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October 23, 2012

The Final Debate or Lions, Tigers and Da Bears

            The Washington’s, no relations to Harold the former first black mayor of Chicago or George the first white president of the United States that they are aware of but then again you never know, were sitting in their living room after work, school and dinner.

            LincolnWashington, the patriarch got a job at Mc Donald’s as junior in high school.  Lincoln would take a Woodward Avenue bus from a rough section of Detroit and when you are talking about a rougher than average area of Detroit, it would be in the running with some of the most dangerous areas in the world.  Be that as it were, Lincoln found a job in the suburbs and started at $3.35 an hour in 1983 by 2012, Lincoln owned two franchises of his own.  Lincoln drove a Lincoln Navigator and his wife drove a Chrysler 300.  Lincoln set his wife Mi’chelle up with a day spa in downtown Detroit near the casinos, ball parks and Greektown.  One could get their nails done and the stress of American life kneed out of their backs while listening to Kenny G and a waterfall within a small cubical.  The Washington’s were ahead of the American curve and living the American dream.

            Lincoln and Mi’chelle had two children, Tonisha and Dwight.  Tonisha, the eldest, left Detroit and immigrated to South Africa.  She wanted to be part of the transformation in the new South Africa.  While going to school in Capetown, she met a handsome young man who surfed and was an heir to a winery.  So much for bonding with true black Africans and taking up their struggle.  Tonisha married a blond haired blue eyed Afrikaner who surfs for a living and does part time promotional work for his father’s winery.  Their mixed race children run around the beach.  The two boys like to play Rugby and surf and hunt with their grandfather Pieter way out in the bush.

            Dwight, who was named after a former American president, received a scholarship to the University of Chicago and bought a bean pie one day from a clean cut looking young man on StoneyIsland on Chicago’s south side, became his friend and eventually joined the nation of Islam.  Dwight returned to Detroit to try and transform poverty sticken areas and convert hopelessly poor people to the Nation of Islam.

 Tonisha was in bed asleep in Capetown when the final debate started. She fell asleep wondering how she was going to get her hair done, get Fredrich to his Cricket practice and Wilhelm to his Rugby match all at the same time.  The next president of the free world never entered her mind.  Meanwhile in Detroit, Michigan, her family sat glued to the television.

            “I got it right here what Romney actually said about the auto industry.  It’s on the internet for everyone to look up and find.  How can that man bold face lie about something that is in print for everyone to find for themselves?”  Said Lincoln.

            “I wish you’d hush… That man is your president.  Your president went out on a limb and saved this town from going outta business.  He believed in the auto industry and believed in Detroit and you still standing behind a white man who didn’t even believe you were a human being until 1978.” Said Mi’chelle.

            “It’s been 4000 years since white people came from Africa and Africans to go into the world and become the pasty white devils that they are.  Black people are duped and herded by the Jewish agenda.  Jews have us buying into believing that they carry the struggle of the black man with them.  How many poor blacks do you see? Now how many poor Jews do you know?”  Said Dwight.

            “Boy, hush up…  Sammy Davis Jr. was as black as he was Jewish.” Said Lincoln.

            “How can I respond to that sort of a comment?  Where is the logic, dad?  The Candy Man was a black Jew so we should all become Jews?”  Asked Dwight.

            “No, I’m asking you to hold your tongue so we can hear what the men have to say.  Ron Paul ain’t going to be the next president no matter how much you and Farrakhan want him in.  It’s going to be one or the other and you might as well get used to it.” Said Lincoln.

            The president and Mitt Romney went on to sell themselves on the American public on who would be a better man to serve the nation’s interests and needs.  Lincoln sat in his chair strategically in front of the television, Mi’chelle sat on the couch while Dwight leaned with arms folded against the wall of their 4,000 square foot home that was insulated by the fact that at 14 Mile Road and Telegraph Road, they were a great distance from the blight and hopelessness that the average Detroiter lives with day in and day out.  Quiet and desolate streets appearing to be a ghost town among abandoned homes or slabs of concrete where homes used to be where sparsely scattered homes inhabited by trapped people whose plight will not change whether the president is a Republican or Democrat.  At 14 miles from the center of downtown Detroit, there was low unemployment, well kept homes with manicured lawns, nice cars and children playing outside.  The difference between living and surviving could be found within fourteen miles.  The difference between the first world and the third world, the invisible and not invisible, haves and have-nots all within just 14 miles.

