For the Memorial Day weekend, Dutch and I set only one goal: to sleep under a different roof from Juniper for the first time in her life.
Originally we wanted to go to New York or Chicago, but in the end we decided not to put that many miles between us and what we were pretty sure was going to be a screaming, hysterical toddler and a grandmother who figured she knew better than we did how to put our kid down for the night. The last time one of her grandmothers attempted to put her to bed, Dutch ended up driving home from my 10th-year high school reunion to find my mother bouncing Juniper on a yoga ball and sweating like Robin Williams at a Russian Schvitz. So we decided to play it safe and stay close to where Juniper would be sleeping---only about eleven miles away. It was more of a theoretical than real vacation.
After dropping Juniper off with my mom, we drove down the Blue Star highway to Saugatuck, a small vacation town on the Kalamazoo River with quaint shops and three bed and breakfasts for every winter resident of the town. We didn't stay in any of them. The ones that weren't all booked for the weekend were $300 a night and promised lovely rooms filled with carefully-chosen antiques and orange marmalade handmade by the cross-dressing septuagenarians who ran the place. I used to be a cocktail waitress in Saugatuck, and never have I seen so many men who looked like Nathan Lane (as the "mom") from The Birdcage and Robin Williams' hairy-armed Mrs. Doubtfire out on dates.
Instead of a B & B, we stayed here:
It was a few miles out of town situated between two trailer parks. Even though Dutch is a cheap bastard who loves just about anything from the 1950s, he was so skeeved out by the looks of this place that he made me get out of the car and peer into the windows of one of the rooms before agreeing to spend the night there. He kept muttering, "Alfred Hitchcock sure did ruin these little motels for everyone. They should have formed an organization and sued his fat British ass."
After convincing him that it wasn't Norman Bates but a nice Indian family at the front desk, we checked in. Then we drove back into town to have dinner. Here's how things went:
6:45: Enter Hoopdee Scootee. Walk around the store, gazing at penis shaped pasta and pink flamingo necklaces and ties made entirely out of rhinestones. Tell Dutch how much I loved this store in junior high, and how naughty I felt walking around it, but how it was always the first place my friends and I went. We bought a birthday card for Dutch's slightly-homophobic dad featuring about ten guys and their naked butts.
7:10: Walk all two streets of Saugatuck, scrutinizing the menu of every single restaurant. This is something Dutch and I have done whenever we traveled. We walked around the entire city of Rome looking at restaurant menus before we found one that satisfied him. It used to drive me crazy, but it happens so infrequently now that we have Juniper that I almost found it endearing. The one place we agreed on had an hour wait, so we put our names on the list and walked the two streets for another hour.
8:02: After being seated in the restaurant, we notice that our table has a tiny cup of crayons on it, and this makes us miss Juniper. Wonder aloud why we left her in the first place. Sappily agree how sweet she is. We order beers and dinner, and I check my cell phone every few minutes to see if I have service in the restaurant. I don't. Wonder continuously if my mom is trying to call.
9:00: Finish dinner, go outside where I finally have cell phone service again. The phone notifies me of a new voicemail. I listen to the message -- it's my mom, she sounds exhausted. She asks us to come home.
9:01: Call my mom. She says Juniper is "very distraught" and has been asking for us for 45 minutes, beginning when my mom tried to get her to go to bed. I ask her what she's doing now, since I can't hear any crying, and my mom says she's sitting with them watching Emeril. I have my mom put Juniper on the phone, and she says: "Hi Mama! What are you doing?" without a trace of tears or sadness in her voice. "Mom," I say, "Try again. She is fine. You're getting played. I'll call back in a half an hour."
9:05: Talk with Dutch about what my mom should do. He develops elaborate theories and strategies and encourages me to call my mom and tell her about them. I don't. We wait and walk and stew by the river and pass what seems like hundreds of little kids in strollers with their parents. Why didn't we just bring our little kid with us? Agree we should have gone someplace where toddlers are forbidden. Like a strip club. Or a gay bar. We end up in the bar where I used to work. They scrutinize our IDs. That makes the whole night worthwhile.
10:00: My mom calls again. Juniper is now asleep. After a boring Iron Chef re-run, she asked to go to bed, and fell asleep right away.
10:01: The night is young! Our kid is finally sleeping! Time for the all-night party to begin! We get in the car and drive to the liquor store. Remembering my love of blue drinks, I take a fancy to this and insist we bring it back to the hotel:
10:45: Take three sips, gag. Fall asleep a few minutes later.
9:17 a.m., the next day: Dutch wakes me up to tell me how late we slept. Success! Maybe next time we'll drive all twenty miles up to Grand Haven.
For the Memorial Day weekend, Dutch and I set only one goal: to sleep under a different roof from Juniper for the first time in her life.
