“I don’t drive into the city…”

 

I recently attended a work-related event in Plymouth, a charming and quaint little burg located about halfway between Detroit and Ann Arbor. The event consisted of a dozen or so upper-middle-class white women meeting for tea and to discuss a chosen topic, “preservation”. I was contacted by the group’s leader and invited to share product samples and talk a little about my business. Others read poems, shared family stories or talked about their work restoring old homes. It was a nice event, if not really my thing, and the women were very sweet and friendly and supportive. But when I invited them to visit my place of business, I was taken aback and dismayed by how many of them replied sweetly, “Oh, I don’t drive into the city…” as if that were a totally normal excuse.

Wait, what?! These women seemed educated, and while “cosmopolitan” might be a stretch, they certainly weren’t the MAGA red-hat-wearers that I typically associate with fear of the city (Macomb county, I’m looking at you). The one who restores old homes was dressed very stylishly, in striped wide-legged pants, a turtleneck and a cool vintage beaded necklace. She looked like she could have been a board member (or major donor) at the DIA. Another was around my age and was also an entrepreneur in the same sector as me. To her credit, she actually did come visit and meet with me to talk business, but was perceptibly on edge about the drive, almost canceling at the last minute because of a light snow.

I really wish I had responded to them with, “Oh, really? Why is that?” I think some of them were literally just scared of driving in “big city traffic”, but obviously that wasn’t the whole story. I’m kicking myself for the missed opportunity to enlighten people that Detroit (especially any of the parts these women would set foot) isn’t some scary lawless place where criminals roam the streets with assault rifles waiting to rob, carjack or shoot any visitor (read: white person). Not to sound naive, but I honestly thought those anarchic, post-apocalyptic stereotypes were limited to certain subsets of Macomb and far Oakland counties (and others from farther afield who have never been here and don’t read anything about what’s actually going on.) It was pretty depressing to realize just how far we still have to go with the city’s public image when “educated” people who don’t even live 15 miles from the city limits are scared to come here.

Of course many of my fellow Detroiters would say, great, we don’t want those people here anyway. And while I personally wouldn’t mourn not having to share space with sheltered bougie suburbanites, the reality is that bodies equal dollars, and Detroit can use all the dollars it can get. I can hear the argument already–that those visitors would only spend money at businesses in downtown and Midtown, not the neighborhoods. That may be the case, but if some of that money is then used to pay the wages and salaries of residents, who may in turn spend money locally in their neighborhoods, I still think it would be a net positive. The more the narrative changes (i.e. “I went to Detroit and visited all these cool places and there were people of diverse backgrounds all hanging out and I didn’t get shot…”), the better for everyone, and we can continue to dispel the ugly clichés of the sort you see in the comments section of any article in the Free Press.

I realized the other day that this summer will mark 20 years since I moved here. As someone who has the ability to move amongst and relate to people from many different socioeconomic strata (I grew up in a suburban area and have a college degree, but I am also a low-income city-dweller), I have an opportunity to exert positive influence when I encounter skeptics or outright critics. Next time someone tells me they don’t come to the city as a rule, I’m going to do better to tease out of them exactly why not, and to give them a different perspective.

cast hexagram 47

Three weeks ago my marriage officially ended in a courtroom downtown Detroit, in a surprisingly sun-filled room on the 18th floor overlooking the river and Windsor, just a scant couple of blocks from where it began. Below is my I Ching reading for that week. I’m happy to report that I followed the wisdom therein, biting my tongue, knowing that all the words I wanted to say would fall on deaf ears and only make me feel worse. (Anyone who knows me will know what a challenge it is for me to hold back when I have something I want to say, so I was particularly proud of this achievement.)

Also as advised, I espoused cheerfulness; I’m a strong believer in the fake-it-’til-you-make-it school, and I find that the more you act like you’re fine, the more it takes hold and becomes genuine. I never in a million years thought I’d be an advocate for what I probably would have deemed phoniness at another stage of life, but age and experience have made me see things in less black and white terms. Today, the cheerfulness almost feels real, and it gets a little realer each day.

The lake is above, water below; the lake is empty, dried up. Exhaustion is expressed in yet another way: at the top, a dark line is holding down two light line; below, a light line is hemmed in between two dark ones. The upper trigram belongs to the principle of darkness, the lower to the principle of light. Thus everywhere superior men are oppressed and held in restraint by inferior men.

THE JUDGEMENT

OPPRESSION. Success. Perseverance.
The great man brings about good fortune.
No blame.
When one has something to say,
It is not believed.

Times of adversity are the reverse of times of success, but they can lead to success if they befall the right man. When a strong man meets with adversity, he remains cheerful despite all danger, and this cheerfulness is the source of later successes; it is that stability which is stronger than fate. He who lets his spirit be broken by exhaustion certainly has no success. But if adversity only bends a man, it creates in him a power to react that is bound in time to manifest itself. No inferior man is capable of this. Only the great man brings about good fortune and remains blameless. It is true that for the time being outward influence is denied him, because his words have no effect. Therefore in times of adversity it is important to be strong within and sparing of words.

birthday came early

I’ve just spent Christmas with my family, but this was a Christmas of many years ago- only my parents and siblings, no spouses or children. My mom announces that one of my grandparents has just died, but which one? Hadn’t they all passed away already? We discuss this, and conclude that they in fact have.

