More about Detroit after this message: “How a Little Strep Couldn’t Ruin My Trip Home”

I guess four posts from Detroit in the seven days I was there isn’t bad, but I meant to do more. The second week of my trip, I was outstate (DeWitt and Hamburg), and didn’t have consistent internet access, so there were zero posts. Don’t worry, I’ve still got plenty to share with you! But here’s what happened. While in Detroit, I was not only busy (though, as you’ll see, not as busy as I would’ve liked); I succumbed to that pesky little streptococcus bacteria I’d apparently (based on the incubation period) brought with me from California.

At first, I thought it was an allergy attack: unless strep begins with an itchy face, eyes, and nose, and the opening of a spigot from your sinuses, I really did have an allergic reaction to my former-now-annual roommate’s cats on the Wednesday night of my stay (I flew in overnight on Sunday, arriving Monday).

Grey Velvet and Tigra

Carnivorous allergens sharing the bed with me.

Thursday, I woke up with a dry, raw throat, as you do after serious post-nasal drip, so I didn’t think much of it. But it became sorer and sorer as the day progressed. By Thursday night, I couldn’t swallow without flinching (and tearing up a bit), and my tonsils, glands, and neck were quite swollen. (In my defense, my tonsils are always pretty big, and they never developed that distinctive appearance you associate with strep. And because it was August in Michigan, and I’d just come from temperate Northern California, I had no idea I had a fever! I just thought it was hot outside.) I spent Friday mostly in bed, having canceled lunch plans with a dear friend I haven’t seen in years. In the evening, I stayed home from my former choir director’s birthday party in Lafayette Park. My roommate had brought me saline nasal spray and Chloraseptic spray when she came home from work, and I spent the evening flushing my sinuses and trying to get that red liquid to stay where it hurt for at least 15 seconds before spitting it out (per the directions). I also took lots of acetaminophen, as hard as it was to swallow. I might have gone to a doctor, but being in a different state from my HMO complicated matters. I emailed my allergist and described everything (stressing not only the cats, but that I’d been on a plane where it’s easy to pick up nasty stuff), and he also thought it could be allergies. He said if it didn’t improve over the weekend I should go to urgent care. I figured getting out of the house with the cats in it might help sort that out.

So Saturday morning, I felt only marginally better, but would not be deterred from my plans to spend the day at Eastern Market (before heading to Lafayette Park for another party—this one a housewarming. I’m tempted to claim there’s a party of some kind every night of the year over there, but it’s actually a rather quiet neighborhood).

Lafayette Park

Party Central.

Sunday morning, I felt so lousy I almost wanted to skip church. Seriously, I was contemplating skipping the highlight of my annual trip home, going to Mass at my home church, where I became an Episcopalian—the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. But my sister was coming with her new boyfriend (“I wanted him to meet you in your natural environment,” she’d joked) and we were going to brunch afterward across the street at Maccabees at Midtown (in the Maccabees Building, where you might expect it to be). Needless to say, I was glad that I went to church and brunch (although I could only manage to swallow one of the three pancakes I ordered). I so love the liturgy at St. Paul’s, and it was good to see everybody. There are more people there I don’t know now than that I know, which strikes me as a good thing. It means new people have been coming since I left! 

Anyway, after brunch, I decided it was time to go to urgent care. Well, almost. First, while my roommate went to fill her gas tank, I popped into the DIA to exchange a t-shirt I’d bought on Thursday (not noticing the handwritten amendment to the size on the tag). I noticed the Scarab Club was open, so I walked over to take a peek inside to see what was going on (just a gallery show, pretty quiet)…and twisted my ankle a little in a pot-hole on the way back. Pro tip: clogs are great for plantar fasciitis, but not so much for walking outside when you’re prone to tripping anyway.

Where to go for urgent care on a Sunday? Well, the DMC campus was right there, so I wound up in Emergency at Detroit Receiving.

Detroit Receiving Hospital

Such a beautiful day to go to the hospital.

