City Paper's Annual Guide to Buying People's Affections
Buying presents conjures up conflicting emotions. You want to show your friends and family how much you care about them, and nothing beats the look on the face of the person you love when he or she opens the perfect present, but perfect presents are hard to come by. Finding them often involves hours of mall-crawling and money you can ill afford to spend. And then there's all the guilt associated with being a big, fat consumer, which is exacerbated by the fact that you have to use so much fossil fuel to lug yourself from store to store in the car, which is pretty much your only option because our public transportation sucks.
So this year, as it is every year, City Paper is here to help. We've got gift suggestions for every budget, from a $1.50 bumper sticker to a $4,800 piece of art--though most of our gift suggestions are much closer in price to the former. And our gift ideas are largely things you can feel good about. We've got products from local companies and artists, as well as presents with a charitable or environmental bent--in some cases both. So feel good about yourself this year when you plunk down money you don't have to buy people things they don't need, but will love.
Bengies Drive-In Theatre Gear
3417 Eastern Boulevard, Middle River, (410) 686-4698, www.bengies.com, $1.50-$57.95.
Fans of the Bengies Drive-In Theatre likely know that its marquee sign, which since 1973 has been beckoning passers-by on Eastern Boulevard, has no apostrophe in the bengies, whereas the original 1956 sign did. But before they cluttered their heads with such trivia, they likely knew the basics: that the screen is huge, that owner D. Vogel's a character, and that Bengies' branding is strictly local and long-lasting. Fans can wear their loyalties on their sleeves with Bengies gear (from bumper stickers on up to deluxe hooded sweatshirts), good for anyone who grew up going there and still does.
Tickets To Blob's Park
Max Blob's Bavarian Biergarten, 8024 Max Blob's Park Road, (410) 799-0155, Jessup, www.blobspark.com, $5.
When the final notes of the Rheinlanders' last polka drift away, the dance floor is cleared, the bar is wiped down, and the last treasures are pulled from the walls, that's when the bulldozers will come. And it'll be too late for you take one last swing around the giant wooden dance floor, eat cheap brats, swill German beer, and soak up the culture from one of the area's unique cultural treasures. Blob's Park ends its 75-year run this New Year's Eve, to be demolished to make way for a subdivision. But there's still time to give your friends a memory of Blob's in which they can lift a bottle and sing, "In heaven there is no beer/ That's why we drink it here."
Works by Erin Womack
Normals Books and Records, 425 E. 31st St., (410) 243-6888, www.normals.com, $2-$10.
Local artist Erin Womack is a one-woman culture machine offering many handmade items for your holiday needs. Have a friend who recently decided to breed? Pick up her A Whirl With Pearl children's book. Know a film nerd? Look for the DVD collection of six of Womack's short films. Or you could pick up a copy of "The Crystal Depletion," the enigmatic comic Womack made with Caitlin Williams and Sarah Milinski, for a small-press fan. And to congratulate yourself for holiday shopping while supporting a local artist, pick up the Yam Man and his Mystery Guide silk-screened puppets.
Thimblecraft by Dottie Dots Stuffed Animals
Woman's Industrial Exchange, 333 N. Charles St., (410) 685-4388, www.womansindustrialexchange.org, $6.50-$27.
We don't say "awww" very often, and it takes quite a lot to make us coo, but a recent visit to the Women's Industrial Exchange had us awing and cooing our brains out over some of the cutest stuffed animals we've ever seen. The creatures, including dinosaurs, camels, giraffes, dogs, whales, turtles, and rams, to name just a few, are soft, adorable, and made from a mix of fabrics. There are tiny mice rattles, fish that unzip to reveal a school of baby fish inside, and our personal favorite (in fact, we bought two, so there may not be any left), a purple hippo eating a cookie. You can feel good about buying the child in your life yet another stuffed animal because it's coming from the Women's Industrial Exchange, a nonprofit that has been helping disadvantaged women sell and market their handcrafted goods since before women had the right to vote.
8x10 Glossy photo of Johnny Eck
"The most remarkable man alive" was only 18 inches tall and had no legs, but the Baltimore native's sunny disposition and remarkable sense of showmanship shine through in this photo, said to be one of his personal favorites. Originally taken on the set of Tod Browning's classic movie Freaks, it shows Eck doing his usual one-armed handstand on a wooden bench, dressed in his trademark jacket and bow tie, smiling. He looks like he's in the middle of telling a funny story, and you wish you could hear it.
