Wednesday, April 30, 2008

In the future when all's well

On the glorious day that General Motors posted a $3.25 billion quarterly loss — heralded by analysts as "better than expected" — let's look back to happier, more optimistic times for the auto manufacturer born in Flint.

Set at the 1956 General Motors Motorama in Los Angeles, this weird Populux film reveals a drunkenly giddy, very likely drug-fueled vision of the future that obviously never came to pass for Flint. It's half Broadway musical, half burlesque show as envisioned by horny middle-aged GM executives.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Stormy Weather

Flint is so radical, dude...

"At a 'War Council' in Flint, Michigan in 1969, [Weather Underground] leader Bernardine Dohrn praised the serial murderer Charles Manson: 'Dig it. First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them. They even shoved a fork into the victim's stomach. Wild.' She then proclaimed that the time had come to launch the war against 'Amerikkka' (the Weathermen always spelled America this way) and to form Linka Weather Underground to carry out terrorist activities.

"The Weathermen claimed credit for 25 bombings over the next several years. They set bombs at the rebuilt Haymarket statue; a bathroom at the Pentagon; the Capitol barber shop; the New York City police headquarters; and a variety of other targets."

(Courtesy of Something and Half of Something.)

UPDATE: What does this have to do with the presidential election? Go here.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

More Flint 1977

Photo courtesy of Jar With Most

The old YWCA, with the Wilson Park band shell in the background to the right, is yet another footnote in Flint's shameful urban "planning" legacy; it was torn down to make a parking lot.

Flint's block-busting history

William A. Johnson, Jr., the former mayor of Rochester, New York, remembers his days in Flint:

"After graduation, I took a job as a political science professor at Mott Community College. Flint was my first venture out of the South. I arrived in 1967, just after the Detroit riots. My wife and I got an apartment in the city east of Saginaw Street.

"In 1968, Flint became the first city in the country to have an open housing ordinance. The law prohibited discrimination in housing. It was a tough struggle to get it passed. City Council at first voted it down, the mayor threatened to resign, Martin Luther King was assassinated, the political winds shifted, and fi-
nally it passed.

"This was an historic moment for the Civil Rights movement in the United States, and I was immensely proud of Flint.

"Then I began to see the for-sale signs popping up in the white neighborhoods west of Saginaw. It looked like a political campaign with all the lawn signs.

"What was happening was block busting at its most furious. Homes in white neighborhoods were being re-sold to Blacks at inflated prices — prices they really couldn't afford — which lead to massive foreclosures and vacancies. The whites, of course, fled to the suburbs. The open housing ordinance, something intended to do good, boomeranged and ate Flint like a cancer."

Dying for Michigan

Have you ever been sitting around after a few beers and said to yourself: "I wonder how many Major League Baseball players kicked the bucket in the Great Lake State?" I know I have. Many times.

Or maybe you mention that you're from Flint to a hardcore baseball fan and they ask, "Didn't Red Bluhm die in Flint?" Well, thanks to Baseball Almanac, a website that proves once again there's nothing too obscure to find a place on the internet, you now have the knowledge to quickly reply: "Oh, you mean the Red Bluhm who went hitless in his only major league at bat for the Red Sox in 1918? Yeah, he's buried in Sunset Hills Cemetery."

Of course, not even the Baseball Almanac can explain what the hell Norm Cash was doing on Beaver Island when he died there in 1986.

Flint Artifacts: Flint Community Schools Summer Program

The cookie economy

How bad is the Flint economy? Even the Girl Scouts are hurting. Cookie sales were down 4 percent in the area, according to Abby Wattenberg, the communications coordinator for the for the Fair Winds Council.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Jerome A. Washington, R.I.P.

Shanon Murphy of The Flint Journal reports on an April 23 murder:

"Police found Jerome A. Washington, 40, of Flint, dead inside a home on Lapeer Road near Owen Street about 1:15 a.m. Wednesday.

"Police said Washington did not live at the home and would not say why he was there.

"Washington may have been dead for several hours before police were called.

"The suspect, whose name is not being released, turned himself in to police about 9 p.m. Wednesday, said Lt. Tim Johnson."

For a map of local homicides, go to the Flint Murder Map.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The curse of Semi-Pro

Hey, if you were in a movie as bad as Semi-Pro, you'd be angry, too.

