As we’ve been posting a lot of exit interviews lately, I though that we’d mix things up a bit and post an interview with someone who, like me, consciously chose to return to Ypsilanti. Here’s my immigration interview with poet, writer and performer Jeff “Shappy” Seasholtz.
MARK: I first saw you, if I’m not mistaken, in about 1991. I was drunk, cutting through someone’s backyard in Ann Arbor, when I encountered you. If I remember correctly, you were illuminated by a spotlight. Or maybe there were a bunch of people pointing flashlights at you. I don’t believe they were police officers, but I suppose it’s possible. You were singing a song about the Brady Bunch. I’d thought it was a dream until, one day, many years later, I mentioned this event to Linette, and described the man that I’d seen, and she responded by saying, “Oh, I think that must have been my friend, Jeff.”
JEFF: Wow! That must have been at a hippie party at a co-op house I went to with a bunch of Ypsi friends! That was the first time I had ever encountered a co-op and it was quite a culture shock! I was hanging out with a weird crew back then, a mix of hippies and punks. Somebody’s band must have been playing, so we went to support. Back then it didn’t take much encouragement to get up on stage and doing something. I used to host Open Mic Night at Cross Street Station, so all the Ypsi musicians knew me. I also played for beer money at the Ann Arbor Art Fair, just making up songs about people as they walked by.
JEFF: Alas, I sold my guitar at a garage sale in Austin a while back. I’m sure it’s been played more since I sold it than during the entirety of my ownership.
MARK: As for my early encounter with you, was I right about the song being about the Brady Bunch? The more I think about it, the more I think it could have been Gilligan’s Island.
JEFF: I had a song accusing the Bradys of being Aryans. It was called “The Nazi Bunch”. I also used to sing the theme to Gilligan’s Island to the tune of Bob Seeger’s “Night Moves”. My favorite part was singing “Bob Denver’s closing in” at the end.
MARK: All of that sounds vaguely familiar. Maybe I didn’t just stumble through. Maybe I stayed for your whole set.
JEFF: I also had songs about how much I loved bras and pot! The pot song was a result of wandering around Hash Bash back in the day.
MARK: How did you come to be friends with Linette and her crew? Were you in the EMU dorms at the same time?
JEFF: I was in the dorms for two years. I don’t think I met Linette and her crew until my 3rd year of college, though. I’m pretty sure we met at Cross Street Station. It could have been an open mic night. Maybe it was one of the numerous after-parties, though.
MARK: Where do EMU students meet one another now that Cross Street Station is gone? Crossroads is right down the street, but I don’t get the sense that there’s the same EMU presence. Maybe kids these days don’t need bars, though. Maybe they’re content just doing meth and playing Pokemon Go in the woods.
JEFF: It would be interesting to see a study on whether or not college kids hang out in bars in Ypsi anymore. Maybe they all go to Ann Arbor. Or maybe they just have parties in their houses these days. Crossroads seems to have a lot of hip-hop shows. I’m fine hanging with the townies at the Tap Room.
MARK: So, you used to live in Ypsi, and now you’re back. Would you call this a “triumphant return”, or is there another phrase that would sum it up better?
JEFF: It’s more of a “What should I do with my life?” decision. I left EMU without graduating back in ‘91, and I just recently figured out that I only need about four courses to finish my major… I still need to establish a minor, though.
MARK: You were, if I’m not mistaken, a nation Forensics champion when you were at EMU, right?
JEFF: Yes. In fact, I was inducted into the Forensics Hall Of Fame in 2009, which means I have a plaque with my name on it in the Quirk Building. It’s crazy. And it’s kept me connected to EMU. When I lived in Austin, Texas, there was a national Forensics competition in San Antonio, and I was asked by EMU to tag along as a judge. And, when I got there, I met the head coach of the University of Texas Forensics team. He asked if I’d coach for them the next season, and I said, “Yes!” The rules and form of competitive speaking (which is what Forensics is all about) had changed quite a bit over the decades I’d been away from it, but it was fun to coach young, talented performers, and give my advice as “former National Champion”. And, I figured, if I came back to Ypsi, I could get back into the Forensics program and coach while finishing my degree in Theater/Communications.
