Celebrating May Day in Ypsilanti with warnings of vampires, and camaraderie on Water Street

I’m not quite sure how he pulled it off, but my friend Jeff, by calling in a few favors, and doing a bit of bartering, has been able to publish a new Ypsi-themed work by famed historian Peter Linebaugh. The 75-page pamphlet, entitled “Ypsilanti Vampire May Day,” is the first thing to be published on the Occupy Ypsi Press, and copies are, as of this moment, available, free of charge, at the base of Ypsilanti’s iconic water tower. Copies, from what I’m told, will also be available at 5:00 PM on Tuesday, at the Water Street Commons, where several folks are planning to celebrate the workers’ holiday together, around the maypole. For those of you who are unable to make it to Ypsilanti for your free copy, the book is also available online via Counterpunch… Here’s how it begins.


On May Day sometime in the 1890s, an ordinary Englishman boarded a train in Munich. His destination was a castle in Transylvania, a country wedged between the Danubian Provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia. It was a dark and stormy night when he arrived.

“Do you not know that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things of the world will have full sway?” asked the landlady of a nearby hotel, and she implored him to reverse his course. Other commoners then warned him it was a witch’s Sabbath. Heedless, he persisted to the castle where pure terror awaited him in the personage of a bloodsucking monster. Count Dracula was at once as smooth, polite, and persuasive as President Obama, and as terrifying, shape-shifting, and diabolical as George W. Bush. He was undead—a zombie, or a werewolf—and lived only as long as he was able to suck human blood.

As for the crisis of our own lives, in 2009 Matt Taibbi assigned blame to the banks, calling Goldman Sachs “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” Reverend Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Michigan, referring to the Emergency Manager which was wrapped around the face of his city, said “he’s for the corporations that suck the life out of people.” Banks, insurance companies, and corporations belong to the total circuit of capitalism whence the sucking originates. When Alan Haber, the first president of SDS, spoke last winter at the Crazy Wisdom Book Shop and Tea Room in Ann Arbor about his experiences at Occupy Boston and Oc­cupy Wall Street, he concluded his remarks by reminding everybody that “Capital is dead labor, which vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.”

As May Day 2012 approaches Ypsilanti, by all means let us tell stories of flowers and fertility rituals and of the ancient festivals on the commons; and let us, for sure, commemorate the great struggle for the eight-hour workday that reached a climax in Chicago at the Haymarket in May 1886, and gave birth to the holiday of workers around the planet, east and west, north and south. As the prospect of the appointment of an Emergency Manager (EM) looms over Ypsilanti—with powers to abrogate union contracts, close schools, sell public assets, expropriate municipal lands, and whose very word is law—we must also greet the day with the realistic gloom that comes from an uncertainty about health, roof, studies, and livelihood. The tooth is at our throat!

Our green parks are turned into toxic brownfields and our common lands have been laid waste as collateral for unspecified “development.” Our eight-hour work­day is lengthened by multiple part-time jobs, or by the time-consuming caretaking of elders without pensions or children without day care. Our lives now are in the grip of mysterious forces called securitization or financialization, to which we submit in dumbfounded helplessness, though the blush on our faces reminds us that these forces are but the bloodsuckers of old. Voltaire wrote that “stock jobbers, brokers, and men of business sucked the blood of the people in broad daylight… these true suckers live not in cemeteries but in very agreeable palaces.”

We face a crisis of production, yes, but also a crisis of reproduction. Production pertains to factories, sweatshops, mines, and fields; it is the realm of commerce, technology, and commodities. Reproduction pertains to kitchens, families, schools, neighborhoods; it is the realm of society, service, and a very special “commodity”—actually no commodity at all, rather: human beings. Reproduction takes place over various cycles of duration. It may mean the daily preparation for the next day or week—the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, etc. Or it may mean the preparation of the next generation, beginning with its creation and extending from diaper changing to graduate school. Michaela Brennan, a public health nurse at the Pack­ard Community Clinic outside Ypsilanti, sighed in near despair: “So many people need looking after!”


Benton Harbor is on the other side of the state, but its tale is Ypsilanti’s too. Reverend Pinckney opposed the expropriation of the parklands which had been deeded to the city a hundred years ago, to belong to it “forever.” Such places are common lands. Whirlpool Corporation wanted the land and so did the developers who had in mind a golf course for executives and the Chicago summer people. The people’s park had to go, and so did the people. When they squawked, an Emergency Manager was forced on the town. Its commons were then privatized by the 1 percent.

One aim of this book is to oppose EMs—in the name of democracy!—and, in the name of the commons, to oppose the capitalist system behind them. We are being hoodwinked.

