Whenever I can I try to go to the Lexington Market at 4 p.m. and get a coffee from Konstant's, the best coffee in town, and stand at one of the tables in the arcade and drink it and watch people and listen and watch the light stream in through the stained-glass window of the bull and the cornucopia up above the Eutaw Street exit.
Loitering is the purpose of the arcade. I stand there and keep my phone in my pocket and people come up and talk to me. It is my favorite thing. But it doesn't fit the modern world. It will be gone. In all of the possible plans for the market, the arcade will be destroyed and replaced with a farmers market and in a way it makes sense because the arcade brings in the least income per square foot.
In the arcade you don't keep moving, as you would in the farmers market stall, from commercial bit to commercial bit, but you linger. We don't like lingering. HUD proposed a couple of weeks ago to prohibit smoking in public housing. Seriously? I mean, it was one thing to outlaw smoking inside—even when I was a smoker I came to like having to go outside—but when you outlaw smoking outside, you are actually outlawing congregating, lingering, loitering. In the days before cellphones smoking was so useful in a new city because you could stop and mask your lostness with a cigarette.
I get the same sense from the weird puritanism that surrounds bars in Baltimore city. The Brew's coverage—which is the only serious coverage of the Liquor Board at all—could be written by a member of the Temperance Society. But in this case, I don't think that it is actually about consuming alcohol—though that is part of it—but all of the liquor board fights are, in some sense, part of the war on public congregation. People who are "private" homeowners object to "public houses" in their neighborhood.
I'm saying all of this, dwelling on the things I love, because this is the final Conflicts of Interest. At least for a while. As the bands say, it's on hiatus while I take a job reporting on Baltimore for the Guardian. But I was already planning to kill the column when $RB leaves office. Just as every column needs a good enemy (tip of the hat to the old Spy magazine for that one, except that its villain has become a Godzilla-sized monster), it also needs to know when to quit.
I was super proud to win AAN's "Best Column" award this year because it vindicated the idea of the column—a first person, out-and-about intellectual gossip column that has a recurring cast of real-life characters and tries to be absolutely honest. And I was super proud that you, the Readers, voted me "Best Troublemaker." But the fact of the matter is that the columns which won those awards were written well over a year ago at this point. Conflicts of Interest was getting boring. Sure, maybe $RB would cuss me out again or Pussy Riot would shun me, but even if they did it would not be the same. There's nothing worse than wearing out your welcome to your own goddamn self.
The Guardian gig will go at least through the trials of the six officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray, so it is possible that I will come back in April and revive the column so that a lame-duck columnist can cover a lame-duck mayor. I really had big plans and hate to see them go to waste.
But for now, I want to walk more carefully. I feel like within the city, I can fuck with y'all and you can fuck with me and we're still all family. But there's a different responsibility if I'm going to write about you for other people. And I want to honor that and honor you—even when it is by being harsh. Because I've never seen a more amazing group of people than the ones that make up this city. Everywhere has its flaws, but we're like goddamn flaw-artists. We fuck up better than anyone else in the world, because we just might pull it off in the end. Because we have heart.
The amazing drama is that all of these flaws are always causing people to come up with crazy schemes for fixing things. It's why people are against bars and lingering and loitering and arcades. Maybe one day something will work. But I kind of doubt it.
And speaking of flaws, I'm sure the staff of the paper will be happy to have a bit of a break from me. One thing I've learned over the last couple of months: I should never be a manager again. I kind of love it—but that's because when I take that role I become evil and Machiavellian. I did it at a charter school where I worked and I did it here. And at the time, I thought I was successful. And I think maybe other people did too. But when I look back, I have serious doubts. The most charitable interpretation is that I function well in chaotic environments and I'm OK at wrestling them into some kind of shape. But once there is order, I'm sort of fucked, bored and out of place, and I am apt to become a problem ("Deadwood" is my model world as a manager). When it comes to management I work entirely from passion and this can be a disaster.
But at least my Machiavellian bullshit helped hire some great people who actually do know how to run an organization.
Working from passion as a writer and a reporter is not a problem. It does not make you evil or Machiavellian or manipulative. Reporting is like S&M—you excuse yourself from certain social norms while accepting a far stricter form of control. It forces you out of your own head and into the world, which you must conform to. There is no boredom, not on an existential level (though there's plenty of tedious shit).
This column grew out of my arts coverage. As I wrote about the small scene, conflicts of interest inevitably arose. The most striking thing was how often artists or others approached me to thank me for telling the truth about some bloated organization or overrated or unquestioned plan. So much of the column was just taking what people were saying or thinking or doing privately and making it public.
Which is also easy and slack and lazy. This truly was a gossip column, even if it strove to be the "higher gossip." The better columns were the ones that were heavily reported—such as the ones of the charade of a process behind the laughable Light City—and the shittier ones were the breezy ones, like this. I mean, who wants to be like Gene Weingarten and ruin a bunch of beautiful reporting with a crappy column persona? So just as I gave up editing and arts writing a few months ago in a very similarly lazy column, this time I give up columning. If you want to hear any of this kind of shit, come over to the arcade at the market between 4:00 and 4:30 on weekdays and talk to me. Because I love you.