Saturday, July 30, 2011

More Michigan. For Real.

Home is a state of mind. 

We all know that. Home is what we grow up with. Or leave in order to set out on our own. Home is memory, the stories and myths we share. Home is an easy chair, comfort food, a place at the table.  
The notion of home as a comfort zone all depends, of course, on our means: to meet the rent, pay the mortgage, fix the roof, buy groceries, make plans, raise a family, to grow, to dream, to change, to adapt, to pull up stakes when we desire, and move forward when we so choose.

Our state of flux
Not to dwell on the negative, but here in Michigan we live in a state of disrepair. So many things need fixing. The schools, the roads, the neighborhoods, the economy!  Yes, there are signs that the Big Three have started the process: downsizing for dear life and getting back on the road. Even still, economic recovery will be a long time in coming for the workforce in Michigan.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Michigan ranks 6th in the nation in unemployment, at a statewide rate of 10.5%.  Count the underemployed, and those who have dropped out of the job market altogether, our numbers skyrocket to 20.9% statewide. Officially the jobless rate in Detroit is just under 30%.  But using the broadest definition of underemployment, the number of city residents out of work is closer to one in every two. Numbing numbers.  And not surprising: homelessness, especially among those becoming homeless for the first time is expected to jump at least 10% this year. Source: 
Katrina. Without the water.
Detroit, once the epicenter of the nation’s industrial wealth is a city deserted, with more abandoned property than any American city except post-Katrina New Orleans. The good news?  We’re open to opportunity. Wide open.

Detroit needs people.  Throughout the past decade, the city's population has declined by an average of 2,000 residents per month.  There's  lots of housing and space available - the key in revitalization, as some have noted, may be in encouraging and increasing an immigrant population. 
Like New Orleans, there’s an indomitable creative spirit here in Michigan. We’re builders. Inventors. Dreamers. Do-ers. We’re optimists. Even under water. I see it every day working in the Exhibit Design Shop of the Detroit Science Center. Times are tough. Funding is hard to secure. Yet in the last two years, we’ve added a middle school, reopened and revitalized the Detroit Children’s Museum, added a theater, completed a Kidstown and a Space Gallery, and launched two national traveling exhibits. In the cue, we have a dozen projects, including multi-million dollar contracts to build exhibits in partnership with Marathon Oil and MDOT, the Michigan Department of Transportation. By one miracle or another, we’ll get these projects done.
Just out of curiosity the other day, I took an informal survey at the shop and asked a few colleagues - graphic designers, electromechanical engineers and fabricators--
“What makes Michigan work?”
Beyond the tourism hype,” I ask, “what does pure Michigan mean to you?"
“The Lakes,” pipes up the youngest of the group. There’s no place in the world that has the Great Lakes as we do. Think about it. Michigan, Superior and Erie. Each one has a different kind of shoreline. Rocky, sand dunes, all different.

September: Bay Harbor, Michigan
“And freighters on the lake, I love to watch the ships go by.”
The office comes alive with our chatter.
“How ‘bout our shipwrecks? Did you know Lake Superior has claimed more than 350 ships?”
“Don’t forget the lighthouses.”

“And the white-sand beaches... and Sleeping Bear Dunes.”

“We have seasons. I love that we have four seasons.”

“And the color-changes.”
“And apple picking.”
“And the Peach Festival in Romeo.”
Suddenly, Michigan is sounding like an entirely different state than the one I know. And it is. The Upper Peninsula is still wild. Serene. Beautiful. Never been there, never done that.
"So what about Detroit?," I ask.
The room breaks out in a litany of Detroit claims to fame. . .
“Sports! We have four professional sports teams, not many cities can say that.”
“And our cultural center, our museums.”

Photo Source: Wikipedia 

The Henry Ford -- and Greenfield Village... we have history here. 

"Ford Country."
“Vernors, the oldest surviving gingerale in the U.S, a Detroit original.”

“And don’t forget our music. Motown is still a great town for musicians.”
“And artists.”
“And Buddy’s Pizza, another Detroit specialty.”

