I was willing to ignore the phantom reek of rotted yams and insecticide that I had narrowed down to the kitchen cabinets. And those jokers from the halfway house next door weren’t so bad once you got to know ’em. Located along Flint’s Second Street, nestled comfily at downtown’s outskirts between such wholesome-sounding streets as Chase and Asylum, I had found a place to call my very own. I was 18…and, so far, I was liking it.
Facing the duplex, my apartment was on the upper right which gave me a commanding view of the massive concrete ocean that had once been the slab from which the Chevy in the Hole plant had chugged and sputtered for the better part of a century. It was a stone’s throw from where striking auto workers had staged the pivotal Sit-Down Strike of the 1930’s.
On a sunny September afternoon in 1992, Bill Clinton’s campaign machine passed through here. I had walked the few hundred yards from my doorstep to see him. With the City’s crumbling edifices as his backdrop, his words brimmed with hope; his every sentence punctuated with deafening amen applause from the horde of unemployed men and women who had gathered to hear him. It was as if the man was a dose of epinephrine just waiting to be injected into the veins of cities, like Flint, that were in economical cardiac arrest.
Historically centered, check. Conveniently located, check. All this…with water frontage, too! The flat brown waters of the Flint River snaked just along the east boundary of the property, its bounty of carp beckoning legions of urban sportsmen with nothing better to do to its banks. Sometimes I’d make my way down to where they gathered beneath the overpass and join them, their words a booze-addled variety of friendly jabs and dirty laundry, reverie and gossip.
A clean slate. And I had vowed to do more with myself than I had during my lackluster high school years. I enrolled in college and quickly made the Dean’s List. My car, a ’78 Buick Regal with an unbalanced washing machine-like grumble, sputtered and gasped its way around town until one day the manifold blew up. With thick white smoke trailing from my car like a comet’s tail, I pulled off into the nearest lot, removed my plate, and left it abandoned where it sat. I made it through the year without a car, rising each morning at 6 and walking the eight mile roundtrip through downtown to the college and then back again. One blessed night, a fight between the neighbors below me had spilled out into the parking lot, resulting in a debris field of various household items. After the police had come and gone, I went down and scavenged through the splintered chair legs and broken glass, salvaging from the chaos some canned goods and toilet paper.
The following spring they found the remains of a jogger along the route that I walked. Missing since the fall, it was determined that he had been mauled to death by a pack of feral dogs that had roamed the area. The Sheriffs Department was dispatched to the area where each dog-twelve in total-was hunted and killed and to this day I consider it a miracle that I somehow managed to never have encountered them.
The bareness and simplicity of those days made for a strange sort of contentedness that I still remember with great fondness. For as long as I could remember I’d always had this unshakable feeling like I was standing alone at the edge of a crowd. On the outside of everything. The only thing that changed when I turned 18 was that I had come to like it.