Seeing the sights.

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.

Posted at 9:20 am in Current events, Media, Same ol' same ol' |

17 responses to “Seeing the sights.”

  1. john c said on November 16, 2007 at 10:15 am

    Given that there are a few Ohioans who read this, and it is UM-OSU weekend, and it is the first anniversary of Bo’s death, and Nancy mentioned him in her post (phew!) I thought y’all would appreciate this Bo joke I heard in the radio. I’m sure it came from south of the border.
    I’m sure Bo is up there in heaven, and he’ll be rooting for the Maize and Blue when the game starts at noon. But I hope they’ll serve him his lunch on a plate, cause if they give it to him in a bowl, he’ll lose it.


    502 chars

  2. Adrianne said on November 16, 2007 at 10:23 am

    Happy birthday to my birthday buddies, Alan, Kate and (the long-dead) Elvis Whitehead from Defiance!

    100 chars

  3. colleen said on November 16, 2007 at 10:43 am

    RIP Ol’ Lefthander. I can remember hearing the games on in the background when I was a mere tot and we were hanging out on my Grams’ and Gramps’ patio on summer evenings.

    (did I mess up those apostrophes?)

    Happy birthday to the birthday people in your house.

    265 chars

  4. Connie said on November 16, 2007 at 10:45 am

    Happy birthday to your birthday people, and to my Dad who is turning 76 today.

    78 chars

  5. Mindy said on November 16, 2007 at 11:25 am

    Happy birthdays to Alan and Kate, and my cousin. I remember thinking when Kate’s birth was mentioned in the paper that she shares her birthday with my cousin Shelley, someone I see so seldom that I’ve lost track of her even though she’s still local. Having a good memory stinks sometimes.

    Speaking of having too good a memory and the Year of Fleece: Did Alan get a replacement for his “smurf” fleece or does he still have it? I bet he’s still got it since the stuff is immortal.

    485 chars

  6. nancy said on November 16, 2007 at 11:34 am

    This will be about his third smurf. You’re right — they’re immortal, except when you lay them carelessly on the campsite picnic table after a night of fishing, and the sleeve gets too close to the Coleman lantern, and melts. That was the fate of the original, smurf-blue pullover.

    The second one is still going strong, but has been relegated to boat work. This one will be his formal smurf, nabbed for half price last summer at one of Patagonia’s rare sales.

    When Alan and Adrianne first realized they shared a birthday, it seemed no one else was born on November 16. Now I meet a new 11/16 Scorpio every year, just about. Just Googling around, I see they also share the date with the Roman emperor Tiberius, W.C. Handy and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

    750 chars

  7. Linda said on November 16, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    Yeah, he got shot in Eastpointe, the city that changed its name from East Detroit, because it didn’t want the taint of nasty old Detroit on it. I always thought that was the most pretentious bit of suburban hubris/paranoia I ever saw.

    235 chars

  8. nancy said on November 16, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    It seems especially silly once you’ve been to Eastpointe. Kind of a pit.

    72 chars

  9. LA mary said on November 16, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    In my neighborhood there was a grass roots movement to change our street names. We have streets named Avenue 45 etc. originally Avenida 45. Down the hill from us is a neighborhood called Highland Park, home of the infamous Avenues Gang. In the eighties when my area was infested with yuppies restoring old craftsman houses, they wanted to remove the taint of the Avenues, and a couple of streets did change their names. Mine did not. A petition was circulated and suggestions were solicited. I suggested Godzilla Street just to be awkward. We got sixteen signatures for Godzilla Street but nothing came of it. The Avenues gang is one of the oldest and nastiest in LA. In my 25 years of living in this area, I haven’t had any run ins with them.

    743 chars

  10. LA mary said on November 16, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    About the Avenues:

    81 chars

  11. michael heaton said on November 16, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    John Friendly? You’re nothin’ but a dirty, lousy, stinkin’ mug. And I’m glad what i done to you. Ya hear that? I’m GLAD what i done.
    (i could write the whole movie. don’t get me started)

    190 chars

  12. michaelj said on November 16, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    I grew up in Bloomfield Hills. I went to school on Seven Mile. UDHigh. We wemt down to Cass, this was in ’68, after Martin was shot.

    We were thinking about James Brown.

    It was pretty normal.
    We were just kids.