  The father, mother and son agreed to disagree.  The father wanted a man who was a good business man to run the country like a prosperous business.  The mother wanted to stay the course and follow a man who inherited a tremendous mess and believed he was doing well considering the hand he was dealt and then there was their son.  Their son was rebelling against his parents who embodied the true essence of the American dream; follow your dreams, work hard and you will prosper.  Like any bored and privileged suburban young man who is underemployed and still living at home, Dwight was raging against the status quo.  Idealism eventually gives way to reality with maturity or when bills need to be paid was what Lincoln quietly concluded to himself about his son.

 The debate ended and Lincoln turned the television on to the football game between The Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears just in time to see the Lions fail to score.  At the one yard line with less than three feet from the end zone and six points, the Lions fumbled the football.  The family winced collectively and then they were quiet for a moment.  Things appeared to be returning to the way things had been in Detroit for a long time after a great football season the year before.

            “I think we can all agree on one thing…  The Lions are still the same old Lions.  Thank god for the Tigers.”

September 7, 2011

The Road From Iraq to Detroit

Bill had finished two years in Iraq before being shipped out for four more in Afghanistan.  After six years of driving around in a light armored vehicle, he was fortunate to be alive and whole.  Bill had served one more year than his grandfather had in World War II and nearly five more than his father had inVietnam.  At the age of twenty five, Bill was hoping to become a police officer somewhere in the state of Michigan.  On Labor Day, Bertram volunteered to drive the school bus route that had been his since 1973, one more time to ensure Bill would be ready to go come Tuesday.

            Bertram had a late model Cadillac STS that he had saved up to buy for a number of years when his 1990 Pontiac had too many problems to throw money at.  Bertram sadly knew that the new Cadillac was probably going to be the last car he would ever purchase in his life.  At the age of sixty six, it just didn’t make too much sense to make a lot of long term plans like a thirty year mortgage on a house.  To buy a car out right in cash made more sense than to make payments into his seventies.

 On a bright, sunny and cool Labor Day Monday, Bertram met Bill at aConey Island off of Grand River in Detroit.  Bertram was finishing some eggs while reading about the Detroit Tigers huge win over the Chicago White Sox the night before.  Bertram, a tall and thin black man, clean shaven, wore a thin black tie on top of a long sleeved with shirt and dark tan slacks with shiny black shoes.  On the table next to the coffee and paper was a black pork pie hat. 

            Bill, a muscular young white man with four day old stubble on his head and face, walked in with a faded black sleeveless Detroit Red Wings T shirt from his high school days that proudly displayed a tattoo of a gothic D on his right shoulder.  He had a stud earring in his left ear, a furrowed brow and torn blue jeans as we walked into theConey Islandto meet Bertram.  Bill plopped himself down across from Bill as the waitress poured a cup of coffee for Bill.  Bill was tired and a bit hung over from being at the Tiger’s game the night before.  After the game, Bill and his friends hung out in the patio area of The Elwood, a bar down the street from Comerica Park.

 Bill thought it was a bit overkill to go through the bus route one more time but didn’t want to insult an old guy that gave a low level job, more respect than it deserved.  As they walked out to the parking lot, there was a huge boat of a car with the top down.  It was a 1973 Cadillac Eldorado painted light blue.

            “You evah driven one these old cars, young man?”

            “Can’t say I have…”

            Bertram tossed the keys across the car to Bill and got in on the passenger side of his own car.  The white seats were like new and the dashboard did not have a speck of dust.  Bill turned the car on.  Immediately the 8 track player began to play Summer Breeze by the Isley Brothers.  Bill still thought that the trip was pointless but looked forward to cruising around with the top down in a beautiful old car.  Bertram did most the talking.

            “So you gonna pick up the bus off Seven Mile…  My advice is to get there early so you ain’t lined up to get out there by the last minute.  You got you some fellas there with a chip on they shoulder, they gone try to cut and squeeze you outta place.  You gone want to bust them in the jaw.  My feeling is why go through that hassle the first day.  Get up early and take yo time and avoid all that mess…”

            Bertram spoke slow and in a deep rich voice.  Bill felt like he was driving in a time warp as he looked over at Bertram who was wearing a Pork Pie Hat and squared off Ray-Ban sunglasses.  Bill followed where Bertram directed him to go.

