old gm building

house buying and selling

Here is an update on the house buying/selling situation.

I had the foundation of the Farmington Hills house inspected by a structural engineer and I calculated the cost of a full renovation. Based on this, I negotiated with the owner and we agreed on a price that was less than half the asking price back in June, and less than the city's "estimated land value" of the property. I signed the purchase agreement a week ago Friday.

I am selling my house to Dr. Matt for a price that a well-known local real estate dealer said I could sell my house for without much difficulty. If I took the time to sell my house on the open market, I might get more money, but part of this negotiation was that Sarah and I would remain in the house for a few months while I fix up the new one. This free rent compensates for the higher price that I might have gotten from another buyer. This took far less time than selling the house through a realtor, and if I were to get a very high offer, I would have to worry that buyer's bank wouldn't appraise my house for that amount because of the screwy way appraisals work in Detroit.

I'm not moving because of the obvious city problems (crime, poor city services, high insurance costs, the ubiquity of Flaming Hot Cheetos® bags). I haven't been mugged, but I've been the victim of some crime, including robbery. I didn't even bother complaining when my City of Detroit flag was stolen right off of my house. It's just something you take for granted.

Having fewer of those problems will be nice, but the real reasons I'm moving are:

• This house is too big. You already know the convoluted steps that led to me living in this house. And while I was single and renting rooms on Airbnb, a huge house with no yard made sense. But living with Sarah and the animals and no longer being on Airbnb, we've found that we have too much house and not enough yard. There are entire wasted rooms that we rarely or never even enter.

• I could be debt- and rent-free. I owe $30K on my current house. If I sell it and buy a cheaper house, using the leftover money to pay off that loan, I will have no debt. The $510/month loan payments will no longer have to be made. All I'd have to pay is utilities and taxes. Maybe I can finally go to Europe or have my teeth straightened.

• I'm bored? Kinda? I sort of just want a new house to fix up, and to mix everything around to keep things interesting.

So why move to Farmington Hills and not another house in Corktown or somewhere else in Detroit? I definitely wanted an old, handsome house in or near a walkable area, but the overwhelmingly most important factor in choosing a new place is:

• It's too goddamn noisy almost everywhere. Collapse )

What I'm getting at is that I unquestionably have a very real need to live somewhere free from the sounds radios and human voices. There are many "handsome old houses in or near walkable areas", but usually they cost half a million dollars. As well they should! It's the ideal living condition--of course such rare, valuable homes would be priced accordingly.

My challenge was to find something within the price range of a wage-earning college dropout. One house I very strongly considered was 554 Notre Dame St. in Grosse Pointe. It was just one block from a little downtown that included a Trader Joe's and the nicest Kroger I have ever seen, but it was only 907 square feet, had some cosmetic updates that seemed like they were hiding something. And dollar-per-square-foot-wise, it was overpriced for its size.

The house I decided to buy (after having Sarah look at it and made sure she liked it too) was 24500 Orchard Lake Road, which I described in my last entry. (Regarding noise, I've had my eye on Farmington Hills ever since a coworker of mine moved there from Detroit and then complained that it was "too quiet".) I was able to get a good price on it because it needs a ton of work, it required a cash buyer since it would never pass a mortgage company's inspection, and the seller wanted a buyer who would fix up the house and not knock it down and cut down the trees to develop the land.

The house is somewhat isolated, and I do prefer to be surrounded by quiet, friendly neighbors--but this is the best situation I could make happen. We would love to have neighbors. Because ... well you just feel better, you know, having a neighbor.

Our new homestead is not walkable, but it is bikeable. Downtown Farmington is about 1.5 miles away. The nearest grocery store is only 0.3 miles away (my current house is 0.8 miles away from Honey Bee Market). There is a Whole Foods on the same road exactly 4 miles north, and a vegetarian Indian restaurant (Udipi) also on the road 2.6 miles north.

