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China Martens
P.O. Box 4803 Baltimore MD 21211

The Future Generation #69

Moving to Baltimore (part 2)
    I went to the Pow Wow and the first person I saw was John Waters, leaving the event. We exchanged a smile. I haven’t seen him for a while and I’m still so awed you can just see him hanging out around town. The Pow Wow is an annual gathering of bands and picnics in a desolate peninsular park whose beaches have been known to contain a few stray needles washed up from the hospital across the water. Some things seem always the same. Meeting up with old friends; seeing an assortment of new babies, children and dogs (more than you do at any other Baltimore event); getting drunk and peeing in the bushes while avoiding the poison ivy; getting sunburned by day and wind blown towards the evening until you wind up in the night with suddenly unfamiliar faces by the bonfires on the beach. However, like all socializing and drinking events, it seems less exciting to me as I get older. On the other hand, it was at this Pow Wow that I met Sara and that changed the course of my life.
    She was a friend of a friend of mine, who looked a pretty picture with her smiling baby peeking out from under her spilling dark dreads. I knew when she told me that her mom was a great real estate agent, and ‘I’m not just saying that because she is my mom’, and that she had helped her other friends get houses - that this was it! Kinda what I was waiting for, the last piece of the puzzle of what should happen next as I had floundered on the cross roads of where to move, what to do, for the last month.
    You see, the BWI Airport was kicking us out of our county home of the last 4 years and turning our neighborhood into parking lot. But, the incredible thing was that the airport was giving me relocation money if I used it as a down payment on a house. Houses in Baltimore are relatively cheap. So, Sara, and her parents Judy and Tom have helped me out immensely with something I knew nothing about and didn’t think I could do. Sara drove me around to check out the houses, when I hate to drive and I get lost anyway - and she gave me decent insiders advice on each house. She grew up in Baltimore and she knows the neighborhood. Meeting Sara is a good example of how community can help you out.
    I am going to live in Hampden and I am just blown away by the area. Its roots are in being an old Mill town and there are houses from the 1800s here, made from stone cut out of the riverbanks. It has lots of green spaces and funky charm. It looks old world, Mayberry like, sometimes like an Appalachian mountain town to me. There are curves, green hills in sight and variations in the typical Baltimore rowhouse. Very interesting. It’s white working class neighborhood that has had its ups and downs. The bottom line is it is cheap, a pretty safe feel to the community, and kinda secluded into it’s own nook of the city. Pecker was filmed here, I think. The local police station is the school building you might have seen in Cry Baby - a beautiful old gothic building. And Atomic Bookstore (lots of zines, even will carry mine) is two blocks away! It’s on the Avenue which is kinda the ‘happening’ little spot.
    I  took a walk with my new friend Sara. She is such an inspiration. Beautiful crunchy copasetic mother of 6 month old wide eyed wonder of a baby, Lucy. First of all, its nice to share some references I haven’t shared in the suburbs. Typical anarcho-punk stuff.  I know she has some bitterness to the scene I haven’t explored yet, but that to me is normal. We all get betrayed by what we are a part of, ‘the path of heart becomes the path of mud’ Face it, all this punk stuff is crap in a way. But then, everything is crap in a way.  But anyway, the first time we met, ten years ago, she was like 15, and I was like 25, (There is so many generations of punks aren’t there?) but I didn’t get to know her until now.
    We walked through North Druid Hill Park, which she told me is like the second biggest park next to Central Park or something - past Ostriches who puffed out their chests like threatening prehistoric predators. We walked through Brick Hill which is an ancient bit of the old mill houses secluded by trees and few thoroughfare. She says some good people live there. We walked past a child. ‘That kid is the third kid in the area that has been born at the birthing center like Lucy’ she said. She also told me she met a group of local home-schoolers. There certainly are a lot more people having kids these days - in my circles - in Baltimore. I can think of, like 9 people, off the top of my head, I know from ‘back in the day’ who now have children. I used to feel like practically the only one. Out and about with a kid in tow, including sometimes at bars and shows. My daughter is 13 now and usually prefers to stay home by herself over going out with me. Things have changed.
    Back at her house, a beautiful old end row house bought for 30,000 dollars and full of lots of cats and a dog named Buda, she has Hipmama magazine and Mothering magazine. A woman stops by, an older woman, mom of a friend. She has been a great resource for herbal remedies and advice, mostly just being calm and alleviating her fears that something is wrong, all throughout her pregnancy. Yeah, Sara is part of a new generation of mothers these days. Not to say she still doesn’t feel left out I’m sure, but it’s a lot better, I think. She also reminds me of my friend Stari in Minneapolis, as one of those people, through having a home town and lots of friends and family and relationships, seem to thrive more than me, a rootless wanderer. Well, Sara is going to be my new neighbor and I really look forward to that. She’s so earthy.

