“I had a student once in prison who killed his wife and then raped her, and I asked him, “Why did you rape her,” and he replied, “I was still mad!” It was the best line, and I never asked another dumb question in jail.” This is a classic anecdote from the great American filmmaker John Waters, who used to teach filmmaking to rapists and murderers in prison. But to hear him tell it to me personally, as he did a few weeks ago at a private backstage party for the Inauguration of the Governor of Maryland, gave me an extra special thrill. Let me provide a little context. On exclusive assignment recently for the Gay Times of London, I was flown to New York and provided with a train ticket to Baltimore to spend an evening with my friend John Waters. He had just called me a couple of weeks earlier while in Toronto, my home town, where he had been shooting the new Court TV show that he hosts, Til Death Do Us Part, a series of true crime stories based on married couples whose matrimony ends in murder. We confirmed the date of my pending visit to his hometown, but he confessed he didn’t know what we could possibly do on a Wednesday night in Baltimore. “Maybe we’ll go to the Governor’s Inaugural Ball,” he said. “Bring a suit just in case.” Not wanting to appear over eager, I casually assured him I would. The train to Baltimore from New York’s Penn Station is a bit of history preserved. A genteel black conductor punches your ticket as you sit in a comfortable seat and eat lunch from the food and beverage car. Because of its proximity to New York, it’s easy to forget that Baltimore is south of the original Mason-Dixon line; Southern manners and a certain continuity with the past are quaintly preserved. The landscape, however, is distinctly modern: a wasteland of industrial smoke stacks and crumbling infrastructures. A member of John’s staff picks me up at the train station and drives me to his home in a well-appointed neighborhood of the city. It’s a beautiful, large four-story Tudor-style house with dark wood interiors built in the 1920’s, nestled soundly into the side of a hill. As I’m staying the night, Mr. Waters, the consummate Southern gentleman, shows me to one of the guest bedrooms on the fourth floor, and then proceeds to give me the art tour, an impressive collection including works by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Nan Golden, Mike Kelly, Cindy Sherman, Cy Twombly, and many others. There’s also an amazing installation by artist Gregory Greene, a small, roped-off room styled as a mini bomb factory that looks like it could be the Unabomber’s workshop. The house is crammed full of books on every subject from serial killers to sexual deviance to Hollywood biographies and beyond, and every room contains some form of artificial food, a particular fetish of Mr. Waters. Despite certain lurid touches – bongo drums beside leg prostheses at the foot of the guest bed; a Thompson submachine gun – a gift from Johnny Depp – in a case on the floor of the hallway; the electric chair that Divine as Dawn Davenport fried in at the end of Female Trouble in the front foyer – the house is both stylish and comfortable, much like the man himself. After the interview, John bolts up in a panic and tells me we’re late for the Governor’s Ball. We jump into his modest, old model car (he explains he’s less likely to be car-jacked in it in dodgy Baltimore, where hooded thugs with guns routinely roam the streets) and head downtown to the convention centre where tout Baltimore, dressed to the nines, is headed. Because we’re late, every parking space and lot is full to the rafters. We’re just on the verge of giving up when John rolls down his window and asks a black woman in a security uniform if she knows of any available parking. “Hey, I know you,” she drawls. “You’re John Waters. There’s always a place for you.” She opens up a chained off area and ushers us in. Welcome to John Waters’ Baltimore. The black parking attendant also recognizes John, telling him that he’s an actor looking for work. “Talk to Pat Moran,” says John, referring to the casting agent who has worked on all his films. “The Wire’s starting up in two weeks.” The Wire, of course, is the police show shot in Baltimore that is widely considered one of the best series on American television. As the unofficial Mayor of Baltimore, John knows everybody, in and out of the business. A formidable woman with a black headset meets John and I at the entrance and proceeds to lead us through the packed convention centre, a scene, as John points out, right out of the Manchurian Candidate. Almost everyone recognizes the distinctive director, many of them grabbing his arm or yelling after him, “Serial Mom is the best movie ever,” or “Female Trouble is our favourite!” He stops and