By Rebecca Hammond


LAST SPRING I BOUGHT A BEE HOUSE AT ALDI, being Aldi-priced into an impulse buy I didn’t really think would pan out. And last summer I was right. Although an occasional firefly hung out during the day, no bees showed any interest.

This May, mason bees found the house and got to work, and were as engrossing as birds at the feeder. They spent about a month filling almost every cavity, each now containing 4 or 5 larvae, each plugged with mud. The bees will not emerge until next summer. I noticed that they didn’t work in any form of bad weather. Maybe they have a union.

I recently watched a mother squirrel trying to get a half-grown offspring into a nest cavity in a silver maple. She crossed the street looking like she was wearing a fur stole, and ran up the maple, to spend long minutes stuffing the young squirrel into a hole it had no interest in entering. I was certain the hole was simply too small (she reminded me of a back-packer trying to get a sleeping bag into a stuffsack) but once the baby was in, she went in, too. Days later, small squirrels spent hours playing near that hole. Why that one young squirrel left the nest so early, and even crossing the street, I’ll never know, but it didn’t escape Mom. Our big, beautiful trees are wildlife assets. Our big oaks, especially, not only provide wildlife housing, but caterpillars that feed birds and their broods.

We have a bird house that has sheltered chickadees for almost 30 years, and they need thousands of caterpillars for each brood. We don’t, as recommended, remove the old nest each year, but we did have to repair a wooden house nearby, and found inside a perfect bagel-shape of cat fur and moss, fur from our 22-year-old cat Gizzie (we put the winter’s fur combed from her out every March), moss from who knows where.

So when spring cleanup at our cabin left us with a sheet of moss removed from a concrete step, a furthering of the habitat here seemed possible. Just bring the moss home, tear it up, press it down and keep it watered for awhile, right? Wrong. Robins, even in our fairly moss-free world, knew from the get-go that worms live under moss, and they tossed it around as they do leaves. I refuse to be thwarted by robins, so began holding the moss down with rocks, then poultry staples, 3-inch common nails with “washers” cut from a hummus lid, and finally T pins. All this does is make robins more creative. I now have hundreds of tiny pieces of moss that I hope soon become uninteresting. Online recommendations for getting moss started include putting moss in a blender (!!!) with water and buttermilk, and dumping the slurry here and there. This just seems mean to moss, possibly necessitating a Society for the Protection against Cruelty to Moss. But maybe the person who dreamed this up had robins.

ALTHOUGH WE HAVEN’T SEEN A NEIGHBORHOOD RAT since about 2015, they are still abundant in parts of Ferndale, and the Ferndale Rat Patrol dispenses advice and encouragement. Group leader Laura Mikulski messaged me this: “As a grassroots community group, we came together after a Ferndale neighborhood group met with the city and weren’t satisfied by the information from the pest control company the city brought in to address how to eliminate rats. They offered poison in heavy bait boxes as the only solution besides typical preventative measures. Myself and several founding members of the group had been trapping effectively for years, and decided coordinating efforts would be a more holistic, environmentally conscious way of eliminating rats.”

Why no poisons? “Because the second-generation anticoagulants are being proven to kill pets and wildlife over long periods of time. While pest control companies say that lethal doses of bromadiolone is impossibly big to achieve death of a pet, the sad fact is that second-generation poison bio-accumulates within animals, and eventually kills them. In wildlife populations studied in California, they’re finding that the poison can last eight months in the liver of animals, giving predators and pets alike ample time to consume more than one rat, and really skewing the possibility toward eventually poisoning. Due to predator secondary poisoning, rat populations flourish unabated. Remove the predators, and rats can repopulate ad nauseum.” I’m hearing screech owls, and neighbor Dan Tanner just got a wonderful shot of one taking off from a power line, and I concur. Let the predators live.

Erika Sandberg added a cautionary tale on the Rat Patrol Facebook page: “We don’t use poison, yet my dog still got into some. Other than a stressful afternoon and an unplanned vet bill, everything should be fine. But if I hadn’t witnessed her grabbing the poison, my dog probably would’ve eaten the whole thing and started unexplainably bleeding a few days from now. Thank you for discouraging the use of poison. I for one really appreciate your efforts. Poison is a selfish means of pest control as it impacts so many more than just the intended target.”

This is a banner year for monarch butterflies, both in numbers people are seeing, and in those planting milkweed and raising caterpillars indoors (where they are much more likely to survive). Raising monarchs is easy and close to foolproof. Some of the happiest people I know at this moment are currently raising their first families of caterpillars, and sharing the experience on social media. If you want plants, eggs, or caterpillars, find the Ferndale.