I’d never been there before, although a friend of mine works there as an OR nurse. From what I could tell, it’s a pretty large, potentially high-volume facility. It wasn’t terribly busy, or terribly well-staffed  in triage (only one nurse), but even though things moved along pretty slowly, the staff were all very professional, friendly, attentive, responsive, and thorough. Once I was getting treatment, I was chatting with another woman, who was there with a foot injury. She’d dropped a glass vase on her foot, and cut it open. After the stitches, they also caught a small fracture in one of her foot bones and sent her out with a splint and crutches. In my personal experience (breaking my elbow last year), that sort of thing can be easily overlooked. There was also another woman there with strep, only she was clearly sicker than I was. Now that I know I probably contracted it in California, what are the odds of that?

The doctor gave me some liquid codeine and a prescription for more, which I didn’t fill (it wasn’t miraculous enough to waste money on). The nurse offered me the choice, for penicillin delivery, of a short course of pills or a one-time shot. One-time anything sounded good to me, and I certainly didn’t want to swallow any more than necessary. She said, “Oh, I’d take a hundred pills to avoid a shot.” As I started to point to my tattoo and say, “Ah, I’m not bothered by needles,” she uncapped the thickest hypodermic needle I’ve ever seen, which was also at least an inch and a half long. I actually had to look away for a second. I felt the poke, and then watched her insert the whole length of that needle into my mid-thigh.

(Aren’t you glad there’s no photo?)

I wound up with a humongous bruise, but the sore throat faded within about 24 hours. Ahhh….

I felt bad, though, about all the people I’d unwittingly exposed, even before I’d started to feel sick. Not only had I met with many friends, I’d taken the #16 Dexter bus a few times from my friend’s house to Midtown or Downtown and back, and public transit is a great place to spread germs. I started to imagine myself as a strep version of Typhoid Mary. I’d return to California while public health officials in Detroit continued to try to understand this outbreak:

“We’ve narrowed the origin down to the Dexter bus line, somewhere between U of D and WSU,” they’d announce, and someone—possibly the guy who actually said to me on the bus, “Look at you, lookin all vanilla”—would report, “Well, there was this white lady on the bus we’d never seen before…”

But that’s not at all the way I’d want to become a legend.

Luckily, no one seems to have caught my strep (as far as I know). It made me miserable, but it didn’t ruin my trip home. Nothing has that power. So I’ll continue with the posts I would’ve been making a week or two ago, had I not gotten sick.

Grand Trunk Pub

Grand Trunk Pub and restaurant, August 2013

In the days before rail service was consolidated under Amtrak, different lines were run by different companies, often using different stations. The Grand Trunk Western Railroad line passed through Detroit (not to be confused with Michigan Central), and its station was located on the Detroit River at Brush and Atwater, near where the Ren Cen is now. Railroad lines used to operate a separate ticket office in the business district, and the Grand Trunk operated it rather close to the station—first, at Woodward and Jefferson (where One Woodward Avenue, formerly known as the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company building, a Minoru Yamasaki design, now stands); and then at 612 Woodward Avenue in the Traub Brothers Jewelry building.

Grand Trunk Pub

Currently, that building, and an adjoining one, houses the Grand Trunk Pub, formerly known as Foran’s Irish Pub.

Interior of pub/former ticket office

The pub has plenty of atmosphere. Its owners have done some restoration, with sensitivity to the building’s history and an interest in the railway theme.

Restaurant interior

The restaurant side is a little hole-in-the wall spot, but the good kind. “Gourmet pub grub” is what the menu says.

Veggie burger

Foreground: Veggie burger with grilled onions and a side of Better Made chips (and one fry stolen from the other plate).
Background: A shaved turkey sandwich with a side of fries.

One of my favorite things about their menu is that they source much of the food locally, and include Detroit classics and favorites, such as Better Made potato chips as a side, Faygo to drink, or Sanders Hot Fudge on the “Michigan Mud Pie.” The prices are also quite good.

As a vegetarian, I often don’t have a lot of options in this sort of place, where the fare is primarily sandwiches and burgers. However, the Grand Trunk Pub has a unique approach: you can substitute a veggie burger patty on most of their specialty burgers, or you can have a basic veggie burger with the toppings you prefer.

Screen shot 2013-08-22 at 12.15.53 AMThis is a snapshot from the menu on their site. Click on it to visit their online menu.