I will miss a lot of things about living in Corktown, most especially the history, the architecture, the good neighbors, and the convenience of living at the center of the metropolitan region. I will of course continue to help research Corktown's history, but as for Farmington, they've already got that covered. Once the house is fixed up, I might not know what to do with myself. Maybe I'll get back into music, or go back to school to get an education in a career I would actually find fulfilling.
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"farmington hills, that's where i want to be (gimmie gimme)" part 2

I look at houses online and wonder what it would be like to live in them, but usually it's only about as serious as a person who looks at pictures of naked ladies online and wonder what it would be like to date them. I browse real estate listings constantly because it's fun and compelling, and I only post on Facebook a fraction of the ones I like. And it is only a fraction of *those* that I would ever consider looking at to buy. I've recently only seen two properties in person, one that was okay but not magical enough to make me move, and one that was so great that someone else immediately offered the full asking price and got it.

I found another place that I think is good enough to visit with the listing agent. It is a cottage built in 1935 in Farmington Hills that sits in the middle of a wooded lot that is precisely one acre in size. It is on a major road, but the neighbors are mostly small suburban offices. It is next door to a Montessori preschool. Behind it is undeveloped forest, and behind the forest is frankly uninspiring suburban development, but at least it's the rich-people kind.

The ad is honest about the condition of the house, and after talking to the agent on the phone, it sounds like a gut job. However, the price seems reasonable. In fact, it keeps on dropping, and the ad says that the owner just wants it sold. I am prepared to do the renovation work if I can get it for the right price. And I also must be prepared for the inevitability of the forest behind the property being developed--the population of this country has increased by one hundred million people since I was born, and they are going to keep on building houses. I was surprised to learn that Farmington Hills was the largest city in Oakland County in the 2000 census, but it has been surpassed by Troy in the 2010 census. Taxes are high, probably because it's on a commercial road--the 2014 summer and winter taxes combined were about $2,200. It's reportedly 1300 square feet, over a "Michigan basement" and has two bedrooms and one bathroom.

The house may meet my contradictory preferences in home buying, wanting to be close to an "urban" area while maintaining some privacy. It's isolated in a way that may let my nights be quiet and peaceful, but it's only one mile from downtown Farmington. That is, as the crow flies--a walk would really be 1.5 miles. I'm willing to traverse that distance for provisions after the impending energy crisis.

Here's the part where I confess to doing a semi-bad thing. I Googled the owner's name and found their Facebook. These photos are from that person's page:

Between the listing, the agent, tax records and Facebook, the story I piece together is that the owner lived here for many years. They kept the house running, but didn't invest in it. The owner has recently or is in the process of moving to Asia (their profession involves Asian languages and they seem personally interested in Eastern religion), I'm guessing they are financially independent, and they just want to unload the property. The asking price has dropped to the price they paid in 1996.

I am waiting on a call back from the agent about an appointment. We'll see how it goes.

* * * * *

The house is on the south 165 feet of the north 1320 feet of the west 20 acres of the southwest quarter of section 23 of township 1 north range 9 east, except the west 66 feet thereof.

Here is what that means:

Township 1 north range 9 east refers to Farmington Township, although this part has since been incorporated as the City of Farmington Hills:

Essentially all townships are six-mile-by-six-mile squares divided into 36 squares all numbered in the manner illustrated below. Section 23 in Farmington is the one bounded by Orchard Lake Road, Middlebelt Road, 10 Mile Road, and 11 Mile Road.

The west 20 acres of the southwest quarter of this section was once the farm of J. M. Conroy. The farm actually included an additional five acres north of the southwest quarter, as seen below in a detail of an 1896 atlas of Oakland County. One quarter of a one-square-mile township section is 160 acres, so the west 20 acres would basically be the western 1/8 of the quarter section.

Finally, the south 165 feet of the north 1320 feet of that 20-acre section, minus the west 66 feet, gives you the property outlines seen in the first image in this post. It contains 43,560 square feet, which is exactly one acre.

The first private owner of the whole west half of section 23 of Farmington Township was Timothy Allen of Ontario County, New York, who purchased the land from the federal government in 1824. He was among the first handful of settlers in the township.
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doo run run

On Saturday Sarah and I drove down to the "Maker Faire" at the Henry Ford Museum to see Stacey's band "Dear Darkness" play (and she got us in for free!). I had never been to this event before and I'm still not sure what the unifying theme was. We wandered the place while waiting for the band to set up, and we ended up in an area where I somehow failed to see a banner advertising a local carnival-themed subculture. I noticed a 53 year old man dressed up like a clown and his 28 year old girlfriend, so we turned the hell around and went back toward the stage. After the Dear Darkness set we checked out the "Women Who Rock" exhibit inside the museum.

