Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Detroit! Notes from last Christmas

     A year ago, Christmas Eve Day, I took an eight hour walking and driving tour of Detroit offered by the historian/artist at detroiturbex.com. The tour focused on the history of Detroit--its changing neighborhoods, communities, buildings of worship, and system of public education--as well as prospects for the future in the midst of the city's bankruptcy proceedings. Because I'm a teacher, my tour guide adapted the tour to include as many schools as time allowed. 
     Below are compiled notes, photos, and emails that I sent to a friend just after the experience. I'm posting them now in part to: remind myself of what I learned last year, and to compare what I saw last year to what I saw this year in Detroit over the holidays. (I regret that I did not take more photos last year, nor any this year, but the best photos of the spaces I visited in Detroit, and of Detroit in general, can be found at detroiturbex.com.) 
      December, 24th 2013: At quarter to nine in the morning it is thirteen degrees outside. I drive downtown with the Subaru's seat-heat on. I am wearing a ski jacket, hat, gloves, and snowpants. I'm prepared for a  day outside. The drive along E. Warren Ave. to midtown takes ten minutes. I park outside the restaurant where I am scheduled to meet my guide. 
     The restaurant looks open. I could use some coffee so I walk inside. Moodymann is playing in the background, the windows are steamy. Three people are busy behind the counter. I ask for a cup of coffee. 
     One of the women says, "We don't open 'til eleven, do you mind drinking our coffee? I mean, it's strong. It's what the staff drinks."
     "No. That sounds perfect!" I say. This is my favorite Detroit. The doors are open. We're all here. There is no formality, no rigidity, no separation. 
     My guide shows up five minutes later. He is a guarded, bearded man, in his late thirties. He is very professional. I appreciate that. There's no small talk. He goes right into the tour.
     I drive the car. My guide has the plan. He immediately takes us to an area downtown that was a forested railroad bed six months ago. Now, it's a pedestrian walkway and bike path. It's a huge tract of land. Apparently older pedestrian/bike paths now lead from apartment buildings to a year-round farmer's market to office areas downtown. Newer paths, including this one, will lead from other residential neighborhoods to more office spaces. All of these sections of the city used to be impassable on foot or by bike because of the way the freeway is laid out--it crisscrosses downtown. The paths pass under the freeway, are lit, and patrolled. This seems like obvious, cheap, urban infrastructure, but it is completely new to Detroit. We drive to three new schools that line these bike paths. There are also newly renovated buildings that are now multi-use spaces nearby. A new Whole Foods sits near Wayne State University--the only WF in the Detroit area. This is a huge fucking deal. Everyone in Detroit is jazzed, including my guide, that WF would invest in downtown. 
     I learn that my guide did not grow up in Detroit, but has lived here for almost seven years. He knows pretty much everything you could think of to ask about the city. He is not interested in "ruin porn"--photos of urban decay--he is interested in capturing the history and context of this evolving metropolitan area through photography. My guide is telling me so much, I start taking notes in order to keep track. 
     A few things become immediately apparent: (1) Because Detroit is huge, we will barely scratch the surface in eight hours. (2) The city is filled with pocket communities whose inhabitants don't necessarily want to be consolidated. (3) There is so much unused, unoccupied space--fields, forests, between neighborhoods and even houses that it makes the efficient use of resources nearly impossible. (4) As a result, this spread out city cannot all be managed. A lot of funding for basic services is being provided by private investors.