For dessert, the bread pudding with whiskey caramel sauce is pretty good (especially for $4.25!), but I prefer the Michigan Mud Pie (just $5). Pro tip: We ate dinner at the Grand Trunk Pub, then went over to the Riverwalk for a while, walked around there (as you do), and returned to the Grand Trunk for dessert!

Michigan Mud Pie

Michigan Mud Pie, shown here with a scoop each of vanilla and chocolate ice cream. We were given a choice.

Bread Pudding

Bread pudding with whiskey caramel sauce.

 

From home to Home

I’ve arrived in Detroit. To me, Detroit is home, but not in a sentimental or nostalgic sense. In the past week when I mentioned to anyone that I was headed to Detroit, usually their response was something like, “Oh, are you going to see family?”

Well, sort of. I’ll see family next week, when I head outstate. Right now, I’m visiting Detroit (and also friends in Detroit). Detroit is home in the sense that it is where my mental map is centered, and it has formed my identity. It’s true I was born here, but I didn’t grow up in the city; I chose to live in the city as an adult, and immediately felt a sense of belonging.

It’s hard to explain—but why should I have to explain it? It’s like being in love. If you can explain why you’re in love with someone, then it’s probably not the real thing.

Othering, Eight Mile, and Original Sin

Earlier this week, a Detroit pastor was shot dead while asking his partying neighbors to keep the noise level down. I read the online article from WDIV, channel 4.

I know better, but as with any bad habit, I did it anyway: I read the comments. They rivaled the story itself as examples of heartbreaking failures of love. Some commenters brought up the Zimmerman trial, decrying the “liberal” media for playing up white-on-black violence but ignoring black-on-black violence; others called for gun control, implying that the primary issue here was someone’s possession of a gun; still others baldly asserted that this is simply how black people behave; others used the opportunity to badmouth Detroit. The politicization and racism in the comments section is as predictable as inner-city violence itself has sadly come to be. Where is the compassion for a family and a community so senselessly devastated? Where is the respect for the man of God murdered at the young age of 46?

Nevertheless, I think the comments, nasty and unhelpful as they are, stem from two very human impulses: our instinctive drive to figure things out, to solve problems by analyzing them; and our equally instinctive need to distance ourselves from tragic situations, to assure ourselves that such things happen to other people. Both these impulses are ambivalent gifts of evolution. They both serve to keep us alive and functioning.

But both impulses also work against us. In particular, the second—the urge to distance ourselves from danger—constantly warps our ability to analyze: if a problem belongs to other people, then surely my safety lies in disconnecting myself from (certain) others…right? (In Detroit, that’s generally symbolized by Eight Mile Road.)

The Christian doctrine of “original sin” serves as a warning against trusting those base instincts unquestioningly. Our instincts were, as far as we can tell, forged on the fly in response to certain conditions our ancestors—human and pre-human—faced. The goal, or more accurately, the mechanism, was survival. One way to think about original sin, then, is to consider that we, as individuals, but also as a species, learned to do wrong before we’d become moral agents. Just as selfishness, generally, considered a vice in most ethical systems, is necessary to a baby’s survival, behaviors we now consider morally reprehensible actually got us here, as a species, in the first place. But now, as spiritual and moral beings who ought to know better (what Bruce Cockburn called the “Angel Beast“), our task is to transcend our animal instincts, testing them and keeping what is good, but learning to control and move beyond those that actually harm us.

Central to any ethical system is the consideration of others. Our instincts will mostly serve us well if our goal is personal safety, the rest of the world be damned. But humans are social animals. As spiritual social animals, our ethical obligation, and also our health, consists in opening ourselves to each other, to the universe, and to God. Our task is to grow into greater interdependence.

Sadly, our culture itself works against that growth. Consumer capitalism, American “rugged individualism”—these forces, or, as the Bible terms them, “principalities and powers,” are bigger than any of us, and perhaps than all of us; they discourage our growth into interdependence. The market needs individual, mobile workers and consumers. Consumer culture has so pervaded our lives that we identify ourselves with our brand loyalties, including political parties and religious affiliations. The more labels we are willing to wear, the more we are drawing lines between ourselves and those like us, and others who are not like us. Even “family values” have been co-opted by this thinking, becoming a means to delineate an “us” vs. “them” and to camouflage self-interest with the patina of religiosity.

