Two Big Posts Today

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, June 30, 2009

At day camp pickup yesterday, one of the instructors reminded me that we need to bring a white t-shirt today because the kids are going to make tie dye. When I remembered to tell my wife last night, we had forgotten that the kid and I turned every piece of plain white clothing we owned pink last summer during our own tie dye adventure. The neighborhood wig shop sells white tees, but they only carry XXXXL and above for that population of young dudes who seem to enjoy dressing like giant babies. So what did my wife do? She went down in the basement and sewed the kid up a white linen skirt for her to tie dye at camp. Then, when our friend called (a fellow Detroit parent in the same predicament, asking if we had any plain white shirts) my wife said, "Sure, I'll find something." Then she went downstairs and sewed the kid's friend a pair of white linen pants until midnight.

"So, tie-dyed linen pants, huh?"


"You are a true visionary."

Today my talented (and busy) wife has written a powerful post over at Woodcraft about the quilt she is making in memory of her stepfather. It's the longest post she's ever written there and I hope you'll check it out.

Also, we just brought home a painting I commissioned from our friend Kathy Leisen and posted it on the inspiration page. There's a video of Juniper there reciting the myth portrayed in the painting.

A few moments ago I held my baby in the rocker and listened to his murmuring around the mouth of the bottle. Every afternoon for over a year now I have done this until he falls asleep, at which point I set him down in the crib and creep out of the room. Today he just pointed towards his crib and said, "In." I put him down giggling and chattering, sure that he wouldn't be falling asleep any time soon. Still, I sat in the rocker next to his crib, reading a book, hopeful that my presence was at least comforting to him. A few seconds later he looked up at me and said, "Bye bye" while waving his arm.

And now that little boy is asleep.

Streets With No Name

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, June 23, 2009 | ,

This past winter, the snow stayed so long we almost forgot what the ground looked like. In Detroit, there is little money for plowing; after a big storm, the streets and sidewalks disappear for days. Soon new pathways emerge, side streets get dug out one car-width wide. Bootprints through parks veer far from the buried sidewalks. Without the city to tell him where to walk, the pilgrim who first sets out in fresh snowfall creates his own path. Others will likely follow, or forge their own paths as needed.

In the heart of summer, too, it becomes clear that the grid laid down by the ancient planners is now irrelevant. In vacant lots between neighborhoods and the attractions of thoroughfares, bus stops and liquor stores, well-worn paths stretch across hundreds of vacant lots. Gaston Bachelard called these les chemins du désir: pathways of desire. Paths that weren't designed but eroded casually away by individuals finding the shortest distance between where they are coming from and where they intend to go.

It is an urban legend on many college campuses that many sidewalks and pathways were not planned at all, but paved by the university after students created their own paths from building to building, straying from those originally prescribed. The Motor City, like a college campus, has a large population that cannot afford cars, relying instead on bikes and feet to meet its needs. With enormous swaths of the city returning to prairie, where sidewalks are irrelevant and sometimes even dangerous, desire lines have become an integral yet entirely unintended part of the city's infrastructure. There are hundreds of these prescriptive easements across neglected lots throughout the city. Click on the photo at the top of this post to see just a few of them in greater detail.
Desire lines are considered by many landscape architects to be proof of a flaw in the design of a physical space, or more gently, a sign that concrete cannot always impose its will on the human mind. But what about a physical space that no longer resembles its intended design, a city where tens of thousands of homes have been abandoned, burned, and buried in their own basements? While actual roads and sidewalks crumble with each season of freezing and thawing, Detroiters have taken it upon themselves to create new paths, in their own small way working to create a city that better suits their needs.

Academics around the world argue about whether the first paths were created by hunters following game trails. There are scientists who study ants to better understand highways. They have created mathematical models for trail formation. When the great cities were built, sometimes roads were built along ancient paths. The Romans imposed grids on every city but their own. In Detroit many of the streets are named for the Frenchmen whose ribbon farms stretching north from the river were covered in asphalt: Beaubien, Dequindre, Campau, Livernois, Chene. In many cities, there are streets named for dead men once revered throughout the land but now mostly forgotten (Fulton, Lafayette, Irving) and others named for men no one remembers.

In Detroit, there are streets no one has named. And they belong to anyone.

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, June 16, 2009

One of my law professors once pulled out one of those oldfangled CD boomboxes and played his son's new EP for his property law class. Some of the songs, such as "Girls Own Juice" and "Make Sex" upset some of the more stridently-feminist students, and this, along with the professor's tendency to call girls "Cupcake" made some of them wonder how Catherine MacKinnon ever managed to stand near him at faculty events. I just remember sitting there impressed that a father could be so proud of his son's rock jam about vaginal secretions.