Daybreak Episode Two, By Brian Ralph
Atomic Books, 1100 W. 36th St., (410) 662-4444, Various locations, $10.
If there's one thing local cartoonist (and occasional City Paper contributor) Brian Ralph excels at, it's moving his characters forward. In nearly all of his works, from 1999's Cave-In to his current Daybreak serial, the protagonists are always in motion, from one place to another, though their destination is often unclear. In this latest installment of Daybreak, a perfect gift for your graphic novel-reading pals and relatives, the survivor of an apocalyptic event--missing an arm, but with a couple companions--tries to avoid zombies and moves through a ruined landscape, not very far, from one hiding spot to another, then to possible contact with another survivor. Ralph makes this not-so-complicated plot enthralling through his energetic ballpoint-pen work, gentle, wry humor, and perfect comic-book moments, like the expression on the dog's face when the main character gives it a little pat.
Zeke's Coffee, 3003 Montebello Terrace, (443) 992-4388, www.zekescoffee.com, $11.
By now, everyone we know is talking about the phenomenon that is Zeke's Coffee. The Baltimore roaster has a shop up in Lauraville, but it's the downtown farmers' market where so many of our friends purchase the quality caffeinated beverages created by the good folks at Zeke's. When the downtown farmers' market closes down for the winter, though, Zeke's disciples must trek up to the shop or to the farmers' market in Waverly, which is open all year, if they want their fix. That's a reasonable thing for those living in, say, Mount Vernon to do, but those farther afield generally have to wait for the spring thaw to enjoy Zeke's again. If you've got friends who love Zeke's but hate the winter cold that makes it so much harder to get, treat them to a couple of pounds of their favorite flavor of freshly ground coffee.
United Pets Fashionable Dog Poop Bag Dispensers
Pretentious Pooch, 1017 Cathedral St., (443) 524-7777, www.pretentiouspooch.com, $12.
Having a dog in the city has its benefits--they tend to attract lots of cute single guys and girls who want to pet your cute puppy, for example--but it also has its drawbacks. Specifically, poop. If you have a friend who's usually stylish look is hampered by the very unchic blue plastic grocery bags she's always stuffing her pockets with when she has to take her dog for a walk, consider buying her the United Pets stylish dog poop bag dispensers sold at Pretentious Pooch. They're imported from Milan, come in either heart or dog-bone shapes, and hold up to 10 biodegradable waste bags (which, by the way, are for sale at PP as well, $4 for 30 bags).
Red Prairie Press Baby Clothes
There's no doubt that baby clothes have gotten a hell of a lot cooler over the years. Parents no longer have to dress their offspring in clothes so cloying and retch-inducingly adorable that they hope their babies have enough sense to be embarrassed to be seen in them. If anything, breeders now have to worry about going to the other extreme, turning their little ones into mini-hipsters or pants-wetting bumper stickers. Rachel Bone, the local designer behind Red Prairie Press, has created onesies and T-shirts with graphic images that are cool enough for adults to feel good about buying while still allowing the kids wearing them to look like kids--like the pirate shirt that says "Eat Yar Peas and Carrots" or the adorable yet utterly strange onesie featuring a gorilla with a bird on his head and cat peeking out from behind his back.
These Things Ain't Gonna Smoke Themselves, by Emily Flake
Various Locations, $12.95.
If you have a friend who's planning to quit cigarettes when the indoor-smoking ban goes into effect in January--and don't we all?--then this gift is pretty much a no-brainer. Written by City Paper illustrator and cartoonist Emily Flake, and based on a story that first ran in this paper, this little slip of a book, published by Baltimore's Atomic Press, chronicles a love affair with smoking that any current or former cancer-stick sucker will find unbelievably relatable.
Best of The Stoop CD
The Stoop Storytelling event created and hosted by Laura Wexler and Jessica Henkin sold out its every performance at the Creative Alliance. It recently moved to Center Stage so more people could attend--such is the power of real people telling their stories. This best-of disc is a mix of stories by well-known Baltimoreans, such as David Simon and Laura Lippman, and regular folks who just had great tales to tell. It's the perfect gift for the NPR-ophile on your list who already has all the Driveway Moments CDs.
