Living in McNation

There was a recent squabble on the internet about the changes made to the Christmas display in our downtown park. Since I was a child, the walkways have been covered with large candy canes tilted over the path almost like soldiers raising their arms over royalty. This year those old candy canes were replaced with new ones, bolted into the concrete, standing upright with lights dangling overhead. The uproar was immediate. A petition was made. Emails went out to the local government officials. News stories were pushed out of the way for “candy cane gate.” Some of the candy canes that had gone to auction were removed and put back into the park to hold back the hostile crowds but in the end more people signed the petitions to have the original candy canes put back than had voted in the last local election for mayor. This is where our society has gone, voting with emails, tweets, Facebook post, and YouTube videos instead of the voting booth.
We shouldn’t be surprised about this, finding something like candy canes more offensive than politicians blackmailing foreign allies. If we look at our most recent history nobody could have predicted the most recent cultural phenomenon, from “Cash me outside” girl to “what does the fox say?” Brexit turned out to be a total disaster and the same people who didn’t bother to vote because Hillary had it in the bag were surprised when Donald Trump became our president. The history of our country is no longer measured in decades but instead by news stories and what the public can be the most upset about at a certain time, and the whole process is exhausting.
History is disappearing around us and is being replaced with new cheap fabrications that have no life, class, or artistic merit to justify the cost. The courthouse downtown is scheduled to be turned into condos and there is no way of knowing how much of the original structure will be left standing. I worked in there for a year and even I was impressed by the marble floors, brass elevator doors with intricate designs, and the copper door handles and chandeliers. Towards the end of my short career I found myself in a new 20-million-dollar courthouse with leaking windows and floors that would flood if there was water outside on the lawn.
There is history living in the walls downtown. Our surroundings, the buildings we walk by everyday give us a sense of belonging. When someone drove into town from the west and looked at downtown, the Kalamazoo Building stood out telling everyone where they were. Now that painted sign is covered up by high priced apartments and of course a bank. Just what the world needed, another bank. Even our most recent landmarks are being attacked. Wings Stadium, a venue that once had large acts come through every summer was looking at being torn down. One of the churches that stood across the street from the art museum was demolished because it would have cost too much to preserve. I am waiting to see if the land is turned into something useful, like a parking lot.
I watched a video on YouTube with the writer Will Self walking through Prague seeing the places that Franz Kafka once lived. All the buildings were the same. Hundreds of years old and while walking those streets one could imagine what Kafka was seeing when he too passed by those buildings. This was a time before cars, when people rarely traveled more than five miles from where they lived during their lifetimes. There are places where people feel like they belong, they share a history with the place they live and those that came before them and that feeling, that tradition, is slipping away. I can understand why Europeans hold onto the pride of where they come from. Cathedrals that took several generations of work to complete still stand reminding people of what can be accomplished. You can visit a spot where Napoleon once stood, stay in the hotel that Hemingway drank frequently, or see the pillars of long-ago empires. Here, we lose our minds when we see a stage that Jimi Hendrix once played and even those are disappearing. The Ambassador hotel, the last place that Bobby Kennedy was seen alive, has been torn down and replaced by… oh who cares.
We should rename ourselves McNation. Build it cheap, build it fast, and heaven forbid if it doesn’t make a profit. I try to find things that I can share with my daughter from my own childhood and that list is disappearing. I hope when she is old enough the Coney Island downtown, one of the oldest in the country, is still open and hasn’t been turned into a Subway or Taco Bell.
I have to wonder if this is why the younger generations coming up have so much to complain about. Maybe if they felt like they were a part of the place they lived instead of receiving all of their information from Apps and social media maybe they would realize how good they have it. Crime is down, poverty is almost erased from the planet, healthcare is better than ever and yet I can’t open my phone without seeing an article about somebody being oppressed because their coffee was made wrong at Starbucks or their name was spelled wrong on the cup.
We drive in our boxes to sit in boxes and go home to boxes filled with our stuff and only see the world through the window of a cellphone and wonder why our priorities are screwed up. Nobody voted in the last election and I can not recall a single story that popped up in my news feed about it, but some old candy canes are taken down in the park and the city is on the verge of a riot. Maybe this shows that there is hope. When people notice something they like is missing, we see they really do care about their local history. I could remain optimistic about this but it only goes to show that it is only the petty and small things that people are willing to get pissed about. However, I will add that even I did not like the new candy canes. Why they chose the new standing designs over the archways I could not say. Maybe had they bought new candy canes and simply installed them like before nobody would have noticed or thanked them for updating an old tradition. Now we will never know. We will have to wait until next week when more buildings are gone to see what we throw a fit over that truly doesn’t matter.


