We still don't have internet access yet (damn you, AT&T!), and all the posts I want to write are piling up inside my head, bottlenecked with the many hours I need to spend catching up on the last month or so in the lives of all the bloggers whose blogs I just haven't been able to read since we left California. I would kill for dialup. That's just how hard up I am.
But the lack of internet access has meant Juniper and I have just been walking all over the city of Detroit. Juniper's at that stage where she really wants to run everywhere when I set her down, but she trips all the time. Even when her shoes are actually tied. A few days ago she tripped flat on her face on the sidewalk in front of our house, with ribbons of blood unfurling from her lip and onto the shoulder of my shirt, onto our hardwood floors and throughout our kitchen. It was her worst owie yet in a season of owies. She makes this face every time she falls or scrapes anything, however mildly:
It's almost funny now, but when I first moved to San Francisco in 2001, a group of teenagers attacked me on the corner of Buchanan and Haight, punching me in the mouth, and kicking me in the chest and head while I sat on the ground. The only injury that remained after I washed off all the blood was a cut on my lip not much bigger than this:
At that time, I tried to wait until Wood got home from work to wash off the blood, because I thought it would make me look totally punk rock. Unfortunately Wood went out to grab a drink with some of her colleagues and I ended up washing off the blood before she could see it, and all I had left to show from my big mugging was a cut about the size of Juniper's there. I ended up getting the sympathy I was looking for, as did Juniper, when her mother finally looked into those eyes and saw the injury to her lip and she held her close, long and long.
My wife spent her teen years in a place called Holland, Michigan, home of the annual "Tulip Time" Festival, a mysterious place called "Windmill Island," the original Russ' Restaurant, and reputably more churches per capita than any other place on earth. The local high school's mascot is the "Dutchmen." When Wood was a cheerleader she wore red underwear under her skirt that said "Dutch" in white letters across her ass. Wood's mother grew up in Holland, one of eight children in one of the few Catholic families in town. Wood and her mother both frequently dealt with blonde, blue-eyed Dutch Christian Reformed people telling them that they were "Catholic, not Christian." This drove them both nuts. When I first started dating Wood, her mom and stepdad would constantly make remarks about the "goddamn Dutch people" in Holland. It brought a secret thrill to me knowing that my mother in law's good little Irish girl was dating one of them. Wood's parents would have been so much happier if she would have just brought home a black guy. But finally I was the bad boy. A genetically-ingrained frugality and loads and loads of fundamentalist guilt may not be quite the same as a leather jacket and a motorcycle, but I worked with them best I could to appear a mildly dangerous Dutchman.
And now my mother in law's granddaughter is part them. Moo-hoo-ha-ha-ha.
In some ways though, I feel my mother in law's annoyance with my people is completely justified. I find repugnant so much of my forebears' fundamentalist Calvinism and intolerance. As I've written before, the Dutch people in western Michigan "left the Netherlands because the government was granting rights to Jews and Catholics and their church had grown too liberal. They are perhaps the only immigrant community in North America who left their native land because the government there had grown too tolerant for them." Sure there are tons of cool people in the Netherlands today, and I can't help but wonder if the country is so awesome because they shipped all their assholes off to Michigan in the last couple centuries.
But the Dutch in southwestern Michigan are not without their redeeming cultural institutions, such as the aforementioned tulip festival and, well, the restaurant with telephones on every table so you can call the kitchen yourself and avoid having to tip the waitress. But above all else, the mecca of Dutchdom in Holland is Dutch Village, a theme park designed to resemble a late-eighteenth-century Dutch town. At Dutch Village you can have a pair of "klompen" (wooden shoes) made for you, you can shop for Delft pottery, or dine at the Hungry Dutchman cafe. I have tried some traditional Dutch breakfast dish called balkenbrij, which turned out to be cow and sheep and pig's livers ground into a hash and fried on the griddle, and the waitress told me everyone she'd seen order it had eaten it with maple syrup. I'm sure it warmed the cockles of my grandfather's ghost's heart to see me eating that. That dude just could never get enough liver.