MARK: And has that worked out? Have you reconnected with the Forensics team here at EMU?
JEFF: I got here just as the team was leaving for Nationals, but I plan to help out as a coach this fall.
MARK: So what kind of minor are you thinking about to accompany the Theater degree?
JEFF: I was thinking of taking more art classes. I thought it might motivate me to start working on a graphic novel. I’ve always been a cartoonist at heart and even had a regular strip on the internet for a few years.
MARK: How many years have you been away, and what did you do during that time?
JEFF: I left Ypsi in 1991 and moved to Chicago with a bunch of my EMU Forensics and Theater cronies. Our plan was to start a theater company. Chicago had a big “up and coming” theater scene back then with Steppenwolf, and a lot of “alternative” improv groups were starting out. Our crew put together a show based on the “Living Newspaper”, which was a WPA program that employed actors to act out the events of the day in a theatrical production. Our production was called EVERY SPECK OF DUST THAT FALLS TO EARTH REALLY DOES MAKE THE WHOLE PLANET HEAVIER which was a quote from The Phantom Tollbooth, I believe. We did 3 editions, and then cast members started leaving Chicago. We kept going, however, with a new company called “Spin ½” that did a musical about Quantum Physics that featured Rennie Sparks from The Handsome Family. We also did a show about dreams that had a live band and lots of multimedia stuff involved. Eventually, the group was down to 5 members, and we did one last show of short plays before disbanding. It’s a shame since I had big plans to do a musical called Dave Koresh-Superstar, but it was one of those “too soon” situations. I then discovered poetry slam at the Green Mill and started getting involved with that whole scene. I worked at Chicago Comics and Quimby’s, and then I eventually moved to NYC to open the Bowery Poetry Club. Then I went to Philly for a year, and then Austin for a few years, and then back to Ohio, where I’m originally from. And it was in Ohio that I started thinking about returning to Ypsi. There’s so much more I could say, but I’m trying to keep it short!
MARK: That’s right… I’d forgotten that you used to sell our zine, Crimewave USA, at Quimby’s.
JEFF: Yep, I was so happy when I randomly picked up Crimewave USA and read all of your grumblings about Ypsi and all of Linette’s reasons why it was so awesome. I seem to remember you were amazed at the number of porn shops there were at the time. I don’t think that’s the case anymore.
JEFF: For one, where did all the porn shops go?
MARK: I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, but they all started struggling financially at around the same time you left town.
JEFF: I only went for the whip-its and Tijuana bibles.
MARK: So, other changes you’ve noticed between ‘91 Ypsi and 2016 Ypsi…
JEFF: Nobody ever used to go downtown when I went to school here. I don’t think I ever drank at the Tap Room. It was mostly abandoned and scary down there, as I recall. Now I’m downtown all of the time! It’s amazing how many cool shops and restaurants have opened down here! The campus has a bunch of new buildings, nobody smokes anymore, and, as we discussed, Cross Street Station is gone. It feels less fratty and run-down than it was when I went here. When I came back, I had a new appreciation for all of the historic buildings and the nice community vibe you feel when you hang out in Depot Town, or just walking through the park.
MARK: And how have you changed? How is the old Jeff Seasholtz different from the new Jeff Seasholtz?
JEFF: Well, I’m way more nostalgic than I was in my college years, but, even then, I hung out with a whole crew of people that were decorating their apartments with cast-off furniture and art from the ‘70s. There was even a gang of guys that lived like they were a gang of Fonzies from the Fifties. Then there were all of the hippies and punks that clashed at the open-mic. It was an interesting mix of pop culturists. I was already a theater nerd who was into comic books, old TV shows and Mad magazine, so I fit right in. That would explain the Brady Bunch and Gilligan folk songs.
MARK: What do you miss the most from the old Ypsilanti?
JEFF: I miss how much I was able to hang out with so many different groups of people and have real conversations about all kinds of things. We couldn’t Google anything back then, a single collective memory of a MASH episode could spark hours of conversation! Everybody was always coming up with some sort of creative project. Even a party required artwork for flyers, decorations and mix tapes. It was also fun to watch the different crowds I hung out with mingle. I’d bring a theater geek to a party and they would be like, “How do you know all of these people?” I never understood people who just hung out with the same people all of the time. Especially, in college when it’s the best time to get to know all manner of folks!
