TOR @ DET: Cartwheels
3/7/18 Detroit: We used to have these ridiculous parties on our back deck when my brothers were in the prime of their degeneracy. They were the two oldest, my sisters were in the middle, and I was the BBAAYYYYBBEEEEE. I must’ve been in the 7-12 age range during the heyday of these “deck jams,” as they were called. My sister Amy -who was closest to me in age- and I would try to stay up and hang around these parties as long as possible, before we were shoved off to bed once the savage drunkenness was taking hold. My oldest sister, Sue, didn’t care for them as much, until she was the deck’s legal drinking age of 16 or 17, then she became one of the cool kids, and we were still just the mascot kids. A few times, my brothers or their savage friends would have me or Amy hold a beer as they hoisted us in the air for one of their drunken group photos. Everyone got a kick out of these gigantic, scary looking motherfuckers, smiling and holding up a prepubescent child with a beer in their hand.
If I was my brothers’ mascot, then I was my sisters’ play toy. I hadn’t realized until somewhat recently the subtle torture that they subjected me to in my early years. I’d been bragging to people for most of my life about how good I was at doing cartwheels. Just this past Christmas, my whole extended family was over, and we were drinking and such, and I was telling an aunt or cousin or someone how awesome I was at doing cartwheels. Amy started laughing and said, “no, me and Sue would just tell you that you were good at cartwheels, because we thought it was funny when you and your chubby little body used to do them with your legs bent and stuff, and you thought you were so good at them and you had so much confidence, and that made it so much funnier.” My whole life was a lie.
The guard began to shift when I was about 12, Sue and her friends were making up more of the population of the deck jams. And Amy was nearing the deck’s legal drinking age; much to my mother’s chagrin. She hoped it would all end once my brothers calmed down a bit and were no longer drunkenly fighting each other on the deck. And it ended to some extent, the savagery was mostly gone, but the drunkenness was still very present. Someone, I can’t remember who, snuck me my first beer around this time. It was a Guinness and I thought it was absolutely disgusting, and I didn’t feel great after drinking it. Amy made fun of me for getting drunk off half a beer. But 8 years later I stole all her friends with my charm and wit, so I had the last laugh… Until the Christmas cartwheel thing, then she had the last laugh again.
I helped Sue move from Ithaca to Detroit two years ago. She and her husband Michael were both teaching at Cornell, then got jobs at Michigan University. Michael had to stay in Ithaca a week later for some employed person reason, so I drove the U-Haul since Sue sucked at driving. The move was before I knew the truth about my cartwheels, so I didn’t lie to her and tell her she was good at driving for my own amusement, had I known I would’ve told her good luck with that fuckin’ 7 hour drive!!
I was just kidding, the cartwheel thing wasn’t that big of a deal…
So I selflessly moved her to Detroit two years ago. I’d been back to visit maybe four or five times since then, and compared to the rest of the vast United States, Detroit felt like home. It was the first feeling of familiarity in 2 months.
By the time the deck jams were mostly my friends, and Aim’s friends that I had stolen, Sue was upstate at Cornell for graduate school. I think it was the first time it dawned on me that you were allowed to leave Staten Island. There were 5 of us childrens plus our parents crammed in our beach bungalow that neighbored a sewage treatment plant, so there wasn’t exactly a vacation fund in the budget.