Rebecca Hammond lives with her husband Phil on their mini-sanctuary in Ferndale.

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I HAVE BECOME INCREASINGLY DISINTERESTED in doing the things that in the past gave me joy. I opt out of city gatherings, preferring to stay home and paint or gar-den. I began to worry about what could be wrong and why I just didn’t want to have “fun” anymore.  Chief Collins’ retirement party is a prime example. I love Collins, and wanted to go to show my respect and to see everyone. Yet, as the day rolled around: First, Virginia called to say she wasn’t going. Then I too backed out. For what? Stayed home and knitted. Huh, that’s not good.

While having lunch with my Timmy, I mentioned I didn’t want to have fun any more. He said maybe my ideas of having fun had changed. After all, nothing stays the same. Huh! I remembered how in my youth, fun meant all night parties, and the back seat of souped-up Chevys.

Then, I was a doting housewife and mother, whose idea of fun was to make cookies and sew dresses for my little girl. Later, it was work, and building my business. I immersed myself in real estate. No parties, few friends, just business transactions. I was having fun. Wheeling and dealing is kind of heady.

After the end of my second marriage, I went on a sort of spiritual/self improvement journey: Attending lectures and services at Church of Today, learning how to improve myself and be in tune with the universe. I stayed devoted to my business during this time.

After retirement, I became more interested in the community, working on a variety of commissions, and socializing and working with movers and shakers in Ferndale. I loved attending and helping with the various events: the Pub Crawl, Blues Fest, Foundation events, and especially the campaigns and elections.

But now I am happier with a few friends, and quiet lunches, and chats. Senior meetings where everyone knows me, and share the same problems and worries I have. I look forward to days without meetings so I can play with my garden or paints, or read. So, it turns out that I still like to have “fun.” The nature of “fun” has just changed.

It is interesting that some interests from phase to phase remain. I still work on my spiritual health, and any mention of real estate still perks me up. I still love baking cookies. And, I am still passionate about local politics.

Looking back at all these passages was interesting. Try it. Take some time to reflect on where you have been, and who you were. Your memories may give you new insight into your successes and failures. Then look at today and see how different it all is, and yet, some things remain. It is intriguing.

So, go out and have fun!

Jeannie Davis, 248 541 5888

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By Rudy Serra

Q: I AM EXPECTING SOME LARGE MEDICAL EXPENSES and I think I might have to go to bankruptcy as a result. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: Even with insurance coverage, a serious medical issue can lead to poverty. Limitations on benefits, co-pays, and out of pocket deductibles can leave a consumer with insurmountable debt.

ObamaCare saved lives and prevented people I know from having to go bankrupt. The elimination, limitation or reduction of health coverage will result in an increase of such bankruptcies. Medical expenses are not the only reason for bankruptcy. Many consumers fear major losses in di­vorce, tax debts and other causes.

First, do not wait until the big expenses are actually levied. It is greatly to your ad­vantage to take certain actions before you are faced with bankruptcy. Before the court will allow you to file, you will be re­quired to obtain a certificate from a finan­cial planning organization such as “Greenpath Credit Solutions” so why wait?

Many credit counsel­ing organizations are non-profit. They work with you to avoid bankruptcy. Sometimes this even includes contacting your creditors and working out a better deal or you. Greenpath is not the only credit counseling agency approved by the bankruptcy court. Any of them will analyze your finances and work with you in advance to avoid bankruptcy. Since you are required to take this step anyway. it can be used as an effective way to avoid an even worse situation.

If you can’t avoid bankruptcy, you will want to hire a bankruptcy attor­ney. Almost everything in bankruptcy court is filed electronically and not just any lawyer can file with the court. You must be a member of a special­ized Federal Bankruptcy Bar Associa­tion in order to have access. A credit counseling agency can guide you to find a list of such lawyers.

If you have no medical insurance and do not qualify for Medicaid or Medi­care, don’t forget the FernCare Free Clinic. The clinic cannot change medi­cal costs you have already incurred. and can’t help with other sources of financial stress, but can provide free medical services to qualified patients. There are no residency requirements, co-pays or deductibles. Information is available on-line at FernCare.org.

By Peter Were

ON THE MEDIAN STRIP, WHERE NINE MILE ROAD CROSSES WOODWARD, there stands a replica of The Crow’s Nest, a high platform on which a vigilant traffic cop stood a hundred years ago, duty-ready to control the even-then heavy volume of cars. He was replaced in 1924, when electric traffic lights were installed and the road widened.