It was recently announced that the old Fort Shelby Hotel, one of downtown Detroit's important abandoned skyscrapers, is going to be saved through renovation and reuse as a modern hotel facility. It will have 204 suites, 63 upscale apartments, and cost $82 million. The hotel hasn't been occupied since 1974. This kind of news is like a gasp of air from the lungs of a body already rolled to the morgue. It's a big deal.
In August 1967, my dad went to Detroit for the first time without his parents. He boarded a bus in front of the Kalamazoo Armory at about 8:00 p.m. and took the two-and-a-half hour trip across the state with a few dozen kids who'd all recently turned eighteen. My dad's low number had been read and he rode that bus with his draft card in his hand. Most of the other guys on the bus had already graduated high school and they had packed their bags not knowing whether they would be going right to their induction; they said goodbyes to parents outside the armory not sure of the next time they would see them, or if there would be any reunion at all that didn't involve a flag-draped coffin and a plain white cross off in a field somewhere. My dad was lucky: he still had another year of high school to go. The friends he'd grown up with that had already graduated sat next to him on the bus in somber thought all the way to Detroit, where they were to be weighed and measured and prodded to the army's satisfaction before getting shipped off to basic training. The bus was full of black kids, white kids, working class kids; all of them, for whatever reason, weren't headed for college. Dad understood his to be a temporary deferment; he had no college plans of his own and knew he would get hauled away as soon as he tossed his cap into the air the following June. Still, it must have been something to keep him sane on that long bus ride. They pulled up to the Hotel Fort Shelby at close to midnight.
By that night forty years ago, the hotel had already seen years of decline. 22,000 white people had fled the city of Detroit in 1966, and they and the many tens of thousands who'd fled before them took tax revenues, jobs, property values, property taxes, industry, and, in Coleman Young's famous words, "plain damn money" with them. That money, like the white people themselves, was resettling out in the suburbs in newer hotels, conference facilities, banks, shopping centers, office complexes, and factories built in places where middle class whites wouldn't have to interact with middle class or poor blacks. Walls were built to separate white suburbs and the black city. And all of this started before July 23, 1967, when Detroit's white police force raided a blind pig on what is now Rosa Parks Boulevard, expecting to arrest a handful of patrons. Instead they found 82 people celebrating the return of two Detroiters from Vietnam. They arrested everyone, and the resulting furor erupted into the most violent and deadly riots in modern American history. After thousands of federal troops finally quelled the looting and rioting, at least forty-three people were dead (most of them black), 467 were injured, hundreds of businesses had been looted, and more than 2,000 buildings had been burned to the ground. The riots received international attention. Alongside footage of the war in Vietnam, all over the world people watched soldiers in combat in Detroit, images of burning buildings, and M48 tanks rolling through the streets of a major American city, with the retort of sniper and machine gun fire. This cemented in the minds of millions an image of Detroit that remains to this day. 67,000 white people left the city in 1967. 80,000 followed them the next year. They just kept leaving.
In this context, I suppose it makes sense that the beautiful old Fort Shelby hotel would make an agreement to temporarily house thousands of drafted teenagers from across Michigan as they underwent physicals before getting shipped off to Vietnam. Who would book a conference in burning streets? Who would come here for vacation? Dad says the hotel was already a dump when they arrived, but it was far worse when they left. According to his story, those days in early August 1967 may have accelerated the Fort Shelby's inevitable decline as much as the 12th Street riots did for the city itself. The city those draftees rode into was still smoldering from the riots; the streets were empty and the salvageable buildings had not yet been boarded up. Here were boys about to go off to fight a war, seeing a city much like the ones their fathers saw in Europe at the end of their war: chimneys rising out of rubble, piles of brick and crumbling plaster; children wandering through blocks emptied of all their previous density. This was a part of the America they were going to be fighting for halfway around the world: an America that kept an entire race of people on slow simmer. Boys from Grosse Pointe might go off to East Lansing or Ann Arbor, but not Saigon; even rich kids without college deferments knew to provide the draft board with letters from sympathetic psychologists or physicians that would exempt them from service. Either way, they weren't at the Fort Shelby that muggy night, waiting for men who would sacrifice their flesh for some high purpose to decide their fate.
As they arrived they were told to bunk four in a room. Dad described to me the bedlam of the hotel's hallways. Room doors stood open while the boys inside rolled joints and discussed ways to fake various medical conditions the following morning. One kid insisted that sleeping with bars of soap in his armpits would ensure a high blood pressure reading during the physical. Another claimed pretending not to be able to piss when asked to provide a urine sample would work. Still others advocated feigning homosexuality or mental retardation. Things got really crazy when three entire floors of the hotel were flooded by guys messing with the fire hoses. Then they started throwing ashtrays through the windows and destroying the furniture. Almost everyone was drunk. Not everyone was crying, but they all managed to convey that sentiment one way or another. What could anyone have done to them? What worse punishment for these boys could there be than the fate already decided for them? Unable to sleep, my dad left the debauchery of the hotel and walked down to the river. Everywhere he looked there were other somnambulists of the draft, wandering the night in a city still reeling from battles in its own streets, walking along the river and contemplating the skyline of Windsor so close. Dad wandered like that all night.
