Posted November 14, 2008 at 8:29 pm •
8 in the morning, more leisurely
Wednesdays are a different animal
University Foods, first I work – 10 bundles –
Then I buy. Cash in, cash out
Dog food, bread, canola oil for popcorn
Cashier named Venus. No, really.
Name suits her, as she smiles, gives me change.
And I’m off.
Fisher Buildling, glittering symbol of 1928 glory,
Before 1929 fall. Came here as a wide-eyed teen
Big budget broadway musicals with the school choir
So sure, dreaming of a career on the stage,
In the spotlight, myself. Not a doubt.
Didn’t know my mainstage
Would be at the front of a classroom
Man the places & histories to which
this city, this job give me access.
Life-altering power of being a poor grad student
Sometimes changes a cocksure smarty pants
In ways they’d never imagine. For the better.
Detroit Department of Health and Wellness
Should be called Detroit Department
Of Sickness and Unwellness
Always came here near closing before,
No one but the security guard in the close,
Cramped, slightly smelly waiting room
Cable news blaring on high-mounted sets,
And “Funeral Homes Only” signs on a dirty window
Next to the drinking fountain
What stories have come through these doors?
“Number 964, next, 964 please.”
Much worse than the DMV, if that’s possible
Makes the DMV seem like a party
Miserable looking poor families
Lone wolf old men
Waiting with tickets in hand for birth, death records
“life skills class, free here this weekend.”
“K.O. .. Knock Out AIDS in Detroit. Get Checked, Get Treated.”
The grand old debate.
Are hard luck people made, or born?
Responsible for their own plight,
Or eternally oppressed?
I see their sadsack faces, waiting in this dingy place
In this gritty neighborhood right by the freeway
Where I live & work as a small-town tourist
But they know no other home.
From the outside – this building is gorgeous.
Pseudo-Romanesque, red brick and tile
A beautiful architectural masterpiece
With outstretched halls like the Hollywood Arms
And an abandoned old school across the street
How wonderful it all must have been in its heyday.
Now: “substance abuse intake, STD clinic,
tuberculosis treatment center.”
Highland Park, where the Ghost of Henry Ford
Walks with the Ghost of Tom Joad
Now living ghosts roam the streets freely, daily
Republic Liquor, where I saw on Halloween
What was perhaps my first Detroit dead body
Only took 10 years, people wouldn’t believe it
That somehow it took this long
Municipal Buildling, awesome old public library
Closed and shuttered.
“You don’t need the bullet if you’ve got the ballot.”
Or instead, reading is fundamental
Knowledge is power
Is this an element of modern-day slavery?
Dangerous to teach the slaves to read,
Educate the masses
They just might get wised up.
Old neighborhoods, cool houses
Streets named for states and famous NYC places
Seville Row, Massachusetts, California, Connecticut
Like a national capital,
The place Detroit was expected to be,
When this neighborhood went up
Early industrial capitalist suburbs
Just 2 miles from downtown
Commute is much shorter, yet longer
By horse & buggy
Henry’s horseless carriage changed all that
Now we speed off on I-75, Troy, 20 miles away
Hamtramck Post Office
Paycheck’s Lounge, where on Fridays
You spend your paycheck
Not us. We’re on the job.
People’s State Bank –
“safe and sound for 99 years”
Free Press front page screams,
“Chrysler execs get millions to stay put”
“You say you want a revolution?”
While my love dreams of taking home $7,000
Goodbye, thanks for 8 years hard work
Watch it hit your butt on the way out
I am listening to This American Life
“Who do you think you are?” episode
Studs Terkel, Great Depression oral historian
Just last week died, 94 years old
They’re replaying some of his stories
Recorded with Depression survivors in the 1970s
Now, still – so frighteningly resonant
“We were afraid to go to the store,
We knew my father didn’t have the money,
So we stayed hungry.”
“My son, now he’s an adult at 16,
With a job and goes to school
Not the kind of person I was at that age
He has manly responsibilities, and doesn’t want any shit
These kids now do not want it
You’re dealing with a different breed of cattle now
If they really want anarchy, let a depression come now
When I was 16 I wasn’t afraid to die
But the kid 16 now is not afraid to kill.”
Cue in …. Billie Holiday, “God Bless the Child.”
Where will my story go?
I don’t know. Have to trust the process
The unfolding, the growing
The direction as it makes itself known
I like the ideas I had on Halloween
Just after our family lost two of our grandparents
All the great superheroes were spurred on
By losing their elders –
Batman, Spiderman, Superman – orphans all
Even the villain Herbert Hoover used that inspiration
To rise above and make his millions.