Bedbugs and Break-ins: A Detroit Story

“It’s good I got off early, I have a table to steal.”

“Steal?”

“Well, not really. It’s by the dumpster, so that makes it anyone’s, right?”

“Oh yeah, take that shit.”

“It’s really old, cool looking writing table, just what I’ve been looking for. Although I’m embarrassed to be dumpster diving, so I’m going to do it in the cover of darkness.”

“That’s not dumpster diving, that refurbishing.”

“Wait, where is it?” asked C, joining the dialogue my co-worker JS and I were having.

“Outside my apartment.” I answered. I saw C’s eyes widen; he had at one time lived in my apartment complex, and I knew what the next words out of his mouth were going to be.

“Don’t do! Don’t do it, K! Bed bugs, I’m telling you!” I sat back in the disappointment of hearing my own doubts voiced out loud. But it was a really cool table.

“Bed bugs, it’s wood! Plus it’s been outside, they’d be dead–”

“They can crawl into anything, and stay there. They can stay hidden in the walls for years, and once you have them, you have to burn everything you own.” C’s hands absently rubbed up and down his arms, scattering invisible pest away. “I had them once. They bite, and hurt, and they don’t leave.” His eyes had a haunted look.

JS joined back in. “Yea, I’ve never had them, but everyone I know who has is paranoid about them. They say it’s a nightmare.”

I sighed and thought about the new clothes I just bought, and how burning them would make me feel. “But it’s wood!” I protested again, as if that were any argument at all.

“Don’t do it, K. Not if it’s outside the ——–. People in this city don’t throw away good furniture.” And with C’s closing line, I knew I wasn’t getting that table.

“I say do it.” JS said with a smirk.

“You just want me to get bitten.” I said with mock offense.

“No, I don’t.” He answered, and I knew he meant it. I also knew he didn’t particularly want me to not get bitten. This look and mood of apathy mirrored how the city Detroit felt about me and others perfectly.

Detroit was my family’s city once. My maternal grandfather had owned a bar on Grand River Ave. A family anecdote is about how he slept in it with his army issued revolver during the 1967 riot. My mother was raised near by in what the family called “The Big House,” a not particularly big house, which had held at different points all the members of my mother’s large Irish family. My great-grandfather traveled to Canada from Ireland at the age of nine, and had built the Big House himself in the early 20th century after moving to Detroit from Windsor, Canada. We assume legally. During the riot’s my mother was 14, my father, who lived on the east side, was 19. Around the same time my father had his much beloved and lamented Harley Davidson motorcycle stolen, and he has never forgiven the city, or any city. My parents separately, and later jointly, moved farther and farther away from their birth place, until they were housed in the save town of H——, an hour and a half away, raising my sister CW and myself  in a house literally in the woods. I spent warm days catching frogs and exploring the forest in Huckleberry Finn shorts. I climbed trees and made up songs about animals. Only there did I ever feel there may be a God, when the sky was so blue, and I felt I could melt into the fields and be OK. My parents were part of what many people call the “white flight’. When my parents would make trips down to the city to visit my mother’s Aunt, who still lived in the now decaying “Big House”, I would often ask to go.

“No.” My father would reply. “We’re going to the bad place.”

He never sounded so old when I told him I was moving here.

“What about Royal Oak? Or Ferndale?” He asked.

“I want to be able to walk to class, Midtown’s pretty nice, I hear.”

And  that was really all it was; I moved here, and I live here, for school. It was only after moving here that I would catch glimpses or a startling and intense city pride; mostly by people, like me, who had recently moved from the comfort of a safe childhood. Talks of a renaissance of sorts, a revival, that more young people are flocking to the city then have in the last 50 years; we must do our part for the city, they say, we have pride, we love it here! their eyes sparkling with self-righteousness. The city doesn’t necessary sparkle back. ‘You’re here.’ It seems to say. ‘Now what?’

There’s those 50 years, and what’s happened in that time? I pass an old bank ATM cover in graffiti, overgrowing with weeds and pretty bushes. The next block is overcome with successful restaurants which look clean and new. A rotting train station is our go to sight for tourist; a pretty picture. Our beautiful art deco buildings have at times literally crumbled off from neglect.

I’ve been here two years, my car has only been broken into once. This is luck. I don’t know anything about reviving a city. I don’t know if things can only get better, what we need to do to achieve it, or what needs to happen to allow reliable public transportation, for Christ’s sake. I just live here, and learn here, in  my family’s city. I work at a bar, probably quite like the one my grandfather once ran. I do know that sometimes bad things happen. But good things happen, too.

I didn’t take the table. I haven’t been bitten, yet.

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