If Staten Island had a mantra it would’ve been, “Why You Wanna Go There For?” As in, “where you goin’? L.A? I heard the pizza sucks out there, why you wanna go there for?” “Mexico? It’s all Mexicans down there, why you wanna go there for?” “Pensyl-wha? Pennsylvania? Ya gotta pay a toll, it’s all the way ova there, why you wanna go there for?” “Just Stay Here,” could’ve been the secondary mantra. And, “Sanitation?! That’s a good job!!” could’ve been the tertiary, but that was another story. I sang those mantras for most of my life. Until I was 20, the furthest I’d ever been from Staten Island was Ocean City, Maryland, a whopping 5 hours away. All of my mom’s siblings and their families lived within like 5-10 minutes of us; Staten Island was the center of the universe as far as I was concerned. Then Sue went away to college, and through that was going to all these places I wasn’t even sure were real, like Barcelona, and Italy, and Vietnam. Vietnam? You could just go to Vietnam? You didn’t have to be drafted by the Army? How was that possible? Did you swim there? Did they have electricity in Vietnam? It was baffling. I finally got on a plane at like 22 years old, and I learned part of why people wanted to go places; because going to new places was stimulating and sometimes boring and sometimes eye opening and sometimes it sucked, but it was rarely what I thought it would be. Whenever I got back to Staten Island after some bouncing around, the question I now had in my head was, “why you wanna stay here for?” Why did all these people want to stay put on this rock where everyone was pissed and cutting each other off in traffic all the time.
It felt good to be in the familiarity of Detroit, and it felt good to be with my sister and her husband and their dog. But being in Detroit also meant Staten Island was a mere 10 hours away. I had absolutely no plan for once I got back there. I was going back to a place where studio apartments were $1200 a month, and the only thing I was qualified to do was work in a kitchen for maybe $15 an hour, and to be honest I barely felt qualified for that. But Sue and Michael were pillars of success, they graduated from Cornell with degrees in architecture, they’d been teaching at the collegiate level for years, surely they could steer me in the right direction.
Sue wasn’t sure if they’d be continuing the fellowship program she was brought in on, and Michael had already made the decision that he was quitting his professing gig. They were as unsure about their futures as I was about mine.
But Sue was the one who went to Vietnam, she lived in like 12 places in the last 8 years, she opened up this can of worms. I would’ve just kept being a miserable yet financially secure union worker if she hadn’t unknowingly introduced this alternative way of living, she owed me the answer of what the fuck I should be doing with myself. She told me my cartwheels were good, I didn’t decide they were good on my own. I wasn’t even sure if I’d ever seen her attempt a cartwheel, but I just assumed she knew things.
But really, the cartwheel thing was not a big deal, I wasn’t even that mad…
There was some solidarity in knowing that we were all shooting from the hip. She and Michael had always landed on their feet, so that was somewhat encouraging. I guess it would’ve help if I had their collegiate pedigree before I dove into this world of uncertainty, but I had irrational confidence and didn’t think I needed any pedigree… almost as if someone had told me I was good at something that I actually sucked at from a young age.
I’ll let it go now.
I was pretty fuckin’ sick of going to these basketball games, especially going by myself. I came this far though, so I had to see the trip through. I figured Sue and Michael would be too busy to accompany lil ole me to the game. But much to my relief they wanted to go, we moseyed on over around the time the 2nd quarter was starting. The Pistons were hosting my adopted favorite team Toronto Raptors, and since Detroit was so close to Canada, there was a bounty of Raptors fan, and the atmosphere was more intense than I expected it to be.
I didn’t recognize the amount of Raptors fans at first, and wasn’t really paying attention to what was happening in the game, because we were seated behind one of the drunkest people I’d ever seen at a sporting event. It was only like a half hour into the game and this dude just appeared out of nowhere, double fisting beers, and crab dancing across the half empty row. It was the first row of the nosebleeds and we were in the second row, I was sure we were going to witness this dude fall over the facing of the upper-deck and plummet to his death. He was probably around my age and seemed to be at the game by himself; that was my thing!! Only I hadn’t made a fool of myself at any of the games I went to, this fuckin’ guy was one-upping me. The only people in the half empty row was a group of like twelve girls in their early 20s, which I also had never seen, what the hell was going on in Detroit. It became clear why he had chosen this row. He not so smoothly danced his way all the way down to sit next to the group of girls, as the girl who was seated directly next to him seemed mortified, and her friends laughed at them. Security finally came over after like 15 minutes of him periodically yelling out “KOBE,” then attempting to hit on the girls. I was sure he was gonna get kicked out, but the security dude just gave him a half assed warning after he leaned over the upper-deck’s protective glass for the third time. The security guy didn’t even check his ticket, there was no way his seat was in this row, but the security guy let him stay. We did not pay attention to one second of game action while this guy was in front of us, it was impossible to focus on anything else. By halftime he left and never returned. He was either too drunk to find his seat, or he got kicked out, or he died. We’ll never know, but the in game entertainment was gone, and now we all had to settle for the professional athletes.
