July 12 1998, Sunday
att had to go to work in the morning, so he dropped me off at the Fleetwood as usual. It's become a point of departure, arrival and rendezvous for me, since there is free parking nearby, cheap eats 24 hours per day, and a place to lock the stolen bike I've been riding.
fter a stint in UofM's Angell Hall, I met up with Kim at the restaurant where she works, Café Zola (rather near the Fleetwood but on a much snootier block). Café Zola is an upscale coffee shop/café which features lots of light food such as crepes, omelets, soups and salads. I don't eat much of that sort of thing, but I was nonetheless able to appreciate the warmth and airiness of the place.
Kim introduced me to a few of her co-workers, especially the witty, constantly-laughing Missy, her "best friend."
Kim drove me back to her place down near the Huron River, pointing out landmarks and telling me the histories of things as we went.
It's always time for a surprise whenever Kim disappears around the corner to change her clothes. This time she emerged wearing a long floral dress, in keeping with an emerging plan to go for drive into the countryside to the west of Ann Arbor.
She was affectionate but nervous, and this puzzled and frustrated me. Finally, after a little too much of this sort of thing, she explained that her old boyfriend still has a key to the apartment and that he occasionally shows up unexpectedly. "We could bolt the door I suppose..." she mused. Her behaviour made her come across as overly cautious. I couldn't imagine what problem an old boyfriend could possibly cause us now. And besides, what were the chances that he would show up while I was there?
nstead of debating these issues, we headed out of town. A little to the west, as we passed a wetland, I saw a turtle about to get killed crossing the road. Kim stopped and I ran back and rescued him. He was a painted turtle, with a velvety covering of algæ adhering to his dorsal shell. If Kim hadn't known yet she knew now. I'd proved myself an animal lover and a fan of nature.
We took various small country roads and ended up at a big working farm, set in countryside that superficially resembled the James River Valley near Scottsville, Virginia. There were cows and corn and low rolling hills.
Kim's friend Raven lived with her bob-tailed cat in one of the farm's well-furnished outbuildings. We made introductions and Raven apologized for the mess, which simply amounted to the clutter and boxes of her impending relocation (related to a series of troubles with the landlord).
Raven is a "polarity therapist." I really have no idea what this means, but I have a feeling it relates in some way to holistic new age medicine. With every new person in my life I find myself encountering new scenes, and Kim is no exception. She may look kind of punk rock, but at heart she's a holistic medicine nut. Her specialty, of course, is massage therapy, but I have a feeling she also has faith in many other practices scorned by the American Medical Association. This isn't to say, by the way, that I think all that new age hippie medicine is pure quackery; I do not. But some of it, especially hearing it discussed, makes my skin crawl. All this hand-waving talk of chakras, auras, "energy fields" and "polarities" sounds as ungrounded and undefined as past lives, UFO encounters, palm reading, and other amusing but ultimately useless pseudoscience.
Raven reminded me a lot of some of the spiritually-motivated women who used to show up at Earth First! meetings. She was very earnest, intense and sincere, and I had the feeling she and I would have very little to talk about if we were ever stranded together on a desert island. This isn't to say she's not a wonderful, intelligent woman; evidently she has much to share with Kim. I'm just happy Kim isn't this way.
Since Raven is in the process of moving out, she offered Kim and me all kinds of things, most of them herbal products containing obscure plant abstracts. I believe in Vitamin C and such, but some of her tablets contained long lists of plants seemingly chosen at random and made claims (or pseudoclaims) of being able to treat every disease imaginable, a fact Raven noted without irony.
Kim and I had come to Raven's house mainly to get some special herbal ointment for Kim's sunburn, which she got yesterday at the WCBN benefit concert.
