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‘My Good Brutha’
On the Irish Trace in Northeast Baltimore: 6/7/2023
© 2023 James LaFond
MAR/22/24
Returning through the Inner Harbor by bus I noted, under the hazy sky and red sun [1] that heavy policing was present around the tourist and suburban attractions, that the pale land whales were being protected, explaining the thin city police presence in the Northeast. This made me curious, since I would be busing through Hamilton to the Brickmouse House, what had become of my old haunts, the small city unneighborhood I had lived in from September 2010 thru February 2018? That had been the period in my life that had made me as an urban blight and violence writer. I had not said goodbye to a soul, simply vanished.
I off loaded from the back door at Hamilton and Harford and stepped down on a high rubber tread platform. Three miles of Harford Road, from Parkside Drive north to the City/County Line, has been transformed, like many other American Main Streets via civic construction projects implemented in 2020-22. The four lanes have become two lanes. The unused bike lane has been placed between the sidewalk and a new broken, scalloped parking lane. Planter boxes, concrete blocks, wooden and plastic and rubber barriers bolted to the asphalt, has made this main artery into an elongated parking lot.
The Hamilton Tavern is papered over and shut down.
I stalked like a ghost inspecting the scene of his murder as the few motorists slowed and looked at me like an accident in progress.
I can hear loud music coming from the open doors of Brennen’s Pub, over which I rented a couch in 1981.
A midget with two twisted little legs, a small black man who must crawl, prowls along the raised rubber parking block at the Northwest corner of Hamilton and Harford and raises bottles of water for sale, his cooler behind him near the sidewalk. The drivers ignore his unfortunate form.
I am about to drink too much booze and have not eaten for a day. So, noting that the motorists are mostly Gawds driving really nice sports cars, gleaming white and silver, I circled back to him. He came up to my knee.
“How much?” as I drew out my wallet.
“A dollar, sir,” he looked up, extending the bottle as far over his head as he could, to reach my hip.
I gave him $2 and took the proffered bottle, the other wiry ashen hand wrapped around another bottle and a few $1s.
“Thank you, sir,” he said as he crawled towards traffic to hold his remaining bottle on high.
Entering Brennens I knew I could not stay for long. It has become a typical black bar, requiring on to gesture wildly and yell to order a beer.
Loud music that one has to yell over.
20 Kweens, screaming.
30 Kangs, yelling.
3 mudsharks, pallid, wilting wallflowers, one gimp to fatties.
2 towering, hair-hatted barmaids who ignore me. I tried to get served, but whatever of the three small gaps at the bar I found they turned away.
The Kangs glared hulkingly down.
I went to look for the bathroom behind the bar, having forgotten that the men’s room here is not next to the lady’s room but around back, and a kind, white bearded man with a smooth voice stopped me, standing and touching my arm, “It is around back, sir.”
I took his hand, “William, thank you.”
He was surprised, not recognizing my appearance but my voice ringing familiar. Hawk, Quin, and the other men who make their mark in the GQ Mugging Inquest of 2014, are not here, only William. His bar was becoming what I wrote of in The Last Whiteman, the haunts of Heavy Hand Fernando and Grope. The streets were not yet filled with tents. But the anchors and platforms have been put in place.
The bathroom was disgusting as I waded through piss to the urinal. Noting that the beers were only served in plastic cups, I left, out into the hazy light and walked up the hill past more closed businesses, the stone church that served in The Last Whiteman as the Meat Police Barracks and visitor hostel. Buildings had been leveled on the east side, where the stone church that served as the Guardsman barracks in The Last Whiteman, grinned wanly down.
The few groes on the street step away from me and give me space as I slowly amble and inspect what has become.
Two worn paleface wenches leave the Shamrock, where Big Ron and I typically meet for beer. I enter and Terry, the owner says, “Hey, where’s the crew?”
“Ron doesn’t know I’m in town—left the rest in Tennessee and Jersey.”
“Miller Lite?”
“Yes sir…”
I had four beers and two orders of chicken fingers over the next two hours and observed a more gentile changing of the pale to dark guard.
A southern man who remodels houses and rents them from the Carolinas to Maryland, arrives with his adult grandson to play pool. Four friends join them, a fat 50-year old with money, hipster tastes and a neutral dialect, and two other black men in their 60s, still working construction and showing up in their yellow safety vests after work, all to play pool.
The leader of the group, ten years my senior, addresses me, “How are you, sir?”
“Good, thank you.”
I observe their play for two hours and note that race even matters in pool. While the rowdy groes shooting pool down at Brennens could hardly keep the ball on the table and joked constantly, these men affected a serious air of respect for the table, and for the man shooting at the table. The grandson, a tall, lean fellow with willowy braids that hung past his ears, they called, “Black Jon Wick,” one saying, “I should take a picture when he’s bent from the side and say, “I’m shootin’ pool against a mop!”
Grandpa was training his scion by, “Whooping your ass,” Not through instruction, like paleface pool players tend to do, but by example. Overall, these men shoot well, but hit the ball far too hard. They shoot according to a hierarchy of risk instead of pure technical execution. If a bank shot is possible, then the easy shot is passed up for the risk. The style of the game fit the players. The wins were tallied, runs respected, but the real reward was the compliments that came when that needlessly risky shot was taken and made.
It was 9:15, so I texted the Brickmouse Bride that I would be home before 10.
“Cool, cool beans,” came the text.
Two mudsharks of a higher caliber came in to shoot pool and play mandingo bingo.
As I walked out I noted that there were drunken, insane, forlorn and homeless men about—a new development. The absence of the cops out here permit these creatures to defend themselves against the packs of wild yutes, who are nowhere to be seen.
I walk a block, stop and do a 360, knowing that this is a pure hunt zone and that it is serious enough that the packs of younger teens are done, no longer hunting the night, deprived now of their police protection. I do not want to fight any of these men over a perceived slight.
[9:07 AM, while writing this, heard a shotgun blast from quarter mile, followed by sirens and three .45 APC reports.]
Arriving at the Sikh Liquor Store next to the fire station, a large black homeless man with a Moses staff is preaching to two bums, one godly dark, the other the pale shade of evil. He was preaching about the evils of alcoholism, gathering a flock from the kind of customers the Sikhs are well rid of.
Looking for a glass bottle of lite beer for a nightcap, I see a fifth of craft vodka in glass priced at $9.99. I grab that for Brickmouse Bride, find a bottle of beer and am greeted by a man with a black luster of oiled beard, “My good brutha, what may I do for you?”
“Next week, I’d like to purchase some Johnny Walker for a friend, could you give me a price?”
“Right back, Good Brutha.”
His blood brothers are one watching the door, the other loading the cooler.
“Thirty-six dollars, sir. Comes with two glasses. Ask for the gift pack.”
“Thank you.”
“Tonight, fourteen, sixty, sir.”
I gave him $16 and waved off the proffered change.
“Thank you, Good Brutha, have a safe night.”
And I did, waking up here in a friendly home as my host made his morning coffee in the predawn dark.
Notes
-1. Canadian forest fire smoke, I am told, perhaps explaining the cool breeze.
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