After that we went to John K. King Books, which I had only very briefly visited once before. It was neat and all, but I'm guessing that the good, rare stuff must not be out in the open. The four-story book store's entire collection of Buddhism took up one shelf--not a bookcase, just one single shelf. I had thought I'd pick up a used copy of the Anguttara Nikaya, but it just wasn't that kind of collection. To their credit, they *did* have a 1922 German translation of Edwin Arnold's 1879 The Light of Asia, which would be valuable to the right collector. Sarah tried to find books on veterinary medicine. There were only a few, but she did find one worth buying. It was an entertaining but horrifying book from the 1970s with the most idiotic advice for pet owners imaginable. I think she should start a whole blog just about that book.

A few days ago, when Sarah and Gander were at the former Tiger Stadium site (aka makeshift dog park), she had to chase someone's dog that had escaped and ran toward the freeway. (This is a *separate* incident from when the both of us had to chase dogs off the freeway the weekend before last!) Sprinting after the dog left her in such a state that she wanted to get back into shape, and we decided that we'd both start running. I bought shorts and a pair of New Balance running shoes--the first time I have owned sneakers and shorts in at *least* a decade. On Sunday morning we alternated running and walking on a 3.8 mile path to the river, downtown, and back. Sarah's lungs still hadn't recovered from the dog chase a few days ago, so she and I were at the same level of ability. Hopefully I will see progress in my lungs' ability to do this kind of thing.

This weekend I saw the film The Room for the first time. It is life-changingly bad. I had to take a break halfway through, but by the time it was over, I was glad that I made it through. Sarah also downloaded the RiffTrax for the movie, which we played along with it the next day. I very much recommend it.
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dog rescue

On Sunday afternoon Sarah and I were going to drive to Ann Arbor to buy a new aquarium for Frieda the box turtle. We got on I-96 west toward I-94 west when we passed two dogs walking on the shoulder of the interchange between the two freeways. When we stopped and got out, we met another woman who was already trying to help them. Of course the dogs were skiddish and ran away. Two more cars stopped and people tried to help, but one left after not too long.

It was a pretty nerve-wracking experience. Dogs don't understand how traffic works. At one point they crossed the westbound lanes of I-96 to the median, and some of the people followed them. When the dogs crossed back over I was convinced they would be hit by oncoming trucks, but the drivers were fortunately paying attention and the dogs made it back without being turned into a cloud of pink mist. An ambulance came by at one point to make sure no one was hurt, but had to leave for another call immediately. The police would not help.

After a long and confusing attempt to corral the dogs onto the grassy side of the freeway near the service drive, a young woman was somehow able to get one of the dogs (the blue Australian cattle dog) under a tree at the edge of the service drive. While Sarah and I were walking around looking for his companion (a pitbull), he somehow ended up on the other side of the fence, on the service drive side, but came back to be by his friend. There was on dog on each side of the fence. The pitbull had a choke chain on, but no tags, and the Australian cattle dog had no collar on at all. Neither was neutered, but they seemed relatively clean, well-fed, and uninjured.

Where we spent Sunday afternoon!

One of the two women called a friend of theirs who volunteers for a dog rescue. While waiting for her, I drove back home to get water, treats, and leashes. Around the time I got back, the animal rescue friend arrived, wearing a "Million Pibble March" tshirt, or something like that. They eventually got a leash on the cattle dog. The dogs would drink water and eat treats thrown on the ground, but were still very skiddish and would try to bite if touched.

This was the situation for a very long time: we had the cattle dog leashed on the freeway side of the chain link fence, but the tricky pitbull could not be approached. He would run across the service drive into a field. Then the cattle dog would bark for his companion, who would faithfully come back to check up on his friend, but then run away because he was afraid of us. The younger woman's mother joined the party, making six of us. Then a Prius with a bunch of bumper stickers stopped, and another woman with an animal-rescue-related tshirt came out, bringing the number up to seven. Just me and six white girls hanging out on a freeway ramp on the west side, no big deal.

