Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Dangerous, Beautiful, Murderous Streets of Detroit

When I was young girl, I'd watch my mother and her friends get ready for a night out, wearing jeans so tight that they would have to use wire hangers to zip them. This was the seventies, a time I still love, and sometimes they'd go out drinking and sometimes they'd do something strange, like go to a rattlesnake roundup or see the Amazing Kreskin. What I recall about these nights was the preparation, a few glasses of Wild Turkey and the subsequent haphazard application of mascara, gossip about who was in love and who wasn't (is there anything more important?), and a few tips about beauty, common wisdom about having to choose between your figure or your face at a certain point, meaning that if you kept your weight down, your face looked aged and if you didn't, well, you looked heavier than you had as a girl. I loved watching the women, loved thinking about love, and loved the idea of being out on the town at night. I knew I would grow up and leave my small town, go to live in a big city, and have adventures of my own.
And when I was my mother's age all those nights I had watched her, I did move to Detroit proper, renting an upper flat that eventually my landlords sold, forcing me to rent somewhere else. For years after moving that place on Courville, I had terrible dreams of being lost on the dangerous, beautiful, murderous streets of Detroit. No one knew me, and I could not find my way back to the old house, which had become an enchanted vista as is the way of fairy-tales. There was a sadness to these visions so deep that I could not shake it even after waking up. In those dreams, my face changed sometimes -- sometimes it was me as a young woman and then me substantially aged. The ghost of past and future, I suppose. My figure, though, always remained the same -- small and alone in the midst of all those looming buildings, unable to find the place I once called home and unable to give up looking. I realized it was the last place of my youth before anyone I loved deeply had died, before I had lost relationships that could not be replaced, where the days were splayed before me, like shimmering jewels, money before you spend it, all possibility, no regret.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"There is an undercurrent, the real life, beneath all appearances everywhere." Robert Henri
Cocktail Hour
Drinking cake suggestion: Birthday cake! Like the kind Baby Grouchie's alter ego is eating in the last post.
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!


Carmela Soprano said...

I just hope the house I built to my own specifications and sold for a 600k profit doesn't collapse on the owners. They're a young newly married couple and are expecting a baby. Substandard lumber was used in the construction of the house, but my husband Tony leaned on the building inspector. I know what you mean, Michelle, about attachment to dwellings. Thanks for all your support of the show, and happy birthday!--Carmela

Sheila said...

such a great post michelle. I love reading about your mother and father! Beautiful picture as well, I don't think you could ever take a bad one!

JR's Thumbprints said...

It never fails, I'm always warned about the streets of Detroit; yet, nothing has happened to me. Oh sure, I've run into a few of my previous students who have said they'd knock the shit out of me once they've seen me--however, this has never materialized. Only once, when I taught delinquent youths, have I had to step off the sidewalk. Don't misunderstand me, I've never lived life on the edge; yet, the people I've met, from my observations, have hurt themselves.

Tim said...

Very stirring post Michelle!
They say you can never go home, and they're right. Once you've lost that which you always thought you'd never lose then you're forced to move on into an uncertain future.I've had similar dreams and they always leave me depressed for the whole day when I wake up.
Great writing, beautiful picture!

Tim said...

Happy Birthday!!

the walking man said...

I've walked "ghetto" streets all of my life and no harm has ever come to me and I have watched my face change in a thousand Detroit mirrors and now that I am approaching the face of the ghost of the future I am able to swim in the undercurrent of the reality of Detroit without fear of not being known because I am known only by a few here. And even that is a shallow knowledge they have because I prefer it that way

And JR I would never step off the sidewalk for anyone anywhere that didn't deserve that respect. The last time I saw Kwami in person I didn't step aside like he expected I simply turned my back to him to show my low regard for him and his militia of bodyguards. two of them stepped off the walk so they could pass while I smoked my cigarette.

I am Detroit and I refuse to be an animal tethered no longer of any use to anyone allowed to just stay tied up waiting for a slow Detroit death.

The good, the bad and the ugly said...

Oh my god--did you have fun writing this one or what? I can tell did--a few measly typos that don't normaly exist in your post escaped your torrents of spring in Detroit.
Excellent pic, by the way. I think I delivered there the other day.
I have to once again make the transition from fast and freaky sub dude to bigger/better pizza guy. Telephone booths aren't as roomy or easy to come by as they used to be, you know.

Lulu (Dan's cat) said...

Humans do such silly things sometimes. But my Dad was right. You are quite beautiful. But when will you humans realize that you all pale to the infinite beauty of us felines?

Oh! What a lovely tree! I wish I could climb up it! I just sit in the window all day watching the landscapers mowing the grass. I'm learning Spanish that way!

Can I get a belly rub?


little caesar's bane said...

I'm late. No telephone booths around so I was in comando mode for a second.
Had to say hi to lulu.
hi, lulu!

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Michelle. Enjoy your stories. MW

paul said...


John Ricci said...

Dearest Michelle, Happy Birthday to my favorite Catholic girl just the way you are. In a Detroit state of mind I bid you a grand Bravo and champagne caviar and oysters and special foods for Grouchi. Bravo thrice!

John Ricci said...

One more Bravo!

celticshaman said...

I grew up in that neighborhood. In fact, I had a friend who lived on Courville. There was a Catholic girls school nearby -- Dominican High School. It's closed now, or so I heard. I don't know what's there now, if anything. Our parish church was St. Matthew's, on the corner of Harper and Whittier. That's where I made my First Communion, where I was Confirmed,where I said my first, and last, Confession (lapsed Catholic here).
The neighborhood underwent a drastic change in the early 1980's when I was just starting high school. When I was a kid, we could play outside well after dark. Elderly couples could sit on their front porches in the summer without fear of being mugged. There were no shootings, burglaries, assaults. I'm sure the neighborhood suffered a slower decline than I recall. To me, though, it seemed to happen overnight. Drug deals started going down on the corner. One day the cops shot a dealer in front of our house. I can still see him writhing on the pavement and the pool of blood he left behind.
Soon after that, my parents put our house up for sale, and we moved to the safety of the suburbs. It felt like escape.

Monster said...

she stands in her front door
screaming at her nosferatu
It's 3:00 am.
She throws a liquor bottle
it shatters to diamonds and mash
in front of his car,
screeching to departure on cue.
She usually throws herself on the hood of his car
Or smacks his window with her open hand. She has broken glass before,as easily as she's broken herself, as easily as she gives in
to him and together they rise
in the morning
organs regrown
limbs mended
axes grinding, edge to edge
until dusk, when the beast roams