Bizarre Saturday night.

Last summer when Alex visited we drove past Theatre Bizarre, a place that lives up to its name. I first found it after taking Kate and a friend to the state fair in 2005. We drove out of a gate onto a city street called, fittingly enough, State Fair, and saw what looked like the remains of a ’30s carnival arrayed across two or three city lots:

Theatre Bizarre

This is the main stage. There’s more.

Now, I’m not stupid. I knew this was the work of art students, not actual carnies. But the illusion was pretty great — the faded banners for the fat lady and other freaks, and the signs for the Ghost Train and Hell Mouth dotted with incandescent bulbs (every eighth one burned out) looked amazingly authentic. Maybe some of them were. I don’t know what was salvage and what was new, but I doubt Hollywood could have done a better job.

I went home and hit the Google. Not nearly enough was out there, but I learned Theatre Bizarre was the venue for one pretty epic Halloween party a year, and not much else. So when Alan and I found ourselves at liberty on Saturday, and the local alt-weekly had a listing for an event there, I knew where we were going, even if we couldn’t quite pull off the costuming as Hairy Man and the Fat Lady. (We went in our customary Land’s End/Ann Taylor Grosse Pointe Squaresville togs.)

The party was the Squared Circle Review, and the best capsule definition is “Mexican-style wrestling, heavy metal, retro-carny acts and old-school burlesque,” and if that’s a pretty wordy capsule, so be it. But that’s what it was — a wrestling ring was erected in the biggest open space in front of the stage, and that’s where Gunther T. Strongman took on six clowns, and Roxi Dlite did her striptease, and the fire-eaters and hoop-twirlers ate fire and twirled hoops. The main stage was for A Mayonnaise Graveyard and Downtown Brown. I’m sorry we missed Polka Madre from Mexico, but I can’t stay up all damn night; when we left at 1 a.m. the Snake vs. Cat wrestling bout was still going on, with a three-piece band led by an electric violin providing the improv soundtrack.

We really need to get out more.

What interests me most in all this is Theatre Bizarre. We ran into one of Alan’s co-workers there, who knows more about it, and she said the space belongs to a guy who buys and renovates houses, and the Theatre Bizarre project is just a way to fill some vacant lots in one of the city’s most blighted neighborhoods. (We went around the block on our way out, and the street directly behind the TB is straight out of the haunted forest. A rat ran across the road in front of our car. I think Central Casting sent him.) He lives in one of the adjacent properties and is content to let this epic stage set — a couple of Flickr sets for your amusement — sit vacant most of the year.

As I have marveled many times: Only in Detroit can artists be real-estate developers.

Around the corner is the Stone House Bar, a biker bar in a building said to have once been a hangout for the Purple Gang. I think that’s next on our urban exploration. I hope they make a decent cheeseburger there.

So, a bit of bloggage:

Time magazine is slowly putting their archives online, and it was there I found this story from 1960, about the first public revelation of the Grosse Pointe point system, the codified tool of discrimination used to keep the Wrong People out of our neighborhood in the postwar expansion. Of course I’d heard about it, but I didn’t know the details, which are fascinating:

Unlike similar communities, where neighborhood solidarity is based on an unwritten gentleman’s agreement, Grosse Pointe’s screening system is based on a “written questionnaire, filled out by a private investigator on behalf of Grosse Pointe’s “owner-vigilantes.”

The three-page questionnaire, scaled on the basis of “points” (highest score: 100), grades would-be home owners on such qualities as descent, way of life (American?), occupation (Typical of his own race?), swarthiness (Very? Medium? Slightly? Not at all?), accent (Pronounced? Medium? Slight? None?), name (Typically American?), repute, education, dress (Neat or slovenly? Conservative or flashy?), status of occupation (sufficient eminence may offset poor grades in other respects). Religion is not scored, but weighed in the balance by a three-man Grosse Pointe screening committee. All prospects are handicapped on an ethnic and racial basis: Jews, for example, must score a minimum of 85 points, Italians 75, Greeks 65, Poles 55; Negroes and Orientals do not count.