At one point, an SUV with four men in it peeled around the corner and down the freeway ramp sociopathically fast, but didn't hit the pitbull. Four police cars with their lights on and sirens blaring followed quickly afterward. So our dogs almost got run over by a high-speed police chase. Of course.

One of women there called a Detroit cop friend who was able to stop by. She said this officer is involved in animal rescues. When a DPD van pulled up that said "Crime Scene Investigation" (or something like that) on it, I fully expected Angela from Facebook to walk out, but she was not one of the two women in the vehicle. [The ratio of animal helpers was then eight ladies to one dude.] But one of the officers *did* had the bright idea for us to lift the bottom of the fence and pass the leashed dog under. It was a strong fence and it took four of us to lift part of it enough to do this.

We spent an hour trying to walk the leashed dog around the field to get the pitbull close enough to be leashed, but we were not successful. The officers, Prius driver, and the animal rescue woman eventually had to leave. When the pitbull somehow became very interested in following one of the remaining women's cars, we just opened a door and tried to get the cattle dog in, and he willingly got in with a little push. The pitbull followed him. Sarah called around and got a Southfield vet to agree to hold onto the dogs overnight until animal control could take them. The lucky driver of the car graciously delivered them. In all, the experience lasted about three hours.

The residents of the side street where the action ended were amused by the sudden influx of bleeding heart animal rescuers. One neighbor was going to let us use his yard to trap the dogs, but that plan ended up not working. There were only three houses left on this street, but they were all well maintained. It seemed like a nice, quiet enclave.

* * * * *

The other exciting event of the weekend happened on the previous day, when we attended the Crash Festival of Street Bands in Roosevelt Park. I guess it was a sort of conference of what you might call small hipster marching bands? We tried taking the dogs, but they were just over-stimulated. We walked back later in the evening and saw Mucca Pazza's performance. It was *perfect*. I am so glad that this kind of music exists. If I get my wish then instrumental, un-amplified, acoustic instruments playing original compositions inspired by eastern European folk music will overtake the tried, old three-chord formula rock groups. (There was an accordion and electric guitar that were amplified, but only by a small speaker taped to the performers' helmets.) The players were constantly moving around, which changed the music as they played. The pieces were very well-written and very well-performed. It was exactly the thing that there needs to be more of.

Please go to Mucca Pazza's website and listen to their music. You will not be disappointed!

[Edit: The dogs have evidently since been reunited with their owner, but I don't know any of the details.]
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addictively empowering outrage

The New York Times printed a brief sort of throwaway "Detroit comeback" piece about businesses in Corktown a few days ago. It dedicated a few lines to each of five small businesses. It was quickly derided (by Aaron Foley of Jalopnik, for example) for not featuring businesses owned by "Detroiters of color". The writer of the NYT piece (a native of Grosse Pointe) has since apologized.

I am asking you this sincerely: Should the writer have inquired the ethnic background of each part-owner of every business, and change her write-up based on this information? It would be hard to tactfully gather this information, but maybe that should be a journalist's job. For what it's worth, I believe Daisuke Hughes (one of the owners of Astro's Coffee, one of the businesses featured) is Japanese, but I don't know if that counts as being "of color".

(That's not Dai.)

Another question: Whom should the writer have covered? Foley mentioned Rachel's Place, a resale shop on Pine Street specializing in women's vintage clothing, opened in 2009 by Rachele Leggs. I haven't seen another suggestion in the morally indignant outrage pieces.

Another candidate could be Le Petit Zinc, a restaurant on Trumbull Avenue owned by Charles Sorel, opened in 2008. Sorel was not mentioned in this week's NYT piece, but he was featured in a NYT piece exclusively about his restaurant in 2009. And that article only mentions Phil Cooley once ("The owner of Slows, a barbecue place nearby, not only helped him get his permits, but also built tabletops for him at no cost.").

So who else did that evil, horrible woman maliciously leave out? I don't know who owns each business in Corktown or their ethnic heritages, but I believe there are many of owners of middle-eastern descent--the owner of the car wash behind my house is Samir Olabi; Louay Hussein runs Metro Tech on Leverette and Brooklyn; and the Detroit Athletic Co., the Corktown Tavern, and O'Blivion's are owned by members of the Khalil family (whose ancestors are from Syria). But does middle-eastern count as being "of color"?