Baba Turk and the blue wedding

I have been reading Edward Lee’s book Buttermilk Graffiti and it reminded me of the adventure of food blogging that I had abandoned so many years ago. Beer and Loafing is still up and the articles still apply to today with the exception of a few places that have closed. Reading Lee’s book reminded me of the things to look for while out in the world. I wasn’t planning on a adventure today, taking care of a two year old makes the though of going anywhere nerve racking.
I cleaned at one of the local breweries this morning, part of a clean to drink program that was designed to keep the bartenders happy and prevent the customers from shit talking about the bathrooms. After a few years the program has proven to be a success and at the moment I have more beers saved up than I could drink in a year.
The downstairs bar is the recent casualty of a downsizing in the brewery. Designed like a speakeasy from the 1920s the lower bar now sits dormant except for the Friday night dinners specially designed for mug club members. Barrels stand as tables and the walls are covered in artwork featuring the previous tenants and pre prohibition brewing history. Once I finished mopping the floors I took my daughter for a walk on the downtown mall.
Zoey is tiny for a two year old. She is often mistaken for a baby that has just learned to walk and receives a lot of attention when out in public. Her hair is short for her age and can only wear it in a pony tail on top of her head making her look like one of the characters from a Dr. Sous story. We make our way to the library, me following her as she already know the way from two blocks down the street. As we come closer to the doors she speeds up and races through the sliding doors, down the hall, and into the kids room that she knows so well. She plays with the computers, keyboard, and the doll house in the playroom, rotating through them in a certain order that only makes sense to her. When I try to leave she runs to the refective image of the elevator doors and walks in when the doors open. We head downstairs.
Zoey doesn’t have a left or right option in her thinking, as soon as the doors open she moves straight into the bookstore and disappears. While she wanders through the shelves I find a first print hardcover copy of Ragtime by Doctorow and place a hold on it. The dustcover is still in great condition and the price is a dollar, I can’t pass it up. In the minute it took to talk to the cashier Zoey had cruised through the doors behind me and into the audio video section of the library. She came to the understanding months ago that because she is cute she pretty much owns the place while she is there. I look through the store and head out into the lobby to find a security guard talking to her and librarian looking for her parent. It wasn’t my best moment. Score for today, Zoey 1, dad 0.
Eventually we leave and Zoey isn’t too happy that big bird was still on the computer when I picked her up and carried her out after her third round of counting with big bird. The food truck rally was taking place at the park across the street and I had a few dollars to try something new. My entertainment has been a food kick lately of The Chef Show by Jon Favreau and Edward Lee’s book. I noticed a few trucks I had not seen before and a few that I had not been to yet. We cruise along the sidewalk reading the menus. Most items do not exceed $10 and from the portion sizes it’s a meal that will fill you up. Gorilla Gourmet stands out with their well known truck featuring the black image of a gorilla on a white background. There is the smoked meat truck that looks like a log cabin. Most of these places offer some form or taco, a term that has been bastardized but most likely for the better. I spot beef brisket and pulled pork, common American staples these days. Falafel is the main dish at one middle eastern truck. I decide on Baba Turk with their Turkish taco meal. I have had several versions of traditional Mexican tacos and have enjoyed most more than the American counterparts. Wanting to get away from the tomato, cheese, and lettuce that have ruined most people’s idea of a perfect taco I wait to see what this new form of fusion has to offer. The chicken meat is cooked on a spinning wheel and sliced off into small bits perfect for a white soft taco shell. The meat is then cooked in lamb fat for added flavor. A sour cream sauce is added along with tomatoes and onion. The small cardboard dish is filled to the top and I find a place in the shade where I give portions of the meal to my daughter as she watches the other kids play. Somewhere along the way Zoey had found a large piece of lettuce that had fallen off of someone else’s plate and immediately put it in her mouth. Current score, Zoey 2, dad 0.
There were a few hundred people at the park. I could imagine this was what places with food stalls would have looked like a hundred years ago in other cities when it was lunch time. After I finished the meal Zoey took me on a walk through the park and she gravitated towards a wedding party that was having photos done in the hot sun. most of the party was hiding under the large oak and maple trees waiting for their turn with the happy couple. I could tell Zoey was wanting to do one of her already famous photo bombs but I was able to nudge her away from the group. Current score, Zoey 2, dad 1.
As we went past the wedding party I spotted a young man smoking a cigar. It wasn’t a smell I recognized and the cigar itself didn’t look like the rolled quality that I had seen on my own cigar adventures earlier this year. The only credit I give to the man’s cigar is that it didn’t have the infamous smell of dog turds that some cigars are known for. The brides dress was spread out across the grass and the party was a collage of backgrounds I have known this city for. The bride was of Hispanic background. Out of the groom’s men I couldn’t spot the groom of the six men who were standing around in their blue tuxedoes. The party was black, white, middle eastern, Hispanic, and a few other ethnic groups I couldn’t place. Maybe this was the answer to the world’s problems? Maybe not. Only time will tell.
I try to aim us toward the parking lot where our car waited for us but to Zoey’s credit she took us on the scenic route through the mall and around the block until we finally made it to the lot. Then she kept walking. With the sun beating down on us and no shade in sight I picked her up and put her in the car. NPR was playing more coverage of the current presidential debate and I zoned out as the talking heads discussed the winners and losers of the day. Zoey’s name never came up. It was a long afternoon and I wondered if Zoey would ever have a craving for chicken meat cooked in lamb fat. Upon pulling into the driveway Zoey demanded another walk and once we finally entered the house she asked for a bottle and looked at the bills waiting for me on the table. Final score, Zoey 3, dad 1.


