Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Home is Wherever I'm with You"

The heat broke.

And a baby watched the rain with glee.  The adults are busy trying to organize ourselves for the big move.  Baltimore has been a decent city to us for the past five years.  I love the way this city looks.  I love the rowhouse with its endless variations on a theme, and Baltimore has particularly good rowhouses.  Sometimes I'll see a block that is a mix of natural brick, painted primary colors, painted pastels, and even some formstone, and it the right light it is amazingly lovely.  Our neighbors are good quirky people, and I don't think it would be possible to be pretentious and live here, at least not in this part of the city.

And then there's the part that sucks.  Like many people here, we live close to home.  That is we shop and socialize within blocks of our house.  Our little piece of the city is functional, although I seemed to remember being shocked by the disfunctionality of basic city services when we moved here from Chicago.  "The City that Works," Baltimore is not.  Currently there is a massive water main break downtown, which is just one little piece of a crumbling infrastructure.  And there are the vacants, in some parts of the city blocks and blocks of them.  I've seen a lot of crumbling city landscapes, but Baltimore is such a small city to house so much destruction.

With those crumbling landscapes come suffering people.  I remember being on the bus on the morning after the Obama election, and everyone was joyous.  Three different men stood to offer me a seat.  The mood was buoyant, and I was just as happy as everyone else.  I looked around at the usual crowd of decent, happy people with broken bodies that told the stories of their hard lives, and I knew that Baltimore wasn't something that Obama, or any man, could fix.  I learned the party line that cities break because people make choices, therefore people can make other choices an unbreak them.  But when I look at Baltimore I just don't know how that will happen.  It is possible to fix this place, but there isn't enough will or enough money.

In order to function as a person of privilege in the city, you have to harden yourself.  You have to create distance so that young looking prostitute, that lady who is high out of her mind, that dude with no legs who doesn't look like he's doing so well, is not your problem.  I once read a blog post by a woman living in rural Virginia, who described sitting in a coffee shop in Manhattan and watching as all the other patrons studiously ignored a young child begging for money.  She used the incident to contrast the christlike generosity of (Christian) rural folk, with the hard (secular) amorality of city folk.  I guess if you see one begging child a year, you are highly motivated to help that child.  If everything outside your door is a gristly seething mass of cursing, addiction, and weeping sores, you learn to turn away.  That's why I saw two (white) junkies (mom and daughter, I think) fighting on the street and laughed.  Then I realized I had become that person who sees two living human beings and laughs because they're junkies fighting on the street.  I know so many good, interesting people here, people who want this city to live, but the city fights us at every turn.

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