Despite the riots, there were more buildings then. But my father, young and burdened by ancient thoughts, would have passed under and noticed some of the same ones here now: the Penobscot Building, the Guardian's deco pomp, everywhere the grandiloquent copper shadow of the Book Tower. I like to think of my dad walking these streets, ruminating hard on what fate his life would bring not far from the house where his son would one day raise his granddaughter. I myself have walked alone all night, but never burdened by thoughts that serious. I did it when I first moved to Dublin and knew no one and had nowhere to stay. I have walked alone all night in Manhattan. San Francisco. London. But I have never done it in Detroit. I try to tell myself it's more dangerous now than it was then, but my father did it while the city still smelled like hot charcoal in the rain.
At 5:00 a.m. the following morning, the temporary residents of the Fort Shelby Hotel were bussed off to the Armed Forces Entrance and Examination Station at old Fort Wayne for their physicals. My dad hadn't slept at all, but he says he was in far better shape than many of the other guys who were still so drunk they could hardly walk. When they arrived at the station, they were told to strip and put their clothes in baskets lined up against one wall of a large room. The way my dad describes it seems almost improbable: thousands of men wearing nothing but their socks and shoes lined up like cattle at a slaughterhouse, trudging from station to station, turning and coughing at one and pissing in a cup at another. In the room where they checked his blood pressure, the doctors asked my father to step aside and checked it again a few minutes later. Without telling him a thing, they ordered him to lie down on a cot in full view of the line of boys waiting to get their pressure checked. My naked dad sat there for an hour while the line of naked boys snaked around him, and when they checked his blood pressure again he could tell they were not happy. They told him they thought it was "white coat hypertension" and ordered him to spend another night at the Fort Shelby and come back for another physical the following morning.
He was crushed. When he got back to the hotel it was in worse shape than he'd left it the night before. The furniture in the room he'd been assigned was all broken. There was piss and vomit in the hallways. He spent the day walking around what he remembers as empty streets. Down by the river the draftees congregated, still contemplating Canada. But to working class kids without money or connections, the proximity of that welcoming foreign shore so close was just torture. Dad spent that night sleeping in the lobby of the Fort Shelby. He was too scared to go up to his assigned room.
The next morning, it was the same drill: 5 o'clock bus ride to Fort Wayne, clothes in a basket, standing in line wearing nothing but tube socks and sneakers. Some of his buddies had been classified 1-A and were already sent away to begin the induction process. Dad still had a Class I-S deferment because he hadn't graduated high school, but after his physical it was a full-blown Class IV-F "not qualified for military service" deferment. The hypertension required a more thorough physical, where he actually removed his shoes and socks, and then the examiners discovered the brutal scar from a few years earlier when he'd cut his foot down to the bone after stepping on a broken root beer bottle in a river. That was a story I'd heard before, about how the back part of his foot was hanging by a thread of flesh and how he'd looked at it and seen the bone inside. His brother rushed back to their house to call 911 and eventually Dad hopped halfway back himself, screaming and holding his foot together until the ambulance arrived. The lesson of that story had always been "be careful where you step," but the severity of the injury instantly disqualified him from military service. Perhaps two days of walking had aggravated the old wound. That night, when they put him on a bus back to Kalamazoo, he knew he would not be going to Vietnam.
He was dropped off in front of the armory at 3:00 in the morning, and rather than call his folks he walked the four miles to his house. My grandmother was sitting there with me listening to Dad tell this story for the first time the other day, and she was shocked to learn he did that. "You could have called," she said.
"I know," he said, but I knew why he hadn't. There is no better time to think than when you're walking late at night. And he had a lot to think about that night. Dad didn't go to Vietnam or to college the next year. He got a job at an auto body shop downtown and a few years later he met my mother. I know the story would be better if he hadn't carelessly stepped on a broken root beer bottle when he was a kid, an injury that did not prevent him from walking miles and miles through the night but might have saved his life. I know this story would have been more interesting if it were all about his adventures in Vietnam, shirtless like a Sheen in the jungle. I know there are plenty of others who have stories from that time more interesting and perhaps, heightened by tragedy. But if some jerk hadn't thrown a broken root beer bottle into a river in 1963, I might not be here. And that boring little detail seems very interesting to me.
Professional photographers were in our house for over eight hours today, standing under curtains behind giant architectural cameras taking long exposure shots inside our home. Juniper kept asking, "Who's that guy?" about men carrying heavy suitcases full of strobe lights and umbrella lamps and camera equipment that cost more than our house.