Let the shootings begin

The same year I moved into my house there was a series of fatal shootings across the city. I was looking for a new job in the hospital because my hours had gone to shit and I wanted something different. The nurses on my old unit were complete bitches that had nothing better to do than start rumors and enact draconian rules on the cleaning staff letting us know we were not like them. One of the unit clerks, a young black girl named Kesha, was pregnant and we would have lunch together because we didn’t want to be stuck with the wenches on the floor. Soon I was declared the baby daddy even though I knew the father and worked with him for over a year at the hospital. The staff knew this too but a white guy and a black girl eating lunch and talking can only mean one thing…
I wasn’t in my house long before I learned how rowdy the neighborhood can get. There were fist fights, stabbings, windows being broken, and open prostitution on the corner. My wife and I had met a couple from the street over and were enjoying some drinks in the back yard when we heard the gunshots. Craig and I went out front to check it out and saw two girls and a guy walking in front of the house. Then the girl in the middle fell to the pavement and they picked her up carrying her to a house. We would learn later that the girl had been shot, by accident. A car from the north side of town had driven through the southside and a guy standing on the corner took notice. He pulled his gun and shot at the car as it drove by, missing the car completely but hitting the girl half a block down walking home from school. The girl lived and a few days later the shooter was found in hiding in the town of Galesburg, a white community that bragged about shagging sheep and who’s sister was the hottest. It was the perfect town for a young black man to hide in. the girl who was shot would later go on TV and declare that she forgave the shooter because he didn’t mean to shoot her and that it was an accident.
A week or two later another shooting happened, this time on Reed St. there was a birthday party happening and while the celebration was taking place in the backyard, the birthday boy sat at a picnic table enjoying the food and company when two young men walked up behind him and shot him in the back of the head. The body was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The back of his skull had been blown wide open and there was zero chance of saving him. The people working the ER at the time were John and Cassie. The family had arrived to the ER and were demanding to view the body. The staff tried to tell them “you don’t want to see him like this” but after hearing “fuck you” a few times the staff changed their minds. Some of the nurses went into the room and started cleaning things up to make it ore presentable and John was asked if he could help with the clean-up. The pool of blood on the floor was the biggest concern. John went in with a mop and started removing the blood. The cords to the EKG machine and pulse Ox got in the way and John bumped the stretcher. Something heavy hit his foot and when he looked down there was the sight of a human brain resting on his shoe. The scream that followed was described as that “of a girl” and one of the nurses turned around to see John throwing the mop and unable to move. “get it off, get it off, get it off.” The nurse ran over and soccer kicked the brain off John’s shoe and watched him leap out of the room yelling “I’m done, I’m done, I’m done.” He left the ER and went straight to the supervisor’s office to tell them to put him somewhere else. That was how I ended up working the ER.
I took the job on second shift and left the General Medical Unit. The hours weren’t the best but I figured the ER staff were too busy to be bitches. This place was a whole new ball game. It was fast paced. You didn’t get a lunch and had to snack when you could. I quickly learned that the city had more shootings in a week than were reported on the news. Between the patients and the staff there was always entertainment. To work in an ER is to have a reckless personality and a need for adrenaline. Partying was a way of life and the same people who referred to bikers as organ donors also rode motorcycles in their spare time. There was a desire for adventure and everyone, married or not, was fair game. This would be my home for the next couple of years.


