My husband and I own our home in inner city Baltimore. The intersection that we live on is one of the busiest intersections in the southeast district of the city. It is also one of the top ten worst open drug market areas in all of Baltimore City.
It’s generally not a violent area but it is filled with prostitution, alcoholics and drug addicts, and, most of all, drug dealers who are out at all hours during the day and night. They often yell at the top of their lungs that they’ve got “boy, girl” (heroin, crack) and “big fat 25s.” My specific intersection offers these boys a great cover – each corner has a business that deals with food or alcohol and it is also home to one of the busiest bus stops in the entire city. These guys can get away with hanging around on the corner with the excuse that they’re “just waiting for the bus” or they’re “meeting their friend to go in to the bar” (only closed from 3am – 6am). I see them get arrested with drugs on them and then quickly turned through the wheels of the justice system – it’s fast enough that they’re out and back at their job the next day.
Despite all of this, I love my neighborhood. There’s something honest and true about it. We have a prominent Latino population and I believe that these people will be one of the key factors of this place improving. When I take my dog for his early morning walk, I see them going off to work – typically to construction and labor jobs. They are generally family oriented and productive and on the weekends they blare Mexican Mariachi music from their homes and their booming car speakers. (My hope is that some of their spice will rub off on me.) There’s a bakery down the street and the smell of fresh baked bread is something I get to experience every single day. I’m about a half mile from one of the biggest parks that the city has to offer – the pup loves that place, and I do, too. A few blocks south, the neighborhood is significantly more gentrified with lots of cute local bars, grocers, and shops. My favorite part is that we have a small community of residents that really give a shit.
Every Thursday morning, I sweep the sidewalk for most, if not all, of my entire block, preparing for the street sweeper to come by. (The city has taken away the bulk of our city-owned trashcans, and with these flourishing food-related businesses in combination with the busy bus stop, sweeping my side of the row is no easy task and can take hours.)
When I sweep, I see many empty liquor and beer bottles, losing lottery tickets, discarded snack and candy wrappers, socks, used and unused condoms and sometimes, burnt spoons and used needles. What this says to me is that these people are looking for any way out of their situation. They’re frustrated, sad, hopeless and broke. At least the prostitutes are trying to be safe – but finding nasty, used condoms on the sidewalk where kids often roam is a stomach-turning experience. For me, Thursday is a conflicted day. I walk out of my house, broom in hand, ready to make a difference. Even if that difference only lasts a few hours, it’s worth it to me. When I’m finished sweeping, I come back into my home, and I’m reminded of the serious issues that surround my little oasis in this city. Today is Thursday. Like every Thursday, I feel somber, humbled and extremely lucky to have such a supportive network. Not everyone is so lucky.
I guess if you’ve made it this far into my post, that you’re wondering what this has to do with being modified. After all, this is a blog about modification. I’m getting there.
My husband and I are some of the only white people on the block. (There are a few others who live around here, but many of them are too afraid to leave their houses and hang out in the neighborhood.) In my neighborhood, if you’re white and you’re not buying drugs, you seem suspicious to the neighborhood regulars. Even the patrol police officers ask us what we’re up to, thinking our presence here is strange.
In my last post, I talked about a seemingly unidentifiable line. The thin, fuzzy series of points that separates someone who has modified him/herself to an extreme, where it effects their life in our society on a daily basis and, then, someone who hasn’t gone quite so far. I think I have crossed this murky line and I believe this based on the fact that I can’t leave my house without getting hassled or questioned about my modifications by someone at some point during that day – in or out of my current neighborhood.
It has finally happened. Being modified has come in handy for me (and I’m talking in my day-to-day life, not about personal fulfillment or feeling complete, here). It has made me into this mysterious being. I am an entity that my neighborhood just can’t seem to figure out. We certainly stick out here – for being white, for taking care of how the exterior of our house looks, for being a two-car family, and for having the cutest Pug ever (in my opinion, at least). But more than that, we’re tattooed and we’ve got lots of “piercins.” In the same way that the majority of society thinks we’re up to no good because we’ve visibly altered ourselves in this way (this attitude is all rooted in a series of studies done by a guy named Ceseare Lombroso – I’ll post about him in-depth another time), that’s what the dealers on my block think, too.
