Peter Koper was one of the first “name” writers who wandered into my office at Baltimore’s City Paper on N. Charles St. to pitch a story. This was in 1979—the weekly was two years old—and I supposed he’d picked up a copy and thought it was legit. As it happened, Peter was a classmate of my late brother Doug, both graduating from Johns Hopkins in 1969, and he told me about when they both worked at the university’s News-Letter, where Doug was an illustrator who went by the name “Snuffy Smith.” Besides his talent as a journalist—Peter’s first CP story was a send-up of the ever-moribund Baltimore magazine—the added bonus was that he didn’t care all that much about fees. Which was great, for in those days, the paper was struggling financially, as most start-up weeklies do.
In the picture above, shot by Jennifer Bishop, Peter’s pictured with actress/artist Sue Lowe, on assignment to have a sumptuous meal at the private Maryland Club in Mt. Vernon. (I can’t recall how they gained entrance, but I suspect it was through the auspices of a CP contributor who had blueblood roots.) They dined on terrapin stew, terrapin soup, and other assorted seafood dishes, accompanied by (relatively) vintage wines. If I sprang for the tab—doubtful—it would’ve taken some mighty serious subterfuge to get it past my partner at the paper, Alan Hirsch, who would’ve frowned upon such extravagance. In any case, Peter wrote a terrific story about the evening, and went on to contribute many more pieces before he moved to Manhattan.
Peter once gave me a lesson—with a devilish gleam in his eye that I should’ve recognized as trouble—on the art of drinking boilermakers. We were having a long lunch at the now-departed Clark Street Garage on St. Paul St.—it was a hangout for CP staff, with great pinball machines—and after perfunctory burgers, settled down for some serious drinking. Mind you, I’d planned an hour out of the office, but as Peter spun yarn after yarn, while ordering us beers and shots of Jack Daniel’s, we closed out the lunch service. Woozy, I went back to the office, got nothing done, but as a resilient young fellow, rallied for an evening crab feast at my friend Harold Robertson’s house.
That same year, Peter introduced me to John Waters, who several years later hired a bus to take a dozen of Peter’s friends on a tour of Baltimore’s odd and mysterious bars. It was Peter’s bachelor party—he married the lovely Gina Koper—and was a rollicking rumble through Fells Point, and points further east, including lesbian haunts (not a great reception for us, but John smoothed it out) and holes-in-the-wall that I’d never heard of. The day after the wedding, a bunch of us rode out to Peter’s farm in Hampstead, MD, where our annual croquet tournament was held. Can’t remember who won the cup that year—I did win at least twice—could’ve been me, Doug Wanken, Vince Peranio or Joe Potts—but as usual, the noon-till-sunset competition was a highlight of the summer.
Peter still works—as well as traveling the world with Gina—and has written/produced several films, including Island of the Dead and Headless Body in Topless Bar. (Sue Lowe, a prolific painter, gained cult fame for her roles in Waters’ films: just a few favorites are Desperate Living, Female Trouble, Hairspray, Pecker and Serial Mom.) I don’t see many people who circulated in that crowd these days—sadly, too many have passed away—but at least once a year at a Christmas party we catch up on family, trade tech horror stories, and have a grand, if more sedate, old time.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1955