Friday, October 3, 2008

I am a leaf

I go where the wind blows me.

This was one of those things I always said when someone asked me where I wanted to go when I was in college. I always think of it this time of year, when I'm stuck in the tropics, with no falling leaves.

Considering the current status of our lives, this phrase has new meaning. The wind was kind-of at a stand still for a while. I was feeling like we weren't going to get anywhere. Now it fells like a category 5 hurricane. Almost daily I feel our next destination is changing. I feel lost & guilty & like a bad parent. I can't figure out what is in our best interests.

Tina Joy & I have an ongoing fantasy about winning the lottery. I think it's something like more than 70% of women that do. Well, when (ha!) I win, what I would do is pretty simple. I'd move back to Detroit. I'd buy one of the many great houses for sale in the City, I'd make it sustainable. We'd start a business that would employ some of the very hard working unemployed. We'd use some of that vast abandoned land. I was thinking I'd like to start an urban plant nursery, an urban farm, a RIE Institute. Of course, I'd become a rablerouser, attending all of the Planning Commission & City Council meetings. I'd know the Master Plan, City Code, Historic District Ordinances by heart. I'd probably get myself shot.

Where we are with economics in this country right now, I can't help but think of one of my favorite buildings in Detroit, The Fisher Building. It is located on the northwest corner of West Grand Boulevard & Second Street in the New Center District. I used to park my car in the garage there & walk through this building everyday to get to my office. It is resplendent. To try to begin to describe the glorious materials I stepped on with my vinyl, Payless black mary janes everyday, would be ridiculous. The building was commissioned by the Fisher Brothers, the founders of Fisher Body Company, which became part of GM, and designed by Albert Kahn. It was originally to be the western-most building of a series of three structures, with an even taller more grandiose building at the intersection of West Grand & Second, with a sister building opposite that. The stock market crash of 1929 stopped the project & only the one tower was built. There is the General Motors building kitty corner across West Grand, the Hotel St. Regis farther east, and the Albert Kahn Building farther down Second. But the Fisher Building has always been such a standard of decadence, lavishness in architecture to me. As a kid that grew up in the last big recession, the child of Irish & Finnish temperance, this was excess.

My husband had never been there before he met me. I took him there on Saturday afternoon before we were engaged. It was empty. We felt like we were the only people in the building; that we had just happened to find the one door that hadn't been locked. We walked across the skybridge to the New Center Building to find a security guard practicing his saxaphone. When he saw us, he started playing Mona Lisa. While we danced, I stepped on a little green glass bead. I still have that bead in my jewelry box as a momento of that day when my husband grew to understand my position in this dichomtomy.

I was a girl scout that was taught to always leave things better than they were before I got there. When I left the far north & affluent suburbs to go downtown, it was a complex experience. I heard stories from an early age of the riots in 1967. I knew that people moved out of the City to escape violence. I could not grasp how it was okay for an entire City to be left to rot. I know who Aubrey Pollard was. I understand the fear & frustration. I still cannot reason with the tremendous resources being abandoned while so much mediocrity is heralded elsewhere. That's kind-of my unspoken philosophy as an Urban Planner. Why would you go & make another mess when you haven't cleaned up the one you already made?

So, I am this Pollyanna white girl who wants to swoop in & save this place. I have long dreamed of living in a grand old house that smells of lemon oil from the woodwork with trees older than my grandparents growing in the yard. I want to take my kids to Belle Isle to play in the park. I want to take them to the DIA, the Science Center, to see The Nutcracker, which I was in as a child, at Christmas. The Zoo. I love the feeling of standing on the riverfront with my eyes closed & thinking about the millions of people that made this great place. I hear their voices shouting out for justice for this place that has been orphaned by millions. I can't ignore the sound. It speaks to my heart. & I have a big heart.

My husband knows this about me & does want me to be able to try, but I am scared. So many people think I should be scared for the safety of our child, for the cost of taxes, the cost of maintaining an old home, the reality of the corruption. What I am really scared of is that it would be the wrong decision to go back because the economy is going to get worse. My husband wants me to consider moving our family to Canada, where he is from. I think of how lightened the burdens of the last 10 years of my life would have been without having to worry about the cost of healthcare, the cost of my education, & I want better for our child.

I am abandoned by my country. I am disappointed in how it has failed my family. My husband, who came here, got an engineering degree with no financial assistance. He has applied to become a citizen 3 times & has not been able to complete the process. Before he met me, the second application was lost in the World Trade Center. He has worked as a car salesman & sales manager between 60 and 80 hours a week for the last 7 years of his life. He faces racism almost daily; in Michigan where they assumed he was Arabic, in the south where they assume he is Cuban, followed by the ridiculous apologies when they find out he's Italian. He has paid around $70k into social security, & I get emails where people ask me to sign some ridiculous petition that say he shouldn't be entitled to that money because he isn't a citizen, because they don't understand their own country's laws.

I watch my husband, who does not have the opportunity to vote, watch the debates & read about the canidates for president. I love him so much. I have seen him with tears in his eyes in the last few weeks more than once. He has absolutely no problem supporting Barack Obama. Since he cannot vote, he has donated some of his very hard earned money. He has not once tried to tell me who I shoud vote for.

I had lunch with a friend today at this great restaurant that was owned by a woman from Greece. She made me the best gyro I've had since we left Detroit. She came out & sat with us & our kids because her business was so slow. After we talked for a while, the conversation turned to the economy. She had tears in her eyes as she talked about how as a child she was determined to become an American one day, because in the US anyone who works hard enough can make a great life for themselves. She said she felt cheated. She is about to lose her business.

I am broken. I am torn between standing my ground & trying to fight in this country, or leaving for Canada where I believe my family may have more opportunities. I am on the brink of giving up one of the greatest dreams of my life. It is crushing.


Kady said...

Hey HT,

Thanks for your comment on my blog. We all need to write our stories, the more people out there realize that the struggle is real, it's happening to everyone, and not just the mythical welfare queen and drug dealer taking advantage of the "system", the more they'll understand why we need reform and not just more empty free-market talk.

BTW, my husband grew up in Cranbrook MI. Small world

jdg said...

you should move to windsor!