     We stand out in the freezing cold and my guide tells me about the history and movement of different community groups. We spend a lot of time at abandoned schools and churches for two reasons: (1) To get a feel for these former community centers/how many have been closed/how many communities are gone. (2) To see how rapidly natural cycles take hold. We go into buildings that have been closed for one to three years mostly. Once the windows are out and water enters through the roof, natural geological processes take over. It only takes a coupe of freeze/thaw cycles for the plaster and concrete and brick to crumble. Anything constructed after the war, with steel beams, has a better chance. The Detroit Public School System has its own police force to try to protect closed buildings from scrappers. 
     I learn that scrapping became a big business in the mid to late 2000s in Detroit, when most of these schools were closed.
The newly cleared bike path. It will be paved, lit, and sodded by summer. Paid for with private funds. 
One of the DPS charter schools along the pedestrian path.
Close up of an old Pontiac.
An abandoned house that has been purchased and sold several times--with the intent to gut and refurbish. It has sat under current ownership for ten years.
The gymnasium of an elementary school near Jefferson Ave. The school had been closed for one and a half years. 
A Catholic church that was built in the fifties in a Polish neighborhood. When the Polish community moved out, the neighborhood was no longer Catholic, and attendance at the church went from 7000 to 500 over a decade. 
    I haven't used my guide's name thus far because he uses many aliases. He explained that he uses an alias partly to remain anonymous and partly because he "deals with a lot of characters in different contexts". He wants the city he's covering to be the focus, not him. He has a lot of clients who want to remain anonymous as well. 
     He said, "It's all about building trust in these towns." 
     We tour a series of schools--elementary, middle, high--and discuss the evolution of school closings over the last several years. One of the first major schools to close was Cass Tech. It was an amazing science and art school--state of the art in its day. A new Cass Tech was built right next door, but they didn't have a plan for the old building. It was left as is--abandoned. Scrapping hadn't become a livelihood in Detroit yet, and so the abandoned Cass Tech sat. Detroiters were really upset that all the equipment, books, etc. were left in the old school. 
     Beyond being unbelievably wasteful, it seemed an unhealthy sign to leave a building that way, a sign that DPS or its school board was corrupt and that corruption was on display. My guide told me that Detroiters hoped that Cass Tech could be reopened as a community center, but after being closed for a few years it was already too damaged, at which point the building became a PR nightmare, a liability, and a reminder of better days in Detroit. As a result, the old Cass Tech was demolished. 
     We walk the old Cass Tech footprint. 
     My guide explains that when it became clear that hundreds more schools would begin closing starting in the late 2000s, a new closing plan was put in place so Cass Tech wouldn't happen again and demolition (expensive) could be avoided in favor of sales. 
      My guide outlines the plan below (taken from my hasty notes): (1) Close schools that have terrible attendance and/or that are too costly to maintain (old). Many of these schools would have an ancient, about-to-bust or busted boiler. (2) Once closed, remove all DPS equipment from the building. Try to sell the building. In the meantime, police guard buildings--DPS police. (3) After six months to a year, guarding by police becomes too expensive, so set up infrared cameras and remove metal (lockers, pipes, wiring). Police drive by. (4) After one/two years, if the building hasn't sold and there is no rebound in the neighborhood, stop patrolling. Inevitably scrappers come in, if they haven't already, and remove all the metal that's left. They leave the building open for the homeless and others. Then the school buildings are essentially abandoned by the city. 
Old cars in a lot.

