Posted by jdg | Saturday, January 30, 2010

In lieu of an actual post, a bit of self-interested promotion: there's a big weekend sale at 20x200 where every purchase over $40 gets a 20% discount. So two $20 prints would be $32 total, the $50 prints are now $40 and the $200 prints are only $160. If you were on the fence about picking up one of the limited edition feral house pictures (Number 7 or Number 13) maybe this is all it will take to sweeten the deal.

Enter the code "RIDONK" at checkout. If you're not interested in my stuff, there are many nice things to buy there and half of the purchase price goes directly to the artist. The sale ends at noon on Sunday.  2:00 p.m. on Monday, February 1.

I have an upcoming post about demolition, and I've noticed that many of the feral houses have been targeted within the last year, including Number 13 (which seems to be a favorite). It even had canal access and a boat slip out back, but now it's gone.

Also, I've donated one of the large prints of Everything is Going to Be Alright for a Haiti benefit auction that Kate Inglis and René of Fruity Fantastica have put together here. Starting bid is $40 and begins Monday morning at 9:00 a.m.

Smiling at the Apocalypse

Posted by jdg | Friday, January 22, 2010

The kid's birthday is in a couple weeks and after several days spent in the fetal position on the floor (more on that later) I recently found myself standing at a toy store deciding where I stand in the great yuppie parent divide between Playmobil and Lego, knowing that once the initial investment is made it's almost impossible to go back. The consequences of this decision felt dire.

Although I was a Lego kid growing up, I ended up going with Playmobil. The Playmobil universe has fewer annoying licensed versions and video games and there seems to be slightly fewer creepy Playmobil websites run by adults with way too much time and disposable income than what's out there for Lego. Further, I like how everyone from the anarchist g8 protester with a gun pointed at his head to the alligator that's about to get shot by a couple of rednecks in a hovercraft seem so happy and vaguely Scandinavian, like they're all fresh from the set of a Mentos commercial. Even the caged zoo creatures and performing circus animals have a pleasant air about them, as though living in miserable confinement or performing demeaning tricks at the crack of a whip somehow isn't so bad. Ultimately I was won over the by the historical collections, which would have you believe that life as a marauding buccaneer, medieval peasant, or imperialist legionnaire was all smiles, all the time.

* * * * *

Heading for the toy store was the first time I left home after I got back from seeing the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's apocalypse novel The Road. I think living in Detroit and watching The Road in the middle of January is not a good idea. It's basically two hours of watching the whole world turned into Detroit in January without any hope of the renewal of Spring (and with cannibal-run human farms instead of crack houses). I could have spent the last few days wondering what kind of global catastrophe would KILL EVERYTHING GREEN IN THE WHOLE WORLD but allow Viggo Mortensen to live, but instead I spent all that time revising my apocalypse notebook.  

I have had an apocalypse plan for as long as I can remember. Early on, things were simple: maintain a supply of canned food and potable H2O; travel before dawn; avoid the dirtbike gangs. When I got married, I added something in there about building a small gyrocopter to transport beloved wife above roving dirtbike gangs if necessary. Now that I have kids, the apocalypse plan is so convoluted and filled with contingencies I'm afraid when the apocalypse actually comes, following the plan is going to be like a group reading of Choose Your Own Adventure: Portents of Nostradamus at gunpoint, with the guns held by a group of burly Visigoth rapists circling us on sputtering motorcycles. I hope, at least, our food stores will last long enough that the Visigoths will have finally run out of bullets and they will be forced to shoot flaming arrows when we make our escape.

It has always seemed unfair that so many of the skills that will be really useful during Armageddon are not those that most law-abiding citizens ever learn: things like hot wiring cars and siphoning gas and digging moats that will properly retain foetid-corpse water. For years I have been quite certain that my last words would be, But you never know when you might need someone who can translate Xenophon! I have a feeling that whenever the apocalypse hits, a great many of us will be slapping our foreheads wishing we'd taken the time to learn how to fashion wrist crossbows or how to make a nice ragoût out of dog food. I, for one, will be sorry that I pussed out on the Tiger Cubs when I was seven.