Indeed, self-interest is entirely at home in American Christianity, which, historically, has largely been moralistic and private. Our spiritual practices, like our consumer habits, are predominately individualistic. In the religious realm, our animal survival instinct concerns itself with what will get me into heaven, the rest of the world be damned. This is an exaggeration, of course; I hope very few, if any, American Christians consciously adopt that attitude! But that attitude is seen wherever “sin” is only conceived in personal terms—epitomized in our culture at the moment by sexual behavior—while ignoring social sins such as institutional racism and environmental degradation. In America, too many Christians honestly believe all is well with their soul as long as they abstain from certain individual behaviors, believe the right things about God, and ask Jesus to forgive their sins. And this is seen as perfectly compatible with, say, unquestioningly benefitting from race or gender privilege, or buying clothing made using slave labor, or making comments like those attached to the article referenced at the beginning of this post.

A father, a pastor, was murdered for asking his neighbors to keep the noise down. This wasn’t an isolated and bizarre action by a disturbed individual we can easily other. What took him wasn’t just a gun or a person’s anger, but some kind of twisted thinking where one’s own enjoyment is more important than the very life of one’s neighbor. That thinking is endemic in America, from the Koch Brothers who are in the news now for dumping their pollution on Detroit, to the food industry using cheap, unhealthy ingredients, to for-profit prisons, to corrupt politicians stealing from the People, attacking minority religions under the guise of freedom of religion and freedom of speech—why would that kind of thinking not also be at a party next door to a pastor? Until we really start to believe that our neighbor’s well-being is as important as our own, all this sickness and violence (literal and economic) is just going to escalate.

All of us are implicated in this shooter’s belief that his “right” to do what he wanted was of more value than his neighbor’s life. Ours is a culture that idolizes the weasel words “liberty” and “freedom.” And however well-meaning we try to be, our actions as consumers and as citizens of this representative democracy constantly privilege our own comfort, wealth, rights, and freedoms over whatever neighbor needs to be othered in order for our privilege to remain intact. I know this from experience; I try and I fail all the time.

It’s human instinct. It’s original sin. It’s bigger than any of us as individuals and it’s bigger than all of us lumped together, at least in our sub-cultures. And sometimes it’s how we survive. But it’s also what we’re called to struggle against.

But what if Christians really believed that their personal salvation depended upon the well-being of their neighbor? If that seems a scary prospect, don’t go asking Jesus precisely who your neighbor might be.

Chances are, they’re on the other side of Eight Mile.

MLK

Here are some questions to consider:

How often do I secure my own interests at the expense of someone else’s life, health, happiness, security?

What might repentance look like? How would it really affect my daily life, including my consumer choices?

How can I use my spheres of influence to encourage growth into interdependence in myself and those around me? How can the wider culture be transformed, and what might be my role in that?

A Psalm for Detroit

As Detroit enters bankruptcy, this Psalm comes to mind.

Let all who rejoice at my ruin be ashamed and disgraced;
let those who boast against me be clothed with dismay and shame.
Let those who favor my cause sing out with joy and be glad;
let them say always, ‘Great is the LORD,
who desires the prosperity of his servant.’
(Psalm 35.26-28, from the BCP Psalter)

Earlier in the same Psalm, the psalmist declares:

My very bones will say, ‘LORD, who is like you?
You deliver the poor from those who are too strong for them,
the poor and needy from those who rob them.’ (v. 10)

Pundits will say all kinds of things about my beloved hometown, and some even salivate at the misery of our people. I won’t wish all kinds of nasty things upon them like the psalmist does (especially in the bits of the Psalm I didn’t quote), but I do wish they’d shut the hell up.

Our motto is my prayer today: Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus. Amen.

The story of Detroit’s “Nain Rouge”

Nain-nain nainnainnain! My city’s demonic harbinger of doom can beat up your city’s demonic harbinger of doom!

What? Your city doesn’t have one?

Well, it kinda figures that Detroit does.

The Nain Rouge (French for “Red Dwarf”—but not that Red Dwarf) has become a sort of mascot for the city…a pet, even. But when Detroit’s first white settlers plunked down their little fort, church, and ribbon farms with the highest of hopes, the “Demon of the Strait” was a fright to them.

