'Delegate Waterworks' gets the Ed Muskie treatment

Keiffer Mitchell tears up, takes a ribbing

March 16, 2011|By Laura Vozzella, The Baltimore Sun

As Maryland lawmakers debated the gay marriage bill, and Del. Luke Clippinger came out to colleagues on the House floor, one of his fellow Baltimore Democrats was moved to tears.

"My colleague Luke, I sit right next to him, enduring all these weeks of negativity, for him to finally speak out and say why he's in favor of it, what it means to him, it just got emotional," Del. Keiffer Mitchell told me.

There's another reason the gay marriage debate hit home for Mitchell. His own marriage would have been illegal until 1967, the year he was born, because Mitchell is black and his wife is white. Interracial marriages were legalized in Maryland that year in an effort led by Mitchell's uncle, Clarence M. Mitchell III.

But never mind Mitchell's heartfelt reasons for crying — a vision seen not just in Annapolis, but nationwide, when The New York Times ran a photo of his tear-streaked face last weekend. Ever since, Annapolis has been treating Mitchell like Ed Muskie.

"I've been referred to as 'Delegate Waterworks,' and the new one is 'Delegate Chief Iron Eyes,'" Mitchell said. The latter is a reference to the actor Chief Iron Eyes Cody, who famously cried in a 1970s anti-littering campaign.

An aide to another delegate enlarged the Times photo and added his own caption: "Delegate Mitchell weeps when he finds out he can't have any more pickles on his hamburger." (Mitchell is a pickle fanatic.)

The response hasn't all been negative.

"I've been getting e-mails and calls from women who say they like it when a guy can show emotion," Mitchell said.

It's nice to know that, even without gay marriage, we're making progress as a society.

I was too in Sunday school

Remember that strange street art I wrote about last week? Turns out the image on a West Baltimore rowhouse, which I took to be a leather-clad rooster cradling the head of Jesus, was, in fact, a leather-clad rooster cradling the head of John the Baptist. Now I get it!

"Jesus was never beheaded," a reader by the name of Jason wrote to inform me. "You must have really slept through Sunday School."

Just for the record, while I might have slept through Sunday school, I did know that Jesus wasn't beheaded. I was just willing to believe that an artist who puts a rooster in a leather jacket and a human head in the bird's arms is likely to take other artistic liberties. Besides, all those first-century guys look alike to me.

The artist, I've also learned, is a Maryland Institute College of Art student who goes by Gaia. He was the subject of a story in the Urbanite back in October, a fact I would have turned up sooner if only I'd Googled "Baltimore, rooster, leather, John the Baptist" instead of "Baltimore, rooster, leather, Jesus." So I failed first as a Christian, then as a journalist.

Gaia was good enough to talk with me by phone despite my taking his John for Jesus. He declined to give his full name because one man's edgy street art is another's graffiti.

"It's all illegal," he said. "It's not really a big deal, and people are more appreciative of it than straight-up graffiti, but it is always an issue."

Gaia has been doing this sort of street art around Baltimore since he came to town four years ago. He first created the rooster image I saw as a painting, then photographed, enlarged and pasted it on the building like wallpaper. Many of the images he creates are human-animal hybrids, he said.

"As I work with these animal-man images, I realize that the search becomes a portrait of my generation's romance with wanting to be close with nature," he said.

Roosters figure prominently in his work, he said, partly as a reference to the cock that crowed after St. Peter denied Jesus.

"The rooster becomes this icon, this messenger that's trying to say something that's super-ambiguous," Gaia said. Combine that with the head of John the Baptist, Gaia said, and "it becomes this really nice motif of not listening to messengers."

Gaia's own message is often blotted out. The city's Department of Public Works, responding to an anonymous complaint, dispatched the bird I'd spotted on the side of a rowhouse at West Franklin Street and North Franklintown Road, DPW spokesman Robert Murrow confirmed. The artist takes that in stride.

"It's always disappointing, but it's not the end of the world," Gaia said. "You know it's going to happen. You anticipate it happening. Hopefully, you get some sort of reaction while it's up."

Ain't nerd love grand

If you're looking not just for love, but nerdy love, Maryland is a good place to find it.

Match.com has come up with a list of the Top 10 Cities to Date a Nerd, and two of them are in Maryland. Columbia ranks No. 8, Rockville No. 10.

Making the list is meant to be a compliment. "[I]t has never been cooler to be a nerd than it is right now," Match.com said, noting the Oscars won by "The Social Network" and Time magazine's naming Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg its Person of the Year for 2010.

Columbia made the list for its proximity to the National Security Agency and Fort Meade. "On another nerdy note, the city takes its street names from famous works of art and literature," the website said.

Rockville stood about because it is "home to numerous software and biotechnology companies as well as several federal government institutions. Its per-capita venture capital investment is the highest of any town outside of California."

laura.vozzella@baltsun.com


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