Kalamazoo Comix

The comic boom in my childhood started with turtles, four teenage mutant ninja turtles to be exact. I remember seeing the cartoon on television for the first time and was hooked by these green bad asses fighting rat kings and talking brains. Television was one thing, these little magazines that started it all, was another monster that would consume my life for two decades.
Fanfare was, and still is, the main comic shop for our city. Wedged in between two cities, Fanfare caters to a population of 120,000 and manages to survive while shops across the country continue to go out of business. I didn’t know about Fanfare at first, my own exposure to comic books came from grocery shopping at the local Jewel Osco, waiting by the magazine rack while my mother filled the cart. Every month the titles changed; the shop appeared to be getting the leftovers from the comic book distributors. One month, Captain America was on the shelf, six months later he would reappear with a different story and a different villain. I needed a better source.
Every week we drove past Fanfare to do our weekly shopping at Meijer. The shop was small, stuck in the back corner of a mall with three parking spots. I looked at the new issues of TMNT and other comics that I wasn’t familiar with. They even had something called Samurai Squirrel and Hamster Vice. These titles didn’t take off and were later grabbed out of the quarter bin. I remember the first time I went and my mom pointed out the quarter bin. The selection was over whelming and while I debated what comic I could get with my money I realized that I could leave with a handful of comics instead of just one. I found a story from Detective comics (batman) where he was fighting Clayface and from that moment on I was a Batman fan. My collection grew and as my interest expanded my parents encouraged me to buy the old ones because they would be worth more money. It was like taking stock advice from a communist. I had the heroes I was looking for and of course I was going to take care of them, I would want to read them again and again.
Like any other hobby, comics has a level of peer pressure that encourages one to stay up to date with new stories forcing you to buy comics new paying out insane amounts of money for stories that you don’t know if they are good or not. The prices continued to go up and while I was happy shuffling through the quarter bin, I found myself subscribed to multiple batman titles and Daredevil. The way these companies were writing the series one had to follow a dozen titles to know what was going on. In total we had: Batman, Detective comics, shadow of the bat, legends of the dark night, Robin, Nightwing, birds of prey, Catwoman, Gotham Nights, Anarchy, and I’m sure I am missing a few. Add in the rising cover prices and eventually I was done. What was once the hobby of poor kids with no father figures in their lives had turned into a money pit of despair.
There was something better than the big three companies happening in town. Local shops started to carry independently published comic books, printed of from the local Kinkos. I grabbed whatever was on the shelf and started to follow this movement with a sick obsession. The number two shop in town, Discount Hobby, put some money into self-publishing their own collection of local comics and that was how Kalamazoo Comix was born. Anyone could submit their own story, up to three pages in length and in the second issue I joined the ranks of local legends like Stew Miller, Dustin, Paul Sizer, and Aaron Warner. My story was infested with spelling errors and the art work was below subpar. There was a release party for the issue and when my job wouldn’t let me have the night off to go, I called in sick.
My friend Dennis was in that issue as well and we hung out that night with other local artist listening to the DJ for Radio X, Kalamazoo’s alternate radio, which later turned into a country station. All night I waited for my Girlfriend to appear and she didn’t. I had already made the rounds and while I should have been enjoying myself, I didn’t have anyone to share it with. I flipped through quarter comics, grabbed discounted Crow merchandise, and listened to recommendations for titles that I should be reading which of course sounded like all of them. I don’t know how people have this much time on their hands or money to keep up with this hobby.
