Monday, September 15, 2008

Night Blind

The flora (and concreta) of Chevy in the Hole. (Photo courtesy of Jar With Most.)

There are Flint residents. There are Flint Expatriates. And then there are the rare individuals that are both at the same time.

Jan Worth-Nelson — who blogs as Macy Swain — teaches at UM-Flint during the academic year and lives with her husband in San Pedro, California during the summers and holiday breaks. It gives her an insider's understanding of Flint mixed with the perspective of an outsider. It also means her blog, Night Blind, offers the duality of Flint and Southern California.

It's an intriguing mix that leads to some fascinating posts. Here's one describing a botanical tour of what was once Chevy in the Hole:
"The site is now a giant brownfield. I find it irresistibly ghostly and haunting.

"I took my 'Green Ink' students there on a bike tour a couple of weeks ago. Increasingly, it seems right NOT to drive a car when paying tribute to this fallen behemoth. Pausing to catch our breath on Bluff Street overlooking the acreage, we didn't have much to say as we took in the concretized channel of the river and the silent expanse where some of the fights of the 1936 Sit Down Strike took place and where millions of cars were banged out on noisy and oily assembly lines. Several mallards noodled along in the brown water. A red-winged blackbird sailed by. A remarkable single cottonwood did its leafy hula. It really is a cemetery.

"The brownfields of Chevy in the Hole are not really brown: there are many green things growing in the cracks and edges. I asked our tour guide, Christina Kelly of the Genesee County Land Bank, what they were. "Just weeds," she said.

"My biology professor friend Tracy Wacker, with her usual bracing candor, said 'The definition of a weed is a plant growing where somebody doesn't want it to. Looked at that way, none of the plants at Chevy in the Hole are weeds, because nobody cares if they grow there.'

"This is just the start of what I have to say, but in quick summary, when Tracy and I walked back to Chevy in the Hole yesterday, scrambled around a chain-link fence and poked around in the humid overgrowth on the cracked concrete and the river bank, she called out the names of least 30 different plants: rumex, chicory, bachelor's button, black nightshade, common mullein, curlydock, dogwood, catalpa, coreopsis, lanceleaf plantain, milkweed, dames rocket, buckthorn, bull-thistle, crown vetch. That's about half of them."
The contrast between the Flint and San Pedro posts shows that even though America has become homogenized by chain stores and strip malls, with bland exurbs defining the look and culture of the country, there are still unique regional differences out there.
"Tomorrow is the Korean Bell's big day — one of only two in the year it is rung. Tomorrow the site at the top of the hill overlooking a wide expanse of harbor and ocean will be crowded with well-wishers, celebrants, politicians and ringers wearing white gloves. Today, it was quiet and enveloped in fog. At first I was the only one there -- what delight to be alone here. Then a hawk getting chased by crows. Then these two gulls. Then a long-haired guy with a long-haired dog. Then three gabby Korean men with a bottle of Windex and a red rag, polishing the plaques — for tomorrow, I suppose. It's one of my favorite places in San Pedro."

And sometimes, in a bar like Harold's Place in San Pedro, Flint and SoCal overlap a little.
"A guy sitting next to us didn't say a word to anybody. He poured beer into his glass an inch at a time and fastidiously sipped, savoring every swallow. But he gave the waitress some money to put in the band's tip jar.

"A round little troll about four feet tall wearing a huge straw hat ambled in with a black bag over his shoulder, hawking...straw hats, as it turned out. Nobody bought. An enterprising madame in lycra and a helmet parked her bike out front and tried to sell Debbie some body wash -- also unsuccessful, but still. The pleasantly unexpressive bouncer came and went. We ordered a second round. More people wandered in in teeshirts, baggy shorts and flipflops. Everybody seemed to know who they were.

"'Howdya like the band?' Debbie asked.

"'They're good. I liked the blues,' I said. I was thinking about other dives I've hung out in — The Tonga Club in Nuku'alofa, Hat's Pub and The Torch Bar and Grille on Buckham Alley, both in Flint, and I was thinking how good it felt to be sitting on Pacific Avenue in Pedro with a row of people bent over their drinks, heads nodding just so slightly to the music, which wasn't totally bad."


  1. I met my hubby while he was on leave (after screwing up big time at GMI and getting his ass drafted) at the Sports Bar in the "other alley". I was working there during my senior year at Northern and living on my own. There are no special places that lure me in anymore in down town Flint. I used to go to Churchill's a lot. But it changed as did the White Horse (way too many sloggy drunks there now). I wonder wher the young people go--other than to clubs in Oakland County (my kids did that). I haven't been in a down town bar since about 8 1/2 years ago. I just don't like the local atmosphere of them anymore. Even the ones in Flushing (where I live) have no draw.