After those pictures of our house were featured on Design*Sponge a few weeks ago, we were contacted by the editors of a home magazine that wanted to do a spread on our neighborhood, including the interior of our house. This is a very fancy magazine that has annual design awards for "Best Bathroom Over $100,000" and "Best Bathroom Under $100,000." When they initially asked us, I said, "We wouldn't even win 'Best Bathroom Purchased Entirely with a $200 IKEA Gift Card'" and expressed concern that the art director would find our DIY paint jobs and marker-stained carpets appalling. Still, they said they were interested.
The thing is, the photos that led them here showed only four rooms of our house, and only six or seven walls of those four rooms. And I have a confession to make: behind the camera in every one of those shots was a pile of dirty clothes and other crap, and walls covered in wallpaper. Middle-aged-cat-lady wallpaper. There were entire rooms left out because they were hideous, like the bathroom with blood-red painted wallpaper that made you feel like you were peeing inside a giant, beating human heart. Because we didn't know what the magazine people wanted to take pictures of, we took it upon ourselves to get everything done before they got here, including stripping all the wallpaper and re-plastering the walls in the evil blood-red bathroom.
Taking down middle-aged-cat-lady wallpaper, while certainly frustrating, is also strangely fulfilling, as though exorcising from your home an evil demon who wears sensible shoes and lots of makeup and listens way too intently to gardening shows on NPR. In a way, it was nice to have the photo shoot looming, because it made us work hard and now the house feels done and we are happy with it and we no longer have to deal with a malignant spirit constantly trying to put extra-warm clothes on Juniper and switch the TV channel to Lifetime. "The mystery of the cross commands you!" we shouted. "The blood of the martyrs commands you! This house is ours now! Begone!"
Still, getting shit done these past couple weeks would have been a whole lot easier without a kid who has all these goddamn "needs" during the day, and a dog underfoot making everything even more difficult. One thing that drives me nuts about this dog is how he is always dumping some toy in my lap that he wants me to throw to him. We spend hours playing fetch in the park, but he has a one-track mind and constantly stands in front of me with a toy at my feet while he points and wags his tail and looks at me with eyes that are almost impossible to resist. He doesn't care if you only toss it a few feet, so long as you continue to do so for hours and hours and hours. I have been training him to stop. The only other shitty thing about the dog is that with the onset of 80 plus degree weather, he has started shedding. Everywhere.
Needless to say, I have been doing a lot of vacuuming. Luckily, we have a Dyson. I know it emasculates me to admit this, but I love it. Vacuuming with a Dyson is kind of like being a streetwalker with a heart of gold who gets picked up by Richard Gere in a silver Lotus Esprit. Sure, it's still work. But it could be a whole lot worse.
When we brought home the Dyson, the dog and the kid were terrified of it. They would both shriek and the kid would hop on the dog's back and together they would hightail it off to furthest corner to cover their ears and do breathing exercises until I was done. Juniper is still unable to appreciate the majesty of this vacuum, but the dog has outgrown his fear. He now follows me around the house, dropping his toy directly in the path of the vacuum cleaner, knowing it will get knocked away. He rushes a few feet away to retrieve it, then drops it right back in the Dyson's path.
While the dog did this as I vacuumed before the arrival of the photographers, it suddenly dawned on me that my wife wasn't the only one using James Dyson's masterpiece of root cyclone upright vacuum technology to make me her little bitch.
I took the bus for the first time since we moved to Detroit yesterday. I've always been skeptical of Detroit buses, I guess because everyone acts like there is no public transportation here so I just assumed the giant, hulking vehicles careening down Woodward Avenue didn't really exist, like ghost buses from a different era. Well today, I strapped on a proton pack and stepped aboard a 53 to head from Campus Martius up to New Center.
It turns out that riding buses here is even better than riding MUNI in San Francisco. In San Francisco I was usually stuck sitting next to some generic professional-type listening to his iPod. If I had the chance to eavesdrop on a cell phone conversation, it was usually pretty lame.
Today a large white girl with two scorpion tattoos on her neck sat down next to me. She was drinking one of those energy drinks that comes in a really tall can. Her overall scent seemed to have been made up of several strata of cigarette smoke and different types of inexpensive perfume. Then she answered her phone:
"I'm back, bitch! Yup, back already. . .Damn, I couldn't hack it out there! I am a CITY girl, man. . .No, I CANNOT adjust. . .you are not going to believe this shit: the gas station closed at eight o'clock!. . .What kind of a motherfucking gas station closes at eight o'clock?. . .I am a city girl and I need the streets to be OPEN and I need a fucking gas station. . .I roam these streets all night. . .Maybe if it'd been Inkster or somethin'. . .I was goin' crazy! I was calling all the time to see what's up withchu. . . Okay, so I'm having a party tonight. . .I'm a go to work now and see if I can hussle up a few dollars. . . You see what you can find. . .We gonna blow shit up tonight. . . . Alright. . . in-a-minute."