Later that night, Christina stopped by the house. She apologized for not being there after she said she would and when I asked her why she didn’t go she replied, “I didn’t want to.” We went back and forth on what happened. I went to her football games to watch her in the marching band when I didn’t like football, or marching, and in return the one night I asked her to show up to something she brushed it off as something stupid. Ya, I’m still pissed but mostly at myself. I continued seeing her after that acting like the codependent turd that I was.
Comics would remain a part of my life into my twenties and after that a man has to let go of childish things. When I do read comics these days it tends to be graphic novels, how comics were meant to be read without the pricing scam. The older titles appear to be the sweet spot for good story telling. I can’t stand Batman’s son, Daredevil is a train wreck these days, and from what I’m told Wolverine can’t keep his dick in his pants. The comics of my childhood have been flushed down the toilet and now rest in a septic tank with the lowest of the low reading this trash. Yes, I’m old, I’m grouchy, and I want people to stop whoring out my childhood superheroes to the lowest common denominator. I will admit, as a kid we always wondered how the X-men didn’t have some kind of mutant orgy going on with all the freaks and weirdos living in one big Hugh Hefner style house. We talked about it but it didn’t happen in the comics. That was for us to discuss and wonder about, it was part of the magic. Now we have 50 Shades of Jean Grey and there is no going back. There are no more ladies on the streets but freaks in the sheets, everyone is a whore now and it’s hard to clean that image up after it happens.
In college I became the comics page editor for the Tower Times, a rag tag band of motley crew rebels who above all else fought for the right to legalize pot and explained the dynamic details of rap lyrics to the white masses. The paper had its ups and downs and while I can say I had my moments, as time went on it only continued to go down. Not only was my comic strip turning into that part of the paper you ignored or glanced over so was my career as a college student. I couldn’t afford classes, I couldn’t afford comics, I could barely afford rent. Welcome to life, it’s not a superhero comic, there aren’t any spandex clad women coming to bail you out, your friends don’t have your back, your arch nemesis is yourself, and there is no such thing as superpowers, you are as useless as the next guy.
I once thought of comics as the mythology of our times. The new religion that would help young men become adults showing them a path to greatness. Like anything else in life, it has been hijacked and turned into something perverted, something I don’t recognize anymore. I have heard of some people trying to keep it on that path but when the market is overwhelmed with shit who wants to shift through it in search of those few diamonds not knowing if they are in there?
In my basement I still have my collection. The one box of TMNT comics, the mirage series not that Archie crap. Batman fills most of the shelves alongside Daredevil and the Punisher. I don’t know if my daughter will be interested in them one day or not and I will likely never read them again. I guess it’s the memories that are important. Riding my bike to the comic shop and filling my backpack with reading material for that week. I will never forget cruising down Bronson Boulevard and seeing a man hanging out of a car window with his arm stretched back. In a split-second water exploded everywhere, something hit me in the chest and I struggled not to lose control of my bike. My shirt and pants were soaked. By the time I looked back the car was gone. I was the victim of a drive by water ballooning. The things we go through for comics. If there is one thing that the average comic book reader should take away from those stories it’s sacrifice. We all gave up something. In the end we have to decide if it was worth it. Eventually most of us gave up comics in order to have something better and those poor bastards who don’t I feel sorry for them. The point wasn’t to stick with it but to transform you into the man you would become. The average comic reader is Peter Pan without a Wendy to aid him into adulthood. Go with Wendy my friend, become a man and see the real world for what it is.