As far as we know from the lore, the first Frenchie to encounter him was Detroit’s megalomaniac founder, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac (mentioned in a previous post). On his way to Detroit, ol’ Antoine attended a party in St. Louis, Québec. A mysterious fortune-teller, mistaking this history for a fairy-tale, showed up uninvited and proceeded to tell people’s fortunes. When she got to Cadillac, she rightly guessed that he was on his way to found a city. According to the legend, anyway, she foresaw both the Battle of Bloody Run (Chief Pontiac’s attack in 1763), the War of 1812, and the fact that Detroit would eventually become U.S.: “In years to come, your colony will be the scene of strife and bloodshed, the Indians will be treacherous, the hated English will struggle for its possession, but under a new flag it will reach a height of prosperity which you never in your wildest dreams pictured.”

Her vision, apparently, only went so far as, oh, let’s say 1883, when the book that quotation comes from was published. But that’s not bad, considering this exchange happened in 1701. Cadillac pressed her for personal information: would he leave a large inheritance to his children? As every good fairy-tale hag has ever done, she offered him some foreboding advice: Should he encounter a fuzzy little demon with beady red eyes and terrible breath, he should avoid poking it with a stick. (OK, she just said not to offend the Nain Rouge. Apparently, he didn’t ask, “the what?!?”) Should he offend the creature, he would lose his fortune and reputation, and die penniless. Or sou-less, or centime-less, or whatever currency the French were using in Canada at the time. Cadillac, like every decent tragic hero ever, found this advice entertaining. The prosperity bit he could understand, but this demon talk was hilarious—er, amusant. He amused his wife with a retelling of it later, since she wasn’t at the party. But as downfall legends go, a spouse has to be let in on the secret.

So Cadillac went on to found Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit on the northern bank of the strait between lakes Erie and Huron. One lovely evening, he was out for a stroll with the woman who had been foolish enough to marry him, when a hideous creature appeared in their path. Non, Kwame Kilpatrick wouldn’t arrive for another 300 years, give or take. This was the dreaded Nain Rouge! Standing only a few feet tall, covered in reddish black fur, with glowing red eyes and rotted teeth, it was enough to make Mme. Cadillac gasp and remind her husband not to do anything stupid. At this point in their marriage, sans doute, he did not actually need to impress her, and even if he did, ignoring her advice was likely to have the opposite effect. So for no reason evolutionary psychology could have predicted, M. Cadillac struck the creature with his walking stick, laughing at it and telling it to go away. Which, apparently it did. To scheme perhaps. In the end, Cadillac did lose his reputation and died penniless, with nothing to leave to his would-have-been heirs. But something tells me that might have happened anyway.

CompatriotsThere’s no physical resemblance at all,
but they do have the same effect on Detroit.

And no one’s ever seen them together in a room.
Just sayin’.

The thing is, it’s unclear whether the Nain Rouge causes misfortune or simply turns up to (a) warn about it, or (b) revel in it. A few more sighting stories will illustrate that ambiguity.

Detroit’s first First Couple weren’t the only ones to see the Nain Rouge in those early days. One farmer claimed to have seen him on the roof of his barn, frightening the horses. Impish behavior, oui. But quite unworthy of a harbinger of doom, non?

But as time went on, the Nain Rouge found Detroit to be an excellent location for indulging in whatever his hobby was. In 1763, he was spotted the day before the Battle of the Bloody Run. In 1805, the city burned, and the Nain Rouge was seen dancing in the flames (although other reports say he was simply out for a stroll in the city the day before the fire). During the War of 1812, Gen. William Hull claimed that the Nain Rouge was grinning at him as he surrendered the city to the British in 1813.

William_HullGen. Hull was later executed for military incompetence.
(Who surrenders to the British? Geez.)

In the 20th century, the Nain Rouge made an appearance just before the ’67 Uprising, during which much of the city burned again. (Somehow he seems to have missed the ’43 riots—or no one noticed him, poor fellow.) In 1976, he was spotted by two utility workers who were eating their lunch in their truck. Seeing what they thought was a child near the top of a nearby utility pole, they ran out of the truck and called for the child to come down. He leaped from the very top of the pole to the ground and ran away. Presumably at some point they were able to see that it was, in fact, the Nain Rouge and not some kid we should’ve been sending to the Olympics. The next day there was a severe ice storm. Bad, but hardly worth a Nain Rouge sighting. It’s Michigan, after all. We get ice storms. Nearly every winter.

