Alex Ventura organized and hosted a great, weird, exciting reading and performance last night. It was outside, but it wasn’t just outside—he’d gathered everyone to a flat traffic circle in the middle of Baltimore’s Charles Village neighborhood. The traffic circle was installed several months ago, but there is nothing on it except for the carefully laid stones.

It probably slows down traffic and makes it a safer area to cross the street, but it’s not beautiful. The fact that the city didn’t put any plants there makes everything about it seem like an afterthought. Alex’s event, called “Traffic Circle Thing,” made it beautiful at least for the hour that it lasted. There was a distinct feeling that something cool and communal was happening.

Here are some pictures, and a breakdown.

I read first, but of course I didn’t take any pictures of myself. I read a lot of older poems and that felt fresh to me. I opened with my transcription of Steve Reich’s piece “It’s Gonna Rain.”

Then Josh Van Horne and Alexandra Gilwit read movie synopses for movies they’d made up. They were funny. Mark Cugini was there—his house is across the street—and he said they were a highlight of the night for him.

During their reading the police rolled up and Alex went to talk to them. He describes the encounter:

The cops were there at the beginning, curious about the boombox and the balloon. I told them we were having a performance and they were cool with it. People hadn’t really gathered at that time. When they came during the show, it was a different set of guys: “What’s going on here? Is everything okay?” “Oh yeah, everything’s fine. We’re having a performance.” “Were you the one who placed the boombox here earlier?” “Yeah, that was me.” “You know you could have done this in the park, instead of the middle of the street? That’s what the park’s for.” “Yeah, I know. You’re totally right! But it’s better this way.” I said that we all lived in the neighborhood and wanted to do something ever since they built those absurd traffic circles. He said, “make sure you keep everyone tight.” They could have ruined it pretty easily, simply by raising their voices or something, so I’m grateful they were more or less open.

Next Rachel Warren and Eric Voboril performed a bit of musical comedy. “I’m excited about the future,” Rachel said. Eric said, “That’s good, because that’s where we’re going to spend the rest of our lives.” Then they sang a song called “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” It had a nice accordion solo. Here’s a video:

Tim Paggi read three rhyming poems about the wind and thinking and his pointer finger and the stars and rain.

Nicole Fiore came out after that with a boombox and a huge tomato and a ukulele. Tentatively, she began to sing that Pixies song “In Heaven,” which goes, “In heaven, everything is fine.” From across the street I noticed a few zombies. They were approaching like zombies do. Then they mauled her. Then they danced. It was funny and nicely done by Todd Noletto and friends. Video? OK:

Chuck Green read an irreverent story called, I think, “Pizza Dick.” It was about starting a pizza shop with Neil Patrick Harris. The best sentence was something like, “He looked like the proud father of a great sentence.”

He was accompanied by a saxophone player. It reminded me of Guy Noir or something. They had good timing together.

Finally, Andrew Bernstein ended the night with an impressive and restrained solo on alto sax. It was moody. He did circular breathing and played two tones simultaneously. It was made even better by the location. Here’s a video that ends abruptly because my phone couldn’t take anymore:

Outdoors is the best. Thanks to Alex Ventura for making Baltimore more.

 

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