The Woods

At the end of my street was a place we called the woods. At the entrance there was a sand dune to the right and a trail that went through the area. It served as a drainage ditch for the healthy houses on High and Low road, million-dollar estates that belonged to some of the healthiest families in Kalamazoo. When it rained the lowest parts of the woods flooded with streets and ponds that had a short lifespan. On a good day you could find deer roaming around and on a bad day college student met with their drug dealers and they would question what to do when you were spotted walking through.
The woods served as a place of solitude within the city, the closest thing to getting away while only a hundred yards away from the nearest street. There were abandoned bridges that had collapsed long ago, pieces of concrete dumped to prevent erosion. The plants and trees changed every year as the rain dropped of seeds from plants found all around the area.
The woods were often the place for people to dump their trash. On one hike I came across a large bag filled with tripods and camera equipment. Everything was new and had not been out for long. I took it back home and called the police. There was a name on the bag and the police were able to trace it back to the owner who already had an insurance payout for the tripods. The police believed that it was a simple case of insurance fraud and that the owner had tossed them for the money he needed.
While cleaning out his closet my step-dad found a large mason jar filled with marijuana seeds from the 1980s. After 15 years it was time to get rid of them. My parents debated what to do with them but my step-dad was insistent he wanted me to dump them in the woods. I was given this jar of seeds that I didn’t know what they were at the time. This must have been seventh or eighth grade and I stuffed the jar in my backpack acting like I was going for a walk. Out in the woods, surrounded by streets that overlooked the area and neighbors who didn’t like kids hanging out in there, I took out the seeds and dumped them around the area. I brought the jar back home and threw it in the trash.
A few weeks later squad cars were parked at the entrance to the woods and the police carried out garbage bags filled with god knows what. We thought it was bodies or maybe one of those satanic sacrifices we were always hearing about on the news. That night the news did a story on the marijuana farm that had been found in the city. The police had pulled all the plants and were seeking information on the people responsible. “We think this is the work of local college kids that were bold enough to attempt a stunt like this. It’s clear this was an organized production.” The police never did find the farmers.
The woods attracted all kinds of people from the area. Young couples trying to get their grove on. The occasional homeless man that set up a tent at the right spot not to be seen for a while. While walking through the dunes, the one place you did not want to be on a hot summer day I came across a tree that had been turned into a Wing Chun wooden dummy. The arms and punching pad tied around the trunk were obvious to me. Someone was learning kung fu. I never learned who it was or if they ever used it. As I became older the woods were deemed off limits and the fun of exploring was over. When I was able to go through it was while walking the dog or riding my bike but there wasn’t much in there and no reason to pass through. The charm of the woods had vanished along with my childhood.
At the end of the trail was the entrance to the sewer. Spray painted and the iron door had been broken open long ago. It was tall enough for someone to walk down but thirty yards in it narrowed down to a crawl space and until you came to the manhole cover over the street. You could hear the metal clanking of cars driving over as you stood in that small space. That was the farthest I had every ventured in and thanks to Stephen King’s It I’m surprised I ever made it that far.
At the end of the trail was the Gilmore house. One of the richest families in the city, the Gilmores had donated this house to western to be used for some fraternity. The brick building with large picture windows overlooking the woods and an overhang for guest to exit their cars, the house looked like something out of a German landscape painting. On the edge of the yard was a large brick oven with its own chimney. I pictured people making pizzas and flipping steaks on the ranks but it was never used. I could never understand rich people. That had all of these things and they never used or enjoyed them.
The woods are still there. A former co-worker of mine lives next to the entrance and told me about the deer that come into his yard at night and feed on the apples he leaves for them. His kids play in the woods and venture out into my old stomping grounds. I hope they are able to enjoy them more than I could. For a kid who read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn the woods were a magical place and thanks to that place I still find myself going to larger versions of the same thing, hiking through trails and finding all sorts of trinkets to take home to the wife. There is a comfort in knowing that when the houses are gone and nature reclaims what once belonged to it the woods will still be there, the place that was permanent in how hit changed while never changing at all.



