Eight-Stone Press


Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore! #11

Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore! COVER

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Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!
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Table of contents

Introduction William P. Tandy
A Petunia Grows in Pigtown Siobhán Fitzpatrick
One Hot Woman Caryn Coyle
Help Me...If You Can Ben Shaberman
Graveyard Bride Alex Hewett
Take This Thing Back to Baltimore Joseph Christopher Schaub
Jukeboxing Bars Benn Ray
Selling Out Ryan Graham
Little B&O Eric D. Goodman
The Rat Patrol Faye Rivkin
Street Cleaning George Hagegeorge
Fair Lanes Sharon Goldner
Wasted Bills Jillian Rose Krupp
Getting Lost Taking My Daughter to the Greyhound Bus Station Susan Beverly
A Little Puerto Rican Fernando Quijano III
The Yelling Man Martha Gatewood
Queensberry Rules E. Doyle-Gillespie
Secondary Education Joe Higler
Concerning My Next Rental Jena Shlock
A True Baltimore Love Story Martha Gatewood
Earl Weaver’s Bench Steve Himmer
Baltimore’s Lightman, R.I.P. Ron Tanner
Ride-Along Rosalia Scalia
No Shoulder William Patrick Tandy
The Trouble with “I Statements” Lisa Singer
Little Prayers Sommer Marsden
A Meditation on Dildo Selection and Its Sociopolitical Ramifications Pippy Rockwell
No Shoes E.B. Wexler
Valediction of a Taphophile Ryan Coffman/Susurrus Din
Testing, Testing J. Gavin Heck
Portfolio Review Martha Gatewood
About the Contributors


A Petunia Grows in Pigtown
by Siobhán Fitzpatrick

Way back on Memorial Day weekend, I planted petunias in big pots in front of my house. Yeah, I know – so what? Normally, I wouldn’t think much of it either, except no one on my block had ever done it before. I was kind of nervous about what people would think of me because I’m the first new neighbor my neighbors have had in 27 years and I didn’t want to disrupt block harmony and continuity. And I definitely didn’t want to come across as some pretentious yuppie asshole.

Now, before you start thinking I’m the Martha Stewart of Pigtown, I have to tell you that the main reason I put these big pots out front is because people were sitting under my windows chain-smoking and chatting in stadium voices all day and most of the night. People weren’t doing it to mess with me, though. They were doing it because my house had been empty for over three years before I bought it, and my stoop and sidewalk space had become community property. The noise was making my dog and I crazy, though, and poking my head out of the door every half-hour to ask people to move would make me look like a yuppie asshole. I knew I was not going to make it through the summer without completely blowing a gasket, so the potted-plant solution seemed like a good place to start with my anger-management issues.

That Saturday morning, my girlfriend and I freshened up our mullets and litter boxes and trekked down Washington Boulevard to Lesbian Mecca Home Depot, where we loaded up on large pots, soil and petunias. By the time we got back to my house, my neighbors and their visitors were in full block-party mode. Once I started dumping bags of soil in the pots, a small crowd of neighbors gathered around me to watch what I was doing, and it was definitely a little awkward. I didn’t know if the pots were going to become toilets and/or ashtrays or if kids would run by and pull up the flowers. I fully expected the pots and flowers to disappear within a few days.

I was way wrong. As the days went by, people on my street started asking me lots of questions: What kind of flowers are they? How much did they cost? How much water do they need? Do they come in other colors? Will they come back next year? After all the questions came the compliments: The block looks nicer. We never thought to do that before. Your house looks so nice. I like seeing flowers when I walk by. I want to do something like that, too.

Whew!

Several weeks later, Mr. Franklin, my very elderly and often intoxicated next-door neighbor, waved me over to his stoop when I got home from work. He told me that one day a week he rides the bus all around the city just to get out of the house. He also told me that he’s started noticing all of the different kinds of flowers people have planted along the various bus routes. He asked me lots of questions about my flowers, and then wondered if I would help him do the exact same thing in front of his house.

