Jul/Aug 2001 Salon

Rust Never Sleeps in Detroit '77-'81

by Stanley Jenkins

Well, we came to Michigan— and you know, they were playing "Hotel California" on the radio because it was the '70s and it rained everyday on the way to school and colors ran all red and green against flashing yellow. "Slap, slap", went the wipers. Ah honey, history don't mean a thing.

When you've hitched your wagon to a star.

Michigan. We moved there when I was in eighth grade and things weren't so good. Things started to go bad. Sister was in high school. She'd started back in Illinois and then had to finish her sophomore year as the new kid because we'd moved sometime in the spring right before the school year ended and I'm not sure if that's exactly when she started in with the drugs and the drinking and the diet pill overdosings or the findings of Jesus in Born Again Rock and Roll moments at that middle-aged hippie Jesus Freak church where they spoke in tongues and sang Bob Dylan songs-but in any case, the next thing you knew she was fucking everything that moved or didn't spit on her-and I'm not sure if that's when it all began but I was lonely.

And so it rained every day on the way to school and on the way to church and we right off joined one of those non-traditional but denominational outfits where they don't have any pews but moveable chairs and the Sanctuary was called the "All Purpose Room". At the door there was a rack that held name tags for all the members so we could all feel at home in a strange land and be a church family (Sing: "I am the church, you are the church, we are the church TO-GE-THER!").

And the Minister there used to preach about how the old ways were OK but maybe didn't speak to people today. Once, instead of a Scripture reading, he played that Neil Diamond album about "Jonathon Livingston Seagull" and then preached about Modern Day Prophets and my Dad was a little alarmed.

So that's what we did, we went to the non-traditional church and it rained every Sunday and everyday they were building new sub-divisions for white people in newly, non-incorporated Canton because it wasn't Detroit.

It sure did rain.


You know, there was a time the Captain and Tenille made sense. And in Michigan we tied a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree until the hostages came home. And the U.A.W. dropped stones on foreign-made cars from overpasses until somebody made them stop. Elvis died. We burned Disco records in atavistic demonstrations at the Pontiac Silverdome, new home of the Lions. Last one out of Detroit, please turn out the lights.

It was mostly Bob Seger in those days as I recall, and the Boss setting them up and shutting them down in the darkness at the edge of town and we worried about Rod Stewart because you heard didn't ya? they pumped his stomach and found cum! Hot Legs! and then in high school there was Talking Heads and the Clash got all lost in the supermarket and everybody was singing Cheap Trick and Led Zepplin songs until it was better to burn out than to fade away. Sister bought Foreigner and Styx records.



"Go away."

"What are you doing?"

"I said, go away."

"Are you crying?"

"I got sick."

"Jesus, you better clean that up, the carpet is gonna stain."

"I can't."

"….shit. OK. I'll do it… Just stop crying. Wash your face."

"My hair."

"Shut up, you'll wake Mom and Dad."

"My hair…."

"Just shut up. Please, shut up."

"My hair. It's ugly."

We cut it off. And sprayed the bathroom with deodorant to hide the vomit and Southern Comfort smell.

I woke up twenty-four hours agoooo
I wanna be sedated…


Everything got flabby in the '70s. Hair was big. Lapels were big. Everybody got fat except for me and Sister and the crazy lady in Greektown in Detroit. Once, me and Brian and Heather and that girl with the big butt that Brian had a crush on borrowed Dad's car and ate stuffed grape leaves in one of the restaurants and there were shadows from the Greek Orthodox church and I was wearing my Dad's fatigue jacket from the army as a badge of honor as a badge of revolt just like a-ringing a bell Go, Johnny, Go! when the crazy lady lunged at us through the window and screamed in language that was probably not even Greek, just pure evil eye curse tongue. Her body was bird-bone thin and she was old. She wore slippers and a house dress.

We went home.


Most of my memories of the land in Michigan are actually the land in Illinois. Michigan was blank. I remember swampland and crows. The sadness of Sault Ste. Marie. And the Lakes. But mostly what I remember comes from another time and another place, as if the present just never got big enough.

We had central heating and air. And our house was huge because we had hitched our wagon to a star.


"What's going on?"

Mother and Dad are standing but not talking.

"Come on you guys, what's going on?"

They are a long way from home.

"Sister ran away."


"She's at the Minister's house."

"She ran away?"

"She's at the Minister's house."

"When is she coming home?"

"Everything will be alright, son."

"She's coming home, right?"

"Your mother and I have everything under control."

"When is she coming home?"

"She left last night."

"Can I stay home from school today?"

"Your mother's not feeling well."

"I won't bother anybody."

"I have a meeting…."

"She's coming home, right?"

"Everything will be alright."

I rode my bike to the record store in town.

Sister came home.


In my mind it is always raining in Michigan. I am always riding in the front of the bus just behind the driver and the day is smearing on the windshield. I am always coming home.

Sister is all grown up now with three children, a husband and a house. She is bird-bone thin and thinks she is old. She curses me on the phone and wishes we were closer. She wants me to come home.

But Mother and Dad live in Idaho now and she is in upstate New York and I'm in the City. Sometimes I feel just like Timothy McVeigh's older brother.


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