25 year old video surfaces of a very young, and disturbingly happy, Mark Maynard kissing Peter Larson

Remember how, a while back, I told you that I’d received word from Oregon that a 25 year old video of my band, Prehensile Monkey-tailed Skink, had surfaced? Well, it would seem as though the tape is now in the hands of someone who intends to tease, torture, and perhaps blackmail me with it. I received an envelope earlier this week with an Oregon postmark, and inside was a heavily smudged gold disk containing a single, 10-second video clip. The accompanying note, written on the back of a label peeled from a can of Dinty Moore beef stew, said simply, “What would your fellow bloggers think?”

Here’s the clip…

For what it’s worth, I don’t think that I’m actually kissing the young Dr. Peter Larson in this clip. I think I’m just licking the sweat from his face.

Posted in Art and Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Jim “Colonel Mustard” Cherewick needs your helps as he represents all the musicians of the world in epic Ypsilanti sausage fest

I’d been informed by the governing body that oversees the Wurst Challenge that, as a judge, I should try my best to give the impression of impartiality. And, until this evening, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of it. A few hours ago, though, I received a desperate call from my friend Jim “Colonel Mustard” Cherewick, who, unable to resist the temptation of 20 feet of free meat, just recently signed on to be a competitor. Apparently it had started to eat at him that only about $100 had been donated to FLY Children’s Art Center in his name, whereas well over $1,000 had been raised by another competitor, a man known as The Big Gulp. “He doesn’t even play in a band,” Jim mumbled sadly, “and I play in about half a dozen.” I told him that everything would work out, and that his parents, siblings and bandmates were probably just waiting until the very last minute before opening their billfolds and launching him into first place. “Just in case, though,” I told him, “I’ll make a graphic for you that you can share with everyone, so that they know you’re in the competition, and trying to raise money for FLY.”

And here’s what I came up with…

If you like it, please consider making a contribution to Jim “Colonel Mustard” Cherewick.

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[note: The above should not be interpreted as an endorsement on my part. I love all of our competitors equally. I just feel a little more protective of Jim, as he’s like a little brother to me.]

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Six things you need to know about his weekend’s Wurst Challenge

Now that we’re just about five days away from Ypsilanti’s third annual Wurst Challenge, things are really beginning to heat up. Following are a half dozen or so things that you should probably know.

THE COMPETITORS… As of right now, eight heroic individuals have accepted the “20 Feet of Meat” challenge. They include returning champions Knifebeard SausageHawk [2014] and The Big Gulp [2015], local music legend Jim “Colonel Mustard” Cherewick, world renowned roboticist Cre “Master Muscle” Fuller, homeless advocate Quinn “Fill ‘Er Up” Phillips, and artist turned thespian Caleb “Night Man” Zweifler. And, just entering the race today, we have esteemed history professor Russ Olwell, who has been named the designated eater for Eastern Michigan University, and Buck Von Thundergut, who will be representing the brilliant folks at Ann Arbor’s DUO Security. [We’ve yet to hear whether or not the men and women at Nutshell, HookLogic and Deepfield Networks intend to accept the challenge laid down by DUO to join them, but we’re hopeful that they’ll likewise assign eaters to compete in our new tech division.] …As in years past, only the top ten fundraisers will move on to face their “20 Feet of Meat” in Sunday’s head-to-head competition.

13254055_10209521741909630_4554156932951261156_nBREAKING FUNDRAISING LEVELS BY BREAKING ALL THE RULES… So far, Team Smoot, the group that won last year’s fundraising award, have been the most aggressive on the fundraising side of things, bringing in donations right and left for their competitor, last year’s winner, William “The Big Gulp” Henderson, seen to the right intimidating his arch rival, Cre “Master Muscle” Fuller, during one of his public training sessions on Cross Street. [All donations, by they way, are tax deductible, and go toward furthering the mission of downtown Ypsilanti’s FLY Children’s Art Center.] As of right now, Team Smoot has secured nearly $1,000 in donations from the likes of Sidetrack Bar and Grill, Original Moxie, Desktop Dog Creative, DartOut by Kartech, Tap Room Comedy Night, The Eyrie, Fangs and Twangs, Full Circle Bar, BrewSkee-Ball, Muse Atelier, and My Trivia Live, all of whom, in exchange for their donations, were offered advertising space on the extra-large jumpsuit that The Big Gulp will be wearing as he attempts to consume his 20 foot long bratwurst. [Last year, Henderson consumed 3.258 pounds of sausage.]