Interesting that Jews had the highest bar to jump (all to move into a place with zero synagogues), at time when the concentration camps were still a new revelation.

Much talk on the gossip sites about “The New New Face,” the cover story in New York magazine this week. It tells the story behind, among other things, Madonna’s cheek implants, and how and why plastic surgeons believe the future of face work isn’t the lift, but the stuffing. Nut graf:

Through some unholy marriage of extreme fitness and calorie restriction (and maybe a little lipo), women have figured out how to tame their aging bodies for longer than ever. You see them everywhere in New York City: forty- and fiftysomethings who look better than a 25-year-old in a fitted little dress or a tight pair of jeans. But this level of fitness has created a new problem to which the New New Face is the solution—gauntness. Past a certain age, to paraphrase Catherine Deneuve, it’s either your fanny or your face. In other words, if your body is fierce (from yoga, Pilates, and the treadmill), your face will have no fat on it either and it will be … unfierce. It was only a matter of time before a certain segment of the female population would figure out how to have it both ways, even if it means working out two hours a day and then paying someone to volumize their faces, as they say in the dermatology business. As a friend of mine recently pointed out, there is now a whole new class of women walking around with wiry little bodies and “big ol’ baby faces.” And they look, well, if not exactly young, then attractive in a different way. A yoga body plus the New New Face may not be a fountain of youth, but it’s a fountain of indeterminate age.

Sigh. Bring back the matron, I say.

And finally, another late-arriver, from Sunday’s NYT, about Europeans in the U.S. this summer, buying luxury goods like hungry locusts in a fresh alfalfa field. We noticed this phenomenon in San Francisco last month, where every street-corner conversation was in German or French, and the line out the Apple store was a block long. At one point I finally cracked in the chill and headed to the Levi’s store in Union Square to pick up a pair of long pants. I had to elbow my way past half the population of Stuttgart to get to the fitting room.

“Surely these people can buy Levi’s in Germany,” I said to the clerk.

“Not at these prices,” she said, explaining that the U.S. price was, to Europeans, about a 66 percent savings.

This is your country in 2008, America: Vietnam for Germans. And the dollar’s still falling.

Buy Detroit real estate! It’s cheap even in dollars!

Have a swell Tuesday. And Michiganders: Don’t forget to vote.

Posted at 8:20 am in Current events, Detroit life, Popculch |

15 responses to “Bizarre Saturday night.”

  1. LAMary said on August 5, 2008 at 10:36 am

    Even before the dollar started circling the bowl, Levis were a bargain here to Germans, Dutch, Italians. Whenever the ex made a trip to one of his company’s offices in Europe he was given a shopping list of Levis and Timberlands.

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  2. Dorothy said on August 5, 2008 at 10:43 am

    Thanks for the tip about TIME’s archives. A couple of years ago I searched for the article where my dad was mentioned, and had to pay for a copy of it. Now it’s available for free. Here ’tis in case anyone would like to see it. My dad was Gregory Kirchner:,9171,997037,00.html

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  3. Jolene said on August 5, 2008 at 10:53 am

    Very touching story, Dorothy.

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  4. brian stouder said on August 5, 2008 at 10:53 am

    Very good stuff, Dorothy

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  5. coozledad said on August 5, 2008 at 11:32 am

    That place looks like the perfect venue for the Residents.

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  6. Catherine said on August 5, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Dorothy, what a wonderful story to remember about your dad.

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  7. Catherine said on August 5, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Nancy, I knew I could count on you to link to the story about the New New Face! The money quote is the “wiry bodies and big ol’ baby faces.” Living in LA, believe me I see a lot of this. Now I can smirk at the ski-slope noses and the pulled-too-tight faces, though. Shoulda seen Dr. Rosenberg!

