Goodbye Goodwell’s

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The following is a conversation that my friend Margo Dalal and I had about the closing of Goodwell’s Market. 

Michele: “Pocket sandwich with avocado and cheese.” For an indecisive person, figuring out lunch can be a difficult prospect. What I loved about Goodwell’s is that I always knew what to order and, when lunchtime rolled around, I always knew where I wanted to go. So when Goodwell’s closed its doors abruptly and without explanation about a month ago, it left a bad taste left in my mouth. And if the conversations I’ve had with dozens of other Detroiters this past month are any indication, I’m not the only one feeling a little hurt, a little sad, and a little hungry for more than what we got when Goodwell’s went goodbye.

Margo: I am not angry that Goodwell’s closed, I am upset that I could not help, even if I wanted to. I am sad that there is one less place where Detroiters, new and old, could come together for an affordable and healthy snack. One reason I really loved Goodwell’s was the diversity in their customers. I loved to eat there and people watch, have a nice conversation with a kind senior gentleman, or sit outside and spontaneously see people I love.

Michele: First let me say that Goodwell’s doesn’t owe me anything, not really. They were a for-profit business that gave me what I paid for every time and more. But, while there is no explicit violation, an unspoken social contract was broken with this abrupt departure. When a business establishes itself as a gathering space for community, when it becomes a mainstay of affordable, healthy, mindful food, we come to rely on it and that trust should be rewarded with open communication. Continue reading

New York Is

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 11.48.39 AMNew York is a line at the airport taxi-stand, 50 people long, filled with strangers each going somewhere but incapable of considering the prospect of coordinating destinations with the somebodies around them.

New York is a special machine for fixing traffic lights, making its way down 7th Ave.

New York is two homeless people cuddling between a clean-looking sheet on the steps of a church. Fast asleep, at noon.

New York is a large glossy coated dog who represents his owner the way flashy cars do in other urban landscapes.

New York is a mother walking with her son in a stroller that is being pushed by another woman with darker skin.Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 12.03.31 PM

New York is an entire wall filled with beautiful doughy bagels, nonchalant in the normalcy of abundance.

New York is a group of construction workers watching the final minutes of a Knicks/Heat game through the floor length glass windows of a 24-hour sporting goods store.

New York is a woman crying on the sidewalk, suitcase at her side, looking for the hotel she knows she booked but which, clearly, no longer exists.

New York is a man doing pull-ups on the scaffolding of a beautiful old building on Wall Street.

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 11.48.48 AMNew York is a Korean karaoke bar where four friends can escape in a tiny private room for two hours of throat-searing catharsis, unheard by and oblivious to the many thousands of people in the quarter mile around them.

New York is eye contact with a stranger who you wish you would talk to you but you know, never will.

New York is an elevator ride down from a cubicle into a world where any product of any type can be procured in the course of a lunch break.

New York is a woman dressed as a high-fashion superhero posing in the middle of the street, drawing her power from the diverted stream of pedestrians who make their way around her, the photographer, and the man shielding the camera from sun glare with a patch of corrugated cardboard.Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 11.49.00 AM

New York is a “telepresense” meeting where monitors stream a near-continuous panorama of life-size images of attendees in cities across the country sitting in rooms that are exact replicas of your own, small talking about the weather in Seattle.

New York is a free museum on a Friday night with art so good you want to tell a friend yet you’re glad you’re there alone.

New York is a ride on a clunky public bicycle that goes from awkward to elegant when you start pedaling like a penguin diving into the water.

New York is a night sky filled with lights of skyscrapers so high they are a near substitute for the stars that are smudged out by their artificial counterparts.Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 12.01.02 PM

New York is a subway announcement, too late to change course, and illegible anyway.

New York is a gay man utterly shattered by the superficial dating scene but unable, himself, to be with anyone less attractive or to date anyone without sleeping with them.

New York is a patch of sidewalk precisely cleaned by the building super, whose territory is clearly delineated like a freshly mowed lawn from the dirtier slabs littered with cigarette butts on either side of the property line.

New York is holding out for a better option when you’re rushing to pick up lunch and you find something great but its across the street.Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 12.03.05 PM

New York is an alternate universe where everything is almost the same as when you left it, but the furniture seems to have been rearranged.

New York is a $60 cab ride, a $4 coffee, and a $2 bagel.

New York is a bridge over water, city sounds muted and then drowned out completely by the rumble of a train passing by, creating a pocket of solitude where you can scream at the top of your lungs in joy or rage or ambiguous release and feel solitude in the multitude.

 

Morning

IMG_1837Some days I wake up to the alarm-
groggy and irritated,
I crack my mind open just enough to unsheath the eraser end of my consciousness,
gruffly scrub out one or two or three of the items on the to-do list that my optimistic prior self had assigned,
and press “snooze.”

Some days I wake up restored-
I turn on all my senses before I lift my head
to the soft filtered light curtaining into the room
on the back of a cucumber breeze sprinkled with birdsong,
to the feel of my hands nested between my thighs, soft-on-soft,
to the awareness of my self,
with gratitude, with peace.