THE PRESS IS BEGINNING TO PICK UP… While we’ve yet to see coverage in the Washington Post, or on Fox News, like in years past, things are definitely beginning to build. Today, an article appeared on MLive, and tomorrow a few of us will be going into the WEMU studio to talk about the importance of arts education and the joys of communal sausage consumption.

THE BEER WILL BE STRONG… I’ve just received word that, among the beers that Lagunitas Brewing will have on tap at the event will be their 9.3% ABV Undercover Investigation Shutdown, which was created in commemoration of the day in 2005 when they were busted by The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control for smoking dope in the workplace. And, not only will the very powerful Undercover Investigation Shutdown be on the menu, but Lagunitas and the Wurst Bar will be donating all proceeds from the sale of that particular beer to FLY Children’s Art Center!

WHY YOU SHOULD SUPPORT FLY CHILDREN’S ART CENTER, REGARDLESS OF YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT SAUSAGE… FLY believes that the ability to solve problems with creativity fuels a healthy community and enables kids to build bright futures. Since 2009, FLY has provided hundreds of kids with powerful, hands-on, creative experiences in free after-school workshops across Washtenaw and Wayne counties. The FLY Creativity Lab (76 North Huron Street, inside Ypsilanti’s Riverside Arts Center), launched in 2013, brings interdisciplinary workshops, camps and events to area youth.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP… There are a few things. First, and probably most importantly, you can choose a competitor to back, and make a contribution to FLY on his or her behalf. Second, you can come to Ypsilanti’s award-winning Wurst Bar at 5:00 PM this Sunday to cheer on the competitors and drink strong beer for a good cause. And, third, you can help get the word out to your current friends, estranged family members, and former lovers about the event, which really is awesome, not just because it raises a lot of money for a good cause, but because it brings together the community in such a beautiful, interesting way. [Where else can you find university professors and people from tech companies greedily eating sausage alongside artists and musicians?] Oh, and lastly, you can still field a team. While there’s not much time left, it’s still possible to launch a successful campaign and make it into the final ten.

See you Sunday.

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Posted in Art and Culture, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

The unsellable houses of Bell Street, part two

A few days ago, I posted a story here about the recent re-zoning of a neighborhood southeast of the intersection of Spring and Huron, and how, as a result, at least one homeowner on Bell Street, Erin Snyder, was finding it difficult to sell her property. [The southern stretch of Bell Street had been re-zoned “PMD” (Production, Manufacturing, Distribution) in 2014.] Well, I’ve just been contacted by Teresa Gillotti, who was Ypsilanti’s lead planner during the time when this area was re-zoned, and she’s asked me to pass along the following explanation as to why this neighborhood, which is located near the City’s old landfill, was re-zoned.

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[Above are the houses along Bell Street that have recently been re-zoned as PMD.]

Many of you will recall that the City was working with a company called SunDurance to try and get a DTE solar array located on the site of the City’s old landfill. Well, the potential for development on the landfill site allowed the City to apply for and receive grant funds to do some environmental investigation.

This was a big step. Records on the landfill are scant. It was privately run for a number of years and run by the City prior to being closed, I believe in the 1960s. This was prior to state regulations to how to close landfills, so the City just blocked the entrance, and the landfill grew over into the semi-forested, brushy area near the I-94 West Huron off-ramp we know today. [This is also where the digital billboard that you can see from I-94 is today.]

After receiving the grant, the City contracted with an environmental firm to determine the boundaries of the landfill (not as clear after development of I-94 ramps) and to find out more about what contamination is on the site, and to what extent it might be an issue to the adjacent Bell/Kramer neighborhood.

Erin has a fairly good sense of the results. There are direct contamination concerns if someone were to go on site and spend time digging in the dirt, primarily due to high lead and other heavy metals present. There is some methane build-up in the center of the site (small, but not unexpected). Furthermore, there is some evidence of contaminant leaching moving southeast. I’ll stop there, as I’m not an environmental expert, and I’m going by memory. [I don’t have copies of the files provided by the consultant.]

I personally was relieved that there were low levels of contamination directly adjacent to the neighborhood, and no indication that these contaminants were moving toward the neighborhood, which, generally speaking, is on higher ground than the landfill. Erin is right that, if there were wells being used for water, there would be an issue, but luckily that’s not the case, as the neighborhood is on public water and sewer.

After the results and interpretation were provided the City, we notified neighbors, the MDEQ, etc, as required by law. A few residents came in to talk more about what we learned. The project with DTE fell through, and no additional testing was done that I am aware or.

