Summer 1975 – Part 1: Kung Fu Fighting

“Jaws,” Jimmy Hoffa, and the Barbie doll trials: That was 1975, the year I learned to pretend to let go.

Pretending, of course, was a skill I had been honing since toddlerhood when I was queen of the hill and the class bully my serf, when Brussels sprouts were Martian heads and I did the earth a service by devouring them, when a car wash was the belly of an angry sea monster and I lived to tell of its defeat. I was a master fantasizer, a fiction writer in training. I was imaginative and precocious. Most of all I was content, and then summer came.

It started well enough: Temperatures were conducive to plenty of driveway kickball games, front yard TV tag, and backyard chicken with friends on the jungle gym. My brother and I got along better than usual: Meaning, neither of us was trying to kill the other. In fact, I was his secret weapon on the football field (aka our backyard). I was fearless, fast, and fairly strong, not at all like the typical girl, which was good. Calling me “typical” was as bad to me as me calling the dog a “little m—-f—’er” was to my parents. But one day, the game was a bit rougher than usual and resulted in the injury of one of my neighbors.file7841289514020

I say this in the passive (“resulted in”) as if I had nothing to do with it. Perhaps I was over-exuberant. Perhaps it was time for his baby teeth to fall out. Perhaps he should have sucked it up and not cried in front of everyone, again. Or, perhaps his mother should have held her tongue. Still, I question the cause and effect and feel the need to assign blame.

Here are the highlights as I recall them: David* — the youngest of two, older, playboy brothers and two sisters — had the football and running swiftly toward the goal. My brother told me to get him; so I leaped, surprising myself by knocking David face first into the dirt. But there was no rejoicing in my victory. Instead, David sobbed miserably as he unfolded himself from the earth. As he raised his hand to his mouth, someone howled David’s front teeth were gone. The boy’s sobs grew louder, and it wasn’t long before his mother came running from the house.

She surveyed the damage, asking David what happened. When he mumbled something only a mother could decipher, she looked at each of us accusingly until her eyes settled on me. Then things got worse. For all the neighborhood boys to hear, she declared: “You can’t play with Leslie anymore. She’s too rough for you.”

It was the 1970s, and we were in Detroit. Machismo was rampant. KC and the Sunshine fordBand’s “Get Down Tonight” topped the charts; President Ford declared America done with the Vietnam war and survived his second assassination attempt; Carlos the Jackal attacked OPEC; and “Three Days of the Condor,” “Rollerball,” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” were a few of the year’s top films. Men were called dudes and “Man” prefaced or ended every sentence. “Man, did you see that dude down at the car wash? He seemed a little light on his feet, man.” Or, “Man, that dude was Mac, man. He was pimping that ride.”

So, you see, David was humiliated. He was punked by a girl, a very small girl.

My scant friendship with David ended that day on our imaginary football field with him running head down into the house and his mother giving us one last reproachful glance. But it would not be my last interaction with the boy next door.

Location Matters: Poetry Event Sets the Right Tone

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I’m sure I heard angels sing in March the first time I walked into Signal Return Press for the Motor Signal Poetry Reading Series.

What got me were the words around the room: Words on beautiful posters, words on books, on greeting cards, letters waiting to be pressed into words on paper by machines that look hundreds of years old but not at all antiquated.

Here’s the thing… poets are used to sharing their words in all sorts of places — some comfortable and comforting, others not so. Coffee houses, bars, auditoriums, bookstores (a writer’s best friend), living rooms, even. But what Signal Return offers is the ultimate atmosphere.

Signal Return is a three-year-old nonprofit community and print shop nestled on Division Street in Detroit’s Eastern Market District. The press is partnering with Literary Detroit, another nonprofit hosting the Motor Signal monthly poetry reading series.

Birth of a literary movement

The concept for holding the series in that space came in June 2013 after Literary Detroit hosted a book release event for poet Matthew Olzmann’s “Mezzanines.”

“We had such a good time with that,” says Theo Hummer of Literary Detroit. “And Matthew said to us at that time, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we did poetry here regularly?’ So us Literary Detroit people got all excited and we slowly jumped on it.”

They tossed the concept around among the org’s 30 or so members and didn’t even have to do a hard sell to Signal Return artistic director Lynne Avadenka.

“It just seemed like an obvious connection between the written word and the printed word and the spoken word,” she says. So the group decided to go for it early this year.