chats briefly with the Film Commissioner of Maryland, introducing me as “a great filmmaker from Toronto.” Such is the graciousness of the man that he consistently introduces me by name to each and every person we will meet that evening. In today’s mean-spirited and elitist, celebrity-choked world, it’s a rare quality. Once our guardian gets us past the half dozen Secret Service men guarding the door to the Governor’s private party, John introduces me to the man himself, Governor Martin O’Malley, formerly the Mayor of Baltimore and a personal friend of John’s. In fact, he informs me, he first met him and his wife when they crashed his annual Christmas Party at his house several years ago. The Governor, a hail and handsome man in his forties, married with four children, beams as he poses with John for photographers. (I also manage to snap a few shots.) The Governor’s sister-in-law, whose kids are tearing around the room, informs us that her husband knows every single line from every John Waters movie, and in fact he courted her with them before they were married, along with lines from Barfly. John points out that it must have been a pretty strange courtship. After we partake of the buffet – populist fare such as Maryland crab cakes, mac and cheese, and mashed potatoes – a typically eccentric Baltimore lady approaches us. “This is so exciting for me,” she gushes. “My husband loved you. He saw everything you ever did.” “Thank-you, is he here?” asks John. “My husband died in 2001 of Mad Cow.” “Of Mad Cow?” says John incredulously. “In Baltimore?” “No, he was working in New Jersey,” she says. “Twenty-three people ate at the same restaurant in the same period of time and they all got it. But you’re never going to hear about it. Like Oprah says, never take on the cow people.” I’m agog. It’s like a scene right out of a John Waters movie. The widow informs us that her husband attended the same high school as John, Calvert Hall, a prestigious preparatory school whose motto is “sending forth men of intellect, men of faith, men of integrity.” They obviously succeeded in that regard with Mr. Waters, although perhaps only accidentally. “I didn’t have a very good experience there,” John tells us. “They just discouraged every interest I ever had.” The woman says that after she donated money to the school, she told them that one day she would walk through the front doors with John Waters. “It’s time for them to eat a little humble pie,” she tells me conspiratorially. “My mother would love to hear that,” says John, whose family is pretty upper crust. (John later mentions that his mother’s brother was the Undersecretary for the Interior under Richard Milhous Nixon.) I hear him tell another man that he grew up in a district of Baltimore called Lutherville. “Were you a preppie?” asks the man. “That’s all Republican over there.” “I wasn’t a preppie!” John protests. “I wanted to be a beatnik when I was eleven years old!” Before joining the plebeians on the convention floor, we meet a few other key people, like the handsome gay fellow and old friend of John’s who organized the party (to the tune, I overhear, of 1.3 million dollars), and a politician who tries to recruit John into reforming Maryland’s tax laws in order to create incentives for the film industry, an industry, incidentally, which Mr. Waters virtually invented from the ground up. Then the Governor takes the main stage as the crowd goes wild and ticker tape and confetti flies. He greets his constituents, and then grabs his beat-up guitar, joining his former Irish band for a rousing set, which includes the Governor himself singing a souped up version of Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a Changin’ and Green Day’s Time of Your Life. It’s very Clintonian of him (Bill Clintonian, that is), and in fact John predicts he could very well be President within the next couple of decades. When the party is in full swing, John suggests we casually make our way to the nearest door. It’s been fun, but the man knows when to make an exit. Afterwards John tries to take me to Baltimore’s only hustler bar, The Spectrum, more commonly known as The Rectum, but sadly, it’s closed that night. After a few drinks at a couple of other bars, we make it home by midnight. Mr. Waters, a workaholic, is up at 6am every day, and has a staff meeting at 9am. The next morning, John will personally make me breakfast – scrambled eggs, sausage, toast, and coffee, and, after a brief photo shoot, his assistant will drive me back to the train station. I go to sleep in a room chocked full of books about serial killers and sex criminals, but not before taking a crap in the toilet and photographing it for posterity. It seems a fitting tribute to the elder statesman of filth and a proponent of turd terrorism!