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Firsthand Accounts of What's Happening in Baltimore

Ring Tone

February 8, 2014
Joppa Farm Road, Joppa 

“There’s nine matches, and only three have been approved for weapons,” Dan McDevitt reminds the motley crew of tough guys, heels, cheap-shot artists, Samoans, and “Black Wall Street” thugs—some doing push-ups, others pulling on Lycra singlets and elbow pads—backstage at the sprawling Joppa Market Place. The venue normally hosts an Amish flea market, but tonight is the site of Maryland Championship Wrestling’s (MCW) 16th Anniversary Show.

Meanwhile, 64-year-old WWE Hall of Famer Jerry “The King” Lawler, best known for putting comedian Andy Kaufman in a neck brace in the 1980s, poses for photos with row after row of fans. Later, just before intermission, Lawler, still built like a keg of beer, enters the ring to battle “The Pinnacle” Shawn Patrick. 

Despite his age and a 2012 heart attack, which occurred announcing a show, Lawler trades body slam after body slam with Patrick, an Ocean City hotel manager by day, before finishing him off with his signature pile driver.

“Phat Blues” Kelly Bell, a 290-pound MCW wrestler, retiring because of vertebrae issues, notes that being a good wrestling heel isn’t easy. “I always started with a bad joke, but you walk a line,” says Bell, who fronts the popular Kelly Bell Band in another life. “Years ago, I grabbed the mic and asked a good ol’ boy crowd what Pink Floyd and Dale Earnhardt had in common. The punch line? ‘The last hit for both of them was ‘The Wall.’

“Too soon [after Earnhardt’s death]. My tag-team partner and I needed a state police escort out of the building.”

Carnal Knowledge

February 14, 2014
North Avenue

Billed as a “nerd date,” an eclectic mix of straight and gay couples, gray-haired and young alike—as well as curious singles—pack Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse for a Valentine’s Day science lecture from Harvard professor Sarah Richardson, author of Sex Itself: The Search for Male & Female in the Human Genome. Not a traditional Valentine’s date perhaps, but romantic nonetheless. “I studied biology as an undergrad, and my boyfriend is a neuroscientist at NIH,” says Will Abshier, 22. “This is a shared interest for us.”

Naturally, there’s a photo of Bill Clinton in the presentation. Not, however, because of the former president’s infamous hormones; rather to highlight that researchers now believe there are greater genetic differences between men and women—Bill and Hillary, for example—than previously understood. According to biologist David Page, whose TED Talk Richardson uses in her lecture, men and women are about as similar, in terms of the percentage difference of their human genomes, as they are to chimpanzees.

Richardson stresses that gender descriptions as more complex than “binary” “X” and “Y” labels—and that scientific “facts” remain influenced by culture and politics. She jokes that the mapping of the human genome did not include the discovery of the “Jane Austen appreciation locus” or “channel-flipping trait”.
During the Q & A, one man asks about the human male Y chromosome, which diverged 300 million years ago in mammals, but is getting smaller. “It’s an interesting subject, especially when you consider it alongside the expanding role of women and the ways some men are reacting to that,” Richardson tells another male questioner. “But yes,” she adds with a wry smile. “There’s shrinkage.”

Monumental City

February 22, 2014
North Gay Street

Inside the marbled War Memorial Building, about 200 people, including current Maryland National Guard soldiers and a dozen and a half surviving members of the Maryland 231st Transportation Truck Battalion are celebrating that historic, all-black unit’s 135th anniversary. Later, there will be a wreath laying at the Negro Heroes of the Unites States statue at City Hall.

Also on hand, a descendant of “Buffalo Soldier” 1st Sgt. Augustus Wiley, who served in the 9th Calvary Regiment after being born into slavery in Reisterstown.

Dubbed the “Monumental City Guards” when the unit received recognition as an all-black independent militia in 1879, the truck battalion was called to active duty during the Spanish-American War, both World Wars, and the Korean War. “The 231st Battalion was the first U.S. National Guard unit to land in Pusan—Dec. 31, 1950,” retired Sgt. 1st Class Louis S. Diggs, the keynote speaker, tells the audience.

A member of the 231st, Diggs recalls waking up in Korea after integration came to his unit’s camp literally overnight—when troop losses and the arrival of new soldiers put black and white soldiers in the same barracks for the first time—albeit two years after President Truman’s order abolishing racial discrimination in the Armed Forces.

After Korea, Diggs spent years in Japan and Germany, not realizing how little things had changed at home. “I’ll never forget visiting my mother in Sandtown before leaving for Philadelphia where I was stationed next,” Diggs recalls. “She made me a big bag lunch for the drive—didn’t have to look inside—whatever she’d cooked, I knew would be good. But after a ways, I open it and with my food, I pull out an empty jug.

“I thought, ‘What’s this?’ And then it hit me—she knew, even if I’d forgotten—there wouldn’t be a bathroom on Pulaski Highway or Route 40 that I could use.”