“How ‘bout our ethnic food?”
“And our diversity. Our neighborhoods, Mexican Town. Greek Town. Cork Town. Hamtramick.”

Detroit is a concept,” ventures one of the designers - a young woman in her 30‘s.,
Now the flow of conversation gets serious. “How do you mean, a concept?” I ask.
"I love the architecture, the grandeur and the history, and in it I see a city that is still striving in its heart for a life.
I see great and terrible contrasts between the past and the present, and I envision both these things coming forth to create something new.
But we need to be patient.
We need to keep up the good fight... to believe in ourselves.
We need to know when to close the doors and when to be open to change. We need to be willing to renew, retool, and reinvent ourselves.”
"We are stardust, we are golden."
Living in a state of flux is not new to Michiganers. Since the turn of the century -- that is the 20th century -- Michigan has had its ups and downturns. I no longer have a first-hand family narrative to check the facts on this, but I’ve been told that my grandparents once owned a laundry on Jefferson Avenue in Detroit -- back in the early 20’s. My mother had recollections of Belle Isle Park where her father learned to drive the family car. And when the laundry business dried up, my grandparents packed it in, left the state, moved their young family to Ohio, determined never again to own a business that would “live and die” by the shifting fortunes of the auto industry.
That’s my brief family history in Detroit. Until now. It’s just the two of us here, my husband and I. Our sons are one state over in both directions east and west: in Cleveland and Chicago. Our extended family is spread from coast to coast, from Florida to Seattle. We have no plans to leave the area any time soon. Our home is here, and so is our work

So strange how you get attached to a place. I work in an industrial park off of 8 Mile, a formidable and colorful strip of road, blighted by abandoned buildings, empty car lots, convenience stores and “gentlemen’s clubs. 

Just around the block from the shop, there stood a fabulous wreck of a place -- which I assumed to be a burnt-out theater. Until I stopped to actually take a closer look at the marquee. The Starlight Lanes, missing its “L.” What a glorious bowling alley it must have been back in the day. Last summer, I took a spin around the building on a lunch hour, to snap a few pictures, figuring to capture a final image before it disappeared forever from view. And sure enough, my instincts were correct. By end of summer, the Starlight turned to stardust. Torn down. At last, making way for someplace new. (The lot is still empty.)
Things change. Some for the better. Even here in Detroit, of all places.
Photo Sources: vhenoch  and wikipedia

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mouth-Watering Salsa

Watermelon Salsa with Jalapeno 

Blistering hot, who feels like cooking?  Who needs recipes?  You throw a filet of salmon or tuna steak on the grill, you toss a salad together... and you’re done.  Almost. For a quick, refreshing finishing touch with the fish (and to put that last few slices of watermelon to good use) try a salsa.     
Here’s a dance of flavors with slurp in every bite. It’s (not-so) plain.  It’s simple.  It’s the epitome of non-cooking that packs its own kind of heat.  A perfect accompaniment to an easy, breezy evening after a long-hot-muggy-day-of-summer.    
Homegrown jalapeno fresh from the garden

What you need:

2 to 3 cups of watermelon, seeded and chopped into "bits-size" 1/2-inch cubes
2 green onions, finely sliced (or 3 tbs. red onion finely chopped)
1 lime, juiced  
1/4 teaspoon lime zest
3/4 cups chopped cilantro  (for a different flavor substitute fresh mint leaves)
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded, fined chopped
1 tbs. fresh ginger, peel and shaved
Salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar - to taste
1/4 fennel bulb, chopped (optional)
1 tbs. brown sugar (optional)
What you do:
Chop, chop, combine ingredients and chill.   

Dead-heading petunias. My summer pastime? 

Photos: V.Henoch

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I write. . .to the ticking. . .

Our days are numbered, why can’t they be, say, lettered? Woody Allen

I’m cleaning closets of late.  No small feat because I tend to be a packrat.  A tidy packrat at that, if that’s conceivable.  As a creative packrat - once an adwriter - I hang on to magazines that catch my eye and graphic arts award books “just in case” I need inspiration or a reference, or a reminder that I once earned some notice in them.  I have saved every proof of concept, every campaign, every scrap of an idea it seems I ever had, “just in case,” you know,  I find myself on the street again, portfolio in hand,  “just in case,” you know,  I find myself freelancing again, just in case, I guess, I want to review or wander over old terrain,  just in case, I suppose, I ever forget who I am or what I “used to do.”  So much for writing ads, television commercials and lyrics...