In 2007 Reverend Pinckney quoted scriptures to a judge:

Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field. Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store. Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep…. The Lord shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an in­flammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish (Deuteronomy 28: 14–22).

The judge found these lines threatening and ordered Edward Pinkney to prison for three to ten years. Pink­ney kept up the fight inside jail, where despite the mutual resentment of blacks, whites, and browns, he coordinated with each group and collectively they won better food for themselves.

An Emergency Manager is a dictator. In ancient Rome, Sulla was one of the patricians who opposed the populares, who were still in mourning for the death of the fraternal people’s tribunes of Caius and Tiberius Gracchus, whose Agrarian Law redistributed the land of the patricians and preserved the common lands of the people, or the ager publicus. Sulla ravaged Athens until its streets ran with blood; in Rome he slaughtered five thousand prisoners. Under an emergency, he had himself declared “dictator” and murdered his friends. His word was law, and law was death. The Roman people were offered bread and circuses; we are offered McDonald’s and golf. In Benton Harbor the ager publicus has been privatized; it now has no people and eighteen holes.

This phenomenon is worldwide. Take Greece, for instance. From Thessaloniki a woman named Anna writes me, “I don’t know if you are aware that since last fall, instead of having an elected government, the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the European Bank have appointed an emergency government to manage the crisis.” The manager used to work for Goldman Sachs. He puts the funnel in to draw some blood…

Those wishing to discuss the vampirism of modern capitalism, against the backdrop of May Day, are welcome to join Peter, Jeff, myself, the rest of the Occupy Ypsi family, and those sympathetic to the cause, tomorrow evening on Water Street. Details can be found here… Bring your stakes. And a dish to pass.

Posted in History, Ideas, Michigan, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Bona Sera Cafe to launch in downtown Ypsilanti with the help of an A2Awesome grant

This afternoon, the trustees of the local micro-philonthropic group, A2Awesome, handed over $1,000 in cash to the founders of the Bona Sera Supper Club, in order to help them open a cafe in Ypsilanti’s historic Kresge Building. Following is a brief interview with Bad Fairy and Wonder Woman, the anonymous women behind Bona Sera, in which they discuss their plans for the space, why they chose to make Ypsilanti their new home, and their ongoing efforts to help raise money for local non-profits by hosting incredible dinners in unusual locations.

MARK: To start with, can you tell us a little about Bona Sera, the folks behind the scenes, who make it happen, and what it means to be an underground supper club?

BONA SERA: Bona Sera Supper Club was founded as an underground supper club. We began in 2008 and our first charity dinner was in February of 2009. The underground supper club, aka, secret suppers, are a truly international occurrence but usually are held for profit. Bona Sera has always held charity secret suppers. We choose a different community cause for each dinner and raise money through ticket sales. All funds raised go to the charity, after the cost of the food, and all Bona Sera Crew are volunteers. The folks behind the scenes, the founding members, are Bad Fairy and Wonder Woman, but Bona Sera wouldn’t be Bona Sera without its loyal group of volunteers.

MARK: Can you give us an idea as to the scope of the operation. Just how big is the Bona Sera family? How many volunteers are we talking about?

BONA SERA: Bona Sera has some steady volunteers who have been with us since the beginning. We have volunteers who run the front of the house, serve, wash dishes, take photos, do plating, and help out wherever we ask them to. We also have one person who coordinates all of our entertainment for the secret suppers. We include our gracious venue hosts as volunteers and they usually get lured into becoming steady volunteers or great friends after that. We have a core group of 10-12 volunteers, but depending on the event and set-up we have had up to 25 volunteers.

MARK: How would someone find out about upcoming Bona Sera suppers? And, can you give us a sense as to the kinds of food that you tend to feature?

BONA SERA: If you know about us, then you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or our web site/blog. We usually announce a dinner a few weeks before the dinner date, and the dinners tend to sell out within a few days. You can also email us, and we will add you to our mailing list.

We feature food that we love, often with our own twists, using local and seasonal ingredients whenever possible. Usually a few glasses of wine helps… We take things like shrimp and grits, and think about other ways we like shrimp… like in Tom Yum soup, or a banh mi sandwich made with Italian porchetta… but wait, let’s put that on a soft, warm, slightly sweet Chinese steamed bun the size of a taco that we have made special for us at a Chinese bakery in Madison heights… wow.

We also like to develop themes for our dinners… Con-fusion, Mexican Street Food, 1940’s Classics (for the Jazzistry benefit). But, overall, our roots are with Italian, French and American Southern comfort foods.

