This summer was only the second one I”d spent in Ann Arbor and in the spring I was looking forward to it with barely disguised glee. Of course, unlike last time, I”d be taking classes this summer, but that hardly seemed to matter. I always had plenty of free time during the year and I was leaving my job, giving me even more. If the last summer I spent in Ann Arbor was any indication, it was going to be one long party, only briefly interrupted by occasional reading assignments. But that isn”t quite the way it turned out.
It all just had such a weird feeling to it.
I guess the summer started to seem a bit off the day a friend and I were walking down the not yet torn up Packard at around midnight. Passing by a large group of people heading in the other direction, one suddenly pulled me aside and sternly warned, “you better watch out, there”s a whole bunch of niggers down there.”
I know that the throwing around of racial epithets is not an unknown practice between people in private who think those listening won”t be offended (because I”ve heard it many times), but this was the first time I”d ever heard some random person publicly say one to a stranger. I was taken aback and didn”t know what to say. So I didn”t say anything, which I regretted later since I felt that maybe telling the guy off would have made him less inclined to believe the public at large would put up with such statements.
Unfortunately, the incident wasn”t just some one-time event I could write off as an anomaly. I heard it again. And again. Just walking down the street, minding my own business, people casually throwing around the “N-word” and other derogatory terms for blacks, not caring what this passerby thought. I really don”t know what to think of it all and have no explanation for why it was happening.
Another odd, and less disquieting, occurrence was my new neighbors. A couple of middle-aged guys (who apparently liked to think they were still in college) subletted an apartment in the building directly across from mine and proceeded to play “80s crap rock almost all day, every day. If you”ve never woken up to the lilting sound of Poison, much less woken up to it for weeks on end, you don”t have the right complain about anything.
Nothing could be more annoying.
Then there was the almost-fight that occurred one night in the parking lot between our two buildings. The Guns N” Roses had long since ceased, it was around three in the morning and I was just getting to bed. But moments after laying down, I heard some commotion coming from outside my window.
Peeking through the blinds, I could see about seven people, who all looked between high school and college-aged, having a heated argument. Thinking, “oh cool, there”s gonna be a fight,” I ran and got one of my housemates to watch with me. But the argument soon turned frightening. “This guy pulled a gun on me,” angrily yelled one. There was some more unintelligible argument and then the same guy started yelling at one of the people involved, “get in the car, you get in this mother fucking car.”
This continued for a while and some of the participants occasionally walked off, bringing passersby, whom they apparently knew, into the parking lot for some reason. The whole time people were coming and going, yelling about guns and making somebody get into a car, there was a small group that looked like they were being kept in place by some of the more belligerent individuals out there.
We started getting the impression that this could get ugly. Someone was now repeatedly yelling, “your dog, my car,” apparently trying to get the smaller group to give up one of its members. That was when we decided to call the cops. Unfortunately, my housemate, besides telling the dispatcher that he was me, gave them some bad directions, not mentioning that our parking lot could only be entered from a street that was different from the one where our address is and is pretty much concealed from that road.
So we saw the cops drive by, see nothing and then drive off. By this time, the crowd had attracted about the hootchiest looking 14 year old girls I”d ever seen. Looking like little hooker wannabes, they casually strolled about the scene, swearing and complaining and occasionally being told to shut up. When we were about to try to call the police again, the crowd suddenly just walked off, everyone heading in the same direction and leaving the cars they had parked in our lot, including the one someone was trying to avoid being forced into.
And then there was the time I was talking to my dad and he said, “remember when Jessica (a teenage cousin of mine) got pregnant and Laura (my sister) and Erica (another teenage cousin) were laughing and joking about it nonstop?”
“Yes,” I cautiously replied.
“Well guess who”s pregnant now.”
“Um… it better not be Laura,” I said.
So I had a second teenage cousin get pregnant. Which doesn”t mean much, but it really unsettled me.
And my classes turned out to be a lot more work than I anticipated.
Of course, there were some good times (that White Sox game was pretty fun), but they seemed to be lost in all the weirdness.
That gives a pretty good summation to the feeling of this summer for me, which if you think is sad, I couldn”t agree more. I don”t think I”ve ever been so glad to see a summer end.
Peter Cunniffe can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.