Sometimes, I look around our neighborhood, and it’s overwhelming.
You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting upon some blight. But
ultimately, it’s okay. Detroiters are hard-working and resilient.
It will sound nostalgic to speak of the eastside Detroit neighborhood where I grew up as a successful experiment in racial harmony, with neighbors that cared about each other. But that’s how I remember it. Of course, I was only 11 when I left, and this is how it looks 40 years later. Clearly, we have work to do.
Notes on the Merits of a Midlife Crisis
Wives are often the first to notice the telltale signs of someone in the throes of a midlife crisis. The process often begins with the little noticed differences in affect, the not-so-obvious cries for help expressed in weird unseemly behavior which can no longer be written off as simply quirky or eccentric. Often times it is the wife who is the first to hear the deeply repressed cries for help, the almost child-like calls for attention that often accompany a full-blown outbreak of the affliction. I must admit here, my wife Kay would be one of the first to notice such things.
She’s more observant than most. But even so, before long, it’s difficult to keep others out of the fray. Things start to become more noticeable. They did for her.
At first, others look askance long before they start to raise eyebrows or shyly begin to inquire. Their questions often start out with well-intended timidity: “Say, have you noticed that…? Or I’m only asking you because I care deeply.” I remember asking myself these same questions at a certain point.
Some guys come home with the keys to a brand-new vanity car. Mine was a 1939 Buick sedan that I named, appropriately, “Miss Vicki.” Others start changing up their wardrobe, getting their hair cut slightly differently to hide the receding hairline, obscure the increasing shades of white and grey. Still others take to drinking, or exhibit a sudden rise in libido that marks a heretofore-inhibited interest in other women. Spouses all have different reactions. Some understand, and are more than willing to simply shrug off the sudden lapses in judgment with a laugh, and write off the reckless flights of fancy. Others bolt.
I guess I’m not sure if you know you’re in the middle of a midlife crisis precisely when you are—who’s to say? For some, it makes absolute sense to drive a sporty 2-seater after years of schlepping around now-grown children in a mini-van. Nothing amiss in that.
Sometimes there’s a precipitating event—with guys this often involves the prostate or some other health-induced cautionary flag, after a series of similarly humility-raising medical tests or procedures.
I remember when my crisis first began. It was about 15 years ago. I can remember it almost exactly to the day. If a dozen others had witnessed the incident that Kay did, they would have started asking more questions. It was on a Sunday morning in the middle of March, the 13th of March as it turned out, to be exact. I asked Kay if I could take our 7 year old son Will down to a religious service at a neighborhood church in the middle of Detroit. She scarcely raised a concern that I was heading off into the middle of what some describe as a war zone. In the years since, there have been countless other signs pointing to the fact that something wasn’t quite right.
But more recently, my behavior became more pronounced, the potential cause for alarm clearly on the ascent. I came home one day after a week on the road and suggested that we get rid of half of our possessions, toss them, or give them away, since we no longer found much use for most of them. After doing so, I suggested we sell our home, yes; the one we built over 20 years ago on the most perfect plot of land in the middle of the most perfect Midwestern college town. In the kind of neighborhood anyone of middle age and middle income dreams of driving through in a Volvo or Subaru wagon or SUV dropping off various kids in carpool. Yes, the house with the kitchen wall that could never be painted because it was etched with the heights of each of our two boys from the year they turned 2 until the year they headed off to high school. Yes, the house we built in Ann Arbor, my perfect dream spot after college, right down the street from the most perfect down-to-earth country club where much like the bar in Cheers years ago, “everyone knows our name.” Yes, that house.
More to the point, after selling said house, I suggested we leave the idyllic splendor of our quiet suburban neighborhood, filled as it was to capacity with fun-loving and similarly situated friends and family. Get rid of that house, and all the safe, comfortable serenity that accompanied it. Yes, that life and all the stuff inside. I suggested we pick up and move.
Yes, I could justify asking her to do this. After all, just months earlier, I had just taken a new position with a company that allowed me the latitude of a number of different possibilities for re-location. The new company was based in San Diego California, so there was that. Or Fort Worth Texas, or Chicago, or Cincinnati, or Boston or Atlanta, any number of these places having offices where my newfound work colleagues already resided. Yes, any of these choices represented realistic options.
But instead of proposing any of these as my first choice, now that our boys were grown and on their own, more or less, and we really didn’t need to stick around town for any particular reason other than that we were comfortable and happy, and didn’t need to live here to attend all the home football games in the Big House, I went down an entirely different path.
No instead, I asked her to move to downtown Detroit.
Yes, the city that I grew up in for the first decade of my life, for sure, but that bore little resemblance to the heterogeneous hodgepodge of ethnic enclaves I remember vividly from my childhood. The city that had lost nearly a quarter of its entire population in the past decade. Yes, that city. The one that was still known by many as the murder capital of the world, even though larger and more populous cities had statistically edged ahead of it in that particular performance category. Yes, that city. The one that currently graduates less than a quarter of its students from high school, unless they’re incarcerated for a capital crime, in which case their chances for graduating rise substantially.
Yes, the city that on the brink of fiscal receivership deposed its mayor in a sex scandal only to learn that he’d also been under surveillance by the police for extortion, money laundering and employing his father simultaneously as political mentor and bagman. Yes, the same city that simultaneously uncovered corruption in its Police force and accepted the resignation of its Chief of Police because of a sex scandal with a woman on the force, who in turn had succeeded a Chief of Police who had been deposed by a sex scandal with the same woman employed on the same Police force, not terribly long after learning that the force itself, had corrupted most of its own DNA and forensic evidence for much of its incarcerated population.
Yes, that Detroit.
Okay, so here’s the kicker. Within days I had mapped out a half dozen different possibilities after extensive research. (I’m not arguing that it wasn’t an unusual decision on my part, just suggesting it was well-thought).
Then Kay got into a car with me the next weekend. We drove down to Detroit. And just like she did 26 years earlier, when I first approached her on bended knee (I could do that back then) at our favorite restaurant in Roanoke Virginia, Alexander’s, arriving ring in hand and asked her to marry me, Kay said YES, emphatically so! Let’s do it.
Let’s sell our home in Ann Arbor and move to Detroit.
So, after all this, here we are now. In midtown Detroit in a loft formerly home to the accounts payable department of a Good House Keeping small appliance store. It overlooks the public library with the world’s largest archive of automotive repair manuals, across from the empty parking lot once home to the largest retail department store in the world, several blocks from the global headquarters of the world’s once largest automotive company in the world next to another empty parking lot currently under construction, and across the street from Woodward Avenue. Woodward, the granddaddy of all downtown shopping boulevards in its hey-day, and now hey-what-its endlessly interesting amalgam of wig stores, blighted abandoned buildings, reclaimed residences, and crumbling cornices. It’s where we can spend 75 cents to take the People Mover over to the restaurants in Greektown, or spend $10 walking there after paying homage to the area’s frequent pan-handlers, grifters, destitute prostitutes and drifters.
And of course it’s only a few miles from that house on Eastburn off Gratiot, where Vicki was murdered. So there’s that to consider. And so I guess the obvious question then is this: Is the crisis midlife or midtown? I’m thinking it might be anyone’s guess at this point.
We will rise up from our ashes.
This is the iconic emblem of Detroit’s decay, built months before Henry Ford announced his $5/day wage scheme to herald the new dawn of the automobile.
This church is still standing like so many others, bruised but not broken.
the most creative enterprise in Detroit