith Fair
Saturday, June 18 @The Recher Theater
1:00 Progressive Rock
4:00 Dave Grohl
Sunday, June 19 @The Recher Theater
1:00 Dave Grohl
4:00 Progressive Rock
Saturday, June 25 @The Recher Theater
4:00 The Beatles
Sunday, June 26 @The Recher Theater
1:00 The Beatles
First we find out you can bring your baby to a bar in Baltimore City, and soon you’ll be able to bring your dog, too! Before going out of session for the summer, Annapolis passed Dining Out Growth Act, which makes it legal to bring your dog to a restaurant or bar beginning July 1. As long as the establishment of your choice is onboard, you’ve got a new leash on life—your social life, that is. This is great news to folks who don’t have human children of their own, but have been blessed with canines. Who needs to get married when you can enjoy a thriving family life with your domestic partner and your dogs in a bar or restaurant this summer?(Contributor’s note: I don’t have a domestic partner. I do have two dogs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
In perhaps the most talked about betrothal since that of Kate + William, Natty Boh and Sally Utz were officially married today at noon at Power Plant Live. Classy event for a classic duo. High profile shenanigans have marked their entire engagement, with the slender Mr. Boh proposing to an ebullient Ms. Utz on a billboard near Baltimore’s Penn Station in 2007. The couple, whose ages have not been made public, has been followed closely by papparazzi ever since, or at least it feels that way. In truth, the blissful event was a cunning publicity stunt for an ad campaign that moves forward full-force this week, wedding rings adorning said mascot lovers.