    One thing about Baltimore, is all the connections. Everything and Everywhere I recognize something. I somehow know a lot of people, even if I do not really know them. Another thing is all the small businesses. I think there is more small businesses in Baltimore than any other place I have ever been too. I first came to Baltimore, 11 or so years ago, and the businesses are still going on. That is comforting. Normals, a co-operatively owned bookstore, is thriving and in addition now they’ve opened the Red Room which is a haven (among other things) for some crazy experimental jazz I can’t get into, but respect anyway. The experimental music people are putting on something called the Zero Festival now. There’s a poster for it with Catherine Pancake making music with dry ice on the bridge, which allures me to check it out and give it all another chance. Rupert is still putting on Wig Nights at the 14th Carrot Cabaret. Reptilian is still around - Punk Rock Record Store. My old neighbor from East Baltimore now has her own store, Fashion for Ecstasy on Eastern Avenue, where she sells fetish clothing and does piercing. You can’t get any more punk rock impressive businesswoman than Kim Tony in my opinion. She works for herself, doing what she loves, punk as fuck. She is the best piercer I know, a total professional who also works out of Sticky Fingers. Her husband tattoos for a living. They got a 5-year plan, just bought land in the country where they are going to move and her mother bought a parcel of land next to hers, she is her very good support system. And she has two children! There is a kid’s room in her shop, where kids can take a nap, play or draw on the wall.
    I remember when I first met Kim. I was surprised to see there was a house of punks across the street from us. And then I saw her at a Citizen Fish show and she played with my daughter ever so nicely. Its great to see someone go on and make a living off something that was at one time an interest done in the house. I mean, I will never forget the time, 11 years ago, when this guy lowered his pants on her stoop, ‘hay, look what I got pierced’.
    Then there is Oh Susannah’s, a vintage store where Susan always had her kid with her until she got school aged. And I know another woman who has a costume store where she took her daughter in to work as a baby. I think Dee Dee is the foremother of them all, with her famed (never saw it, before my time) little clothing store run with another mother friend. Then there was a curiosity/junk shop run by a single dad and he had his kid in the shop too at times. Ok, you get the picture.
    Baltimore has always been groovy like that. I remember the time Miki, Justin, Joel, Jorge, and John opened a cafe on the top floor where they were renting. It wasn’t zoned or anything. I remember when Damon Norko was the manager of Kinkos. He was a poet ( I first ever saw him when I was 15 at the U of M - he had this sign on his back, Poems 4 Sale) and had been in a punk band called the Submensas - so he hired all these people. They all worked the night shift, played weird music, drank lots of coffee, smoked cigarettes and worked on Xeroxing their own creations. You can imagine a Kinkos run by freaks, it was great. The building was magnificent, an old fancy bank, on the corner of Saratoga and Charles (downtown) They gave people such good service and provided such an interesting ambiance that they got written up in City Paper as the best place to Xerox. I remember I went to a movie for free at the Orpheus - just because I was with someone who worked at Kinko’s who had probably given him a discount on his Xeroxing. The Orpheus was this small independent movie house in a row house run by a true movie lover who showed the movies he wanted to, sold cheap popcorn, and held the movie once when someone called and asked if he could wait, they were almost there. He told my daughter, before we went in to view Babe, that ‘the movies are a magical  place’.
    Once on New Years, when I had just started knowing this very unique crowd - Tent (TENTATIVELY a CONVENIENCE, the mad scientist, brain tattooed on his bald head with a dark tuft of hair on one side and a light tuft of hair on the other side and a pair of pants made completely out of zippers) said - who wants to be in my movie? I was drunk and said yeah. We all walked up to Kinkos (where he worked and had the keys somehow). The idea would be, he said for us all to be naked, Xeroxing and answering the phone and such. So drunk, and it sounded so crazy I was like ‘yeah’, even though I am very shy. The lights were flashing as all the Xerox machines were going off and it was very surreal - when suddenly we realized some late night walkers were looking in the very large front window at this mad scene. Oh my god, how funny, what they must of thought? We just waved at them. It was New Years after all.
    I know Damon later opened a chess store where people could just play chess, in front of Black Planet which is an anarchist bookstore predominately run by a long ago pre-pregnancy time former room-mate of mine.

