Blackhumouristpress's Blog

December 21, 2010

Merry Christmas, Detroit or Take the Homeless Skating

Tim could hardly be called tiny but the name sort of stuck with Tim since he didn’t hit puberty until late in high school.  As the saying goes, Tiny’s nut did not drop until late in adolescence.  Tiny or Tim as his mother called him, was short and had a high pitched voice until senior year of high school.  It was at that time that Tiny joined the ranks of all the other boys who were becoming men.

            Tiny grew up in suburban Detroit and played ice hockey from kindergarten through juniors when he finally came to grips with the fact that he was good and not great and that professional hockey was not going to be his vocation.  Tiny went to the University of Michigan, became an accountant, found a job and started a family in Los Angeles before being moved back by his company to suburban Detroit.

            Saying that he was born and raised in Detroit was not a source of pride to Tiny.  He felt as though he had not really gone very far in life by returning to a town that seemed to have crumbled, decayed and stagnated through the years.  Returning to Detroit seemed to be a punishment to Tiny who was squeezed out in the running to climb a rung up the ladder of his company’s firm.  Instead his boss gave him a ho-hum review and gave him the choice of losing his job or move to Detroit.  Tiny opted to keep his job and move to Detroit.

            For anyone that ever had to move from Los Angeles to Detroit and really spent some time in inner city Detroit where neighborhoods gave way to prairie and trees grew through the roofs of abandon homes that were not burned down or decayed to pieces, Detroit could be quite surreal.  Tiny was determined to put in his time for his company that was housed in the General Motors Renaissance Center along the banks of the Detroit River in the heart of downtown Detroit.  Tiny bought a condominium on Lafayette which was walking distance from the Renaissance Center.  He didn’t want his family to get the feeling of permanence.  Condominiums seem more transient than single family homes at least Tiny felt this was the case. 

            Tiny’s wife was sort of indifferent to Detroit being a native Angelino who thought places like Michigan was somewhere on the east coast.  It had to be since it was in the Eastern Time zone, right?  Susan exercised profusely and shuttled their sons to hockey practice up in Troy, some fifteen miles north of the city to play for Little Caesar’s.  Tiny, when he wasn’t working, spent a great deal of his own free time late at night playing men’s league hockey or rat hockey in well to-do towns north and west of Detroit.  When Tiny told fellow hockey mates that he lived in 313, most were quite stunned.

            It was the night before Christmas Eve that Tiny went with some of his buddies that were Detroit Firemen to play in a fund raising tournament in Windsor, Ontario.  Tiny sent his wife Susan alone with their two boys to a holiday tournament outside of Toronto and opted to play hockey himself. 

            The tournament was uneventful for Tiny.  He played defense and had a few assists and allowed a few bad goals to happen by not tying up his man.  He had a few push matches in front of his goalie, had a good sweat and then returned with the team to downtown Detroit to finish a night of male bonding; play hockey, drink, watch hockey, drink, gamble and drink some more and then possibly hit a strip club, pass out, return home hung over and be low keyed and a family man on Christmas Eve.

            Tiny stood out in front of a downtown watering hole called the Old Shillelagh after watching the Detroit Red Wings play at Joe Louis Arena.  A digital display could be seen from the street letting everyone know that only eight two days were left until St. Patrick’s Day or possibly one hundred days left of potential winter weather before the Tigers would return to Comerica Park as a sure sign of summer.

            Tiny smoked a large cigar that dangled out of the corner of his mouth like a large phallic symbol.  Smoking indoors was only allowed in casinos and so the men stood on Monroe Street smoking, laughing and talking.  A disheveled looking black man with rags hanging off of him and leathery exposed hands asked the smoking men if they had any change to spare.  The man wouldn’t take no for an answer.

            “Its Christmas y’all…  Y’ain’t got some spare change so I kin buy me a hamburger and a little water?  Come ahn y’all…  Find it in y’heart t’help a man who ain’t gotta dime.”

            Tiny listened to the man and he thought about how he felt trapped in a Detroit that was so different than the city his father had worked as an assembly line worker for General Motors from the end of World War II until 1984.  Tiny’s father retired before he was let go.  He outlasted the change that was coming.  Tiny’s rant was angry, racist and drunk.  Even his fellow hockey mates were surprised by his words even though they may not have disagreed with him.

            “This is your fucking Detroit…  Since the riots and Coleman Young, you people have done nothing but run this city into the fucking shitter and you hold your hand out and ask people like us to give you more.  Well you got the whole fucking city to yourselves.  Go ask one of your own to give you some fucking change…  I could use a change.  Change this town back to a place where people might want to live.”

            The man looked at Tiny with a blank stare and then shuffled off into the night.  Tiny went back in and had a few more pints of Guinness before deciding to go to his parent’s home rather than go on to play poker at the Greektown Casino and crash at the Greektown Hotel with his teammates.  Tiny would have stayed but he needed to let his parent’s dog out at his boyhood home in Warren since his parents were visiting Tiny’s brother and his family in Akron, Ohio.

