Covid Not Covid and Other Diagnostics

I’ve been hosting a virus, posing as a walking symptoms checklist, and sicker than [vivid hyperbole] for now going on five days. Thought I’d get down a few notes about what it is, what it isn’t, and what’s ahead, offering as pretext that this is surely the sickest I’ve been in the past decade and perhaps in all of my adult life. Unless that’s just how we remember sickness: today’s blergh always outmeasures those blerghs who thrashed us but whose thrashings are only accessible through undocumented recall. Allowing for recency bias, I’ll say it anyway. This is a solid multiple more severe than the worst flus and about even with the walking pneumonia I hosted for a few weeks in my late 20s.

Here’s something of a timeline: Last Sunday, drive to Michigan, tired but steady. Monday, typical workday of email and meetings, all remote, but not feeling especially much like myself insofar as energy goes. Tuesday, had a shower and afterward noticed spots on my torso. I’m not prone to rashes, besides poison ivy, and this was very faint, not especially itchy. I made sense of it by imagining that Ph. had picked up some Dollar Store Gain knock off washing powder for soccer gear and used it to “clean” the towel I’d happened to use. Therein something didn’t agree with my delicate porcelain skin. (No, I was wrong; sorry for even thinking such a thing was possible, Ph.!). Went to Is.’s volleyball match at Northville, masked the entire time. On Wednesday, the rash had expanded, and I was beginning to feel symptomatic: sniffles, achiness, acute fatigue, intense headache, shortness of breath. There was more rash around my torso–stomach, kidneys, upper glutes–and appearing but somewhat lesser on my arms. I picked Is. up from school and learned there that volleyball practice was cancelled for 9th grade and varsity teams due to a positive Covid result for a player. JV (that’s Is.’s team), however, would have practice. As my own symptoms expanded and intensified, I decided to schedule a PCR test for Thursday afternoon; Is. already had one at approximately the same time, and although she was feeling pretty much fine and although she would be able to get an antigen test on Thursday, we had a plan. Based on my symptoms, including the rash, erratic fever, and muted/masked sensations of smell and taste, I anticipated a positive result from the test.

On Thursday, I had just one meeting, an interview with a colleague doing research, and I was able to show up for it and keep things on track. But outside of the meeting, I was increasingly waylaid by and concerned about intensifying headaches, deepening fatigue, an expanding rash (about 30% of my body by this time), and more trouble breathing. The breathing issues were all dry, for the most part, like lung capacity is being slowly drawn down until you are only able to fill what feels like half or one-third of normal capacity. There’s a parallel anxiety in this, right?, due to the known respiratory challenges faced by Covid hosts. Being vaccinated (Moderna, April 6 and May 6) and otherwise healthy leading up to the moment of infection, I was visited by thoughts (to say nothing of readily accessible news clips) about those who don’t make it through the night. I was also reading up on morbilliform rashes and hoping for a quick return on the PCR results.

On Friday, I also had just one meeting. Third day significantly symptomatic, with everything intensifying. Utterly unpleasant. I sat through the meeting and even spoke up a time or two but noticed that utterances were clipped and quakey due to irregular and unreliable lungwork. Sententia, don’t we know it, need wind or there’s no setting sail (aside: I think I remember Crowley and Hawhee noting that sentences as units of thought were also units of breath, the lengths of which were determined by lung capacity; up next for me, much shorter sentences). Nobody could tell because Zoom, but I was drenched with fever sweat by the end of the one hour call. Good times. I decided then that I’m taking some time in the week ahead just to find footing with whatever in hell is going on. On Friday night I couldn’t sleep because lungs were all kinds of unpredictable and unreliable and uncomfortable. At 12:45 a.m., the text arrived saying the PCR results were in. I checked the CVS portal: negative.

