Friday, March 29, 2024

Flint Books: Phil's Siren Song by Tim Lane


Who doesn't love a great Flint novel? Tim Lane's latest book, Phil's Siren Song, is available now. Here's an excerpt:

I drive Stuart home in his father’s beat up Chevy Caprice, taking the desolate route between the Flint River and Buick City plants while Karen follows us in her puny Chevette. The play in the steering wheel of this vehicle is wicked; the brake pedal almost goes completely to the floor.

         “Where are we goin’?” There are duffel bags of oily tools on the floor of the back seat where he has wedged himself. “Take me to Karen’s.”

         “I’m afraid we’re taking you home.”

         “No!” He is shouting under the front passenger seat.

         “Probably for the best.”

         “Let’s get some beer.”

         “It’s past two.”


         “Stores don’t sell past two.”

         “Since when?”

         “Like, since always.”

         “Well, fuck me,” he says, softening. “I knew that.”

         He passes out until the Caprice thunders over the train tracks at Leith and Dort, the car’s rough action jolting him back to life. The white orbs of Karen’s headlights violently bob behind us.

         “Phil, if the blacks live on the North and South End. And the Mexicans live on the East Side. And the whites live wherever the hell they want, East Side, West Side, doesn’t matter—”

         I pop a cassette into the tape deck and turn it up while he struggles to un-wedge himself and repeat his assertions about the blacks, the Mexicans and the whites.

         “Then where do the Ojibwe live? Answer me that. Where do the Indians live?”

         His street is lined with young silver maples and telephone poles mounted with streetlights.

         Karen pulls up to the house and observes my lame attempts to assist m’lord from the safety of her car.

         Signaling desperately with my hands, I plead the obvious. “For God’s sake, help me!”

         When the rusted Caprice’s back door slips from its hinge, the grating of rusted door parts makes me wince.

         “C’mon, man, ya gotta help me here.”

         “I can’t open my eyes.”

         “Oh, fer Christ’s sake.”

         “Come on, goon boy, get your ass out of the car. It’s time to go night night.”

         “Karen, you shut up.”

         His charming little sister meets the three of us at the side door.

         “Hi, I believe this is your brother.” I am trying to seem as nonthreatening as possible in the yellow light leaking into the night from the bulb above the side door. “We’ll just throw him on his bed, if that’s okay.”

         “Uh, I’m not related to that butt wipe.” She is not intimidated. “Why don’t you just throw him in the back yard?”

         Before escorting Stuart home, the deserted view of downtown from the Genesee Merchants Building had been memorable, but had left me a little sad. I had taken the fire escape to the roof out of habit more than anything else, a yearning for the times we had partied up there, when downtown had still felt dangerous.

         The scene below had looked the same as it used to—the empty parking lots and side streets, the vacant store fronts, a few cars crawling north and south on Saginaw—but something had changed, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

         “Karen,” Stuart sputters, tripping on the stairs. “Don’t sleep with him. Show some fuckin’ restraint.”

         Stuart’s sister’s bare feet lightly slap the floor. She is wearing an over-sized John Stamos t-shirt.

         In the poor light, John Stamos’ face looks insane, more like Jack Nicholson’s looming in the splintered bathroom door of The Shining.

         “There!” She is not concerned with waking anybody, and by anybody I mean the entire East Side.

         “Oh, boy, here we go,” Karen mutters.

         A bedroom door swings open and Stu’s husky father teeters into the hallway half asleep, in his underwear, until our stomachs touch. His belly reacts like a waterbed.

         “Ahem, why hello, Mr. Page.” Confidence is everything.

         He pauses to scratch an armpit and adjust his privates as a sleepy, disembodied female voice calls out behind him. “Glenn, what is it? What’s going on?”

         Stuart’s sister explodes. “Dad, go back to bed! Get in there! Mom, never mind!”

         Now, I am smiling to beat all hell. I am actually very well acquainted with Stuart’s dear mother.

         Margot and I are coworkers.

         When I am not going to my creative writing class, selling drugs at El Oasis or helping my housemate, Joe, run punk shows, I’m usually at Windmill Place, managing Ruggero’s, a pizza counter where the two of us eke out lame paychecks. But now is not exactly the time for exchanging pleasantries. I chuckle at the thought of calling out to her, though, as she lies in bed in a negligee sheer from years of washing and tumbling dry.

         Stuart’s family is as working class as it gets, and no one can say that Margot doesn’t work her ass off. I can hear her saying, “I ain’t got the energy to even think about sexy lingerie.”

         It’s a shame.

         Her tired, heavy voice takes shape in the darkness. “Glenn, who’s there? What’s going on?”

         Glenn wakes up: “Goddammit! What the hell’s this?” It is every man for himself, now.

         “Stu’s drunk!”


         “Drunk, Dad. Drunk. He can’t even open his goddamn eyes.”