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  8. john c said on August 5, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Something about the “swarthiness” index made me chuckle. I imagine a struggling young broker desperate for a commission and whining to the boss who just nixed a sale: “C’mon. He wasn’t that swarthy.”
    The history of racist real estate tactics in many cities is pretty disgraceful. The Pointes are diversifying, though slowly. At least the Park is. But I remember as recently as the early 90s in Chicago, a new reporter at the suburban paper I worked for was looking for an apartment. He was making the rounds at the village hall he’d be covering, and one local official suggested a certain apartment complex. Turns out the place is a legendary crime spot, peopled by very poor African Americans and illegal Mexicans, the sort of place no one would live unless they had no choice. Our new reporter was, you guessed it, black.

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  9. jcburns said on August 5, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    And Georgians, don’t forget to vote.

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  10. Colleen said on August 5, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Our neighborhood changed our racist covenants within the past ten years…aimed at keeping swarthy people and brown people out.

    I just spend two days in the car with my very VERY Hoosier Conservative in laws. I can’t figure out how my open and accepting husband came from them.

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  11. joodyb said on August 5, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    fortunately for the human race, that seems to be how it works, colleen.

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  12. Jolene said on August 5, 2008 at 9:50 pm

    I read something recently about how redlining and other restrictive real estate practices undermine the accumulation of wealth in minority communities. (Wealth is the worth of all one’s assets, as opposed to income, which is what an individual or family earns. Depending on what they have inherited, saved or whatever, people w/ similar incomes can differ substantially in wealth.)

    Restrictive real estate practices result in (or have resulted in) minorities being less able to accumulate wealth through appreciation in the value of their homes because those homes are inherently less valuable than homes in neighborhoods desirable to (and available to!) the wider community.

    Wealth, as opposed to income, is important in all kinds of ways. If people have assets they don’t need to get by, they can, for instance, send their kids to college without incurring debt themselves or having the kids take out loans. Or they can give their grown children the money to make a down payment on a home, thus permitting them to buy more house or to buy sooner than they otherwise could. In both cases, the parents’ wealth allows the kids to enter onto the path of wealth accumulation themselves in ways that would not be available to kids whose parents aren’t wealthy enough to help them get started in the world.

    There was more to the story than this, but I think this was the heart of it. I thought it was an important analysis, as it makes clear how the legacy of past racism lingers even as the playing field levels, which it hasn’t quite just yet.

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  13. Linda said on August 5, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Do these women with new new faces look that great? Yeah, with camerawork and great makeup, but at some point, you hit the wall: plastic surgery can only make you look better/younger up to a point, then you just look like you had a lot of plastic surgery. And THEN you go into old age looking like what somebody once called a well-preserved 2000 year old mummy. Better to just look like a good, old broad, and still be able to move your face.

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  14. Terry WAlter said on August 6, 2008 at 1:49 am

    Still waiting for our leader to post her teen bikini pix. Gotta believe there’s a classic in there, right up there with Marilyn & Farrah. “And she can write too”. “Ooooo”.

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  15. brian stouder said on August 6, 2008 at 8:48 am


    The more one reads about this ‘mad government scientist’ anthrax guy, the more it looks like an Oliver Stone movie! (I can just see Joe Pesci as a g-man, humiliating the suspect doctor in front of his wife and gawking shoppers, at the mall) And the biker chick/drug counselor/drunk driver is just made for Charlize Therone….

    Two more quick points: I think the folks who think the government itself orchestrated the September 11 attacks are crazy; but it is inescapably true that the government took full advantage of the aftermath…….and in this anthrax aftermath, the government clearly now wants us to believe that a US government employee working in a US Army fort, orchestrated and executed this awful series of aftershocks.

    So if the guy is guilty, why in hell didn’t his personal and professional red flags (that appear to have been all over the place!) disqualify him from working on such sensitive material sooner? And if he’s innocent, then who (at the US Army fort?) DID orchestrate these anthrax attacks? Someday, this will make a hell of a movie

    PS – I’m ashamed to admit that this line from the story made me laugh out loud: Before he died July 29 of a Tylenol overdose, Ivins, 62, had two inpatient stays at Maryland hospitals for detoxification and rehabilitation and attended two sets of therapy sessions with a counselor who eventually sought court protection from him.

    A Tylenol overdose? What?

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