“I gets my disability check on Wednesdays,” he said. “I’ll give you cash right away, and if it ain’t enough, I’ll gets you some more. But I don’t want no purple flowers. I don’t like purple much.”

I told him no problem, that I’d love to help him. Honestly, though, I wasn’t sure if he’d even remember the conversation – but he did. Every time I’d see Mr. Franklin after that, he’d wave me over and remind me, “I gets my check on Wednesday, so you can get them flowers when you get home.”

When the next Wednesday came around, he waved me over and handed me $40. “You gon’ tell me if it cost more than 40, right? ’Cos I gots some more money in my house and some more next Wednesday.”

So my girlfriend and I once again drove down to Homo Depot and got Mr. Franklin some pots, soil and petunias. The $40 he gave me wasn’t enough to cover it all, but that didn’t really matter. He couldn’t stop talking to me and all the fellas on the block about having his own flowers, so I couldn’t not get them for him. Besides, all they had left were purple and pink flowers, and I felt kind of bad about that.

After work the next day, Mr. Franklin caned down his stoop towards my car and asked if $40 was enough money for everything. I told him that we lucked out because everything came to exactly $40 and that I’d plant the flowers after dinner.

Another small crowd of neighbors gathered around me as I began filling Mr. Franklin’s pots and planting purple and pink petunias. He supervised my progress the entire time while asking lots of questions about care and maintenance. The old guys on the block, like Mr. Brown, started teasing Mr. Franklin about getting in touch with his feminine side by having purple and pink in front of his house. “I’m jus helpin’ beautify the neighborhood, ’cause I’m tired of lookin’ at all y’all old negroes,” Mr. Franklin mumbled.

As the days went by, Mr. Franklin’s petunias were wilting and struggling while my petunias were thriving. He even got a few new petunia plants from somewhere, pulled them out of the plastic containers and stuck the clumps right on top of the soil next to the flowers I had planted a week earlier. He looked a little confused when the petunias he “planted” shriveled within a day or two. Mr. Fast-Walker came by to lend his encouragement and support.

“Shit! You gotta burrry them plants, fool! Damn!”

The old guys continued to give Mr. Franklin a hard time about being an old man and failing in his attempt to grow flowers. “We was worried ’bout you, Franklin,” Mr. Brown exclaimed. “We thought fo’ sho’ you really was a cocksucker when you put them pink flowers in front yo’ house. But jus’ look at them sorry plants, negro! Guess you really ain’t no cocksucker.”

I had to take quick action, so I removed Mr. Franklin’s flatlined petunias and Miracle-Growed the hell out of the rest that still had a pulse. I also started watering his petunias every time I watered mine. Apparently, Miracle-Gro has the BALCO/Barry Bonds effect on perennials, because within a couple of days, his flowers were ’roid-raging and blooming with big purple and pink Fuck Yous to all the haters. I was a little scared, actually. I kept thinking of Little Shop of Horrors and I was afraid to walk too close to them at night.

Mr. Franklin’s petunias became the comeback story to end all comeback stories on this block. No one could believe they made it. His flowers were so much more beautiful than mine, too, and that made me really happy. Even the very angry alpha-female crack-lady of the block became so smitten with the flowers that she started watering Mr. Franklin’s and mine! As June rolled around, another neighbor put big pots and flowers in front of her house. She came over to my stoop one evening and said, “You know, you started something on this block. And it’s a good thing.”

Oh, God. It’s a good thing? Like Martha Stewart always says? Am I morphing into Martha? Hell no, hon. Not possible.

The petunias continued flourishing in the heat and humidity, and Mr. Franklin and I developed a bit of a routine. On each night there was an Orioles game, he’d put his little radio next to his worn beach chair on the sidewalk and sit there next to his flowers while sipping Bud Ice. I’d grab a beer and head outside with the watering can. The conversation was always the same.

“Them flowers is beautiful. I never seen colors up close like that. Will they come back when they die?”

“Yes, sir. They’ll keep blooming until the frost comes. Then they’ll come back again in the spring.”