Sue and Michael weren’t gigantic basketball fans by any means, and they were busy folks so I just assumed we’d just leave after the 3rd or something, but the game was so fuckin’ good that we couldn’t. Everybody was into, that drunken mess really fucked up. My new favorite player, DeMar DeRozan, and the Pistons’ Blake Griffin were in a shootout, and it came down to the final seconds, twice. This game happened like 2 weeks ago and I didn’t remember the exact sequence, but at some point Griffin hit a jumper to put the Pistons up 3, then the Pistons got the ball back and it looked like the game might be over. Then DeRozan either got a steal or a long rebound or something with less than 10 seconds to go, and he drove down the entire length of the court. No one on the Pistons picked him up, and by the time someone got near him he was mid lift off; he dunked on someone’s head and got fouled. He hit the free throw and sent it to overtime, or at least that was how I remembered it. I said, “oh shit!” Sue and Michael said, “oh shit!” The twelve girls in their early 20s said, “oh shit!!” And the drunk guy appeared out of nowhere and yelled, “KOBE!” It was thrilling.
I said to Sue, “up to you, wanna stay for overtime?” And she said, “of course I wanna stay for overtime, fuck you think, this shit is nutty… KOBE!” Sue was actually the drunk guy this whole time. Nobody scored for the first couple of minutes of overtime, then Griffin and DeRozan continued their back and forth thing, I think, to be honest I didn’t remember… Doesn’t it feel like you were there… What I did remember was DeRozan having the ball with less than 10 seconds left and the game was tied. He drew attention from like three defenders as he drove, then quickly kicked it out to Fred Van Fleet in the corner, Van Fleet wasn’t hitting shit all game, but he drilled the corner jumper and put the Raptors up with like 4 seconds left on the clock. The Pistons in-bounded after a timeout, and Griffin got off some tough, contested jumper that hit of the side of the rim. The Pistons let their country down as the Raptors fans cheered loudly. I was proud of my adopted team.
I was staying in Detroit for about a week, partly because of when the Pistons game was scheduled, but mostly because I was prolonging the end of this trip. I was putting off reality as long as possible. If I did enough cooking, I knew I wouldn’t over stay my welcome, since they were usually too busy being employed to do a lot of home cooking. I pulled out all the stops, whipped up some hearty gumbo my third night there, then churned out homemade pasta in a mushroom cream sauce the night after the Pistons game. It was my first crack at fresh pasta, and it was all compliments from Sue and Michael, as they offered me a hypothetical personal chef job after they hit it big in the architecture world. Had it just been Sue, or if Amy was there, I would’ve been skeptical of that feedback. But Michael was a kind Midwesterner, and would not stoop so low as to play that kind of cruel trickery on me. I would take the personal chef job if it ever became non-hypothetical, but for the time being I had to take my leave.
The deck didn’t exist anymore. Our house was gone; washed away by the beach where we all had so many glorious and unnecessarily drunken nights. There was a deck at our parent’s new house too, but no savagery had ever taken place there, we were all past that. We held Christmas at the new house, it was only 5 minutes from where our house used to be, but it was uphill, away from the beach. Sue wasn’t there for that Christmas, she was in Detroit. We drank inside, even though it was pretty mild for December. Amy argued that it was good that they lied and pumped me full of false confidence. That was somewhat true; it made me arrogant enough to think the world needed stories about me oversharing personal issues, while shit talking people across America at hostels and basketball games. But Staten Island was only 10 hours away and only a handful of people even realized I was gone. It didn’t matter that there was a deck at the new house. It didn’t matter that I could make homemade pasta and gumbo, it didn’t matter that I figured out how to straighten my legs during a cartwheel. Two months of driving felt like a lifetime, then I saw signs for the Outerbridge and there was still snow on the ground, like I never left.