We had Kim's little dog Sophie with us, and he was absorbed into his own doggy world, sniffing the many fragrances, causing the cat concern, and ultimately setting off a burglar alarm.
arther on to the west, we stopped in the small, tidy, middle-American white taxpayer town of Chelsea, Michigan. The plan was to get dinner at the highly respected Common Grill, a big airy place crammed with people and the din of conversation on this Sunday Night. Dinner was going to be kind of expensive tonight, but it seemed to warrant such attention. What's going on here has the makings of a real romance, you see.
There was a 20 minute wait, so went to a nearby coffee shop and were virtually the only customers there. We read newspapers and occasionally stop and stare into each others' eyes and do other things that so irritate me when I see couples doing them in public. I figured the good people of Chelsea deserved payback time as much as anyone.
We had fish dishes and white wine. Fresh fish is fresh fish, and this fish was fresh, so there's little for me to say about it (since I don't pretend to be a gourmet). Like most American food, it was rather bland for my taste, but it was filling. The dinner rolls were exceptional, by the way.
We talked some more about how I'd come to Ann Arbor and who I knew. I described Krazy Thom and his many antics, and Kim realized she knew him rather well, as well as the Division Street girls and even Franz. It turned out that Franz had once been the housemate of her most recent boyfriend Paul. We riffed on the coincidences for awhile and collapsed back into gentle reflection across the wide table. The waitress had a Scandinavian accent and she asked if everything was alright. It was.
On the ride back towards Ann Arbor, Kim was driving, and though we didn't make the most of the semi-privacy of the Volvo, we came pretty close. A thought that crossed my mind: "Oh shit, that guy is hitting the brakes, I hope she can react!"
long the way somewhere we stopped at Kim's mother's place, which she shares with her husband (Kim's Stepfather). The house is set in a swampy rural area, and despite the opulent space, it's just one house on an ultra-modern subdivision. The houses of the subdivision are all mansions, the lawns are vast, and the fences are made of PVC. It was a little overwhelming, but I've had girls from rich families take me to their parents' houses before.
Kim showed me the horses. There were three, all unflatteringly eyeless under green fly netting. Ho-hum, horses have never been a big interest of mine, even back when they were the only things with taut round rumps and long flowing hair that would allow me to ride them.
As we were figuring out how to launch a pedal-powered paddle boat into a swampy little pond in the back, Kim's mother and stepfather rolled up in a sport utility vehicle.
Kim's mother can't be too young, but she looked pretty good for her age. Immediately I noticed that she seemed continually possessed by a combination of childlike excitement (apparently facilitated by seemingly endless disposable income) and motherly neuroses (the kind where a parent never quite realizes her child has become a mature adult). Stepfather was an older, balding, bearded beer-bellied man. He spoke with a firm authoritative voice that reminded me of old film narrations and my father's eccentric botanical colleague, Robert Hunsucker. Stepfather had an amusingly sarcastic-cynical manner about him that came as something of a pleasant surprise.
Introductions were made. Kim said that I am Gus, 30 years old, "out of school" and graduated from college, something of an exaggeration. From the wording of this introduction I got the feeling that Kim's mother might have initially feared Kim had gone dipping into University of Michigan undergrads again.
Mother was bubbling over with excited plans for alterations, expansions and improvements of the house. Already, of course, the house was far bigger than any two sane people could possibly want, but Mother needed more. A vast sun room was soon to be installed, and underneath this would be a special kennel room for the many dogs. There were at least six of them that I could count, ranging from football-size to some huge, muscular curly-black haired beast that tossed flailed at the end of his chain seemingly convinced he could break free. Meanwhile the tiny dogs (all of them either shaggy or curly-coated) wrestled and squealed underfoot. I've never been a big fan of animals bred to resemble cream puffs, but everyone else present seemed to think they were absolutely adorable. "I collect dogs," Mother said.
After much pleading, Kim convinced Mother to give us "the tour" of the house. Mother was reluctant at first, claiming the house was a complete disaster unsuitable for showing. I joked that everyone should go see my parents' house if they want to see real mess. "But you don't understand!" Mother insisted. "No, you don't understand!" I shot back, "My parents are eccentrics!"