By this point in the week, the few people prone to worrying about me were really starting to be concerned. A. very graciously had sent via Instacart a bounty of deliverables that arrived on Saturday–Vernors, Gatorade, stuff for grilled cheese and soup, so much of what I needed. And in a second order, a Pulse Oximeter, which is a jimmy jammy whose function is to readout pulse and blood O2 levels. I was so far fogged by this point that I couldn’t even set the thing up because I couldn’t figure out how to get the batteries lined up in it. When I did, pulse was 83, O2 was 92. That’s low. Not quite rush-to-the-hospital low, but quite low. I timed the number of inhalations I was getting in one minute: 14. That was solidly where it should be, between 12-16 on average. And then I also called my primary care physician in Blacksburg and found the number then called the on-call physician at Carillion to ask a few questions: If this isn’t a breakthrough Covid case, what is it? And how compromised does my breathing need to be before I go in? The answers, with all due respect, were very textbook, along the lines of how I am in good health and how I am not at risk of dying, so it’s best to rest and hydrate and wait it out. Two telltale indicators backing this stance: 1) my fever only went as high as 101 F and it hadn’t locked in at that point for long, so there wasn’t a steady, prolonged, or especially alarming fever associated with this, and 2) I didn’t have any throat soreness, so although the cough and shortness of breath were serious, this didn’t sound like strep or measles or scarlet fever or Covid.

Today’s Sunday, Day Five of this round of symptoms. The rash is fading, but seriously, folks, let me tell you that if you’d seen the rash, it’s alarming. I took photos. I won’t post them here yet, not today. But I thought I should have them in case they prove relevant for anyone else trying to sleuth through whatever this is. Whatever this is. That’s the other significant issues weighing on me now: I don’t know what it is. Not even a family of possibly associated diseases. Cold? Flu? God help us all. Rubella? Measles? Doesn’t add up. I’ll call my doctor tomorrow to talk through this, but I don’t know that anyone will care because by then I will be more definitively on the mend. About the mend: for the past 48 hours, the worst of the symptoms are that I have coughing fits and related headaches. I can’t sleep at night because of this shortness of breath. I also can’t talk. Every utterance beyond four words is followed by a painfully intense coughing fit.

I have more to say about all of this and also a to be continued. I’ll try to return and write through more of this on Monday or Tuesday.

Pig

This here is a short piece about how children say what they say and it sticks. “Short” because of the number of words. Short so short it might also be called “flash” because this piece happened in one sitting and didn’t take much time. Very little rethinking. Very little editing. “Piece” because that’s a way of saying unit of writing that’s not essay or article or blog or tweet or chapter or status update. What is it to always run away from the stale names for units of discourse (units big enough to be called genres and not small enough to be waysided as low order minutiae).

🔝 That is a slow wind-up. But I’m gonna let it stand, “short piece” or “flash” being a writerly hit of Fuckitol.

When Is. was a wee and knee-high–age 2 or so–having begun to compare sizes of things, she recognized I was taller than many other fully grown adults, and putting height+BMI descriptors to work, came up with the name for me, Daddy Biggie. Some days, maybe it was Biggie Daddy. It was cute and descriptive and earnest. Fine by me. And delightful, a source of joy.

Some years later, now that T. has so swiftly grew to be wee and knee-high–age 2 or so–upwelled the question, what’ll be the names she’ll use for grandparents. She has awesome grandparents. The local ones, incredibly giving and loving. I just so happen to be T.’s least-known grandparent, also the grandparent who lives farthest away, who is most tattooed, most Virginian, and so on. Tallest. Because I am at a distance of approximately 500 miles removed, living the farthest away from where the everyday action is there in SE Michigan, time and proximity are precious. Profound are the lessons in time’s passage and in missing.

To the question: What’ll be the names? To be fair, I was consulted, but I credit her aunt Is., now 15, with cementing the reference and supporting, developmentally, T.’s referring to me as Pawpaw Biggie. Pawpaw is a name for a yellowfruit, it’s true, but it’s also afoot and circulating as a southern-regional variation on grandpa. Heckuva lot better than “peepaw,” another variation. And “Biggie,” well, that also stands up to time, descriptive, earnest, delightful, a source of joy.

I really do think T. gave the name a good faith try. And yet morphemes morph. Pawpaw Biggie next Pawpaw Piggy. When in May I picked up Is. from her house, T. in the doorway expressing sendaway wishes said, “Bye, Is.! Bye, Pig!” And then in a recent text message, Is. wrote so share with me that when T. was going to sleep, lulled by a who’s who tiredness litany, “x is going to bed; y is exhausted, too,” she asked, “Is Pawpaw Piggy sleepy?” Sure is sleepy, child. And smiling. Who on this earth gets to be called Pig?