When I was growing up my mother ran a daycare out of our apartment. Kids came and went but there was one that stood out. Jessica was a year older than me, a girl who in the short time that we knew one another would never be forgotten, and for one summer impacted my life for years. Jessica was the girl next door, except she lived a few streets over from me. She was smart, athletic, funny, and in the backyard when nobody was watching gave me my first kiss. This might explain why I always thought Jessica’s were immediately attractive but I never dated any.
Jessica had a brother who was younger than both of us. While Jessica had long curly brown hair and big brown eyes her brother had the Ricky Schroder straight blonde hair and blue eyes that had people asking questions.
That summer we spent most of our time outside drawing graffiti on the side of a barn with chalk, playing on a swing set I was quickly outgrowing, and riding our bikes through the neighborhood. I cannot remember any of the conversations we had, only the feeling and sense of her personality as images come back to me and I try to recall what life was like before the accident.
Once summer was over, I never expected to see Jessica again. Most of the kids who came to the daycare never returned and I learned over the years that friends were temporary, even in school. There were a few times when there was a knock on the door, Jessica and her brother had ridden their bikes over and asked if I could hang out with them. My step-dad said no and they left in disappointment while I retreated to my room.
On May 18th, 1992 I had to learn what happened from the local newspaper, Drunk Driver Kills Teen. Like most news articles that wasn’t the whole story. Jessica was thirteen then, almost two years since our summer together. She was still receiving good grades and was on a softball team. She was doing everything she should be doing even with coming from a broken home. Then her mother had a new boyfriend.
Jessica was finished with softball practice and so her Mother, brother, and the boyfriend went to pick her up from the field. On the way home, the boyfriend drove through a red light, the car was side swiped on the passenger side caving in the rear passenger seat and the trunk, Jessica’s side of the car. Her head hit the glass and frame of the door on impact. Trauma to the brain caused swelling and internal bleeding and she died later at the hospital. Everyone else in the car was unharmed.
I was stuck at home with my grief. Every day I waited for the newspaper to arrive so that I could learn more, maybe read that it was some horrible mistake and that they had printed the wrong information. The gazette didn’t help when they published a picture of the softball team praying on the front page and one of the girls with a full head of long curly brown hair and her head down wearing their hat, looked exactly like Jessica. For a brief moment I thought they had the wrong girl. I showed the picture to my mom and she thought they must have used an old picture. The story was about a memorial service for Jessica and listed the date and time of the wake and funeral. We went.
I still have vivid memories of that afternoon. Jessica’s brother sat in the corner in a chair by himself, likely feeling more alone than ever. The boyfriend was in jail. Jessica’s mom was greeting everyone at the wake. I had to see the body. Seeing her lying there in a box, it didn’t look like her. The pale skin didn’t look like the girl who played softball and rode her bike in the summer sun. Her hair appeared stiff unlike the curly locks that would whip in the breeze. I couldn’t see her brown eyes and her lips were not the warm Kool-aid flavored lips that had once kissed mine. My great grandpa had died a few years before and after the long process of watching his cancer until his death it seemed natural. I didn’t have questions about that, he was old and by then I knew that people died when they were old. This was something totally different.
“I don’t know why they are blaming him. He only had two beers. He wasn’t drunk. We didn’t drive through a red light the other guy did. He wasn’t drunk, you can’t get drunk on two beers.” These were the comments I remember Jessica’s mom making during the wake.
Before we left, I put my hand in the coffin, touching her arm. Nothing seemed real. Her flesh was cold and stiff. We weren’t able to ride our bikes through the neighborhood together and she would never knock on the door again. That would be the only kiss we would have, the first and the last. We left the wake after that and I never saw her buried. Life did not make sense after that. I couldn’t figure out why she would be the one chosen to die in that car that afternoon. The drunk boyfriend survived. Her mother who was absent in their lives every time she had a new man in her life survived. The brother who was already starting trouble before the accident survived. And yet for some reason Jessica was the one that died. Religion had no answers and when I heard it was God’s plan, I thought he must be a huge asshole and the churches around me might as well have been churches to Satan. Who could worship someone that would do something so horrible to the wrong person?
A few years later Jessica’s brother was in the newspaper. I can’t remember if it was armed robbery or theft, but he was wanted for some crime that warranted having his picture and name posted in the paper. I can’t say that I blame him for the path he was on. Watching your sister die in the backseat of a car, having no father figure in your life, and nobody else who bothers to stick around and care about you will send you on a dark path. It was not uncommon for the kids in my neighborhood to make it onto the news for something horrible. The Vine street neighborhood wasn’t called the Student Ghetto for nothing. People try to focus on the student part, affordable housing for Western Michigan University students who can’t afford much after their student loan debt. The ghetto portion is thought of as a joke, something to laugh about when the name is said, ignoring the crack houses and broken homes that make up a third of the population. This was the place her brother found himself after his sister died. The ghetto is not a place to grow up alone without someone their to guide you. I wonder what his life would have been like if Jessica had not died that day.
When I talked about Jessica later people acted like it was something that should be forgotten. When I told my mother that Jessica was my first kiss she said “that never happened.” I couldn’t talk to the kids at school about it because they didn’t know her. Like Jessica’s brother I was alone in trying to figure things out, and I never would. There were no answers. There wasn’t a plan from on high. Bad things happen to good people and there is no reason for it. Horrible people continue on in life and die as horrible people never to account for the things they have done. Meanwhile good people die everyday leaving large holes in the lives of those around them. I don’t remember what I did in my room after I wasn’t allowed to ride my bike with Jessica. As time slips by and the things of the past become hazy under a blanket of fog, I realize it was the things that I wasn’t able to do that I miss the most.


