Conflicts of Interest: "Sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid"

City Paper

A lot of people have hated me this year: Mayor $RB, Pussy Riot, Thomas Dolby, other people at Johns Hopkins, people at BOPA, people at Jubilee Baltimore, Jacques Kelly, a bunch of other people at the Sun, my neighbors, Collin Ingraham, What Weekly, Fred Lazarus, Michael Owen, and Stephen Powers are a few likely candidates. But I love all of them because this column is not about ideas or issues, it is about people in the city and they have all peopled the column this year.

Cities are designed, in a sense, as devices to create encounters (I’m sort of riffing on Harvard economist Edward Glaeser and James Joyce) and our city is a place where it can still happen. But it requires a gamble.

I visited the class of writer and MICA professor Mikita Brottman recently to talk about criticism and they read some of these columns and she noted how gregarious the column is and she asked if I didn’t feel nervous or uncertain or self-loathing. And, the answer is, of course I do. None of the people who appear in this column could hate me worse than I hate myself at a bad moment. And I think that is true of each of us. The mayor must loath herself sometimes. And to see a moment of that, a moment of real emotion in a world of scripted conversations, that is addictive and it is invaluable. And so I try to lose myself in the city and the chance encounter.

And if I am going to give other people shit, I try to be honest about the person I am and the failings I have and so I have written about my own shortcomings as well as those of others: my fondness for strippers—at least at a strip club if you are going to see a woman naked you have to smile at her and be polite and give money, unlike on the internet where people become vile and loathsome trolls and don’t actually have to interact or compensate anyone—and weed and my tendency to occasionally drink too much or say stupid shit. And my pride. God, that’s the worst.

All of my bad qualities, and the self-loathing in particular, become much worse when my wife is gone. She has a humor that balances mine and keeps me from flying too far in one direction and the grace and poise to do it in such a way that it is fun. But she’s been away visiting her mother this week and I’d learned from the great Joes—Mitchell and Liebling— that sometimes the only cure for that kind of insane lonesome not eating workaholic manic depression melancholia is seafood.

So an old, old friend, with whom I’d quarrelled this year, came up from D.C. in his Cadillac Eldorado. We’d hardly seen each other over the past year, but it was as if no time had passed. We drove over to Lexington Market—it’s only a couple blocks and I hate cars, but the sheer insanity of driving at the market on a crowded Saturday was kind of appealing at the moment, and besides we were going to the casino afterward. 

The crowds at Lexington Market on Saturday are the glory of the world. Nowhere is there so much life. I looked at the first muskrats of the year, which had just come in and lay bloodied in a bag on ice. There was barely a spot at the bar for oysters and clams so we ordered crab cakes and Bohs first and scarfed them down while keeping a close eye on the bar, where we soon bellied up for some clams and some oysters as big as my hand. The thronging together, the slurping, the salt, bodies bouncing, voices cascading, it all got my blood flowing again. 

When we left the market, we went to the casino—my first time. I suppose, I could be against the casino on some sort of principle—but I’m not much for principle these days, agreeing with Orwell when he writes about Gandhi. 

"The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one’s love upon other human individuals. No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid."

If nothing else, the casino’s roiling population full of false hope, high spirits, and bum luck, left me even more ready to be defeated and broken up by life—even if, sitting with my friend drinking beer and listening to stories of fighting and fucking, I never laid a dollar down to gamble. I prefer to gamble in games less defined and so I look forward to opening myself up as an object of hatred—or love, for there are those with whom I’ve formed deep and long-lasting friendships through reporting—in the coming year.  I’m all in. 

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