Ultimate Reality, by Dan Deacon and Jimmy Joe Roche
Dan Deacon plus Arnold Schwarzenegger equals best Christmas ever. We always knew the pair were destined to be together but had no idea the result would change how we look at music, film, and Austrian bodybuilders forever. Well, not really, but no Deacon fan's shelf is complete without Ultimate Reality, a full 40 minutes of new music--including dual live drummers, and not including chipmunk voices--synced to Jimmy Joe Roche's exquisite psychedelic collage-work of Arnold footage drawn from everything from Terminator 2 to Kindergarten Cop to the gross one where he gets pregnant (fear not: Roche treats it tenderly). Also included is a bonus video for "Crystal Cat" and some hilarious pre-fame Deacon footage.
Wearing History: T-Shirts From the Gay Rights Movement, by Steve Gdula
Lambda Rising Bookstore, 241 W. Chase St., (410) 234-0069, www.lambdarising.com, $18.95.
Brian Eno once tossed off a lyric to the effect that "the passage of my life is measured out in shirts." Turns out you can learn a lot about gay and lesbian life in America, ironically, by rooting around in the closet. Former Baltimorean and erstwhile City Paper contributor Steve Gdula's slim book charts the burgeoning gay and lesbian rights movement since the '50s in part by the T-shirts queers wore in public--from the enigmatic Brando-inspired plain white tee of the '50s through the post-Stonewall activist shirts (from lavender menace to Anita Bryant-bashing numbers) to AIDS crisis classics (ACT UP's silence = death) to the sort of run-of-the-mill brand-sponsored tee (tanqueray presents california aids ride) that wouldn't seem remarkable if it weren't for the courage it took to wear the shirts that preceded it in public. A lot of the history will be old news if you, well, lived it, but Gdula's thoughts on the importance of these humble swatches of jersey make it a diverting little read.
i [heart/hurt] bmore T-shirt
Atomic Pop, 3620 Falls Road, (410) 366-1004, www.atomicbooks.com, $19.95.
Our hometown is a violent place--might as well make some violence-ade. This Balto-boosting tee from Post Typography (aka occasional City Paper contributor Nolen Strals) takes a few of the many things that make this city hard to handle and Milton Glaser's classic "I T NY" design and tweaks them into an expression of tough love, complete with ninja throwing stars and a slingshot.
Make Us Wave Back: Essays on Poetry and Influence, by Michael Collier
Various locations, $19.95.
Of his role as poet laureate of Maryland 2001-4, Michael Collier, who's taught for 20 years and written for more than 40, writes in Make Us Wave Back, "People have a deep need for encounters with language that exceed their normal daily encounters." In this slim paperback, a poet, writer, and/or passionate reader will discover much to inspire, provoke, question, and confuse. Essays on desire and commitment read like mentor's letters while one on Borges curls into itself like a shell--letting you get as deep into the subject of his influence as you are intellectually able. A long piece on the journals and career of Louise Bogan is fascinating and sad, and an interview with Collier from his home office in Catonsville punctuates the end.
OK, we're fanboys. We admit it. We eat, drink, and sleep Macs. We are a newspaper, after all. So when it comes to finding a simple gift for friends or family members, we turned to the old standby, the calendar composed of photos from the archives. For 20 bucks, it's a surefire winner--the calendars produced by iPhoto software are heads and shoulders above anything you'd get from the commercial photo labs on the internet. Creation is simple. Build the calendar using iPhoto, then send the finished product to Apple. A couple weeks later they show up your doorstep. They're nicely designed, amazingly flexible, and can accommodate lots of pix of your kids, cats, cars, ancestors, vacations, Windows Vista background images, or whatever else you'd enjoy seeing on your loved or loathed one's walls.
www.chicobag.com, five for $20.
Someday soon plastic grocery bags are going the way of the dodo; these reusable 1.5-ounce nylon bags should make the transition a bit smoother. The bags unfurl to 18 by 18 inches, then stuff down into an integral, cigarette pack-sized carry case. Chicobag says they hold up to 20 pounds; they're made in China but allegedly bsy "fair labor," and Ed Begley Jr. endorses them (as does, inevitably, 1st District City Councilman James Kraft).