A Day Late and a Dream Short

Two Days ago a friend of mine sent me a message stating that a spot had opened up on the downtown mall. The small walk up window has been a home to many businesses over the years. every summer something comes and goes. Sunday night i took a picture of the sign in the window with my phone, took a quick look around, and thought it over.

A dream that i have come to cherish is having the first Ramen shop in Kalamazoo. We have several Asian restaurants, sushi joints, and Chinese buffets. One thing that is missing for a town that is home to three college campuses is a Ramen place. I have poured over recipe books, raided the local Asian market for ingredients, spent countless hours cooking broth on the stove, and in the end I am still waiting. There was a spot attached to the State Theater i inquired about only to learn they were never renting the spot out again. Did i mention they said NEVER! I continued my search for great recipes and played around with new ideas.

Monday I tried to figure out how i would be able to cook the broth and noodles in such a small space. The toppings could be prepped easily. The noodles would need a boiling pot to cook in. The Broth would have to stay on a burner of some kind. there was the issue of using To Go containers for Ramen that is served hot and loses it’s freshness as the minutes tick by. By Monday night I had almost everything figured out and if not I would eventually figure it out. I called the number Tuesday morning only to learn that the spot had just been rented. I was crushed. Sure, i was having doubts about the whole thing. what to do with the baby? would i be working 12-16 hour days with my other full time job? What if my Ramen sucked?

Like i said, this spot opens up every year with a new business. maybe this year isn’t mine but that gives me another year to work on recipes and figure out how to make Ramen To GO with out making sucky ramen. Plus I have to buy T-shirts for work, something reading “the only men I like in me is Ramen” or “Send Noodz.” I still have a lot of work to do.