The Crow’s Nest presence speaks to the early realization of the deadly potential of these machines that are such an important part of our lives. Incredible safety improvements have been installed in the last 100 years, but getting safely from one spot to a destination can still be challenging.

Between cell phones usage (even hands-free), texting, tuning the radio, smoking, eating, farding (look it up), talking to other people in the car, different levels of impairment – and now the greatest distraction, the in-dash screen that looks like the controls of a jetliner – it’s amazing that our roads aren’t more like amusement park bumper car rides than they are. Add speed and one-ton plus vehicles and it’s no wonder our cars are so lethal.

SUPPOSEDLY, THESE DANGERS WILL ALL DISAPPEAR when the controls are taken away from us fallible humans and navigation becomes an automated process by an artificial intelligence that does only what it’s designed to do — drive!

Oops! Not so infallible.

Seems like HAL screwed up a little in March of this year, when Elaine Herzberg became the first pedestrian killed by a self-driving car after being hit by an Uber test vehicle in Tempe, Arizona. In 2016, a Tesla test driver was killed in the first fatality involving a self-driving car while watching a Harry Potter movie at the time of the crash.

These incidents echo the early deadly history of internal combustion-engine-driven vehicles. In 1896, Bridget Driscoll became the first auto fatality when she was struck by an Anglo-French Motor Car traveling at four miles-per-hour, as it was giving demonstration rides at London’s Crystal Palace. And, in 1899, Englishman Edwin Sewell was the first driver fatality when he was thrown from his vehicle and killed.

From those early beginnings, the slaughter on the roads commenced with a fury. According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, today, 1.3 million people a year die in crashes world-wide. An additional 20-50 million are injured. Accidents, they report, cost the world a half trillion dollars a year.

What is the total number of deaths since poor Bridget got hit at the Crystal Palace? It’s hard to find a figure, but one can assume it’s in the tens of millions. That and the other lethal invention—the gun—has produced such a pile of corpses that one can almost view the two machines as population control! Plus, the auto figures do not factor in deaths resulting from pollution created from refining and burning petroleum products.

JUST AS WE TOLERATE THE SLAUGHTER CREATED BY GUNS, so do we with our cars. Just as many people love their guns, so do others of us express affection for what we drive. Queen sang, “I’m in love with my car; gotta’ feel for my automobile.” The murderous nature of guns is known to all. It’s their express purpose. Cars are supposed to take us from one place to another without racking up a huge toll in human lives and property damage. However, the blood and destruction autos create is, in a sense, a public secret. Everyone is aware of it. It’s like living in an earthquake zone.

Most of us know someone who has been either killed or badly injured in an automobile accident. We have to pay thousands of dollars to insure our-selves against the death and damage we anticipate, so those destructive and deadly incidents aren’t really accidents at all. U.S. insurance companies know that close to 37,000 people a year will die in car crashes, hundreds of thousands will be critically injured, and billions in property damage will occur. They expect this and plan accordingly in terms of insurance rates charged and the payouts which will be required.

THE SAME IS TRUE WITH GUNS. We know there will be about 35,000 U.S. gun deaths in a given year, with 100,000 wounded. As mass shootings become the norm, schools, businesses, arenas, and concert halls make preparations for the next one.

The Ferndale Superintendent of Schools, Dania H. Bazzi, describes in her public talks the contingency plans the system has in place in the case of an active shooter situation. This is prudent given the proliferation of weapons and a culture of rage which combine to assure that these incidents will continue. It’s not a matter of if, but where and when.

How do we combat the toll these machines exact from us? Unfortunately, it’s not clear whether solutions exist. The toothpaste is out of the tube. We can’t get it back in. Our whole culture has the expectation and necessity of unlimited, rapid mobility. And, you know what the gun people say about their guns and their “cold, dead hands.”

We’ve done everything possible to make driving safer and still the death and injury toll is horrendous. We’ll probably look back on the period before self-driving cars were perfected as madness. Can you imagine trying to patent a machine today that creates a toll of death, injury, and property damage as it exists? “This is a great little machine, but it will kill and injure 125,000 people a year and cause billions of dollars in property damage.” Patent denied!