"The grizzly bear that comically smacked down Will Ferrell in Semi-Pro fatally mauled its handler on Tuesday," E Online reports.

"The massive animal, whose named is Rocky, was being put through obedience exercises at the Predators in Action wild animal training center in, ironically, Big Bear, Calif., when it bit 39-year-old Stephan Miller on the neck, according to a spokeswoman for the San Bernadino County Sheriff's Office.

"Fellow trainers used pepper spray to separate the 700-pound, 7½-foot male brown bear from its victim and restrain the creature. There were no other injuries reported.

" Paramedics arrived soon after but were unable save Miller, who died at the scene."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Running from Flint

Flint merits a mention in The Onion, the satirical newspaper extraordinaire:


April 16, 2008 | Issue 44•16

Who Are We Running From?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Flint Artifacts: Chevette

Friday, April 18, 2008

Why Can't I Be Like Alberta Whaley?

More memories of Flint from Pat McFarlane, born at Hurley Hospital in 1930.

Why can’t I be like Alberta Whaley?
As far back as I can remember that question would pop into my consciousness like a Hindu mantra.

Alberta was my best friend. She lived in the next block on Illinois Avenue at a time when blocks were cities unto themselves and you knew everyone. Some families were considered undesirable, like the Bach’s who lived a few doors down from our house. My every outdoor excursion was prefaced by my parents with “Don’t play with the Bach kids.” Of course, my rebellious nature made me devise clever schemes to do just that.

Now I realize that the Bach’s were poor. Although we were working class, my parents had high standards that had nothing to do with money. When discussing the Bach’s my dad would say, “You don’t need money to mow your lawn.”

Alberta’s parents were Southerners who had migrated to Michigan looking for work and a better life. In the thirties, Flint was a Mecca for the unemployed looking for jobs in the booming auto plants. “Go West Young Man” had turned into “ Go North.” Her dad worked the night shift at Buick and her mother was a telephone operator for Michigan Bell in the days when you dialed zero a real person answered. Alberta’s mom was a true, soft-spoken Southern lady. I had my suspicions that her dad was a quiet drinker but this was never discussed. Alberta and I knew that some things are best left unsaid.

Our friendship was an unlikely one as she always did what her parents told her and I was always asking “Why not?” Perhaps that’s why we were such good friends, each fascinated by our respective differences.

I spent most Saturday afternoons at the Roxy, a small neighborhood theater a few blocks from my house. I loved the darkness and the roar of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lion heralding an afternoon of previews, world news, serials and finally the main feature. It was usually a western or film noir, allowing me to escape into the Wild West or the shadows of a mysterious city. Alberta could never go with me as I think her parents considered movies sinful.

At that time, my parents didn’t attend a church, believing that God knew they were good people simply because they were Scots and had arrived in Michigan from Iowa. But I was drawn to religion. I made pilgrimages to various churches and Sunday schools. I even had myself baptized. Twice! Sometimes I would go with Alberta and her mother to their evangelical church. It was nice until the call to march up to the altar and “accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal savior.” In spite of the gentle hand of Alberta’s mother urging me on, my instinct was to run, so my evangelical experience was short lived. I eventually became a Catholic, where you were not coerced into marching down the aisle to communion, but it was understood that if you didn’t you would bypass purgatory and go directly to Hell. I could identify with that doctrine.

Occasionally, we would get to spend the night at each other’s house. Unlike today’s “sleepovers,” it was a special occasion and done only between families who knew each other well. It was always a quiet event at my house because my bedroom was right across the hall from my parents. But Alberta’s house had one bedroom downstairs where we slept. We giggled, told secrets, read Nancy Drew books and best of all, raided the icebox for our favorites — left over fried pork chops and banana peppers, which were an exotic food to me. I don’t think they existed in the Scottish food chain.

But like many youthful friendships, Alberta and I drifted apart. By the time we reached Central High School, we’d simply say hi in the hallway, talk occasionally, but that was it. I was reminded of Alberta when her name appeared on the honor roll every semester, while mine was often on the tardy list.

I loved history, social studies and band. I played alto sax and being in the band meant being classified as a nerd. I preferred to think of the band members as artistic intellectuals. Some of us played in jazz bands after school and a few went on to become professional musicians. The male drum major in later years became the mayor of Flint. And many, like most Flint high-school graduates, went to work for General Motors.

