I’m standing on the corner of 4th and Main in Royal Oak, Michigan.
I had breakfast with my old boss, Bill, a couple of hours ago. We met at the restaurant he owns, where I used to work. I was employee number seven. Or maybe it was six? Nine? We’re not exactly sure. We decide seven sounds about right.
I haven’t seen him since my divorce. Since he met DD. We wax nostalgic about the early days. Toast that came out 20 minutes after the eggs. The decision to hire a cleaning service because I didn’t want to scrub the toilets. The handsome photographer upstairs.
I spent years in this city. As a teenager – thrifting and hanging out at Patti Smith – not the musician, the other one. At her clothing store – talking, listening to music, wanting to be a grown up.
After college, I moved here and lived in an upstairs flat with my friend Mona and her two cats. I worked at a weekly newspaper, waited tables on the weekends, and drank my tip money.
I haven’t been here in a number of years. And alone, probably never. It seems the perfect destination for Artist Date 32. That’s what I had in my head when I planned my trip “home” a few weeks ago. Except I didn’t make much time for alone. I never do.
I just left coffee with my 17-year-old niece. I found her waiting for me on a concrete planter outside of Caribou – which wasn’t Caribou when I was 17. I remember “punk rock” kids getting dropped off here and walking down the street to meet their friends – as if their parents had not just dropped them off.
I tell my niece I used to hang out here 26 years ago. She’s floored. As she is when I tell her what 17 was like in my house. That it wasn’t so different. That I too felt grown up in so many ways, but still a kid in others. How I just wanted to go – to New York..but Royal Oak would do. And how sometimes I wanted to stay – in my bedroom with the blue shag carpet…forever.
Mostly, we agree that 17 is hard.
I’m due to meet Danny in a half hour. We met at a Jewish retreat the summer before we entered high school. He was funky and quirky and a good dancer – like me. Perhaps he too felt like a black, drag queen trapped in a small Jewish body.
A half hour isn’t really long enough for an Artist Date, but I decide it’s kind of like exercise – a little bit is better than none. I let go of all the “why didn’t you plan for your Artist Date” chatter and spend the next 30 minutes absorbing this place I used to call mine. The clock is now ticking.
There used to be a bank here, just south of this corner. I made out with Joe A. in my maroon Chevy Corsica, parked right in front of it. He moved to Tucson not long after.
I see a guy sitting on the patio at Tom’s Oyster Bar. He has the shiniest black hair I’ve ever seen. Beautiful, with waves. He looks like Joe’s musical partner – who I also made out with. But later. A couple of years later. Just before I moved to San Francisco. I cannot remember his name. He looks up at me. We smile at one another and he returns to his book. I do not know if it is him.
So much has changed. And yet, a lot is still the same. The independent stores that serve as anchors –Haberman Fabrics. Incognito. Noir Leather. I once bought an erotica book here and popped it in my lover’s bag before he headed out of town, with a dirty letter I penned tucked inside.
Bright Ideas – a modern, cool, functional interiors store. It’s been here as long as I can remember.
I walk in and my head quiets. I am sucked in by what is in front of me rather than what is in me, in my head –Joe A., his partner, my niece.
Detroit drink coasters. Symbols of my childhood. Drink Faygo Orange. Better Made Potato Chips. The iconic scrawl of Sanders – hot fudge and ice cream shops, and Vernors – better and spicier than any ginger ale you can imagine. It used to be used medicinally. Quintessentially Detroit. All of it. I am smiling.
There are tiny bud vases in a variety of colors, thrown on a potter’s wheel. They began as a fundraising activity and blossomed into a business. I think about my own somewhat disappointing foray into throwing. Disappointing because I had expectations. I thought I’d be good. Immediately. Because I worked with clay when I was 17. Because I have no patience.
The vases are made in Seattle. I am wistful.
There are low-slung couches with chrome and clean lines. My nearly 5 foot 3-inch body sits comfortably in these. At home my feet dangle off of the pricey futon. I bought it because I had a notion that I would sleep on it and my bedroom would be my massage studio. That’s not what happened.
I wonder if I can fit one in my hatch.
There are pillows with birds painted neon pink and green and blue. An orange flower is growing out of another. Several are felted, with messages “seemingly” just for me: “Let’s Make Out.” “Happily Ever After.” “Think Big.” “Breathe.”
Yes. Yes. Yes and Yes.
There are yellow, leather “Star Trek” chairs. Body hugging, with matching ottomans. On the wall are grey circles with the letters S,M,L. Like the three bears in Goldilocks. I wonder which one will be just right for me. In chairs. In all things.
I look at my watch. It’s time to meet Danny. I feel surprisingly and strangely refreshed having taken these 20 minutes alone. A little lighter. A little clearer. Time apart.
I find Danny down the street and throw my arms around him. He is wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt and shoots me a big smile – a cross between a 5-year-old’s pure joy and “I am up to no good.”
I tell him I’m hungry and he takes me to Astoria Bakery – formerly Cinderella’s Attic, one of my early thrifting haunts. He orders a walnut roll. I get a cookie laced with honey and a flirtation of anise. His is better.
We catch up on our lives post-divorce. He is a year ahead of me in the process. He tells me about his kids. About dating. I tell him about not dating. About my inability to compartmentalize. My wish that I could.
I do not tell him about my Artist Dates. I am not sure why. I figure he already knows. In the same way that I already know. It’s just like that sometimes. With some people. In some places. Like here, right now, with him.