            “Make a right here onGrand River…  This is where you gone begin.  Now you gone find and make yer own way and I ain’t about to start telling you how you gone get things done.  That would be wrong of me.  I am gone to tell you how Bertram done things and you listen and decide whatchu want to do…  I started this here bus route afta losing my job at the Fisher Body 21 plant.  That’s that skeleton looking building you see off of 75 when you trying to git ovah to the 94.  I lost that job onna count I couldn’t keep mah self from drinking afta work.  You see…  I waddn’t married and I was young and had a few bones and so I would go out and have one and then one lead to anothah one and then a few moh and then before you knew what was going on, the sun be coming up.  So afta I missed work a few dozen times, they decided to drop me and they wasn’t nothing I could do even though I was in the union.  They only so much the union can do to help you when you off drunk every othah day…  Okay, here is where you gone make the first stop.  Lemme jus say this; the kids gone test you and the mo you try to act as bad as them, they gone try to git to you mo.  When I first started, there was a young guy with a large Afro and a pick stuck all up in his hair.  He came on the bus with a box blarin music loud.  I toll him to turn off the music and he toll me to do something to m’self.  My first thought was that not more than a year earlier, I was trying hard to stay alive in Nam and here some young punk who ain’t even got his feet wet yet in life gone step up to me?  I took his box and threw it out the bus and him with it.  The othah kids wasn’t scared.  They didn’t respect me no mo foh dat.  I didn’t git fired but I had to go and buy the punk a new box and aftah he looked like he did nothing wrong.  I ain’t gone throw religion in yo face cause we all got to find our way.  I started getting my life right and all the othah things in life fell in.  I began to think how I was gone to git the kids on my side and still git them to be respectful.  They gone swear and let they pants hang off they ass.  They gone git worked up ovah a pretty girl and act a fool.  How to let em know to act like young men and ladies and have respect foh each othah and they selves?  It wasn’t easy but I managed it, young man.”

            Bill had applied and accepted the job of being a school bus driver in inner city Detroit where most students were poor and all were black.  Bill looked to be a formidable looking young white guy with anger issues.  As they drove slowly downGrand River, the boarded up buildings and weeds growing in cracks in the side walk reminded him of driving in parts of Baghdad and Afghanistan.  Bill believed there were predators hiding behind windows of abandon buildings, ready to kill him and Bertram for the classic car not unlike what he had lived through in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Bill’s head was on a swivel.  He surveyed things from left to right and constantly used his peripheral vision as he drove an even thirty miles and hour.  Bertram wasn’t as cautious.

            “Yeah, I get what you’re saying.  The obvious difference between you and I is the color of our skin.  Them kids are gonna see me tomorrow and automatically are gonna hate me for what they think I am,” said Bill.

            “And you already decided that they gone look at you a certain way.  Imma tell you right now…  Some dem girls gone be workin you like a stick shift.  You a good lookin young man with a good smile and strong build.  Them girls look like women an probably they lookin as good as they evah gone look in they lives but you got to remember that they children trapped in an adult body.  Anyway…  All yo preconceived ideas and thoughts about young, poor black children gone ooze from yo eyes when they step on dat bus.  They already gone think that you some rich kid from Southfield or Royal Oak.  They ain’t gone think you jus some regular working class kid who jus live above 8 Mile all up in Warren.  They ain’t gone know you served.  They gone to think all the things they learned bout white people they whole lives.  How you gone to show dem they wrong?  I tell you what…  If enough white people and black people would put aside what they think and what they learned, we could bring this city back to what it was.  Black people blame whites and whites blame blacks.  How bout people who are black and white get together and say we Detroiters and we gone bring back this town.  I need you and you need me to do it.  I look at Nelson Mandela and the whole dang country of South Africa.  Them black people went from being nothing to running the country and they did not go aftah white people to punish them foh the past.  Why?  Cause a smart man like Mandela understood dat you need the whites to keep the country going. Detroitneed the whites to be in Detroit and if dat evah happens, things gone change.  Prejudice keep things where they at.  You ain’t gotta go to Mississippi, boy.  You got more racism in this state and city than you gone find in the south.  You and I both know cause we served in active combat that when you think might die, it don’t matter much the color of the skin of the dude next to you.  Somebody you know jus die and you not sure if you the next to git picked off and you lookin at the dude next to you and he from Hicksville, Alabama where they hated people from the north and they didn’t much like niggahs but he crying and just wants to be held like a baby and be told dat he gone make it, dat he ain’t gone die but if he does, he want you there wid him so that he don’t die alone…  Make a right up here.”

            Bill thought back to a day in Baghdad when a young boy had tripped a mine on the side of the road.  Bill had gotten out of his tank and tried to comfort a young boy that was missing a leg.  The boy, who was not more than ten years of age, died from a loss of blood.  Bill held the boy until fellow soldiers pried the boy away from him.  Despite all the gore and death Bill had witnessed, seeing a young boy die in a matter of minutes, hit Bill the hardest and had the greatest impact on him.  Tears began to stream down Bill’s cheeks.  Bertram asked no questions.  He just put his hand on Bill’s shoulder and rubbed it.