Later “sightings” are completely dubious (assuming earlier sightings aren’t). In recent decades, one couple claimed they saw the Nain Rouge trying to break into a car downtown one night. The couple were, at the time, leaving a bar. He was supposedly seen by some Wings fans leaving Lafayette Coney in the wee hours of the morning, yelling “Awooo!” and smelling particularly foul. The Wings fans tossed him some change and left, only making the (improbable) connection later. Another person claimed to have seen him outside Dutch Girl Donuts muttering something like “cruller” under his breath. He’s also been reported trying to volunteer for “Angel’s Night” (better known as Devil’s Night), busking at Eastern Market, and one local claimed it was the Nain Rouge who went around tagging TRTL in the ’00s.

He’s up to no good, that’s for sure.

These days, the Nain Rouge is better known as the unwelcome guest of dishonor at the annual Marche du Nain Rouge, a huge party celebrating Detroit’s history and possibilities.

So what is this thing, this Nain Rouge? A demon, a cryptid, a figment of imagination?

In older texts, he’s been linked to a mythical creature from Normandy (where Detroit’s first settlers also came from), the lutin. Remember the story of the farmer’s frightened horses? That sort of impish behavior is typical of a lutin, but the lutin also tended to be helpful to French farmers, doing silly but apparently useful things like stirring their food to make it taste better or pinching their children’s toes when they misbehaved. They also braided people’s hair and horses’ manes. The Nain Rouge seems hardly like a lutin to me, although it could be a category French immigrants from Normandy might have used to interpret or recount strange experiences.

Also, according to that Wikipedia page, they abhor salt, and Detroit is located atop extensive salt mines.

Being Catholic, they also might have used the category of demon, especially when (a) dealing with what seemed an evil presence, or (b) trying to evangelize (or “evangelize”) the locals—the Native Americans, mostly Wyandot and Huron in Detroit at the time. Old stories even claim that the Native Americans warned their new friends to beware of the “demon of the strait.” It seems unlikely the Hurons or Wyandots would have used the word “demon” (or “démon“), unless perhaps they were speaking in French and it was the only French equivalent they could find for whatever it was they were trying to describe. Some have proposed that, at least in the Native Americans’ eyes, anything like the Nain Rouge would be a land spirit, and his appearances before tragic events should be appreciated as friendly warnings.

I’m inclined to believe that the Nain Rouge is a melding of these myths, perhaps reflecting the collision of different cultures in the area. I would love, some day, to do the kind of cultural analysis of this that my late academic advisor, Alex García-Rivera, did in his book on St. Martín de Porres. (Seriously, read that book.) At any rate, it has been suggested that the Nain Rouge was a manifestation of racism against the “Red Man,” or Native Americans. The recent “sightings” in which the supposed nain was seen busking, breaking into a car, or mumbling by a Dutch Girl could reinforce that theory—the racism being transferred to African Americans and the homeless poor. It’s hard to tell from anonymous email accounts (see the link to Model D below to read them).

Detroit is not defenseless against its demon, however. Historically, the Nain Rouge was seen being chased by the spirit of early Detroit resident Pierre Livernois, a.k.a. the “Spirit of Detroit.” The statue known as the “Spirit of Detroit,” located in front of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building (a.k.a. city hall), was never actually named, but, given his popular name, can be identified with Livernois, shining the light of God on a family (meant to represent all human relations). Maybe the Nain Rouge is now warded off by this statue. It was dedicated in 1958, but there wasn’t email back then, and Detroit is rather large; it could be the nain didn’t stumble upon it till much later, when, let’s say, he was so scared he ran up a utility pole.

When Livernois isn’t busy chasing the Red Dwarf, he enjoys rooting for the local sports teams:

Seems the Nain Rouge has gotten the upper hand in the Stanley Cup playoffs the past few years…

Read more about the Nain Rouge:

http://www.modeldmedia.com/features/seeingred.aspx

http://www.michigansotherside.com/articles/TheNainRouge.htm

http://archive.org/details/legendsofledtr00hamluoft

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nain_Rouge