Many of you were also involved in the Shape Ypsi Master Plan (2013) and resulting city-wide rezoning (2014). The website for the project is still up – and for those of you interested in reviewing minutes and such – the Shape Ypsi site can give you a feel for the schedule and meeting dates. Minutes of the public meetings of the Planning Commission and City Council meetings related to the rezoning can also be found on the city’s website. I bring this up because the Bell/Kramer rezoning was part of a broader city-wide rezoning, which was in response to the approval of the Shape Ypsi master plan. It was not a standalone rezoning in response to testing results on the landfill.

Focusing in on the Bell/Kramer neighborhood – the 1998 Master Plan suggested that the zoning could move to industrial uses if warranted due to its location adjacent to the largest industrial properties in the City, but zoning was R2 – one and two-family residential at that time, and prior to the rezoning.

As part of the Shape Ypsi plan, additional conversations arose about the challenges of residential in the Bell/Kramer neighborhood. There were fairly regular tax foreclosures and vacancies. There was a blight issue ultimately resulting in the condemnation of a property, demolition of a dangerous building, and an extensive cleanup. The neighborhood is also cut off by a busy Huron Rd., Spring Street, and the giant parking lot to the east. As a result, residential did not resonate as a successful long-term use in the area, and we looked into potential alternatives.

It was suggested that more commercial options be considered on Huron and Spring, and that some interior properties be changed to the PMD mentioned previously, matching that of the landfill and adjacent industrial area to the east. These changes would provide more options for redevelopment long-term, and hopefully the expansion of these corridors as well. As also noted, this allows for non-conforming uses to continue indefinitely, but this can pose challenges for resale in some cases, particularly related to insurance.

As with all the changes in the 2014 proposed rezoning – letters were sent out if properties would experience a zoning change, indicating the proposed change, date of the public hearing, etc. The first Planning Commission Public Hearing was one of the largest meetings I attended in City Council chambers, with standing room only. Residents and property owners came out to find out was happening and weigh in on their take on things. Changes were made based on this feedback, and at all subsequent meetings.

In thinking back on this, I don’t recall that we heard from any Bell/Kramer residents. And that is standing out to me as a potential failure in outreach on my part, even as notice was provided. I take responsibility for that, and, Erin, if it’s helpful to you to meet and talk more about any of this, I would be happy to.

This Shape Ypsi process was all a big undertaking, and while the staff, consultants, Planning Commission and City Council worked to be thoughtful, conscientious and forward thinking, I would never say that it’s perfect. It can’t be – both the master plan and zoning ordinance are living documents. If something is not working due to market conditions, change in community mores, general appropriateness or any other reason – it can be revisited.

This may not provide a lot of solace, but I did want to provide background and access to information on the rezoning at the least.

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[The southernmost part of Bell Street, where Erin Synder lives, is labeled at “East Street” in the above excerpt from the City’s current zoning map. (According to Snyder, “East Street was the name when Clarkesville Sub was originally platted.”) The areas indicated in grey are those now designated PMD.]

Posted in Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Thinking about death, the legacy we leave behind, and David Bowie’s Blackstar

I had the occasion to spend some time this afternoon with a friend who, in spite of serious ongoing health issues, is launching a new social venture intended to bring resources to third-world farmers. When discussing his decision to launch something incredibly ambitious at this point in his life, when his heart is only functioning at something like 20-percent, he referenced the video for the song Lazarus, off of David Bowie’s last record Blackstar. He said he felt like Bowie in the video, who we see writing as if possessed, trying to get as much work as possible done before the end of his life.

In the wake of Bowie’s passing, we all talked about these last songs of his, which were clearly about his impending death, but this was the first time I’d had an opportunity to discuss them with someone who, in his own words, faces the prospect of death daily, and it was really an incredibly thought provoking conversation. It was so thought provoking, in fact, that I was still thinking about death, and the lasting legacy we all leave behind, this evening when I went out walking the dog and stumbled across the following. I don’t know if it’s a reference to the Bowie album, as there’s additional “r” at the end, but, from now on, every time I see it, I’ll be reminded of Bowie, this friend of mine, and the conversation we had about the fleeting nature of life, and the things we’d still like to accomplish in this world.

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[note: There is apparently a fascist metahuman in the DC comic universe by the name of Blackstarr, so I suppose this could be an homage to her. Hopefully that’s not the case, though. We need less fascism and more Bowie.]

Posted in Art and Culture, Other, Pop Culture, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

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