Thursday, February 28, 2008
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Take it away, Steve...
In another time, guys hung the heads of dead mammals on their walls. Apparently, they thought this impressed the ladies. But as time passed, proving that you were a hunter lost its aphrodisiac powers with the gatherers. Nowadays, sensitive men have replaced Bambi’s mom with Godard posters, Picasso lithographs, and/or vintage, preferably pre-1979 Debbie Harry shots at CBGB’s.
On my mantel is the key to the City of Flint given to me by William F. Buckley Jr.
This might explain why I am chronically single.
It was the spring of 1984, my senior year at Powers Catholic. I had already made a series of fundamental errors: There was the year playing freshman football under the Darwinian Dan Duncan who would have been right at home at Gallipoli. Then there was the time I volunteered to run up to 7-11 and buy Mr. Winchester some smokes only to get my brand new yellow Lands End shirt covered in grass stains and blood after getting picked off like a gimpy antelope by three kids from Flint Northwestern.
Still, my favorite mistake was passing on a chance to see a triple bill of The Who, The Clash, and Devo at the Silverdome but making time for, uh, Spandau Ballet at the Royal Oak Music Theatre. The show was quite entertaining with lots of foppish hair and frilly shirts. I completely disregarded the fact that a middle-aged balding man playing synthesizers provided most of the band’s sound. I forgave a lot because I’d become an Anglophile, which in early 80s Flint made me a jackass.
I blame it on my friends Gordon and Jim. Despite the fact that they both grew up on the not always happy-making streets of Flint, the two of them had developed an obsession with the United Kingdom. Gordie even looked like Sebastian Flyte as played by Anthony Andrews in the BBC production of Brideshead Revisited. Well, except he wasn’t gay--dude was a playa!--and it’s doubtful Sebastian ever placed his face against a yellow legal pad and said, "Man, look how greasy my face is!" Jim’s take was more rock 'n’ roll, perhaps most tragically summed up by his insistence on wearing a Clash T-shirt from their Cut The Crap tour, which was actually just crap.
Somehow the American version of Anglo mutated into preppiness. We all sort of wished we went to a prep school. They just seemed cooler. I remember Jim and I almost picking up two Carman girls at an Our Lady of Lebanon dance by saying we were lacrosse players from Cranbrook. (This was slightly less entertaining than the OLOL Dance held on the night of the Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney fight, where I drank an entire bottle of Mad Dog and then proceeded to tell everyone that I was, in fact, Gerry Cooney. Ah, so many memories.)
No human being better personified the American-as-Englishman than William F. Buckley Jr., Firing Line host, spy novelist, and former New York City mayoral candidate. He spoke in a clipped, hesitating manner accentuated by excellent arching eyebrows. In the spring of 1984, the Flint glitterati laid off some more Buick City workers, pooled the savings, and announced that Buckley was speaking at the Whiting Auditorium and then attending a cocktail party at the University of Michigan-Flint (or maybe it was Mott Community College.)
Luckily, we had a friend named Jon Kells who had a really hot sister, but more importantly in this context, a dad who taught at Michigan-Flint. We scored tickets to the speech and reception, but that wasn’t enough. We gamed the extremely limited flights arriving at Bishop from New York City and cut our afternoon classes to meet Buckley at the airport. Some guys blew off class to get blow jobs or smoke pot, we cut out of Mr. K’s choir torture so we could accost a middle-aged man at the airport.
It seemed right at the time. The best thing was this was celeb-free Flint and three camera crews showed up at the airport! WFB, as his friends called him, made some brief remarks, none of which, I swear, touched on his 1960s support for segregation. After a few minutes, he was rushed away, declining our offer of a ride. We barely touched the hem of his Brook Brothers suit.
I don’t remember much from his Whiting speech. He used a lot of words I never heard of and there were some empty seats; I mean it wasn’t The Nutcracker, what do you expect? The reception was held in some prof’s drafty, vaguely gothic house that probably could be bought for $127,000 back then and could probably be bought for $126,000 now. It was a momentous night for me: my first cocktail party. Now two decades later I know every cocktail party is exactly the same—intolerable made bearable by creeping drunkenness and the idea you’ve been there long enough to split without pissing off the hosts who you probably don’t even like, and hell, the alternative was staying home at watching Homicide: Life On the Street on DVD-- but at the time it seemed like something, well, out of an Evelyn Waugh novel. Buckley was pounding vodka and grapefruit and had a frozen look on his ruddy face that I now realize was half public persona, half get me the fuck out of here. Waves of assistant professors shook his hand and asked him what he really thought about Gore Vidal, who I didn’t know. Well, I don’t know him now, but I at least know of him.