Police parked at a recently closed school. Decorative metal from the roof is already being pulled.

Renovating for Corktown apartments.
One year vacant elementary school.
Brightmoor community theater.
  Each school we tour is in a different stage of  disrepair. In the best case, the lights/heat still work, and some programs are being run out of a section of the building (usually taken over by a private education entity). These schools have lockers on the walls. Schools that are actually closed, but still have a chance to be purchased or salvaged, have a door open, with all the lockers removed, and no lights, but they're fairly clean, and the windows are mostly intact. The worst cases are schools that have every metal window frame ripped out, drag marks or tiles missing on the floors from pilfered metal, glass everywhere, homeless huts in rooms, and staged metal near doors. If there is too much metal by a door, my guide does not take us inside a building because it means that someone is actively collecting scrap.
     Unfortunately, most of the schools we see in the afternoon are already in bad shape. 
     My guide explains that there are three types of scrap yards in Detroit. We visit all three (I have no photos). There are legitimate yards that require documentation for the scrap collector and their metal. These yards have lots of neatly organized metal that is heavily guarded. There are semi legitimate yards that may not require a collector's full ID, but still require paperwork on their metal. Like anything, this paperwork can be forged. The third type of yard is illegal and usually run out of the back of another business or out of someone's home. Scrappers can bring a stolen metal bust to the door, get pennies on the dollar for it, and the metal will be taken and broken down by the yard owner. In one illegal yard we see a sledge-hammered eagle that my guide says was probably taken off a municipal building. 
     We meet one scrapper who my guide is friends with. The man is an ex con who cannot find enough work to pay his bills, which is why he scraps. The man wears a Lions jersey and heavy workboots.  
     We do not have time to go to any established neighborhoods, of which there are many. We do visit newly opened or reopened schools, housing developments, and some strangely vibrant areas that are not new. Corktown and Brightmoor stand out. 
     Corktown,  an old neighborhood that is being revitalized, is just west of downtown on Michigan Ave. It is the neighborhood where Tiger stadum stood. That's where I went as a kid to watch my favorite Tiger, center fielder Chet Lemon, play baseball. I remember paying $2 for great seats near home plate. The stadium was torn down in late 2000s, but the baseball diamond is still visible behind a fence at the corner of Trumbull Ave. and Michigan Ave. There are new housing developments, bars and restaurants in the area.
      Brightmoor is northwest of downtown. Most of the industrial plants back in the day were right on the water, the Detroit River, obviously polluting. The soil where the plants stood (car manufacturing, tire manufacturing, coal-fired power) is mixed. Some sites are still toxic. The waterfront should be developed, should be where the money is, but building permits have been hard to obtain because of this toxic soil. Clean up has been a slow process, but it is happening. Brightmoor, north, has always been considered on the outskirts of the city and remains underdeveloped. It's now a subsistence farming, artist, and squatter community. There is decent soil there. 
     My guide explains that the way Brightmoor works is, people move in, squat, and if they can hack it for a few years, they've earned their right of passage and they're considered a part of the community. It sounds like this is a really close group of people who live and work together, and keep their patch of community thriving. We pass a few green houses. I note that my car thermometer reads fifteen degrees outside. And we can see tomatoes growing in a hothouse across the road. 
     My guide tells me that Brightmoor still has arson. And that the city doesn't provide services out here. There are maybe three or four houses per city block. There are no operating schools. The children are mostly home-schooled. 
     This seems like a hard community experiment. I look forward to hearing more about the results in the future. 
A garden in Brightmoor.

This is a synagogue that was turned into a baptist church. A common transition. 
A famous training facility for boxers like Joe Louis.

The Brewster projects downtown  which were being demolished when we arrived.

By now the sun is going down. My guide discusses the history of Detroit and the failure of the Chicago model for certain ethnic groups in Detroit. We drive by iconic ruins and works of art in the city, but by the time we get out of the car the sun is gone. My guide keeps us away from the Heidelberg Project, saying it's crap. I don't argue with him.
     I drive us back to the resturant where we first met in the morning. They are busy now. I feel energized. My guide and I shake hands, say a few parting words, and go our separate ways. My head is stuffed full of information, the history of the city mixed in with my own history.

     Returning this Christmas, 2014, I am still processing what I learned last year. Detroit is out of bankruptcy, there is new construction downtown, and public and private funds are pouring in. There is a new rail line going in on Woodward Ave.--M-1 rail--that looks like it should be more useful than the "People Mover" was. But the neighborhoods, schools, and houses of worship I visited last year were in the same state of disrepair. The city is still huge and now it's certainly rangy. 
     Detroit was not cold this year like it was last year. It was wet and foggy. The fog was so thick that I couldn't see the cityscape clearly as I drove through. From the Detroit River, I heard freighters sounding their fog horns as they passed each other in the channel. It's a loud, clear, and close sound, perhaps a distinctly Detroit sound.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas without you

     One of the hazards of living far away from all your loved ones is someone always get left behind. This season it's Pete. This will be our first Christmas apart. We're both feeling a little melancholy.

     But don't worry buddy, I'll be back soon and then we'll tear into your squeaky toy gifts.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Birthday candle

     Sweden is dark in the wintertime. In December, the sun is only visible for seven hours on a clear day. To keep the darkness at bay, Swedes turn on lights, set candles in their windows, and put up festive decorations for the holidays. I'm familiar with these traditions only because my sister-in-law lives in Sweden with her husband and two baby girls. 
     I admire pretty much every single thing about my sister-in-law.     
     Today is her birthday. 
     Anna, in solidarity with your Arctic circle plight, I'm lighting a candle in my window. There will be luminaria to follow on Christmas Eve. I love you. I'm so grateful to have you in my life.   Happy birthday.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Diaper report