Winter Color for a Baltimore Porch
Green Fields Nursery, 5424 Falls Road, (410) 323-3444, www.greenfieldsnursery.com, $21.95 and up.
You don't have to be brilliant with a spade to create a major flora planter that'll make it nearly through winter before hibernating until spring--just smart enough to ask the helpful folks at Green Fields who advised us on such cold-weather arrangements: Depending on your budget, start with a plastic pot ranging up toward $20 (don't forget a saucer), or splurge on ceramics in olive or midnight ($13-$140) and fill with soil, some colorful pansies ($1.95), and a few green and purple cabbages ($2.95 for the small, $6.95 for the bocce ball size). And don't forget some variegated liriope ($9.95), a spider plant-looking ground cover that adds greenery and texture between the delicate pansies and hearty cabbages.
Grace After Midnight, by Felicia Pearson
Various locations, $22.
Felicia Pearson may be The Wire's biggest breakout local star. The 27-year-old Baltimore native portrayed Snoop, one half of an absolutely fearless pair of assassins, and she didn't have to reach for that street-savvy swagger. The young woman was born premature to already incarcerated, drug-addict parents, was raised by foster guardians, entered the East Baltimore drug game by 12, and by 14 was starting an eight-year sentence for the second-degree murder of 15-year-old Kia Toomer. Her memoir, Grace After Midnight (co-written by celebrity storyteller David Ritz), chronicles her journey from prison to the small screen.
Wild Yam Pottery, 863 W. 36th St., (410) 662-1123, www.wildyampottery.com, $26.
Wild Yam's noodle bowls are perfect for people who have a real reverence for noodle dishes. People for whom words like udon, soba, and pho cause uncontrollable salivating and who believe noodles deserve more respect than to be eaten out of disposable containers. The bowls, which are available in a variety of earthy colors, are made by local artists and come with beautiful wooden chopsticks that are threaded conveniently through the lip of the bowl, so you won't be scrounging for them. These works of art are also dishwasher safe, so they are as practical as they are lovely.
What the Dead Know, by Laura Lippman
Various locations, $24.95.
The cool thing about author Laura Lippman is that she is so not mysterious in person. You see her outside Golden West with David Simon waiting for her table and some quesadillas, and it's like, "Hey, that's Laura Lippman and David Simon," you know? Yet she is a dangerously famous mystery/thriller writer who puts out a book--a good book--every year. Her latest non-Tess Monaghan read, What the Dead Know, is set in Baltimore, natch, and follows the investigation of a confused young woman who walks away from an accident claiming she's one of a pair of sisters who disappeared from Security Square Mall 30 years prior. Totally creepy.
Black Diamonds: Mountaintop Removal and the Search for Coalfield Justice
Red Emma's Bookstore and Coffeehouse, 800 St. Paul St., (410) 230-0450, www.redemmas.org, $25 .
Local avant-everywoman and filmmaker Catherine Pancake's documentary Black Diamonds continues to earn accolades since its completion last year. In April it was awarded the 2007 Spadaro Documentary Award, which recognizes media presentations on Appalachia or its people. More recently, it was awarded the Silver Chris from the Columbus International Film Fest in Ohio, and the movie has been selected to screen at the February 2008 Museum of Modern Art's Directors Fortnight. Now you can own a copy, too, on DVD from the Coal River Mountain Watch, which is dedicated to ending the complete and utter destruction inflicted by mountaintop-removal mining.
EndleSeries Lathe-cut 10-inch
We know that record nerd in your life is impossible to shop for. If you don't feel dealing with smelly, rude record store clerks, simply visit the EndleSeries web site, where you can order a totally one-of-a-kind, lathe-cut 10-inch dub plate featuring two songs from a roster of artists making tracks original to the series, including pieces from Andy Hayleck, Smegma, Quintron, Thurston Moore, Daniel Higgs, Marina Rosenfeld, Metalux, Taiwan Deth, and the indescribable local Beatmaster. These lovely plates come in handsome green hand-stamped and -lettered sleeves.