Figure 1. It’s June 2021 and we’re at Go! Ice Cream in Ypsi., T., Is., Ph., and me getting our order together, here gesturally describing the bowl option relative to the cone option. (Photo by Is.)

A serendipitous enunciative event is pig’s alliterative click–Varaha snorted!–and it is there, penned up top among the finest mudrolls of 2021. With it have been unexpected echoes, too, for one a reminder that my mom had a pigculiar interest in swine–more a collector’s persistent return and accumulation of tchotchkes than a researcher’s study, but valid all the same: a hand-made rocking pig, piggy banks, and for some years a real interest in getting+keeping a pig as a pet. Dream what you will, now as then. I don’t really want or need anything more from this Pawpaw Piggy moment than to note it, as if at a trough well stocked with discarded cabbages and other random table scraps and memories, weird fuel sourcing smiles every time after all. 🐖

Anise Hyssop

Figure 1. Anise hyssop, purple and abuzz with pollinators, mid-July thriving in front of Ypsilanti condo.

Next to the place where the over-zealous condominium association leadership by proxy of some hack “arborist” removed the crooked and wise sugar maple a couple of years ago, last year I dropped in a few anise hyssop starters, a gardening feat for someone so passively and disinterestedly tending to the outdoor spaces at this Ypsilanti condo. I could and probably should do better. And yet I also find appealing the unkemptness, the uneven and grass covered stone edge, the anything-whatever arbitrariness of a holly and a lilac keeping watch, a misshapen cedar hedge, lemon balm, sage, and leafy etcetera, green etcetera. I assume most passers-by shrug and nobody complains to me, so it is fine. The mess is honest.

About those anise shoots: they are full, vibrant, and alive with hope. Unexpected! Especially unexpected is the high level of bee activity from dark of morning to dark of evening, bees gooping pollenspecks until their collectors are heaped, glowing orange packs what? maybe half their body weight. The condo and its immediate surrounds are so modest they hardly call for a deep map. Flaking brown brick. Vinyl windows out of warranty. But the years here, even the choppy recent years with months between stays, and behind the weird calendar of living in two places are these paradoxes of banal magic–always there but awesomely there when the attention is slow and direct. Being at the condo for a few unhurried days in late July, I have more time for that kind of attention-giving, slow and direct. If summer holidays had resolutions, this one now–today–would include a rededication to that slow and direct attending, refilling on that edge of humanness haloed and intersurrounding where heavy bees pull at purple flowers next to a front porch step.

Hail Possible

Figure 1. Office window during a heavy rainstorm.

Shanks 315, a Thursday afternoon, sideways rain crosshatched with 45 degree angled rain crosshatched with vertical rain crosshatched with my own break from letter writing crosshatched with a curiosity about whether this WordPress app I’ve had my my phone since forever will actually Thunder! Lightning!

Brought my umbrella, good thing. Will walk home between 5-6 after the rain has passed, good thing. App works for posting, good thing.

