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?”

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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