I don’t know if it was the early spring weather or middle-aged smart folks starved for a little intellectual glitter, but all the grown-ups got stinking drunk, like stinking straight-night at the Copa drunk. After an hour or so, Buckley had enough. His blue eyes began searching for his designated driver. Alas, he found him, but the hapless or happy prof was wasted beyond even the lax Michigan DUI standards of the mid-80s.
He then turned to us, and stage-whispered, "Say, are you boys still good for that ride (pronounced rhiiide)?" We nodded yes. Then Buckley grabbed his Mackintosh and muttered, "Let’s get out of here, then." He said goodbye to no one, which seemed quite British and awesome.
We went out to my car. Buckley blanched for just a moment when he noticed it was a two-tone Chevy Chevette. He piled into the passenger seat and placed his black loafers down on a sea of Taco Bell wrappers and a boom box holding the first Smiths cassette. I lurched the car into drive. Someone asked a complicated question about Reagan and Thatcherism that Buckley answered with a bon mot so heavily accented in alcohol and an American accent not known to common men that I floored the Chevette through a blood red light on Saginaw Street. Buckley didn’t lose his cool, offering just a cautionary stuttering of, "Ah, ah, ah," as he pointed his patrician forefinger toward the next potentially lethal intersection.
It’s a moment I thought of recently after the death of the writer David Halberstam who perished after a Cal Berkeley journalism student ferrying him to an interview with Y.A. Tittle turned left on red with tragic results. Maybe it was luck, maybe it was Buckley’s Yale-educated and old school Catholic God waving off the traffic, but we didn’t get broadsided by a Chevy Blazer.
Buckley was staying at the recently opened and soon to be shuttered Hyatt Regency. As we pulled into the circular drive, I screeched the Chevette to a stop and shut down my V-4. "Now, now, that was an adventure," said Buckley with a smile. I asked him if he could sign something as a memento for me. "I, I think I can do better than that." He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small, blue velvety case. His manicured finger popped the case open. Inside was a gold key. The inscription read, “From the Citizens of Flint, Michigan.” Buckley pulled out a fountain pens and signed, "To Stephen, Best Wishes, William F. Buckley." He gathered his trench coat and disappeared into the revolving doors.
Within a few years of the encounter, I stopped buying Buckley’s novels and sailing books and became, quite frankly, ashamed at my earlier conservative leaning, over-compensating with votes for Jesse Jackson and Ralph Nader. (I still am a bit of an Anglophiliac, I’m listening to "The Kinks Are The Village Preservation Society" as I write this.) For years, the Buckley note remained buried in a drawer, a reminder of a not so happy time in my life. I took it out a few years ago, and thought about it in a different way: here was a famous man who, when confronted with three slightly insane teenage fans with varying hygiene and acne issues, treated us with grace. I work as a journalist in New York now and sometimes cover politics. I thought I might run into Buckley at some similarly lame cocktail party. It never happened. Perhaps it was just as well. Not even Evelyn Waugh could write a better second act.
Stephen Rodrick is a contributing editor at New York Magazine.
The gods seem determined to remind me that after all the years of suffering, the Tigers really are good, and this year they could be great. Farley's, my favorite coffee shop in San Francisco, ushers in spring training every year with a great display of baseball paraphernalia. This afternoon I strolled in and locked eyes on the olde English D near the door, emblazoned on a baseball shaped cup suitable for Stroh's, provided you drink your beer with a straw. I think it's a good omen.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Saturday, February 23, 2008
All this is an extreme example of a growing phenomenon. After the 20th-century factory town, such as Flint, Michigan, comes the 21st-century hospital town. Rural hospitals are often the main employers in their communities. Even Flint is trying to re-position itself as a medical hub. But a select few cities have entered the era of the mega-hospital. The most dramatic are Rochester, a medium-sized city where Mayo has long been a star business, and Cleveland, Ohio, a rustbelt city that has seen its hospitals boom and one, the Cleveland Clinic, become a new economic force. Each hospital is a behemoth: Mayo's revenues in 2006 totalled $6.3 billion, Cleveland's $4.4 billion.
