For months we'd heard rumors of a white, winged horse galloping in the winds above Detroit, but only recently did we spy her ourselves.

We followed a trail of tiny, floating feathers and found her in an ancient temple high up in the mountains, where we also met her friend: a fierce and mighty Griffin cub (chick? chub?), guarding his cache of golden chocolate coins.


Posted by jdg | Thursday, October 29, 2009 |

I can tell the season has officially tipped from the purr of traffic on the highway when I open the back door; millions of honey locust leaves that absorbed that sound all summer now hide the grass, leaving the sidewalks so covered that a nearsighted man might confuse them for paths of gold. The tiny leaves slink under the door and stow away in cuffs, in the tread of boots and in between dog toes. I find the cadmium-colored blades in my daughter's bedsheets, in the bathtub. Tonight I read her Keats at bedtime and she was asleep before I finished the second stanza. I continued with the third (what's the difference?) and thought about the song of SUVs on a highway, and the squirrel who'd cursed at me an hour earlier. . .

There is still a kinship with the dog, that anticipation for my wife to get home so we can both be free of their kid smells: tapioca; apple skins; urine. When we get to the edge of the park we scan it for pedestrians and other dogs. If the coast is clear I release him from his leash and he dashes towards the nearest squirrel (obliviously gathering nuts) and he tosses that fucker a few feet in the air with his snout before it recovers and scrambles up the nearest tree. He's never killed one: it's a game. He will bark ferociously and sometimes climb up after it, circling a tree twice before taking off towards the next oblivious squirrel. This may sound cruel but the critters in our neighborhood have it easy, with so much parkland and so few roads, they grow fat on the fruit of exotic trees and still have the nerve to dig up our tulips and usurp the birdfeeder. Some neighbor even scatters bread around the bases of trees for them. I figure they need a bit of terror to toughen them up should they ever encounter the squirrels from other Detroit neighborhoods with eye patches and festering bullet wounds who subsist entirely on a diet of discarded menthol filters and chicken bones.

This afternoon, we were out in the park and the dog disrupted some gray squirrel's incessant winter preparations and apparently really pissed it off. . .or maybe this one went for a snout ride last week. . . or perhaps he saw himself as some kind of squirrel Gandhi or something, because he sat on a low limb and started yelling at us. Now I don't speak squirrel, but I know the inter-species language of go fuck yourself, you motherfucking cocksucking motherfuckers when I hear it.

Being incredibly immature, I naturally threw a stick at it.

The squirrel scampered back towards the trunk and climbed up to the next series of branches and started mouthing off even worse. I chucked another stick up at him and he climbed higher while continuing to berate us, flicking his tail in what must be the squirrel equivalent of the Sicilian chin-flick. By this time I experienced what most powerful adversaries feel when facing the improbable bravery of a powerless foe: my confused anger turned into admiration. He was the Chinese guy and I was the tank. He was Spartacus and I was the guy who gets Tony Curtis sponge baths. I almost wanted to buy the little bugger a bag of pistachios and give him a high-five.

But instead I hid behind a tree and unleashed the dog as soon as the rebellious rodent climbed down out of his tree. "Give him a nose job, boy," I muttered under my breath. That'll teach him.

[While not harassing squirrels, we have been working feverishly on the Halloween costumes; pictures tomorrow]

Four Rooms

Posted by jdg | Friday, October 23, 2009 | ,


Posted by jdg | Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I got a great freelance job out of the blue the other day and spent that evening with a security guard hired by a Detroit neighborhood association to patrol its streets at night, responding to resident safety concerns because the police don't. When I meet him he is obviously wearing a bulletproof vest. After stories of crackheads stabbing him with screwdrivers and evicted tenants setting fires in alleys, we fall into a customary silence. Most nights are long and dull, he admits. I consider asking if he ever listens to books on tape, but then think better of it. "Is this what you do?" he asks. "You're a photographer?"