MARK: What’s the underground dining scene like in the area? I’m familiar with your work, and that of the folks at SELMA Cafe, but I imagine there are more folks that are involved in the scene, right? How would you describe the underground dining ecosystem in S.E. Michigan? Has it reached a level maturity, or is it still in its early stages?

BONA SERA: There are a few folks doing some underground dining in the area, but, as far as we know, we are the only secret supper club in Michigan. There was one in Detroit, but they have not been active for a while, as far as we can tell. The unique twist Bona Sera has is that folks have to register online and make their donation online to secure their space. Then, those registered diners receive the secret location and instructions 2 days before the event… even the Bona Sera volunteers don’t get the location until a few days before the dinner. We feel that we are only in our early stages with secret suppers… with a commercial kitchen, it can only get bigger, better and more adventurous! Which means we will be able to raise more funds for community causes.

MARK: I’d like to ask you about the new commercial kitchen in a minute, but, first, I’d like to ask how the idea for Bona Sera first came about?

BONA SERA: Wonder Woman was relocated to Ann Arbor from Chicago for a job opportunity. She had worked with underground supper clubs in Chicago and San Francisco and thought it would be a good way to meet new people and give back to the community. Bad Fairy thought she was crazy, but she was just as crazy… so here we are today… 3 years of underground supper clubs later, in venues that have ranged from pop-up constructed kitchen spaces in warehouses, to barns, private homes and halls.

MARK: How much money has Bona Sera raised to-date, for local non-profits?

BONA SERA: Bona Sera has raised over $20,000 thousand dollars for community causes. Here are some of the organizations who we have contributed to:

Lansing Area AIDS Network
Washtenaw Interfaith Community
Alternatives for Girls
AIDS Partnership Michigan
Camp Take Notice
Ann Arbor School for Creative and Performing Arts
The Neutral Zone
Ozone House-Kicked Out Fund
US Positive Women’s Network
The Ann Arbor Skate Park
Uncle Rocky’s Place
Growing Hope
The Ride For AIDS
Ypsilanti Friends of the Freight House

MARK: How do you determine who it is that you’ll assist? Is there a formal application process? Are there certain things that you’re looking for in the groups that you choose to work with?

BONA SERA: We discussed a formal application process, but never really written it down. Here’s how it usually works: Our volunteers, or diners, bring suggestions to us. And, we check them for a few things….

1. Are they a non-profit organization? Do they have a web site, or info on the web, that we can send out as a reference?
2. How is the organization currently funded (federal grants, private donations, foundations…)?
3. Can Bona Sera make a difference to that organization? We have typically raised $700-$1000 for our charities… but with our growing number of diners, and our ability to shop wholesale now, we have been able to make over $1000 for the charities that we’ve worked with recently.
4. Some organizations have specific programs that we can impact with smaller donations… like the Ozone House – Kicked Out Fund.
5. Occasionally organizations approach us and we look into them using the criteria shown above.
6. We also see the value of bringing a cause to light in the community… for example Camp Take Notice… many diners did not know about them, and it was great to have a member of the homeless camp at the dinner to tell his story, and let folks know how their donation would be used to help the organization.
7. We always give one member of the organization a space at the dinner so that they can inform the diners about what they do.

MARK: According to your application to A2Awesome, you now want to do something a little different, right? Would I be correct in saying that you wanted our help in going legit?

BONA SERA: Yes… we want to have a business where we can focus on making people happy with good and unique choices for dining. We plan to continue underground dinners as fundraisers for important community causes, but, by going above ground, we will be able to have just one focus (instead of working our other jobs at the same time). We believe that our style of cooking is different from anything else available. We have fun creating unique dishes and dining experiences.

MARK: Why was it important, after three years, that you get a commercial kitchen and start Bona Sera Above Ground?

BONA SERA: As we continued to create unique dining events as charity fundraisers… we realized we were gathering a larger following; selling out dinners in less than 3 days. Our dinners went from accommodating 25-40 people to over 70 guests at each dinner. The challenge of cooking in “non-kitchens” became increasingly difficult.

Demand for catering grew as well, and the challenge of producing food in a non-commercial kitchen became more and more difficult. We also realized that our dream jobs would be to continue to create and cook together.

Our initial plan was to purchase and run a food truck in Ann Arbor, but we quickly learned that the city does not permit food trucks… so we began to think about Ypsilanti as a home for Bona Sera. Then we started to hear about the Mix Marketplace and the dreams for that space. We visited on the sly one Saturday, and snuck around the kitchen… we were blown away. We instantly felt a good vibe in this space. We think folks that visit will feel that same comfort we felt.