            “If I can give you one mo piece of advice, young man, I would like you to know dat you got you a finite number of days and yes when you young like you is, you can throw way years and still come out okay.  But them years gone roll like a Sherman Tank and take down evrah thang in it way.  Thirty, forty, fifty and then you git to sixty or mo like me and you wonder whatchu did with your life.  You ask yo-self if you lived or you jus existed?  What is the purpose of all this really?  I could have kept working foh a few more years but then it hit me in the spring when I had mah sixty sixth birthday; I ain’t gone be round much longer.  My wife dead, my son dead, two mah brothers dead and mah parents dead so long ago I sometimes think I jus made them up in mah mind.  If it weren’t foh pictures, Idda believe they was nevah here.  So I got to thinking bout what might make me happy and I decided that I will take this here car all the way toLos Angeles.  Imma go to California aftah living mah whole life in Dee-troit.  If you don’t count the two years I lived inVietnam, I ain’t nevah been nowhere else.  I got me an apartment picked out on computer where I can see the sun set ovah the Pacific Ocean.  Imma stay there all winter.  And so I tell you, young man, find now what gone make you happy.  Don’t keep saying someday cause that someday gone end up at the end of a road that you cain’t turn round on…  Speak of which, this here yo last stop.  Aftah here, you take dem right to school or you finished foh the day…  You gone be fine.”

            Bill drove back to the Coney Island and shook hands with an old man who had done more for him in an hour than most people had done for him in years.  After shaking hands with Bertram, Bill leaned forward and hugged Bertram.  Bill quietly spoke near Bertram’s ear before ending the embrace.

            “Not many people can begin to understand where I came from and where I’m going.  What I went through and where I could wind up…  I hope the west coast is exactly what you want and need.  Thank you for your time, sir.”

            At the second stop of the first day, a young black man with sleep still in his eyes stepped onto the bus with a straight brim Detroit Tigers hat and a white Tiger’s Jersey.  In the rear view mirror, Bill could see that the name on the back of the jersey was Verlander.  The young man sleepily stared out of the window while checking for messages on his cell phone that weren’t there.  His eyes met Bill’s several times in the mirror.  They both looked away.  Finally Bill engaged the young man in conversation.

           “Everyone thinks it’s going to be Boston, The Yankees or Phily.  We got Verlander, Valverde, Cabrera and Jackson.  Verlander might win the Cy Young but it takes a whole team and the Tigers are tough as hell this year,” said Bill.

            “If I could pitch like Verlander, I’d quit school today,” said the young man.

            “Most of us will never be a Verlander.  If we all just try to be as good as we can be everything will be alright.”  Said Bill.

            The young man nodded as he thought about what Bill said.

            “True dat…”

May 4, 2010

Detroit’s Sexiest Cop

Kate saw a poster of Kwame Kilpatrick, looking down with a stern face, pointing his index finger at anyone looking at him with the words, “Detroit Wants You”.  At the time Kate was working with inner city kids in an after school program where she supervised playing and doing homework until it was absolutely necessary for the children to go home.  Kate was the epitome of whiteness with her reddish blond hair and freckles.  She stood out among the African-American children who were part of the after school program.

            Kate had gone to Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan and had a bachelor’s degree in Art.  Kate loved art and had done a semester in Paris so that she could study the old churches throughout France.  Kate found it nearly impossible to find a job as an art teacher anywhere in the metro Detroit area and so resorted to substitute teaching and running an after school program to make ends meet.

            Around the age of twenty one, Kate had married and had a son.  The marriage didn’t last and the father took off never to be seen again.  Kate raised her son Jim alone.  Jim wore sagging stove pipe jeans and skate boarding shoes.  He usually wore several different t shirts related to skateboarding, his hair was long, and he made homemade tattoos and watched a lot of Jackass on MTV when he wasn’t out near the parking garage of their downtown Detroit condominium doing the same tricks over and over on his skateboard. 

            Kate was distraught over her under employment, her teenaged son who hated the world and the void of a man in her life.  She looked at a picture of the mayor of Detroit and said to her, “Fuck it…  I’ll be a cop”.

            Within eighteen months, Kate had become a police officer for the Detroit Police.  Her son told her that he hated cops but didn’t hate her so much.  This was while she tried to show off her smart new uniform to him while he played X-Box and ate a Little Caesar’s pizza.

            Kate had talked to a few girlfriends that were doing internet dating and so she decided to give it a try.  The first half dozen dates were a total flop.  The men were either intimidated by the fact that Kate was a police officer or they were drawn to her only for that reason.  Two stated on the first and only dates, that they wanted to be handcuffed.

