Sunday, November 03, 2013

Your Neighborhood Librarian Finds Her Level


It's Halloween. I'm driving around. It's overcast, it's not too cold, it's not hot. I've arrived at that - I have this weird perfect-storm confluence of coffee, cloud cover, being awake, free time, and unfamiliar surroundings, that if it combines in just the right proportions, I feel like a genius. I think other people get to this place using meth, and frankly I cannot fault them, because it's a pretty cool feeling. Where is this chilly wind coming from that's blowing air into my brain? Well it's Pulaski Highway in Baltimore, where else?

That's right boys and girls - Your Neighborhood Librarian is going to buy a case of beer

Pulaski Highway, named after Casimir Pulaski of course - I know that off the top of my head (remember I record these blog posts into my phone) - Casimir Pulaski, hero oooofff... the American Revolution I think [YES! I was right!], anyway shit is named after him ALL over the place. Everywhere I've ever lived has had a Pulaski Skyway, a Pulaski Bridge, a Pulaski Square, a Pulaski Shot Tower, Day Care Center, Pulaski Rim and Lube, etc.



So Pulaski Highway in Baltimore, every time I come over here, I think to myself, "I am coming back with a camera." It looks like a highway between pieces of nowhere in southern South Carolina. It's like a combination of Deadwood and Appalachia and Stephen King's post-cataclysm novel The Stand. It has a seven-day liquor store whose facade is literally ripped to pieces, like a tornado went through or they had a fire, like the SIGN caught on fire somehow and they pulled off the sign and the rest of the siding and just left it that way. Like they were going to renovate, but then thought better? All you can see are the studs and lath, and it's made out of like cigar boxes and yard waste and rags, you can see all that shit with the facing stripped off.

There are outlandishly depressing hotels. Hotels that look like, oh my god if they aren't finding organ-deficient bodies in the bathtubs of that hotel on like a daily basis, I will eat my hat.

There are titty bars of course. Pulaski Highway is a good place to go if you need to rent a bobcat, or join the Air Force, or buy a dildo. Wouldn't it be great if that were your to-do list? We're finding to-do lists at the library all the time, tucked into books and next to the computers, and they'll say like "bank, catfood, Annette, baking soda, Prep H" which kind of makes you wonder what's about to happen to Annette, but if I found one that said, "demo shed (rent bobcat), enlist, magic wandII" it would make my day.

There are these great manufacturing buildings, like envelope factories and things, that you didn't really - you didn't think people still... made. Right? Where do envelopes come from? Apparently they come from Baltimore. We have envelope factories all over the damn place. I guess it's like cheese. You know, these farmers, they all make cheese, and it all goes to one place and gets mixed together and then it's sold as Cheese. I assume that all these places, Globe Envelope and Oles Envelope and, what, Dave's Envelopes and all, they all go to like Mead, and Mead packages them up and then they all go to Staples and Office Depot. But you think, like, why? Why wouldn't you make all the envelopes pretty much in one place? Wouldn't you want all the envelopes to be... uniform? I don't know what it is about the envelopes.

So uh, there's also people walking around on Pulaski Highway sometimes. They're generally looking like they've had their license taken away, or wrecked their car and haven't found a bicycle yet, and they're often holding up their pants with one hand. Wow, that guy's sprinting like nobody's business. That guy's like a natural sprinter - that guy's practicing. But he's wearing street clothes. Where's he going? Why's he got to get there so fast? Huh.

There are neighborhoods behind Pulaski Highway, really neat little neighborhoods of aluminum-sided houses that have been built onto and built onto and built onto. They have an addition and a deck and a third story pop-up and a shed and a HUGE garage. A garage the size of my house. Like they're building a boat in there, or that's where they keep their slaves. That's where they dissect people, or... they have a huge craft manufacturing plant in there, and they are millionaires on Etsy. That's what that big garage is for, that big garage with no windows and like super-wide doors!

Maybe they're antique car collectors. Could be. Property values down here are so low, and all those houses are paid off, you know it, and property taxes low too... so they've been able to sink all their money into, you know, collecting and restoring Model T vehicles! That's what's happening. There are no slaves. Why would I even think slaves? Why would my mind go there?

Especially since everybody else's mind just went "meth lab."

Here's a guy, he's wearing an enormous backpack. And a HUUUGE red beard. And he's a young guy, he like dropped out of Oberlin so he could walk around Pulaski Highway with a huge red beard and a gigantic backpack.

The whole reason I'm on Pulaski Highway is because I was trying to go to the Ha Ha Market. The Ha Ha Market is apparently the east side of Baltimore's answer to the H-Mart, which is a giant Asian grocery store on the west side. It's where you go to get a giant plastic bucket of individually wrapped rectangles of nori to put in the kids' lunch, because your kids are weird. It's where you go to get styrofoam noodles in a styrofoam bowl to put in the microwave at work because you only have half an hour for lunch and that's not enough time to get out of the building and across the street to the Dunkin Donuts and back and because you don't cook enough to have leftovers every day.