Apparently "in a minute" is the new "see you soon"? I like it. I think I'm going to start saying that. I also really like the idea that what defines a city girl is access to gas stations at all hours.
Until this girl boarded the bus, I was the only white person on it. And she chose to sit next to me, even though there were other empty seats, and even though we probably had nothing in common except for skin color. It's funny how people do that.
After my seat companion, my next favorite person on the bus was a chatty black man in his sixties. He was wearing a shirt depicting the actual bus we were riding -- a shirt that Dutch also owns. I knew it would make Dutch very happy to hear that non-young non-hipsters share his love of shirts that feature public transportation.
The driver of my bus was awesome. When three teenagers sprinted across Woodward to catch the bus, darting between the speeding cars and then jumping to the front of the line of people waiting to get on, the driver pulled to a stop and slowly rose to his feet. He walked over to the door and opened it himself, putting his hand up to the teenagers. "No," he said, "You clowns are not cutting in front of these folks." After letting everyone else board, the driver stood by the door and lectured the boys for at least five minutes on proper bus etiquette and respect for senior citizens. No one riding the bus minded the delay; instead, the previously loud bus quieted down (even the chatty bus-shirt man stopped talking) so that we could all try to listen to what the bus driver was saying.
I can't think of a profession that is more bad-ass than being a Detroit bus driver. I love this city. I'm taking the bus more often.
Yesterday morning, Wood woke me to say there was a dead bird on our back stoop. There was another one, she said, a few feet away. She thought the second was alive but injured, because it did not move away when the dog ran out the back door. It just stood there and looked at her.
"That happens sometimes when you live in a glass house," I replied. "They think they can fly through to the other side. I had to clean up two dead sparrows just last week." And then I went back to sleep.
After Wood went to work that morning, I went out back and found the dead warbler. It looked like it might have been killed by our neighbor's cat and presented on our shared stoop. A thin conga line of ants approached and encircled the corpse, all headed for the eye sockets and their gooey fluid. I scooped the bird up with a garden trowel and tossed it into the vine-shrouded ground beneath a lilac tree. I looked around the backyard for a second bird, but there was none. Lucky bird, I thought.
When we went to bed last night, Wood reminded me of finding the bird, and told me she thought it was a bad omen. She described the bird's nest that had fallen in her parents' backyard last year, and how they'd attempted to nurse and feed the chicks inside, writing her e-mails every day about their progress. Ultimately, she said, they died. And a few months later, her stepfather learned he had acute myelogeneous leukemia and their lives haven't been anything close to the same since.
"You're being silly," I said. "We live in a glass house. These things happen. Shut up with the Julius Caesar shit already and let me sleep."
But of course, my mind was now on fire with thoughts of doom. "The thing is," Wood said, "We make choices, and we can make good choices and bad choices. We control what happens to us," she said, and we tried to sleep with one of mankind's greatest philosophical debates raging in our heads. The sordid image of that dead warbler would not dissipate with other thoughts. "Sometimes, in the morning," Wood said, "The birds are so loud outside I think they are Juniper calling to me to let me know she's awake."
I hear birds hit our windows a few dozen times a day. Our neighborhood would be like a M*A*S*H unit for veterinarians wishing to specialize in avian head trauma. Whatever he was, Mies van der Rohe was no friend to birds. I believe in glass walls, I told myself, not omens or fate. Still, I remembered the thoughts I'd had while driving across the eastern plains of Colorado last August, while Wood and Juniper both slept, leaving me to ruminate on our move in silence. I imagined the Juniper who would have grown up in San Francisco; I imagined myself as a wealthy partner at the law firm where I had been working. All of that future was behind us now, and I felt the weight of it. I heard the voice of a teenage Juniper, like the narrator of a Terence Malick film, asking me why we'd done this, taking her away from such certain beauty and security, heading into the uncertainty of unemployment and the East. "What fate is this you've chosen for me?" teenage Juniper asked, the wind blowing through a field of Colorado wheat in slow motion. I still have no good answer. It is overwhelming, sometimes, to realize that every thing that happens in her life will have its source in the decisions I have made, and the decisions I continue to make.