      Moving is difficult for dogs, it was difficult for mine. 
     The first week in our new place, Pete, the twelve year old puppy with a bad back, barked incessantly whenever I left the house. I could hear him "bark, bark, bark!" as I walked down the street to the grocery store, or around the corner to the bus stop.
     It sounded like he was saying, "Where the fuck are you going? You can't leave me here!" 
     I fed him treats before I left.
     He ignored them.
     I felt terrible. 
     Pete is smart though. After a week he stopped barking and started eating his treats. He knew I would be back.
     Bow, the thirteen year old, who is not as bright or as straightforward as Pete, had a harder time adjusting. 
      Bow didn't bark when I left the house that first week. He paced. He whined a little. He curled in a ball and tried to sleep. His anxiety developed more fully over the next several weeks when I started my job and was away from home for longer periods of time. Bow expresses his anxiety volumetrically through his bladder. He can pee a lot. 
     Male dog diapers can be purchased at any pet store. They are stretchy, washable, cloth girdles that have a highly absorbent pad in the middle and velcro tabs on either end. They are easy to put on and they make a pleasing velcro rip sound when you remove them. Bow is not embarrased by his diapers. They are bright blue.
     In those first few weeks, my partner and I wrapped Bow in two diapers every time we left the house. We learned quickly that one diaper was not enough. I returned home from work first and Bow's diapers would always be full. 
     I was mad at myself. I was mad at Bow. 
     My partner and I texted each other at the end of our work days. Things like:
     "I'm heading home now."
     "Okay. Hope you had a good day, love. I'll head out in an hour."
     But our nightly texts quickly turned to:
     "Bow peed again."
     "No crap, just pee."
     "Sorry, love. Be home soon. I'll do the laundry tonight."
     "Thanks, babe."
     They continued that way for several weeks:
     "Peed again. Both diapers. Maybe we should take him for longer walks in the AM? Hire a dog walker during the week?"
     "We'll talk about it when I get home."
     We called these nightly texts The Diaper Report. We developed a shorthand:
     "Both diapers?"
     "Sorry love."

     "Peed. One diaper."
     "Early. Both diapers."
     "Peed. Full diapers."

      And it went on that way for over a month. 
     My partner and I washed diapers in the sink, in the washing machine, and in the bath tub. We bought an extra set of diapers. We searched for items of clothing and bedding, aprons and bathroom mats, anything we could convince ourselves needed washing, in order to have an excuse to waste water on washing Bow diapers.
     We told Bow we loved him. We told him he was a good boy. We praised him when he peed outside. We plied him with treats. At first, nothing but staying with him seemed to calm his anxiety.
     But at some point in those first two months, the Diaper Report started to read:
     "No pee!"
     "No way!"
     "Yes way!"
     "Pee free again!"
     "That's four days in a row! Way to go Bow!"
     Bow doesn't  seem anxious when I leave the house anymore. Sometimes, when there's a break in our routine, he pees in his diaper. But I think he has adjusted to his new space and the new routine and our days no longer end with a Diaper Report.

Monday, October 13, 2014


     Everyone seems to own a Prius in the neighborhood. Can you find ours?

Sunday, September 14, 2014


     Missing you. Weird examples:
(1) I saw a guy running in shorts patterned after the Maryland state flag. The shorts were the ugliest, satin/sateen looking things, but they filled me with glee. I jumped up and down, clapped my hands, and nearly ran after the man sweating into those shorts to give him a hug.
(2) Lately I have been envisioning ways to add Old Bay, a salty seasoning mix traditionally sprinkled on Maryland crabs, to foods that I love (popcorn, chex mix, toasted pita squares). By the way, I don't eat crabs. I have never eaten Old Bay.
(3) Born and raised a Tigers fan, I actively rooted against the Orioles when I lived in Maryland. Now I live in San Francisco, a city with two great baseball teams that I am trying to take an active interest in. Someone mentioned that the Orioles lost today and I practically started to cry.
     Okay, Maryland. I get it. You're great and should be missed. And I do miss you. But getting excited about some guy wearing your state flag while he's running? That's weird ... even for me.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Indigenous species