  2. Wasn't Jan Worth along with Danny Rendleman part of the 70s/80s Flint poetry scene? I used to pick up Kwasind and Brix back in the olden days. Weird. I seem to recall some punk dude from Kwasind won the Hopwood with his edgy couplets. The guy wrote a poem about the Noah's Ark on Lewis/Chavez and Crapo. Not bad.

    My favorite collection o' Flint poetry was an obscure gem some pals o' mine picked up at Jellybean. I can't remember the dudes name, but for some reason I think he was east Indian. Anyhow, he had a Hi-lariously pretentious poem called "Kearsley Park" where he deplored the "stench of urine and feces"... we used to take turns reading that one in a variety of stupid accents. Anybody know of what I speak?

  3. Yes, I used to be married to Danny Rendleman and we were part of the Hat's Pub po-scene. Here's an old story I'll tell again: The first time I read at Hat's I had to wait till the end of the open readers' list and by the time it was my turn, an old sociology professor from UMF sitting at my table getting drunk spilled his beer on my manuscript. I went shakily up to the podium (remember that great back room in Hat's?) and shook the Oly off my poems and attempted to read through the parts where the ink was spreading. I loved reading there, though -- it taught me how to deal with a crowd (not always friendly, always diverse and raucous) and how to keep going when the waitresses and cranky Bob Sippert were yelling and the drunks mumbling. Great training for teaching!

    The guy/poem you're thinking of might have been by Eli Zaret, who I think is still teaching at Mott. I seem to remember that poem, too.

  4. Eli Zaret? Wasn't he the sports caster from NBC 4 in Detroit?

    Man, sportcaster poetry. Can you imagine the bizzare free form mumbo jumbo Art Neill could come up with. GRAND SALAMI BAYBEE!!

    Who was the Hopwood dude from Kwasind? He had "soap opera character name" like Blaine or Hunter or Forest or something...

  5. Oh, lord, it wasn't Eli Zaret. Of course not. I just went through the whole staff directory at MCC trying to find the guy's name and didn't succeed..well,, no sportscaster poetry. I don't remember the Hopwood/Kwasind dude you're thinking of. Joe Matuzak and Josie Kearns won a bunch of Hopwoods back then, but you're obviously thinking of somebody else. If I come up with anything I'll check back in.

  6. Okay, figuring out the name of that poet drove me crazy all night. Found him. His name is Ali Zarrin, and he's a really quite fine Iranian-American poet. Apparently he now lives in Colorado: that makes him eligible as a Flint Expatriate. Here's a Google entry about him:
    Ali Zarrin is a bilingual Iranian-American poet who was born in Kermanshah in 1952 and immigrated to the USA in 1970. He graduated from the University of Washington with a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and is the author of ten books of poetry & Literary Criticism in English and Persian. His poems, essays, and translations have appeared in numerous international magazines and anthologies, and have been translated into several languages. His most recent work, The Book of I was published by City Lights of San Francisco. His poetry will be included in an upcoming W. W. Norton anthology entitled Contemporary Poetry of the Eastern World co-edited by Ravi Shankar. He has taught at the University of Washington, Charles Stewart Mott College, University of Colorado at Denver, and Naropa University in Boulder. He currently lives with his wife and two sons in Lone Tree, Colorado and is a lecturer at Regis University.

  7. Okay, not to continue this tangent, but here's a link to Eli Zaret, non-poet. I remember him looking vaguely John Denver-ish when I would watch him growing up. Not so much now.

  8. Smrfz Ink & Jan (or Macy): The punk dude was probably Blake Walmsley. I used to listen to him read at a dive called the Rusty Nail back in the 80's. When I edited Kwasind, I chose to print a story of his called "My Axe Phase." It was the confession of a serial killer. A couple of people advised me not to print it, but I went with my gut. Yeah, he won a Hopwood for his poems. Soon after that I heard that he'd moved to Washington D.C. And the Rusty Nail was razed--or prised. And I moved to Ann Arbor to Raskolnikov through the MFA program. Or did I hallucinate all that? Sometimes it's hard to believe I knew Blake Walmsley, Joel Rasch (I went to Grand Blanc High with him), Brian Williams, Peter Paul (we were both in the Honors Program ), and other punkish dudes. We used to listen to The Guilty Bystanders together. Hard to believe I read my poems at Hat's Pub, Buckham, the Sports Bar, and The Tetanus-Inducing Nail. Hard to believe I hung out with Danny Rendleman, Jan Worth, Joe Matuzak, Josie Kearns, and Scott Russell. And sometimes, like a Native American, I think all that is happening now, or will happen in the future. "It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards."


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at