"After a fifteenth-century Indian insurrectionist had been fixed to the stake, his captors extended him the choice of confessing and being set free or be executed and go unrepentantly to Hell. Gathering that freedom meant living among his accusers, Hatuey chose Hell."
- Something Kathy Acker almost said
I moved to Baltimore for the second time in April 2015. I immediately found a 3-floor townhouse on a mostly abandoned block downtown. The first night in the building I slept on the disgusting floor, in a room that smelled like my own shit that I took hours earlier in a toilet that I didn’t realize wasn’t hooked up to the plumbing. A priority on a huge list of things to fix or figure out.
As I curled up in a corner on a piece of memory foam and a sheet, I saw a big weird bug walking by my head, casually, as if to say, “big weird bugs belong here, not you.” I sat up and started crying, more overwhelmed than anything.
I was very protective of the illegality of living in this place, I never told anyone that I lived there. I built a hidden room where I slept on something you might find in an orphanage. There was no shower in the building, so I got a cheap gym membership a few blocks away. No kitchen so I built a make-shift one with mini-fridge, microwave, crock pot, hot plate and rice cooker. No place to hide my belongings until I converted the old freight elevator into my storage unit.
I had to take several walks a day to keep depression at bay, passing by vacant properties. When it rains, downtown Baltimore smells like an old basement, as the smells of the decaying buildings wafts through the air.
I was returning from one of these self-therapy walks one morning when I saw someone sitting against the front door of my space. I assumed it was some junkie, it was, after all, Baltimore at the height of the opioid crisis accelerated by looted pharmacies during the riots. A block away, I had time to deliberate on how I was going to handle it: cool white artist trying to connect with this guy, his problems, the system etc or make myself big, be a dick and tell this guy to get the fuck off my property. I didn’t have to make a decision on that, when I approached him, he weakly waved me over to him, mumbled something and lifted his shirt to reveal some strange pink mass on his stomach. “Help”, is the only word I understood. I now realized that the pink mass was his insides poking out of a 6-inch gash on his stomach. I didn’t notice it at first because there was no blood, just guts protruding out like a prolapsed anus. I called 911, the operator told me to get a towel and press it hard against the wound. Fuck. Ok. I go inside and get a towel, bracing myself for my intimate moment with another man’s viscera. By the time I got back outside, the paramedics had already arrived, sparing me the rescue effort.
When they took him away they explained that the lack of blood was from the sharpness of the knife/cleanness of the cut, and how fast his inside popped out, acting as his own tourniquet. Then two cops seemed to just linger at the scene with me, a white cop and a black cop, I told them I owned the building. They seemed to like that, told me about how great the neighborhood was when there were more white landlords, instead of all the “Chinese doctors” who own them now.
Living in Baltimore from 2015-2017 was like living in a Joe Coleman painting of a melting diseased city on the edge, perps and victims alike on the verge, no telling who is who, and me the con-man hoping to leverage my bullshit role as an “artist” to get money from developers who like to toss artists at the frontlines of gentrification. The truth is, I don’t really care about artists anymore than I care about anyone else (I probably even care for them less). I just wanted to create low-income units in a city oversaturated with both abandoned buildings and homelessness. But nothing was worth it, nothing worked there, and if it looked like something might work, all those for whom it wasn’t working will make sure to slash their own tires and blame you for it.
This was the life that was taken away, and it wasn’t much of a life. There are moments now when I feel stupid for fighting for it, but I felt like I was doing something. I felt a sense of purpose, not power. I didn’t really have any power, I had work. I worked hard for every shiny piece of junk that I lost.