William Patrick Tandy Gathers Stories About Baltimore's Many, Many Run-Ins With Theft, Holdups, Break-Ins, And Hoodlums
Have you heard the one about the friends who ordered a pizza, witnessed the delivery guy getting held up just outside their door, then received a call from the pizzeria apologizing for the delay, saying that the delivery guy came back with their order, along with the mugger's knife and jacket, and is willing to go out again to deliver the pizza? How about the Hampden hon who saw a local kid she knew snag a Walkman from an open car, and proceeded to call up the restaurant where he works, talk to his boss, and get him to return the Walkman to the car, all before the car owner got back. Or what about the homeless guy who crashed in someone's piece of shit car for a night, leaving an eloquently penned note on the steering wheel, "You don't need no club, bitch." These are just a few of the stories that can be found in William Patrick Tandy's newest tongue-in-cheek publication, Criminally Yours, tagged a "Smile, Hon, You're In Baltimore! Production."
Nearly 30 contributors were selected to share their own stories of Charm City life and all the crime that comes with it. The magazine's intention isn't to sensationalize or place blame on the extent and severity of the city's crime. Rather, Tandy explains, the magazine's purpose is to personalize the stories.
"Crime is a reality of daily life here," Tandy explains as he slowly takes a sip from his beer at a North Baltimore bar. "People talk about crime here with an air of casualness."
That is not to say that crime does not exist in other cities. The above statement merely acknowledges that Baltimoreans sometimes possess a laissez-faire attitude toward a somewhat staggering crime rate. Reading through the anecdotes in the zine, it becomes abundantly clear that Baltimore residents are often unfazed by the crime around them, nearly taking it in stride as something to be expected as part of daily life. People's willingness, sometimes even their desire, to share these stories is what gives Tandy's zine its true substance and allows people to stomach a sometimes numbing aspect of city life. The stories themselves can be viewed as badges of honor.
At first glance, Tandy looks like every other Tuesday night drinker sitting in a Belvedere Square bar. He is of average height and build, and speaks of himself and the zine's success with a hint of modesty. But there is also a hidden spark that ignites the more he discusses the publication. And that spark burns all the brighter because he actually cares about his zine--not whether it is successful or if it has a high readership, but how much he can get out of it.
To Tandy, the Smile, Hon, You're In Baltimore! series started off as a hobby he dabbled with when not punching his time card at the Maryland State Bar Association but has grown into something more. "In the beginning, when I simply solicited stories about Baltimore, I would receive submissions from maybe eight or 10 different contributors at most," he says.
He gathered Baltimore-set stories people either told him or e-mailed him and published them together in an all-encompassing eclectic setting. The stories were almost always of the sort that would not have otherwise been published in conventional magazines. And every time, despite their seeming randomness, each Smile, Hon, You're In Baltimore! outdid the last. More people read it, and more people wanted to submit their own stories to the next issue.
Tandy still sees the zine as a hobby, only now it takes considerably more time and energy to put together. Tandy's first themed offshoot of the Smile, Hon series was Giving Up the Ghost in October 2005. It contained stories about local run-ins with the supernatural. It wasn't until the March 2006 publication of Infestation! that popularity and readership really took off, he says.
"I think the theme issues have particularly sparked people's interest in sharing their stories," he says. "For years I would tell people, `Write me a Baltimore story for the next issue.' And more often than not, they'd respond, `I don't have any Baltimore stories.' But when I'd tell them I was compiling a rat issue, they'd be front and center: `Oh, I've got a rat story for you!'"
Criminally Yours came about through a partnership between Tandy and the Mobtown Shank's Benn Ray (an erstwhile City Paper contributor). Both Tandy and Ray put out the call to their respective readerships for submissions and worked together to sift through and edit the submissions. While Tandy worked on layout and printing, Ray handled promotion. Since then, Tandy and Criminally Yours have garnered serious national attention.
"The crime zine is popular all over the country," Tandy says, and he is quick to point out that Chicago's Quimby's bookstore has carried the Smile, Hon series for several years now and regularly sells out. San Francisco's City Lights bookstore has also recently agreed to begin selling copies. Additionally, Criminally Yours has recently been written up in Utne Reader and has even earned a mention in a pop-culture blog on USAToday.com.
"It's a testament to the universal appeal of these stories," Tandy says. "Everyone who lives in a city can relate."
Tandy keeps that sentiment in mind when putting together the zines. The stories are usually gathered through e-mail, MySpace, or simply word of mouth. And there's never a shortage of material. He keeps the topic just indistinct enough so people know what kind of stories he is looking for but allows them to bring in their own interpretations.
"I like to throw ideas at people that are focused enough that they will be able to relate to it, yet broad enough they can use their imagination when reading it," Tandy says. "People enjoy sharing their stories with others."
It's a simple idea that has created a profound sense of mutual recognition among Baltimore residents and a sense of shared community among Smile's readers. "I think people are probably more eager to share these stories, particularly the unsettling ones, because, like humor, it serves as a coping mechanism," Tandy says. "For a lot of people, humor is the tonic that leaves them able to stomach living. On a deeper level, when we share these stories, universal themes often emerge and leave people nodding and saying to themselves, I knew I couldn't be the only one living with this shit.
"I do it because, quite frankly, I find it interesting," he continues. "I've actually met some friends through writing this."
That carefree devotion is a catalyst for the zine's success. Tandy isn't driven by a desire to make money from it, or to be recognized for his work, though he wouldn't scoff at either. Tandy still sees the zine as a rewarding hobby.
"This is not meant to be the be all and end all of crime in Baltimore," he says. "It's meant more to personalize the stories of people here. It's not pretending to be something that it's not. It's finding its own niche."
That niche is growing larger by the day, with more and more people sending in stories of their experiences, aching to become part of Tandy's shared understanding of Baltimore life. The zine has also sparked readers to convene and share in their appreciation of Tandy's work. A short reading from Criminally Yours opens the local stop of the Found magazine tour. Tandy is also making an appearance at this year's Baltimore Book Festival.
And Tandy does have visions of collecting the Smile, Hon stories and publishing them in a book. But for right now he's happy with the zines--and is surprised by the prevailing commonality that has arisen from reading all these stories of local crime: "It's sometimes surprising how many people, in spite of their heinous--or simply unpleasant--experiences, still express an undiminished love for this city."
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