It does cost $10.00 to get into Dutch Village, but the website has convenient answers to the following frequently asked questions:
What are your admission rates? Do you offer any discounts on admission? What if it rains? Do I have to pay admission if I just want to shop? What is included in the admission price? Am I allowed to bring a picnic lunch?
Apparently these are the type of questions that Dutch people ask. Over and over again.
A little more than a week ago, we visited Holland (Wood's mom still lives there). I ignored the little Dutch boy on my shoulder and forked over that $10.00 without even trying for the AARP discount, so Juniper and I were able to spend an hour or so in Dutch village. Wood went wandering around the nearby outlet mall, but later she snuck into Dutch Village without paying. And I'm the cheap one? Well yes, because when she did it I was so freaking proud of her. I haven't uploaded photos in a week, so I'm just getting to these now:
I like the little Dutch boy on this bathroom sign because he's clearly got to go himself. Either that or he already has, and he has just filled his pants. Remember back when people "Dutch rolled" their pants? That's what's keeping it all in.
It's just like Amsterdam, without the hookers and pot. If Amsterdam was built on ten acres in the middle of a vacant outlet mall's parking lot next to a state highway downwind of a Wal-Mart.
My mom has an identical picture of me as a baby sitting in this same stork's bundle. As far as my parents were concerned, this experience was all I needed to know about how babies were made. It's the most we ever talked about sex.
The best thing about the southwestern Michigan is that there is mid-century Herman Miller molded fiberglass everywhere you look and nobody knows that it's cool. consider this wheelchair. I would practically chew off my own leg to get to ride around in one of those. It's an Eames shell chair on bicycle wheels with a footrest. It's like a Duchamp sculpture you can get pushed around in and you never have to worry about your next door neighbor ordering it from Design Within Reach. When I'm old I am totally moving to Dutch Village.
Since this moment, in all of Juniper's dreams, wherever she goes, she is pulled around in a little cart by a friendly dog. I have no doubt about that.
One of the attractions is the Frisian Farmhouse, which is a historically accurate farmhouse filled with old Dutch crap, like the nineteenth-century Bugaboo above and this Stokke Kinderzeat prototype:
It's like a little baby prison, with a pisspot you can change every four hours or so. Modern Dutch design could learn a thing or two from the past. It's really too bad that only the good folks at Graco are still in touch with the important concept of baby imprisonment.
In the background of this picture, you can see some old ladies dressed up in traditional Dutch costumes. Dutch Village is swarming with these old ladies. There are some younger ones too, and they all have real Dutch accents. In the farmhouse I encountered a young college student from the Netherlands who tried to tell me all about the traditional Dutch wares around him. Judging by his stoic performance, they clearly don't encounter a lot of visitors to Dutch Village who are there solely for the kitsch value. He was so serious with me, staying in character, that I started asking all these questions like, "Did you do something bad in the Netherlands? Is that why you're here?" and "Do the bosses make you sleep here?" That finally cracked his shit up. Then he had to go do this klompen dancing thing that totally made me lose respect for him. You just can't take a guy seriously when he's wearing giant wooden shoes.
This old pipe organ provides the music for the klompen dancing. Juniper stood there long after the dancing was over, tapping her palm and demanding "more, more more." I almost bought her some size 4 wooden shoes right then, I tell ya.
Here is a sculpture commemorating Pieter, the little boy who stuck his finger in the dike to save the Wal Mart, the Steak'n'Shake, and the Pier One Imports.
Just last night I stood at the entrance of Home Depot, taking in the acres of big-box rafters up above and the swarming orange-smocked associates hawking everything from circular saws to laminate floors down below, and I said to myself, "holy shit I am so fucked."