MARK: I imagine there are also legal complications when you’re working out of unlicensed kitchens, right? Did you feel as though you’d grown Bona Sera Underground to the point where you might be on the radar of the health department?

BONA SERA: We know we have been on the radar of the Health Department for some time. There are some usual ways that underground supper clubs stay inches away from fines or arrests… and we have used the tips we have learned from The Ghetto Gourmet and Clandestino to stay under this radar. We always ask for a donation for the dinner… so we are not selling anything, and we never return to the same location… we also have at least 3 Bona Sera volunteers that are ServSafe certified.

With a commercial kitchen we will also be licensed to cater… and underground dinners will then be legal!

MARK: You mentioned that Ann Arbor doesn’t allow food trucks. I’m wondering if there’s a movement afoot to see that changed. Are you aware of one?

BONA SERA: We hope so… because a truck is still something we see in our future. Either way, we would need a commissary to cook out of, and Bona Sera Cafe will supply this. With the current Michigan food truck rally craze gaining popularity in Detroit, Ferndale and Royal Oak, we hope that Ann Arbor will choose to re-imagine its regulations.

MARK: What, exactly, will your $1,000 A2Awesome award be used for?

BONA SERA: This is the exact amount for our Food Establishment License! So the award will be used in our licensing packet for the health department.

MARK: And the for-profit business, as I understand it, will, by providing a home to the non-profit venture, allow it to keep going, raising money for worthy community endeavors, right?

BONA SERA: Correct!

MARK: I’d thought that you were just going to be using your Ypsilanti space to do your cooking, but you just used the word “café.” Would I be right to assume that you’ll be serving food there?

BONA SERA: The space in Ypsi will become Bona Sera Café. The plan is to serve lunches and dinners Monday- Saturday. We will also use the space for catering. We hope to offer the kitchen space for rental at a reasonable rate to other entrepreneurs just like us.


MARK: Speaking of these secret locations, have you ever said no to one? If so, why?

BONA SERA: There was one warehouse location where they actually built us a kitchen with several stoves and a sink with a vacuum pump… the diners were about a football field away from us, and the kitchen area was not heated, and this was on a snowy February evening. Bad Fairy chooses to opt out of conversations about this particular dinner…

So, the answer is, no. We haven’t turned down a location, but we are much more selective now. Each location has had its challenges, but each of those challenges has made us better at what we do… we feel prepared for most situations that other caterers and restaurant owners have never have had to deal with.

MARK: Could you speak more to this hybrid between the for-profit Above Ground venture and the non-profit Underground venture, and how you see it playing out? Will it complicate things having paid and unpaid staffs interacting, for instance?

BONA SERA: There will be limited staff in the beginning of the venture. Volunteers will also be hired as paid staff for catering gigs, and we have a nice pull of volunteers to consider for full-time staff when we get to that point.

We will all be volunteers at the underground dinners and things will continue as usual.

MARK: When do you intend to open the Café?

BONA SERA: Our hope is that we will be open by July. For now we are getting temporary licenses and cooking at our friends’ Harvest Kitchen each last weekend of the month, and serving the food at Mix.

MARK: Are you planning to do anything new with the Michigan Avenue space? Are there renovations that need to happen?

BONA SERA: We will be reorganizing the kitchen space and taking down a few of the short countertop spaces, to make more prep room. But our renovations will be minor. We just want to get cooking.

MARK: I’m trying to imagine how you’ll be using the space. Will that Café take the entire first floor, or just a portion of it? How many seats do you intend to have?

BONA SERA: The Café will be in a portion of the space… with seating around the kitchen and windows, as well as outdoor seating in warm weather. We’ll have seating for about 50-60 people to start with.

MARK: Will Mix Marketplace still happen? If so, will it happen around the Café (perhaps on Sundays, when the Café is closed), or will it move into the basement, which is also a pretty incredible space?

BONA SERA: There are big plans for Mix and we are excited to be part of the plan. We are subleasing the space from a group who has applied for a liquor license. The bar downstairs will become a martini and wine bar serving Bona Sera’s small plates. There will also be a wine tasting bar upstairs for folks to enjoy a drink with lunch or dinner. The market, with local vendors, will continue for now. We all hope to have an actual Italian Market as part of the Mix at 200 West Michigan.

The A2Awesome press release concerning the award to Bona Sera, can be found here… And, if you haven’t already, you can “like” A2Awesome on Facebook, by clicking here.

Posted in entrepreneurism, Food, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Students at Detroit’s Western High School walk out over planned school closings and cuts in education funding, chanting “They sat cut back! We say fight back!”

