Tag Archives: trash

Christmas

July 15, 2014

This week, grab a sweater before you head out — apparently the polar vortex doesn’t yield to pedestrians, either. A piece of this arctic wind system seems to have broken off (by whatever mechanism wind “breaks” into “pieces”) and barrelled through Canada again, just like in January. While some insist this midsummer breath of fresh air is the vortex’s fault, the National Weather Service has retracted its previous observation. Meteorologists are tweeting their discord over what kind of air event this is, from polar vortex to “polar air invasion” to a mere “trough in the jet stream.” As one meteorologist said in a nicely graphic-assisted defense of the term, “Some critics are being too literal about its definition and/or burying their heads in the sand, blinding themselves from a fascinating weather reality.” Sounds a lot like the debate over climate change, actually.

The Free Press supports the National Weather Service’s new position that the chilly spell has less to do with polar air than with the usual jet stream breezes disrupted by a typoon — if not one sensational thing, then grapple for another. Mlive also denies heavy polar vortex involvement in this week’s weather, which, in a temperate summer overall, doesn’t even feel that weird, but advises to keep a lookout for waterspouts forming as the cold air glides over warm water. If you see any of these bumming around on the river with the freighters, let me know and I’ll ramble over extra-fast.

Whatever your beliefs about arctic air patterns, it’s luxurious waking up to a piece of Christmas in July. To acknowledge this meteorological gift of walking around being less sticky, I present some items from my ongoing collection of red bows found around town. Why are the bows always red? Why is the grass green, the sky blue? Science, of course. Social science.

This early holiday celebration is for longtime rambler Sara, who might love autumnal weather even more than I do and has recently been so kind as to share photos from our Hamtramck ramble in the Detroit Area Rambling Network flickr pool. Thanks!

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And last but not least a boa of sorts.

UPDATE: 20:36

And a rainless rainbow emerging from the casino. Merry Christmas!

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On the record

June 28, 2014

This week’s New Yorker has a funny little piece from David Sedaris on walking the English countryside near his home in the company of his Fitbit pedometer. Describing his obsessive tendencies and ever-increasing daily step count, he writes,

I look back at that time and laugh—fifteen thousand steps—Ha! That’s only about seven miles! Not bad if you’re on a business trip or you’re just getting used to a new prosthetic leg. In Sussex, though, it’s nothing. Our house is situated on the edge of a rolling downland, a perfect position if you like what the English call “rambling.” I’ll follow a trail every now and then, but as a rule I prefer roads, partly because it’s harder to get lost on a road, but mainly because I’m afraid of snakes.”

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To facilitate such a high daily total of paces as he ultimately accumulated, having a purpose is advisable, and Sedaris embraced trash collection. This practice reminds me of the bumly litter-picker who used to rove Wayne State’s campus, obsessively tidying the grounds. I never really got to talk with this guy — he was always very intent on his task — but I miss him making his rounds, figuratively darning the environment like an old sock. Sedaris recently began carrying a trash-collecting claw on a metal pole, which sounds like a big improvement over his former habits.

With it I can walk, fear snakes a little less, and satisfy my insane need for order all at the same time. I’ve been cleaning the roads in my area of Sussex for three years now, but before the Fitbit I did it primarily on my bike, and with my bare hands. That was fairly effective, but I wound up missing a lot. On foot, nothing escapes my attention: a potato-chip bag stuffed into the hollow of a tree, an elderly mitten caught in the embrace of a blackberry bush, a mud-coated matchbook at the bottom of a ditch.

Strawberry shrubbish.

Strawberry shrubbish.

In his most recent collection, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, for which I walked to the public library last year only to find I actually had to rent the book, he covers much of the same territory (trash removal being an ongoing thing and all). As one blogger said glowingly, inspired to reconsider his retirement plans, “I’m not sure why, but when David Sedaris talked about how he picked up trash alongside the highways and byways of Britain it seemed really cool. Maybe this is a mark of a good writer. They can talk about picking up trash and make it sound totally awesome.” Who knows how Sedaris even has time to write, with hauling around bags of refuse nine hours a day, but evidently it’s worth it. Perhaps this is just how literary greats roll.

Since getting my Fitbit, I’ve seen all kinds of things I wouldn’t normally have come across. Once, it was a toffee-colored cow with two feet sticking out of her. I was rambling that afternoon, with my friend Maja, and as she ran to inform the farmer I marched in place, envious of the extra steps she was getting in.

What noble thing-finderly spirit! Just wait until he mentions all the dead animals he comes across.

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Sedaris’ sentiment at the death of his Fitbit is similar to that of many others — freedom! Of course, since it’s David Sedaris, there must be a twist. If a touch macabre is your kind of humor, don’t miss these droll musings on the true history of peppercorn sales and the relationship between fried chicken and sex. Read “Stepping Out” in The New Yorker.

Spring cleaning

March 25, 2014

Nothing particularly exciting happened to mark the flip of seasons last week. The equinox came and quietly went with a little fuss of wind. Days are 2 minutes and 53 seconds longer. Today it’s been snowing. People groan and make small talk, wishing the weather would break. A breath of fresh air, a cool glass of water.

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It seems that someone has decided it’s time for spring cleaning anyway. For the past two weeks, toothbrushes have been materializing everywhere, in all conditions, minty fresh to old and scrubby. Is there a new dentist in town, handing out freebies? A clean-teeth evangelist making rounds?