Some days I wake up afraid-
to leave my very bed, the prospect scares me.
I don’t trust myself to get through the day
without bringing harm.
In bed I am safe, out there, I dash my earnest hopes time and time again
with a thoughtless moment that drives others to follow, bringing me deeper underground.
Impulse, indulgence, waste, despair:
it happens to me like the weather,
though it is I who forms the clouds.
I know I can do without it
But I don’t know how.

On these days, I regard the ground warily,
still until..
the inevitable rise.
And face whatever the day may bring

Small Claims: A Slow Journey to Justice in the 36th District Court

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Originally published by ModelD Media

In the early morning light, a line of people slowly builds at the front doors of the 36th District Court. A bail bondsman in parachute pants stands patiently beside the line, waiting for the grinding gears of justice inside the building to churn out some clients for him.

The 36th District Courthouse is near the hub of Gratiot’s spoke, in an area that hosts an unlikely mix of functions: large-scale entertainment and criminal justice. Comerica Park and Ford Field are blocks away, and so is the unfinished jail, which is the possible site of a possible arena for a possible MLS team. The court itself is the subject of rumors about being turned into a hotel. Perfect. The sports-and-justice district brings an interesting variety of people here at different times of week and day. Sprinkled throughout are parking lots and hotdog vendors that are surprisingly well suited to both client bases.

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Birthday Dad

IMG_4701I was born on July 13th, a day that also happens to be my dad’s birthday. This incidental event has created a small but special bond between my dad and I, and it is reinforced every year. Dad isn’t one for nicknames but he calls me “birthday girl” (which I absolutely love) and in return, I usually make a bad joke about how I didn’t get him anything because how could I possibly outdo the best gift he’s ever received?

Even before I was born, my dad and I had a special connection, according to family lore. When mom first got pregnant, she and dad decided not to find out the gender of the baby in advance so they had to come up with two sets of names. It was easy to agree on a choice for a boy– Danny– but they couldn’t settle on what to name the baby if it was a little girl. Finally, they turned to the most reliable of arbiters and flipped a coin toss. Mom won. The baby came, it was a girl and my older sister was named Jessica. When the coin landed, the story goes, Dad said “I hope we have another girl so I can name her Michele!” This story is a family favorite in the “Careful What you Wish For” category, since my parents now have a total of five daughters, but in my view, the most important part of the story is that my dad picked my name, that I was special to him even before my birth, and especially so when I entered the world on his birthday.

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Mother-to-be, to be

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I was the first patient to arrive, but not the first person. The lights were on inside the dull concrete block building illuminating a receptionist, nurses, counselors and doctors as they set about their day. Those other cars were apparently for the protesters who positioned themselves along the road and beside the entrance, waiting for people like me to arrive. Apparently their conviction hadn’t quite hardened yet so I walked a weak gauntlet as they halfheartedly make the case that I’m going to hell.

I waited 19 years to lose my virginity and 4 years to have sex without a condom and 1 month to take a pregnancy test and 3 weeks to get this appointment scheduled. All things considered, the wait wasn’t long but the weight of this secret on my conscience these 21 days has been like a migraine of the soul, or maybe something like what it feels to be pregnant past the due date– skin stretched and streaked, back bowed and aching, kicked at from within but helpless to meet the implicit demand of the one inside knocking to be let out. I’ll let you out, far before you asked. I almost wish for the physical manifestation of this feeling to make itself apparent because the feelings are so much yet I have nowhere to place them. This is the lump that has been bearing down on my mind since the day the stick silently shouted at me like this feeble line of picketers who share many of my feelings but none of the context. Fuck them. Fuck me.

Inside, I sign in and take a seat, setting the wheels in motion for what will be a strange mixture of medical and social services. First is the ultrasound, a process I’ve never experienced but have witnessed 1,000 times in the fantasy realm of television. Hollywood seems taken with the symbolic poignancy of glimpsing a grainy sight and a muffled sound of The Future personified. I am making small talk with the nurse about her daughter’s summer camp activities in an effort to focus my attention and to portray myself as more than this experience alone might suggest me to be.

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The God Side

DSC_0732I was halfheartedly listening to the radio a few days ago when a woman, finishing up her interview, declared flatly: “God is on my side.” I punched the radio off and sat in the silence wondering why those words provoked such a powerful irritation in me.

I used to be vehemently atheist and outspoken about it, but now the word “God” doesn’t offend me the way it used to. Now I allow myself the luxury of faith and the gift of prayer. But I still cringe with the irritation of the atheist at the incredible hubris of someone who dares to declare that they know God and hot his endorsement. It feels like the worst sort of name-dropping. It feels like a secret that loses its power as soon as the words hit the air. It makes me sad and angry at the same time.

A “side” is a terrestrial thing it is a construct of the physical world, it does not apply to the divine interconnectedness of life. God has no side, it is deep and round and dimensionless. It is incapable of choosing one person or one concept at the exclusion of another.

God– whatever that means to you– does not confine itself to a single person or even a single idea. God is not binary, God is not the winning team of a rivalry, God is not the big brother that can beat up your enemy’s big brother. If there is any “side” of God, it is Truth, and truth exists in all of us. God is on your side only in that there is only one side. There is no Point and Counterpoint, there is only baseline. Continue reading

Bring Forth

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I love to read. There are many books that have changed my life through inspiration or escapism or a new way of seeing the world.