I still remember the thrill I felt when our band marched onto the football field playing the fight song and I knew whatever I did in life it had to be exciting. I didn’t realize exciting can sometimes be a lonely road to travel.

I became friends with a drummer in the band named Jerry. He lived a block from Central and we sometimes ate at his house. His mother had painted nails, wore red lipstick and was divorced! She was remarried to a real estate salesman that Jerry hated. Just after VE day, Jerry’s older brother, Richard, returned home from the Navy. Suddenly, lunch at Jerry’s became very inviting. Dick was going to college and playing saxophone in jazz band, and we all know the low moan of an alto Sax in a smoke filled room is the Pied Piper of love.

Forget high school! I spent all my time taking my fake ID and trying to get into bars and clubs where the band was playing. I may have invented the catch phrase “I’m With The Band.”

The bass player, Earl, was my first exposure to a brooding intellectual. He was tall, dark, handsome and involved in the socialist movement. He soon had me passing out the Daily Worker and going to Detroit to see Russian propaganda movies in secret mysterious places. I was flattered that someone so intelligent could like me. He eventually earned his Ph. D. and became an archeologist, widely published and well known for his projects everywhere from Northern Michigan to Mexico. We always remained friends. I knew he loved me and I often wonder how my life would have played out with him.

I lost track of Alberta after we graduated from high school and I left Flint. My mother sent me the newspaper announcement of her wedding to a policeman. Some years later I heard she had a son who was severely disabled. I understand she and her husband were devoted to caring for him. God knew what he was doing when he sent that baby to Alberta. She was full of goodness and love.

Now, even though many years have passed she is still a part of my life. In my darkest moments of despair, misjudgment and just plain selfishness, it crosses my mind like a banner behind a small plane. Why can’t I be like Alberta Whaley?

Is she somewhere pondering, Why can’t I be like Pat McFarlane?

Musical Tent

Flint Expatriate Rand Simberg, who writes the Transterrestrial Musings blog, checks in with a request for information on the dearly departed Musical Tent and the AC concerts.
“I was born in Flint in 1955, still have family in the area, attended Potter, Pierce, Whittier and Central, and Mott Community College, but haven't lived there since the mid seventies. (I went to Ann Arbor in 1977, then moved to California on graduation in 1980.)

“I was wondering about a couple things. One was the Musical Tent. Do you have any recollections of it? It might have been a little before your time, but it was a tent that was raised in the summer out on Dort Highway, most of the way to Clio (or even beyond toward Birch Run?) where they produced Broadway-style musicals.

“The other is the Fall and Spring AC Concerts, which were held in the IMA Auditorium in the sixties. The latter is of particular interest to me, because my father was an executive at AC, and he produced them. They had big-name stars in them (e.g., Florence Henderson, Edie Adams, Anita Bryant, in her pre-orange juice, gay bashing days, etc.), combined with the AC men’s and women's chorus and local talent.”

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Flint Portraits: Dissonance

Dissonance at the Rusty Nail

Look, just accept the fact that you cannot relive the experience of seeing Dissonance live in the eighties. But the music made by Flint's seminal hardcore punk band is out there waiting for you. From the Dissonance myspace page:

"From 1982 - 1987 Dissonance grew from humble punk roots to become a viable force in the Midwest underground music scene, developing a respectable and loyal following. Committed to a strong DIY ("Do It Yourself") work ethic and willingness to explore, they combined elements of hardcore with metal, rock, funk and (arguably) even hip-hop. Hosting many nationally-touring bands via their own booking and promotion efforts, they played with groups such as Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies, C.O.C, 7 Seconds, D.R.I., Wasted Youth, Die Kreuzen, Toxic Reasons, Crucifucks and Slayer. They toured the country in the summer of 1986 and disbanded in the summer of 1987. The smell, however, has lingered...

"Reuniting for one last swing in December 2005 to honor the memory of their dear friend, supporter and independent record store owner, Doug Earp (Wyatt Earp Records), Dissonance was revitalized just long enough to properly release the band’s entire oeuvre.

