By Scott Sullivan
Muskegon. Last pancake house on Apple Avenue aka M-46. East-west cars streaming, tears, too much packing, 13 years here.
The paper pulpit I’d helped start died largely of my doing. I’d picked up part-time work, then a fulltime writing/photography job in Wayland, a 100-mile round trip including through Grand Rapids I’d skittered through during Winter ‘92-‘93 while listing my 1-bedroom bungalow overlooking 4-Mile Creek.
I’d perched a picnic table near the valley lip at which friends and I took turns reading “Hamlet” aloud. Across it and up a hill was a plant where they tested tanks, treads kicking up dust while the latest circled a 2-track path. Each item I packed smacked failure.
The house sold when the valley was once more greening. 2 Men & A Truck helped me finish and hauled what I hadn’t pitched to a 2-bedroom on Montebello (Italian for “beautiful mountain”) in Kentwood, a quicker jaunt south to my new gig in an also-flat rural setting. North was GR’s urban scene.
The new place had a fenced back yard stretching south towards school athletic fields; I’d need a mower. The public park east had a basketball court with too-thin aluminum backboards; balls bounced crazy off it.
I learned the neighborhood running off energy, including a Division Street stretch where shops came — one sold exotic pets like a liger, a hybrid lion/tiger, largest of all known felines, this just a cub — and went. A dead drive-in movie theater laid fallow across the street.
The box RCA Victor TV my parents had given me 15 years ago I had placed on a wobbly table in my new digs. On April 6, 1993 it beamed Duke tattooing Michigan’s “Fab 4” in the NCAA basketball final. I’d bought Cold Duck champagne to mix with orange juice frozen hard in the icebox while watching; I tried stabbing the top to break up the surface but the blade glanced into me instead.
Mother’s Day was hot. I’d run to burn energy but the window in the den where I wrote, sealed by fresh paint, wouldn’t open. I broke the latex bead with a putty knife, then with a shove pushed the bottom pane open and left elbow through the glass. Spurting blood, I left a trail to the bathroom tub and stanched it with a towel.
My psychologist neighbor across the street drove me looking for stitches but quick-care shops were closed for the holiday, so on to the St. Mary’s Hospital E.R. where Mary the Nurse asked, “What did you do to yourself?”
“A pyrrhic victory,” I said, unwrapping the soaked towel from my wrist. “I opened the window, it opened me.” So I met my wife.
Who knew? Lonely, I advertised. With a tall teacher at a downtown tapas place I ate aceitunas washed down by absinthe, water and a sugar cube, then she left for class.
I loved Wayland. Typed on a tiny Macintosh in a pre-fab cube, rolling my office chair over a concrete floor with a hole nearby to a view of the basement through it.
Down wood steps also was a darkroom where under red lights I snipped, taped and loaded bulk film lengths onto cartridges, cutting tails to engage and advance in camera sprockets. Also processed rolls shot by fellow reporter Pat plus schools flak Micki in caustic soups timed by temperature of the chemistry.
I unspooled and hung negative strips that emerged with clothespins to wall-mounted strings to dry, bottom-weighted by steel clasps so the fan didn’t make them dance into each another or rub off emulions on cinder blocks that backed them. Some walls boasted girly pix the co-publisher’s son bequeathed me.
I loved Ron and Nila. They’d bought the 102-year-old Wayland Globe in ‘86 from staunch Republican widow and United Way backer H. Helmey — picture routine cover shots featuring suited men standing by a money-raised-so-far faux thermometer —and renamed it Penasee Globe.
The name and their style were disputed. By some accounts Penasee was son of Gun Lake Potawatomi Chief Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish, “Be-Nash-She” referring to sandhill cranes in the area. It meant, depending on who was translating, “little” or “powerful” bird. Word was Penasee was with a few drinks happy to sign papers ceding land proffered him by white speculators.
At Ron’s 50th birthday party he and Nila hired Orangeville Township supervisor Boyce Miller’s bearded, 400-pound son to dress in drag. I shot him and Ron holding beer cans and our fearless leader giving me the finger and posted the shot on a wall above my computer. After weekly deadlines Ron would share from a Yukon Jack flask he stored in his desk drawer.
Mary and I had our October ‘94 wedding reception at Ron and Nila’s Shelbyville Mill Pond house. My Single File ad leading “Zen Artist” — why not go Z to A? — had worked. From her response to it two months after my pyrrhic victory I knew it was her.
At the hospital she had just run the Grand Rapids River Bank Run 25K, 15.5 miles, which impressed me. She’d mentioned she had pets so I’d asked for a veterinarian reference for my black cat Hamlet, whom I’d brought with me from Muskegon. He’d protected the picnic table from shrews and mice when we read.
To be continued