200,000 union members were added in California alone last year. And this is based on a labor vision that had ten-year horizons for organizing, a level of long-term investment that few American institutions have been willing to make.
Monday, February 18, 2008
"Matta-Clark may be best known for his “building cuts,” in which he sliced structures like loaves of bread," Karen Rosenberg explains in New York Magazine. "This house in Englewood, New Jersey, was split in two, over four months of jacking and tilting. Manfred Hecht, who helped out, said, 'It was always exciting working with Gordon—there was always a good chance of getting killed.' The house’s corners are now in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, but the rest is gone— it had been chosen because it was slated for demolition anyhow."Matta-Clark also knew how to transform abandoned industrial sites — the closest things Flint has to tourist attractions — into artistic statements, into the cathedrals of economic decay.
"Matta-Clark cut five openings into the decrepit shed of Pier 52, calling it a “basilica” with a “rose window” (a bean-shaped hole facing the sunset) and illuminating a spot known for seedy nocturnal misbehavior," Rosenberg writes. "It was all done illegally—he later said, 'I had no faith in any kind of permission … there has never, in New York City’s history, with maybe one or two minor exceptions, ever been any permission granted to an artist on a large scale'—and once the city got wind of the project, Matta-Clark ended up leaving the country to avoid arrest."Matta-Clark carved out a name for himself in the seventies, a decade when many exhausted residents wanted nothing more than to escape from New York, to flee from the crime and economic indignities. Sound familiar?
Here's to Flint's kindred spirit and unofficial patron saint of the arts.
"We've got overpopulation. We've got a bad economy, and the majority of pit people are in the bad economy," said Edith Campbell, who works with Last Chance Rescue.Perhaps they could be used for security at the new casino.
"I think we have a 50-50 chance of getting it," Mayor Don Williamson told The Flint Journal. Williamson dispatched adviser Joe Conroy to Washington, D.C. last week to lobby those connected to legislation that would bring a casino to either Flint or Romulus.There's only one problem: casinos tend to suck more money out of the local economy than they put into it. Philadelphia City Paper lays out the numbers:
A bill is expected to be voted on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow a casino to be established by the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians.
During their yearlong study, professors William N. Thompson and Ricardo C. Gazel of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas found that Illinois loses $6.7 million to casinos each year which otherwise would have been spent on local businesses. The sum does not include regulatory and infrastructure costs, or social costs.
In addition, the study found that areas closest to casinos suffered the most. The study also determined that riverboat casinos do not promote tourism, noting that 84 percent of Illinois gamblers live in-state. By comparison, Las Vegas attracts 85 percent of its gamblers from out-of-state.
Of course, look how Detroit has magically transformed itself into a safe, economically robust city with the help of casinos.
That was a little joke.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Friday, February 15, 2008
Driving to the riverside
I pretend to cry
Even if I cried alone
I forgot the start
Use my hands to use my heart
Even if I died alone
Even if I died alone
Since the first of June
Lost my job
And lost my room
I pretend to try
Even if I tried alone
I forgot the part
Use my hands to use my heart
Even if I died alone
Even if I died alone
Even if I died alone
Even if I died alone
Even if I died
Photo via (Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press)
"We are looking at some form of managed hunt to get the deer population under control. But right now open hunting is not one of the options we're considering," said parks Director Amy McMillan. "For us, it's not about the recreational aspect of hunting. It's about wildlife management. And it's not about to hunt or not to hunt. It's about protecting the environment."
Thursday, February 14, 2008
(Left to Right) Joe Serna (shaming us with his National Honor Society sash), Robert Hurley, Duane Gilles, Gordie Young (with a horrible "new wave" haircut), and Michael Kennedy.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
“Despite progress and buoyant markets outside the U.S., falling volumes and competitive pressures in the U.S. will continue to pressure G.M. North America and hence overall G.M. operational results,” Brian A. Johnson, an analyst with Lehman Brothers, wrote in a note to clients Tuesday.The Wall Street Journal has details of the UAW-approved buyout offer:
This new buyout offer is different in that it is designed to open the door for a flood of new workers that GM has said it will hire following its recently inked contract with the UAW. Currently, workers at GM plants typically make $73 an hour, including wages and benefits, no matter what role they fill. The UAW is allowing GM to reclassify about 16,000 of these jobs, such as janitorial jobs, as "non-core" assignments with wages and benefits equaling $25.65 an hour.
Monday, February 11, 2008
I still live in the Flint area and have connections with St. Mary's. I've been fortunate to be involved with meetings with Diocese of Lansing officials in future of all parishes and it does not look favorable for some.
My personal belief is the diocese has already made the decision, but the confirmed word this person has heard is that St. Mary's and St. Leo's in Flint, and Holy Rosary, and Blessed Sacrament in Burton will form a cluster, with St. Leo's closing immediately, and one of the remaining three will close within two years. No matter what happens, there's going to be some upset people.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
It’s not easy to categorize Eric Koziol’s career.
Let’s start with the basics. He’s a media artist whose work has appeared everywhere from San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum to Lincoln Center in New York, not to mention exhibitions in Europe and Asia. He’s also a director and cinematographer who has created music videos for dozens of bands, including Public Enemy, Soundgarden, and Nine Inch Nails, along with commercials for Clearasil and Red Stripe Beer, to name a few. Eric’s interest in choreography and live performance inspired him to create “inter-active video environments” to accompany staged dance, theater, and musical events. Then there’s his experimental videos, fashion photography, and work with corporate clients like Cisco, Marriot, Jansport and Eddie Bauer.
But his eclectic pursuits are underpinned by a fundamental theme: “I like working with ideas and turning them into pictures and sound,” he explains. “My focus as an artist is to reveal the hidden or invisible. I use technological tools in order to see, hear, and express things in a new way. I often work collaboratively with dancer/choreographers, as the expressivity of the human body is my primary material.”
Eric traces his interest in film and video back to Flint. His grandfather, Charlie Koziol, was a master mechanic at AC Spark Plug known as “Crowbar Charlie” for his ability to fix the massive machinery at the plant. But Charlie also loved shooting film, starting with a Super 8 before moving on to 16 mm and, eventually, video. Charlie used to show 16mm films outdoors in Ballenger Park, and he set up the P.A. and lighting system for the polka bands at the Polish Legion of American Veterans summer fests. He introduced his grandson to the equipment, and Eric quickly put it to use in a project for an American history class at Power’s High School.
Flint was also helping shape Eric’s aesthetic. He remembers going to Family Day at AC with his grandfather and being awed by the assembly line that stretched for blocks. Flint’s industrial history — its rise and fall — has definitely played a role in his work; he admits he’s still “obsessed” with machinery. The unique aspects of life in Flint influenced him as well. Eric grew up on Crest Court near the IMA sports arena, one of those incongruously rural and industrial areas in the city.
“As a kid, I could wake up to the screech of a pheasant or the sound of a freight train, and I held both in equal esteem,” he says.
After graduating from high school in 1984, Eric attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where his grandfather continued to motivate him. Charlie, who died the year Eric went off to college, had collected a huge library of 16 mm industrial films — everything from NASA training films to highway safety footage starring crash-test dummies. Eric used them to splice together collage films for school assignments and project them as a backdrop for a band he was involved with called Ungh!
“My grandpa basically provided me with all the materials I needed for my first year of art school,” Eric says.
The band eventually morphed into H-Gun Labs in 1989, a broadcast production company that embraced a gritty filmmaking style and relied heavily on material traditionally left on the cutting room floor. As a founder, Eric was part of team that helped H-Gun evolve from making cutting edge music videos to encompass experimental live action, animation and what has come to be known as broadcast design. By the time Eric and his partners dissolved H-Gun in 2000 to pursue other interests, the company had worked with an extensive list of clients ranging from MTV to the San Francisco Opera to Michael Moore.
Eric worked directly with Moore in 1998 to create the opening titles and on-air identity for Moore’s series “The Awful Truth” which was broadcast on BRAVO in the U.S. and Channel 4 in the U.K.
Now living in San Francisco, Eric continues to pursue an array of projects. He’s consulting with the innovation design firm IDEO, collaborating with various choreographers, and putting together a book of his still photography — “a visual anthropology” taken in a “sketchbook spirit” over that past five years. And like much of his work, you can catch an echo of Flint in the images.
“Flint still resonates with me,” he says. “My sensibility was definitely formed there.”