"Oh..." said mother. That's when she finally relented.
If you go for houses of the rich and famous, if you like vast empty spaces, clean modern lines and lots of white with silver and black flourishes, no doubt you would have been impressed with this house, perhaps even more impressed with the lavish plans for upgrade and improvement. Some of the same people who can never be too rich also can never have a big enough house. In this case, the urge to restore and have more seemed positively psychotic. Especially when I learned that the entire interior of the house was soon to be repainted the exact same shade of white as the present layer of paint. Neither Kim nor I could see anything wrong with the existing paint job, but Mother insisted it needed to be done. There's a lot of money to be made off of rich people with neuroses like this.
Kim and I had more of a private tranquil moment when we finally launched the peddle-powered paddle boat. The pond was long and curved, and we went back and forth several times. I even snapped a few pictures with the digital camera. Beneath the murky waters swam many varieties of large local fish, stocked and overfed by Stepfather.
The last scene at Mother's house took place in the basement. That's where the "zoo" is located. It was at this point that I realized that Kim's mother had an animal-collecting gene almost as powerful as the one running through Deya's family. Not only were there six dogs of various sizes climbing all over us, but some distance away was a room containing several cats. And, most Deyaesque of all, was the aviary containing a beautifully white Cockatoo, an African Grey Parrot, and a rare hawklike parrot from Madagascar. The Cockatoo was the friendliest and most verbose by far, enjoying climbing around on and receiving hugs from Mother. But Stepfather said that the African Grey does the most talking, but he'll only do it when strangers aren't around. He can mimic both Mother and Stepmother, and has been known to respond to shouted questions in the appropriate other voice, shout at the dogs to be quiet, and bark like a dog himself only to then order himself to be quiet!
Mother thought it safe to allow the Cockatoo to climb around on me, but after she nipped my ear pretty hard several times and went straight for the big mole on my neck several more, she decided it best to put her somewhere else.
hen we finally made it back to Kim's apartment in Ann Arbor, she told me to bolt the door behind me as we climbed the stairs. "He's been here," Kim said when we made it into the apartment. The "he" being referred to was, of course, none other than her old boyfriend Paul. I thought that was good news, assuming he might not be back any more tonight. But about that time came a thunka thunka thunka from downstairs. Someone had tried the key but been stopped by the deadbolt. Paul the boyfriend wanted in! "It'll be alright!" Kim said unconvincingly as she dashed down the stairs to deal with the situation.
From the bottom of the stairs I could hear a new male voice asking Kim, "What the fuck is going on here? Why the fuck did you fuckin' bolt the door?" Times such as these, stressful times, really bring out a person's capacity to lie and deceive unconvincingly. Kim tried to explain that I was an old friend of Paul's old housemate Franz, (as you recall from earlier in this entry, that's Charlottesville's Franz, the tall thin dude who is now dating my old housemate Elizabeth). This didn't impress Paul at all. I heard him marching up the stairs, seeing his shaved head and multiple piercings before I saw the fierceness of his eyes.
Remember, folks, I'd been fooling around with Paul's old girlfriend in the house they used to share. I'd foolishly convinced myself that he was no longer a factor, that he'd moved out of the apartment and fallen out of love with her. I was wrong about both these things.
Most people, even when presented with extremely disturbing facts, muster composure and calm for as long as it is required to preserve personal dignity, dealing with pent-up emotions later when privacy is available. Several times in my life I've been forced into situations where I've had to deal with jealous former boyfriends. They always went out of their way to be civil, even generous. They almost always want me to like them. In Kim's apartment tonight, as I waited for Paul to climb those stairs, I was still entertaining hopes that he would be like all the old boyfriends I had known. But he wasn't. Not at all.