This year we decided it was important to expose Juniper to a little bit more of her own culture, you know, so she could fully learn to appreciate it ironically. It turns out the totally awesome Dutch Theme Park is just the beginning of the celebration of Dutch culture in Wood's hometown: this past weekend we went to the annual "Tulip Time" festival in Holland, Michigan, a week where tulips line every street in varying shades of vibrant color and you see elderly women checking their mailboxes dressed as nineteenth-century Dutch peasants. At several points throughout the week, the streets are closed and people in Dutch costumes sweep the streets and dance. Despite a lifetime of resentment against the Dutch, Wood's mother bought her Dutch granddaughter the same style of costume she danced in when she was in high school (Isle of Marken). The festival usually drives Wood's step dad to extremes of curmudgeonity, but despite being in the absolute dregs of his third round of chemotherapy, he came with us to enjoy the fine weather and his granddaughter smelling tulips dressed like this:
We decided to start the day with a robust Dutch meal. Now, the only Dutch food I knew before Saturday was the pickled herring and pan-fried livers soaking in maple syrup that my Dutch grandfather frequently slurped down with gusto during my childhood. But for $13.50 I got a mediocre meal of boerenkool stamppot metwurst, groentesope met ballejes, saucizenbroodjes, croquetten and a raisin oliebollen for dessert, served by elderly methodists. One thing I'll say about the Dutch: their food looks exactly the same coming in as it does going out.
We then walked into town, where an appropriate welcome had been prepared for me:
The streets were already filled with Klompen dancers, with their wooden shoes and traditional outfits. The local schools have teams of competitive Dutch dancers much like normal schools have cheerleaders or field hockey teams. The parochial schools even have freshman and j.v. squads. Many of the performers came from homeschooling coalitions. I am so proud of my people. For some of them, even strict fundamentalist private schools are too liberal.
I know what you're thinking: this dude is totally wearing a wig. Nobody looks like that much like the kid on the paint can in real life! But that hair is very real. . . and she does.
This poor girl is thinking: "Man, I just know that asshole is going to make fun of my boyfriend on his blog. . ." I do think this dance move is exactly how Wood was tricked into touching her first penis.
Just as I was taking this picture of how pretty some Dutch men are, the wooden shoe this fellow was wearing went flying and hit some old lady in her eye. That was the highlight of my week.
I think the Mennonites come to Tulip Time just so they can look at all the Dutch people and say, "Jeez, check out all the weirdos!"
This girl is also wearing the Isle of Marken traditional costume. When I showed Juniper this picture, she said, "That's Juney when she's a big girl?" And I responded, "Only if I spend the next fifteen years feeding you a steady diet of fundamentalist Calvinism and saucizenbroodjes. Only then will you have the excuse to be this surly when I dress you up in that costume."
You know those signs from the old days that said,"No Irish Need Apply"? "No Wooden Shoes" is the modern-day equivalent for my people. And expecting you to buy something in order to use the toilet? How could they be so cruel?
The hardest part of our transition from San Francisco to Detroit has been how much driving we have to do here. My 2000 Volkswagen twice sat in our San Francisco garage over four months, and the battery died both times. I had to go down and ask the weird Chinese guys who lived beneath our stairs if they could help me jump start it. I loved walking everywhere. I loved buses. I hate parking. And traffic. And yet we moved to a metro area so dependent on the car that people here speak of pedestrians or public transportation the way one might speak of unicorns or the chupacabra. Metro Detroiters literally do not see pedestrians, perhaps because as part of their undying love for the automobile, they've shoved their heads so far up their own asses that they've simply mistaken the color of their intestinal tract for the burgundy interior of a Mercury Grand Marquis. With a child in my arms, I have had to learn to practice "defensive walking." Still, the other day a guy jumped out of his Navigator and told me he "ought to bitch slap" me for having the audacity to give him a dirty look after he almost hit me turning into the crosswalk where I was legally crossing the street. Wood frequently gets home to describe close calls of almost being hit on her walk home from work. I am less scared of thugs with semiautomatic handguns than I am of some girl from the suburbs text messaging while she turns onto the I-75 North on-ramp without realizing there is a human being there crossing the street.
I will admit I am a bit of fuddy-duddy when it comes to shit like texting. Back when cell phones were just starting to become widespread, I would sit on my porch in Ann Arbor and listen to sorority girls walking past having the most inane one-sided conversations I had ever heard. "Why do they think they are so important that they have to talk to someone while they are walking?" I would ask Wood. See, I do not like talking on the telephone and I would prefer no one ever called me. E-mail is okay, but I would prefer to communicate with owls, or telegrams delivered by plucky street urchins on bikes. Until recently, I would flip off every shitbird I saw texting while they drive on the highway. They certainly wouldn't see it, and it made me feel better. The thing is, I have been seeing so many people texting while driving that I don't even bother anymore. Wood has a co-worker who has been pulled over three times for swerving into other highway lanes. Presuming her drunk, the police let her go when they determined her sober. She has confessed to Wood, however, that each time she was texting. I don't get why anyone would want to write a text message while they drive. Can't they just call? Can't it wait? Are they that eager to prove Darwin right? Sometimes when I look over at a rusted-out mid-80s Plymouth Duster being driven by the kind of woman who gets discovered with six dozen cats in her house passing me on the right at 95 MPH while texting and I think, "Jesus Christ, every day I'm putting my life and the life of my child into the hands of someone like that?"
