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March 2011

Good old Bookslut.

Yesterday they were really on over at the Bookslut Blog (although this is no surprise; they are usually on, they know their book stuff, and Michael Schaub is one of those disgustingly funny people* that I wish I could be, or that I would have had a crush on in high school, although if he noticed me at all, it would be as "just friends.").

But yesterday Jessa Crispin nicely summed up my own attitude towards fiction and nonfiction about World War II:

"I was hoping this essay in the TLS about contemporary writers setting novels during WWI and WWII would delve more deeply into why it's such a popular choice. I think people were actually excited when Michael Chabon announced he was working on a TV show about 'magicians and Hitler.' My first thought was, give it a fucking rest."


*This is one of his posts this morning: "'I'm going to publicly respond to this bad review of my book. What's the worst that could happen?"' is the new "I'm going to have unprotected sex with every stranger at this meth orgy. What's the worst that could happen?" Just don't do it, kids."

The sound of a happier person reading.

For whatever reasons I have been more tranquil this week. I think it is because I have either a) decided not to think about world events (the fact that states are working to cut worker rights and salaries when we're fighting two pointless and expensive wars--or maybe three--who the fuck knows what the Pentagon is planning for Libya) and culture (books are dead and everybody clearly loves gadgets more than I do, if they can stomach the thought of buying Kindles and iPads and smart phones, oh my), or b) I have just been finding good nonfiction that is helping me keep my mind off all of the above. It might also be because the weather's a bit warmer. Hard telling what goes into the daily soup that is one's state of mind.

Snail One of the books helping to keep me tranquil was Elisabeth Tova Bailey's The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. When I read the review of it at MadREADS, I was intrigued, so I checked it out, although I am not normally one for nature books of any kind. (I make an exception for Rachel Carson. I love her.) The story of this tiny little book is simple: Bailey has been suffering from a neurological malady for many years, and once, when she is completely debilitated and bedridden by her disease, a friend visits her and brings along a snail she found on a walk, thinking simply that Bailey might like it. They fill a pot with violets and dirt and set the snail in it, and soon Bailey is watching the snail navigate its slow and steady way around her home.

Bailey does not share many details about her illness, but it of course colors every page: "Each morning there was a moment, before I had fully awakened, when my mind still groped its clumsy way back to consciousness, my body not yet remembered, reality not yet acknowledged. That moment was always full of pure, sweet, uncontrollable hope. I did not ask for this hope to come; I did not even want it, for it trailed disappointment in its wake. Yet there it was, hovering within me--hope that my illness had vanished with the night and my health had returned magically with daybreak." (p. 21.)

I find her writing both simple and very beautiful, and she brings that sensibility to her descriptions of her snail, as well as to the information she shares about snails that she learns from wide and historical reading. As she moves the snail from her violet pot to a terrarrium and eventually back out into the wild, you get the sense she just felt privileged to interact so closely with another little life. It's not really a happy book, but it's a very hopeful little one. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The push and pull of memoirs.

Townie I'm having a complex relationship with Andre Dubus III's new memoir Townie.

I'm halfway through it, somewhat by accident. Originally I only checked it out from the library because it's been getting a lot of word-of-mouth and big reviews, and I like to try and keep up with nonfiction trends, even if I'm not particularly interested in the books in question.* Dubus, the son of short story author Andre Dubus, tells a coming-of-age tale about his mother's struggle to support he and his three siblings after his father left them, and how they had to live on the poor side of the Massachusetts towns where his father taught college courses.

Growing up in poverty, of course, meant that Dubus also grew up around a lot of violence, from neighborhood bullies to scary neighbors ("Across the street lived the Whelans. There were always three or four cars and trucks in their side yard, some on blocks, the hoods open or gone, and the father, Larry, worked on the engines every afternoon. He was short and had no front teeth and he drank from cans of Pabst he'd rest on the chassis. I don't remember how many kids lived there, but a few years later his oldest son would go to prison for raping his twenty-seven-month old niece." p. 30.), as well as drug dealers and junkies. Eventually Dubus became a weight-lifter and learned how to box, hoping to hold his own in fights (if not start them himself rather than waiting for them to find him).

The complicated part is that I keep putting the book down, meaning to take it back to the library, because I'm really not enjoying it. But then...I keep picking it back up. Without really even meaning to. And pretty soon I'm another 20 or 30 pages in. This leads me to think it must be well-written, and I think it is. It's too visceral for me, but Dubus does keep pulling you through the narrative. And I'm curious to know if we ever find out what happens to his mother, or his siblings. But we'll see if I make it all the way through.