Increasing, we’re seeing students in Detroit step-up and fight for the educations that they’re entitled to as American citizens. Every few weeks, it seems, there’s a different battle being waged. If it’s not kids being arrested for protesting the closing of their schools, it’s kids being suspended for having the audacity to demand that they actually have teachers in their classrooms. So far, they haven’t experienced a great deal of success, but the movement is growing, and I’m encouraged… The most recent battle is being waged in Southwest Detroit, where it was recently announced by the Emergency Manager of Detroit Public Schools, Roy Roberts, that Southwestern High would be shuttered this summer, leaving Western High the only high school in the area. A few hundred students at Western walked out of classes on Wednesday in protest. (See video below.) The following clip comes from The Detroit News:

…An estimated 200 students walked out of school midday Wednesday to protest the upcoming closure of Southwestern High School and demand improved conditions across the district…

“We don’t have the necessary supplies we need to learn,” a student said… “Teachers should motivate us more to learn and succeed… Some only care about their paychecks, and not enough about our education. We want our voices heard in any decision-making process that will affect us as students.”

…After students identified as having walked out Wednesday gathered near the auditorium, school employees handed them suspension slips… Students were not given details about why they were suspended, but the notices implied it was for being part of “a student demonstration.”

(Freddie) Burse, a freshman, said he understands rules might have been broken by walking out without permission, but feels the action taken is extreme.

“You’re basically keeping us out of school for wanting to better our school,” he said…

According to a subsequent report by the Detroit Free Press, over 100 students were given suspensions. (About 100 Western International High students were given four-day suspensions, and 23 Southwestern students received five-day suspensions, according to Steve Wasko, the spokesman for Detroit Public Schools.)

And here’s where it gets interesting… The suspended students are taking the opportunity to create their own school, which better conforms to their vision of what participatory, meaningful education should be. They’re calling their school the Southwest Detroit Freedom School. The following statement, about the launch of the school, was posted to Facebook on Friday by Raychel Gafford, one of the suspended students from Western.

On Friday, April 27, 2012 at 10:55 a.m., we students of Western International High School will be starting our first day of class at Southwest Detroit Freedom School at Clark Park, across from our beloved school which we were suspended from. After over 300 of us staged a student walkout on Wednesday April 25, 2012, over 150 of us were given 5-day suspensions. One of our fellow students, targeted as the “ring-leader” is being threatened with formal charges for helping organize the walkout. We were walking out in solidarity with our fellow students at Southwestern High School to save their school from closing. More importantly, we were also fighting for quality education for us at Western, and at ALL DPS schools. We do not understand why we are being punished with a loss of educational opportunity when that is exactly what we were fighting for. To further demonstrate our commitment to education, we will be attending our own school taught by ourselves and community educators for the duration of our suspension. We are still looking for more teachers and students.

Contact us if you want to help and/or attend.
E-mail: ourvoicesouthwestdetroit@gmail.com,
Twitter: @_OurVoice, #LetOurVoicesBeHeard
Tumblr: ourvoicesouthwestdetroit.tumblr.com
Facebook Group: Southwest Detroit Freedom School


Classes will be about:
the history of Southwest Detroit
the Civil Rights Movement
Bboy/BGirl classes (Breakdancing)
the specifics of the Detroit Public School system
the Student Code of Conduct
your civil rights
Lino-cut prints
social justice
poetry workshops
You will also have a space to do make up work for the days you are suspended.
and much more!

Our Demands to the Detroit Public School System are the following:
1. Don’t close Southwestern High School.
2. Don’t close Maybury Elementary.
3. Remove suspensions for students involved in the walkout.
4. Don’t keep students away from school for walking out to stand up for what they believe.
5. Don’t want suspensions to go on our student records.
6. Don’t press criminal charges against students’ involved in the walkout.
7. Don’t violate students’ rights.
8. Don’t take students’ phones and search through & delete their content.
9. Don’t lay hands on students. No more physical attacks on students by security guards.
10. No more favoritism in who is & is not being targeted for suspension.
11. No more favoritism to certain students, student groups, or sports teams.
12. Honor the DPS Code of Conduct.
13. School Supplies: toilet paper, hand soap, etc.
14. Clean bathrooms, facilities.
15. Stop making students feel like we’re in prison.
16. Higher expectations for students.
17. Better college prep.
18. Stability– teachers who will actually be there for us, who are qualified.
19. Protection of teachers & their union.
20. We want equal opportunity to education.
21. Stop selling away community assets.
22. We’re students, not money signs or criminals. Stop running school like a business or a prison.
23. Give students an equal say in what goes on in all DPS schools. Give students a place in decision-making process. We want a Voice.
24. We need to invest more into our education than what our test scores are gonna be.
25. We need a better education– not students’ fault that money isn’t being used correctly.
26. We need teachers that teach, adequate books and supplies.
27. Remove the Emergency Financial Manager. Give control of schools back to community by reinstating the School Board.
28. Stop closing DPS schools. Go with what we have, stop closing everything down. Fix what we have. Stop closing DPS schools and allowing the chartering of so many schools. Stop turning schools into for profit businesses.