I’ve done plenty of trashing of upstate New York, where I’m from, but mostly I mock because I love. And one thing I love about where I grew up (though it’s a complicated love) is that because no one really had a lot more than anyone else, people’s money woes felt like a shared burden, at least psychologically, rather than a uniquely humiliating one, and everyone kind of dealt with them as best they could and tried not to become too undone. A little bit of that mind-set might be good for New York right now. You don’t own a place yet? You haven’t eaten that $100 truffled foie-gras hamburger yet? You missed that wave of wealth that everyone around you rode to glory? Well, that wave’s receding now, and it’s bringing a lot of people back with it.
Friday, February 8, 2008
"While we expected to win, the victory margin was rather surprising," said Michigan NORML President Tim Beck. "It seems [that] public support for medical marijuana, at least in Michigan, is now deeply entrenched."
That just might be the understatement of the year.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
On the bright side, we all got out of school for a few glorious days, and snow-fort construction reached an all-time high. And it inspired some flawless documentary filmmaking:
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
"Six Flags was in a real mess. Kieran Burke, the CEO of Six Flags was desperate. He had the stockholders breathing down his neck and had to do something. Six Flags was in debt for 2 to 3 BILLION dollars. Burke though the could make over 100 million of the sale of the property. So he decided to sell the property Astroworld sits on, telling everyone that the value of the land was far greater than the value of the park itself. Based on the fact he entertained no other offers, it is my belief that he had deal in place to sell the land before the announcement. Since the demo of Waterworld started pretty much immediately after the announcement, I think he had a very aggressive timetable to meet to clear the land."
Monday, February 4, 2008
While the Flint Journal cleans house of its reporting staff, there has been little reduction in the ranks of the editors.
Through attrition, a number of copy editors have left, but mostly, the management type editors are still intact. In fact, one good reporter was promoted to an editor spot despite the mass exodus of many reporters.
I did hear that two copy editors from another Booth newspaper were involuntarily assigned to begin working at the Flint Journal Monday, Feb. 4 so as not to overburden the management staff.
In the meantime, reporters are told they must produce as a quota, one news story per day, and a Sunday show piece every two weeks. So now newspapers have gone from a creative enterprise to the newest widget factory.
UPDATE: Here's an interesting big-picture analysis of what's wrong with the newspaper industry.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
"I just felt like this is my city, this is home. I'm proud of it. Why should I be ashamed to represent Flint or wear the tattoo so everyone can see where I'm from?" said David Velez, who has the name of his hometown tattooed on his neck. Valez's dream of opening a Latino supermarket and restaurant is a reality. He was renting and this year bought a building and is renovating it. "All my life growing up here there wasn't really anything here for the Latino community," Velez said. "A lot of things I have are necesities for our families. I want people to feel welcome here in Flint, a little bit of sense of their home." La Tienda Familia De Latinos means 'The Family Store for Latinos.'The photo of Valez is by the Steve Jessmore, who recently left The Flint Journal to become photo editor at The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, S.C. It is part of a series that earned special recognition in the 2006 Best of Photojournalism contest sponsored by the National Press Photographers Association.
Community -supported aggriculture (CSA) is thriving in Flint, and Betsy's Herb Garden is a great source for local information. For a more national perspective, check out my friend Novella Carpenter's urban farm in Oakland, California:
Today I went to this salvage yard to get materials for the goat shed--yes, I put a deposit down on a sweet little dwarf Nigerian goat named Bebe, I'm picking her up next Sunday!
Saturday, February 2, 2008
Michigan has endured six straight years of job losses and the next two years will see even more—the longest stretch of employment loss in the state since the Great Depression, say University of Michigan economists.
Friday, February 1, 2008
Since (1989), East Germany has lost 1.5 million inhabitants (nine percent of its population) and reached an unemployment rate of 18.5 percent. A “survival handbook” with tales of Germans selling used bicycle parts, drugs, or homemade sausages to a diminished clientele in Wolfen-Nord or Leipzig, makes clear the poignancy and pressing nature of addressing cities left behind. Though many of the proposed solutions seem too tired, hypothetical, or playful to have much real impact, the small scale of the interventions, their focus on individual needs and the realities of existing conditions, provides a model for realism in planning. Filling in vacant lots with crops or arts programs makes more sense than trying to lure industry with office parks and other incentives. The (project) seem to prove the wisdom of adaptation, rather than a relentless push for growth. Recognizing that traditional approaches — subsidies, construction, demolition — have failed to turn the tide of shrinking is an important one.
A world map of cities with the highest shrinking rate within the last 50 years (in red) courtesy of Shrinking Cities.