News & Community

The Chatter: May 2015

Overheard at Mortified Nation, RV show, and Diorama-rama.

The Anxious Years

February 14, 2015

Hickory Avenue

Standing next to a photo of his 15-year-old self proudly displaying a “Science Olympiad” ribbon, Adam Ruben recalls his relationship with his high-school girlfriend, “Jenny.” “Today is the 20th anniversary of the first time I touched a boob,” Ruben tells the crowd attending tonight’s “Mortified Baltimore” Doomed Valentines show at Hampden’s Gallery 788. From there, however, his story takes a scary turn.

“I can’t stop thinking about you,” Jenny wrote him before he left for camp in 1995. “I would seriously die for you.” Later, in obsessive anger, she dug her nails so hard into the back of his hands that scars remain to this day. “She was a little controlling,” deadpans Ruben, a molecular biologist, who also courageously reads the letters he wrote to Jenny from camp.

Told through old mash notes, diaries, and even one pre-teen romantic novel that doesn’t quite understand how sex works, “Mortified” is part of a national storytelling project that offers adults the opportunity to share their most embarrassing childhood and teenage writings.

There’s bad poetry, journal reflections from a Tyra Banks devotee, and letters from an earnest, confused, homosexual-denying Christian college freshman. “I call them the
Footloose years—no drinking, no smoking, no dancing,” laughs Mike Boyd, now 50. His college missives, sent to his best friend, who is in attendance, recount getting “punked out” for a Go-Go’s concert and the thrill of catching a production of Anything Goes, the musical starring Ethel Merman. “Re-reading these letters,” Boyd cracks, “I was never going to ‘pray the gay away.'”

Only Way

February 22, 2015


With a rebounding economy and falling gas prices, some 20,000 outdoors-oriented vacationers are expected at the 50th Annual RV Show at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, the East Coast’s largest retail show. “My father started the business 43 years ago after our first vacation in a camper,” says Greg Merkel, owner of Leo’s Vacation Center in Gambrills. “After that, we went everywhere: Ocean City, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware. The favorite was the ‘Roller Coaster Capital of the World,’ Cedar Point in Ohio.”

Along with the massive vehicles filling the fairgrounds’ exhibition halls, dozens of Mid-Atlantic campgrounds are represented—most of them familiar to Ruby Harbaugh, who bought her first recreational vehicle with her husband in 1968. Since then, she’s bought nine more, all from Charlie’s RV and Camping Center in Randallstown, where the energetic 81-year-old also works.

“I’ve got a 36-foot Itasca motorhome with an 8.1 Chevy Vortec engine, workhorse chassis, and five-speed Allison transmission,” says the petite, blue-eyed grandma. “Drove 1,088 miles in two days over the Ozark Mountains last summer. Just me behind the wheel. I’ve been to Disney World 42 times, and I’ll go this year. Don’t know where else, yet.”

“My husband died in 2009 and had been in a home for six years when I bought this last RV,” says Harbaugh, whose license plate reads, ‘ONLY WAY.’

“He told me, ‘You keep on going, Ruby. You always were a better a driver than me anyhow.'”

No Small Deaths

March 1, 2015
Wicomico Street

Pigtown’s Allied Binding Company, where they still bind real books, hosts tonight’s “Diorama-rama” competition—a celebration of old-school storytelling in a box—hosted by the local arts group Wonder Commons. The theme is “Notable Last Moments,” with judges including Jaime Kauffman, program director with nonprofit Art with a Heart, and Bruce Goldfarb, an expert on the Maryland Chief Medical Examiner’s Office’s renowned Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death dioramas.

“One goal with Wonder Commons,” explains organizer Robert Marbury, author of Taxidermy Art: A Rogue’s Guide, “is to get people who are non-artists to make things.” That said, genuinely talented folks are here, like Jim Doran, who specializes in making tiny dioramas in iPod cases and kitchen spoons.

Among the entries is an homage to just-departed Leonard Nimoy, featuring an anime figurine of Star Trek’s Spock falling through strobe lights inside a parking cone to the “Final Frontier.” Best in Show goes to game developer Shawn Cook for “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank,” featuring a watercolor painted boat swaying between a dozen waves, enhanced by bottom-of-the-sea LED lighting—all inside a six-inch box.

Meanwhile, the Cornell Prize, named for surrealist assemblage artist Joseph Cornell, goes to writer Zoë Nardo, for “The Wire,” which plays not off the acclaimed HBO series, but The Flying Wallendas. Her two-foot-tall cardboard frame depicts Baltimore’s harbor, its row-house neighborhoods, and a high wire strung from the iconic “Domino Sugars” sign in Locust Point to the neon Mr. Boh in Canton. An accompanying poem tells the tale of the diorama’s thrill-seeking protagonist—only her tutu and legs visible after a headfirst fall into the water:

“Halfway through she slipped and messed up the plan.

She never made it to the one-eyed man.”