    I can’t reminisce anymore of the past. But I will, anyway! I lived in Baltimore from when my kid was almost 2 to when she was 5. I first lived with a crusty bunch of kids who made their own home-brew and soymilk, took a lot of road trips to NYC to see Born Against and Nausea play at ABC No Rio, and went on lots of camping trips. Hiatus played in our basement and Summer’s Eve played around the corner and when Crash Worship came to town and I took them to a venue where they could play with fire (I saw them in SF and took my kiddo with me, not long before. I got in for free and only watched the first song because I didn’t want to stay long at a show with my daughter who was only one. They started with a procession to the stage with a black and white striped person leading, playing the bagpipes. They are so awesome.)
    Then, through John Eden really, I met the more indigenous uniquely Baltimore art crowd. 14 Carrot Cabaret! The most experimental place, amazing shows, always interesting from the bearded lady from Coney Island to Really good drag acts to music to film ñ with Laure Drogroul in her wigs and amazing (to me) Berlin accent introducing the nights feature with such class and mystery. I would take my daughter there and when she fell asleep I would put her on coats in a little room in the back. ‘How is my little starlet tonight?’ asks the bartender as he gives her a juice. Once she won the Gong Show, by singing that Zippydeedoodaa, there’s a bluebird on my shoulder song. She got stage fright and Poodles jumped on stage with her and sang. The judges were Microcosm (need I say more, in bands like The Swinging Swamis), Landis (from All mighty Senators) and Kirsten (part of those art girls that were like the most fashionable glamorous set and my daughter would toddle up to them, attracted by their sheer beauty and colorfulness). Once on the bus, a person asked if my daughter would like to play Chastity - Sonny and Cher’s daughter, in a drag act they were going to perform. My daughter declined, her show days were over, much as her punk rock days ceased at around 5 years old when she preferred classical music. (Now she is into R +B for the last three years and is getting to like a touch of the so called alternative rock stuff which surprises me). I simply have too many memories to go on like this. The second part of my Baltimore time was influenced a lot by Rupert Wondowloski. I would hang out with my daughter at Normals when he worked, which was more than a book/music/small press store. It was this wonderful collective built by friends who had met at college age, some as early as high school - who were all musicians, writers, artists, and thinkers. Plus all kinds of people off the street are stopping in that store. It has life going on in there, a quirky kind of life all it’s own, as well as being a great bookstore.  My daughter and I would go to his shows (Furniture Falling Down the Stairs), and Wignight (poetry reading/music events). The Rendezvous was the bar we frequented, back when it had only two booths. And  I remember how Blaster Al Ackerman (The writer)  would cook my daughter an egg for breakfast when she woke up before us at the Wighouse. She would lift his eyelids with her fingers - ‘Are you awake ?’ ‘Now I am’, he would reply.
    Do you know the song Hamburger Lady by Throbbing Gristle? Well the lyrics for that song were taken from a series of letters Blaster wrote Genesis when he was working in the Burn Wards. I think that is really cool. I remember listening to that song a lot, in like another lifetime, when I lived in D.C.

    This is in no way, a conclusive list of cool things and cool people in Baltimore. There are so many interesting unique things going on in this town. Anything I can say is the tip of the iceberg, coming from my own perspective.