There’s a guy who stands on my corner. He deals anything from weed to heroin. He’s got a crew. I know his name and his friends’ names. I also know he’s good for three murders but he doesn’t know that I know about any of this. He also doesn’t know that I’m working with many different types of community organizations that are, and will continue, getting in the way of his operation and others like it. Not too long ago, I was walking my dog and I passed him. He stopped me, “Dang, girl. You tatted up. You do tatties?”
“Hey. Yes I am. I do not.”
“Where you go for ‘dem tatties?”
“I’d recommend the Baltimore Tattoo Museum or Read Street Tattoo. They offer wonderful quality for a fair price.”
“What ‘chu doin’ later?”
“I’m not sure. But I’m thinking cooking dinner will most likely happen.”
“You wanna’ hook up?”
“Mmmmm… I’m flattered that you’d ask, but I’m in a happily, committed marriage.”
“Yo, girl, I know. He doesn’t gotta’ know.”
“Mmmmm… But I’d know. And I’m big on the whole loyalty thing.”
“Girl, I respect that shit. Loyalty. That’s what’s up. One more thing.”
“I ‘aint gonna’ fuck wit’ chu’.”
“Oh! Well that’s really nice to know! Why not?”
“Girl, cause’ you fucked up! You can take pain n’ shit. That shit hadda’ hurt! You a bad ass Mofo!”
At this point, I tell him and his friends to have a nice evening and continue on my way.
I’ve had many conversations similar to this one with many of the dealers who hang around my neighborhood. But this one sticks out. I remember every word he said. And I remember it because I was terrified to be interacting with someone who I know has killed people. (If you’re wondering, he’s not in prison because our States Attorney makes obtaining arrest warrants for murders really difficult for the Baltimore Police Department.)
Not only does this guy think I’m into pain (for the record, I dislike getting tattooed and I dislike getting pierced even more), but he, and most of the others, think we’re in the under belly of society – just like them. They make the same assumptions that the rest of society makes: we’re doing something illegal and/or wrong, we’re not mentally stable, we’ve had horrific childhoods, etc. My neighborhood is the first place where I haven’t wanted to prove them wrong. Their misconceptions of how I operate are completely false, but these mistaken beliefs help to keep my husband and I safe. They just can’t seem to figure us out. In a way, maybe they’ve got a little of it right. We are kind of in an under belly. Or, at least I think so. It’s not a bad one. But to them, it is an unknown.
I’ll end this post with something that happened just a few days ago. Since we’ve moved in, we’ve had a doormat on our front stoop. This doormat stated, “Come Back With A Warrant.” Ever since we bought this house, that doormat has become a staple on our row. Almost every day, at least once, I’d hear a dealer or resident go by and chuckle at it, saying something like, “Come back with a warrant! That shit is gangsta’, yo!” Anyway, a few days ago, someone stole our doormat. In all honesty, we’re surprised this didn’t happen sooner. One of the resident drug dealers stopped me on my corner when I was walking my dog. He said, “Shit, yo! What happened to your doormat?”
I replied, “Someone stole it.”
“Yo! That shits fucked up! If I find out who took it, I’ma’ get it back for you.”
Rachel Timmins earned her MFA in Studio Art (Metals Concentration) in December 2012 and her BFA in Metal/Jewelry Design with a Minor in Sculpture from Buffalo State College in 2009. Her work has been shown in numerous exhibitions both nationally and internationally in venues like the National Gallery of Victoria, Snyderman-Works Gallery, the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, the Design Museum London and the Baltimore Museum of Art. Rachel’s work can be seen in many publications such as Unexpected Pleasures published by Rizzoli Publications, Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective published by Lark Books and Jewel Book: International Annual of Contemporary Jewel Art published by Stitchting Kunst Boek. She can be found lecturing on her work and other related topics as well as giving workshops across the United States at various institutions and universities. Rachel lives in Baltimore, MD, where she often teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art. She resides with her pug, three cats and husband, Matt. To see Rachel’s work, please visit: www.racheltimmins.com