The dogs and I moved. We miss the yard, the native plants, and the insects that pollinate them.
Luckily, native plants and insects are hardy and will thrive on their own.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Death remembered

     My late husband died a year ago. He had leukemia--AML m6. He was hospitalized, diagnosed, and began chemo within three days in March, 2012. His was an emergency cancer, the kind that most people don't survive. And after a year and a half of treatment, he died. 
     My late husband's death was not unique. People die every second of every day. And yet, so many people are unacquainted with death and/or are afraid of it. I am not interested in perpetuating that fear. I have found that when people are open, when they are not isolated, when they are able to share an experience, they are less afraid. 
     And so, here, I will share with you some of what I remember from the week my late husband died. His death was confusing and sad, but also beautiful and healing.

     Dear Vic,
     Your dad remembers talking to you for the last time on Father's Day. 
   Your sister remembers Skyping with you that Monday. You told her, "I won't miss Skype." 
     Your mom and dad remember your email. "I may die this week. Come now."

      I remember that Tuesday morning.
     I woke up at 3AM to see you bouncing back and forth from the bed like one of those punching bag toys. I walked around to you. You started to stand, but your legs collapsed beneath you and we both fell to the floor. 
     You said, “Need go pee. Go bathroom.” 
     I said, “Baby. You’re on the floor. Do you want me to help you to the bathroom?” I was already hoisting you up. When I had you safely in bed I suddenly had to go to the bathroom myself. It felt like I had to take the most monumental piss of my life. I held it and asked you, “Baby, do you still need to go to the bathroom?” I looked around and grabbed one of your puke buckets thinking you could pee in it. 
     You slurred, “No. Headache.” 
     I retrieved Tylenol and oxy and gave them to you. I asked you again if you needed to pee. 
     I told you I’d be right back. I went to the bathroom and peed and peed. I checked my phone. 3:30AM. I thought about calling the hospital, but heard your voice loud and clear: “I want to die at home.” I cried. I came back to bed. 
     You slurred, “You go bathroom. You need pee,” and laughed. 
     I said, “Hell yeah I needed to pee.” 
     You laughed again and snuggled next to me. You were hot. We held hands. You made a joke, one that I can’t remember now, and went to sleep. 
     I remember being awake for what seemed like a long time. I kept replaying the image of your torso in silhouette bouncing up and back from the bed. I wondered where the light was coming from. I looked up and could see moonlight shining faintly through the window. It seemed to illuminate everything. I just lay there. Every few minutes you squeezed and re-gripped my hand. Eventually I fell asleep. 
     I woke up about ten minutes later knowing that you were about to throw up. Having lain next to you in bed for so many sick nights, I was attuned to your body—when you kicked at the covers you were too hot, when you opened and closed your mouth you needed water, when you moaned and fidgeted you needed help going to the bathroom, and when your body coiled you needed to throw up. 
     I grabbed the puke bucket. 
     You threw up your Tylenol and oxy. 
    After I cleaned puke from your chin, you made another joke, held my hand, and went back to sleep. 
     I remember the feel of my heart pounding. I fell asleep. 

     The next time I woke up, you were lying flat on your back. Your body was stiff and you were breathing through your mouth. Your arms and legs were long and rigid at your sides. Your fingers and toes were pointed like an expert diver’s just before he leaps and twists and lands gracefully in a pool of water below. 
     I called your name. 
     You did not respond. 
     I called it again. 
     You did not respond. 
     I rocked you gently, saying your name. 
     You did not respond. 
     I said, “You’re dying, baby.” 
     I looked at the phone. It was 5AM. 
     I remember calling your parents.
    I remember calling your sister. I remember holding the phone to your ear so your sister could talk to you. She told you she loved you.
     I remember calling your doctor. He answered the phone. I remember thinking, I can’t believe he answered the phone. This guy is the best doctor ever. 
      I remember calling my friend who drove over immediately.
     I remember our favorite nurse arrived a little later. She prepared to guide us through your death.
     I remember placing my hand on your heart and curling my body around your head. I remember saying, “You’re doing great, baby. You’re doing a great job.”
     I remember, through your chest, feeling your heart stop. You made a final exhaling, sighing sound, and you died. You died right there in our bed like you wanted.
     I remember your death every day. I try to share it with everyone who loved you and whom I love. I think we all hope to die so well.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Newbs visit Grand Staircase Escalante

