The Beat, like everywhere else, is trying to figure out how to do what we do right now to be useful—especially because as of late we’ve doing events such as co-presenting Real Talk Tho discussions or presenting with Baltimore Legal Hackers and that can’t happen right now. So we’ve begun a sort of catch-all column where Baltimoreans discuss some under-discussed elements of COVID-19. For the first installment of Social Distancing-ing, here’s some insight from comedian John Nagle…
Hi! This is John Nagle, Baltimore’s Handicapped Man About Town, here to help out my able-bodied neighbors adapt to the new normal of social distancing.
In the wake of Governor Hogan’s announcement that most public spaces would be closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, I found my social media timeline clogged with people wondering how they would be able to survive being stuck at home for an extended period of time. How are we going to live without dinner at restaurants, spin class, and the ninth installment of “Fast and The Furious”?
The disabled community has been social distancing for our entire lives. I have a lot of friends, but I spend most of my time alone. Last year I watched 271 movies, a personal record. I’m not an introvert and I’m not antisocial. Why don’t I just go out?
Consider this: What makes a city a city? It’s not the multiplex or McDonald’s or Starbucks. They are same in Baltimore as they are in Tulsa. The small restaurants, the indie book and record stores, the arthouse theaters, the clubs, the bars, the boutiques, and the museums. These places make a city your city. I love these places. Unfortunately, I cannot visit many of them because they are not wheelchair accessible. Baltimore is over 200 years old. The majority of the buildings downtown were built before 1990, which means they don’t have to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Going to the cool hotspot in Hampden that will be spinning New Order all night sounds cool as hell (I am a white man with an undercut after all)—but even one step is too many steps. If I can get in, there is no guarantee that I can use the bathroom or that my wheelchair will be able to fit under a table. I know that Chipotle isn’t as good as a hole-in-the-wall taqueria, but I can get there by myself and know that I will be able to get in.
Every aspect of disabled life is regimented. I take a shower when my caregiver arrives, whether that is 5:30 a.m. or 6 p.m. If someone can’t make it, I don’t take a shower that day. My rides to work are scheduled and sometimes they come on time and sometimes they come late. I was on a date last year and had to cut it short because Mobility arrived early for the first time in the decade I’ve been using the service. I am used to living with little to no autonomy. The only time I am completely in control is when I am in my apartment, what I call the legendary Stately Toxic Manor. It is the only place where my disability is a nonfactor. Watching four hours of Turner Classic Movies every Saturday night isn’t as good as going to The Charles Theatre, but going to the Charles is an ordeal. I can turn on the TV and not have to worry if I am going to be stranded after Cagney kills Bogart in the final reel.
Able-bodied people are freaking out because for the first time in their lives, they have no autonomy. They can’t get in their car and have an impromptu party with their friends. It feels invasive and restrictive. But after a few months, this will end. You will get to come and go as you please. The disabled community will not have that luxury. It’s a big deal for you guys, but for me? This is Wednesday. That is what is making me angry. Nobody ever asks the disabled community how we do this day after day. We are expected to do it day after day. If we complain, you tell us that we aren’t trying hard enough, to be like some inspirational disabled athlete that you saw on ESPN that one time. It sucks. But the one advantage I have—the one advantage the disabled community has—is we have learned to be our own company and amuse ourselves. If we can do this for our entire lives, you can do it for a few months. With that in mind, here are my favorite things to consume while hunkered down. They are all available on your platform of choice.
“Casablanca” (1942): “Casablanca” is one of the cornerstones of American popular art. You probably reference it a couple times a month without realizing it. When was the last time you actually watched it? If it’s been a while, there is no better way to spend 90 minutes. The story of world-weary saloonkeeper Rick Blaine and his unrequited love for Ilsa is the still the greatest Hollywood movie ever made. Contract player Humphrey Bogart becomes Humphrey Fucking Bogart before your eyes, and his chemistry with co-stars Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains is cannot be measured using conventional instruments. “Casablanca” is funny, suspenseful, romantic, exotic and uplifting. Watching ordinary people fight back against encroaching fascism is more relevant than ever. There’s a reason everybody still goes to Rick’s.
“Dazed and Confused” (1993): Nothing happens in “Dazed and Confused.” Kids drink, they smoke pot, they make out, they talk about deep shit like “Gilligan’s Island.” But nothing needs to happen. Richard Linklater’s breakthrough film is not so much a movie, but a sketch of a moment. Music and fashions change, but as long as there are teenagers, they will go to the woods to shoot the shit. Bonus: If you have smoked all your medical cannabis under quarantine, this film will give you a nice contact high. Make sure you have some old Aerosmith handy. I suggest “Rocks,” an album so filthy it might actually give you the Coronavirus. So maybe throw on “Frampton Comes Alive!” instead.
“The Simpsons “ (Seasons Four-Nine): I wasn’t going to subscribe to Disney Plus because the Walt Disney Corporation is responsible for the homogenization of our culture. Walt Disney was a horrible human being who did not give cartoonist Ub Iwerks proper credit for creating Mickey Mouse. “THE AVENGERS” IS KILLING CINEMA. When the House of Mouse announced they would be putting every single episode of “The Simpsons” on the service, I not only got off my high horse, I killed it and fed it to a dog. My integrity can only go so far. I know it feels lawless right now, but stick with the early seasons. We live in a society.
“The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938): In 1991, Kevin Costner briefly captured America’s heart with the overlong and unnecessarily dark “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” I was seven years old and wanted to see it more than anything the world, because those Kenner toys were pretty great. However, it was PG-13, so my mom forbade me to see Costner and Christian Slater attempt British accents. I would not shut up about the film, so my dad came home from Blockbuster with “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” I’ll never forget what he said to me: “John, I haven’t seen the Kevin Costner movie, but I guarantee you this is better.” I was very upset, because how could anything from 1938 be any good? I forgot to be angry the second Errol Flynn dropped the deer on Claude Rains’ table. Like “Casablanca,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood” is a miracle of the Hollywood studio system: A glorious Technicolor fantasy that is the perfect way to introduce kids to classic Hollywood. Just don’t tell them about Errol Flynn’s personal life.
“Singin’ In The Rain” (1952): Speaking of the miracle of the studio system, “Singin’ In The Rain” is a musical made up of spare parts. Producer Arthur Freed had a bunch of old songs in the MGM vault that he didn’t know what to do with, so he hired the crack team of Betty Condon and Adolph Greene to write a fluffy story about Hollywood during the transition to sound. It is impossible to feel sad as Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor perform some of the most athletic dancing ever committed to film. However, Jean Hagen steals the show as Lina Lamont, the stunning screen goddess with the voice of a Brooklyn cab driver. You’ll never be able to hear the phrase “I can’t stand him,” the same way.
These are uncertain times. You should be concerned and remain vigilant, but also make some time for escape. We’ll get through this. Please stay safe.