Father’s Day

  1. Is. is in Virginia with me this week. We’re eating and driving and hiking. Giles County yesterday. Floyd County today. A supreme pizza from Palisades yesterday. Sandwiches at the Floyd Country Store for lunch today. It’s Father’s Day. That’d the day each year when the full spectrum of fathers get recognized. Fathers living, fathers dead. Fathers uplifting, fathers downputting. Fathers drinking-always-drunk, fathers ascetic straight-edge sober. Lovingkind fathers, bully and dipshit fathers, too. Fathers present, fathers absent. I could go on. Or you could.
  2. The clock on fatherhood started for me with a kind of hidden compartment around 1997. So that’s 24 years ago. It was also on a Sunday that year (as every year?), Sunday, June 15. My mom had died four days earlier. For all I know or fail to recall, might’ve been the day we buried her. Nobody considered me a father right there and then. But there was enough build-up building that I figured I’d be resigning my job in Detroit (well, Bingham Farms), moving to KC again, and stepping up to see things through with Ph.
  3. This Father’s Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about Ph.’s birth certificate. I keep a clean, minimalist desk. Not a whole lot of shit on it. A bum hard drive we could call Fickle Lacie 2 TB or Crapola Lacie 2 TB. A dancing bears coffee mug holds pens. A standard mouth quart Ball jar has some change in it. If I had to guess, I’d guess it’s $6.85 in change. A lamp. A computer. A wire thingamabob for holding books open. And a few note cards, which I use for making to-do lists. Folded alongside the note cards is a copy of Ph.’s adoptive birth certificate. It was issued in 2001. Four years lapsed from the time my mom died to then the adoption was official and materially certificate-able.
  4. I’ve carried that certificate in my work bag for twenty years. At least four or five work bags in that time. Always had it with me, knowing someone somewhere would ask to see it. I didn’t need to get it out very often. But while in grad school at Syracuse, when driving across southern Ontario and crossing at Buffalo-Niagara or Sarnia-Port Huron or Windsor-Detroit, best have it ready. Border keepers would ask, skeptical: how do y’all know each other? And the certificate had damn well be in my work bag or otherwise close at hand.
  5. Sometime in April, I was checking into the possibilities of buying a house in or around Blacksburg. Getting a pre-approval letters, as one does in this rabid wolfpack of a housing market. And in rummaging for my passport (so infrequently needed during Covid), I found Ph.’s birth certificate. Gave it a long-held pause and close look: the paper giving up at the creases, surrendering to time and folds, a spill of something like sunscreen splotching a translucent freeform over two-thirds of it, or maybe that’s just the outline of human heart. Could be.
  6. Ph. turned 30 in March, so you’d think that nobody in the world would still be carrying around his birth certificate, which is not at all to say thinking about it constantly, but always ready to be asked. I suppose that’s why the folded old mess of a dilapidated photocopy, in its journey to eventually, inevitably being discarded, only made it from my work bag to the place where it is now tucked innocuously by the blank note cards between the dancing bears mug and the big spender change jar. What’s merely a sheet of paper, a scraplet of an event long ago settled, I think I’ll continue holding onto it for now. Another few weeks or months or more.
Back in late May, the 30th, T. and me sitting down with two donuts for sharing: a sour cream and a creme-filled long john. I check out the stickiness on my hands for some precognitive tactile habit–am I gonna need a napkin? And then T., with that cure-all attentiveness, here holding a kind of echo gesture, as Is. or was it Ph. clicked a photo. What is this but grandfatherhood?

NULL’s Best Guess – Tournament Pick’em Invitation

It’s time again for the EWM Yahoo! NCAA men’s basketball tournament pick’em – 17th annual-ish. Just like whatever year it was when we did this last, we’re using Fibonacci scoring (2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21), and going with modest upset bonuses, +1 point for upsets in the first round, +2 for upset picks after that. Everyone is welcome to join this pool, which will include some of the most steady-handed dart flingers of all time. There’s no time time for consulting with your local misfortune teller, ordering new eyeglasses, staring into the sun (never advisable) while wondering about the rate at which your bracket will wither if you choose that team you kind of love.

Sign up! Free, free, FREE, yes, free to you: join this year’s group on Yahoo!, NULL’s Best Guess (ID#29676). If you have questions, elbow me with all you’ve got via email at dereknmueller at gmail.com. Invite your friends, frenemies, faux-frenemies, Canadian compadres, social media snobs, wishful critical thinkers, mentors, interim interim interim associate provosts, outrageous sentiment analysts, multicolor kitchen molds, too-long-didn’t-readers, spendthrifts who subscribe to more than three streaming media services, people who can’t ever seem to find the goat yogurt at Kroger, friends of Appalachian folk artists, people who say they train on a bike but who haven’t trained on a bike in over a month, candy-sneaking flexitarians, Ypsilanti tattoo artists, grandchildren dancing to the baby shark video, snail racers, assessment Jedi, the miscreant living in the upstairs apartment who does floor+ceiling thumping Jazzercise in the six a.m. hour every god-blessed day including Daylight Saving Time spring ahead day, etc. The group has space for the next 49 who sign up. Giant stakes: reputations are made (and quickly forgotten) right here.

Yahoo! Tournament Pick’em
Group: NULL’s Best Guess (ID# 29676)
“17th annual-ish.”