And here’s that video I mentioned earlier, which features Gafford and others.

As terrible as this is, there is an up-side, as evidenced by the video… We’re creating a whole generation of incredible, highly-motivated, young leaders, who aren’t afraid to stand up and fight back.

And, if you’d like to help these incredible young people, there’s a way to help them. Joe Montgomery, who is active with Occupy Ypsi, has created a Facebook page for those in Ypsilanti who would like to carpool into Detroit to teach courses at the new school. So, if you’ve got a good idea for a course, or if you’d just like to help out, follow that link and sign up.

Also, by way of background, our last discussion on this site about the war on public education that’s being waged in the United States can be found here.

[note: More information about the Southwest Detroit Freedom School, can be found on Facebook.]

Posted in Civil Liberties, Detroit, Education, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Bob Zmuda on securing Andy Kaufman’s penis with gaffer’s tape prior to his wrestling matches, the origins of Tony Clifton, Andy’s plans to fake his death, and a million other things

Last night, I listened to Marc Maron’s interview with Andy Kaufman’s old writing partner, Bob Zmuda. My sense is that Maron… who has a brilliant podcast, by the way… found the experience somewhat frustrating, as Zmuda insisted on being evasive about a few things, like the circumstances surrounding Andy’s death, and the question as to whether or not Andy really did lose touch with reality on those occasions when he transitioned to Tony Clifton, the hard-drinking, whore-loving, lounge-singing, painfully-crude comedic personality that he’d invented to articulate his deep dislike of the Hollywood system and contempt for the fans of Taxi. (Zmuda suggests that it’s possible that Kaufman suffered from a multiple personality disorder.) While I share Maron’s frustration, I find it’s hard to fault Zmuda, who, it seems to me, is just doing his best to keep his friend’s memory alive, by continuing to bolster the legend, and feed the absurd notion that Andy could still be out there somewhere, having faked his death, and successfully pulled off the greatest prank of his incredible career. I can see how some would interpret this as self-serving on Zmuda’s part – as keeps him in the spotlight, as the self-appointed conservator of the Kaufman legend – but I suspect he’s doing exactly what Kaufman would have wanted.

As for the stories that he shares here, I don’t think that much is new. It’s all stuff, for the most part, that you can read in that interview that I did with Zmuda about a dozen years ago, when I was living in LA (If you can find that back issue of Crimewave), or in his book, Andy Kaufman Revealed. Still, though, it’s fun as hell, and it’s great to be reminded of Kaufman’s undeniable genius.

I could go on and on about my love for Kaufman, who I believe was the most brilliant entertainer of my generation, but, as I think that most of you are probably already fans, I’ll just encourage you to follow the link above, and listen to the interview.

Speaking of Kaufman, I don’t know that I’ve ever shared this, but you know how people will ask you on occasion, “If you could have a dinner party with any four people, living or dead, who would you choose?” Well, Andy Kaufman has always been at the top of my list. The other three slots change, depending on how I’m feeling at any given time, but Kaufman is always a constant…. Some of the others that I’d consider extending an invitation to, in case you’re interested… Kurt Vonnegut, Buckminster Fuller, Patrick McGoohan, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Jefferson, Peter Falk, Bessie Smith, Jack Benny, Iggy Pop, Groucho Marx, Abraham Lincoln, Lucile Ball, FDR, Ben Franklin, Charlie Chaplin, John Barrymore, Marlene Dietrich, Winsor McCay, Charles Darwin, Leonardo Da Vinci, George Harrison, Grace Kelly, Don Knots, Chris Elliot, Robert Kennedy, Stanley Kubrick, Malcolm X, Myrna Loy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Paine, William Powell, Orson Welles, Carl Sagan, Harriet Tubman, Woody Guthrie, Katherine Hepburn, Joey Ramone, Frederick Douglas, Klaus Kinski, P.T.Barnum, Billy Wilder, Woody Allen, Andy Warhol, Harry Houdini, Nicola Tesla, Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, Gregory Peck, Tim Carey, Thomas Edison, Thomas Pynchon, and, because of the stories that Bob Zmuda tells about having worked for him, Norman Wexler. (You have to at least listen to the Wexler portion of Maron’s interview with Zmuda, if nothing else.)