       April. Early morning. GSE visitor's center.
     We walk into the building. There is a diorama in the middle of the main room. Taxidermied animals and photos line the walls. Beyond the diorama, opposite the front door, is the information desk. A plump, fifty-something woman sits behind the desk. She is bundled in her forest green, employer-issued GSE fleece. 
     My partner and I walk around the diorama to the desk. 
     "Hi, how can I help you?" the woman asks.
     "Hi. This is our first trip to the grand staircase national monument."
     "Oh! Welcome." She is all smiles.
    "Thanks. We were planning on doing some back country backpacking this week. We have a map from National Geographic. But we have some questions about the trails, and wanted to know if you have more detailed maps, backpacking suggestions--" 
     "Sure. Let's take a look." Her smile broadens. She pushes up her glasses and looks at our map and the trail heads that we have starred on it. She talks to herself and pulls out a couple of maps from a drawer. 
     "I was thinking of this trail." I point.
     "That's a great one. It's in a creek bed along the bottom of a canyon. It's pretty flat."
     I nod.
     "The creek will be rushing right now. Did you bring your dry suits?"
     "No," I say, slightly stunned by the suggestion.
     "Well, that will be a great one to do in July. This one is also fun." She points to another starred trail head. "It takes about three days." 
     "I would start at this end and just see how far you can go. Because up here the canyon will be clogged with ice and mud and debris. You won't be able to get through. Unless you brought crampons and climbing gear?"
     "Uh, no. Okay, what about this trail?"
     "Oh, it's a nice canyon. There's some quicksand, but it's not the kind you see in the movies. It won't swallow you whole, it will just take one of your boots."
     "Huh. Quicksand!" What! My partner and I smile at each other.
     She cheerfully moves on to the next trail head. "This one is a breathtaking slot canyon. Did you bring your canyoneering gear?"
     "Um--" I think I have a bewildered smile on my face.
     "You'll need ropes at least." She looks excited. "There are places where you have to go like this, and this, to get through." She tucks in her arms, squeezes her shoulders together, and makes twisting, ducking motions with her upper body. "And then you'll have to lower your packs. People get stuck!"
     "We don't have any rope." I'm embarrassed at how underprepared we are. My partner chuckles. What were we thinking?
     "Then these slots are out." She points to a few more stars on the map.
     "Are there any multi-day hikes that don't require gear?" I ask.
     "Sure! Most of them are on the southeast side of the park. Do you have a high clearance vehicle?"
     "No," we laugh. 
    There is one more starred trail on the map, but we give up after we read "poison ivy is unavoidable".

     Next time GSE. We'll be ready. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

