Dispatch from Detroit
The beauty of some days precludes all effort, all action. On sunday I needed to clean, do laundry before a trip to Detroit. Nothing happened in the morning. I was transparent, thoughtless, pure membrane.
On saturday I tore up a plywood floor. Sawed it into sections and then pried it away from the base, the cheap wood groaning and cracking over the radio.
Larry the carpenter cut wood for pieces of a storefront. We worked in the quiet studio, sheltered from the world of quick transactions. Caulking holes in the walls for two hours straight, I realized I hadn’t had one annoying conversation, hadn’t been interrupted once. Your job in the service industry is to be interrupted and overjoyed about it.
Some days are designed for indolence. They unroll like a lazily kicked rug. You can only watch them reach their end.
Work stays with you when you’re not working. Becomes you like a chronic illness. Before, in the coffee shop, it was the stream of people I didn’t want to see. People I had to treat like friends instead of giant pests that should be beaten with baseball bats.
The work you’ve done adds up, in damage to your body and roughness of your soul, but you start each day at zero. Doing what you did again. Something is subtracted from you, but you have to act like you’re building yourself up.
Sunday afternoon my gf and I drive to Detroit. One of her favorite musicians is playing a show. She likes the city, I’ve never been. When I tell people where we’re going they act like we’re visiting chernobyl.
No air conditioning in the car. But the weather is mild, the skies overcast. We drive through the flatlands of Indiana, soybean fields dotted with silos and farmhouses. We stay at an air b n b run by a middle-aged woman. A private bedroom in an historic apartment with brick siding and walls like paper. Doors that whine and crash like downed jets when you close them.
When I think of air b n b’s, I think of a person renting out space, managing it from elsewhere. This woman was home the entire time. Her bedroom was two feet away from ours. We lived with her.
Through two closed doors I could hear throat clearing. I could hear my pulse, hear thoughts rustling like centipedes in dry leaves. Our designated bathroom cramped between the two bedrooms. The most nerve-wracking shits of my life. Tried to make as little noise as possible, let everything slip out. It was thunder in a valley, it filled the rooms and shook portraits on the walls.
The city is abandoned, an old model in a basement. On monday the weather is pleasant. We wander mexican town and corktown. Many shops and cafes closed. Downtown has no density, no traffic. People here and there walk to their office jobs, in no hurry.
Shops without crowds, without queues. But the same aesthetic as Indy, as everywhere. Minimalist interiors, black and white. Repurposed industrial space, forsaken factories. The same spotify playlists, the same brunch menus. Tattooed servers and baristas and line cooks, frustrated artists, musicians. People with nothing else to do. They were promised the world and then given a spatula.
Monday night at el club. My girlfriend had a good time, and I was happy to be there with her, but I would be fine with never going to a live music performance for the rest of my life. The first crowd I encountered in the city. Pressed against fat sweating strangers. I have the temperament of a 110-year-old man. The music was too loud, I was tired.
Tuesday we walk the sleepy streets downtown. Should’ve been a bustling morning in the motor city but it was like an afternoon in an italian village. We sit outside a café, lean against the shaded walls, speak in elliptical orbits. She takes pictures of me, of us. She asks why I don’t take pictures.
I can’t tell her why. I should have a lecture ready to go. References to Roland Barthes and Walter Benjamin. But I’m not always smart, I don’t always want to explain myself.
I want to say it’s because I already live as if I’m flipping through a photo album. The present comes to me as a memory from the future. I know what’s in front of me will be gone, or rather, that it never arrives outside my anticipation and recall, and that a picture is only a symbol, a reminder that parts of us were never there, have never been present.
Some people take pictures, they hold themselves at a distance from what they experience to carve out a piece of it for the future. I do the same thing, but instead of pressing a button, I write what I see and think and feel, hours and days away from events. Either way there’s an exchange: immediacy for perdurance, existence for memory, life for art. To write is to remove yourself from time. To see yourself out.
Early afternoon, the sun burning in the cloudless sky. On the way out of Detroit we stop at a food truck by the interstate, right on the canadian border. A gravel lot shimmering in the heat. At a plastic table we load up on greasy sandwiches and garlic fries, look forward to going home.
Driving back with no air conditioning, 85 degrees in the car. Sun lighting us up like an angry interrogator. The sky blazing, white as a desert at noon. I have to give us credit: we didn’t murder each other. We didn’t fight at all. Four and a half hours cooking in a mobile oven.
The next day I go to work. 9 hours building a temporary wall in an antique shop, then redoing the façade. A world of exact measurements, straight lines, unlike my preferred realm of letters, interpretation, ambiguity.
If I write poorly, I’m only wasting time, I might annoy someone who reads me. If I mess up on a construction job, I could cut my foot off.