Sorry for the tangent, but it was fun just sitting here, letting my mind wonder for a few minutes, thinking about the people that I’d most like to have a beer with… knowing full well, of course, that none them, except for maybe Joey Ramone, would take any interest in talking with me whatsoever. Maybe they’d ask me where the bathroom was, or ask me to fetch them a drink, but that’s probably about it. Still, though, I think it would be great to have Ben Franklin pat me on the butt, and send me into the kitchen for a flaming rum punch.

For those of you in the audience who have yet to experience the brilliance of Andy Kaufman, I’d suggest starting with his historic Carnegie Hall show, which is discussed at length in the interview with Maron. Here’s the first act. (The subsequent segments can be found on YouTube.)

Posted in Art and Culture, Crimewave USA, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

The trees of Ypsilanti and how you can do your part to help them on Saturday

For the past several months, I’d been thinking about interviewing someone in City government about the trees that were planted along Cross Street as part of the recent $1 million streetscaping project. (I like trees.) For some reason, though, I’d kept putting it off until yesterday, when, in a fit of late night inspiration, I dashed off several questions to Ypsi City Planner, Teresa Gillotti. Well, I received her answers a few minutes ago, and I was just sitting here, thinking about how to introduce the subject of urban forestry, in a somewhat interesting way, when it occurred to me that it might be funny to say something like, “As Arbor Day is just four months off, I thought that I’d sit down with Teresa and ask her a few question about our local trees.” So, I got online, and did a quick search, in hopes of finding out how far away Arbor Day was. And, what I found was kind of eerie… Today, of all days, is actually Arbor Day in the state of Michigan… Cue Twilight Zone theme… (I wasn’t aware of it, but apparently every state celebrates Arbor Day at a different time. And, Michigan, it would seem, celebrates the holiday on the last Friday in April.) It’s a good thing that I’m not paranoid. If I were, I might think that, perhaps, I was being manipulated somehow by the trees that stare through my bedroom window at me each night, as site here, in my bed, working on this blog. (I’m tempted to google “trees control my thoughts,” but I’m afraid of what I might find.) Anyway, here’s my exchange with Teresa.

MARK: Can you tell me about the trees that were planted along Cross street earlier this year… how you chose the types, how many there are of each variety, and how we funded their planting?

TERESA: I don’t know much about tree selection – so I got help from local landscape architect Rachel Blistein, and a MDOT landscape architect out of Lansing, Jamie Nauta. We worked together on a list looking for salt-tolerant and drought-resistant varieties not necessarily commonly used in town, mainly to promote variety. Jamie worked out the placement of the trees, trying to be strategic so they wouldn’t block signage when they’re full grown in blocks with stores and restaurants, and providing larger species in the more residential areas.

We ended up with 4 types:
• Syringa Reticulata (Ivory Silk Japanese Tree Lilac)
• Tilia Cordata (Greenspire Little Leaf Linden)
• Corylus Colurna (Turkish Filbert)
• Taxodium Distichum (Common Bald Cypress)

The entire streetscape project was funded with a transportation enhancement grant. It was a 60/40 split, with 60% of the funding coming from the federal government, and the 40% match coming from local sources. The Depot Town improvements (seatwall, stamped concrete crosswalks, rain gardens) had the 40% local match covered by the City and the DDA. The larger project was in West Cross – where the City and DDA had to provide only 20%, with MDOT covering the other 20% of the local match as it’s a trunk line west of Huron. That project included the bump outs, stamped crosswalks, the City’s first LED street lighting and 74 street trees.

MARK: And I believe, just a few days ago, volunteers got together to plant trees at what’s being called the Ypsi Tree Nursery. Those trees, as I understand it, are being planted at Water Street, and the intention is that they’ll be moved at some point to streets and parks around the City, right?

TERESA: Right. The project grew out of few things. First, DPS was looking to do an updated tree inventory and forestry plan, but didn’t have funding. We were looking at interim uses at Water Street to promote some minimal activity (the stone trail built from crushed concrete from the Water Street building demolition for example) to keep some life on the site, and to prevent it from being a literal dumping ground. We learned about a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grant, and had the idea to ask for funding for the inventory, a forestry plan, and to set up a small tree nursery to grow street and park trees. The City doesn’t budget money for street tree replacement. It only happens from grants, like the Cross Street Streetscape, through DTE grants (every other year at best), and from residents adding them in themselves. So street tree replacement is down. We learned from the inventory that more than half of the City’s public trees or maturing or mature, so there’s a need to add to the stock.

