This will not be much of a column. A column has a point of view, and this one barely has a point – except to say thank you. But I’ve been wanting to say it for a while, so here goes.
Sometimes people ask me why I live where I live. I have been lucky enough to do some work in books, plays and films, and those industries are mostly in New York and Los Angeles, and folks there constantly say, “Why don’t you move here? What are you staying there for? It’s Detroit.”
Well, here was Detroit for me over the weekend: When I went to my local deli, a stranger in a wool coat gave me a thumbs-up and said, “Sunday at eight. Good luck.”
And at the health club, an older man pushing a bench lift machine grunted as I walked past, “Sunday at eight. (puff, puff) Our whole family is gonna watch.”
And at the airport, people in line, people rushing past, smiled and said, “Good luck” and “Can’t wait” and “Looking forward to it.”
You wanna know why I live where I live? That’s why. Because in this city, in this state, you can try to do something large and people aren’t silently praying for your destruction, they aren’t smiling to your face and cursing when you’re out of sight.
People here always have treated me with so much support and warm wishes, that honestly, I am overwhelmed. I end up looking stupid because I just mumble “Thank you” or “I really appreciate that” when inside the feeling is more like being stunned.
Well, on Tuesday, I was really stunned.
Thanks for reading, listening, watching
According to people who keep such figures, the television movie of “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” was the most-watched thing on American television Sunday night. That’s amazing, more than anyone could hope for. But in Detroit, it was watched by nearly one third of all TV set watchers. That’s unheard of. And I don’t know how to thank everybody.
But I want to try. I want to thank people who take my column and send it to their out-of-state grandchildren. I want to thank people who put my column on their refrigerators, and restaurant owners who hang it above the urinals (often a fitting place). I want to thank the old ladies who correct my grammar and the old men who tell me about some ballplayer from the 1930s who was better than the guys I write about.
I want to thank people who buy my books, then come back and buy more. I want to thank people who watch a TV movie or go see a play I wrote and don’t say, “Ah, enough for that guy already. I’m sick of him.”
That’s easy to do. In many places, if you try to do more than one thing, you get shot down. You’re not supposed to diversify. Mind your place, you are warned.
There was a time when I felt that way, too, when I was embarrassed by a desire to do more than one thing, to write a book or do a radio program beyond my regular column duties. But then I met Maya Angelou, a woman famous for her books, plays, poetry and films, and I asked her if people ever told her to stick with one thing.
Yes, she said, and it is the cruelest thing a person can say. Why would you tell someone to stop trying to fly?
That made sense.
And since then, I have tried.
Grace, dignity and criticism
That doesn’t make life easy. The Free Press is often in an awkward position, because it would like to promote a homeboy’s efforts, as it does a Jeff Daniels, an Eminem or an Elmore Leonard, but it has to be careful not to seem nepotistic. The Detroit News ignores me altogether. Won’t even mention my name.
WJR radio, where I also work, faces similar issues as the Free Press, whereas other radio stations don’t want to help competition, so …
Hey. I accept all of this. It goes with the territory. I am grateful to my fellows in the news media in Detroit for the grace and dignity they almost always show me. I know I don’t make it easy, and I am sure I overdo things at times, and that’s easy fodder for criticism.
But for the most part, I have been blessed every day I live and work in Detroit because of Detroiters.
Over the weekend, a volunteer group I work with did a Christmas party at a homeless shelter. And at one point, when Santa Claus was putting kids on his knee, and music was blasting and pizza and pop were being passed from table to table, a woman resident of the shelter approached me and said, “I’m gonna watch your movie. It’s tomorrow, ain’t it?”
I don’t know – that just floored me. I began to cry. You want to know why I live where I live? That’s why. I thank you all every day for the privilege.