    We liked each other or we didn’t get along. Just kids.

    I kinda fell in love. Big deal. We were just kids at the Michigan State Fair. Honest to God the Supremes were playing Reflections.

    Anti miscegenationists, Michigan’s got a milliion rednecks. They attacked, we ran. To the MC5 house on Cass. I know Nancy likes Iggy. In the day, MC5 was the obliviator, SRC was the best band without question in Detroit. Seger, with himself playing lead guitar,and Pep Perrine on drums, was three. Thaatshow things were in Detroit.

    I suppose this is boring, but Nancy reaches out. Seedy Detroit? My very good friend Bill Thigpen, he humiliated (strike that) outplayed Coach Rudy Tomjanovich, later to gain fame by running directly at a gigantic guy about to throw a punch. Dumbest white brother ever.

    But James said, Dooley’s Junkyard Dogs. Dooley’s Junkyard Dogs.


    I’ll watch Spenser reruns to see the finest city God ever put on the face of the earth. Of course, Robert Urich and his costars were quite good anyway.


    1294 chars

  13. michaelj said on November 16, 2007 at 8:44 pm

    Dorothy says Barry looks bigger. Magic looks like he’s put on 100, easy. My brother Mark was a 150 lb. distance swimmer in college, he’s about 240 now. Is this proof he usd steroids? Well, he got older. This whole thing has to do with personal animus

    In my mind what matters is he would most certainly have hit those homeruns. Nitpicking about steroids should focus on pitchers. Who was clean? Clemons (and we don’t mean the agricultural school), or Bonds. The pitchers cheated, and anybody that doesn’t realize that is a moron. Know something else? Hank Aaron in the Launching Pad doesn’t enter the equation with Barry and the Babe. Not close.

    648 chars

  14. michaelj said on November 17, 2007 at 12:42 am

    Message to Micheal Heaton: Have ya read the books by Adrian McKinty, ya wee sleekit bastard? It’s not The Dalkey Archive, and it’s not JC von Damme. Little of both.

    Actually, Adrian McKinty is probably not for some tastes. If you like John D. (Warren’s Best Friend) McDonald, or BladeRunner, you’d find this engaging.

    327 chars

  15. michaelj said on November 17, 2007 at 1:13 am

    LAMary. Youve fot a Springsteen name. If you live on Avenida anything, Lou Dobbs may come creeping behind heavily armed agents of Blackwater, all of them so scared they don’t know whether to piss themselves or murder an innocent onlooker. Thanks to the Tough Guy in Charge, who understands combat, having played an electronic game, these guys will go entirely free if they shot you full of holes. As John Cougar says when he’s not plagiarizing the Kinks, the Beatles or any other number of bands, ain’t that America.

    516 chars

  16. Kim said on November 17, 2007 at 11:03 pm

    Re: Mitch
    I find it so hilarious that we (mitch) can be so … aggrieved when somebody who was known to be a hardass on the field AND known to have had at least two heart attacks AND is in his late 70s just drops dead.
    Poor Mitch. Poor, sugar-rific Mitch.

    LA Mary, I cannot imagine what Mitch would do if faced with real tragedy like the ones the Ave. gang has inflicted on your area. Well, yes I can. He’d make it all about Mitch.

    A double happy to those who make NN happy, and many returns on the day.

    512 chars

  17. LA Mary said on November 18, 2007 at 1:48 am

    The thing about gangs that really gets me is the way the community, or at least a significant number of people in the community, accept them. I can rail against them and the cops crack down on them and the Times runs a series about them. There is no question they are bad guys, beyond bad guys. But then I remember a conversation I had about 13 years ago. I was in the park next to my house around 8 in the morning with my early riser four year old. The park maintenance person was there and she had her 4 year old son with her. He and my son were having a great time with sand toys and on the slide, both sweet kids. The maintenance person told me her son’s dad was killed in a gang fight. He was in Avenues, and his father was in Avenues. Then she said her four year would be in Avenues some day. I asked her how she could accept that, not do whatever she had to to to prevent it, and she said that if it happens it happens. Sort of like hoping your kid doesn’t inherit your nearsightedness or pattern baldness. If her son decides to join a murderous gang and possibly get murdered himself, well, that’s ok. Nothing she can do about it.

    1139 chars