“Is that right. They be here again in a year?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Will they still be beautiful like they are today?”

“They may be even more beautiful.”

“Is that right. Will they still be purple?”

“I think so.”

“Is that right. You think them Orioles gonna win tonight?”

“No, sir. I think the Rays are gonna take them. Again.”

“Is that right. You know them there flowers is having a better season than them Orioles is.”

As the summer broiled on, it was abundantly clear that the Orioles were withering (again), but at least we had our petunias. Mr. Franklin was so happy with their success that he told me he was planning on cooking me hotdogs and hamburgers one night and said I could invite anyone I wanted to, but especially invite “all them pretty girls that come around yo’ house.” Right around the same time, Mr. Brown exploded off of his stoop and told me that when he put his grill away that he planned on getting some potted bushes out front – the kind that stay green all year. He asked if I knew the bushes he was talking about.

“You mean like evergreens?”

“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Just like two or three of them little muthafuckin’ Christmas-type trees.”

When Labor Day weekend came along, I had a complete internal meltdown that Sunday morning. When I went outside to water the petunias, it looked as if someone had ripped all of the blooms off. I looked all around to see if anyone else was outside. No one. Upon closer inspection, I discovered a fat green caterpillar chewing on one of the flowers. I called it a fucker, yanked it from the stem and tossed it into oncoming traffic. And then I discovered another little green beast – and another and another and another! The flowers were fine the day before! How could this happen?

I hauled ass to the Homo Depot again and loaded up on 40-in-1-type bug killer for flowers. I road-raged all the way home so I could put on some gloves and open up a can o’ wup-ass on those caterpillars. Once I started napalming them, I realized I was going to need more bug spray. My girlfriend, bless her heart, went and got me some more. Mr. Brown burst out of his front door when he saw the girl-interrupted look on my face and asked he what was wrong with the flowers.

“What’s wrong, baby girl?”

“Caterpillars.”

“What? Where?”

“Right here, here and here. And over there.”

“Muthafucka, look at that! Goddamn!”

With that, Mr. Brown took two long strides from his stoop, got down beside me and started furiously plucking caterpillars off and stomping on them.

“Goddamn, baby girl! Shit! This here a lot of muthafuckin’ work for some goddamn flowers. Damn! This here a fuckin’ shame. They was doin’ so good.”

I continued spraying all of the petunias like a crazed woman. By now, the neighborhood women were walking over to the AME church in all of their church crown splendor and looking at me like I could use some serious saving. Maybe I could – but not that day.

After several more dousings of bug spray, Miracle-Gro and tough love, the petunias came ’roid-raging back to life in a few days. Once again, the flowers were the comeback story of the block. Neighbors would walk by and comment, usually with a “Damn, I thought they wus done fo’ real.” Fortunately, everyone was so focused on the petunias that they didn’t seem to notice the sudden appearance of two-headed, three-tailed rats, whose mutation is likely a direct result of all the 40-in-1 bug-spray runoff.

In recent weeks, the petunias have noticeably settled down, and last call is just another cold night or two away for them. I knew summer was over when Mr. Brown put his grill away after Labor Day, and I’ll admit that it made me kind of sad. But now that the petunias are fading, everyone can see that cold weather is arriving soon. My neighbors have been asking more questions about what happens next and wondering if the flowers are just going to die. I told them that they will die, but they’ll come back in the spring. Then I told them all about mums and pansies and how they are able to withstand colder weather. I mentioned that I was planning on putting mums out front in the big pots and maybe some pansies in the little ones.

A few days later, Mr. Franklin shuffled in his tired slippers towards my car as I got home from work. He wanted to talk about flowers and what to plant for the fall and winter. He was excited about the prospect of having new flowers, and he wanted to share his plan with me.

“I was thinkin’ it be good if we matched,” he said. “We should get the same color mums, then errrybody around the way be talkin’ ’bout how good we look.”

“Is that right.”

“’Cept I don’t want no purple flowers. I never did like purple much.”


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