Guns? They offer only marginal utility as far as protection, but you can’t convince a gun owner of that no matter what the overwhelming statistics show. The Michigan counties with the highest percentage of concealed weapons permits are smaller, rural ones where residents brag about not having to lock their doors, so guns are more often a masculine totem or a hedge against the fear induced by watching the wrong cable news network, than actually providing protection.

In fact, if a gun-toting suburbanite really wanted to safeguard his family, rather than carrying a pistol with which he’s more apt to shoot himself or others rather than defend his loved ones, he would equip his passengers with NASCAR regulation helmets and flame-retardant suits.

SELF-DRIVING CARS – ONCE PERFECTED – MAY HELP, as would mass transit. Guns? There are 300 million of them out there including ten million AR-15s. While only a third of the population are gun owners, something like weapon confiscation isn’t a reality. Maybe we should all be issued Kevlar bullet-proof vests. Perhaps with those, self-driving cars, and NASCAR equipment, we’d be a little safer.

Sorry to joke about what produces so much tragedy, but this may be a classic case of laughing to keep from crying.

Peter Werbe is a member of Fifth Estate magazine’s editorial collective www.FifthEstate.org.


By Rebecca Hammond

NATIVE PLANT PARTNER-IN-CRIME MARLEIJA FOREY recently recommended on Facebook the book Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, an inspiring phytophile (plant lover). This is the only book I ever read that I refused to completely finish, being too sad.

The author writes as both the holder of a PhD in botany and from her  Native American background, and revealssecrets of plants most of us are blind to. We do notice beauty from plants wec hoose for that purpose, and the hassle of removing plants we don’t, but relatively little is known in the scientific community about how they interact, even less outside it.

Four local (and rather different) phytophiles who are always on my social-media radar weigh in on plants in their lives:

FERNDALE RESIDENT GRETCHEN ABRAMS turned her yard native long ago, and recently discovered the health benefits of house plants. “I thought my house was too dark, so for years I have cultivated outdoor spaces, at home and in schoolyards. I love gardening and have studied much the impact on children, anxiety, ADHD, etc., only recently have I spent time learning more about house plants. I work at a historic house museum with 87 acres of land on Lake St Claire, and we employ a full-time garden staff that includes two horticulturalists. Since I knew much about the physical and psychological benefit of being outdoors, hiking, and generally spending time amongst the green, it only made sense that bringing the green indoors could have similar benefits. My research had confirmed this hunch. Now I can thrive on green and gardening all year long.”

ROSS SANDELIUS is about to go native. Finding an antidote to a stressful job a few years back when he stumbled on a few cardboard tomato seed pods in a clearance aisle, a few months later enjoying the harvest. A few YEARS later he found himself with 25 plants in five-gallon buckets, started from seeds inside. “From that point on, learning how plants grow and how they ‘live’ became a full-on obsession.” He and his wife Julie bought their first house last August. “This spring/summer is probably going to be a lot of landscaping, making flower beds and getting the first year of perennials in and situated. My goal this year is to get a solid foundation down. Figure out what the soil is like, what my realistic options are, getting everything as neutral and healthy (naturally) as possible.

“Some fun little projects are installing a screech owl box on a nearby tree, creating a specific zone for pollinators that provides food and water for them, starting a worm farm and laying down the groundwork for a water feature and turning my garage roof into a water reclamation system that will provide at least 50 per cent of the water for my garden. And I’m a nerd, so naturally I want to automate that as much as possible. I hope to learn how to strike a balance with my obsessive nature and channel that into providing a natural, balanced and sustainable environment for plants and animals around my house while also providing a stress-relieving outlet for myself and my wife.”

DAVE ASSEMANY’S GARDEN in Pleasant Ridge is downright famous, locally. “As a 55-year-old man, I have found that gardening has not stopped being a major source of pleasure for me, but it has also grown to be a way that I interact with my community. My actual family is not into gardening or nature, but my gardening family is huge and brings me much joy and love. From a very young age I have needed to be outside as much as possible. I was fussing around in fields and creeks in Farmington where I grew up when I was barely in school. As I grew, gardening seemed like a natural way to channel that impulse. I get so much enjoyment just watching stuff grow. Even though I love showing my garden off, I would garden no matter what. I don’t do it for the results, as much as I love them, I do it for the process which brings me peace and joy.”
Like Gretchen, MARLEIJA has been involved in community projects, working with several local urban-forestry groups. “I became interested in tree planting around 2012 when I went to my first planting with The Greening of Detroit. I thoroughly enjoyed the smell and touch of soil and walking through forests so it went well together.”