I love to write. Poems and songs and essays and stories fill my computer and many journals.

And yet. I never take the time to write to my favorite authors. I ascribe some sort of Otherness to those special people. There is some perceived inaccessibility based on a unilateral relationship wherein they are the source and I am consumer.  There is the buffer of the text that separates the author with the reader. A new book exists silently on a shelf and I pick it up. It’s true that many of my favorite authors are long passed- Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Earnest Hemingway, Jerzy Kosinski- but there are many others whose time on earth overlaps mine. my time on earth overlaps theirs.

It many ways it is totally normal not to write to a famous figurehead, but some part of me finds it practically immoral to coexist with someone who has literally changed my life and not tell them so. 

So, this year, on Valentine’s Day, I offered back words to those who had moved me with theirs and wrote to some of my favorite authors. It felt heady and surreal to address these titans by name: Joan Didion, Barbera Kingsolver, Cheryl Strayed, Amy Leach, Davis Sedaris, Thomas Lynch, and, Jim Harrison. “Dear Joan” I wrote, with a grin.

The little exercise was immediately gratifying in the act of writing alone, but it became every more rewarding when I got a letter back from Barbera Kingsolver (a form letter, but nonetheless very nice) and a postcard from David Sedaris (hand-written, very very nice).

Then there was this:  Jim Harrison died today. When I saw the news, my first reaction was sadness for his passing, quickly followed by a wave of relief that I didn’t let my words of gratitude go unspoken. I was so glad that I got the chance to tell him how his words kept me company on the trail while I hiked the most remote stretch of the Upper Peninsula, how the dead mosquito bodies decorated the pages of Dalva, how I read while walking along straightaways because I was so engrossed, how I began to imitate the writing in my own dairy because he was my sole external influence during those solitary days. I’ll never know if he read those words, but then I’m in the same position he was when I read his.

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

RIP Jim Harrison

Manhole

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Here you are right at my feet
you’re unassuming solid sweet
You fit so tight and so complete
That I forget the void beneath

From where I stand I can’t quite peek
to get a glimpse of  underneath
the better then, to paint you with
an easel to support my myth

You lay there still but still I slip
We met and then I lost my grip
You look like someplace I could trip
Look out below. Manhole. I flip.

I’d like to take your picture  and then put it in a frame
I’ll like to show my mother and imagine our last name
I’ll smooth out all your edges like a giant lucky dime.
you’re nice in two dimensions and I’d like to make you mine

Here you are right at my feet
you’re unassuming solid sweet
You fit so tight and so complete
that I forget the void beneath-
oh what is the unknown degree
to which you twist your depths to reach?
what sewer line or power cord are
you designed to feed the world?

You make me nervous
shiny surface hidden purpose
Look out below. Manhole. I flip.

Parking Lot Gerry

Originally published by ModelD

IMG_6252From where he sits in his tiny booth on the north side of the Fisher Building, Gerry can see about half of a city block. Gerry is the attendant for Tony’s Parking on Lothrop Street. He has spent at least 60 hours a week here for the past 30 years, and he knows this place and its people with an alarming intimacy, though he is oblivious to what occurs just around the next corner. When I moved into the apartment building adjacent to the lot that is Gerry’s province, I had no idea that this outspoken parking attendant would have such a persistent, if minor, role in my life.

Above all else, Gerry is a witness to this neighborhood. His official territory includes only the parking lot, but his domain extends as far as his vision. He is the type of figure that Jane Jacobs would herald as the best kind of “eyes on the street,” with mutual trust, if not affection, on the part of the observer and its subjects.

Gerry arrives to work every day before 7 a.m. He calls “information” to make sure the time on his clock is perfect so no one can say he overcharged. He surveys the area, shoveling snow away from the sidewalk or sweeping puddled rainwater into the sewer. As people arrive, he files cars in rows according to the duration of their stay to maximize capacity and minimize block-ins. It’s an endless game of horizontal tetris.

“How long you gonna stay?” he says in his faintly antagonistic way. Gerry is so severely gruff that it’s almost endearing because he seems to care so little about what others think of him. In Gerry’s eyes, everyone has an agenda and he’s not in it. He preempts others’ dismissal with casual conspiracies about people who look at him the wrong way “I know what she’s about.” Gerry knows that the people who visit his lot aren’t there for him; they are there for a service. After a brief exchange of money and words, Gerry is left to watch people’s prized possessions, alone, like an underappreciated nanny.

Gerry is famous for his non sequiturs: “Good morning!” might be answered with “My life is more complicated than yours” or “Ain’t nobody else could do this job.” Sometimes he just repeats himself by way of extending a conversation that lacks momentum: “You gotta go? You gotta go now? Where ya going? You gotta go?”  This elementary form of interrogation actually works to the point that Gerry is the keystone of gossip in the surrounding social landscape. (You’d be surprised how much personal information you give away when everything you say is answered with “what else?” five consecutive times.)
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