         “Hey!” he barks. It is clear she is not allowed to swear.

         “Go back to bed, Dad!”

         Glenn retreats. Dresser drawers being ransacked can be heard, the mechanisms of plastic wheels on the metal runners of accordion-style closest doors in need of lubrication, and now I am thinking, “Oh, fuck. Guns.”

         Stuart’s sister loses it. “Throw ‘im on the goddamn bed, Jesus Christ, what’re ya waiting for?”

         It’s a fair question.

         But I can’t help asking, “So, are we about to get shot here?”

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Tough Times: The Death of a Student Newspaper in Flint, Michigan by Gordon Young

The former offices of The Michigan Times. (Photo by Santiago Ochoa/The Michigan Times)

The Michigan Times, the student newspaper at UM-Flint, is officially "sunsetting." That's the sort of euphemism a good editor would slash and replace with something more clearcut. It's a nice way of saying the publication that has been covering the downtown campus since 1959 is all but dead.
The Times hasn't published a print edition this year. Its website and online archive have disappeared. All of its social media feeds are dormant. Confusingly, another publication calling itself The Michigan Times that covers "all types of local news for the cities of Flint and Detroit" has purchased the paper's domain name and is publishing online, but it's not connected to UM-Flint. It's as if the paper's very identity has been stolen.
College papers are not immune to the brutal economic conditions that have killed publications across the country as advertisers and readers disappeared. The United States has lost nearly 2,900 newspapers and 43,000 journalists since 2005, according to a recent report from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. But while there have certainly been budget cuts over the years at the Times, lack of funding isn't the biggest problem. It's lack of interest.
"Ever since I took over, I've been bailing water out of a sinking ship that never left the dock," said Eric Hinds, the current and, it appears, last editor-in-chief. "There just didn't seem to be any way to find people to work at the paper."
Just a decade ago, more than a dozen staffers and freelancers put out the paper, according to then-editor Alex Benda. But it dwindled to a few students before the Covid shutdown during the 2020-2021 academic year and continued to shrink when in-person classes resumed. Hinds, who lives in Flint's Mott Park neighborhood, is headed to law school in Rhode Island in the fall. His only reporter is transferring next year. Despite intense recruiting efforts, no viable candidates have emerged to replace them, let alone expand the staff.
"You have to have a passion for journalism," Hinds said. "In the current climate, you get a lot of hate. It's a difficult job. And if you don't really want to do it, you're going to be bad at it. I guess no one wants to deal with that."
The not-so-slow demise of the paper corresponds with the elimination of most journalism courses at UM-Flint. In 2009, the university added an ambitious journalism program, with a major, a minor, and several new classes. "The program was proposed in response to student requests," according to a university press release. "For years, students in the media studies track of the communication degree program have asked for more journalism courses."
Tony Dearing, then editor of The Flint Journal, was enthusiastic at the time. "It is important that we cultivate and train the next generation of journalists, and I strongly believe that a journalism program at UM-Flint would help meet that need," he stated in the press release.
The timing could not have been worse. UM-Flint was embracing journalism education just as newspaper revenues were falling off a cliff. It wasn't long before nearly the entire curriculum was eliminated, a victim of budget cuts and lack of interest. It's hard to attract students to a dying industry. And without journalism students, it's tough to keep a student paper up and running, especially at a commuter school in an economically depressed city where many students work to pay for school and need a good job after graduation.
The paper is still considered a "sponsored student organization," meaning it's eligible for funding from student activity fees, but it will soon lose that status. If students want to relaunch the publication in the future, it will have to be a volunteer-only organization responsible for its own fundraising.
"From the university's perspective, providing a robust student life experience is essential to help augment classroom teaching with practical skills," Julie Snyder, associate vice chancellor and dean of students, stated in an email. "The newspaper being sunsetted means that there is one less avenue for students to be actively engaged in our community, an outlet for their budding talents and a practical co-curricular learning opportunity. However, as the students are not currently interested in taking advantage of that avenue, they have used their collective voice."
First-year student Grace Walker — the only other staff member besides Hinds — is transferring to Central Michigan University next year. The 19-year-old Flint resident plans to major in journalism and hopes to join CMU's student paper, a scrappy, vibrant outlet that’s been around for more than a century.
In the meantime, she's working on a final project for a class that chronicles the demise of local news coverage in the Flint area, a topic she knows all too well. She's not sure where it will be published, if at all. "I've always been interested in journalism and politics," she said, "so it's been really hard and disheartening to get involved with something when it's shutting down, when it’s going away."

A revised version of this story also appear in East Village Magazine.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Shoring Up Our Bankruptcy


"I'm just telling you. She says today's problems can't be solved by today's people, we just keep shoring up our bankruptcy with the only tools we know. Making up more and more complicated stories about how we haven't failed."

— Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered