666 is hell, 777 is heaven. 555 5555 is the number that calls fantasy land. Even the phone companies play along. There is importance in numbers. 510 872 7326 has enough numbers that people know they can reach a very specific person. If I hadn’t added my area code, I would not have this dinner tour. By including the whole number, people were given an opportunity to spy on me in a way. They had something personal of mine. It is like finding a wallet, and enjoying the process of going through every fold and pocket for information. People call to find out who is on the other end. The telephone number becomes a wormhole people can crawl through and come out on my end of the line, in a whole new world.
I gave people something to be curious about, and I reward their curiosity positively. So often we are warned against curiosity. It kills cats, after all. But as an artist, curiosity is integral to my life, and I want to encourage it in others.
My phone number is what made this project possible. If I had put my website address on the message board, there would not be as much interest. A web site is removed from me in a way that a phone number is not. Especially being it is my cell phone. That is, in this culture, an extension of my body. It is closer to me than my home address. I am my cell phone number!
Ross, who works at Verizon, has called me to talk about getting me a good cell plan. He immediately picked up on the importance of my phone to this project. Conversation is Verizon’s bread and butter. Someone is making a profit every time I talk.
It can be depressing to see things that way, can’t it? But Verizon may become a sponsor, or donate a phone with email capability. I could post to the blog here right from my phone. The possibilities are endless. No more driving around looking for an internet cafe.
I began this post speaking philosophically about numbers and their human connection. I end with the realization numbers in some cases represent how much monetary power I have. My phone number versus my bank account, in a battle to the finish!
Lisa was so helpful. She loved answering emails and the phone. If I spent five minutes on the phone with the forty or so calls a day, that would be 3 and one third hours a day. Then, if I spent five minutes a day responding to 200 emails, that would be another 16 and a half hours. That would be about 20 hours a day replying. Thanks to Lisa, I was able to eat dinner with my hosts instead of doing all that.
Real soon I will have a bit of her writing here. It is lost on my computer right now.
“What’s this?” you ask. “Drum’s on aisle three?”. Yes indeed. Right there at Tom’s Liquors in Prunedale, aka “Prunetucky”, every saturday night, the boys get together and jam. Two drummers, three guitarists, a singer, bongo drums resting on a cooler, amps and cords up and down different aisles, cases of beer flying out the door, and I just stopped in for some turkey jerky.
Stop by some time, in the minimall at the junction of San Miguel Canyon Road and Prunedale North Road. Tom’s Liquors Rocks!
Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention. May I have your attention, please.
As you know, a lot of great things are coming out of Detroit. The White Stripes, Canadian weather, and thank god on March 20th, I’ll be coming back out of there as well. In the meantime, I will be a featured artist at a show put on by Detroit Artists Market entitled, “M.O.R.E.” (manufacturers of real excellence). This show aims to compare how artists use media with how corporations use media.
I plan to put on my best suit and go to corporations and explain to them why art is important. I’ll cold call offices, walk in and ask to set up appointments with someone in marketing. Should I get drunk first? Or stay sober, but cut off my ear at some point? The art community has some exciting things to offer a business. I’m not sure if those are two of them. But for a hundred thousand or so, I will be able to come up with some important outside perspectives, I’m sure.
Please forgive the break in continuity from the National Dinner Tour, but this is a big opportunity to preach the gospel of art to a group of business school sinners.
Thank you for you attention. Please enjoy your evening.
50,000 people have moved out of Detroit in the last three years. They tell me Detroit is the first American city to fall from the graces of capitalism. The motor city took a road trip south and left a legacy of abandoned buildings and empty parking lots in the blue exhaust trail.
I went into a Chinese restaurant called Chop Suey’s. You open door, and all there is, is a poster of the Great Wall of China. No chairs, no tables, just a little bullet proof window at the far end of the room. I walked all the way across the floor, where a dining room should be, and noticed another poster of strawberries. I got to the window and a woman was waiting for me, ready to take my order. But I decided not to eat there.
Is it ironic so many people live in their cars in Detroit? Probably not to the guy who lost his job at the GM plant. It was to me. The snow built up on roofs of old Cutlass’s, forty Christmas trees that didn’t sell on an empty lot three months later, still green against the new snow. I passed by homes that had been half knocked down and the bricks were strewn across the yard, but the front door was bolted shut. The shear number of empty warehouses and factories gave the place a post-Apocalyptic feel. People everywhere were pitching ideas on how to make money, either by me giving it to them outright, or them selling me can openers or repairing rust on my rental car. There is no money in Detroit.
The commander of police told me Detroit has the flu. “If Detroit falls, Michigan falls. If Michigan falls, America falls.” It felt like Detroit had more than the flu. It was in the final stages of auto-immune deficiency. Emphasis on auto. Is this the fate that awaits us, as our job market is outsourced and companies absolved from all responsibility? Will bulletproof glass be coming to the confession booth at your local Catholic church, too? Everything in Detroit is separated with bulletproof glass.
