Sunday, September 28, 2008

When it Rains, Readers Pour

13th Annual Baltimore Book Festival
Friday September 26, 2008 - Sunday September 28, 2008
Mt Vernon Place, Baltimore - "The City That Reads"


Opening Ceremony, Baltimore Book Festival

What is it about the Baltimore Book Festival and torrential downpours? I went down on Sunday (the final - and only dry - day, after spending Saturday bailing out my flooded basement), of the 13th Annual Baltimore Book Festival and mused that question as I walked past the Walters Arts Gallery and saw one of the Walters museum guards outside on a smoke break.

"That's how you know it's the Book Fair," the guard said. "Every year they get the wettest weather - every year!"

Got that right, buddy. I think they even cancelled it one year due to a hurricane alert (2003?).

The sun finally came out Sunday, though festival goers wearing jeans like me still got soaked from the humidity. Anyway, before I even worked up a sweat, I ran into Baltimore Grassroots Media maven Mike Shea on his recumbent bike, down to film a Mark Twain impersonator for Baltimore City Public Access TV. Turns out he was interviewing Alan Reese, the guy I succeeded as Towerlight Features Editor at Towson State College in the '70s. Alan's always been involved with the local poetry and writing scene, and he looked pretty cool in his white suit. If he put on some pounds and grew a beard, he could pull double duty doing in-store appearances at KFC as Colonel Sanders with an outfit like that.


Reel Around the Fountain: Kids frolic in the Children's Book Tent

And Mike Shea? Well, the former Critical Mass-termind is never without his video camera, a spiffy Hi-Def Panasonic HDV30 that had me turning green with digital envy. I always considered Mike a social activist, but he decries the term. But I remember reading him getting busted for videotaping a Critical Mass rally back in 2004 ("Singled Out," City Paper, 5/12/2004). Must have been a hot-head cop (don't they have better things to do in Bodymore, Murderland?), because Mike's a pretty mellow fellow.


Cops put the brakes on biker Mike Shea

There must be something about Mikes clustering together, because next I ran into Mike Hughes, erstwhile MPT and Baltimore Mag Webmaster who also writes fiction on the side. In fact, his short story "The Blackwater Lights" - included in the Legends of the Mountain State anthology - was recently lauded by Huntingtonnews.net as "one of the best stories in a collection that has no bad ones" and compared to the great horror writing of H.P. Lovecraft! (To read his fiction or other observations, check out his great blog at michaelmhughes.com/wordpress). Mike's definitely a social activist of the Literati Set. Apparently he had a reading at the CityLit Stage earlier that day, and was now cooling his jets talking to the hip-savvy McSweeney Books dudes, who looked like they were in Weezer.

Next I ran into a former Pratt Library co-worker, Donna Woods, who was manning the BookMooch booth. BookMooch (www.bookmooch.com) - whose motto is "Give books away. Get books you want" - is an international community for exchanging used books that operates under the premise that's it's better to give AND to receive. Every time you give someone a book, you earn a point and can get any book you want from anyone else at BookMooch. Once you've read a book, you can keep it forever or put it back into BookMooch for someone else, as you wish. I liked their banner (shown below); the Moochie critters are kind of creepy, like something out of a John Wayne Gacy-style clown painting.



And speaking of giving and receiving, when I wandered up to the Radical Books tent, I met the nice folks hawking $pread, the New York-based mag dedicated to worldwide sex industry workers (call girls, escorts, strippers, prostitutes, porn stars, et. al.). Naturally the sexual nature of the mag's headlines and photos attracted a number of horndogs, including some off-duty cop whose flair for the obvious ("I've found that a number of the prostitutes I've arrested had drug problems" - Really! Ya think?) astounded me. But they soon wandered away when they realized the mag wasn't at all prurient, and featured articles about sexual abuse, sex workers unions, hookers that murder their pimps, and such. Far from Red Hot, the mag's focus is more Red Emma's, with an appeal of "Sex Workers of the World Unite!"

I bought the issue with Tracy Quan on the cover, recalling that she wrote the text for a cool photo book I had seen at Daedalus Books & Music called Orientalia: Sex In Asia (2003). Quan, a former sex worker, has branched out into fiction, penning Diary of A Manhattan Call Girl: A Nancy Chan Novel (Three Rivers Press, 2003); though fictional, Quan's book (which originally ran as a column in Salon.com) is based on her real-life Sex and the City experiences. The same issue also had an article about menstruation fetish videos (we live in troubled times!!!) and an interesting interview with Caveh Zahedi about his autobiographical film I Am a Sex Addict, in which Rebecca Lord (one of my favorite adult film actresses) plays the director's wife.

Seeing $pread made me think of Teresa Dulce (pictured right), the Portland-based artist/activist who started stripping to pay off student loans and eventually founded Danzine - an Oregon sex workers organization and zine (1995-2005) - and later curated Portland's Sex by Sex Worker Film Festival (1998-2000)...I remember videotaping her in 1997 for an Atomic TV segment that never aired (trust me, there were a lot of them!), back when she did an in-store appearance at Baltimore's old Atomic Books (then on Charles and Chase streets). As former Atomic Books/TV impresario Scott Huffines recalled, that's when the bookstore used to have a display of James "Shocked & Amazed!" Taylor's sideshow oddities in the store, and Teresa did a "How To Put A Condom On" safe-sex demonstration in which she slipped the "love glove" over one of the horns on a three-horned goat head!

Later I spotted Joe Giordano, creator of the snazzy/snarky online mag GUTTER, wearing one of those Sinatra hipster hats that they sell at Target now (though Joe insists he got his fedora/trilby in New Orleans), the fashion craze that's replaced ironic trucker hats on the Ottobar and Joe Squared circuit...Just kidding Joe! Joe's a good guy and an ace photographer whose getting plenty of work and (well-deserved) kudos of late. I like it when he stops by the library, because he always finds the good books and CDs there before me - it's hard to keep up with his cool finds!

On the way out I had to stop at the American Visionary Arts Museum's booth, which is my perennial favorite. There I was dismayed to see that the already marked-down copy of Andy Warhol's Screen Tests I picked up at Daedalus Books & Music was even more marked down at AVAM! Oh well, live and learn. (By the way, reading about the screen tests is much better than actually viewing them, according to Video Americain's Scott Wallace Brown, who has a number of them in his collection; basically, the screen tests provide a Who's Who record of every notable '60s personality that stopped by The Factory)...Anyway, I told the AVAMsters that they have the best gift shop (officially known as Sideshow) in town and that I regularly recommend them to any out-of-towners who stop in the library and ask what landmarks they should see in Baltimore. By way of thanks, they gave me a Pirate book bag. You just can't beat that: trendy - and functional!

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