Tired of that snarky look you get from Prius-driving eco-ninnies as you cruise in your SUV? That's nothing you'd wish on a fellow American, much less a friend. Last we checked, this is still the home of the free--free to consume. So let the folks at TerraPass assuage any hard feelings. Answer a few basic questions about your friend's car on their web site, and they will figure out how much CO2 it's putting out and what it would cost to offset it. You send them the money and they put it toward clean-energy projects that make your car a karmic wash. It's a simple way to buy a loved one a little peace of mind, and let someone else worry about "retiring" 1,000 tons of carbon emissions. Insert Melissa Etheridge CD into SUV stereo, and motor away.
Yeah, yeah, the light was yellow, or too short, or there was oil all over the place and a truck behind you with no brakes and you were just in a big ol' hurry to get your pregnant grandma to the hospital. Whatever. We're certainly not advocating the running of red lights, which we never, ever do ourselves, officer, but anybody who's driven in Baltimore, especially downtown, knows the dreaded flash that comes from pushing the envelope a little too much. So this holiday season, give someone the peace of mind that comes with knowing your plate is protected by a couple of coats of some kind of glossy clear spray paint, to bounce that flash and obscure your precious plate. Does it work? No idea. That's why you're giving it to someone else to test.
8 Diagrams, by Wu-Tang Clan
Various locations, $32.99.
Is your little Junior just a little bit too into Soulja Boy? A little too young to have caught rap in its prime, before it became a Fox News scare special, or before people started nervously asking "is it dead?" Well, the Wu-Tang Clan saved rap once before, with 1993's 36 Chambers, and they're poised to do it again with this winter's 8 Diagrams, the Clan's first release in six years, and its first since Ol' Dirty Bastard passed away in '04. With guests from John Frusciante to Q-Tip, Diagrams will be Wu-Tang's second coming.
Velocipede Co-op Membership
4 W. Lanvale St., www.velocipedebikeproject.org, $33 per month.
Yes, we know winter isn't exactly the time to be thinking about bike repair--unless you're one of the militants cruising town with snow studs and a very thick helmet. But, this is the time to start tricking out a new ride for springtime, and, odds are, you don't know anyone with a bike shop in their basement. Membership at Velocipede gets unlimited use of shop space and tools and a frame to start working from (if it's a nice one, a few extra bucks or volunteer hours might be called for). There's nothing like rolling on a bike you built yourself.
An Affordable Massage
Baltimore School of Massage, 517 Progress Drive, Suite A-L, Linthicum, (410) 636-7929, $35.
Your mother-in-law doesn't hate you. She just wishes her daughter had married that Ivy League corporate type you stole her away from. You know, the one who could probably afford to give Mom a full day of luxury at the one of our area's posh day spas. You may be cash-poor in comparison, but show her you've got a big heart that understands a woman's aches and pains with a massage from the Baltimore School of Massage's clinic, where capable students practice what they're learning at prices far below the average spa's. These future therapists may not be licensed yet, but they've got enough training to ensure that she gets good and relaxed. Plus, staff members are on hand to keep a careful eye out for any missteps. Kind of like your mother-in-law.
Breathless, Criterion collection edition
Various locations, $39.95.
Well before Jean-Luc Godard went commie (Weekend), sci-fi (Alphaville), or infuriatingly pretentious (Notre Musique), the touchstone French New Wave filmmaker debuted with Breathless. A 2007 viewer will recognize every cliché in the film universe--that goes for Hollywood pulp and art-house mindfuck alike--but, in 1960, this sweet, seemingly humble, and hyperactive caper-cum-romance scrambled cinema on both sides of the Atlantic. This fall, DVD archivist Criterion finally added it to its collection, complete with an interview with the director, a making-of documentary, and as many more bonus goodies as they could fit into a two-disc package.
Blacksmith Jerry Brandt, 4730 Warner Road, Garfield Heights, Ohio, (216) 262-4709, $55 and up.
No Baltimore backyard is complete without a fire pit, and no fire pit is complete without a spit. Making one is a snap--it is, after all, just a stick resting on two supports--and getting a cheap one made of stainless steel is something outdoorsy web sites might have. But true outdoor-cooking afficionados would be proud to own a fine one, made with genuine artisanship. Turns out, they're hard to find, but Jerry Brandt, who's on the crafts-fair circuit, turns out a right nice wrought-iron spit set that makes roasting over an open fire just a tad fancier.
A Whole Smoked Fish
Neopol Savory Smokery, Belvedere Square Market, 529 E. Belvedere Ave., (410) 433-7700, $9-$24 per pound.