That son, of course, turned into Andrew W.K. whose songs "Party Hard" and "It's Time To Party" you've probably heard in beer commercials or that Girls Gone Wild videotape you ordered in 2003. Mr. W.K. is well known for his piano-infused party rock as well as for always dressing like a house painter, but did you know he has a kid's television show coming out this week? It's called "Destroy Build Destroy" and the preview pretty much speaks for itself:

I guess building rolling robot bombs and facing down a tank are this generation's equivalent of getting slimed on Double Dare. I would have liked to have been there when Andrew W.K. asked these kids' parents to sign the liability waiver. "Yeah, after your daughter blows some shit up with a bazooka we're gonna drop grandma's Mary Kay car from a crane on the edge of a cliff, then we're gonna build some shit and blow it up then we're gonna PARTY TILL WE PUKE."

It's official: Andrew W.K., world's best babysitter.

I found about a hundred new urchin photos last night and some of them are really cool. Almost as cool as these girls with their folded arms checking out the dudes outside the factory walls.

You still have time to enter the contest for the free music player, just leave a comment on the most recent post before 3:00 p.m. EST and I'll update this post as soon as I use the random number generator to determine a winner.


Thanks to everyone for the hilarious comments. We only have one 1000-song player to give away for Father's Day, but they're sending us a couple more so we'll have another contest in a few weeks and give those away as well (hopefully with friendlier odds). Using the random time and date generator at we determined the winner of this giveaway to be the person who commented closest to 1:24 a.m. on June 11, 2009: Jennifer, from Bend, Oregon. I think Jennifer was one of the first people to read this blog in 2005. Glad you've stuck around all these years, Jennifer.

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, June 10, 2009

For the second time in a week I found myself this morning in the difficult position of explaining the concept of a 'douchebag' to a Gallic audience. Quel est le problème avec un sac pour la douche? I heard the lovely French visitor ask her friend. "You know," I say, "Like with a spray-on tan. . .or frosted tips?" Veut-il dire l'homosexuel? Oh, never mind.

* * * * *

I stopped in an Ann Arbor record store after doing the u-pick strawberry thing yesterday. I like this one because I can usually put the baby down to crawl all over the owner's mild-mannered black lab while I thumb through records and pretend I remember what it feels like to care about something other than the purported merits of child leashing. My son had so much strawberry juice streaking down his jowls he looked like a chupacabra freshly yanked from a goat carcass. The dog felt sorry for me and decided to make me look like a better parent by licking the juice off my son's face and I was all, What up, dog! giving him a heartfelt thumbs up.

The record store was crawling with college-aged hipsters and I had no business being in there. It has been many months since I even looked at any of the music websites I used to spend whole workdays reading before kids, scouring the net for much-ballyhooed upcoming releases and trying to schedule as many live shows into every week as possible. I don't have a demonoid account. I don't even know where to begin illegally downloading music anymore. So instead I buy Check Your Head on 180-gram vinyl, drop the needle, and lose myself in the soundtrack of my fifteenth year on earth.

In the record store, I gingerly clutched a couple re-issues of beloved old albums, and some hipster holding the new Dirty Projectors record looked at the vinyl in my hand like I was waving around my wife's dripping placenta. You'd better watch out, pal, I thought. Don't ever lose your sense of irony or fall in love and become enslaved by biological imperative. Keep smoking your American Spirits and wearing those sperm-killing jeans and maybe you'll get lucky and die a poetic death before fate ever transforms you into a sad sap with strawberry juice all over his t-shirt buying an album released before you were born. Then I brought my reissues up to the counter and faced that character even more intimidating than the judgmental-aisle hipster: the record store clerk, whose job-mandated scrutiny of your purchases is flavored by minimum-wage bitterness and followed by guffaws indicating failure, or, if you are deemed worthy, a gruff, "That album's pretty decent."

But this guys says to me, Do you still have any use for CDs, buddy?

Not really, I reply. I'm trying to replace my old CD collection with vinyl.

Oh well, he says. I have all these promo Dave Matthew CDs, thought you might want one.

Just then a flaming minivan pulled by hellhounds clatters into the store and a dozen shrieking hellwraiths wearing pleated khaki pants and tucked-in polo shirts grab me by each of my limbs and drag me screaming and howling into the everlasting hellfire engulfing their Town & Country which then drives into a vortex of writhing sinners venting the cackles of Moloch in Pandaemonium and the barking of hellhounds returning to the womb of sin to gnaw at her entrails. . .