"Al Steele, now at the helm of Wyatt Earp Records, and in cooperation with Dissonance, has reissued the band’s previously available material with many bonus goodies in a whomping retrospective as the inaugural release on Earp’s dream, Wyatt Earp Records (the label!)

"The release, a tightly-packed 2 x CD & accompanying 45-minute DVD bonanza featuring re-equalized original recordings; unreleased live recordings; liner notes from renowned author and Flint native, Paul A. Toth; and introduction from Scott Carlson of Repulsion fame; a newly recorded version of The Chosen; live footage at Wild Bill's nightclub (1983); live footage from December 2005's first Earpfest; Paul A. Toth narration of condensed liner notes to slideshow; comments and memories by fellow Flint companions of the period; and Paul A. Toth narration of excerpt from his acclaimed novel, Fizz."

Just head to the Dissonance myspace page for downloads and information on how to purchase the reissue.

Like many of the people you know from Flint, the former band members have scattered far and wide. Andy Turpen (vocals), Jim Holbel (guitar) and Brent Bonet (guitar) now live in Atlanta. Bassist Tanya Narhi is in Ypsilanti. Mike Grossklaus (vocals/guitar) resides in New York City. Matt Olivo (guitar) and Brian Story (guitar/vocals) were last spotted in California. Steve Newlan (guitar) still lives in Flint, and Chris McNichols (guitar) is missing in action.

Sadly, drummer Phill Hines died on Christmas Day in 2006. For a podcast dedicated to Phill (who preferred two L's in his first name), head to Tothword.

The late Phill Hines and Tanya Narhi

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Black Flag Comes to Flint

This is a clipping from the Flint Journal covering an early '80s visit to Flint by Henry Rollins and Black Flag. They played the decidedly un-air-conditioned Ukrainian Hall.

I recently uncovered it tucked between pages 318-319 of my old copy of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, who committed suicide after failing to find a publisher. His mother, with the help of writer Walker Percy, managed to get the book published posthumously.

There's a single paragraph underlined on page 318, presumably by me: "A scarf here. A cutlass there. One or two deft and tasteful suggestions. That's all. The total effect is rather fetching."

The quote fits nicely with the fan in the Tam O' Shanter near the stage, who, if memory serves me, just might be Flint Expatriate Scott Hiteshew.

UPDATE: Of course, the great Take No Prisoners has the full article on the 1985 show! Thanks, Aaron.

Coneys in the desert

Former Flintoid Jim Cummer and his wife, Solange — who is from Brazil but spent a year in Clio as an exchange student — have a restaurant that transports the sublime joy of Coneys to Tempe, Arizona.

"Our customers who never had this style of Coney have shared with us their pleasure: most expected a cheap, tired, old hot dog drenched in canned chile on a stale bun," Jim reveals. "Our Flint style Coney is a genuine Koegel's casing hot dog, imported from their Flint factory, housed in a steamed bun, covered with our own fresh homemade Flint style Coney sauce, topped with mustard and crowned with fresh sweet onions. This is a Coney symphony!"

Monday, April 14, 2008

Flint Artifacts: I.M.A. Safetyville

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Calling Captain Bubblegum!

A mysterious figure going by the name Smurf's Inc left this intriguing comment that demands more information:

"Does anybody remember northside legend Captain Bubblegum? A crazed maniac who dressed as a super hero and terrorized school children for years? The last story I heard about him involved the good Captain chasing three teenage boys while wearing his trademark cape and mask... and riding a moped."

There you have it. If you can fill us in on Captain Bubblegum, we're eagerly awaiting your information.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Canadians Abroad

The lobby of the Durant Hotel

What happens when an earnest Canadian visits Flint?
"After taking some landscape photos from the roof [of the Durant Hotel] I headed down and walked across the street to get some lunch. While waiting for my order I asked the cashier which areas I should avoid to keep out of trouble. Her response was almost comical had she not been serious. Her reply to my answer was simply to stay out of Flint altogether. With my lunch in hand I thanked her for the advice and headed back to my car."

The nightlife's calling you

With commercials like this one, it's hard to fathom how Flint's downtown Hyatt Hotel went belly up. (Warning: This video contains extremely uncool white people.)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Flint Portraits: Gerry Godin

Gerry Godin racked up more than 16 years at Buick before retiring in 1997, so he has a lot of stories to tell on his amazing blog All Things Buick.