"No," I say. "Not really. I don't have a job right now. We have two kids and I take care of them."

The air softens. "Playing Mr. Mom? I did that for two-and-a-half years, after I lost my job." We talk about the ups and downs. His kids are the same ages as mine. "I miss it," he says. "I'm working two jobs right now. I haul concrete for a waterproofer all day, and I have a couple of these twelve-hour shifts a week." When does he sleep? When does he see his kids? When does he relax? Whenever he can, "which ain't often."

I don't tell him that I went to law school, or quit a good job on purpose, or moved to Detroit because San Francisco seemed too nice. All of these things that seemed to make so much sense suddenly sound so ridiculous. Instead I wear a mask. I pretend like we actually have something in common, which of course we do (and all that truth would just get in the way of it). "I was working at a brake plant before they moved it to Mexico," he says. "I was earning $25 an hour and I thought I was going to do that till the day I retired. Now I got these two jobs and I'm lucky to have them. Still we just can't seem to get ahead."

What would he say if he knew the truth? Someone once commended me for the sacrifices I've made. But, I think, I'm so privileged I don't even know the meaning of sacrifice.

This is the book I read my kid when she won't brush her teeth. 


Posted by jdg | Thursday, October 08, 2009

[That's September 2006 on the left; September 2009 on the right. Couldn't find the original doll, so we brought the creepy gray-haired wooden doll from Sweden that my son lovingly calls "Mr. Nack." He sleeps with that horrible thing.]

It hit me not long ago that I've been at this for three full years. Any hope that I might have once maintained of resuscitating my career as an attorney is long gone, and I don't even care. I used to imagine how I'd explain my choice to a recruiting committee, but now I can't imagine doing anything but shrugging and saying I wouldn't hire me either. The kid on the left of the picture above is now in school six hours a day, several days a week. The one on the right is the same age as she was when I quit my job and we started this little adventure. In three years, though, he'll be as big as she is now, and she'll be in school full time then. What will I do to justify myself?

I guess this knowledge makes our mornings special: his sister gone, her absence a reminder not only that this is our time, but that our time together is finite and that soon he'll start that slow separation and find other hands worth holding. See, every morning we walk the dog together and he holds my hand and I can't even attempt to articulate how much that means to me without feeling goddamn tears at the edge of my goddamn eyes. Goddamn. He scurries alongside me at a rifle pace, stumbling from time to time into an awkward arc back to flat feet. Whenever he falls he comes looking for hugs, and even when he doesn't fall and I ask him for one, he runs to me with his arms out. How long before he's too big for that? Paul Bowles once wrote, "Everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless." I look at him sometimes and sense that limitlessness; he seems so unformed still, a chaotic universe still coming to terms with the infinite. But then I remember how limited my moments with him actually are: that hand reaching for mine along a craggy sidewalk; the leap from a tree into my arms; the repetition and recognition of words he'll only learn once.

Even the diaper changes are finite, I think, as he straddles a plastic throne, no different from the sleepless nights after he was born. It's not all bad. Indeed their developments are what make this experience so joyous. And I don't mean to whitewash how tedious things can be. But as tedious as they can be, I don't have the nerve to complain. I could annoy this kid for the next sixty years or I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. I respect either possibility.

Was there a time when I was even interested in bigger things? I could sit with him for an hour under a tree while he digs up bugs and tells me over and over that they are bugs. He loves creatures that howl and roar (and he loves showing me that he, too, is such a creature). If I pick up a book, he moonwalks into my lap. He is a patient audience, and even if we don't have a book with us I can recite his favorite from memory, and when I am done he touches my lips and says, "More."

What did ambition feel like again? It can't feel this good.

One More. . .

Posted by jdg | Sunday, October 04, 2009 | ,

(As long as I've got the scanner set up). Look at those ears! I tried to catch this pup to bring him to the humane society, but he already had too much wisdom of these tough streets, and shied away.

I am officially out of polaroid film now.