I saw this story yesterday on the Free Press’ most-popular list and — teachable moment! — asked Kate if she could tell my why it happened, how a man who had just hit a utility pole with no injury to himself could be found dead just moments later, with evidence suggesting he’d decided to pass the time by urinating into the ditch near where his car had crashed. She needed more information than that, so I told her there was a live electrical wire in the ditch. That closed the circuit, to to speak:
“Because of the water?” Ding ding ding ding ding. It’s not exactly an SAT essay-question answer, but she’s only in seventh grade. We’ll leave the appreciation of life’s cruel ironies and the question of the universe’s perverse sense of humor for senior year.
I needed that story yesterday, which was not a very good one. Nothing catastrophic happened, just one of those comedy-of-errors 24-hour periods you’re issued every so often. I’m working on a book project, a custom-publishing job, i.e., writer-for-hire work. It requires historical research downtown, at the Detroit Public Library. I found a parking place on Woodward Avenue, right in front of the place, which I chalked up to my prompt arrival in the first hour after opening. Win! Got out, paid in advance for two hours, went to the door — locked. Wouldn’t open for 90 more minutes. No catastrophe; I’d find a quiet place nearby to spread out my materials and get organized. That turned out to be an Einstein’s bagels on the Wayne State campus, which was not quiet, but did have a big overstuffed armchair free. Win! The armchair was free because it was right next to a malfunctioning door, which stayed wide open to the 35-degree elements if not pulled shut, something only every 10th customer realized.
After a few minutes of this, I moved to another overstuffed armchair, far enough from the draft that it wouldn’t bother me. Win! The one next to me was soon taken by a guy who was enjoying a hot sandwich and a conversation with his friend on the other side of me, which I normally don’t mind; I love to eavesdrop. Unfortunately, all they could talk about was how good their sandwiches were.
But I got a little done, and headed back to the library at 10 ’til noon. My paid-for parking place was full; at least someone was having a lucky day. I got another, paid for two hours. I had an OMG moment when I found a letter from 1938, the writer announcing he was coming to Detroit with “a moving-picture newsreel from the German Foreign Office…showing the ceremonies, indoors and outside, in connection with the National Socialist rally at Nuremberg last September. I do not believe anything of this kind has ever been shown in America.”
My heart soared, thinking I had found a contemporaneous description of what were perhaps “Triumph of the Will” outtakes when I thought to check the dates. Um, no. Leni Riefenstahl shot the 1934 Nazi party conference, not 1937.
Trudged out to the car and found a $20 parking ticket. It was that kind of day.
I wonder if I can deduct it.
Came home, and heard about the guy who died with his weenie out, which was a useful reminder that one’s own bad day is almost never the worst bad day anyone ever had.
I wish I could have seen that newsreel. I wish more I could have heard what people said about it.
This project has been a useful reminder that there are two kinds of history — the kind you live through day-by-day, and the kind you didn’t. Go through old newspapers on microfilm for a while, and before long I guarantee you’ll find someone is being accused of leading the youth of America down the path to ruin and socialism. Yesterday I saw a column from the last week of October 1963, by Max Freedman. Dateline Houston:
One of the most surprising discoveries of this visit to Texas is the depth of feeling against the so-called Kennedy dynasty.
In Washington this complaint has dwindled to a pleasant little joke. Out here men swear angrily and women edge their speech with hardness as they denounce “the Kennedys.”
Don’t worry, Mr. President. I hear Dallas loves you.
OK, back to work. Lord knows what will turn up today. And I’ll remember to feed the meter.