"It's hard to believe that 52 years ago, fresh out of High School I started there at $1.47 per hour and worked the 5:30 PM till 7:00 AM shift in the Cleaning Room inspecting Castings. Thirteen hours, 7 days a week was big money then. I bought a 1955 Chevy Belair hardtop fully loaded for $2358."

If Ben Hamper captured the big-picture insanity and hilarity of factory life in Rivethead, Gerry captures the fascinating details with humor and insight. How else would you know where one horticulturally inclined shop rat grew pot in the '70s? (It was on the mezzanine to the right of the big Buick logo visible from Hamilton Avenue.)
Or discover one of the few fringe benefits of working with the searing industrial ovens in the paint department?

"This was the oven where I would heat my ham and cheese sandwich. Hot lunch was about the only good thing about working the third floor paint. Some people liked it but I think the heat and fumes got to there brains. I even think I got some Dain Bramage."

Gerry's got one-of-a-kind photos and the stories behind them, including the sad tale of this ill-fated 1980 Regal:

"This was entirely my fault because I didn't have my forks through the sturups on the basket. The baskets were rectangled with the shorter side facing forward for loading in the semi trailer. I should have rotated the basket before moving but I was out of practice and just gotten back on the job. Due to a cutback I was placed back on my old axle press after an eight year hiatus. Like an elephant Buick never forgets. So when there was a cutback you went back to the lowest position inline with your senority. I did not get a reprimand for this accident because the pictures showed the car was parked over the yellow line at the time. I was so nervous that I went home after cleaning this mess up. The final insult was this car sitting for about a month on the second floor of factory #94 as if on exhibit for all to see."

But some of the most powerful images are the before-and-after photos of Buick City, a precise reminder that a way of life disappeared along with the actual factory buildings.

And you can take it all in while listening to Gerry on guitar singing the Buick City Blues:

up all night/just couldn't sleep
must go to work/gives me the creeps
management, the union, too
they’re for themselves/not me and you

Buick City, Flint, Michigan
hell on earth and here I go again

speed up the line/add work to me
they’ll drive us nuts/but don’t you see?
profits soar/now they get rich
just pile it on/ain’t life a bitch?

Buick City, Flint, Michigan
Hell on earth and here I go again

we work all day/we work at night
we break our backs/it’s quite a sight
whip us like dogs/but can it be?
we will survive/just wait and see

Buick City, Flint, Michigan
Hell on earth and here I go again

now life goes on/and day by day
must go to work/or I don’t get paid
it’ll never change/this life I know
the rich get richer/just rollin’ in the dough

Buick City, Flint, Michigan
Hell on earth and here I go again
Buick City

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Homedale Elementary and the Wild West

UPDATE: Readers have written in to the comment section with more information on the Wild West house. It was owned by Roy "Gypsy Jack" Steffenson Jr., a local legend who lived in the cowboy shrine on Davison Road near Olive Avenue for more than two decades. He clearly was not a hippie, but when I met him as a kid I was prone to throw anyone with a beard into that category. He inspired a song by The Travelin' Bluesman, "a track in which the Bluesman describes his relationship with Flint legend Gypsy Jack, a person he credits talking him out of doing something that would have ruined his life forever." (And it's not about taking a job at GM.) The album cover just might be a photo of Gypsy Jack's house, but I'm not sure. NBC's "Real People" show may have profiled him as well. Gypsy Jack reportedly died on September 8, 2003. Sadly, his house appears to have been abandoned and picked over by looters.

There's more information in the Comment section for this post, including some memories on the East Side's infamous Adolf Moses.

Anyone with more details or a photo of Gypsy Jack should feel free to pass it along.

Homedale Elementary School Class of 1973

Homedale Elementary School Class of 1974

I guess I shouldn't be surprised anymore when I hear about another place that means something to me in Flint getting shut down and left to rot, but I was still depressed to learn that Homedale Elementary School is closed.

My grandparents lived nearby on Illinois Avenue. My mom attended Homedale before moving on to Whittier and then Central. I went to pre-kindergarten at Homedale for a few months when we were all living at my grandparents' place before moving to a house near Bassett Park.