DIA field trip

     “Naked lady paintings!” said Ty.
     “Nudes, idiot! They’re nudes—” said Steve.
     “Boys! I can hear you. Knock it off!” Mr. James always called Steve and his friends "Boys". They had accepted the possibility that he did not know their individual names.
     Steve, John, DeShawn, and Ty sat at the back of the bus, as far away from their fifth grade class as possible. They didn’t care about the field trip. They just wanted to swear and tell dirty jokes.
     After Mr. James’ reprimand, they quieted, but only for a few minutes. They couldn't help getting riled up and making trouble.  That's what they did.
      "If Mr. James were smart he'd separate us," said Ty.
      "He won't!" said Steve, while shooting a rubberband at the girl he liked. She stuck out her bright blue, candy-coated tongue at him.
     The boys began flicking each other’s ears and then the ears of other students sitting nearby on the bus.
     "Ow!" cried one fourth grader.
     "Oh, come on! That didn't hurt"
     "Boys!" Mr. James turned in his seat.
    "—but this will." Steve flicked the kid again, making him whimper. 
     "What a baby," said DeShawn. Everybody laughed.
     Mr. James stood. “What did I just say?” His face was beet red.
     “Oh, shit! Oh shit!” said DeShawn. "He's coming. He's gonna kill us." The boys instinctively slumped their shoulders to look smaller and more vulnerable.
     It took Mr. James a while to stumble and lurch his way to the back of the bus. When he arrived, each boy acted terrified. Mr. James said nothing. He shoved Steve toward the window and sat down next to him. The seat creaked. Steve avoided eye contact.
    The school bus stopped at a light on Jefferson. Steve looked out the window and saw a bench piled with blankets. He knew there was a homeless person underneath the pile. A boarded up building sat a little ways off the road in a weed-ridden parking lot. It had a peeling sign that read: Ling's Chinese American Restaurant. Steve shifted his gaze to the sky. He craned his neck and shielded his eyes in order to focus on the rolling clouds.
     Steve must have fallen asleep because the next thing he rememebred was stepping off the bus and entering the museum. He heard someone say, “Welcome to the Detroit Institute of Art. This way.”
     The DIA was a place Steve had never visited. Why would he? It wasn't the mall, the arcade, a friend's house, or even the roller rink. It seemed like a boring place filled with old, untouchable stuffnothing video game or dinosaur relatedand there was no food and there were "No Food Allowed" signs all over the place. 
     The class walked up a set of stairs and assembled in a cavernous hall with a polished stone floor. A docent introduced herself. She began talking rapidly about the building, its history, and the artwork the class would see. Her voice echoed around them.
     Steve wasn’t paying attention. He was scanning the hall for nude paintings, but didn't see any. What he did see were several doorways leading into other rooms and Mr. James. 
     "Are we gonna ditch?" Ty asked.
     "Not yet. Mr. James is watching us. Look."
     Mr. James' beady eyes were trained on the boys. When he made a gesture for them to move along with the rest of the class, his sweaty jowls shook. DeShawn laughed.
     "Watch your step and file in," said the docent. "This is Rivera Court. Deigo Rivera painted these frescos..."
     Steve stepped into the large room. He looked up. The walls were covered on all sides with a mural depicting factory scenes painted in fading shades of grey, brown, yellow, and red. The colors filled in outlines of men in suits, men in overalls, machinery, so much machinery, and figureheads sifting ore from the earth.
     Steve turned slowly, taking in each painted panel. He walked toward the nearest wall, the nearest panel. 
     Ty tugged on his arm. "Come on!"
     Steve brushed him off. "Uh, uh."
     A flood of memories came back to Steve. He heard his father and grandfather telling stories about working on the factory floor, working under and above the furnace, feeling the heat. These panels seemed to be an illustrated version of those stories.
     Steve thought one of the machine workers looked like his grandfather, whose huge arms could still lift Steve into the air as though he weighed nothing. 
     “Are these real people?” Steve asked the docent.
    “My grandad and dad work at the GM plant … is this the GM plant?” 
     "No. This is the Ford plant—”
    “Oh, right. You said that. So up there" Steve pointed at one of the ore panels. "Is that supposed to be the rock you melt to make the car parts?"
     "Yes. Very good!" said the docent.
    "Which one is iron?”
     The docent pointed. She opened her mouth to speak, but Steve interrupted her with another question.
     "Who are the nude guys supposed to be?"
     Steve's classmates began to snicker and laugh. 
     "Quiet down," said Mr. James.
     Steve realized the kids were laughing at him. He walked over to the docent and Mr. James. “Um, is there a book about this that I can borrow?” he asked.
    The docent nodded enthusiastically.
     Mr. James said, “Yes, Steve. We'll get one at the end of the tour.”
     "Okay. Thanks. So who are the nude guys?"

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Growing garden 2014

     At some point in the last two weeks the garden transitioned from emergent to verdant. This morning it looked especially lush, covered in morning dew.  
Fern, hosta, coneflower, groundcover.
Sensitive fern.
Fire Witch.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

New Orleans, Louisiana

     The photos below were taken on a recent trip to New Orleans and the surrounding area. I enjoyed walking in the French Quarter in the early morning, eating fresh beignets soaked in dark chicory coffee, and driving south along the Mississippi to the road's end, a place filled with boats and birds.
Rainy balcony.
Green door, red house, green shutter.
Hats for sale.
The road, surrounded by water. 
Looking out from the top of a levee.
The Mississippi, east of the levee.
The swollen Mississippi.
A gravel road.
A house on stilts.
An abandoned tug boat.
A working freighter.
Two snowy egrets.