[Editor's Note: PubliCola's D.C. correspondent is taking a break from the politics beat. He's spending the summer in America's real capital city, Brooklyn, NY.]
Mike and I were sitting under a bus shelter in Baltimore, watching the rain come down in sheets. We'd been in Baltimore for a couple of days, and now, at one o'clock in the afternoon, we were watching the downpour and contemplating the city.
We basically went to Baltimore on a whim, which is something I can do because I still don't have a job.
The city took us by surprise. We had been in awe of the easy integration of culture and race in New York, and the walkability of even the most notorious neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Baltimore wasn't like that. It was chock full of houses that looked like they were falling apart, like entire blocks destroyed in riots 40 years ago that were never rebuilt, and scattered with bus benches with Baltimore's unconvincing motto ("The Greatest City in America") scratched out or covered over with graffiti.
Abandoned by its manufacturing past, the city felt desolate, hungry, angry, and weirdly partitioned--I don't think we ever saw a white person and a black person in the same neighborhood. We went to see John Wilkes Booth's grave, which I wanted to see for my own nerdy reasons, but I was kind of distracted by the surrounding dilapidated neighborhood, full of houses that had collapsed and been abandoned and people walking dazed through the street. Baltimore was different from New York in a way I didn't really like.
Mike and I ruminated silently until the bus picked us up for the five-and-a-half-hour trip back to New York. The girl I met in Brooklyn, the one who lets me walk her home sometimes (her name is Emma), picked me up from the bus stop and we immediately got on a train going north, where there was a birthday party at some rich architect's mansion hideaway in the forests of Westchester County. Someone said Paul Simon was going to be there.
When we arrived there were a bunch of sixty- and seventy-somethings dancing to "Shake Your Groove Thing" on the dance floor and an attractive couple was sitting next to each other by the pool. We went and talked to some people Emma knew and this weirdo hippie lady kept touching Emma's hair and telling her she looked "vibrant" and "refreshing."
We sneaked through the architect's giant house and looked into the oversize mirrors. We climbed three flights of stairs and felt around on the walls for the light switches that didn't work anyway. We got to the top and looked out the attic window, over the dark hills dotted with lights. By the time we got back down only a few funky old people were still busting moves on the dance floor. The old architect was dancing, his combover totally disheveled and his face plastered with a grin, and I thanked him for having us and he gave me a big drunken high five.
People started jumping into the swimming pool with their clothes on. Somebody made a joke I didn't understand about Woodstock. Emma and I wandered through the trees and found a patio far enough away from the house that the only sign of the party was the far-off boom of "It's Raining Men." "Is this going to be on your blog? On your NerdNerd?" Emma asked. "I don't think so," I said. "It's way too weird."
Unfortunately, Paul Simon never showed up.
After a couple hours, we got a ride back to Brooklyn from one of Emma's friends. My mind was swirling with row houses and disco dancing seventy-year-olds and I suddenly felt sick as we got into Manhattan. "I think maybe you should pull over," I said. The car stopped on the side of the road and I pushed the door open and threw up in the street.
It wasn't just the open bar that did it. I was overwhelmed by a day split in half by barren, ominous Baltimore and that silly, monied decadence out in the New York State wilderness, and that alone was enough to make me dizzy. When we got back to Brooklyn, I walked Emma back to her place (she was understanding about my sudden vomiting). Later on, I tried to sleep, but my mind was too wound up. All I could think was this is officially the weirdest summer ever.