Tuesday, May 11, 2010


My wife applied to Artscape 2008 in Baltimore. It’s the largest such art festival in the country. Not only was she accepted, she was asked to participate in all three days. She agreed. We had high hopes for moneymaking. In two days at the Handmade Arcade in Pittsburgh, she had made about $1,500. We thought $3,000 wasn’t an unreasonable goal this time around, given the extra day and my wife’s extra preparation.

The drive was uneventful except for the long sprawling tour of Baltimore’s ghettos, which our new GPS took us through. We had left immediately upon my return from work Thursday evening. So we drove into the night. There were packs of shirtless young men on bikes in front of liquor stores.

The first day went very slowly. It was 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and there weren’t many sales. At the day’s end we were dejected, lamenting the two full days remaining.

The second day was much better. My wife’s merchandise was selling very briskly. It was even hotter than the preceding day, 97 degrees Fahrenheit. At some point in the middle of the afternoon I made a trip to the booth selling non-alcoholic tropical drinks in giant, tacky, carved out coconuts. The coconuts were carved to look like pirate monkey heads, and the beverage sat in a plastic cup inside. What does a pirate monkey head look like, you ask? A pirate monkey head looks like a regular monkey head, except it’s gritting its teeth and it has an eye patch. They cost $10 and came with a ticket for one free refill. I got in line behind a young man who looked to be in his early 20s. He was very skinny, wearing a very long beard, Sikh head wrap, a button-down shirt that was unbuttoned down to his navel, and full-length jeans. Upon sight of him I knew with certainty that he would want to talk to me, as these kind of confused college student hippies always want to talk to me about some sort of insanity. I braced myself and got into line behind him, as I really wanted to drink frozen Tang out of a coconut carved to look like a pirate monkey head. Within seconds, he spun around and began talking in rhyme. It was a long-winding string of ersatz poetry that included some points like, “It’s a hot and beautiful day…and maybe some people come out to play.” There was much more, but it escapes me. Eventually it led to a dancing lesson. Off in the distance somewhere, there was somebody playing a bongo, and that was all he needed. He showed me some basic steps and spins in Flamenco dancing. My own sense of politeness and amusement often prevents me from objecting in these sorts of situations, and thus I end up half-heartedly Flamenco dancing with hippies in 97 degree heat while in line for a frozen drink in a carved coconut in the middle of a giant craft fair in Baltimore. When it was his turn to order, he had completely forgotten about getting his drink. I was quick to point out that the girl at the counter had just called him up. She looked terrified. I was relieved that he was no longer my problem.

Later that afternoon it was so hot that I really didn’t have much of an appetite, and I just wanted to drink. After the free refill for the monkey head had been redeemed, I switched to beer. The other vendors sharing our tent were locals, and they told us about a great brew pub called The Brewer’s Art just up the street. So I made a trip and brought back a couple of large bottles. Excellent. The kind people in our tent also had a large cooler full of beer, albeit of much lower quality. Regardless, my drinking started, and I sustained it at a good pace. Recycling is important. In these times when we need to be so concerned about global warming, recycling is an effortless thing that everybody can do to help. A booth promoting recycling was situated just a few tents down from where we sat. As you would expect, they had a giant garbage can for recyclables. It was convenient. As I finished bottles, I took them down and threw them in the appropriate can. As other people in our tent finished bottles I took them down, because I’m a nice and helpful guy. At the recycling booth there was a giant pack of Mormons, no fewer than a dozen, standing behind the garbage cans. They were all males who looked to be in their late teens and early twenties, who were likely doing their required mission work. They were there, unmoving, all day, from about noon until 10pm. Their job was to cheer loudly and jubilantly every time somebody recycled something. Anything. During the first part of the morning I had thrown away a few empty water bottles and they had cheered. Once afternoon rolled around and I began making more and more frequent trips with beer bottles, they didn’t waver. They continued to cheer for me faithfully each time I recycled another bottle. Some of them even seemed amused. As afternoon wore into evening it became a contest of endurance. I punished them with my empties and they retaliated with appalled cheers. Granted, it wasn’t an entirely fair contest, as a reasonable portion of the beer bottles that I was throwing away weren’t truly mine, but I wasn’t going to tell them that.

During that evening, between visits to the Mormons and reading sessions (I was reading Crime and Punishment at the time), I worked the booth, providing break time for my wife. She would use these breaks to go walking around, enjoying the festival, eating tofu, and talking with other vendors. She’s very well-adjusted that way. I was reasonably buzzed, but still entirely functional. Most of the people buying things didn’t make much of an impression on me. Everybody was generally nice and not insane. At one point, however, a somewhat intense-looking biker woman came up and bought some various small things. It’s important to note here that the city of Baltimore means fucking business with its sales tax policies. Prior to this whole event, my wife had been required to get a license from the city of Baltimore to be a vendor, and keep records of all of her sales. They were also adamant that she charge appropriate sales tax on top of her prices, and not simply take them out of her prices. For example, she couldn’t simply charge $4 for a patch and then out of that $4 pay the appropriate portion in taxes, effectively reducing the price to $3 and some change. She would rather have eaten a couple cents’ loss on each sale than have to perform extra math on each sale, but that wasn’t an option. They said they’d have people hidden in the crowd, spot-checking for compliance. Regardless, this biker woman bought a myriad of things which totaled some ungodly number like $7.32 or something similarly horrific. She was relatively short, looked to be in her mid 40s, was kind of chubby and wearing lots of Harley Davidson gear. She had a very bright and warm personality. Initially she just handed me a $10 bill, but upon seeing me struggle to figure out the change without the aid of a calculator, decided that she would just take $3 and pay the change in coin. I welcomed this. She grabbed a handful of coins out of her pocket, and leaned forward with it. While she was picking through the coins, looking for exact change, I noticed a very large and unusual-looking coin which was clearly not US currency. I was immediately intrigued and asked what it was. My assumption was that it was some sort of exotic foreign currency. She explained that it was her Sobriety Coin. She proceeded to read it to me: “TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE. UNITY. RECOVERY. SERVICE.” I was confused, and must have looked visibly so. I thought that it might be some sort of biker mantra, and perhaps she was about to kick my ass. I said, “Oh, I’ve never seen one of those before.” To which she replied, “You wouldn’t, unless you’ve ever been in alcoholics anonymous.”

The third day was uneventful. At the end of it, we drove home.

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