Firm up your selections any time between the selection show on Sunday evening, March 14, and first tip of the round of 64, sometime around noon EDT on Thursday, March 18.

Coop

Let’s call this one “Painting Among the Decaying Birds, July 1991” or “Coop.”

Nearly thirty years have gone by, but I can not forget that first job after high school, working for Coyne Oil & Propane. Didn’t have any description to pair with it, and I was 17, so didn’t pause to care for long about how the job was defined, what amounted to a do-anything unskilled generalist, some days refilling the windshield washer tubs mounted near the fuel terminal or sweeping the engine-leaks-absorbing clay pellets scattered on the concrete where fleet vehicles parked while fueling. Other days painting lines on parking spaces, emptying garbage, or loading grime-covered empty barrels by hand into the back of a semi trailer, one by one by one. When the weather cooperated, most days involved painting propane tanks. I wrote about it once before, several years ago (“Propane“), keying on some of the flashbacks to that job and how it was set up, the Ford half-ton flatbed I drove when the tanks were in the field and the rickety front loader whose hydraulics were so breezy, to hoist a tank initiated game show-like countdown, racing to paint the tank’s underside before it lowered to the ground.

It was an iffy first job. Minimum wage was, what?, maybe $4.25 an hour in 1991. The beige paint came in five gallon buckets with exclamatory warning labels about its toxicity and how you should avoid contact with your skin, but day in and day out for months my hands were covered with the stuff.

Iffy, too, were some of the situations that presented with the off-site, in-the-field painting. Some of the tanks were a mess–surfaces pocked and rusted and impossible to refinish with the limited tools I had available; many of the sites were heinous, too–tanks converged upon by tall weeds or branches, swallowed up by their surrounds, much of which the homeowners preferred to have left undisturbed. But there weren’t many rules, otherwise, and the only lines of communication were when one of the Coyne brothers who owned the company would receive a phone call of request or complaint.

The drawing up top returns again to the unforgettable excursion to a remote, wooded lot north of Farwell, Mich. A trailer in the trees with an ad hoc perimeter of chicken wire around, lazy-tacked stakes leaning, and inside that perimeter, the 330-gallon propane tank sat stably on blocks. I knocked on the door to alert them to my being there; but the adults inside were gravely ambivalent, vaguely gesturing “go on” without getting up from where they sat watching television. And in the side-yard, in that coop, all around the tank, dead, decaying chickens were strewn about right where the universe had left them–unfed to the point of starving, maybe, or subjected to a weasel’s spree. Who knows. Not the finest hour of my work life, tending to the job, stepping across the piles of putrid feathers abuzz with flies, getting out my painting supplies, pouring a roller pan full of beige paint, and rolling until the tank glistened, there in the shade. Naked or half-dressed, little kids ate cherry popsicles and watched from the window, onlookers almost like at one of those live sidewalk art performances in Chicago or New York, only humbler.

The memory comes up. This time, I drew about it, then wrote a few lines. Grand lessons, I don’t know, probably not. I do wonder if anyone has had to paint that tank since. How those kids are doing. Whether the residents got right with raising chickens and had a better go of it. Coop is of those memories that raises up any time I have a bad day at work. I suppose that’s why this was such a good first job after high school to have, painting propane tanks this way. At least it’s not that July 1991 excursion again. At least there aren’t dead and decaying chickens scattered about the place.

91

Illustration from Tom Lavoie, Sr., given as a gift to graduating seniors on the 1991 Beal City Aggies (19-6), Class D Michigan State Quarterfinalists.