His face twisted up into an hurt & angry grimace, saying in a loud voice, "See, the situation is that Kim and I agreed not to bring anyone over except mutual friends and I'm asking you to leave now!" As Kim tried to say something, Paul looked at me immediately and said, "And I mean now!" He said that at least once more, and as I was getting up to go (what else could I do?), I said, "Okay, I'll go. You know, I have nothing against you and I mean you no harm." He snarled back, "Well I do mean you harm." He looked me intensely in the eye as I walked down the stairs.
Outside, Kim was extremely apologetic, offering to let me take her car to escape. (I have no idea why or to where I was expected to go.) I suggested that I just wait at the bottom of the stairs instead. So she went back into her apartment to change her clothes. We had plans, you see, to attend a fashion show tonight, and the main reason we'd come to her house at all was so she could dress appropriately. The way she was just then, she looked as if she was off to a summer picnic.
So I sat waiting on the concrete curb on the edge of the adjacent service station, listening to moths getting electrocuted in a distant bug zapper. Daylight was growing soft in the slow emergence of evening.
I was feeling actually rather happy. Who would have thought I'd be getting some genuine jealous boyfriend excitement during this Ann Arbor trip?
When she finally came down from her apartment, Kim was carrying her dog Sophie. She was dressed in a silver vinyl skirt more suitable for the urban nature of our planned adventures tonight.
On the drive to the fashion show, Kim admitted that now she was worried. She explained that Paul has been know to occasionally act in psychotic ways, throwing her stuff around and even (on one occasion) necessitating a 911 call (her street address, by the way). She said she didn't really know what he was capable of and, not to take chances, she had decided to bring her dog along tonight and maybe try to track down another place to sleep. Not that she was worried Paul would actually hurt Sophie, but she didn't want to have to worry, for example, about the possibility of Paul tearing off and leaving the door wide open.
We parked in a parking lot near Liberty Street, whereupon Kim started despairing that she'd gone and ruined everything with me, someone with whom things had seemed so promising only a few hours before. She thought that after such a fucked-up graceless ordeal, I'd be completely disgusted with her and not want to continue whatever has been going on between us for the past day. I said that I'd actually found the whole incident rather entertaining, adding that whatever ridiculous things her old boyfriend might be doing certainly didn't reflect on her in anyway. I guess this made her feel a little better, because by the time we'd joined the line of people standing in front of the Nectarine, we'd moved on to other subject matter.
he fashion show was taking place in the Nectarine, a super-trendy black & neon bar on Liberty Street. The people standing in line waiting to get in were all mostly in their late teens and early 20s. The girls were, for the most part, very fashionably dressed, though the boys (like me) were mostly casually clad. The crowd ranged in style from raver to goth, with very little else. People tended mostly toward flamboyance, be it the gay kind, or just unusual extrovertism and wackiness of dress. It was a fashion show, after all, and I'd actually been a little concerned that I'd be underdressed.
Inside, it was a good crowd for a Sunday Night. The place was divided up into numerous balconies and levels, all painted black and lit with blacklight, in the style that makes someone think immediately of the word "Eurotrash," though I can't think what that word really means.
Kim and I ordered Whiskey and Cokes at the bar. The bartender had incredible calm and poise, though she looked a little too wholesome for a place like that. She accidentally knocked over two drinks she'd just made, looked up calmly and smiled, saying, "Well, that can't possibly be good!"
One little side balcony above the mainspace was walled in glass, and inside this little space a small exhibit of paintings was displayed. The works were mostly of distorted people with sharp teeth tangling with vaguely kitschy monsters. It was the kind of art goths would buy if they didn't spend their money exclusively on clothes, pot and CDs like the rest of American youth.
Kim and I were joined by Missy, Kim's perpetually-delighted co-worker, as well as a youngish man from Wales who she'd just adopted as a boyfriend. At some point I also ran across Dawn, one of the Division Street girls I'd stayed with at the beginning of this Ann Arbor experience.
