Where to begin? How many times have I asked my self that question staring at a blank page. I guess I’ll go with the corny thing to say here and start at the beginning.
In 1999 I was 39 years old, I had managed, against some reasonably high odds against it, to build a career. I pushed that career onto a six digit income. I had also managed to be divorced with an infant son who remained in the physical custody of his mother and would remain so until he moved away to college when he was 21 years old.
As with most significant developments in my life, I an not point to bi-polar and say the singular driving force of events that created the situation I found my life in, but it definitely influenced it.
At the time I didn’t know I was bi-polar. And now, some 21 years later, I wondered if the events that had shaped my life to that point had started after I became a young man of 18, the average age that bi-polar really sets a grip on you. Things changed for the worse for a long stretch of years when I turned 18, but now I look back and see I had always been an odd kind of person. My difficulty socializing, an inability to fully engage, and poor performance in school and in general had been part of my behavior for as long as I can remember.
But the beginning of my behavior change seemed to accelerate when when I discovered alcohol and drugs at the age of 13. The behaviors I developed during this time would follow me, sometimes bringing me near death as the time at the age of 16 I swallowed a couple of barbiturates and washed them down with a quart of Colt 45 Malt Liquor, got behind the wheel of a mint 1968 Plymouth Road Runner, and gunned down Interstate 94 at over 100 mile per hour. Among many other events that followed, I look back at this and ask myself was that really me? Yes, yes it was.
Before I was 16, before I was 13, my mom, dad, sister and brother lived in a small three bedroom red-bricked ranch in Roseville Michigan. My father was a plumbing supply salesman, but in those days he was a warehouse worker for a company called Grabler that made PVC plumbing parts.
My father recognized very early how PVC was going to change the plumbing industry. Somehow, he and my mother scrapped together enough money to open their own plumbing supply warehouse called Argo Plumbing.
Argo Plumbing’s warehouse was located on Burdette street in Ferndale Michigan. 42 years after my gather had to close Argo because of of the oil embargoes of the 1970’s and the Carter administrations failing battle against inflation, I rode my bicycle from my home in Troy Michigan to Burdette street to see if his old building was still there. It was.
I rolled up Burdettre street on a 2015 Trek Boone 7 carbon fiber cyclocross bicycle. I had started riding bicycles a few years earlier. I dropped 50 pounds because of it and put myself in the best physical condition I had ever been since Navy boot camp. I’m still that fit.
I stood there in front of the old Argo supply building, the Fraternal Order of Police used the building used the place now, I guess it was a local chapter. The same patches of grass that my dad taught my brother to mow with an old push mower with a rusted deck and five horse-power Briggs and Stratton Engine chugging away, were still there. In my mind I could see my father helping my 11 year old brother keep the lawn mower in a straight line. The little boy grasping the lawn mower handles under the shadow of my father, who towered above him, grabbing the lawn mower handles next to my brother’s hands.
Being 8 years old in 1968 was cool for me in a couple ways. First I told myself that I would always be able to easily figure out how old I was because I was born at the very beginning of a new decade, second, it was special because America was still basking in the self-centered glow of being the world’s savior in WWII. It wasn’t hard in 1968 to see a WWII veteran on the street doing normal American types of things, and realizing that they may have been part of the invasion forces that had stormed the Normandy beaches not too long before. I was only 8, so none of this really registered with me other than thinking America was the number one place in the world,in everything.
But in 1968 America was a country in turmoil. A year earlier parts of Detroit, along with other American Urban centers, erupted in flames and violence because race had made such a division in the country. The country had for so long willfully jailed, hung, barred from restaurants, good schools, and was complicit in pretty much every other nasty way you could think of how to treat a human beings, had been doing so to human beings, whose descendants just a century ago had been slaves in America, that they felt the only chance to live the American dream they watched happening around them and without them, was rioting in the streets.
Vietnam, the first of many American military cluster fucks of the second half of the 20th century, was in full swing in 1968. I would participate in my generations version of an American military cluster fuck 10 years later.
1968 America was waking up with the hangover of the Haight-Ashburry love experience which, by most accounts, crested like a wave on the beach with the summer of love in 1967, and then drawn back into the ocean leaving America with the glittering disco balls and shiny cocaine spoons of the 1970’s.
In these times my mother, father, sister and brother lived in this three bedroom red-brick ranch on the corner of Masonic and Kelly in Roseville Michigan.
My neighborhood was like any of the other post WWII American neighborhoods sprawling away from the country’s city centers. Similarly styled homes lining subdivision streets in pockets of new construction surrounded by what remained to be built on family farms and woodland.
I was fortunate to live there on the corner of Masonic and Kelly. The neighborhood was filled with kids almost like me. We would roam the streets in packs until the streetlights came on, stealing lumber from home construction sites to build forts in the woods. Baseball was the national sport, and in 1968 the Detroit Tigers won the World Series. I remember my mother jumping from the couch when Mickey Lolich, Denny McLain, and Jim Northrup made the final play and won the final game. We all loved baseball and played stickball in the streets.
When I think of any happy child hood I may have had, I think of those years between when I realized I was alive and 1968 when I was 8 years old. Five years later when I was 13, my family had changed so much that it would have been unrecognizable to the family that lived on the corner of Masonic and Kelly in that small three-bedroom red-brick home.