Location, Location…

I love Rachel Hyman’s response to the question “Why does this place work for what you’re doing?”

“It infuses the air with this certain spirit,” says Hyman, series co-curator with Literary Detroit. “And it feels like language and poetry and words are all just in the air here. And when I’m here I feel like there’s this certain gravity. Not in a way that makes our readings super serious or academic, because I think our readings are fun and they do aim to be that.

“But I think when people walk in the door here (or at least I would hope) they think, like this is a special space, and a particular kind of space. And the reading that’s about to happen in this space is going to be different from readings that might take place in like in a living room or at a bar or any other place.”

Engaging with poetry in the print shop is like being in a safe space, a space that innately understands the nature of the craft. Jeremy Schmall and Ann Marie Thornburg, poets for the May session felt the magic.

“It’s a great environment,” says Schmall. “A lot better than reading at a coffee shop or at a bar where patrons are distracted. I’ve read at coffee shops where there’s TVs on, or bars where people are drinking. But here, it’s in the spirit of printing… everyone is seated and facing you.”

Thornburg, an animal lover and animal behavior researcher, shared poems from a series she wrote about wolves. Coincidentally, there was a poster about the phases of the moon that struck her.

“What a great typographic of the moon’s different phases,” she says.

“I’ve never given a reading at a letterpress,” adds Thornburg. “I’ve given readings in an art museum auditorium and book store, which were great spaces. This is such a nice, open space. The acoustics here are great! But also, being surrounded by letters and words and all these pieces of type felt really inspiring, a little empowering.”

Intros & Outros

The space isn’t only inviting to those who come to read. The Motor Signal hosts strive to enhance the mood further for fans of the literary arts by meeting them at the door not only with words but also with wine. And when you leave a Motor Signal Poetry Series event, you get to take a piece of the press home with you — a broadside of the poets’ names, on quality weighted paper stock. Nice touch.

© Andrea Daniel and Wildemere Publishing LLC [2014].

Andrea Daniel is a poet, publicist, freelance writer, editor, voice-over artist, BMI registered songwriter, founder of AND Communications and co-owner/operator of Dakota Avenue West Publishing. Andrea produces the Michigan Literary Network’s Internet radio show. She lives in Detroit, Mich. with her son and Terrier-Poodle-mix, Dot.

© Andrea Daniel and Wildemere Publishing LLC [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is to Andrea Daniel and Wildemere Publishing LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Roadside Assistance

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My job has been in a persistent state of  hyper-drive since about 2008. Having a day off work means working longer hours in advance and never really unwinding when you’re gone. (At least, that was my excuse)

Shortly after arriving to work one day, my friend “Bill” came to my desk in need of help. After discovering he had a flat tire, he wondered if I would follow the tow truck from the office lot to the service station a couple of miles away and give him a ride back.

Proverbs 3:27, 28 (ASV) came to mind:

“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, When it is in the power of thy hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbor, Go, and come again, And tomorrow I will give; When thou hast it by thee.”

Still, I said “No,” explaining I was overwhelmed by the many tasks before me. He looked stunned but he moved on and found someone else to assist. That was Monday morning.

Exhausted, I went to bed early that night, awakening around one a.m. with an overwhelming need to pray. I did and kept praying off and on all night until I finally drifted off shortly before my alarm clock rang at six.

When I awoke I was fixated on the workday—on what stories I needed to edit and assign, projects I needed to plan, meetings I needed to hold. As is my habit, I ate breakfast while I read a bit of the Word. That day’s lesson came from James 3.

“Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” James 3:13-18

But I read swiftly, interspersing verse readings with periodic checks of my work email, rationalizing that I had little time for an in-depth study or meditation because I had slept little and needed to be at the office by 9:30. Already it was 9. Yet rather than encountering post rush-hour traffic, I found myself in the thick of things. Construction was underway on a small strip of road on the express lanes of I-96.

