It’s not truly Christmas in Baltimore until you’ve walked amid the holiday lights on 34th Street in Hampden. The kitschy, the heartfelt, and the sublime converge and twinkle in this annual display of megawatt seasonal cheer.
The National Coalition for the Homeless has designated the winter solstice, which falls on or around December 21 each year, as National Homeless Memorial Day. On this, the beginning of winter and the longest night of the year, homeless and formerly homeless people gather with activists, advocates, providers, and other supporters to read the names of homeless people who died over the preceding year.
For years now I’ve participated. in the local vigil, which is organized by the SHARP Coalition and Healthcare for the Homeless. It’s a solemn counterpoint to the festivities of the holiday season, but a strangely uplifting one as well. Not only does it remind us, in this season of gift-giving and abundance, that our neighbors continue to die of poverty, exposure, and violence; the event is also a reminder that it is possible to make homelessness a “rare and brief occurrence,” and that hope exists even in the coldest and darkest of seasons.
After the opening remarks and the musical offerings and the prayers comes the climax of the vigil: the reading of the names of the dead. After each name is recited, the crowd responds “we will remember.”
For a long time I had a problem with that response. After all, the main reason that these people’s names are on that list is because we as a society did not remember them. We forgot about them and threw them away. Even those of us who attend the vigil in their memory will forget about their names as soon as we hear them recited.
This year, however, I saw it differently. I don’t know why, exactly, but something about the way we chanted “we will remember” after each name struck me not as an exercise in futility, but as a statement of resistance, a battle cry against all the cold and lonely ways in which we allow our neighbors to die in this wealthiest of all societies.
This year, instead of hearing my own voice – feeble, inadequate, privileged — intoning the response, I heard the voices of all of the homeless and formerly homeless people standing around me. When they said, “we will remember,” it was not only because they actually knew and would actually remember most of the people on that awful list. They said “we will remember” in defiance of despair and in contention with all the powers of darkness.
Here are the names of the dead:
Joseph J. Levandoski
Donald C. Downes
Lindsay “Scott” Quesenberry
William “Billy” Soper
James D. Hanson
Anton T. Pridget
Lee E. McCoy
James “Jimmy” Smith
Michael D. Burrell
Joel A. Reaves
Patricia “Patti” Phillips
Clarence L. McKnight
We will remember.
My friends Ray and Rachel represent a perfect cross-section of Caucasian Baltimore: Ashkenazi and Redneck. Chanukah at their house was traditional…for the most part. We spun the dreidel, anted in our gelt, and consumed too many donuts and latkes.
Thanksgiving, as most of us figured out long ago, doesn’t truly end until the turkey carcass is stripped clean of the last sinew of flesh and is nothing more than a misshapen blob of gleaming white bone.
When I was younger, I would make repeated late-night incursions into the kitchen to peel off strips of bird to make sandwiches, preferably ones that involved a dinner roll, a hunk of cheese, some stuffing, and whatever remained of the cranberry sauce. Now that I’m (arguably) a grownup, I’ve become a fan of the more genteel option for disposing of the turkey’s remains: the post-Thanksgiving brunch.
This year my friends Kathleen and Todd invited me to their place for turkey-and-asparagus crepes with roasted potatoes, coffee, and good conversation on the side.
With my gf in Canada and my mom celebrating the holiday in the OBX this year, I thought my Thanksgiving would be spent alone in my fetid bachelor bad, eating Dinty Moore Beef Stew out of the can while watching softcore on Netflix.
Instead I got together with my friend Sonia and we managed to have a fun li’l DIY Turkey Day for two.
As crazy and hectic as these past few weeks have been — work, personal life, etc. — I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to get into the holiday spirit with some local festivities this season.
I have no idea what any of that means.
Ho ho ho.
Here are a few photos from the Station North Arts Cafe tree lighting. Located on Charles Street just south of North Avenue, this bright, friendly, and cozy little coffee shop is owned by my neighbors, Kevin and Bill.
The evening featured free homemade cookies, hot cider, “naughty” coffee, and Ian Hesford, who can apparently play every instrument under the sun…at the same time.
I’m pleased as punch to report that, as a result of her surpassing awesomeness, previously featured unsung Baltimorean Kenya Asli was selected by Feats, Inc. to receive 50-yard-line tickets to the Dec. 19 Ravens game!
In honor of its 25th anniversary, the local events management and marketing firm launched Feats of the Heart, aimed at celebrating the good work done by community residents. So I was thrilled when I got the notification that Kenya had gotten the nod.
And I’m almost as thrilled that she, not I, will be freezing her butt off at Ravens Stadium next week.
If you got a hankerin’ for bison, get it from the dude in the awesome hat.