Were Rachel's Place and Le Petit Zinc the only places omitted from the Corktown piece?
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camping & writing

Sarah and I attended the Waterfront Film Festival last weekend in South Haven, on Lake Michigan. It was a lot of fun and a cool place to visit, and the films were mostly really good. The best ones were Chu and Blossom, Copenhagen, and the short film Recursion. It was kind of a bummer at first because the first three screenings we attended--the first three!--each contained a film in which a person was hanging from a rope around their neck. Ironically, the fourth screening (Creepy Shorts) contained no hangings.

Other than that, it was fun. Well, also the camping. Sarah's tradition was to attend this festival with her best friend and camp nearby. My opinion of and reaction to camping are 100% predictable, so there is no need to go into detail. The first night was the coldest and most uncomfortable and I ended up just leaving the tent and showering at 5:40am because I couldn't sleep. Sarah kept me going by continually throwing good food and vegan s'mores at me. The novelty of cooking over a campfire was one of the enjoyable aspects of camping. Every morning Sarah cooked a savory potato/tofu hash and percolated coffee. The least enjoyable part of camping was probably the last evening, when we happened to be near what was presumably a reunion of the Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood of Shrill Shrieking Harpies.

But *aside* from that, it was an overwhelmingly great vacation. On the last night we watched the sun set behind Lake Michigan on the beach by our campsite, the first time I have ever seen a sunset over water.

* * * * *

When we returned, I found that I had received contracts to be signed from the publisher who had contacted me about a Corktown book. Becky (who is a lawyer) very generously offered to look it over for me, and I'm glad she did. Among the many issues:

  • A vaguely-worded provision prohibits me from publishing, or making available in any form, earlier versions of anything similar to the book, which could potentially include my blog.
  • The publisher has the first right of refusal to publish any future work of mine at any price they want to.
  • If the publisher is sued because of something in my book--e.g., a copyright issue with a photo, even if I am in the right and have the right to publish that photo, I am responsible to pay attorney fees and court costs even if the case is dismissed, and I have no input regarding settlements, choice of attorneys, etc.
  • Even though I requested a budget for reproducing photos, the contract says that I am solely responsible for paying all reproduction fees and securing the rights to all images.

If I am going to spend a year of my life writing a history of Corktown, I want it to be the definitive history and contain as many old photos as possible--almost all of which are held by the Burton Historical Collection. And I don't want to be bankrupted by lawsuits and lose control over if, when, and how I write about the neighborhood's history ever again.

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tour, fencing and a funeral

Last week was pretty nuts with the techno festival, construction, and Sarah moving in, and the pace did not let up this weekend.

On Friday I found out that my across-the-street neighbor Shirley had died on Tuesday the 27th, the same day Sarah moved in. Shirley was a long time resident of the neighborhood, having moved into that home in 1970, I believe. Her advocacy for the poor made her fear gentrification so much in those days that she clashed with architects and preservationists who moved into the area. She obviously mellowed out by the time I met her. When my mom, younger brother and I started to work on the Bumble Bee House in 2008, Shirley called out across the street to us to come over for coffee and cake when we wanted a break. We dusted off our clothes the best we could and she welcomed us into her home. She kept forgetting my mom and brother's names, so she would jokingly call us "Peter, Paul and Mary". When Joe moved into the house, she shouted out to him, "Young blood! That's what we need!" She didn't seem to have any fears or inhibitions. At a community meeting, she said to the owner of the junkyard next to me that wasn't then properly screened, "I've come here to unsheathe my sword, but don't worry, I'm not going to chop your head off! But I do need to wave it in the air a little!"

Sarah and I attended the funeral at St. Peter's Episcopal Church on Trumbull on Saturday. I had never attended an Episcopal service before, and I was surprised how semi-Catholic it was. The services were lovely and very well attended--a very moving tribute any way you look at it.

* * * * *

After the excavation of the concrete footings from the old "courtyard" next to my house, I was ready to install a fence--that is, have my friend Don install it. I guess I could have done it myself, but just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should. Don has the knowledge, tools and experience to make sure the fence is straight, plumb, and solid, plus he's always looking for weekend jobs.