The activity below, the entertainment that is, was mostly live music sets punctuated occasionally by spans of recorded dance music. The first band was that punkish trio we'd seen yesterday at the WCBN benefit. They were much better tonight. The sound system and the hyped-up alterna-crowd seemed to be locked in a positive feedback loop that benefitted their performance enormously. Kim thought it important to remind me that this sort of event doesn't happen very often in Ann Arbor and warned me not to fall in love with this town based on this rare incident of chineseness.
Matt Rogers showed up, which was good. I'd feared that he might just revert back to his background apathy without me around to motivate him off the porch livin' situation.
Eventually the fashion show proper began. It started with a very watchable set of lip-synching by big fat black women (or possibly transvestites) who graciously accepted tips stuffed into their cleavage by mostly butchy female audience members. This was followed up by models parading back and forth dressed in impossible fashions. One of the models was covered from head to toe in metallic silver paint and wore shiny metal pasties which soon fell off. Another wore a skirt made of a single piece of solid metalized plastic. Unlike the fashion shows I've seen excerpted on E! and other junk cable channels, there was a strong theatrical element to the show. Periodically the fashion parade would stop and there'd be an interlude of something more akin to performance art, a sparring couple of over-dressed under-trained male wrestlers for example. But it was more than just the fashion show that drew me in. It was also the intensity of the crowd. It was sort of like a rock and roll concert in that it felt like we as a group were changing the world. Kim told me that this show reminded her a lot of the period when she lived in San Francisco.
After the fashion parade came to an end, an all-girl punk rock band took the stage. The crowd pressed in close to the stage and the music began. The music wasn't anything too great. It was standard three chord punk rock with familiar girlie (Cindi Lauperesque) goofiness. I lapped it up because I was drunk and in the mood for dancing. I get kind of goofy when I dance to punk rock; it always makes me feel like a muppet for some reason. Dawn and Stephanie, the Division Street Girls, were there and I was mostly dancing with them. By this point in the evening they seemed to be having a better time than Kim, who hung back talking with Missy somewhat disgustedly about the overly-hormonal men dancing directly in front of the grrrl musicians.
Kim and I had originally planned to find a place to spend the night at one of her friends' houses, but this plan had fallen through by the end of the evening. What with the Paul situation, I couldn't go back to her place, so I arranged with Matt to go back to Ypsilanti.
First though I went with Kim back to her car. We sat and talked for a long time about things. We were both kind of drunk and had a tendency to overstate our affection for one another, but it felt good anyway. Eventually Kim dropped me off back at the Nectarine.
But the place was already closed and Matt was nowhere in site. I ran back to find Kim who said she'd be waiting for me, but she was already driving off. All my easy options of places to stay in town had vanished. I suppose I could have looked up Pasco & Pranger, but it was already late and my situation wasn't really critical. It was a rainless summer night in Ann Arbor and I decided I could just sleep under a bush somewhere.
went down to the Fleetwood to get my bike and see if Matt was there or had left any messages. The diner and patio was full as usual for the after hours, but there was no evidence of my porch livin' buddy.
I rode the bike throughout the Ann Arbor campus, hoping to find a 24 hour computer lab or some other cool place to kill time. But there was nowhere to go and nothing to do. So I harvested some styrofoam panels and cardboard from a dumpster and made myself a little nest under the bushes beside a big stone University of Michigan academic building. I used the styrofoam to form a mattress and covered myself with a blanket of cardboard. It was all very gutterpunk and live-off-the-land, something everyone needs to do on occasion to stay in touch with inner-survivalist, but this is not to say I was especially comfortable. The night air was just a bit on the chilly side, and an annoying wind was sure to find every patch of flesh which my clothes refused to cover.
Earlier today I'd been wining and dining a fancy girl at a fancy restaurant in a fancy storybook town, then visited her lavish-living mother. Now I was sleeping under a piece of cardboard. I guess I'm a long way from living a comfortable, predictable life. Thank god.
one year ago
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