I have looked on the survivalists, the millennial fear mongers, the peak oilers, and fundamentalist Christian gun nuts with some degree of sympathy. These are the people who will one day have to show us mercy if they turn out to be right, so it's best, I think, not to be too rude about their beliefs (sort of like extending Pascal's wager to those who have been stockpiling provisions and ammunition rather than worrying about whether their 42" inch plasma televisions are high-def enough or whether that bitch in accounting realizes these are real Louboutins). I've been trying to write this post for days but I always end up down the rabbit hole of survivalist websites and blogs, wondering whether my buckshot bandoleer is big enough, or admiring the ventilation system in someone else's underground bunker, or pricing hand-cranked grist mills. My wife will peek at what I'm doing and ask me, "Have you been watching The History Channel again?" For a cable channel that's supposedly all about history, it sure does focus mostly on its end (seriously History Channel, wtf?). Recently they had some show on called Apocalypse Man in which this asshole shows you how to survive in an urban environment after the inevitable global meltdown.  It was all filmed here in Detroit, of course, and he did some goofy parkour nonsense to get inside and install a radio antenna on top of an abandoned skyscraper I can see from my bedroom window. I wish the History Channel would stick to actual history make a show about how awful life was for the vast majority of people for hundreds of thousands of years so that if the apocalypse does come, at least we'll be able to say, "Hey, we've been through worse."

* * * * *

I was finally able to emerge from the funk caused by The Road after reading this funny bit in The Guardian. I looked at my own kids and thought, God, why bother surviving the apocalypse if these picky eaters will just end up killing me with ingratitude?

"Here, eat this delicious dried-out cicada husk."

. . .

"Sweet! A packet of duck sauce!"

. . .

"We might find some peanut shells in the dumpster behind that burnt-out Lone Star Steakhouse."

. . .

Either the ingratitude will do me in, or the inevitable whining when they realize there is no cheese pizza in post-apocalyptic Detroit. 

* * * * *

I stand before the Playmobil universe amazed at all the different scenarios, but wishing they made a post-apocalypse line. I imagine you could cobble one together between the pirates, poachers, police, city life, and barbarian sets: a blacksmith fastening armor from scrapped aluminum siding; a guy using a bicycle pump to pilfer diesel fuel from an abandoned gas station; a smiling family surrounded by guys in Viking helmets riding ATVs; even smiling urban farmers growing kale and raising goats to feed the rest of us. In the Playmobil apocalypse, everyone would be smiling.

With bifurcated fist gripping bifurcated fist, we'll get through this without complaint. We'll get through this together.


Posted by jdg | Monday, January 18, 2010

I am walking to the pizza shop in our neighborhood to buy a two liter of diet soda for two dollars when a homeless man stops me to ask if I've seen any bottles around. There are four inches of snow over everything so I nod towards the footprints I've just made and say not back there. He segues into a typical request for funds and for once I can tell the truth: I've only got two dollars in my pocket and I'm going to spend them over there. Still, I don't tell him those two dollars are earmarked for diet soda. On my walk back the two liter is cold and heavy in the waist pocket of my Barbour coat and he's sitting there on a park bench and I ask if he still wants bottles and he sure does so I tell him to wait there for five minutes. I walk into my warm home, past my wallet full of money without taking off my expensive boots (a purchase I justified because they were MADE IN THE USA), leaving a trail of snow from the treads and the cuffs of my jeans down to where we store the hidden shame of my addiction to diet cola. Getting to the store for the ten cent returns in our tiny car is often too much of a hassle so I let the empties pile up. I'm actually thrilled to hoist a garbage bag filled with at least a hundred bottles and cans onto my back and head right back out into the cold where I drop them at the feet of the homeless man. It's all Coke or Pepsi products, I say, none of that off-brand shit, so they shouldn't give you any trouble over returning those.

"What time is it?"

It is getting late. He doesn't thank me. I watch him calculate a route through the darkness and snow to the archipelago of bodegas and ghetto grocery stores that impose limits on how many bottles one man may return to deter men like him from returning anything for the meager cash this labor provides. There's a plastic bag wrapped around one of his ratty tennis shoes. The old man hoists ten dollars worth of aluminum and plastic onto his back with the promise of malt liquor or a hamburger or whatever the hell he wants spurring him away from me, and I can't remember the last time I felt this ashamed.