She’s now helping start The Social Forestry Project. “Our main focus in this very early stage of a new non-profit is to be the ‘hands’ for established environmental organizations throughout SE Michigan. An organization we have been close to, for instance, is ReLeaf Michigan. They have the space and the trees and we come in to do the dirty work. We are starting to focus on saving saplings and growing them ourselves. We are on the lookout for oaks, red maples, gingkos, sycamores, London plane tree, crabapples. We have a few amazing green thumbs on the board.”

Marleija got a pleasant surprise and headstart for this year’s garden when she cleaned out the space behind the garage last year. “Someone had been dumping their yard waste back there for decades and it was perfect compost. We’re going to put a whole bunch of hostas back there and maybe some ferns because it doesn’t get much light.”

Common vines wound through each passionate statement, especially gardening’s benefits for mood and health, and the opportunity for community service and connection.

From Braiding Sweetgrass: “In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Gratitude doesn’t send you out shopping to find satisfaction; it comes as a gift rather than a commodity, subverting the foundation of the whole economy. That’s good medicine for the land and the people alike.” All around us are people cultivating good medicine. I’m grateful to these four for sharing theirs.

Becky Hammond lives and gardens in Ferndale.

AS YOUNG PEOPLE THINKING ABOUT GROWING OLD, we all had things we feared about the transition. Losing our health, our agility, our looks, having to live on less money, being alone. These all looked so scary when we were in our 40s, and 50s.

But, in reality, as we reach and pass our 70s, we have encountered bad health and survived, learned to live on less money, we know our looks have faded, and accept our loss of agility.

Here is the secret: Losing our independence. That is it. That is at the base of all our fears. When we hear of one of our group moving into assisted, it is like hearing that that person has died. We all get somber, and quiet. That person is no longer independent. She cannot come and go as she pleases, she has to eat when and what someone else gives her, she lives under supervision. It doesn’t matter that our friend is 90-plus-years old or that she says that she loves it there. She has lost her right to make decisions, and that is so final.

Because of this, many of us tend to go to outrageous lengths to avoid asking for help. We don’t want to bother anyone. We struggle with heavy packages, climb on furniture to reach stuff, shovel snow, and in general tackle things we shouldn’t, just so we appear independent.

Virginia had a computer problem. The tech told her to bring it in. Problem? The computer was on her second floor. Not a problem for Virginia. She loaded it into her laundry basket, placed it by the stairs, scooted to the stairs, and nudged it down backwards, step by step. Clever? Yes, dangerous? Hell yes! But, she simply refused to ask anyone for help, although probably a half dozen would have. And I completely agree with her.

ONE DAY LAST WINTER, the garbage man left my cans on top of the snow banks. Totally inaccessible for me. Virginia made a suggestion, and it worked. I went out with a broom and banged the cans into the street, then went and collected them. I knew that I would only have to text my tenant, and he would have gotten them for me. But ask for help? Nope, not me.

Joyce goes out with a special shovel and gets the snow off her roof. Now, that takes strength.

I see my fellow seniors shoveling the free compost into small buckets in the back of their cars. They make several trips, taking three times as long as the job should take. I know why. They can’t lift and carry more than that bucket.

Sometimes we have to bite the bullet and ask, and I do. My son knows that if I am asking I have tried every-thing I can think. We are afraid of not being self sufficient, so we over-do.

Where am I leading with all this? I have no clue. It’s just the way it is.

So, the next time you see a little old lady doing something in a really odd manner, go ahead and laugh. We do.

Jeannie Davis, 248 541 5888

Judge Rudy Serra

By Rudy Serra

Q: I WAS ACCUSED OF A CRIME I DID NOT COMMIT. I have been told that if I plead guilty I will get probation, but if I get convicted at a trial I will get the maximum jail sentence. Can the judge do that?

Answer: No. An accused per-son has a right to a trial. You cannot punish someone for exercising a “right.” To do so is to violate that very right.

This has been a recurring problem in Michigan. The same issue arose in 1997, 2002 and 2007. The court said the same thing each time. A court can-not base its sentence on a defendant’s refusal to admit guilt. Doing so violates the right against self-incrimination. “It is a violation of due process to punish a person for asserting a protected statutory or constitutional right.”

“Courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have sometimes struggled to articulate the precise line between rewarding a defendant for pleading guilty, which is routine in plea bargains, and punishing a defendant for asserting his constitutional right to trial.” It’s okay to be lenient be-cause a person admits guilt, takes responsibility and expresses remorse. It is not okay to punish someone for insisting that they are not guilty.