    I left Baltimore about 7 years ago, to look for a better place to raise a child in. As a subculture parent, I felt isolated, alone, overwhelmed and unsupported. All that in an apartment on Maryland avenue that was probably 8 blocks away from where my daughter now goes to school. (It wasn’t there back then) The GreenMount School! I am so indebted to that school. I can breathe better now because my daughter goes to GMC. For me, it’s a community, where people with loosely based similar goals work together to create something that didn’t exist before. This school has more my values and I don’t feel the stress in my family of the schism that existed when I lived in the suburbs and sent my daughter to the public school there. I really need that. The first day my daughter went there, she told me, this is a school where kids know what an avocado is.
    It is a co-operatively run school from grades 1 - 8 with 71 students. The school is really diverse, kind and creative. Last year they did a unit study on Survival which encompassed emotional survival as well as physical survival. A mom came in and gave a totally inspiring talk to my daughter, of how she survived Breast Cancer. I think what my daughter liked was the story was spunky and funny as well as real life drama. They are doing unit studies on China, Inventions, Metamorphis, and something about Colonial Countries I think, this year. The art teacher is, of all people, one of the best voices in Baltimore, Liz Downing the singer for Radiant Pig. I love how they do a lot of field trips and take advantage of going out in the community at large. The 7th and 8th graders intern, one day a week, somewhere in the community, so they can get involved for the greater good and also get a taste of being part of the world. My daughter did her internship at the Village Learning Center where she helped neighborhood kids do their homework.
    The Village Learning Center used to be a branch of the Pratt Public Library System. When the city shut it down for lack of funds, which is happening more and more, the neighborhood was enraged. People took the city to court, to try to not let them close the library. The result was the city would lease the building, a small beautiful old building on Saint Paul, to the concerned local citizens for a dollar, if they would chose to run it. And so we have a 100% community volunteer-run library called the Village Learning Center. That is pretty inspiring!
    Their bookshelves were at most, half full, as they were gathering up books by donation. My daughter asked me if I would donate one, of the two free copies I got from the publisher, of the book my story is in. See, I got published, for real! Even got paid fifty dollars. I wrote a story called On the Road (with baby) and it got accepted into an anthology edited by Ariel and Bee of Hip Mama, called Breeder: Real-Life Stories from the New Generation of Mothers. You can check out the book at Hipmama.com or Amazon or ask your local bookseller for it.
    It was incredible to be part of such a project, from start to finish. It was great to be in a hip mama production and I so respect the anthology. Bee even got a tattoo of the word Breeder over a bleeding heart on her arm! I mean that is commitment. (It reminds me of Tom Diventi’s tattoo of Apathy Press.) Breeder was put out by Seal Press in Seattle which is an independent feminist press of long and good standing. I read from the book on Mothersday, at Blue Stockings, a feminist independent small bookstore on the lower east side, NYC. I got to hang out with Ayun (of the East Village Inky fame - a cool little illustrated zine) who was also in Breeder and some other mama’s in Tompkins Square park playground. That was exciting
    When my daughter, who is happy that I never mention her name in the story cuz she would be, in not unusual teen fashion, embarrassed - took a copy of the Book and gave it to the Community Run Library - it dawned on me, that my fondest desire had come true. I had been published and the book was in the library! I was reeling and remembering one bitter day years ago where I was hating a library cuz I knew my books would never be published, my words would never be read and that no matter what I did I was a total loser and would be suffocated by the mass culture at large.

    I don’t want to end this without telling you about Frenchie the clown. Yet I don’t know how to fit this one last thing into the column. The story of a knocked up, abandoned by her lover, and despairing circus clown being welcomed into the sisterhood of pregnant woman as represented by a synchronized swimming number in Patterson Park Pool. It was in a play I saw last month. Well a French silent movie inspired only-in-Baltimore synchronized swimming Extravaganza. My favorite part was where the 6 pregnant ladies in hot pink bikini’s and little tu-tu’s, did their synchronized swimming number with their bellies floating out of the pool; then came out and did the Pony to frisky Go-Go music, dancing to the front of the pool where they each in turn bumped bellies to the center where Frenchie stood, now happy. ‘Maybe this one last story can’t be fit in’, says my boyfriend.
    ‘The hell it can’t’ sez I. Can’t you see this is integral to the column? Oh well, I am the writer here, and as much as I have consulted the editorial assistance of Faith and Sarah towards being a better writer, and stopping the run on sentence I will break free and just try to fit in one more thing and the kitchen sink if I can grammar be damned.
   Do you know how beautiful 6 really really pregnant ladies, one a week over due, in hot pink bikini’s are? Dang! The Sun paper reported them as a funny sight, in an article entitled: Swimming in sync and pregnant - eat your heart out, Esther Williams.  I laughed when I read about they’re vacuous, overly enthusiastic smiles, their theatrical arm waving where the reporter saw them practicing for their debut. ‘I must be hallucinating’ he wrote and also ‘they hit the water like they were tied to a refrigerator’. When I read about their attire and how half of them had tattoos and one a nose ring - I said to myself, ‘What is this swimming production put on by Fluid Motion? I must be there!’
    And so I went to see this show entitled Cirque de L’Amour (Circus of Love), which the mama’s performance was just a small part of.  Sure it was tongue in cheek funniness but - I was impressed by their actual exuberant smiles, their lively bouncyness, sometimes they looked like children to me in their pigtails. How fun. They did a good job. And how happy to think how one woman of this very creative dance troupe (there next show is going to be the story of the Loch Ness monster, on roller-skates) got pregnant and then she wrote this into the play and found all the other pregnant ladies. Will they remain friends after they have children? What a bond! Yay sexy wild pregnant ladies, goodluck to you all.
Bye! You can reach me at  China410@hotmail.com