I knew two things about Baltimore before I went there on Sunday.
- The musical Hairspray is set in Baltimore, which means the city is on the list of places I would not have been allowed to go at 13, since I would have burst into an off-key rendition of “Good Morning, Baltimore,” to my later embarrassment.
- The first season of Serial also is ‘set’ in Baltimore and that series is about a guy who may or may not have murdered someone, and it does not give you a favorable impression of the town. At all.
I also originally wanted to go to Annapolis, just because it sounded nicer than Baltimore. But I was staying with my friend Tammy, and her parents suggested Baltimore because it was a closer drive and there was more to do there, including Edgar Allen Poe’s house (which we didn’t go to) (hopefully the faculty member of my English department who is obsessed with Poe won’t read this) (if he does, I’m very sorry but it was poor time management and not technically entirely my fault). What really convinced me was the art museum, because art museums are my jam. So we went there first.
The air conditioning in Tammy’s car is broken and the heat index for Sunday was 105 degrees Fahrenheit. This wasn’t awful to start with but it became awful with each successive time we got into the car. Scorched thighs are not my jam.
The art museum was impressive for being somewhere like Baltimore—I guess it’s a decently big city, but it seemed sort of unkempt and unvisited in some sense. Right when we walked in, a museum guard/docent guy flashed a peace sign at me and Tammy, causing me to awkwardly prance into an exhibit to escape making accidental further eye contact. 20th century American art was the name of the game, and instead of fully appreciating it, I focused on taking pictures of anything I could find my own reflection in and dancing around while Tammy wasn’t looking.
I also talked about how I wanted a modernist themed house, including plates and lamps and things. I’m kind of partial to the idea of having every element of your home be distinctive or in an art style. I don’t think our flatware is in a particular style anymore, we’re all poor and shop at IKEA now and don’t much care about artistic cohesion.
We eventually ran into Peace Sign Museum Guard, who unsuccessfully attempted to chat up both me and Tammy simultaneously by making general comments to the room we were in that sounded vaguely like they were created in a Trump tweet generator. “It’s 11 in the morning on a Sunday. You’re at an art museum. Could have slept in!” I responded by saying, “Heroic,” and Tammy pretended we needed to see a different exhibit in order to escape, a plan I ruined by loudly announcing that we’d already seen that one.
The car was even worse after the museum. I thought I would never be able to unstick my sweaty clothes from my body.
After an unsuccessful attempt to park outside an independent bookstore, we ditched any lofty academic goals and bought ice cream at the harbor and jealously watched kids play in a fountain.
Tammy had never been in an H&M before. I took her in and it was underwhelming.
Having abandoned the independent bookstore, we instead went to Barnes & Noble. I’ve heard it’s going out of business, which worries me quite a bit, but also makes me hopeful that business will return to indie booksellers? It’s hard to say really. Aside from that train of thought, being in bookstores always give me half an existential crisis, because the way I engage with books and literature now is so different than before I decided to study it. I’ve been reading ‘classic’ lit and pretty much nothing else for almost five years now, trying to make up for how much there is that I still need to read, as well as having lost a taste for anything even kind of poorly written, which my snobby brain translates as anything contemporary.
I’m the same way about art, I think. I know all art and literature was at some point contemporary, but you know the stuff that’s stood the test of time will be good, and you don’t have to waste the effort of sifting through everything else. (Unless you’re talking about The Vicar of Wakefield, which has stood the test of time but is also next level terrible. I’ve never read anything so mind numbingly uninteresting.) I always push myself to engage with contemporary art, though, and I ought to do the same with literature.
But I don’t. Maybe I will when I have a second of free time. (Aka this summer, but I still haven’t done it. I’ll never change.) Before I started reading all the classics, I used to just pore over the shelves until I found a particularly striking cover and then sit down with that. I read so much more than I do now because it was all for the joy of it, and I found everything I read so gripping. The quality of what I read now is so much better, but it feels like so much more of a burden because it’s both essentially my job and there’s so much of it out there that I feel obligated to get to. I still like reading (obviously), but there is less of that pure joy there.
We were driven back to the fountain by the sheer heat. I put my feet in it, but burned the soles of them walking back. 0/10, not worth it.
I gave three dollars to a homeless man and thought about how cities full of people who need your help gradually erode your conscience.
The car was essentially synonymous with the Fiery Pits of Hell by the time we rolled out of Baltimore. No position I tried could keep me from being burned or stuck somewhere. The back of my knees became a swimming pool for the bacteria living on the surface of my skin. Tammy and I couldn’t speak because it was so hot. I thought I would die.
We stopped at a Dunkin Donuts and bought whatever they had that was cold. It was better after that.
Baltimore isn’t pretty. I totally believe people are murdered there. But it’s interesting, in its own way. It has patches of beauty and things that catch your eye. I think the old architecture and the harbor have a lot to do with what I like about it. There were also a ton of ducks there and I love ducks more than existence itself.
I go back to school in two and a half weeks, but summer feels just infinite enough for me to waste the remaining days watching TV and writing blog posts. Let all my anxieties hit me like a wave when I leave DC, but until then, I will put my attention into draining my bank account in three-dollar increments at coffee shops and thinking about working out without ever doing so.
(P.S. Thank you all so much for the amazing response to my last post! I’ve had a number of wonderful conversations because of it, and I am overwhelmingly grateful to the people who have spoken up in response. I hope none of you feel alone in your struggles in the future, as there is clearly a community of people who are experiencing the same things as you and are more than willing to reach out and be honest with one another. It’s the most encouraging thing I could have asked to see, so thank you infinitely.)