More than one judge has attempted to enact a “policy” whereby you get the maximum possible sentence if you get convicted at trial. Such policies are always wrong and always unconstitutional.

Part of the job of a judge is to exercise judgment. This is just as true at sentencing as it is at any other phase of legal proceedings. The law requires that sentences be individualized. The crime, the person, the consequences, and all other facts are supposed to be weighed. Sentencing cannot be used to punish a person for choosing a jury trial over a bench trial, or for rejecting a plea bargain, or refusing to admit guilt.

All judges are accountable for knowing and obeying the law of sentencing. In Michigan we have a Judicial Tenure Commission located at 3044 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit. Complaints about unethical or improper conduct by judges can be re-ported there. In some cases, lawyers and judges have a duty to report misconduct that they learn about.

JUDGE RUDY REPORTS is a regular feature in Ferndale Friends. We welcome questions from readers. If you have a legal question or concern, send your question by email to rudy.serra@sbcglobal.net. Advice about specific cases cannot be provided but general legal questions and topics are welcome.

By Oak Park resident, Peter Werbe

I never wanted to live in a suburb. I was born and raised in Detroit, attended its schools and, although I went away to college for a period, I finished my studies at Wayne State University. My wife and I happily moved into the area surrounding its campus with an appreciation of the student activism and exciting cultural scene of the time.

The suburbs always represented to me the worst about America. Culturally sterile, ticky-tacky houses, the artificiality of shopping malls, and – let’s be frank – where white people often moved so as not to live
close to minorities.

Each fall in the Detroit pubic schools I attended, the social studies department would sponsor a model United Nations, a miniature replica of the actual session occurring simultaneously at the UN headquarters in New York City. The flags of the many nations were flown, and students would be chosen to represent ambassadors from the world’s different countries, sometimes even donning the garb of their nation of origin.

Duly assembled, we would hold a pretend UN session where we worked on solving the world’s problems. I was always fascinated by the diversity of cultures even in this small representation of them.

By the 1980s, Detroit proper was hollowed out by de-industrialization driven by corporate search for cheap labor and white flight enabled by bank loans for massive suburban home construction and individual mortgages. Beginning in the 1950s, the government generously financed freeways to provide mobility to a new generation of segregated suburbs.

With its tax base eroded and good jobs having disappeared, Detroit’s remaining residents (mostly African Americans) who couldn’t afford to leave the city or were refused entry to suburbs like Dearborn, faced deteriorating urban conditions accompanied by a rise in crime.

After a third burglary at our house in a year, my wife and I decided that, since we had the white privilege of residential mobility, we had to move to a safe housing situation particularly since I often worked overnight shifts as a WRIF-FM radio DJ. The prospect of moving to the ‘burbs, as we called them, was extremely depressing as we viewed them as representing everything that was wrong with our country — particularly racism, but also consumerism, Ozzie and Harriet-style families, and the epitome of the car culture.

As it turned out, we never looked anywhere other than Oak Park, since we were unintentionally aided in narrowing our search by someone who reacted negatively when we mentioned the city to which we eventually moved. We were told that anywhere south of I-696 “was still Detroit.” We knew then where we were moving. Up until the 1950s, Oak Park was predominantly a white, Catholic enclave. But, with the post-World War II housing boom, builders filled in the city’s wetlands and constructed affordable homes. Our new next-door neighbors on the East Side of Oak Park, who had been residents of the city since the late 1940s, said that before the construction frenzy of the early 1950s, they could see the traffic on Greenfield two miles away across what was then designated as “swamps.”

Jewish families from Detroit’s Northwest Side began migrating to the new and sometimes uniquely designed homes, such as the Lustron prefab steel homes on Oneida. And then the echoes of my school day’s model UN began to emerge in Oak Park. African Americans followed the Jewish population, then Chaldeans, Asians, Russians and Muslims making the word, diverse, a thriving reality. And, thrown into the mix are those of us from a European heritage who appreciate a city that isn’t of homogenous ancestry.

Oak Park’s disparate ethnic groups maintain a distinct identity around their own cultural markers and, to some extent, neighborhoods, but we all come together around the city’s institutions—its government, public facilities, and festivals.

This diversity is a source of pride to most Oak Parkers. Living in a city with good leadership, low crime, and excellent city services is reason enough to want to be within our borders. But, what makes our city special is that we look and act like a world of harmony— something desperately needed in these times.