And then I don't drive for three days.
But there is also the whole other matter of the state of our car's interior. I drove down to Adrian to see my grandfather the other day, but when we went to lunch I made him drive separately because I was too embarrassed to let him sit in our car. Now that the warm weather is back, Juniper's pruno distillery is working overtime, and after a long Michigan winter that shit is going to be some cold-filtered genuine draft. This morning as we drove around the suburbs looking for something to buy Wood for mother's day, Juniper threw a fit in her car seat and I did the only thing I know how to do in that situation: throw her food and pray she shuts the hell up. But this time there was no food. I stopped at Donutville, USA and got her a glazed cake which quieted her down for about four seconds before I looked in the rearview to see her doing that pre-meltdown intake of breath with an exploded doughnut on her lap. It looked like someone had stuck the tiniest stick of dynamite in there. How does a doughnut explode?
I called Wood to complain, and while dialing came within inches of hitting a teenage girl jaywalking across the road.
I don't send readers to other deserving sites nearly as often as I should. A few weeks ago I started writing again for Weblogs Inc./AOL, despite the fact that the wounds inflicted by all those AOL-subscribing Wal-Mart defenders still haven't healed. The site is now called ParentDish, and part of my desire to return there was to use it as a forum to send some traffic to bloggers who want more exposure. I have only gotten around to featuring one site so far, and I'm now going to use this post to send you to that same one. And here's why:
Sometimes blogging can seem really lame. It is often rightfully criticized for what it is at its worst: a medium for unremarkable narcissists to prattle on about their favorite television shows or other prosaic aspects of their unremarkable lives. Nearly all of us "personal bloggers" are, from time to time, guilty as charged. It's hard for anyone to come up with something interesting to say nearly every day. But among the many personal blogs I know I can always visit to feel inspired by this medium, Sweet|Salty is the one that has most consistently captivated me. It is, perhaps, some of the finest writing I have encountered on a blog.
I don't mean to regurgitate praise. I am hoping you will visit the site today because something remarkable has happened to Kate and she is writing about it in a way I have never seen anyone do before. For several months, Kate (already the mother of a boy exactly Juniper's age) has been writing about expecting twin boys. Last Saturday, at the twenty-eight week mark of the pregnancy, Liam Stewart and Benjamin Peter were born, "after an acute case of twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome and a possible placental abruption." Liam weighed two pounds and nine ounces, but suffered most during the birth process. Ben weighs just two pounds. Both boys will be in the NICU for several months. These are all facts, and cold ones at that.
But beyond those facts, it is hard to imagine wrestling words from all the emotion and anxiety of the experience, yet Kate has been writing about it. This writing does not seem meant for us, though we can see it. I am not asking you to go read it because I think Kate deserves blog traffic (though she does) or to rubberneck beautiful tragedy and terrible hope. I simply think that what Kate is writing these days is important. I have long believed that what makes some writers great is the ability to imagine and portray the extremes of human experience with a grace that allows the rest of us to understand, to feel it ourselves, and know that even in the most extreme circumstances we are bound together by love, and empathy, and compassion. But what is happening to Kate is not imagined. It is not fiction. It is real, and unfolding nearly in real time and no one knows how it will end. In that way what Kate has given us and continues to give is more compelling and more powerful than any fiction. This is life in the present tense: a blog. And comments are open.
We might struggle with what to say. We might not have Kate's talent with words. But she is allowing us in, to become a part of her story, her community. So we might say something.
* * * *
The critics may be right. Compared to "real" writing, blogging is often lame. But I would challenge them to find me a real community made out of paper and printing ink, or anything at all like the unfolding life of this amazing woman able to distill such truth and remarkable beauty from the confusion of communing with twin sons through glass and wire as they fight with such ferocious strength to live.
Start reading here, but then go back and read the rest of the story.
Yesterday we were walking to get sushi and we came across a guy carrying an empty 5-gallon water jug. He also had an eyepatch. I knew Dutch was excited. He really loves people who wear eyepatches. But before Dutch could give me a knowing look, Juniper piped up in the voice she uses about 80 percent of the time these days, a voice best-suited for maintaining a conversation with howler monkeys in a crowded bar: "Look dada," she said, "That guy's a PIRATE!"
The man looked at us humorlessly. We shrugged. "Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" shouted Juniper at the stranger.