Although I know it’s winter, the weather is as mild as a spring day. It’s my birthday, or the day before maybe, and I’ve made no plans. So I wander in search of something to do; a little companionship. I cross through a field where someone is inexplicably walking a dolphin on a leash; occasionally they throw a bucket of water on it. My dog sniffs it for a moment and trots onward. I pass by other relatives in town for the holidays and wave hello, but don’t stop to make small talk.

I make my way into my city, which has, for my purposes, become walkable from my childhood home, and just walkable, period. Places that are miles apart are suddenly and conveniently clustered into one fun neighborhood. Strolling past all of my usual haunts, whose windows twinkle invitingly with string lights for the season, I think of guys I could call who would take me out for a birthday dinner, and we’d have a nice time. But of course I don’t want nice–I want Him.

I end up at a house party and suddenly it’s morning and there he is, outside on the patio, sitting expectantly as if waiting for me, despite the fact that we haven’t spoken in ages. As usual, I’m displeased with him for some perceived minor infraction and begin to chide him. But as usual, his physical presence washes away my annoyance like chalk in the rain, still perceptible but illegible and without consequence. He silences my faltering complaints with a kiss and we latch on to each other like long-lost lovers.

We make our way through the city this way, joined, and although he is twice my size, somehow I am carrying him like a child. I ask where he wants to go and he says, “my house”. So we go, and there is a party happening; a birthday, but not mine. His place has expanded and there are rooms upon rooms to go through to get to his chambers, but at last we arrive. Someone has left us slices of cake, and I gleefully exclaim that we’ll eat it in bed. We have to chase some children out of his rooms; the last one to go is a very small toddler who has just learned to walk and whose footsteps shake the wooden floors like thunder as she runs out.

After dispensing of all the interlopers I return to him and to our kiss. He now tastes of liquor… a hidden flask? I’m stone cold sober and want to ask for some, but don’t; it’s morning, after all, and besides, this kiss is the main thing. Our tongues reach deep, searching for each other’s souls, or maybe intestines. I could go on in this moment forever, but I know it’s not to be.

I awake, and immediately want to crawl back into the cocoon of this dream. Coiled in the warmth of our imaginary embrace, I slowly and regretfully shake off sleep, knowing that the best part of my day has likely already occurred. But although it was just a figment, the kiss is now a shiny coin that I’ll keep in my pocket, absentmindedly rubbing for luck and secretly smiling.

three-legged puppies

My friend T, who also happens to be recently divorced, talks to me fairly regularly about her escapades as a newly single person on the dating scene. She happened to observe recently that she is recognizing a pattern in her attractions- namely, that she seems to have a proclivity for what she’s termed “three-legged puppies”. You know… guys who are in need of some sort of rescuing, special care, etc. I laughed at her creative descriptor, but it made me reflect on my own past relationships and the motivations therein. I’ve been known to fall victim to the charms of three-legged puppies… I think we all have at some point (if you don’t know who yours are, let me know and I can probably point them out.) They’re cute in their needy, damaged way, they give you a sense of useful purpose, and make you feel like just maybe you have your shit together by comparison, even if you really don’t.

Particularly, the three-legged puppy comment brought to mind O, a guy I used to hang out with a decade or so ago. O and I were never really dating, but we were what you might call special friends. I can’t even say we were friends with benefits because the relationship was pretty nonsexual… this was mostly due to him being a total weirdo and only able to handle the tiniest amounts of intimacy. I don’t know what exactly his diagnosis would have been, had he actually gotten help, but he wasn’t able to exist even remotely comfortably in the world as we know it. Something about him was too precious or sensitive for this life. His coping mechanism of choice, sadly, was heroin. He used to claim that it was the only way he could handle the bullshitty interactions of everyday life (like his job in retail, for instance) and I believe him.

The Gold Dollar, where I met O and spent lots of quality time at the turn of the millenium, near the intersection of Temple & Cass
The Gold Dollar, where I met O and spent lots of quality time at the turn of the millenium, near the intersection of Temple & Cass

He didn’t really do it to party or get fucked up; it was more just to get by and blunt the sharp edges of life. And I knew him in the earliest days of his use, so it wasn’t like this was a years-old maintenance habit. I used to imagine that he had emotional sensors that were amped up way more than the average person could conceive of, and the drugs just helped bring everything to a manageable level. (I think this must be fairly common; another friend who has struggled with some mental health issues and who used to do heroin told me that the first time she tried it, she thought, “This must be what normal people feel like.” Like O, she would do it and go to work, except in her case it was at a law firm.) Not that I condone his drug use at all- I always wished he’d gotten psychiatric help, and I think his malaise could have been managed with far less harmful substances and/or talk therapy. But, he was a wannabe musician who idolized and romanticized drug users, and that was the path he chose.

Anyway, during this time I was writing songs as my short-lived solo project, Little Hammer, and I wrote the song below about O and the other three-legged puppies of this world. I still have a soft spot for them, but I know better than to get caught up, much as I wish I could save them all. Incidentally, I wrote another song about him during this time that never got recorded, with the not-so-subtle lyric “Prince Charming/ on a white horse/ or the hookers on Temple & Cass, well I don’t know which is worse”. The song was an ode to that summer, breezy but bittersweet, with lyrics about bare feet on concrete and big cars on the boulevard… “summer in the city of nowhere to go but up”. Back then, it was probably a lot more accurate, but that’s a topic for another post.

I’m not sure whatever happened to O; he moved back to his parents’ in Cali at the end of that summer, and we lost touch. I regret to say that I don’t have a very optimistic outlook on where he might be right now, but I wish him the best. Even if you’re cute or charming, it’s not easy going through life with only three legs.