Yesterday’s surface-street trip through Detroit made me wonder if I’m the sort of person who gets a thrill from slumming. Isn’t it sort of ick to find ruin and degradation so interesting? Would I be so pleased to take the long way home if I had to do it on my bike, instead of in my nice safe car? Points to ponder. My gutters guy came by late in the afternoon, begging for work. He did our fall gutter blow-out last year, did a great job, and left not even a business card behind. I tried to find him in the spring, but the only thing I could remember about him was “John Friendly.”
That’s ridiculous, I thought. Johnny Friendly is the gangster boss in “On the Waterfront.” You must be getting that perimenopausal swiss-cheese brain thing. So I was thrilled when he knocked on the door last week with a flyer, which explained my confusion: His business name is John’s Friendly Tree Service, and he had indeed introduced himself the previous year as John Friendly.
“Like in ‘On the Waterfront,'” I said.
“I can’t believe you know that movie! That’s how I got my nickname!” he said. “No one knows that movie anymore.” Then he showed me the year’s big news in the Friendly household: a six-inch scar down the midline of his abdomen, next to a nickel-size hole: “Someone tried to rob me, and I wouldn’t give ’em my truck.” Wow. We agreed he’d clean the gutters in a couple weeks when the oaks were finished, and said goodbye.
It was a reminder that there’s a good reason not to drive through the city taking pictures, although to be sure, he was shot in Eastpointe, not Detroit. On the other hand, one reason the city doesn’t spook me (much) is, it’s just so empty. Not everywhere, of course; anyone who tells you downtown is a ghost town after 5 p.m. hasn’t been there lately. It’s not exactly Chicago, but it’s miles closer than it used to be. But the neighborhoods can have an eerie ghost-town vibe, especially in cold weather.
Anyway, John Friendly was tapioca for the week, and asked if he could do the gutters now, get half his money, then come back after Thanksgiving and do them again for the other half. We negotiated a price, and I paid him the full amount up front. “I appreciate this,” he said. “I’m broke.”
I said, “I’m a writer. We invented broke.” Coming from someone living in a nice house, I’m sure it sounded just about as repellent as it reads on the page. But I know a thing or two about cash-flow problems. Anyone willing to work as hard as John Friendly will be OK, as long as he doesn’t get shot again.
Today is Birth Day, Alan’s and Kate’s twin natal celebrations. We got up early and opened presents at the breakfast table. This year’s theme: Fleece. Kate’s been craving a pair of Uggs, the sheepskin boot that’s all the rage wherever there are chilly toes. Ugg is also the sound you make when you look at the price tag, but I found Acorn makes a seam-for-seam duplicate for one-third the price with only one major difference: it doesn’t say Ugg across the heel. I discussed it with her before I bought them, and told her to expect some blonde tootsie would point this out, and she should be prepared. She said she was ready, but then they came out of the box and …didn’t fit. Looks like baby inherited her mother’s sense of humor, nonchalant attitude toward homework and a boatlike shoe size.
So, let’s get bloggin’:
Are you there, God? It’s me, Mitch: Albom does what only he can do — commune with the dead and assure us that, yes, there is almost certainly high-def TV in heaven. Or maybe something better! Mind your tooth enamel and blood sugar as Mitch talks to Bo Schembechler. (Thanks to a merciful God or perhaps an editor who took his supplemental testosterone this week, Bo doesn’t talk back.)
Detroitblog turns up another gem in a city full of them: The world’s coolest music teacher. It says he’s willing to take on a few more students. Maybe I should call him, if only for the bragging rights of taking piano lessons from a guy who played on “Goin’ to a Go-Go” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”
It’s funny how, even if you don’t follow baseball, the best baseball announcers insinuate themselves into your life, somehow, maybe by coming out of a thousand summer radios or your dad’s TV on warm nights. One of the best, Joe Nuxhall, is dead. He and Marty Brennaman were inseparable from the Cincinnati Reds, especially in that team’s pre-Marge Schott glory days. RIP.