What this place needs is a sense of community.
One of the most thriving businesses was the 24-hour emergency boarding service. When someone throws a brick through your storefront plate glass window and you want to prevent everything from being looted, you give these folks a call and they come right on over and nail up some plywood.
“One man’s backyard is another man’s crime scene”, a guy told me in a bar, just after the Fire Chief bought the house a round. I fell in love with Detroit. The people who have stayed are strong, they believe in the future against all good evidence. It is possibly a city of dreamers, although often it feels like there is no hope for it.
I called a food critic who writes for the Detroit free press to attend the dinner, which was held at the Detroit artist s market gallery 4719 Woodward Avenue at East Forrest. I contacted channel 8 news to send out invitations for dinner on Saturday night. 23 chairs were set up and I had 450 requests. I honed it down to people who I felt represented Detroit, from what I’d seen over the last week and half I’d spent there.
I invited a police officer to hear how he felt, the GM executive was there, and a steel worker who was raising two daughters on his own. An 82-year-old African American woman arrived and talked to me about never wanting to leave Detroit, even if it burned to the ground. Which it is, slowly.
There is a thing called “dark tourism” in Detroit. People come from all over to watch the citizens burn their houses down the night before Halloween. It is a recent tradition, one that involves setting traps to keep firefighters from preventing a total loss. The point is to collect on insurance claims, and with everyone doing it on a special night, blame can be shifted to wild unsavory types running loose in the streets. (Apparently abandoned buildings were originally set on fire around this time by fledgling arsonists.)
People really wanted to talk about this city. That was the focus of the conversation for a while. Of course, we started off by having everyone go around the table and tell us about themselves, what they’re doing in Detroit and so on. Here’s a brief rundown of the diners:
Rabbi Mordehi Waldman and Jan Hosford-Heist, both of Oak Park
Catholic priest and counselor Lawrence Ventline of Sterling Heights
Former exotic dancer Cherry Sunday of Southgate
Professional crafter and teacher Olga Hodge, 82, of Detroit
Detroit Diesel machinist Dale Woolford, 44, and his daughters Morgan, 12, and Stephanie, 16, of Pinckney
GM retiree and historic building restorer John Lauve, 63, and his companion, Linda Croft, 61, an apartment manager, both of Holly
Johnie Bailey, 29, of Detroit, a premed student and Chrysler employee
Wine merchant Elie Boudt, 43, of Birmingham, who provided wine for the dinner
Phyllis Gantman, 53, of Farmington Hills, who worked for Metropolitan Life insurance company for 29 years until losing her job in a massive cutback in December
Ashley Woods, 20, of Orchard Lake, a student at Miami of Ohio University
Wendy Eason, 27, of Ypsilanti, who works in public relations for Caribou Coffee and is a campus minister at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church at the University of Michigan
Gregory Fell, 40, who travels around the world for Ford Motor Co. in various capacities
Country music recording artist and financial adviser Joseph James Giordano, 51, of Rochester
Detroit Police Inspector Billy McFarley, 55, commander of the 13th Police Precinct, with headquarters next door to the art gallery
Artist Mitch Cope, curator of the MORE art exhibit at the Detroit Artists Market and his parents, Hettie and Jim Cope, both 60, of Milford
Aaron Timlin, 34, of Detroit, executive director of the Detroit Artists Market
Gallery manager Christine Stamas of Detroit
It was great to have the priest, the rabbi and the former stripper all sitting next to each other. As Cherry Sunday told us her story, she handed the priest photo’s from her heyday. He was a sport and held them up for all to see as she talked.
The rabbi was a bit disappointed to find out my mother wasn’t Jewish. Which means I’m not Jewish, in the orthodox sense. “I’m part of the Tribe of God!” I screamed And then my head spun around 360 degrees, while I projectile vomited…bad joke.
I did honestly cry at one point during dinner. The stories were so powerful. The rabbi suffered through lymphoma, which brought up memories of mine. When I was a child, my bone marrow stopped producing white blood cells, and they considered me dead. Later, when I was 22, a doctor, investigating a lump under my armpit, told me I had either, leukemia, lymphoma, or AIDS. I freaked out and hit the road for three months, skipping the scheduled surgery, and just thought about life and the end of it coming my way. I got back into town; they removed a lymph node, and said I was fine.
To be in Detroit, seeing my achievement, how I was able to bring people together who would never meet, I felt overwhelmed. This was a moment when all the hard work came into focus, and I saw the result, and it felt important. In a town that needs community desperately, one was being started.
Angel Foods catered the event, free of charge. They were into the project, and excited to see what was going to happen. We ate a salad of mixed greens with cranberries and candied nuts, pecan encrusted chicken, roasted vegetables and crème Brule.