AS THE EARTH TURNS AND THE COLD advances upon us, the humble but ubiquitous t-shirt becomes mostly hidden under warmer clothing except among the most hardy of us. Warding off the chill, it returns to its utilitarian function for men as an undershirt as it was at its origin. Both sexes sport them when the warmth returns, partly as an item of fashion, but often as a canvas on which we express ourselves. We want to show what vacation destination we visited, concert we attended, bands we love, goofy sayings, political slogans, our favorite sports team, and many other categories of how we want to announce ourselves when people come upon us.

T-shirts (from their shape), as we know them today, have a military origin. A little over a hundred years ago, the U.S. Navy began issuing them to be worn under a sailor’s uniform. The term itself became part of the lexicon by the 1920s. The shirts were quickly adopted by men doing industrial and agricultural work as an inexpensive, lightweight, warm-weather garment.

But, then, Marlon Brando gave the shirts a cultural and sartorial boost by wearing one in the 1951 film, A Streetcar Named Desire, while yelling for “Stella!” Brando sported one in the 1953 movie, The Wild One, and James Dean did in 1955’s Rebel Without A Cause. During that decade, a white t-shirt with a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve identified it with one of the Big Scares of the 1950s along with communists —the juvenile delinquent!

By the 1960s, t-shirts, along with jeans, were associated with another generation of rebels, this time ones with many causes. Nothing rankled uptight adults more than seeing a long-haired youth sporting a pair of Levis and a t-shirt bearing the legend, “Power to the People” (still a good idea) or a clenched-fist salute.

By the next decade and onto today, t-shirts became an accepted item of apparel that can be worn almost anywhere. It’s not unusual to see a diner so attired in a pricey restaurant where previously a suit jacket was required. In fact, put on one of those atop the shirt and you are considered dressed up!

If you’re anything like me, you have so many t-shirts there isn’t room for them in your drawers and closets. I’ve accumulated a particularly excessive number having worked in radio for years where they were issued to the staff with regularity. Every so often, I take the ones that I figure I’ll never wear again or have gotten a little too snug (ahem!) to the Salvation Army store on 4th Street in Royal Oak.

The Salvation Army defines itself as “a Protestant Christian movement and an international charitable organization structured in a quasi-military fashion,” so I try real hard to focus on their “charitable” aspect. We give our cast-offs to them, figuring we’ll be helping less-fortunate neighbors who work at the store preparing items for sale and provide inexpensive used clothing for people in need.

However, it doesn’t quite work out this way.

The Salvation Army and other charities receive way too many t-shirts and other clothing items, more than they could ever retail. After a very short stay on store racks, much of it is compressed into half-ton cubes and sold to second-hand textile processors where they take on another life as wiping rags and fiber for assorted products. Americans are so overloaded with clothing that if charities didn’t have these recycling firms, they would either have to dump the donations or turn us away.

However, t-shirts are a desired item in Third World countries, so the huge surplus are bundled into 100-pound bales and shipped primarily to Africa, but also around the world. According to a recent New York Times article, in Kenya, the locals refer to them as “the clothes of dead white people.” In Mozambique, they are labeled, often with some accuracy, “clothing of calamity.”

Reaching foreign ports, small jobbers break open the bales, compete for the best items, and sell them on the streets to ever-increasing urban populations. So that’s why you might see a Detroit Tigers or Grateful Dead shirt adorning a pedestrian in Kinshasa or Lima.

This is not to criticize the charities which sell our castoffs this way. These bulk sales provide revenue for their many programs. It’s this or the garbage dump for our discards. Americans have way more clothes than we can ever wear and they have to go somewhere.

Now, several countries in East Africa are trying to put a halt to the importation of secondhand clothing because it impedes their ability to create domestic textile industries. However, if they do this, the Trump administration has threatened to terminate the preferential trade status these countries enjoy under the terms of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. The office of the U.S. trade representative says this is to protect American jobs.

If used American clothing is banned from poor countries, those involved in recycling them at numerous levels of sorting, packaging, recycling, shipping, will, in fact, lose their employment. By weight, used clothing is the number-one export from the U.S.!

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where someone, somewhere wasn’t getting screwed?

I’m taking a big bundle of t-shirts to the Salvation Army soon and will watch TV over the next few months to see if it winds up on a demonstrator in the streets of Nairobi or Yangon.

Peter Werbe is a member of Fifth Estate magazine’s editorial collective www.FifthEstate.org.