The things we save.  Birthday cards, business cards, our kids’ report cards, refrigerator art, (“Look ma, what I made for you.”) old love letters, wedding invitations, notebooks filled with scribbles.  

And the photos.  How I love those old photos.  We have at least four generations of photos in our keeping.  More than 30 years ago (has that much time really passed?)  my parents left their boxes of photos with us,  like an orphan on the doorstep, “Here. You keep these now.  What are we going to do with them in the condo in Florida?” So okay,  up they went, into careless storage in our attic.  And then my husband’s dad followed suit.  A more avid photographer, his handiwork was organized in myriad boxes of slides and reels, arriving with projectors. (Remember those?)  “Here, you keep these for us, we’re not shipping this stuff cross country to San Diego.”  So okay. Into the footlocker in the basement they went. . .

And there are our own photos: envelope after envelope, (remember developing photos before digital cameras?).  The years-in-snapshot pass before our eyes: baby photos, school portraits, camp pictures, trips to the zoo, vacations at the beach, kite flying in sand dunes, new puppy, old dog sleeping in the sun. . . 

We look at old photos like we have forever ahead of us, all the time in the world. 

The things we save.  And savor Old recipes, our mother’s cookbooks.  Our mother’s dishes, Wedgewood and silver, a crystal bird, a Chinese wedding vase. . .  

And the clocks. I love the faces of clocks. I have a clock representing just about every house I’ve ever lived in. . .  


 And there’s the clock I kept for years in my office . . .ticking... minute-by-minute, counting off the days of long, happy employment in a Cleveland ad shop, accompanying my tap-tap-tapping on a keyboard, its tick-tock-ticking familiar, like a heartbeat, I paid little notice of it.   

With my last career move, I packed up the clock and brought it home. Into the closet it went, propped up against the wall, to sit quietly in the corner, collecting dust.   

Appraising my work in clearing the closet, my husband pulls out the clock,  searches the drawers in his desk for new AA batteries. “Why not put it back up?” he offers, standing ready with a nail and the clock now ticking anew... pointing to just the place in the spare bedroom that serves as my work room at home.    

And so here it is . . . that familiar old tick-tocking.  I can tune it out between the words plunk-plunking here on the screen, but in a moment of silence, between the synapses,  the memory comes back and I smile.  Thinking of Miki--  an art director who worked with me at Liggett-Stashower - an ad agency in Cleveland.  She was 20something, I was, uh-40something and then some (!)  and we were a team on many projects.  A good team - "sisters," (that's how she thought of me - though I was as old as her mother). We were  equal partners (in advertising there are no mentors -- you sink or you swim on your own merits, and like sharks you keep swimming, you stay current to stay "with it" and relevant. You keep up with the clock. Or you die. (Or retire)  

I haven’t retired.  Not yet  I'm still ticking in a full time job.  Still writing.  But I retired the clock.

That clock: Miki and I would be working in my office together, tossing around ideas, throwing scribbles down on layout pads, pinning concepts to the walls to see what would stick. . . and then . . .   The ticking of the clock.  Like the crocodile in Peter Pan. . .Oh-oh.  When hearing the reverberating tick-tock-tick of the clock, we knew we had lost our way, run out of ideas, gone blank. . . entered the creative abyss of . . . silence.  “Oh, that damn clock!”  Miki used to say, “How can you stand it, listening to it all day?”  Dunno.

And yet.  Here it is again. And here I am, hearing it once again, ticking away, like I have all day and night to pass the time. To look at old pictures.  To sift through scraps of memories.  Perchance to blog. . . to the sound of time. Precious time. Passing.  

(This one’s for my brother-in-law, Rick, with love. He’s starting chemo this week. Taking it one day at a time.)

Thanks for taking the time to stop by.
Photos: VHenoch