“This is the end / My only friend, the end”
This has been quite the journey for my mom and me, who is probably the only person to keep reading this column. We’ve been through a lot — public embarrassment, self-deprecating humor, the whole nine yards. But seeing as the semester is almost over and I have wasted space in the Statement with these extended diatribes for a whole year, I’ve decided this will be the last Soundtracking column in the paper.
(The truth is I was actually forced to retire by Statement staff but I wanted it to seem like it was my decision).
I thought I would end my Statement career on a high note, one more uplifting column as opposed to downtrodden and all about how I continuously make a fool of myself. Though that humor still appeals to me, I feel as though my final column should mean a little more. If you want more “Matt can’t do anything right” content, just follow me around for a day. It’s inevitable. But please tell me if you are following me because I expect you to be in full trench coat, sunglasses and wide brim hat, reading a newspaper with eye-holes poked through.
When I was on an Alternative Spring Break trip in Harlan, Ky. this year, we spent a lot of time in a van. While the abstract idea of being forced into a University of Michigan van with five strangers, driving for hours on end for a whole week, doesn’t sound that appealing, it turned out to be an incredible experience. You get to know each other really quick. I believe the first story I told before we had even left Ann Arbor was the time I almost drove my grandma’s van through her garden when I was eight.
I stand by my belief that if you want to really get to know someone, ask them to describe their perfect day.
You don’t get the vague “I like music and hanging out with friends” responses. You get true passions. You understand what really makes them happy. And that is beautiful in its own right.
Driving away from the Cumberland Gap, my van mates got on the topic of describing a perfect day back home. While many of us were from Michigan, our days were completely different due to the surroundings we grew up in. I can’t describe everyone else’s days to the tee like they could, but I can give a quick outline of mine.
My perfect day would start with me waking up — a crucial start to any day, ever. I’d be in my twin bed in my childhood room in Royal Oak. I’d roll over to only be met by my bright red walls (which I picked out even though my mom thought it would look horrible) and the sunlight beaming through my pink and purple window curtains, bathing the room in lavender. Immediately I would text Charlotte, who I met in kindergarten and has never been able to get rid of me, her sister Becca and our friend Louie about breakfast. It would be probably about 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday as I’d hop in the shower, hang with my mom while she made coffee and start cleaning the house and throw on clothes before running out of the house to meet Charlotte, Becca and Louie.
Heading down Crooks Road with “Ann Delisi’s Essential Music” on WDET booming through my car’s radio, I’d pull into National Coney Island on Main Street — a Royal Oak tradition that still holds a special place in my heart. Finding the gang in the parking lot, we’d run in and grab a booth in the corner.
As we’d find our seat, I’d scan the room, looking for people I hadn’t seen in a few months. I’d inevitably see two or three. It was bound to happen at National.
I’d order my favorite breakfast National order: spinach, feta and tomato omelet with black coffee and crispy hash browns — the perfect start to my day. Laughing about the events in each of our lives since the last time we’d seen each other (which was probably a few days prior if I’m being honest), we’d shoot the shit and scarf down plates of breakfast food. I’d toss my Coney Bucks Rewards Card I always keep in my wallet down with my bill and make plans to see them all tomorrow.
Hopping in my car, I’d call my friend Michael to make sure he’s free and swing by to pick him up. We’d automatically know where we’d be adventuring to once I got on I-75 toward downtown.
The original John K. King Used & Rare Books location on Lafayette Boulevard in downtown Detroit is arguably the greatest place on Earth.
Fuck Disney World.
I used to say John King was four stories but then I realized that was an incredibly confusing way to describe a bookstore. Now I end up saying it’s four floors of endless hallways stacked to the ceiling with any book you can imagine. It’s the only place in the world where I’m grateful for the dust that causes my allergies to act up. You need a map to get around this place –– and in fact, they do supply you with one. Otherwise, you might have to send up a flare to have the store rangers come rescue you.
With Michael scanning the radio but ultimately leaving it on WDET because nothing beats Ann Delisi, I’d pull into the tiny parking lot next to the bookstore behemoth. We’d spend hours there, grabbing titles off the shelf and reading a chapter or two on milk crates in the deep corners of the store. I always position myself next to the windows so the light, diffused by wax paper, illuminates the page and increases the contrast of the black typeface on the cream pages.
Finding each other every now and then, I’d ask what he’s been reading. With Michael, it’s most likely some ancient biology or engineering book or, occasionally, an extended philosophical novel. I would be huddled up next to the paperback Dramatists Play Service box, finding foldable copies of plays I’ve never heard of and reading the first scene to see how the playwright decided to break the stasis of their play — arguably the most important decision in a play.
With a few titles in our hands, we’d check out and drive to Hamtramck to crack into our new paperback adventures. I’d need a cup of coffee to pair with a new text.
We’d roam around Hamtramck, looking for street parking, until we’d inevitably find a spot and run inside Cafe 1923.
There are a few reasons why 1923 is included in my perfect day. First, the coffee is incredible, and its only a quarter for refills. Second, they always play Bob Dylan over the speakers. Finally, they have a back room with large windows letting sunlight in, comfy chairs, chess tables and bookshelves surrounding the entire space. That way, if we want a break from our new books, we can scour the shelves around us until we find another book that piques our interest. It’s also an amazing writing space. I’d bring my raggedy notebook and a pen to work on any various writing I choose. The world is my oyster at Cafe 1923.
After two hours of reading and writing and sipping coffee, we’d head toward Redford for a night at my second favorite place on Earth — Redford Theater.
The theater, which has a Japanese motif, was covered up during World War II but was eventually restored. Now, they screen older flicks. I’ve been going there since I was eight. It’s where I saw my favorite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” for the first time.
Honestly, I wouldn’t care what movie was playing that night. I’d just want to see the theater again. After buying our tickets and walking around, marveling at the giant screen and the ceiling which twinkles like stars, we’d take our seats and wait for the original Barton Theater organ to rise out of the pit and begin the 30-minute concert before the movie.
By the time the movie is over, it would most likely be about 10:30 p.m. I’d drive Michael back to Royal Oak and drive around in the dark for a while, listening to music and letting the activities of the day soak in.
Pulling into a parking lot because texting while driving is bad, I’d text my friends from high school who went to the local Catholic school. It’s a long, convoluted story as to how a public-schooled half-Jew came to be such good friends with kids raised in the Catholic school system, but I’m always grateful for their presence. Even at 11:00 at night, a lot of them would still be up and game for anything. But we all know where we’d end up — National Coney Island is open 24 hours.
We’d all meet in the parking lot just like I did with Charlotte, Becca and Louie earlier that morning and we’d cross our fingers, hoping the big corner booth is open. In my perfect day, it would already have our names on it.
There, I’d order a Diet Coke and laugh the entire night, quoting Vines and just swapping stories since the last time we’d all been together. We’d leave at 2:00 a.m. and I’d finally head home. Collapsing in bed, I’d take a deep breath and hope to remember that feeling of excitement and bliss forever. I know it would be gone in the morning but all I can do is dream. As my eyelids drift closed, I’d get ready to make the next day the best it can be. Because that’s all I can ask for.