When Alan was features editor in Fort Wayne, he had an intern one summer with a shall-we-say-foundational problem. She had no real instinct for a story.
One in particular sticks in my memory. A new freeway bypass was being constructed at the time, and of course it included many overpasses. When those are built, the ‘dozers pile up a lot of earth, leaving holes in the ground that become stormwater retention ponds. You’ve driven past approximately a million of these in your lifetime. In this case, one of the property owners whose land abutted this project had a dream, and worked out a deal with the highway department to make the retention pond near him just a little bit bigger, big enough to be the minimum size required to accommodate that dream: To host sanctioned water-skiing competitions. In that very pond.
I believe he had landed his first event, nothing Cypress Gardens-level, but still: A sanctioned water-skiing competition! In a freeway retention pond, the boats tracing extremely tight triangular patterns, with the traffic screaming by! Now there’s a story.
The intern could not be convinced. “It’s just a guy with a pond in his back yard,” she argued. “So he’s going to run a boat around on it. Big deal.”
I don’t think Alan won that one, and didn’t try to — any story written by any reporter who couldn’t see the humor and absurdity in that situation would be stillborn. But I thought about her when I read the comments on a short aggregation/rewrite I did for Deadline, of a charming story written for the Freep by my ottering friend Bill. He freelances a regular feature called Free Press Flashback, which is pretty self-explanatory. Sunday’s was on the time the city police department rolled out the red carpet for a Hollywood movie production, and the ensuing film, “Detroit 9000,” turned out to be a piece of crap:
A Black congressman from Detroit announces his run for Michigan governor in the ballroom of the Book Cadillac Hotel. After he collects $400,000 for his campaign in money and jewels from Black supporters, a group of masked robbers cleverly steals the loot.
That bold caper is the opening scene in “Detroit 9000,” the low-budget tire squealer that made big headlines in 1973. Hyped as the first locally filmed feature movie, it ended up embarrassing city officials and local celebrities who had fallen hard for Hollywood’s promise to splash the glories of Detroit across the silver screen.
After allowing filmmakers to use police assets from headquarters to horses, Mayor Roman Gribbs blasted the production team as “a garbage organization that produced a garbage movie.”
The police commissioner got a bit part, for which he will win no acting awards. Local celebrities got similar roles and walk-ons. And were rewarded with a film whose marketing line called their city “the murder capital of the world” — “where honkies are the minority race.”
It’s a funny story. Here are a few of the Facebook reactions:
So why bring it up?
Ya I know all about it. Do we really need to re live every one of these moments?? Certainly things are different now?
So.. Michigan is doomed, if all our media sources keep bringing up past filth and horrors. We’ve got to get past these garbage racist viewpoints. It’s too decisive and all it does is make this place slow and miserable.
Sigh. It must be terrible to go through life without a sense of humor. Like not being able to smell. Although I have to say, I’ve known reporters like that. Give them the job of writing about “Detroit 9000,” and they’d spend six paragraphs noting that a $400,000 fundraiser, in 1973, would be the equivalent of $2.6 million today, and that’s totally unrealistic for a single state-level function, plus it would be against the law to accept jewelry in lieu of cash.
I’m reading “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison, because some state senator concerned about Dirty Books is hooked up with some people who want it out of school libraries. It’s a Morrison novel I had not yet read, so I thought I might see what the fuss is about. The problem is a scene depicting the incestuous rape of an 11-year-old. It made me recall my high-school English teacher assigning Maya Angelou’s memoir “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” in which the 8-year-old Maya is also raped. My teacher was a very prim and proper old-school sort, but she did not shrink from the horror of those passages, and we had a very serious classroom discussion about them.
Perhaps this is why I grew up to be a Democrat. I was forced to read dirty books.
“The Bluest Eye” is a masterpiece, step one on Morrison’s path to the Nobel Prize. I pity the idiots who see it solely as obscenity. I wonder what they read for recreation, if they read at all. I guess the Left Behind novels had to sell to someone.
Hope all had a good weekend, with lots of recreational reading.
One of the things I read, not for recreation, was the New York Times’ Haiti project:
(F)or generations after independence, Haitians were forced to pay the descendants of their former slave masters, including the Empress of Brazil; the son-in-law of the Russian Emperor Nicholas I; Germany’s last imperial chancellor; and Gaston de Galliffet, the French general known as the “butcher of the Commune” for crushing an insurrection in Paris in 1871.
The burdens continued well into the 20th century. The wealth Ms. Present’s ancestors coaxed from the ground brought wild profits for a French bank that helped finance the Eiffel Tower, Crédit Industriel et Commercial, and its investors. They controlled Haiti’s treasury from Paris for decades, and the bank eventually became part of one of Europe’s largest financial conglomerates.
…How is it possible, many ask, that Haiti shares an island with the Dominican Republic, with its underground subway system, health care coverage, public schools, teeming resorts and impressive stretches of economic growth?
Corruption is the usual explanation, and not without reason: Haiti’s leaders have historically ransacked the country for their own gain, legislators have spoken openly on the radio about accepting bribes and oligarchs sit atop lucrative monopolies, paying few taxes. Transparency International ranks it among the most corrupt nations in the world.
But another story is rarely taught or acknowledged: The first people in the modern world to free themselves from slavery and create their own nation were forced to pay for their freedom yet again — in cash.
I knew nothing of this history, and I found the whole package fascinating. I checked Twitter for the reaction and found it to be, shall we say, derisive:
"Historians say"; "leading historians"; "documents rarely reviewed by historians". The @nytimes stood on the backs of researchers of Haiti and the Caribbean who mostly aren't in the story but are relegated to another tiny link. Scholars deserve recognition.https://t.co/ic2iGN9DgN
— Rebecca Shapiro (@RebeccaJShapiro) May 21, 2022
OK, fine. Sorry I brought it up. Man, people are so damn touchy.
I guess that’s all. Do yourself a favor and read a dirty book today.