Our Rink

Posted by jdg | Friday, January 08, 2010 | ,

We were all by ourselves at dusk along the river, just a few blocks from home. We'd walked as far as the path would go, and there we saw a place where a field had flooded and frozen and I went out to investigate the ice: just a few inches thick, but wide and unscarred. I could smell memories: the inside of hockey gloves; inevitable hot chocolate. We came back the next day with our skates.

The boy is still too small for skating, so the poor thing had to settle for scuttling along in his boots, and those moments where I'd scoop him up and charge across the ice, setting his feet down to glide while he cackled.

No one hassled us; we didn't see another soul. We've gone to the public rink downtown several times, but with gangling teens learning to skate by gripping the boards and swinging their blades face-level to a four-year-old, this trespass was markedly safer. It's one of the benefits of living here: sometimes there's just nobody around to say you can't do something.

After an hour or so, the girl could have kept going, but the boy had fangs of snot and a strong case of not fair. The virgin ice was scarred with all our fun, and a thermos of hot chocolate waited by our boots.

Detroit murder mystery

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, January 06, 2010 | , ,

The Mies van der Rohe buildings in our Detroit neighborhood aren't tastefully lit; instead security lights shine outward all night, towards the grounds and sidewalks, brightening bushes and corners to deter would-be burglars, muggers, and rapists. Move along muggers, rapists: you'll find no cover here

With all this light, it's clear the neighborhood rabbits propagated well this year, their peppery coats even more obvious these days against the illuminated snow. There is almost always one out there at night, but even in daylight we see them. I also keep seeing possums, and twice that old raccoon. In the mornings, prints in the fresh snow hint at the exploits of this wild syndicate during the hours we slept. The dog, I think, sleeps with one eye open all night, watching their muscles twitch in the cold and dreaming of opened doors.

* * * * *

There's a blood trail in the park where I bring the dog each evening, right under the trees where he harasses the squirrels. As the neighborhood's self-proclaimed #1 menace to small mammals, I naturally suspect him. "What did you do?" I ask, but there's an innocent look to his eyes and the blood leads to the silent corpse of a small rabbit, pristine except for the cavity in its chest where all its slithery guts were yanked out in a hurry. The next day I bring the kids to the park and the body is still there, a bunnysicle, and we stare at it, speculating about the culprit. "Was it Wendell?" my daughter asks. "No honey, it was something else," I say, and we move away.

* * * * *

I get a call from one of the two saints whose townhouse shares a wall with ours and who suffer all our family noise. "Have you seen the fox?" he asks. He describes several red fox sightings. We saw him chasing something along the sidewalk; and we saw him a few days later on the other side of the neighborhood. I begin to ask ever neighbor I run into on the sidewalks, "Have you seen the fox?" Soon tales begin to emerge: I was jogging along the river and saw a pair of them standing out on the ice; I opened my front door and there he was, darting across my path. Finally, at dusk a few days later, I glimpse the little fox myself.

There's the culprit, I think, and wish him luck on further hunts. To a poultry farmer, he might be a menace. But here, in the heart of the city, he is a most welcome murderer.

* * * * *

I drop my daughter off at school and her classmates are not on the playground. We spot them across the street, in a vacant field wandering among the shards of a great fallen tree. "We saw a pheasant on the playground," her teacher explains. "We followed him over here." My daughter is unimpressed. We see ring-necked pheasants almost every day.

Half an hour later, my son and I are out with the dog for his morning walk, all bundled up, searching for fox tracks in the field not far from where I spotted him. We see squirrel prints; rabbit; Bichon Frise? We find suspicious paw prints under a female gingko, passing among the fallen fruit that smells like rancid cheese even at 20 degrees. I want to find his den. A couple of neighbors walk past, the same couple we see out there every morning, and I ask them if they've seen the fox. "No," the man says, "But look up there."

He points high in a bare honeylocust, where a massive red-tailed hawk is perched and curiously watching my toddler stomp around in the snow. A few silent seconds later, the bird swoops down out of the tree towards some distant part of the field, where he scoops up a fattened black squirrel in his deadly claws.