Jim likes to go around taking pictures of every piece of broken stained glass in every abandoned church window along with every strand of ivy overtaking decades-old graffiti. This is Detroit, so he has a lot of ground to cover before he'll ever be done. He could drive around all day every day for months and not run out of subjects for his camera.
He usually brings the dog, who loves these photo trips, because most of the vacant buildings smell like various types of pee and there are always at least fifteen different ways for him to get absolutely filthy. They usually do this during the two-and-a-half hours that Juniper spends in preschool, but occasionally she'll go along for the ride when they are going to an area that's not all that dangerous. I find it hard to believe he's willing to drag her along, because I know exactly what a pain she can be in the car. The other day, he called while they were out driving through the neighborhood of Detroit known as Delray, a strange-smelling little area of abandoned storefronts and homes along West Jefferson Avenue right before the River Rouge separates Detroit from the downriver suburbs. Unlike most of Detroit, Delray has an array of ethnicities clinging like mollusks to a neighborhood constantly encroached upon by industry and blight. There are gorgeous old Hungarian and Polish churches floating on islands surrounded by shit-filled sewage-treatment ponds and meticulously-maintained homes with chicken coops in the back yard. It is beautiful in the way my husband finds things beautiful, which is to say that most people would think it tragic, or sad, or just downright depressing. But he loves it.
From what I understand, Jim got Juniper to behave quite well during this drive by promising to take her to the toy store when they were finished. When he told me this on the phone, I was confused. What toy store? There aren't many in Detroit, and certainly none in Delray. I don't think you can buy anything in Delray except for lung cancer and malt liquor. "You're going to the suburbs?" I asked.
"Nah," he said. "I'll just stop by the Salvation Army on the way home. She thinks it's a toy store."
He is pretty proud of that, I can tell. He spoils her, in his own way: he lets her buy whatever $1.49 piece of crap she latches onto after playing with every single gooey, germ-ridden broken plastic toy that has been thrown away by children who weren't sired by mangy, over-educated Dutch ex-lawyers with a thrift-store fetish. To this day, Jim will buy a pair of pants at the thrift store and wear them for weeks before washing them, something he's done since high school. It's a wonder he doesn't have scabies.
When I got home from work that day, Juniper was still napping, and Jim showed me some pretty cool pictures he'd taken. When she woke up, I discovered the toy she'd chosen: a somewhat-tattered naugahyde heart attached to a little basket carrying a stuffed bear. It read: "HEART-AIR BEARLOON."
It was clearly a cheap valentine's day gift some guy bought for his girlfriend at the Hallmark Store back in 1992, probably right after he bought her a box of Fannie May chocolates. But, as with anything cardiovascular, Juniper grew attached to it immediately, and at the end of her nap I found her adorable little cheek resting on it.
"Jim," I yelled, "What is this THING she's sleeping on?"
"Oh, that's her new heart-air bearloon. She could have had one of those trikes with the handle on the back, but she wanted that."
"It looks like it has HIV on it."
"Yeah, I was going to wipe it off with one of those antiseptic wipes, but I forgot."
"She's using it like a pillow."
I've heard some wives of stay-at-home dads have anxiety about not being as needed around the house. Not me, I thought, as I scrubbed that damn heart she's since slept on every night for a week. I'm as necessary as ever.