You all may think it's wonderful that my husband creates books teaching my daughter about ninjas who say "Hi-ya!" and Greek myths that I don't even remember. I'm really glad he's doing something creative with her, but I still have to deal with it. I have to try to figure out what she means when she says over and over, "Mama, tell a story 'bout you eat cheese," and I start telling her about how I ate a big old piece of smelly cheese, much to her frustration, until Dutch comes in to translate. "She wants to hear about Ulysses." Which is okay, but where do I start? I couldn't get all twenty years of that story straight when I was in high school. The cheese story was a lot easier. And funnier.
At least yesterday, when we walked in the front door of a fancy grocery store in the suburbs, passing a display of perfectly perched produce, Juniper cried in that same voice, "We're here to buy BEER!"
It's good to know I've taught her something.
This morning Juniper and I were walking around downtown and I thought it would be fun to stop in Greektown, where the signage contains enough mythology to fill another one of those damn books. She saw Pegasus, and Zeus, and then she sang a song about the matchbox car she was clutching in her grubby little palm. There is a cheesy little souvenir shop across from the casino that sells the exact same wares as the shops in the Plaka or any heavily-touristed part of Greece. We stopped in to look at the shelves and shelves of mass-produced gods and goddesses. The first thing we saw was a life size statue of Athena, and when I pointed to the head of Medusa on her Aegis and said, "Look June: Medusa!" the shopkeeper angrily hurled some words at me in a thick Greek accent. "Pardon me?" I said.
"That's not Medusa! That is goddess Athena!"
"Yeah, I know, but she has Medusa on her breastplate."
"No, No, no, that's not Medusa. That is Athena."
"Yeah, but Perseus gave Medusa's head to Athena. She wore it as part of her armor. See: snakes. Medusa."
"I am sold out of Medusa."
"But. . ." I then decided against disputing it any further. After all, you should never argue with a professional.
* * * * *
I have spent the last six hours trying to get this mythology book on lulu so that I (and anyone else who wants it) can buy one. I added the text as many requested, but it was an incredible pain in the ass to make it all fit in the lulu template. Now that the work is done, I can honestly say I am very excited about this book and I think the end product will be of a much higher quality than the last one. But it may be awhile before I do another one of these.
If you are interested in purchasing a soft cover printed version of the book, click here. Again, I am not making any money on this whatsoever---this project uses artwork that was not created by me, but by generous and anonymous artists who take so many risks to bring beauty to our streets. I will never accept money for any adaptation of their work. If you buy this book, you are only paying for the costs of printing it.
I am also adding the final versions of each individual page, with text, to a flickr set here.
This one is a bit self-indulgent, and reveals more of my nature as a true dork. But as I wrote a few weeks ago, I have been telling Juniper the stories of the Greek myths. And she loves them. Perhaps the greatest thing about staying home with her is that I control what culture she is exposed to. She is not in some daycare watching a Diego video in constant loop or listening to other little girls talk about Disney princesses and all that. There is a limited window where I can tell her what stories I want to tell her, and where she will beg to hear of Icarus, and Medusa, and Athena with her owl. It's not that I believe this will somehow make her smarter than some aficionado of Dora the Explorer, it's that I hate Diego and Dora and I am selfish. And I enjoy these stories myself unencumbered by the pressures of the academy. I don't have to find some deeper meaning, or translate anything. I can just enjoy these stories with her on a purely childlike level, like I did when I was young. That pure enjoyment was the whole reason I went into studying them in the first place (though the truly-geeky classics nerd in me may whip out a version of this book with the original Greek alphabet---finding images for the letters that did not exist then was kind of challenging). This book is designed to be a jumping-off point for the telling of myths.
I went with the graffiti again, not just because I was able to find so many street art images with scenes from classical mythology, but because I liked the idea of seeing myths not only explicitly in the art of modern city streets, but sometimes implied from the context. In ancient Rome, the walls in the city were covered in graffiti, public art, and images from history and mythology. So, it seems, are our cities, if you look for it.
B is for Bellerophon, who tamed Pegasus
C is for Cassandra of Troy, the seer
D is for Dionysus, the god of pleasure
F is for the Furies, who tormented Orestes
G is for the Griffins of Scythia, who guarded gold
H is for Helen of Sparta, whose face launched a thousand ships
J is for Janus, the god of doorways and change
K is for Kalypso, who kept Ulysses too long
L is for Leda, who loved a swan
N is for Narcissus, who loved his own reflection
O is for Orpheus, the father of songs
P is for Polyphemos, the Cyclops
R is for Rage, the rage of Achilles that sent so many Greeks do their doom
S is for Sisyphus, pushing his boulder uphill
T is for Theseus, who slew the Minotaur
V is for Venus, the goddess of love
W is for the Wiles of Ulysses, who designed the Trojan Horse
X is for Sphinx, who told riddles
Z is for Zeus, the king of all gods
If there is any interest, I'll update this later with a link to a lulu site where it will be available at cost just like the last one. I have two more of these graffiti alphabet books (animals and objects) that I am working on, both of which will be far more accessible than this one.