Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bonding to My Town's Bad Luck

I've just agreed to write a monthly column for the intrepid and durable East Village Magazine in Flint. I've known its editor, Gary Custer, since living across from him at Avon Street, where I moved into the apartment described in the column sampled below in 1981. Here's the opening of my inaugural piece. For the rest, check out the EVM website, www.eastvillagemagazine.org.

I was sitting in a booth at Redwood Lodge last fall with a famous poet. Brent Nickola and I had just picked him up from Bishop and we were settling down over lunch, delighted he was here and very pleased with ourselves.

The poet, Bob Hass, a gracious man, quickly turned the conversation to Brent and me and to Flint, where he was going to spend the next three days.

“There are only two reasons to end up in Flint,” I heard myself say, “birth and work.”

Brent and I grinned at each other and watched Hass’s face soften — not quite with pity, he’s too elegant for that. Let’s say it was a look of … empathetic curiosity.

“It’s true,” I said, knowing I could turn the moment into a joke. “Brent was born here and I came for a job. What other reasons would there be — fine dining?”

I got through my first quarter of a century in Flint without giving this much thought. But now, in my 26th year, beginning a second quarter century, a pestering question keeps popping up.

What does it mean to live in a place for a very long time? What does it mean, particularly, to live in a place for a very long time that is, say, bleak, unglamorous, and at its best, notorious? What does it mean, in other words, to live for a very long time in Flint?

It’s perilous to think too much about the past … one can begin to seem like a tiresome old fart.

But today is a frigid, overcast Saturday, paltry snow flaking down. It’s monochrome and melancholy, just right for this confession — like most other transplants, I never thought I’d stay this long....