The H-Mart is where you get the best produce in Baltimore. But you have to go all the way to the west side and we don't do that all that often. So now the Ha Ha, I keep hearing about it, it's 15 minutes from my house, on Pulaski Highway - my favorite highway, clearly - and people keep saying it's a great place. So I figure out where it is, and I get in my little minivan and I have my little bags and my big thing of coffee, and... it's closed.

Closed! Because there was a fire. A fire. Like, oh god, there was a fire?! I don't know. Don't you always think fire seems suspicious? I know that fires can be caused by like lightning, mice chewing through wires, cockroaches smoking cigars, I don't know what. But don't you always think, when you hear a business has had a fire, don't you always just think someone was being criminally irresponsible, or it's fraud, or revenge, or someone was smoking inside and carelessly tossed a butt? Fire just seems to be kind of... profligate... in my mind.

And when I'm on my way into the Ha Ha Market, which by the way is an immense warehousey building, it's not a little spoke in a business park, it's not a strip mall cubbyhole - and there are hand-lettered signs on Day-Glo tagboard saying "Temporarily closed because of the fire"... well that does nothing to dispel my sense of "Fire? Really?!"

But it's a shame. We really did need more nori. And I always like going somewhere new like that, you know they're going to have squid intestines. But FIRE. Hm. Oh here's what happened. Kitchen fire? Yeah that does not help. The other time they were closed was because a chemical train derailed practically in their backyard and ash got in the food when their roof caved in. I'm thinking when I do go back I'll limit myself to manufactured goods, things sealed in tin.

I ended up wearing the leather jacket
(mine anyway), and carrying the mask,
the sunglasses, and the axe.
So then of course there I am on Pulaski Highway and I'm going the wrong way, and I look around, you know I just can't help it, those envelope factories are so intoxicating. I explore those little neighborhoods a little bit, they've got ceramic bunnies sitting on the porch rail, and plastic flowers in vases by the front walk, all manner of recreational vehicles. I turn back onto the highway and I see a spate, a flock, a stream of liquor stores all in a row.

And I'm kind of a connoisseur of liquor stores, I do write The Advil Calendar, so I give them the once-over. Not terribly inspiring - did I mention the 7-day place with the exposed lath? - but I do need to stop and get beer, because tonight is Halloween and our friend Lisa is having her annual party, and we always show up empty-handed to that party because we trick-or-treat our way over there and a bunch of beer is just too heavy to carry, not when it takes an hour to walk three blocks, and especially because you know you're going to end up carrying the wigs and swords and stone tablets and other props that children get sick of dealing with.

So this year I'm totally resolved I'm going to stop by Lisa's early, with a case of beer and some ice, and make up for all those times we've been party bums. I pick a liquor store at random. King Liquor. They do check cashing and Lotto, oh well obviously this is going to be a Quality Liquor Store. Whatever, as long as I don't get hepatitis from the doorhandle it'll be a FINE liquor store.

But it turns out this is the kind of place that has limited edition tequila with hand-written labels, and beer in cans that I really like (not just the beer in cans that I usually buy), and then I turn to the liquor and they've got weird stuff I have to usually go to three liquor stores to find - Domaine de Canton and Cynar, and Punt e Mes and Clement Creole Shrub - not your standard check-cashing liquor store fare. And they have this rum: Rum Jumbie. In a bottle shaped like a guy, and a real straw hat, and I came so close to buying it, oh I wanted it so bad. But 25 bucks is a lot for a novelty bottle of rum. So I figured I'd have to talk about it. Somebody - for my birthday or xmas, both of which are coming up by the way - GET ME RUM JUMBIE.

And now I need to watch Live and Let Die again - just for Geoffrey Holder's scenes.

Don't get me the Wild Africa Cream liqueur. It was covered in faux leopard. I've never seen such a thing.

Now we all have.

Also, King Liquor had like the best Sirius station on. I'm gazing wide-eyed at twelve different varieties of rye and wondering whether I need more tequila if I'm going to do Advil Calendar again this year, and the radio is playing KISS, and then Manilow, and then The Partridge Family. HEY! I think I love you, King Liquor!

So that's my inspiration. That's the little part of my life where I feel like a genius. But it's over now. And the Ha Ha was closed, so I didn't even get anything for dinner, so here I am back at my stupid old Safeway in my stupid old neighborhood, with the tired-looking produce and the worst deli in the world, and here is where I'm going to get stuff for dinner.

A bridge over a ha-ha like the one in Mansfield Park.

Not so smart now, am I. Ho hum. Fire or no, I would prefer to be at the Ha Ha. I would even ride in a carriage with Jane Austen if it meant I could go to the Ha Ha. Next time you have a day off during the week, let's go to the Ha Ha.