It’s a little bit hectic around here this morning. Carpeting guys are in to take care of the mess that happened Dec. 27, when our record snow cover was hit by near-record heat and pounding rain, creating a nice flood in the basement. The same basement that flooded in Sept with our “once in a century” rainfall. My wife isn’t sure she can take many more of these “rare” events. (I’m sure the flooding was a lot worse downstate that week, so we don’t feel much more than inconvenienced, relatively. There’s always someone worse off than you, til you’re dead, and even then, who knows?)
Our Christmas trip to Michigan between our families was fine and uneventful. Would’ve wished for more snow, so we could’ve gone X-country skiing like we did so many times last year. It was rather frazzle-making, though, as every single day was spent in the car on the way to somewhere. I expected to hear a lot more stories about the sinking economy from Michiganders, but since that’s what we’ve heard on visits there for the past 15 years, the current mess didn’t particularly stand out. If the country has enjoyed any kind of economic boom in this century, the Great Lakes region didn’t see it. It’s still a place where people are working two or three jobs to keep their head above water, and barring any big changes in the way the world works (like the Federal government protecting pensions or offering health care) I think it’s going to stay that way.
Among other events, we visited The Henry Ford Museum (now known as “The Henry Ford”, b/c some marketeer told them “People won’t come visit you if you call yourself a museum.” Next up for renaming: proctologists, prisons, and possibly Detroit itself). It’s a great place, as anyone can tell you. Though it’s changed a lot since I worked there during college, it’s still a remarkable collection of artifacts from America’s industrial heyday. The museum also contains the limo that Kennedy rode in Dallas, the Rosa Parks “Sorry, Lady, I ain’t doin’ it” bus, and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, so you can’t fault them for variety.
The current special museum exhibit displayed costumes from sci-fi and adventure movies. The tourists were in complete awe of seeing the nippled Batsuit, the Star Trek Gorn, and Darth Vader’s togs. I’ve never been able to understand this. Have you ever seen a movie prop or costume that didn’t look like a cheap trinket up close? This very day, in shop classes around the country, kids are welding together Star Wars blasters that look more feasible, durable and just plain cool than the cheap tire iron on display there (probably more deadly, too). It must be a unique skill for prop and costume designers to put together things that look so good on screen out of such cheap material (granted, most items have been heavily used during filming). Conversely, anytime I’ve visited an art museum and seen a familiar painting or sculpture in its original form and scale, it’s almost never failed to blow me away. It’s one of the paradoxes of living, solved only by copious amounts of drinking.
A visit to one’s childhood stomping grounds elicits an endless litany of “Oh, such-and-such used to be there” or “That’s where we used to ride bikes before it was a mall.” It’s a tediously surefire path to geezerhood. But driving through Dearborn we passed by the redoubtable Dearborn Music, and I did a quick swerve into the parking lot. The place is still hanging on (it’s even bigger than it was when I was young). It used to be an old style store that sold guitars, pitch pipes, harmonicas, small percussion instruments, sheet music, and LPs. I bought my first few 45s there–Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, and the Cowsills singing the theme from “Hair”. Now in the era of digital downloads, they’re still there selling new and used CDs, DVDs, and LPs for the purists, plus shirts, posters, 3 Stooges pint glasses, etc., and the guys behind the counter told me, “We plan on being here a long time.” Huzzah for you, noble and tenacious retailer! I salute you!
Years ago, I sped out of Dearborn and Detroit lickety-splitly when I had the chance. Now when I visit, my brain is tickled by ridiculous notions of what my life would’ve been like had I stayed. Maybe my subconscious is just playfully creating an alternate reality, a “What If?” universe to keep itself entertained. Driving through Dearborn and seeing its brick bungalows and Dutch colonials decorated for Christmas, I feel the warm cuddlies pulling at me, and I try and imagine relocating my family there.
I think of the simple satisfaction of eating in an old pizzeria, a place in which we never ate when I was a kid. Enamored with the idea of parents and grandparents living nearby, I think of the generational framework of families I knew, which in reality have scattered to the four winds over the past 30 years. I wonder how happy I’d have been if I went to high school there, and didn’t get a taste of the wider world. And all these thoughts are based on nothing, since I was a very solitary youngster and only came out of my shell in high school. I may have been so grateful to gain a couple of friends in my teenage years that I would misplace my affection to the area and hang onto its dwindling possibilities too long. Just because a place is familiar doesn’t mean it’s suitable. While writers are ignored just about everywhere in the country except New York, they are an extreme oddity in an industrial city like Detroit. I was able to reinvent myself in Chicago just enough to retain my sanity.
I love my life now–city streets, restaurants, theaters and opera, two baseball teams to choose from, interesting yet down-to-earth friends, and a cottage to retreat to when necessary. What would’ve happened if I’d stayed in town and married Suzie Schmaltzkopf (my dad’s invariable name for an unknown girlfriend)? Thankfully, it’s just a daydream.
But oh, memories of Belle Isle, Bookie’s Club 870, Buddy’s Pizza in Hamtramck, Stroh’s Beer, and the soundtrack of the Four Tops, the MC5 and Iggy Pop (RIP Ron Asheton)……
Many a fine life could be built with such a foundation.