MARK: And what brought you to Ypsi in the first place? Did you come here for college?
JEFF: I received a scholarship for Forensics which, ironically, decreased the better I did at Nationals every year! That and the fact that I wanted to leave Ohio to go to school. I think I was like one of a group of 15 that left Ohio after graduating high school. I’ve been a ramblin’ man ever since.
MARK: Why was it that you so desperately wanted to get out of Ohio?
JEFF: I still love Ohio, in fact, my last big project was called American Buckeye which is all about growing up nerdy in the burbs. That’s what I’d like to turn into a graphic novel someday! Back in high school I figured if you are going to go to college, you should go somewhere unfamiliar and meet new people instead of going to an Ohio college where you know a third of the incoming freshmen. Challenge yourself, young man! Of course, I ended up living with 3 black track team members from Detroit! Talk about culture shock! I ended up writing papers for them for money so it all worked out.
MARK: A few months ago, during the Wurst Challenge, I got horribly ill and had to run home, where I laid on the bathroom floor in a pool of sweat and other fluids until I had enough strenght to drive myself to the hospital. As I was leaving the Wurst Bar, I handed you the mic, and asked that you take over as MC. I felt bad, as you’d already had a few Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ales, but I heard that you did a masterful job…
JEFF: I love having a microphone in front of me or, in this case, in my hands! I’ve been hosting things since my 9th grade talent show! That was one of the fun things about working at the Bowery Poetry Club, I would host like 2-4 shows a week sometimes! I was the main MC for our weekly poetry slam or at least the Open-Mic part, I hosted a burlesque show called Skits-N-Tits and I was always ready to step in for the big Monday Open-Mic if needed! I love live events, and I love reminding people that are participating in a live event. Entertainment seems so passive these days. I think people should be rewarded for attending live events more often through verbal praise and acknowledgement. Plus, it was an action-packed event full of twists and surprises! I’m glad I got to help out for a good cause! Met a lot of cool people as well!
JEFF: Well, I for sure like the funky attitude out here and hope to get involved in the local performance scene out here. I haven’t seen much of it since I’ve only been here three months but I know it’s out there. I came right as school was wrapping up so it’s going to be weird when all of the students come back. I’d like to see a cool bookstore open here that I could book some of my touring poetry and comedy friends at to perform. I hope to get involved with the speech team on some level and once I get enrolled that allows me to audition for plays at EMU again which could be interesting since when I attended school here I played a wide variety of dirty old man parts. Now, I AM a dirty old man! Overall, I dig Ypsi’s energy and I want to partake of it!
MARK: In the time since we started this interview, I understand a few things have changed. Most notably, you had a falling out with your roommate, leaving you without a place to live. What kind of arrangement are you looking for? Maybe someone in the audience can help.
JEFF: I was asked to move out here to watch my old college friend’s dogs while they went to Detroit to help out at their friend’s restaurant. In that time, I have got all of my Michigan paperwork in order, I’ve had a job that turned out not to be a good fit for me and a few interviews for other jobs, but no bites. I did bring some stuff to sell on eBay and am finding good stuff to flip here in the Ypsi/Arbor area so I am making some money, just not REAL money. Despite the fact that the roommate was gone most of time since I’ve been here, I am “in their space” too often even if I am just sitting in my room reading. I’m trying to be as unobtrusive as possible but you can’t please everyone all of time, I guess. All I am looking for is a job where I am not on my feet all day and a place to lay my head at night without feeling like I don’t belong there. It’s a drag when you have over 20 years of bookstore experience only to find there are no bookstores nearby. I just got here so I’m not ready to abandon my Ypsi dreams quite yet!
MARK: So you think you might stick around this time?
JEFF: I could easily see myself making roots here. We’ll just have to see if my luck starts changing soon! Hire me, Ypsi! I’ll treat you right, baby!
And here’s Jeff “Shappy” Seasholtz performing “I Am That Nerd” on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam.
[Still wondering why people are moving to Ypsi? Check out the Ypsilanti Immigration Interview archive.]