(Craig Campbell)– During the post-finals pre-commencement period at Amherst, I found myself lounging around the grassy area on Main Street between the Hill and town. After a short while napping in the shade of a tree, I looked around and wondered aloud about who decided to plant all this foliage on this empty lot. My friend looked at me quizzically, replying “Um… this is a park… (duh.)” That doesn’t look like any park I’ve seen before! Being home for the summer, I’ve realized that there are certain foibles of my hometown (as there are anywhere) that only a local can really understand. It takes the act leaving the bubble to notice them.
I live in Grosse Pointe Park, which is one of the five suburbs of Detroit bearing the GP name. The others: the Woods, Shores, Farms, and City. Each community has one public park operated by the Parks and Recreation Department. The director of ours would give Leslie Knope a run for her money — they all take their jobs very seriously. Within each park is a public pool, a general picnic area, and a local marina where there is currently a 300 person, 15-year wait-list for a boat slip.
Each park has just one entrance: a single driveway leading into a gated parking lot. Upon entering, one is greeted by a 70-something old man with the title “Gate Guard.” In all five of the communities, you must present your park pass (only valid at your own park) which they then scan to verify that it’s not a fake. No pass means you go home. Again, this is the PUBLIC park system.
Just who exactly are they trying to keep out? The powers that be at my park removed the outdoor basketball courts (where I enjoyed many pick-up basketball games as a kid) and replaced it with a putting-green. Apparently, too much “riff-raff” was entering the park to shoot hoops. When this riff-raff AKA Detroiters AKA black people entered the park, the Guards would use their radio to signal the danger to one another, announcing that the “Canadians” had arrived. But now they fixed that problem – no one from the inner city can afford golf clubs.
I’m not kidding. Institutionalized racism at its finest, folks.
Fiction writer Jeffrey Eugenidies grew up in the house behind mine. His seminal novel, The Virgin Suicides, is set in Grosse Pointe. In the opening pages of the book, he writes of the yearly plague of these hideous creatures:
That was in June, fish-fly season, when each year our town is covered by the flotsam of those ephemeral insects. Rising in clouds from the algae in the polluted lake, they blacken windows, coat cars and streetlamps, plaster the municipal docks and festoon the rigging of sailboats, always in the same brown ubiquity of flying scum.
You’re not from Grosse Pointe if you haven’t swallowed at least a few fishflies in your lifetime. On a windy day in June, one simply has to look up to bear witness to the horror the Egyptians must have felt during the Biblical locust plague. When the lights have accidentally been left on overnight at the pool, the morning crew will inevitably be greeted by the mounds of fishflies, having to scoop literally pounds of them from the pool, gutters, filters, sidewalks, etc. These things are so disgusting they even got a nod from a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.
But then they’re gone after a week. They emerge from their larvae form, fuck one another, and then die within a day. They can’t even eat! I like to believe that some deity has a dry sense of humor: these horrid creatures, which don’t do much else beside relieve the local bird population a week of hunting, avoid the smog of the city – instead, they thrive best in the suburbs.
Up North was such a fundamental part of my childhood that I find it difficult to explain to others what exactly it means. “Up North” refers to the ambiguous region that comprises the upper half of the Mitten where we like to spend our summer weekends. If you don’t have a cottage somewhere in Northern Michigan, chances are one of your friends will, making for exciting 3-day jaunts of water activities on inland lakes, adventuring in the forest, climbing sand dunes, and kindling campfires. One does not go Up North to visit relatives or for work; “I’m going Up North” conveys the very direct message, in such a simple way, that a 5-hour-road-trip-romp-outdoors-weekend is ahead.