Then  the SUV in front of me swerved, avoiding a large metal cylinder that was rolling across the highway. I swerved too. Boom! The back of my car lifted from the road and then fell with a thud. I held my breath, pulled the vehicle to the side, and turned on my blinkers. When a semi whooshed by inches from my vehicle, I realized I wasn’t in the breakdown lane. In fact, on this stretch of road where there was construction there was no breakdown lane. With every passing vehicle, my SUV vehicle rocked. My hands shook.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut I didn’t pray. I didn’t thank God for keeping me alive. I didn’t ask for wisdom. Instead, I called my friend for advice, and he talked me to the breakdown lane a few hundred yards away. There’s a reliable tow company I usually call in rare times of need but it never came to mind. Instead, I called my insurance company for roadside assistance. The woman on the other end said a tow truck would be there within 30 minutes. Again I talked to my friend, then my brother, and then my job.

Nearly two hours later, after I managed a way to relieve myself on the side of the road without being arrested for indecent exposure, a truck pulled in front of me. The young man—he kept calling me “sweetheart”—said I just needed my tire changed. He did so swiftly, had me sign papers, and got in his vehicle. I sighed in relief as his truck inched away from mine and I put my car in gear. But when my car ground against the road like a pestle against glass, I choked back sobs.

Still, I didn’t pray.

I honked my horn in a desperate attempt to get the tow driver’s attention. And he heard me, despite the whiz of traffic and the nearby construction. He pulled over and loaded my car as I loaded my belongings into the well-worn (half the seat was missing) cab of truck. And then the rain started… Except it wasn’t raining on the road to the left or the median to the right. This dark cloud only soaked his truck.

“I have to call my boss. My hydraulics are leaking!” he announced as he jumped in. “I have to unhook your car. You need to get out of the truck.” He gestured wildly not waiting or wanting my response. Someone, he said, would come get me in about ten minutes.

An hour later, I listened and I licked tears from my lips as Roadside “Assistance” said they would do everything in their power to get a tow truck to me. They, however, were encountering problems. The tow drivers, the woman said, didn’t seem interested in helping out.

Let me mention here, there was no war in Detroit, no zombie apocalypse, no truck driver strike or mass towing of illegally parked vehicles; and the tow truck industry, to my knowledge, had not collapsed.

But neither was I incapacitated. I’m a Word-taught Christian, meaning I know what the Bible says about the power of prayer, loving your neighbor, and God’s infinite mercy. Throughout the ordeal, my editor texted she was praying for me, my brother told me to trust God.

Another thirty minutes passed before I thought to ask God for help.

Shortly afterward, I watched through my rear-view mirror as a tow driver changed the tire of a car about a quarter mile behind me. I waved and honked furiously as he drove past. The truck stopped. The driver asked what I needed. I told him, trying to hide the quiver from my voice.

“I can’t help you,” he said. “We go by our phones, what the boss sends us is where we go. If I stop, I’ll get in trouble.”

I didn’t want to get him in trouble and told him so.

He pulled off.

I cried.

And then he pulled over. He backed up the 100 yards or so to my vehicle and got out.

“Get in my truck,” he said said. “I can’t leave you here. That’s wrong.”

Sitting in the cab of his truck, I asked God what to do. He told me not in an audible, earth-shaking way but in that quiet voice a friend uses when whispering a secret. I felt his warmth speaking to my heart.

And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, roadside3walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” Isaiah 30:21

 Surreptitiously, I took some money from my wallet and slid it in my pocket as the young man drove. He told me about moving from Philadelphia to Detroit for a woman, about racism in Philly, about how Detroit isn’t as bad as the rest of the country thinks it is, and about how he wasn’t going to come back for me. I thanked him again. He shook his head.

“I came back for you, but I usually don’t. I usually keep going,” he said. He looked at me and shook his head again. “Today, I don’t know, I had to come back. I couldn’t leave you there.”

Then we heard a loud pop.

He pulled over to check my car. All was stable and we were back on the highway. Still, something seemed amiss. The overhead light flickered. After a beat, I realized a door was open. I checked mine. I glanced at his. It was open, I told him. He laughed and closed it. It popped open again. He laughed again.

“You have to laugh,” he said. “If you can’t laugh, you have nothing.”

Silently, I praised God.

Four hours after leaving home that morning, I arrived at the dealership leaving my driver with gift that did not match his kindness. Nothing could.

After some time at the dealership, the service rep said, “There was a hole in the tire and in the wheel and neither could be repaired. The flap that covers the gas tank was somehow ripped off, too.  You were lucky the car didn’t flip over or worse.”

I knew it wasn’t luck, so I praised God.

I’m still praising God, for He is good and His mercy endures forever.

© Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC [2016]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is to Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.