Want to spoil your special guy, but he doesn't care for electronic gadgets and you have no clue as to what DVD or CD box sets he wants? Then get him a whole freaking fish, but make sure it's smoked first. Neopol, at North Baltimore's Belvedere Square Market, smokes just about anything--from bacon and artichokes to salt and pepper--and all of it is gift-worthy. But to really make an impression, place a special order, get a long box, and stick in it a whole fish: mackerel, bluefish, salmon, or trout. It's an expensive treat (they can run you up to $100 depending on the size and type of fish), and one that should be consumed pretty quickly, but it's something he, and his stomach and taste buds, will remember forever.
Jewelry From a Local Designer
$3 and up, way up.
With the breadth of artists cranked out by local art schools, it's easy to overlook Towson University's and MICA's jewelry majors, whose faculty and graduates turn out some mighty fine items. You could try Megan Auman's steel jewelry (www.meganauman.com, $20-$360), Valerie Heck's silver designs (www.vahjewelry.com, $19-$345), Liz Mathews' lovely necklaces (www.lizmathews.com, $45-$180), Jacly Schleigh's emerging line (www.nelsoncoleman.com/designers.html), and Annie Chau's too cute necklaces, earrings, and brooches (www.imogene.org/shop, $15-$60). Also check out French Roast Designs' necklaces and earrings ($6-$27) and Allison Fomich's Tigerlilly ($3-$45) designs on Etsy.com. Just remember, guys: Flowers say you love her, jewelry says you love her and pay attention to what she likes.
Nothing says good tidings like bacon. Smoky, salty, and crispy, bacon warms the hearts and stomachs of the ones you love. Why not make sure your people receive a monthly delivery, so they can simply toss a few strips of artisan bacon into the frying pan at their leisure? There are a number of bacon-of-the-month clubs, but Grateful Palate has an online store that includes tasting notes, accessories (pig ballpoint pen, anyone?) and a comic strip. As if bacon is any laughing matter.
Impact Airbag Jacket
Motorcycle riders tend toward one of two schools--either "all the gear all the time," or "screw you and your gummint telling me I gotta wear a helmet." If you or someone you love is the latter, stop reading and go pick up some life insurance instead, but for the ATGATT set, take a look at the latest in keeping you not killed. The idea is just like a car airbag, except you're connected to your bike with a tether, and if the two of you separate, the jacket inflates. A Randallstown man recently gave the jacket a test when he hit I-83 at 140 mph, according to news reports, and he walked away with a few bumps and bruises (reports don't indicate how fast he was going when he crashed, but if memories of college physics serve, it wasn't the speed limit). Last year, a product rep for airbag jacket company Hit Air unexpectedly tried one out on the way to a product demonstration down at Bob's BMW. His bike was totaled, he wasn't. At $400 a pop, they aren't cheap, but then again neither are regular leathers, and if they work as well as they claim, it'll be money well spent.
One Laptop Per Child
OK, so maybe it's not the "$100 Dollar Laptop" they said they were going to build, but the $200 XO laptop that charges by hand (using a crank, pedal, or pull cord) and connects to the internet (and to other XO's) is a step in the direction of getting children around the world access to the web, so they can waste their time instant messaging and checking each other out on Facebook, and generally bring production levels down to our level, or, you know, learn something. Anyway, the One Laptop Per Child program says it's ready to hit the streets, and this holiday season it's offering a buy-two-get-one program whereby you pay $399 and get a laptop for your own child, and they'll send one to a kid in a developing nation. Nigeria recently turned them down, so maybe Baltimore is a possibility.
Corradetti Glass Studio, 2010 Clipper Park Road, Suite 119, (410) 243-2010, www.corradetti.com, $20-$4,800.
Anthony Corradetti's glass shimmers like liquid fireworks--the designs he paints and fires into the surface of freshly blown glass are whimsical, organic, and microbial motifs that twinkle like metallic afterglow. He's been around since 1981, his studio moving from Hampden to Sowebo and, most recently, to Clipper Mill, where he continues to produce beautiful glass, teach the craft year after year, and help anchor a growing community of artisans in the Jones Falls holler. Most of his creations cost a couple bills and up, but someone you love is worth a chunk of Baltimore artisanal tradition.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201