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2005-12-03 - 4:24 p.m.

Some friends are playing a show tonight. They're called the Baltimore Afrobeat Society and they play Fela Kuti's music. They've been practicing here at the warehouse twice a week, on Sundays and Thursdays. I've never seen a performance, but everybody says they're a lot of fun: dancing and shouting and long, long songs that go on for twenty minutes. Lots of call-and-response and horns and percussion. I've heard them practice a bunch, though, sitting in my room, not fighting the volume so much as using it as white noise as I try to grade papers or maybe read. I'm looking forward to it. It's an $8 cover and that gets you all the beer you can drink. I don't think the place has a liquor license and that's how they get around people not being able to drink, in some way. There are 20 of them in the band and all the sections of the band dress alike. The guitar players, for example, all wear cowboy hats, say, and western shirts.

I ordered Richard Brautigan's "Trout Fishing in America" on Amazon yesterday. I'm excited about it, though I don't know what it's about. Several smart people have recommended it recently. I sent in my application packet yesterday for the Yaddo artist's retreat in upstate New York. It sounds great. They've posted pictures of the individual studios on their site. They are big and lushly furnished and upholstered and they feed you from their own kitchen. They have full-time staff for that sort of thing. You can request anywhere from two weeks to two months. I asked for three weeks because that seems about the right amount of time, considering the income I wouldn't be getting and the alone time. I'd really like to do something like that, though. I miss the stretches of unstructured time I had in grad school.

It is cold. The warehouse is a cold place. My fingers are stiff. I wore a T-shirt, two wool sweaters, and a peacoat when watching DVDs of "Arrested Development" last night. They are still filming episodes of "The Wire" in the neighborhood. When I walked by the other day, I checked out the catering tent they'd set up on the sidewalk. There were a bunch of cops milling about, in those fur-lined caps they wear when they're on foot patrol. Many of the cops were helping themselves to coffee and doughnuts and things. They seemed to be enjoying themselves. The talk of the town right now is that Nicole Kidman is filming a movie downtown. Apparently it's an alien movie and she's the hero, I assume. The movie's set in DC, but they are filming here because it's cheaper. They set up a newsstand on a downtown sidewalk, as a set, to make it look more like DC. A friend was telling me the other day that he walked by, got excited about the newsstand, and then saw the cameras and technical people milling around. "It reminded me of New York," he said. "And then I realized it was a movie."

Baltimore gets a bad rap. It's really the only major city I know intimately, and so for me, it's always been a city of wide-open amazement. It's got its problems, for sure, and people keep killing other people on the east and west sides. I, however, do not encounter this reality much. People my age who are from other towns--DC, Portland, Austin--are always kind of down on Baltimore because they're used to something else. But I've always considered it the perfect size. Not as big as New York and not as pretentious as DC seems to be. There are no high-end designer fashion stores here. That's about the best way I can typify this town. And something about that fact makes me like it even more. It's always been a punk rock town, dirtier than most. It feels honest to me, as if the people know what they are and like it. Identity, I'm always reminded, is fundamental and having a positive one means everything. And it's not an abstract town, either. It's not rooted in an idea. It's rooted in coal and steel and beer and the Orioles and the amazing hats the black church ladies wear on Sundays and I've never been to a black church but I hear they know how to worship some Jesus.

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