I remember there was a big house near the school — perhaps on Olive Avenue near Davison Road — that had been transformed into a sort of Wild West museum by two hippies who owned the place. Now were they actually hippies? All I know is that they had huge beards and long hair, which was not a look my Grandmother
McFarlane — who grew up on a 40-acre farm in Maple Leaf, Iowa, during the depression — would take a liking to.

One day grandma and I were walking past the house after a visit to the Homedale playground, and one of the hippie dudes was out in the yard, near the covered wagon they'd installed. My grandma struck up a conversation, complimenting him on the house. When he invited us inside, I was stunned when she said yes.

It seemed like the weirdest place in the world to me. There were wagon wheels and all kinds of other cowboy/wild west paraphernalia everywhere. These guys didn't just have a few things scattered around; the house looked like the prop room for a Sam Peckinpah picture. The hippie took us down to the basement and, as I clutched grandma's hand, revealed a built-in replica of a frontier jail, complete with a mannequin dressed as a sheriff and outlaw dummy in a small cell. (Of course, I now realize there must have been a lot of pot smoked down in that basement.)

Very strange, and mildly terrifying...but amazingly cool! And we made it out alive. On the way home grandma remarked, "Those fellows have too much time on their hands."

I hunted around for some material on Homedale, and I came across a website by a Flintoid now living in Arkansas named Kevin Watkins. He attended Homedale from 1970-1976, and his mother, Wanda Watkins, was one of the playground teachers there for several years. He posted the class photos above and the shot of the auditorium below. (Click on the class photos to enlarge them; several names are handwritten on the photos.) He asks for more information on Homedale, but my email to him got bounced back.

No idea what happened to Kevin Watkins or the Wild West boys of Olive Avenue.

Homedale Elementary School Auditorium

Homedale Faculty in the early '70s

  • Mr. Walter Behm, Principal
  • Mr. Gary Sullenger, Community School Director
  • Mrs. Finch, Secretary
  • 6th Grade - Mrs. Carpenter, Mr Field, Miss Porter, Mrs. Patten
  • 5th Grade - Mr. Bonno, Mr. Ervin, Mrs. Graham
  • 4th Grade - Mrs. Cleveland, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Princing
  • 3rd Grade - Mrs. Converso, Mrs. Harrington, Mrs. Robart, Mrs. Leflore
  • 2nd Grade - Miss Green, Mrs. Pagel, Mrs. Tucker, Mrs. Ghattas
  • 1st Grade - Mrs. Bader, Mrs. Hanley, Mrs. Weatherhead
  • Kindergarten - Mrs. Helber, Mrs. Keedle, Mrs. Hans, Mrs. Geiger
    Other faculty: Miss Berden, Mrs. Guerin, Mrs.Katzenberger, Mr. Langley, Mrs. MacKinnon, Mrs. Ray, Mrs. Riggs, Mrs Ryan, Mrs. Benjamin, Mrs. Jarvis, Mrs. Taylor, Mr. Bill Hubbard, Mrs. Linda Munoz, Mr. joe Munoz, Mr. David Dobin.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Civic decay

The former Lowell Middle School sits empty on the East Side. Photo via Jeana-Dee Allen/The Flint Journal.

Some of Flint's biggest eyesores — including Whaley Pool and Homedale Elementary School — are owned by city entities. Joe Lawlor of The Flint Journal reports:

"Throughout Flint, there are at least 17 examples in which public entities -- including Hurley, the city and the Flint School District -- have abandoned buildings they own, a Flint Journal analysis found through a review of property records, a visual inspection of the properties and talking to neighbors.

"In many cases, those buildings are now dilapidated shells, only shadows of the structures they once were. All have been abandoned in the past dozen or so years.

"Myron Orfield, president of Ameregis, a Minnesota-based think tank that examines urban and suburban issues, said problems can worsen in city neighborhoods that experience dilapidated, closed schools or vacant homes that are left to decay.

"'When neighborhoods go into general disrepair, it accentuates people's general bad feelings,'Orfield said."

Leadership with conviction

The budget situation in Flint is so dire that Mayor Don Williamson has proposed closing the city jail. That's one plan that City Councilman Ehren Gonzales (left) is likely to endorse; he was arrested and jailed Sunday morning after a domestic dispute.