            “So um…  Do you have your cuffs with you?”

            “Um…  Do you have your computer with you?”

            Kate became despondent over her prospects but then received a nice message from a fitness instructor from Farmington Hills.  The man, who was thirty five years of age, was in shape and youthful looking.  Tom sent thoughtful messages and asked appropriate questions and had offered to take Kate out to dinner in Greektown and then to a Red Wings playoff game.  It sounded like a great first date for Kate.

            The day of the date, Kate was nervous and preoccupied.  She had detail near Comerica Park where the Detroit Tigers played.  There happened to be an afternoon game and Kate was sent to keep an eye on traffic near the ball park.  People filed in and out uneventfully for the most part.  It was in the middle of the fifth inning that Kate noticed a man pissing on the east side of the Detroit Opera House.

            Kate was sitting in her squad car listening to the Tigers game on the radio when she noticed a man with a Tigers jersey on, running towards the opera house.  In bright sun shine of an afternoon game, a man facing the wall with VERLANDER across his back, pissed for a good two minutes.  Once finished, Kate was standing nearby to make the arrest.

            “With all the shit that goes on in this town, you’re arresting me for pissing?”

            “Sir, if everyone pissed on the opera house, what would that building smell like?  Huh?  Better yet, why don’t I invite everyone from the opera house to come and piss on your house?  Would you like that?”

            “Come on, ma’am…  Cut me some slack.  I never even had a parking ticket before.  I been taking Dianetics for some health stuff and I can’t hold it and there was a million guys waiting in line by the bleachers and so I had to make a snap decision.  It’s my fault.  I met the boys for a few before the game at Chelios’ place and then they kept buying at the park and well with the pills to flush my kidneys, there was no way to hold it.”

            “Did you say Dianetics?”

            The pleading fell on deaf ears.  Kate took the culprit in and he was charged with drunk and disorderly.  After filling out the paper work, Kate went home to get ready for her date.  At first she put on a skirt with a tight blouse that showed her tight stomach and perky boobs and then she changed into a pair of jeans and a loose long sleeved top.  She then put on two dresses and tried to decide if she would wear her hair down or up or use a clip to keep the bangs up.  There was a lot of agony as she readied herself for the date.  Her son blasted songs from the Insane Clown Posse in the next room.

            “Jimbo… can you turn that down.  It’s so loud…”

            “Fuck wine coolers, fuck chickens, fuck ducks, everybody in your crew sucks…”

            Kate tried to curl her hair at the tips slightly and felt that it was looking a little to Mary Tyler Moore and it was getting too late to straighten it.  The fowl language and audio level of the song being blasted from Jim’s room was beginning to compound Kate’s frustration.

            “Turn that shit down or I will fucking break it… Do you hear me?”

            “Fuck your mom, fuck your mom’s momma…  Fuck the Beastie Boys and the Dalai Lama…”

            Kate came into the bedroom and ripped the electrical cord from the wall.  Jim had been laying in bed zoning out after sniffing a rag full of turpentine with some of his skate boarding buddies near Hart Plaza.  Jim had his eyes closed and was picturing himself telling everyone in his life to go fuck themselves as he listened to the song, Fuck the World.

            “I swear I will send you to a military school if you don’t show me some respect very soon, little man.  I’ve about had it with your sulking, angry attitude.  What the hell do you have to be so upset about?  I’m out busting my ass to provide a place for you and all I get is grief.  Keep it up and see what I do.  You’ll have some sadistic former drill instructor with his foot so far up your ass; you’ll swear you can taste leather… Keep testing me, son.”

            And with that, Kate slammed the door.  She wore a cute pair of pumps and a tight dress that showed off her figure but did not come across as slut like.  Kate grabbed a cab and was at the restaurant in Greektown in minutes.  Kate sat on a bench in the waiting area and prayed that each man who came through the door was either her date or not.  After a few minutes, Kate was blind sided.  Her date approached from the opposite direction.  He had camped out early at the bar so that he could see her walk in first.  He walked up and smiled at Kate and extended his hand.  Kate felt that her date looked better in person than in the photo on the dating site.  Kate kept looking at the man who looked so familiar to her as they dipped their French bread in olive oil and waited for their wine.  Kate’s hair was down and she wore make up and lip stick and looked very much like a lady than a female cop.  Kate listened to the man speak and studied his face until it all came together for her.  She posed a question while they toasted their glasses of Greek red wine.

            “So how do you feel about the opera, Mr. Verlander?”

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