By Rebecca Hammond

AUTUMN ODDSERVATION: Americans throw away the most pumpkins the week we buy the most pumpkins. Pumpkins are heavy, and we pool our tax money to put our unwanted stuff in landfills. Can we rethink them already? Maybe eat them? I’ve made pumpkin pies from ones people discard. A pumpkin can be stabbed a few times and roasted till soft, or cut up and boiled, then mashed and made into pies or bread, even soup. A Google search of recipes turns up some as simple and cute as using a small pumpkin for a dip container, and muffins, cupcakes, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin turkey chili, spread, dip, coffee additive. Pumpkin is healthy. Full of fiber and potassium, not to mention vitamin C, beta carotene, tryptophan and phytosterols (which studies show may lower “bad” cholesterol): it makes more sense to eat all those health benefits than to load them in a diesel-gulping truck, have them driven miles away, and toss them onto our mountain of discards.

Pumpkins seeds can be roasted and eaten. Scoop out the seeds and wash them. Let them dry. Roast at 325 degrees for 5-15 minutes. Some recipes tell you to toss them in butter or oil, or add seasonings like garlic. Put them in bird feeders if you don’t want to eat them. Our forebears would be amazed at how we turned good food into temporary disposable decorations.

The EPA’s website (which still happens to contain environmental information, something we may not be able to count on for long) states that in the early phases of decomposition, organic matter in landfills decays aerobically, producing little methane. The longer it remains, however, the more anaerobic the process becomes, and the more methane is produced. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, so preventing its formation is good common sense. Composting at home is the best way. We have a simple worm system in our basement, and being a skeptical person at this age of 60, I do nothing that’s recommended but put all organic waste in the bin with red worms dug from the yard. I’ve had this going for years now, and once or twice a year dig out the good stuff at the bottom and add it to houseplants or garden plants. I do not layer with newspaper, although every article I read says to. The worms know what to do; you can’t stop them from turning pumpkins or old lettuce into fertilizer.

I have in my living room a fern I rescued from the trash one fall years ago. Every year I see more ferns and plantable mums waiting for those diesel trucks. A person could fill a house and yard with the plants thrown away, at group expense, every fall. And you could stock a thrift store with the usable goods we toss.

ACTION ANTIDEPRESSION: An old friend recently told me about her struggle to replace disposable coffee cups in her counseling office with reusable cups. She’s a former seminarian, which reminded me that churches often grapple with the same two extremes, disposable, reusable? Counseling offices and churches are both places of meaning, places people go to to sort out life’s big issues. The issue of tossing vs. keeping might be bigger than being green or saving money. Lots of us love a certain mug for some specific reason. I bought my current favorite at the Henry Ford Museum with a beloved niece and her daughter on our annual January trip. A cup of coffee in that mug is more than warm liquid in a vessel, it’s a daily reminder of love and connection across miles, of a relationship important enough to prioritize. Maybe reusable cups are green, are good common sense, and maybe even a tiny little bulwark against disconnection and the depression and anxiety that we seek counseling to remedy. Quite possibly, disposable items are actually a bit depressing.

IN EARLY NOVEMBER, a big storm battered parts of the Lake Superior shore, with record
waves as high as 28 feet near Munising. A depressing aftermath turned up a few days later, with massive amounts of plastic trash washed along the shore of what we think is our most pristine Lake. Our state government won’t ban plastic bags, and they even took big government a step further and banned the banning of plastic bags. But if you visit most public beaches along the Great Lakes, you’ll see signs banning glass bottles, so it’s not bans themselves that they object to. We seem short-sighted, and have personalized risk, so a broken bottle that may cut us is unacceptable, tons of plastic junk that waves grind down until it disappears to view is fine. Plastic fibers have been detected not only in the Great Lakes, and on beaches, but in tap water, 83 per cent of samples tested world-wide. Wildlife mistakes plastic bits for food, and may fill up on it, with no nutritional benefit, of course. And in oceans, plastic trash is being found in the stomachs of creatures seven miles deep.
Is this depressing information? I don’t think so. I think it’s lack of action that’s depressing, not news itself. The onslaught of bad news has an antidote, taking action against the problem. But, I must admit, it gets harder to rectify the problems the worse we let them get.

LEAF ODDSERVATION: Last week three dump trucks, a bulldozer, and a front-end loader parked in front of our house to pick up leaves; compostable, valuable organic leaves. That maybe tells me more about cultural excess than I ever wanted to know.

Becky Hammond believes in “solvitur ambulando” (“it is solved by walking”), and practices it most days here in Ferndale.