Williamson knows how Gonzales feels. The mayor was sentenced to a federal penitentiary for operating a stolen car ring in the 1960s.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Calvin J. Sibley, R.I.P.

Flint's third homicide of 2008, reported by The Flint Journal:

"A man was shot about 5:50 p.m. Saturday on King Avenue near North Home Avenue.

"The man, identified as Calvin J. Sibley, 30, Flint, was exiting his car when he was shot several times, Flint police said.

"Sibley was taken to Hurley Medical Center, where he died from his injuries, police said.

"The suspect is a male in his 20s. He was seen getting out of a burgundy full-size pickup shortly before the shooting, police said.

"The suspect last was seen running and firing a gun, police said."

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Charlton Heston dies

Actor and gun enthusiast Charlton Heston died at the age of 84 on Saturday. His excruciating interview in Bowling for Columbine caused a hellacious controversy, even by Michael Moore's standards.

Flint fashion, circa 1990

Flint style, circa 1990, possibly exhibited in ads for the Capitol Cafe and The Vogue. If you spot anyone you know, let me know.

UPDATE: Aaron Stengel writes: Looks like the late 80s. I believe I see a some Central H.S. students in there but no Cafe regulars. The owner of the cafe moved out to the Portland or Seattle area (I forget) and got out of the restaurant business.

One interesting thing about those times was that there was still a white middle class IN Flint and the "Preppies" would be seen hanging out downtown with the poor punk malcontents and skinheads. However, those photos definitely look staged at lunchtime.

The only time there were that many people in front of the Capitol was for a show and there were never THAT many preppies at one. Notice the conspicuous absence of skaters or punk types.

Just like old times

The much-heralded Detroit Tigers start the season with four straight losses. Jim Hawkins of the Macomb Daily sums up the season so far:

"The season Tiger fans have been talking and dreaming about for four months, is fast turning into a nightmare. Four games -- and four failures -- into the eagerly awaited new year, the fans' optimism and enthusiasm has turned to boos."

Prep Personae

Lisa Birnbach edited and co-wrote The Official Preppy Handbook in 1980, revealing the then-secretive traditions, mannerisms, etiquette, and dress code of Lacoste-wearing old-money elites who prepped at Choate, summered at the Vineyard, and spent their golden years playing doubles at The Bath and Tennis Club in Palm Beach. The book lounged at number one on The New York Times bestseller list for 38 weeks and launched a fashion craze in the eighties that popularized everything from Sperry Top-Siders in land-locked locales to those persistently unflattering turtleneck dresses from Talbots, even in decidedly un-preppy places like Flint.

Today, the preppy look inexplicably reigns supreme once again. Kanye West favors pink and green argyle sweaters in concert; collar popping is still an embarrassing trend, and J. Crew has apparently become the official outfitter of the entire
unimaginative nation.

Here's an interview I conducted with Birnbach for one of my low-paying freelance assignments:

First question...GQ is pairing rep ties with rugby shirts this month, L.L. Bean now stocks an all-black version of their classic boat and tote bag, and Marc Ecko is selling a nice little kelly green sweater with a pink skull and crossbones on it. Did you ever think preppy fashion would come to this?

I’m not surprised. Preppy is a palate cleanser between trends. It’s the true American aesthetic. It all comes from sportswear or athletic gear and that’s what we do best in this country in terms of style. And to throw in a little skull and crossbones, oohhh, that’s kind of tricky and dangerous. Or to wear a black thing instead of a pastel thing, ahhhh, that’s kind of naughty. Preppies need to express themselves, too.

Carol Wallace, one of the co-authors of the preppy handbook, has written that she’s not exactly sure why it was so popular. What do you think?

There were a lot of secrets revealed in that book. Nobody had codified a whole worldview like that before. But to be glib, it was a very cheap laugh. It was $3.95. It looked yummy because it had a cover with all these different elements on it rather than one central graphic. It was easy to read; the chapters averaged two hundred words. And if you read the book and found it funny you were in on the joke. And if you read the book and took it seriously you were becoming a self-help reader.

I grew up in Flint, Michigan, in a house with aluminum siding, yet I'm ashamed to say I wore pink button-downs and ridiculous patchwork pants to high school in the eighties. How do you think true preppies feel about having their look usurped by the masses?

