Dec 24, 2005

'I count the holes they leave':
Wandering broke around downtown Detroit


The ice was working to slush in the afternoon rise to 33 degrees, slush slopping up around the sidewalk's lights like collars. Coming down the iced-up stretch coming off the two stadiums, Ford and Comerica, I passed a dozen bars, all of them expensive looking to a guy with just quarters in his pocket, and a liquor store and some restaurants advertising “cuisine” instead of food. Not a single coffee shop, though, not even a Starbucks where business people might pick up a soy cappuccino and listen to Sly and the Family Stone or something. Apparently Detroit doesn't drink coffee.

Sorry man, I said to a panhandler in the same brotherly jive he was using, I'm broke as hell.

Yeah okay,
he said.

But hey man, you know where I can find a coffee shop?

Isn't that one across the street?
he said.

That's a bar, I said.

Ain't they got coffee?

They got beer. I just wanna cup of coffee.

There's a hotdog truck front of the court house.


The hotdog stand was closed and anyway what I needed in addition to a cheap cup of coffee was a place to sit for a couple of hours while I waited for a friend to finish his interview and accounting house tour. so I kept walking. Set off in a zig-zaggy pattern crossing the street when there wasn't any traffic and accidentally following the trolley car calling itself the Detroit People Mover.

I ended up on the steps of a public library, Skillman branch, looking at the decorative stone work of stylized swastikas. I'd seen the design before, in a rod iron stair railing in a house in Grand Rapids built by a German woman in the '30s. They were a little embarrassed, when I asked. Said they'd been intending to replace it and said, a little accusing like maybe I was a Nazi for noticing, that most people didn't notice, because it was so stylized. Not that you can really stylize something that's as abstract as a swastika, but they were stylized in the sense of being muted. Racism without the garishness of being spray painted on the side of a synagogue

This the old library? a man on the street said.

Yeah, I said.

They got a baffroom?

Prob'ly, I said.

Lady at the front desk said I didn't need to check my bag but could she look and I showed her and she said nice bag like she wasn't looking for drugs or guns or bombs, but fashion. The children's section was empty when I went in, so I found a table with a green covered reading lamp by the books about turtles and penguins but was kicked out after a few minutes for not being a kid after 1 p.m.

I'd finished reading LeRoi Jones' play The Toilet when I fell asleep on the hardwood table, head down on my arm. Woke up with the cell phone buzzing around in a vibrating techno-death rattle on the tabletop, buzzing to say they were down at the accounting house and now I could go home. Over the aisle two men were asleep, one of them snoring and one of them smelling like he'd pissed himself. The man across the table from me didn't move, his white-bearded chin down asleep on his hands holding open the middle of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men.