While I’m already on that 1991 flight path (x-referencing this FB post), here’s one more scraplet of mid-Michigan memorabilia, a drawing by my hs coach’s dad, Tom Lavoie, Sr. He’d created a series of these for seniors that year, I think. My variation, shown here somehow held on for years from place to place, but eventually it succumbed to the dankness of whatever dark basement tuck-away it was temporarily stored in. I took a photo of it before I pitched it (5-6 years ago?) and then just a couple of weeks ago, reflecting on that 90-91 season, I looked up the photo and retraced it in Procreate. I mean, why forget when you can remember? In particular, I remember Tom Lavoie, Sr., as oftentimes nearby, especially for those winter break practices, which he showed up to during the holidays, joining the workout session by arming himself with football blocking pads, and fouling us as we took turns doing power-ups (could be it was only the bigs who endured this; I don’t quite remember). Possibly sounds worse than it was; it added just a little bit extra to the already-demanding exertions of again and again picking up a ball from the floor, willing it to the upper outer corner of the backboard. I assume this kind of thing–being fouled over and over by football pads–explains the band-aids, dazed-headedness, aching elbows and knees, bloody sock, and lost shoe shown here. We were always taught, if you’re gonna foul, then foul (later at Park, Coach English, too, doubled-down on this defensive philosophy: spend your fouls well, wisely; you only get a few of them to give!). Google gave me a phone number, so I tried calling Tom Lavoie, Sr., this morning, left a message of gratitude on the answering machine for the drawing, for caring enough to show up as he did for us–and, too, for the difference made by his son, who died at too young an age (53) in 2011. 🏀

Added: Tom Sr. returned my call; we chatted for 30 mins about a lot of it remembering basketball, the drawings he made for players at Beal City and also for the women’s programs at Alpena HS, the former BCHS players he still hears from, and also about how–coincidentally–he graduated from Michigan State Normal School before it was EMU, studying Phys Ed and finishing in Ypsi in 1956. Mentioned, too, the anecdote about how he and Tom (his son, my hs coach) had gone to a Dick Baumgartner shooting camp in Indiana and were astonished to learn that the diameter of the rim is twice the diameter of a basketball, and facing much disbelief about that, Baumgartner would have to climb a ladder and show it to be true (empirical evidence being observable and all)…and how he had to do that same thing when he shared that lesson in later years at Alpena.

Basement Scenes

Great-grandparents, great grandsons, Sheboygan, Wisc.

Whatever was the address of the Sheboygan, Wisc. house, and whenever were the years (there were a few late 1970s and early 80s), I learned much of what I understand about how any holidays worth celebrating really work, miniature lessons from my brother, my parents, grandparents (not pictured), great-grandparents (left to right, the photo in front of the piano, Meta, Thomas, and Harriet, all immigrants or children of immigrants). Today I’m spending time in the kitchen, quietly preparing food, imagining it possible that there are still tykes over that way west across Lake Michigan feeling joyful for playing in the basement, a holidays-only Mr. Pibb, slinkies sent down the stairwell, hand-knitted sweaters snugly holding multigenerational warmth.

Near that edge of Kodak moments and in knitted sweaters. I remember preferring the colors in mine (right) to the colors in my brother’s (left). Is it possible to have a life-long color preferences palette (oranges and greens) calibrated by an early childhood sweater?

Parents on folding chairs: Tom and Linda.

Sweet Maple

Roothold, or When a Few of the Trees That Never Really Left, Returned; A Before/After of Lakeview Estates, Superior Twp., Mich. (faintly Shaker gift drawing-style; fuchsia baskets) #procreate #procreateart #illustration

Michigan neighbor, K., asked if I take requests for drawings, and I hadn’t before, not really, and so I said yes, sure, because even though was born under a Taurus sign I do sometimes like to do things I have never done before. Yes, sure.

The friendly request presented a set of conditions: draw our community (referring, I assumed, to the condominium complex known as Lakeview Estates, a set of approximately 130 units organized in four-unit buildings, built beginning in 1974, and occupying several acres just on the north edge of Ypsilanti, sort of between Clark and Geddes, Prospect and Harris, if you’re into Michigan’s baseline-meridian mile by mile grids). Where was I? Draw our community. Incorporate a before/after timespan. Include fuchsia. And title it with something she’d have to look up.

In 2009, I first happened up on the condo unit as a renter, referred to its owner’s adult children by an EMU colleague who knew them through their common interest in horses. The place was freed up as a rental shortly after its elderly owner died. Having moved from Syracuse, we rented for two or three years before buying a house in the next neighborhood over, same square mile as I described above.

