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'Tha Bloc': Portrait of a Baltimore Community

Scott Simon talks with t.p. Luce, author of Tha Bloc. Luce is a resident of East Baltimore who set out to create a portrait of his neighborhood using his photos, poetry and stories -- with a recipe and a prayer thrown in for good measure.

Excerpt: Guppies

I read a story the other day about two people lying in their own blood dying, then dead, then outlined by that white chalk. Killed over something stupid they said. Shot down when an argument over basketball players boiled over into gunfire and death. As the event hangs and the media and the talkers begin to feed on our collective social blind spot, it is amazing how often they, (we), miss what is really going on and how much they, (we), depend on that blind spot. The shooting was not about an argument over basketball players, it was about breaking. It was about breaking. It was about someone who is sitting, standing underneath 10 tons of straw pressing him so tight that each breath drawn is indistinguishable from a razor. So much so that he walks around teetering, about to snap, straight up and down on the outside but stumbling, propped up on the inside ready to fall. If you can remember the last time you almost fell off the hinge, maybe in an argument or stuck in traffic and then imagine being in that state 24 hours a day minus only the time you're asleep. Being that way because of abuse, neglect, failure, depression, lost chances, dead dreams, being on the bottom or because of … whatever.

Waiting, waiting to be set off. Set it off by a glance, a word, a jacket you want, or because someone hit your cousin, wore blue on red day, kicked your dog, didn’t know what time it was. They, (we), always reduce this to over something; over a pair of shoes, a girl, basketball players or whatever amount of change the victim has in his pockets when the police finally draw that whit line around him. Instantly trading in a chance to see what is – for the sucker punch. Preferring to say that he was, she was, they were, just in the wrong place at the wrong time or shot over 84 cents or 10 dollars as if the money or the amount of it is to blame. In the end, without presence of mind and perspective, all we are left with is the event; upon which a long list of writers and social pundits invariably prop their sad stories lamenting what society has become, and how different it is now from when they were young. Some tie it into television reflecting society reflecting television again and the issue the woes for us all if something isn't done. Maybe something like letting go; of our preconceptions, of our foreseeing and of our knowing.

Maybe the some light could fall into that blind spot, where were all hiding not because we don't want to know, that way it's easiest to settle for the cheap shot. Maybe one day they, or rather we, might peek out of the hole where all of the smart people do their bidding; from where they appropriately tell us what is in and what is out, what to eat, what to wear and when its going to rain, all the while casting these pearls as "normal" life.

Out of this hole, compassion overflows after the fact, rarely before the fact. It's a contrived superficial compassion, the only kind the talkers know. After all, there must be at least a hint of authenticity, in order to keep the wizard behind the curtain and for their audience to connect and join the chorus. That time-tested chorus of feebly wishing that right should exist while doing nothing for it.

As the white line fades and with it the only thing we knew of them. Why? Everyone asks. At the bottom, no one should ever ask why.

From Tha Bloc: Words, Photographs and Baltimore City in Black, White and Gray, copyright t. p. Luce. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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