Don and his friend Rick installed most of the posts on Saturday, and mostly finished the job on Sunday. I somehow effed up the math and was short by half a fence panel, so Sarah and I went to Lowe's on Saturday evening to get one more. Don will use it to make the back gate today or tomorrow.

The yard already feels cozy even though it's only enclosed by a short picket fence. Because I'm a new-urbanist dilettante, I know that you don't need a six-foot high privacy fence to create that effect. This is all you need to feel less out in the open, and to mark the transition between public and private space without alienating neighbors or passers-by.

I kept the fence in line with the house even though Don said he would have gone to the sidewalk. "Here's what I would do if I was you," he said, holding a fence panel right at the edge of the concrete. "I would put my fence right here and if anybody from the city came up to me I would tell that city council to go fuck themselves!"

The next step is to bury UF-B cable 12 inches underground for the outlet that will supply power to my pond's fountain. Then the fence will be stained to match the house's dark-blue/grey trim.

* * * * *

The Corktown home tour was Sunday, which of course was the most hectic activity of all. Sarah very awesomely helped me out a lot, assisting with putting out the historical lawn signs early in the morning, attending the ticket sales tables during the tour, and picking up the signs in the evening.

We had a chance to attend the tour in the afternoon and see some really cool places. My favorite was Lisa R.'s and Scott B.'s loft in what was originally a Westinghouse Electrical Company warehouse and service center. We were very fortunate to have some new homes on the tour. Reaching out to home owners and getting them to put their houses on the tour is our biggest challenge every year.

I met up with a former neighbor of mine who used to live close to my old house on Wabash, and showed me a bunch of old photos she dug up from inside and outside of her old house. A woman whose name I didn't get donated color slides of Corktown houses taken 22 years ago, and another person left us two old photos from 17th and Ash Streets from the late 1800s. I will be putting these online some time this week.

I deposited the cash and checks this morning, and Blake is handling the PayPal/credit cards deposits. We have some sorting out to do, but our initial count last night was 655 paying attendees on the tour. Thanks to everyone else who helped out!
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busy week

Things have been pretty nuts around here for the last week and a half. A large number of tasks and life events have converged within a short period of time:

- Basement cleaning & dumpster rental
- Renting of three bedrooms and one couch to techno festival Airbnb guests
- Removal of concrete footings from next to my house
- Planning a new fence and garden for the same area
- Spiffying-up the landscaping in front of the house and along the alley
- Letting Scott's and Becky's dogs out a few times when they were out late
- Purchasing of a new piece of furniture from Mercury Retropolis

- Selling of old furniture
- Making time for a few social events
- Sarah moved in!

Over Memorial Day weekend, I've been helping Sarah pack up and clean her house. I took Tuesday off from work and we moved her furniture and most of her possessions on that day. By which I mean she hired movers to load and unload the U-Haul. Later that day we moved to cats in, and today Sarah will bring over Gander, who has been spending the last couple of nights at Sarah's mom's house. The house will be a little chaotic for a few days, but it's all taking shape.

Last week I got an email from a commissioning editor from the same publishing company that put out Dan Austin's and Amy Elliott Bragg's books. He wants me to write a book about Corktown's history. I haven't agreed to anything yet, but I filled out a proposal/questionnaire. He sent me a book they put out about a historic neighborhood in Baltimore to give me an idea of what they're looking for. I just got it yesterday, but flipping through it so far, it looks like less of a picture book that the Arcadia books tend to be. I talked to "Good Allan" at a party the other day and brought up this subject, and I learned that he is currently working on a project with the same publisher. His advice was to do it if I think it would be an enjoyable project and if I find the work rewarding, but not if I think it's going to make me a lot of money.

I am very confident in the kind of research I have already put on my blog, but I do have a couple of weaknesses that I would have to overcome in order to write a 45,000-word history of the neighborhood: 1) I am basically blind to the history of Tiger Stadium, because sports are silly, and dozens or even hundreds of 19th century homes were demolished to create more parking for fans; and 2) between World War II and the founding of Corktown's Citizen District Council and Historical Society, there is a bit of a gap in "historical records" that would have to be filled with personal interviews and other resources that I can't find in a nice, quiet library.
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garden 2014

Today was a little bit of a bummer of a gardening day. My mom and I went to the house in Harper Woods where Bob lived to mow the lawn, since the city fines property owners for long grass. We were surprised to see that the front lawn had already been mysteriously mowed. We still mowed the back lawn, bagged up some yard waste, and put the old couch and mattress on the curb.

