The Chatter: January 2016

Overheard at Highlandtown bar crawl, Ace Hardware, and Charm City Fringe Festival.

By Ron Cassie - January 2016

The Chatter: January 2016

Overheard at Highlandtown bar crawl, Ace Hardware, and Charm City Fringe Festival.

By Ron Cassie - January 2016

Scene from the annual Highlandtown Basement Bar Tour. -Photography by Ron Cassie

Drinking Buddies

Bank Street
November 7, 2015

For 10 years, the annual Highlandtown Basement Bar Tour has been paying homage to the social gatherings that started out decades ago in the neighborhood’s fully stocked, wood-paneled basement bars. Although, truth be told, these soirées have now largely moved into the living rooms and backyards of the rowhouses here.

Guided by a handy map, residents walk, drink, mingle—and repeat—over the course of four hours with encouragement from well-stocked fridges, kegerators, iced tubs of Natty Boh, and retro mini-bars. “In Stockholm, where I’m from, people in apartments pass each other in the hallway, but never talk,” says a Swedish transplant living on Claremont Street with her boyfriend. “On this block, everyone wants to know each other’s life story.”

Altogether, seven rowhomes, two art galleries, one pizzeria, two actual bars, one organic market, one Italian market, and one former Moose Lodge have opened their doors—and liquor cabinets—to the tour.

“Best $20 I ever spent,” jokes Andy Dahl, coordinator of neighborhood programs for the Southeast Community Development Corporation, after sampling homemade pork barbecue at one stop. Along the way, he crosses paths with an old friend bicycling through the neighborhood—who, naturally, slides into the tour. Other surprises include an accordionist at one home, and fig trees and grapevine trellises in a couple of the small backyards in the neighborhood’s old Italian section.

“There are two Roman stone masons from the neighborhood who enter the Highlandtown Wine Festival each year—both named Dominic,” explains a longtime resident. “Very competitive. In business, winemaking—everything. They even steal each other’s customers, but still they remain good friends. If one wins the red wine competition, I think the judges almost feel obligated to give the other a white wine ribbon.”

Hammer Time

Binney Street
October 20, 2015

The checkout line stretches nearly the length of Canton Ace Hardware, with women—and it’s all women here tonight—patiently waiting to pay for light fixtures, caulk and caulking guns, air filters, and brass plumbing supplies.

Meanwhile, past the lumber section, a DeWalt representative offers a hands-on, cordless power drill and driver demo. That’s followed by a packed mini-workshop on home toilet repair by a Fluidmaster rep—all part of the store’s 2nd Annual Ladies’ Night, which has attracted some 250 women. No doubt, many have been lured by the 20 percent discounts and complimentary wine and cheese, but just as many appear intent on learning how to tackle a specific DIY project or, more generally, improve their overall handywoman skills.

“My father got me started,” says Janis Girven, a computer consultant. “A home inspector left a dishwasher repair guide at our house and my dad said, ‘Janis, you can follow directions, right? Can you fix this leak?’ And I did. When the [repair] kit I bought came with the wrong size gasket, I went to the auto store, got another one, cut it to the right size.”

Canton Ace Hardware, it should be noted, is one of three local stores, among 11 in the region, run by a female-owned cooperative. Of course, customers have no idea that’s the case, acknowledges Courtney Belew, the co-op’s marketing manager.

“When I worked on the floor,” says the petite, bespectacled Belew, “older men, especially, would occasionally ask me if they could speak to a man about a certain tool
or kitchen repair job. I’d simply smile, ‘I can help you.’”

Talking Heads

North Charles Street
November 13, 2015

In keeping with the Charm City Fringe Festival’s quirky nature, online tickets to the “#txtshow” came with an email reminder about charging your smartphone. Also, a warning about possibly profane language. Then, arriving at Station North’s Mercury Theater, guests receive not programs, but login directions to the show’s live Twitter feed. There’s no play this evening; instead, a staged reading by performance artist Brian Feldman of the audience’s—and this is key—anonymous real-time tweets.

The show starts hesitantly. There’s a tweet quoting from Star Wars, followed by one about a penguin driving a spaceship. Then, a reference to Batman, followed by random existential queries and responses. Any chance of a dialogue or a narrative forming from the 140-characters-or-less tweets—a road trip story gets sidetracked—explodes for good when two young women, clearly imbibing, join in. Soon, the back and forth turns scattershot, with off-the-wall tweets about the smell outside the theater, ducks, and sex.

The best part, however, is when audience members begin “intervening” in the relationships of other audience members:

Oh, so you haven’t put a ring on it yet, eh? . . . How you doin?

Which, of course, sends the first-row couple in question bursting into laughter.

It’s all absurdist fodder for Feldman, who occasionally gestures directly toward the small crowd while reading a tweet and, at other times, sings some of the missives.

“I asked an actor if he considered the show ‘improv.’ He thought it was,” Feldman says. “I don’t think so. Improv is based on ‘Yes, and . . .’ —meaning, you must follow the other person’s lead.” Feldman laughingly notes the #txtshow’s chaotic nature. “This always becomes, ‘No, but . . .’”

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Scene from the annual Highlandtown Basement Bar Tour. -Photography by Ron Cassie

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