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An odd flush of toothbrushes isn’t the only anomaly to puzzle sidewalk users — repeated instances of a particular item will appear in the tight space of a week or two, then vanish. If not all over the city, this is at least the case in the small wedge I most often explore. At the end of February, citrus peels suddenly decorated the snowbanks. Why did pedestrians go so nuts about fruit in that moment? Warm enough for picnics already? Citrus on sale? (Citrus sale happens in January, too). A viral listicle enumerating the health benefits of oranges? What can account for this peculiarity? As mysteriously as they began, the appearances of bright mandarin rinds, half-eaten grapefruits, and smushed clementines ceased abruptly about two weeks later. I can’t wait to see what the world comes up with for April Fool’s next week.

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In another type of spring cleaning, Detroiters shooed out the dweeby Nain Rouge again this weekend, hooting and hollering over the 0.9 mile trek through the Cass Corridor to banish the legendary demon. After standing around getting wasted outside Traffic Jam for an hour, the parade slowly threaded south, past new parking lots and imminently shuttering businesses. This obliviousness to history and environment seems to be part of the new tradition of the march. Allegedly a revival of the French colonists’ annual rite to bring peace to their city by chasing the evil red man out, this story is really, as one of the parade organizers admitted to radio producer and journalist Mike Blank in 2011, a complete fabrication. It seems instead to be, if anything historic, an appropriation of Ottawa myth.

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There was sun but it was chilly, and the march seemed much smaller than past years, though certainly no more shabby. Most people were in costume, except the uniformed cops benevolently corking sidestreets. Amid drag queens and hotdogs and people with grotesque masks there was a funeral procession for Capitol Park, some kind of perambulating coffin setup attended by a cluster of people in black clutching umbrellas. The whole effect was comic; despite the spangles, it was slightly reminiscent of goths in high school. Their presence is appreciated, but these are probably not the same kids who would offer to help the evictees move out of their apartments this week in the hideously rebranded Albert building.

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While there were important messages to be conveyed, few seemed to be in the mood to send or receive them. It was a Sunday, and these people are called ‘revelers’ taking part in a ‘parade’ for a reason. Inebriation and spirits were high, and questioning the debatable history or political correctness of the march was out of the question. One person told me that he cared a lot about our neighborhood but really just wanted to drink tequila with his soccer team. Whatever, I say, as long as it gets people walking. After a dull speech by the Nain, revelers quickly dispersed north toward the starting point or descended into the bowels of the Masonic Temple for the afterparty.

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Unlike previous years, nobody even touched Cass Park, which isn’t all bad — less spring cleanup. One resident muttered that having people in the park might not be the best idea anyway, given the creaky trees and downed branches. Did I want some firewood?, he asked. Mike Ilitch doesn’t seem to out there making good on the pledge to make or keep the park a functional greenspace. With the ominous shifting of land and narrative, the march just wasn’t as fun this time as previous years. Whether the march is what they say it is or not, Detroit needs fun, and it’s hard to argue against such earnest attempts at it. But must fun come with a certain amnesia?

Today the ground and bushes on Canfield and on Cass are brightened by dyed feathers and snippets of ribbon. I imagine a lot of the unfamiliar faces I saw on Sunday back in their elsewhere, recollecting a boozy memory of the weekend gone by. The wind scrubs clean the shrubs bit by bit, Detroiters lose their toothbrushes, and flowers come up soft and unsoiled.

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Little lost

March 1, 2014

Sorry, Detroit, but New York’s walking culture is always on its toes. Perhaps that’s what happens, among other things, when you cram 8 million people into a space just a bit over half of Detroit’s footprint. One of these eight million is Yoonjin Lee, or Zoonzin, a student at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Recently Zoonzin became what the Atlantic Cities referred to as the “unofficial curator of lost stuff” when she started a project addressing the sad plight of our most useful quotidian paraphernalia, such as the ubiquitous lost glove. Lighters, lip balm, candy, metro cards, hair ties, and even a sunny yellow paperclip are among her other subjects.

Photos by Yoonjin Lee.

Photos by Yoonjin Lee.

After locating a forlorn item hanging out alone in a public space, she creates a small note and affixes it to the object, leaving the tiny thing suddenly noticeable to passersby. Her messages are sometimes poignant, others, petulant, and the whole project is tremendously candid — how admirable it is that she’s not deterred by having kind of gnarly handwriting and only rough scraps of cardboard at her disposal. One can only cringe imagining how sad the lost stuff is as snow starts to fall and their weepy black magic marker voice spirals toward the dank oblivion of storm drains.

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As Zoonzin said in an email interview with the Atlantic Cities, “I wanted to humanize everyday objects that we do not think much of and leave them on the streets. When people lose their favorite lip balm, it really annoys them but it does not ruin their life. If you change the perspective, falling out of someone’s pocket and being left useless on the street is life-changing.”

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Zoonzin’s kind of empathy, curiosity, and whimsy should be among the essentials we pack with us on any outing, among other more tangible trappings. It’s a wonderful world in which someone else cares enough about the possibilities, the varied life stories of these mundane little objects, to document them in such a small and transient way. It’s like craigslist missed connections, but without all the blundering “m4f hot waitress at Applebee’s” and dismal misspellings. (She does have the caps lock on pretty hard, though).

Where would these things be now, if they hadn’t fatefully plummeted to the sidewalk? We’ll never know, but Zoonzin isn’t hesitating to make it up. See more of her humorous assertions on the Little Lost Project website, facebook, or tumblr.