Next we went to my house. When I had the dangerous, collapsing courtyard thing demolished in 2010, I couldn't afford the extra cost of removing its concrete foundation around the perimeter of my little triangle yard. Since then Bob and my mom planted a garden in this area, but it had to be removed today because the wall's old foundation is being excavated on Thursday.

The garden in 2013.

It took a few years for the garden to get this settled. The tradition among the three of us was to work on this garden every Memorial Day weekend. Ripping up all of these plants felt awful, but it had to be done before a fence or anything else can be put down here.

The aftermath.

Obviously we didn't get rid of these plants. They were scattered elsewhere--in front of the house, behind the car wash, and along the alley (my extended "yard"). The rose bush was potted for later replanting, but everything else was reused elsewhere on the property. Neighbors across the street even gave us some ground cover that they didn't want anymore.

The goose's bumble bee costume survived the winter.

I guess you could say that this is some kind of spiritual metaphor, that after the breakup of the human body, the individual's atoms and influences move outward and live on in the world around them. Then again, if you were a Freudian psychoanalyst, you could say that destroying Bob's garden was an expression of subconsciously repressed anger at a person who committed suicide. There is also a third interpretation, that my gardening is a random, meaningless act in a universe that is inherently random and meaningless lol
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the james e miller turtles

You might already know how much I love those ubiquitous playground turtles, and that owning one is one of my few unfulfilled life goals. (I do not have a lot of life goals.) They are still produced and available for purchase, but they cost $1096. I can't justify that expense right now.

When Sarah and I were having lunch with her mother and godmother on Mother's Day, this subject came up. One of them mentioned "an Italian man on Mound Road" who creates concrete sculptures and might be able to replicate one for cheaper.

That evening Sarah and I walked to a park in Birmingham and sat on a bench right next to one of these turtles. We got into what I'll call a spirited debate about whether it would be worth having a local artist attempt to make one. She believes that an artist could take a couple of measurements and a few photos and cheaply produce a sculpture every bit as good as an authentic one. I disagree--the real turtles are perfect, and in order to make one worth having, the expense of creating a perfect mold of an existing turtle would end up costing more than the real thing, and yet be a knockoff. I tried to compare it to paying an artist to make an imitation Van Gogh, if the Van Gogh weighed 750 pounds and was a big deal to commission and install. Sarah insisted that it wouldn't be that hard to make an indistinguishable knockoff. I wouldn't call it an argument, but our voices were raised just enough that I was worried about others in the park overhearing an impassioned debate about playground equipment.

I remembered having looked up information about the original sculptor before, but I looked him up again last night. American sculptor James Everett Miller / Jim Miller-Melberg designed in the turtle around 1959 while teaching at the University of Michigan. He hyphenates his name because his grandfather changed it from Melberg to Miller after immigrating to America, and the hyphenation is intended to honor his ancestors.

I looked up his website and I couldn't believe that I never knew that he is alive and well in Birmingham, Michigan. Sarah and I could have just walked to his house to solve our argument! Even worse, that was the day of the Birmingham art fair, which we missed, and where he may have had artwork on display!

Miller-Melberg was born in Minnesota in 1929 and his parents moved to Detroit soon afterward. The family is listed in the 1930 census on Agnes Street near Crane Street. His father was a pattern maker and started his own business in 1931. Miller-Melberg founded Form, Inc. in 1960 in part to sell the recreational sculptures he was producing. According to an article about the artist, the company was sold in 1981 to Wausau Tile Co. in Wisconsin, which still sells the turtles and other sculptures by him. (However, Form, Inc. is still an active Michigan corporation with annual reports filed by Miller-Melberg himself.)

In an interview, the artist said, "I attempted to bring sculpture to public life through sculptures for playgrounds and street furniture." I think that the prevalence of his works indicate his success in fulfilling his goal. What more could an artist hope for than the perfect union of beauty and function? I especially love sleek and stylized artifacts of the mid-century modern period and the feelings of new-world optimism that they evoke. I feel like I'm looking back into a past which was full of hope from a future that was not what was intended.