Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
This week: Some goodies from the vault.
One of the best things to happen to me personally this week was the opening of a new bakery in which I have no financial standing and the success of which will affect me in no way whatsoever. Honestly (and you probably know this) the opening of any bakery anywhere in the country markedly improves my life and helps me sleep better at night. When I plan a vacation, the first thing I do is Google “Best Nummy Treats in [City Name].” That is the only thing I google, actually. The rest will figure itself out.
Last week, I came across an Instagram post about the opening of Whitehall Mill, a food hall here in Baltimore and it mentioned that one of the stalls would be Crust by Mack, a bakery owned by a Black woman named Amanda Mack. The post detailed all of the safety precautions Whitehall Mill was putting in to ensure a responsible opening. The post stuck in my mind for a couple of reasons. We had toured Whitehall Mill, which also has apartments, when we first moved to Baltimore almost three years ago, and they told us that a food hall and market would be opening up downstairs any day now. It looked pretty ideal, as I am someone who likes to buy milk and eggs whilst wearing pajamas. But then it just didn’t open and, reader, I was gobsmacked! I was living up the road at a different property owned by the same management company at the time so, yes, I was complicit. But still! They opened up a cat café at one point but I did not visit because although cafés famously have baked goods and I am powerless against the desire to buy baked goods when I go to cafés I remain solidly on the fence when it comes to the concept of cat cafés. It’s the cats’ space; I am not needed here.
I kept thinking about the new Whitehall Mill, though, and about the difficulty of opening up a business during a pandemic and in a space where once cats roamed free (not in the actual space; the café was in a different part of the building; it’s possible that they still have dominion there. And ever may they reign.) I kept thinking about Crust by Mack, also, looking forward to checking it out, as it my duty, my right, and my calling. Later I came across an article in Baltimore Magazine that focused specifically on Crust by Mack and, in a very deft way, highlighted the unique challenges Mack faced whiled trying to bring something new and generative into the world specifically this month as a Black woman. It’s a perspective that I felt deeply, having struggled and often failed this month to pull something out of myself that was of any use to the world or to myself. My resolve to support Crust by Mack, to show up for another Black person trying to make it, and, yes, to consume baked goods which may not be food for the soul but are close enough, grew stronger.
By the time the opening came and with it a front page article in the Baltimore Sun on Crust by Mack, I was so excited that I felt like her victory was a win for myself, too. Not that I had anything to do with it or had helped in any way, but seeing her succeed against so many different intersecting odds was an inspiration and a motivation. And so when I finally drove over to Whitehall Mill yesterday, strapped a mask to my face, and marched inside like I was stepping through the Purrly Gates of Cat Heaven.
And my God, was it good. I bought strawberry tarts, chocolate chip cookies, and brownies for me and David, and I would like to solicit your congratulations for not eating them during the 30 minute drive from Whitehall Mill to our new house where David was working in the yard. I’m the hero here.
This morning I drove back because they have a different menu every day of the weekend. Today they were serving up chive cheddar biscuits and, if I remember Civics class correctly, it is illegal to not get biscuits when biscuits are available. While I was eager to get this savory goodness in my life, I have to admit that I wasn’t in the best of places otherwise. I’ve just been down and tired and the thought occurred to me “shouldn’t you not be down anymore?” as if there’s a time limit or something. But, again if I’m remembering Civics class, I believe the right to be down whenever you’re down is in the Constitution. It’s like “blah blah, life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, but also random situational depression, annoying Twitter spats, and fireworks going off in your neighborhood every night for some reason—this the right of every American.” So I was exercising my right to have a bad day in a bad week in a bad, well, you get the gist.
I was in line behind two other people. After the first person paid, the person in front of me stepped up, ordered, and when she went to pay the first person leapt back and asked if she could cover the cost of the second person’s order. The second person, a Black woman, was taken aback by this declaration from the first person, a woman who appeared to be non-Black. “I just want to support!” the first person shouted joyously! There was much murmuring in the line. The second person let the first person pay and then the second person turned to me and told the cashier, “I’ll pay for his.” Oh great, now I was implicated in the good deeds! I was very grateful but also, let’s be honest, stressed. I ordered two biscuits and two brownies and the second person paid; I thanked her. And because we were now trapped in a fishing net of goodwill, I turned to the Black woman behind me and said, “I’ll pay for yours.” I tried to smile through my mask while also trying to project with my eyes “I really hope you didn’t show up today to order 55 cupcakes for a birthday party because I don’t have it like that. I just bought a house.” She thanked me and then helplessly looked behind her, seeing no one else in line. A flash of panic crossed her face—what would become of this mutual support? Whose bill would she cover? How could she pay it forward? (Actually, she’d be paying it backward, the way the line worked, but you get the idea.) As I swiped my card for her purchase ($16.50; the mortgage will get paid this month), I chuckled at the chaos that the first person’s kindness had unleashed on the line. I realized that I felt better for the moment, swept up in the joy of participating in some small way in a Black woman’s business success, and the anticipation of a still-warm cheddar chive biscuit, and the unmitigated mayhem of people trying to be good to each other and to share a crumb of kindness, despite everything around them.
This week I worked on a couple of articles that take more time than the column, so I’m pulling a couple from the vault. But I’m very excited to write about the glorious vision of the president drinking out of a glass of water for tomorrow’s column.
Happy holidays ONLY to the former first lady and current first everything in my heart, in a canary yellow wrap dress, Jennifer Fisher earrings, and, I repeat for those who are just still reeling from joy, SPARKLING GOLD THIGH HIGH BOOTS.
Everyone says they're an Adam Rippon stan but do they really mean it? Do we mean it the way Sally Field means it? Are we showing our dedication as fervently as the erstwhile Nora Walker from Brothers and Sisters? Do we love Adam Rippon enough to try to set him up with our adult sons over Twitter like Sally Field did? That's the standard, folks. Sally Field is our gold standard.
Anyway, Oprah is trying to life coach Grizzled Captain Kirk's daughter, Meg, by reading inspirational quotes to Meg from a Things Remembered catalog. And it's really cute but it keeps being interrupted by the world ending, which is super rude. Meg is clearly up to the task as evidenced by the fact that she gives this other kid the safety arm.
Let’s Hang Out
I forgot to mention last week that I recorded two podcasts about a month ago that have just come out. The conversations are very different but I really enjoyed both of them and appreciated the thoughtful ways that the hosts approached my book and my work. Give them a listen!
Amazingly, Here for It is a #1 bestseller in the Gay & Lesbian category on Amazon this week, thanks in part to the many people who have posted about it as a Pride read and an Amplify Black Voices read and/or as something they just enjoyed! Thank you! Keep it up, please! And, as a reminded, the e-book is $2.99 until June 28 on Amazon, B&N, and other retailers. AND, of course, you can grab a hard copy or audiobook from Bookshop.org, your favorite independent bookseller, or your local library. Here’s a link to all the places to buy it!
Random Thing on the Internet
I’ve written about this before, but I’m obsessed with the orchestration on the Broadway recording of “I Am What I Am.” OBSESSED. Those wind instruments!!!
It’s the cats’ space; I am not needed here.