January 30, 2015
South High Street
In the upstairs cabaret lounge at Germano's in Little Italy, author Rafael Alvarez is reading a short story he wrote years ago about a retired burlesque dancer named Jean Honus, a platinum blonde who billed herself as the Jean Harlow of The Block and stripped until she was 56.
But the headliner on this Friday night is Margo Christie, who recently penned These Days, a novel inspired by her own experiences dancing on The Block in the late 1970s and '80s. Amid clinking glasses and applause, accompanied by jazz guitarist Michael Joseph Harris, the redheaded Christie takes the floor in a vintage, sequined lace gown and feather boa. Her only concession to aging: reading glasses.
Among the passages she shares is an anecdote about the long summers on The Block, the slowest time of the year, she quickly learned. "August on The Block dragged by hot and sleepy. . . . Lenny [the bar manager] said men took their families on vacation during the summer, but will be back with an appetite for some real fun in September."
A Denver transit bus driver for the past 14 years, she has enjoyed returning home to promote her book, which received an Amazon Breakthrough Novel award. "I've been having great fun, but this isn't the first time I've been in a newspaper," she says with a wry smile. "[Between dancing stints ] I worked at the Mustang Inn and the East Baltimore Guide once named me the best-looking barmaid in Highlandtown. Of course, I was 17 then. Most of the barmaids in Highlandtown were over 50."
January 31, 2015
West Pratt Street
The only thing more exciting than an actual ballgame might be Orioles FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center. It's still months until Opening Day, but manager Buck Showalter is here chatting with fans. Chris Davis and Manny Machado are signing tons of autographs. Nearby, the O's bird is stirring up trouble and posing for photos. There are batting cages, a speed gun to measure your fastball, and even vendors hawking Esskay franks.
Among the highlights is a "Know Your Teammate" segment at the packed fan forum—a kind of Newlywed Game in which Orioles players are tested on how well they know each other—followed by some real mayhem with fans volunteering to get "pied" on stage by the O's Adam Jones, per tradition.
After Jones smashes several fans who've won their Dangerously Delicious pieings via a social-media contest, including one lumberjackish fan who receives a double-whammy of chocolate cream, the colorful center fielder seeks volunteers from the audience. Asking for older people in the crowd, in order to avoid having to slam a pie into the face of one of the children pressing the stage, Jones reluctantly ends up pieing a Towson great-grandmother. "He asked me, 'Are you sure?'" says lifelong fan Pat Shaw, 77, later. "I said, 'Show no mercy, Adam.' But he was gentle."
Shaw then chooses the next participant, excited 13-year-old Eryka Milanicz (wearing, naturally, an official Jones jersey), to receive the last pie in the face.
Happily pulling banana-cream pie from her hair afterward, Eryka reveals that she has a poster of No. 10 on her bedroom wall. "He doesn't know," she smiles, "but he's secretly my boyfriend."
February 1, 2015
From start to finish, the discoveries of the presenters at the American Visionary Art Museum conference, The Human Guide to Our Creative Brain, are almost too far-fetched to fathom. Keynote speaker Martine Rothblatt, for example, explains how she created Sirius XM Radio after an epiphany about satellite transmission while visiting the Seychelles, then later entered the domain of bioscience, developing a breakthrough treatment for her daughter's life-threatening pulmonary hypertension.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Thomas McNear discusses becoming the first member of the Army's Stargate Project—an effort to investigate psychic practices with potential military applications and the inspiration for the George Clooney film, The Men Who Stare at Goats.
Other neuroscientists, biochemists, and anatomists present research into the effect of light on astronauts; the evolution of the human smile; and biofield therapies, such as reiki.
Then there's Jason Padgett, a self-described former "goof"—a photo shows off the mullet he once rocked—who acquired savant mathematical ability after a concussion following an attack outside a karaoke bar. He literally sees shapes in the world around him as equations now.
Still amazed by his newfound insights, Padgett recounts telling another audience not too long ago that he'd come to the realization that the angles in stealth aircraft must be prime numbers like 89 and 101 degrees, which he believes would make them harder to detect by radar. Later, he got a phone call from someone claiming to be from the National Security Agency. "The person says to me, 'You know what you said about stealth aircraft? Well, don't tell anyone else.'
"I don't know if that person was from the NSA, but I called them back and asked if I was right," he continues. "They said, 'We can't tell you that.'"