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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“An exteriorist topoanalysis would perhaps give added precision to this projective behavior by defining our daydreams of objects” (34).
Vote. Here voting.
Keep it cryptic. Filter. Ill-digested week; shit. Besides for those highlights. T. with belly giggles and mouthfuls of cheese. Damn!, chew, babygirl! Tins mailed to colleagues. Two addresses were wrong, but I figured one out and follow-up on the other. House of No has everyone’s address. Handwritten notes making me late for Thursday’s game. Is.’s volleyball matches, counting, counting, 1..3..5. Five matches. Three against the Rockets. Line-judged two of them on Friday afternoon. That day. New towels. An edited collection sent to copy editor. Filter. Shit week. Neighbor P. brought another garbage bag of vegetables. Some cutting then I converted it to a half gallon of pickled peppers. Grown in Detroit; fermented in Ypsi. Two eggplants, luminous purple. The skin of one started to wrinkle today so it was lunch. I’m grateful. I often think of all the family and friends P. told me she lost to COVID and how they had a mass service on Belle Isle.
Element needs brake work. That’ll be Tuesday first thing. Leave by 7:30. Already scheduled. No idea if I’ll be waiting at the shop for the call with the dean. Zoom gives 10-12 ways to connect. Why haven’t you used them all by now? Are you still watching “Schitt’s Creek”? Plus twelve email inbox. Plus four to-do list. Both are feral. Tired of working on weekends. Return to Virginia on the 12th. That’s Indigenous People’s Day. Filter. Keep it cryptic. Dirty ice cream bowls. The bowls were free. The ice cream was already in the freezer thanks to Ph. The bowls are thin, delicate. They were free. Not part of the June 2019 Kohlsploitation run. The scoop is cheap. Its handle is rubber coated, reasonably firm for gripping until the end where it bends because it is past the end of the metal handle it wraps around. The bowls would be shardy if broken. Cookies and cream. Is the cream supposed to be like sandwich cookie filling or like ice cream. Inconsistent so you never quite know what you’ll get. One of those to-dos is a manuscript review. I keep saying yes to manuscript reviews and then feeling fitful workload regret after they’ve been on the list for ten days.
I voted for Biden+Harris, of course.
Dystopoanalysis. Erasing Procreate lines. Clear layers (choose Layer, choose Clear). Already more drawing than I’d daydreamt was possible. Now a marshmallow-headed figure on a skewer blow-torching their own face. It melts. The heat is hot. But so what. I’d rather be writing (not x). I’d rather be reading (not y). I’d rather be drawing (not z). Going to do this s’more.
This was the first summer to have gone this way: plague, medium incline boulder roll, grandfoolish grand-societal re-opening, redoubled plague, steeper incline boulder roll. Who even has the time or energy to imagine Sisyphus as anything at all?
Hey Siri, calendar check please. Since late May–the 26th. I picked a date just to size things up, snapshot tally, to figure summertime with whatever it’s been now that I’m in a week dialed intentionally to pausing–a rest before the tidals of August wash our way.
Since late May–the 26th.
1,415 vt.edu emails received
911 vt.edu emails sent
That’s a 35.6% reduction, or interruption rate. I wish it was more like 50%.
3 tenure and/or promotion cases to review. One done; two to go.
2 article manuscripts reviewed
1 promotion narrative and dossier sent in (my own)
67 syllabi reviewed for equivalency requests
106 hours in the ENGL1105 Canvas blueprint–I almost wrote blurprint. Blurprint, indeed.
That’s the list. I can see in it some things I’d like to change, some things I’d like never to do again, some things that signal follow-through and commitment, and some things that flag for skewing too too far into the faculty-administrative depths of a WPA position that still feels very new to me. Onward is August’s knowing, mumbling hum, and with August, here’s to hoping sky-high hopeshot, there will be space+time for achieving a healthier balance, like amoebas searching for more podia than pseudopodia.