            Tiny blared Van Halen on his fabulous sound system in his Range Rover as he sped north on interstate 75.  The thought came to Tiny to piss on the abandon Fisher Body 21 that once made Cadillac limousines. It was symbolic.  Tiny needed to piss but he was going to piss on the symbol of what Detroit had become and was mired in. The building stood abandoned with all the windows smashed out of it, covered in graffiti and home to drug addicts and homeless. It was Detroit’s Chernobyl. Snow had begun to gently fall as Tiny took the interstate 94 ramp from interstate 75.  Tiny was singing, Hot for Teachers as he took the curve too fast.  Tiny couldn’t control the SUV.  It hit the guard rail and went right through it.  The large vehicle felt weightless as it plummeted over twenty feet and landed nose first on the ground.  The car didn’t roll or tip, it stood vertically on end.  The airbag deployed and hit Tiny with such force that it broke his nose and cheek bones.  Tiny smashed his sternum on the steering wheel and fell in and out of consciousness.  Tiny had a dream that he was walking on a sunny day through a field of knee high grass towards the Fisher Body 21 building.  It was the 1950’s and the building was strong looking, vibrant and intact.  Tiny walked up to the security guard at the entrance who saw him bleeding.  The security guard posed a question.

            “Say Mack…  What in the world happened to you?”

            The security guard asked over and over until the voice changed along with the words and the accent.  The day was no longer sunny; it was cold, dark and snowy.  He could hear a voice posing the same question over and over again.

            “Say man… What happened to you?  You okay, man?  I know you breathin.  Kin you hear me?”

            Two old homeless black men raced from the fire they had built within the Fisher Body 21 building to see what had happened to the driver of the car that had sailed over the side of the freeway.  Tiny gave a faint response.  One of the homeless men took off on foot to possibly find a cop or someone with a cell phone that could call for an ambulance.  The other homeless man ran back to the building and grabbed a ratty old comforter that he dug out of the garbage.  It smelled horrible but it was warm and Tiny began to go into shock.  Tiny was aware of the fact that he was seriously hurt and the idea of dying that night was entirely possible.  Tiny was scared and began to say out loud that he wanted to live.  He had a wife and kids and he hadn’t yet done all the things he set out to do in life.  Tiny suddenly regretted that he didn’t spend more time with his wife and kids.  He regretted racing through life, doing two things at a time at all times.  He regretted being so angry and dissatisfied with life.  Tiny sniffled as he listened to a homeless black man that he couldn’t see.  All he could feel was a random stranger holding his hand.  If he were to die, someone living would witness it.  The homeless stranger was no stranger to the loss of life.  Jonas had lived through Vietnam and at least a decade on the streets.  Jonas quietly tried to reassure Tiny to fight.

            “Listen boy…  You keep yo eyes open an tell y’self you gone live.  You got a wife an kids…  That reason nuff to live foh.  Yo wife an kids don’t want to be putting yo ass in the goddamn ground on Christmas…  Hell naw.  She want you to give her some present and y’kids want the same.  They want to sit round and eat and talk like people do on dem holidays…  Just like Jimmy Stewart,” said Jonas.

            Jonas rubbed the top of Tiny’s left hand.  Jonas was cold but acclimated to being cold since he lived in the cold.  Tiny trembled almost uncontrollably as his teeth chattered.

            “You cold, I knows it…  Picture walking through a jungle where it so dang hot you kin barely breathe.  You got mosquitoes biting on you and you sweat so much at all times.  I lived through that in Vietnam foh two years, boy.  I sat in the jungle with a young good ole boy from Georgia who hated me foh the color my skin an when the time come an he was tremblin from shock ah been shot, he held mah hand an thanked me foh being wid him… He died an I felt bad.  I felt real bad cause I nevah toll him to fight.  I jus listen to him an he needed t’hear me tell em to fight foh his life…  I’m telling you, boy.  Fight foh yo life.  Fight foh yo family…  You don’t give up, boy.  You keep treading water cause the lifeguard coming.”

            Tiny fought hard to stay awake.  He thought about all the things he wanted to do and say to people that meant so much to him.  After a while he could hear sirens getting closer and closer.  The voice ceased speaking to him and his left hand grew cold.  Tiny passed out and came to in the hospital surrounded by his entire family and a television news crew.

            Every year since the accident on the day before Christmas Eve, Tiny and his hockey teammates rent out the Old Shillelagh and Campus Martius ice rink.  Homeless people from all over Detroit come to get a free meal of corned beef and cabbage and then ice skate for free at Campus Martius, which has an outdoor rink.  Homeless men and women put aside their woes and demons for a few hours as they shuffled across the ice to the sounds of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.  It may seem like a bizarre thing to take the homeless ice skating but none of them minded.  In fact every year the homeless look forward to a day of dignity.  Tiny served food at the restaurant and tied skates at the ice rink.  He no longer raced around in traffic and cut people off.  He did not let insignificant things ruin his days either.  Tiny spent time with his family and took time to appreciate and grasp that every moment of life was life itself.  Tiny took the time to take life in instead of letting it race past him.  Almost dying will put life in true perspective.

            Tiny was offered a lateral move with his company back to Los Angeles and he declined.  When asked why, he answered; I am Detroit, Detroit is me.

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