My friend and his girlfriend were over here the other night and he told me he "doesn't really get" this blog. I told him that was okay, that it was mostly about babies and parenting, and that when I was in his position (i.e pre-kid), nothing bored me more than having to encounter others talking about their kids' sleeping habits. That was pretty much true, but my feelings were still hurt. But last night, when I stood looking at all those aisles of drywall and window treatments and power tools I realized that with the purchase of our new home this week we had joined another unique species of American known as the homo domiciles onerous. All through those blissful days of renting I looked forward to the day we'd own our own home, not knowing that owning a home would involve things like outdoor lighting and being responsible for your own toilet when it breaks. At Home Depot we quickly discovered that there was a whole new dialect we needed to learn, words like spackle and primer and subfloors and moldings. "Do it yourself" took on whole new dimensions. It even has a television network, apparently. The cable channels (yes: we have cable now, but no internet yet) are clotted with shows about renovating your high school math teacher's bedroom or tattooed homosexuals discussing how to arrange your furniture. Over the years I have listened stonefaced to dozens of friends talk about what a pain in the ass it was to paint their walls ("how bad could it be? You had rollers, damn it," I thought), but Wood and I have just spent the last two days painting half our walls and goddamn now I understand, people. Jesus, I understand now why I have had to listen to and read your tales of rolling down two layers of radish paint in your rumpus rooms and bosphorous pink in your nurseries. You needed to talk about that shit, just like you need to talk about what a pain in the ass it is to have a kid who won't sleep. I understand now.
Wood's stepdad works for Sherwin-Williams, so he and her mother gave us a wonderful housewarming present of four gallons of top-quality paint, all the necessary supplies, and a toolbox full of tools. My parents visited our new house yesterday for the first time and showed up with a housewarming present I could have done without: my dad filled his truck with everything I'd accumulated in 18 years of living under their roof, including six giant tubs filled with worthless late 80s baseball cards, and he dumped them off on our stoop. It was as though he'd said, "well, he's got his own house now, so let him store all this crap." I wanted to scream at him, "Dad we moved back to this state so you could be closer to your granddaughter, and you thank me by clearing out my old room so you can store more of your hood ornament collection in there?" Doesn't he realize parents are supposed to throw away baseball card collections so that kids have one more thing to talk to their therapists about? The only silver lining here is that I found my old Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammel Starting Lineup figures. Juniper will soon be using them to imagine some spectacular double plays. As soon as she stops calling them babies and making them kiss each other.
None of our actual furniture is here yet, but we do have sixteen tubs full of crap like my eighth grade Iowa test scores and loose condoms that expired in 1998. We also won't have a high-speed internet connection or a phone line until the eleventh, so I am going crazy not being able to keep up with blogs. But Detroit is awesome, and things should be back to normal around here fairly soon.
Juniper still needs a bed, so today we are tackling the third and most daunting member of the big box triumverate. Having survived Wal Mart and Home Depot, today we take on the great blue and yellow menace from the north: IKEA.
Who needs pinsetting machines at the bowling alley when you an pay urchins 2 cents an hour to set the pins for you?
We are in Detroit, we have keys to our new home, and Wood and I are just overwhelmed with how beautiful the area is where we are living, and how cool it is to have an entire house to ourselves. There have been these two monarch butterflies floating around outside our front door since we moved in. We have to wait a few days for a real internet connection though, so I am writing this not from our home but from the middle of a vacant lot, the only place I could pick up an unsecured wireless connection. Picture that: a white guy standing in the middle of a vacant lot in downtown Detroit typing on a laptop. Consider that image a symbolic middle finger to all the people who said we were crazy to move here.
We don't have any furniture yet, but we still somehow managed to entertainment two old friends last night until after midnight, opening three of our best bottles of wine to celebrate the occasion. Then they rode home on their bikes. We spent part of the afternoon visiting other friends in Dearborn, and we stopped at the Target there for dishwasher soap and laundry detergent to celebrate our ownership of such appliances for the first time in our lives. I have been running the garbage disposal just for fun. I have never had one of those either.
Oh, and we live less than 50 feet from a playground. The only bad part of living less than 50 feet from a playground is that Juniper won't shut up about going to the "wees." And when seven o'clock in the morning rolls around and you've got a bitch of a hangover, and she knows there's a playground less than 50 feet away, do you think she's going to let us sleep in on our first morning in our new house?
We are setting bad precedent. She had already been to the playground at least 15 times. I guess all I need to do is set up a wireless connection that reaches the playground.