So the volunteers were out last weekend along with Michigan Works youth/young adult program participants and we’ll be back this Saturday to plant the second half of the spring planting (total of 350). We’re planning on a similar number in the fall. So, we should have somewhere between 600-800 trees in the nursery by the end of the year.

MARK: Would I be right to assume that this work being done by volunteers is something that used to be done by the Public Works department?

TERESA: Yes. As I mentioned, they add trees when they obtain grants from DTE – and that’s around 30-40 during that year. I’m not sure what the previous levels were.

MARK: What’s the status of Ypsi’s tree stock? Are we making any progress getting rid of invasive species? Is there a master forestry plan of some kind? Are there big niches that need to be filled?

TERESA: Well – more than half of the public trees are some sort of maple (55.2%) and more than half are in fair condition (59%). There is a need for more diversity and for more young trees, to even out the average age in the City. And, thanks to this grant, we do have a new forestry plan.

I’m assuming that, with reference to the invasive species, you’re thinking more about things like tree of heaven and buckthorn growing in the parks? DPS trims a lot of this back, but I don’t think we have a specific strategy for combating this now.

MARK: We’ve talked on the site before about the guerrilla grafting movement, and the possibility of planting more fruit trees in Ypsi, in hopes that doing so might make us a little more self-sufficient, and encourage some folks, who otherwise might not do so, to eat better. As several people noted, however, fruit trees take some care, as rotting fruit attracts rodents and the like. I’m curious to know where you stand on this.

TERESA: I do like the idea of more fruit and nut trees, but I have to admit that I have little experience with them. As street trees, we have to consider whether the fruit might cause a hazard on sidewalks (smashed fruit can be slick, or sticky, or potentially clog drains). In parks, depending on the size of the fruit and nuts, it could also cause some serious wear on mowers. I’m sure there is a way to balance these issues. There are some fruit-bearing trees in the recommended street tree list as part of the forestry plan – but they are more in line with service berries, than something like crabapples.

MARK: I think people all know that trees are important, as they make the heat of summer less dangerous, clean our air, etc, but I’m wondering if there’s any research that would indicate that trees positively impact economic development. Are you aware of such studies?

TERESA: There are lots of studies about the benefits of street trees for all the reasons you mention. The Arbor Day Foundation has a bit of a hodge-podge collection of facts and figures with sources. There are lots of studies related to energy-savings, increase in property values (even vacant lots with trees have been shown to improve property values of neighboring properties). I definitely consider this project to be about economic development. There is the value of curb appeal in selling/buying properties, in attracting people to neighborhoods and business districts, and in increasing property values. The nursery is a way to try to cheaply grow our own stock for replacement so that with any potential changes in staffing levels, we can still provide new stock, either by having volunteers/neighbors using stock to plant on their streets, or incorporating this into the future streets projects, where contractors can have stock ready as part of any road project, for instance.

MARK: What non-volunteer resources do we currently have to deal with street trees? I’m thinking specifically about overly-mature trees around town that have dead and dying limbs hanging precariously over sidewalks and streets. Do we have the resources to deal with them?

TERESA: Yes. DPS does keep a budget to maintain (prune) and remove dead and dying trees. This spring they were able to catch up a bit, which you may have noticed. Without the snow they were able to focus on tree removals and pruning in parks and along streets. I noticed a lot myself in Riverside Park along the steps and in Peninsular Park as well. The DPS group seems to be doing a good job overall – one of their main measures is the number of downed branches after storms, and lately it’s been fairly minimal, which is good.

MARK: I conducted an Ypsi Exit Interview late last year with a fellow by the name of Casey Dixon. During the interview, he mentioned that there was an “evil tree” somewhere in Ypsilanti. Are you aware of this tree’s existence?

TERESA: I know not of the evil tree. But would like to see you produce a zine about it.

If you’ve been at all inspired by this interview, there’s an Ypsi Tree Nursery work day is this Saturday, April 29, from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM. The location is the old Gilbert Park, at the rear of the Water Street site. To get there, take South Park Street to the dead end, go over the curb, and follow the orange cones west along the river to the planting site. More information can be found on Facebook… Also, we’re in need of a handful of stewards, who can keep an eye on the nursery going forward, making sure that the trees grow straight, and that none of them turn evil. If you’re interested, just send me your contact information and I’ll pass it along to Teresa.

Posted in Agriculture, Food, Sustainability, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments


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