* * * * *

There are more French visitors coming next week. Apparently the French appreciate me, the same way they like Jerry Lewis and the parts of animals that no one else wants to eat. I prefer to think they just get me, except, that is, when I'm trying to explain what a 'douchebag' is. Next time, I'll know just to point at myself with both forefingers, up and down, and say:


* * * * *

Sandisk just bought a bunch of ads on this site and sent me one of their tiny new slot radio music players to give away. Apparently it comes preprogrammed with 1000 handpicked songs in prearranged playlists so you never have to bother with record stores or downloads or iTunes. You might just find out what the kids are listening to these days. I will give it away randomly to anyone who comments on this post and announce the winner on Friday (for father's day). No comment requirements, but feel free to correct my French or call me un sac de douche vaginale.

Warning: anyone who defends a certain musician whose name rhymes with Gave Dad Snooze will be immediately disqualified (It still stings, you see).

This week's selection is the story of a girl and her doll, told in the earnest black and white photography that was a hallmark of the most terrifying examples of Nixon-era children's literature. I believe this book was published as part of a campaign by the Porcelain Doll Manufacturers Association to combat the prevailing belief that there is nothing more terrifying than a China Doll staring at you from across the room.

After their weekly visit to the zoetrope, Amy stuck her nose on the glass at C. N. Mackie's Magical Toy Depot while her mother inspected the crinoline cage she'd had repaired next door at Douglas and Sherwood's House of Hoops. "I simply must have a talking doll, Mother," Amy insisted.

"I'm truly sorry, Ma'am," the Victorian shopkeeper said. "But they won't make talking dolls for at least another fifty years or so."

"If my daughter desires a talking doll," Amy's mother said, "Then you will sell us a talking doll."

"Let me go in the back and see what I can find."

"Well Miss, they say this one talks, but from the looks of things her last guv'ness didn't like what she had to say."

"I don't care," Amy snorted. "Repair her at once."

"Yes, Miss."
"My name is Talky Tina, and I love you very much," the doll said. Children are meant to be seen and not heard, Amy grinned, lightly spanking its bottom as she walked away.

"This doll is indecent," Amy's mother said to the shopkeeper. "Dress her respectfully, something with leg of mutton sleeves, perhaps. And a cashmere shawl."

"Yes, ma'am."
"My name is Talky Tina," the doll said. "Will you play with me?"

"I'll play with you, alright," Amy whispered deviously as she left the store.

"My name is Talky Tina, and this is making me really uncomfortable, Amy."

When she tired of the game herself, Amy let the neighbor boy lift up Talky Tina's petticoats in exchange for half a pack of Beeman's chewing gum

"My name is Talky Tina. Please don't bury me under the rock cairn again."

"My name is Talky Tina and I'm afraid of heights. Please don't stick me in that tree with Silent Sam."

"My name is Talky Tina and I don't like this one bit!"

Amy just laughed.

"My name is Talky Tina, will you be my friends?"

"Silence!" Amy shouted at Tina. "Can't you see the adults are having a conversation?"

"My name is Talky Tina and I don't like figgy pudding."

"Well, you'll eat it even if I have to tie you to your bed and force it down your throat!"

In time, Amy stopped playing with her talking doll. "My name is Talky Tina, and I am lonely," she said.

Whenever she tried to speak, Amy throttled her good.

"My name is Talky Tina, and I love you," Talky Tina said to Amy on the swing.

"You're boring!" Amy shouted, and threw her in the bushes.

Talky Tina wept while Amy's former cat Mr. Fritz consoled her. "She used to put laxative powder in my tuna fish," he said while peeking his head under her petticoats.

"My name is Talky Tina and I will survive on the streets by selling matchsticks and picking the occasional pocket until I get my revenge."

One day, Talky Tina returned to Amy's house [cue creepy music box]. Now things were different. During her absence, Amy had begun treating Little Lulu the same way she had treated Talky Tina.

"My name is Talky Tina, and I am going to hurt you."

"That's right, Amy. Step right over to the edge, and just lean forward, just a little. . ."

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, June 03, 2009 |

"What happened?"
"Oharghwawww. Just stepped on another goddamn plastic Pegasus."
"How many does she have now? That herd is multiplying."
"Oh God, there's blood."
"Pegasus, what happened to being the winged-equine friend of man?"
"Just be grateful she's not into unicorns."