Some hereditary preppies were probably offended, but I think it also validated people who had been out of the loop sartorially. Preppy was never fashionable until the handbook came out. Suddenly, because you were sloppy and had tape on your shoes, you were actually being looked up to by people who never really thought you had any sex appeal.

One of the “Basic Body Types” in the preppy handbook is The Aesthete. (“Tortoise-shell glasses; absence of body hair; abundance of freckles.”) It seems like a precursor to the geek chic that emerged during the nineties in places like Silicon Valley.

Absolutely. Preppies are the forbearers of the people and the indie rock people. There would be no bands like The Eels without the preppy handbook.

I’ve read that Generation X by Douglas Copeland was pitched as a preppy handbook-style guide, but the publishers made him novelize it. What was the original vision for the preppy handbook?

The publishers wanted an illustration and photograph-heavy catalog of preppy stuff. It wasn’t going to unveil the life and philosophy behind it. But it didn’t seem feasible to just display preppy items like gifts at a wedding without explaining why they were important in the context. So it grew and became a more ambitious project.

Do you have copies laying around the house in Manhattan, sharing space with antique duck decoys and Brown University yearbooks?

I think there’s a few in a storage bin somewhere, but I didn’t have any at home for a long time. I finally had to go out and get a few copies. I bought them used on the internet.

You and your husband have three children. What do they make of The Official Preppy Handbook?

My kids are very proud of it because all their friends are very impressed that I wrote it. One girl even told my daughter that I was her idol.

The preppy handbook has numerous imitators profiling everyone from evangelicals to hipsters. If you were going to write another one today, what type of person would you cover?

I haven’t ruled it out, so I don’t think I want to talk about it.

This is a little awkward, but what are you wearing?

Right this minute? Why I’m wearing nothing.

Really? That doesn’t sound very preppy.

OK, I’m wearing a pair of blue jeans from Seven for All Mankind. And I’m wearing the darkest, purplist cotton piquet polo shirt that you have ever seen that I got in Europe.

What about shoes? Weejuns? Espadrilles? Tretorns?

I happen to be barefoot at the moment.

Alright, Last question: Do you...

And cotton underwear.

OK, I was trying to move on before we reached that point.

And no tattoos.

Got it. Now do you care to make a few predictions on what’s next in the world of fashion?

I’d like to pose a question rather than make a prediction. If the “It” bag every season is at the $1000 threshold, how high are they going to go in the next couple of years? Who really should be spending $1000 a season on a handbag? I look at all these young women carrying them and I think they’re not eating to afford this thing, or they’re going on heavy credit card debt, or it’s a copy. It seems like a bad use of resources if you’re in your twenties to spend that kind of dough on a purse.

Is this the notorious frugal gene of preppies coming out?

Oh, you got me.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Flint gets tanked

American automakers can't seem to build a small car that people will buy, but a Kettering frat boy named Will Foster has managed to build a mini Panzer tank.
"Roughly the size of a small car, Foster's tank can reach speeds of around 20 mph with its three-cylinder diesel engine. Just like the real thing, the tank runs on treads and has a 360-degree cannon powered by compressed air from a scuba tank.

"Its camouflaged plywood exterior has become a curious fixture at Foster's Theta Xi fraternity house, where it is often parked next to a shed with a sign that reads 'Panzer parking. Violators will be totaled.'
Perhaps GM should bring this thing to market, treads and all. It wouldn't be a big seller in Poland, but it could probably do better than the Cadillac XLR, the worst selling car of 2007.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Flint Portraits: Tracy Murphy

Flint Powers graduate Tracy "T-Money" Murphy can satisfy your electropop/rap needs — assuming you have any — through her New York-based band Opti-Grab.

The New York music press seems to approve:

"Local trio Opti-Grab make funny, kitschy and ultra-danceable electropop without becoming dated. They remind me of what Fannypack could be and what the retro-electro movement could have been-with catchy hooks, and beats that recall a little bit of Shannon and a little bit of Madonna."
The Village Voice

"Opti-Grab could be your number-one block-rocking party option in the city—if sultry three-way vocals and old-school hip-hop beats are your flavor. And if the authorities could harness the raw power in that scrawny guy's vocals, America could be nuclear free."
—Time Out New York

Downloads available at the Opti-Grab myspace page.