I resumed occupancy at the condo after purchasing it in August 2014. It’s not that all of this is a dullish story as much as an account tiptoed around for uncertainty about demarcations about whose experiences constitute any story to tell and what, after all, as indefinite futures play out, do stories told bear out as consequences for ambient subjectivities–contributing without harm to an oikos, its ecology, the distributed house-logic extends neighborliness and stewardship erring always on the side of unknowns, the unforeseeable.

In 2018 I took a job 500 miles from Ypsilanti. Navigating that transition was in the top ten of stressful adulthood navigations. It meant moving away from my then-11-year-old daughter, for one. It meant wayfinding financially such that I could keep the condo as a place to visit and stay for long periods of time in Michigan while also finding a place to live in Virginia. But it also meant sorting out an incredibly trying series of obstacles introduced by the then-president of the condominium association whose inflexibilities and malfeasances led to my being sued. Twice. The details of the cases amounted to attempts to evict where I believed I was standing up for my position that “single family dwelling” met the standards of the township so long as no more than three otherwise unrelated adults share a house/condo with continuing domestic intention (sharing meals, for example). I’m leaving out a lot of the details. There was no rental agreement; no complaints, either. And I was stepped through legal proceedings that cost about 6k to defend for a pair of lawsuits that were ultimately dismissed. It’s challenging as hell to defend yourself against a condo association when the association dues you pay each month underwrite the efforts of the board president and a legal firm whose values seemed most of all to revolve around keeping a steady stream of revenue.

In the midst of the lawsuits–letters I wrote pleading with them not to pursue things further, which they ignored after the first suit was thrown out, summons delivered with the loud, intimidating knock of a flashlight handle by a county sheriff after dark one January night, the snarl of one attorney, who, at a board meeting called me an asshole and told me to shut up–among the worst of the behaviors I witnessed had to do with the sugar maple in the front and the cedar hedge in the back of my place. The cedar hedge was left to grow, untended and unkempt, eventually reaching heights that blocked my first floor window view. The maintenance requests were accidentally missed, and I was told they would get to it next time the tree trimmers were on the grounds. For a year and a half, the hedge grew. Only when other neighbors started to complain did the hedge get taken down. Meanwhile, a 30-year-old sugar maple that stood in the front of my unit was culled. I came back from Virginia in December 2019 and found in its place a pile of sawdust. They’d never told me they were going to do it, even though the tree was clearly inside the bounds of the garden area attached to my unit. I let them know I would have appreciated advance notice; it was a tree Is. climbed on when she was younger, a tree that hosted birds and squirrels outside the kitchen window. A mature tree. A tree giving no hints of being unhealthy, no roots troubling the foundation walls. What can you do but bid it gratitude and move on? Moving on for me meant asking if there was a plan to replace it. No, no budget for that, they said. Oh, gotcha and no problem. I will pay for it. But no, not allowed was the board and management company’s response.

I suppose some of the follow-through on my part was motivated by sunken costs. It was super expensive to defend those needless, frivolous lawsuits (lawsuits that could have and should have been dealt with instead through direct communication and, if necessary, mediation) and at a time when I was scraping a bit. Money, fine. Whatever. But to fuck with trees out of vengeance or spite then to block their replanting? We’re gonna do this this way? Fine. So it is.

Several neighbors took interest in these and other questionable and combative events. Word–stories–rippled across the property. Kicked out of the pool stories. Lore of bluster, antagonism, and targeting in the most passive/aggressive ways possible. A few people thought it was time for a change. And then more than a few. And they organized. Is there a lesser status form of government than a condo association? But neighbors put their names in. We spread the word about a better, fairer platform. We gathered proxies. And in early September, we voted. The board turned over. And things changed for the better.

The walls of this brownstone have been good to me–a space of quiet, of rest, of learning the difference between loneliness and aloneness, of healing. An old furnace gives heat. An old stove gives flame to soups. Plenty of counter space for fermenteds, which is important, since my neighbor, P., brings me bags full of vegetables from Detroit gardens in late summer. Neighbors look out for the place. The meandering streets nearby are familiar. The squirrels and birds are still around, a few trees over or maybe in the park on Norfolk, a block away. I see them there when I walk. With the new board, a board voted in a couple of months ago, I now have approval to replant a tree. Gonna do that in spring, imagining its roots will find and hug near as they can the underground rootpaths forged before them by the sweet maple.