*I've never been all that interested in reading Dubus's novels; I saw the movie adaptation of House of Sand and Fog a few years back and thought it was the most god-awful, depressing, melodramatic, based-on-a-totally-typical-Oprah-book film ever, so I definitely didn't want to read the book. But now that I've read part of his memoir I can see where he'd have plenty of depressing personal experiences to plumb for material.

Man, was she gorgeous.

My Yahoo homepage informs me that Elizabeth Taylor has passed away.

I was never a huge fan, but there are two movies of hers you absolutely must see: A Place in the Sun (which, title notwithstanding, is one DARK film) with Montgomery Clift, and Butterfield 8, which is just plain a spectacular movie. In fact, I need to see Butterfield 8 again, I can hardly remember it. I'll never forget A Place in the Sun, though; a million years ago when I was a film major I watched it a million times, to write a paper on Montgomery Clift. The two of them together onscreen is so beautiful it's breathtaking.

I've also wanted to read Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. Maybe that'll get me out of my reading funk.

Tuesday Article: Not one that's going to put anyone in a better mood.

Someone actually sent me* this article link last week, but I didn't think I could post it the week after we all read the article on porn. If you're already in a cranky mood (as I am) this article's not going to help much:

The Careless Language of Sexual Violence

Responding to a New York Times article about the gang rape of an eleven-year-old.**

*Many thanks--you know who you are.

**I thought I'd better tell you the subject and let you decide up front if you can handle it today or not. It's a powerful article on an ugly subject.

Off my reading feed.

I am off my reading feed again.

With the exception of Bill Bryson's fun history At Home: A Short History of Private Life*, I didn't really get anything read last week that I enjoyed. More depressingly, I've got a pile of library and other books sitting around here, and I've perused their titles now about a hundred times, and I don't feel like reading any of them. Time for a big clear out, I think, and then to the library to try and find something for which I'm in the mood.

It didn't help that today we dropped in at our local Border's, which will soon be our shuttered local Border's. God, it was horrible. "Everything Must Go" and "Clearance" signs and the unhappy vibe of soon-to-be-unemployed booksellers everywhere. Their coffee shop was closed too, which just gave the place an even more desperate air. (No matter how bad things are, I find, if I can smell or hear coffee being made nearby it at least makes me feel like civilization still has a shot at making it.) CRjr was enjoying looking around but we couldn't get out of there fast enough. It made me sad, once again, about the future of print books.

Yes, I know there will always be reading. But I want there always to be BOOKS, goddammit. When I think about leasing my books from Amazon**, I want to choke somebody. (The next person who tells me to buy a Kindle is in for an unpleasant and violent surprise.) Last week my home wireless stopped working, mysteriously, for some reason, and it took me at least an hour to get it back up (I've only got so many hours to work when CRjr is napping, these days, so my hours are becoming increasingly precious, every single damn last one of them). All I can say is, I hope Mr. CR doesn't have a Nanny Cam planted anywhere, because if he heard the words I was using during that hour (and in front of CRjr) he would be APPALLED. So you can see why the thought of dealing with one more device that is just another electronic ticking time bomb of nonfunctioning has me thinking about giving up reading altogether rather than succumbing to the e-book madness.

Wow. As a friend of mine put it last week (about herself): I am feeling snarly like a little chihuahua. Welcome back to another work week, everyone.

*More on this one later.

**Fuck you, Amazon. I just can't say it enough lately.

Whatever, jerk.

Oh my. It is time to re-name the blog Crankypants Reader, I believe.

For whatever reasons, I am addicted to simple life and save money books--like business books, I find reading about these subjects much more satisfying than actually living these topics (which I kind of do by default, anyway). Nothing gives me bigger screaming heebies than the thought of growing my own food, "urban foraging," going back to the land, or, in the case of saving money books, searching for coupons online, doubling and stacking coupons, and then hoarding the food I buy with coupons. In some odd way I think I'm searching for a book that will help me save enough money that I won't need to work at all, but I know that most varieties of "saving money" activities actually end up being bigger chores in themselves.

Good So keep in mind that I'm searching for the unfindable, and therefore it is not really fair of me to rip on John Robbins's title The New Good Life: Living Better Than Ever in an Age of Less. I started off annoyed with this one when I learned that Robbins is the son of the founder of Baskin-Robbins, and therefore grew up surrounded by fantastic wealth (and ice cream--it just doesn't get much better than that). He makes a big deal about how he rejected his father's wealth when he grew up and got married--"we built a tiny one-room log cabin in which we lived for the next ten years, 1969-1979, growing much of our own food..."--but I say pooh to that. There's a big difference between rejecting your father's pile of cash (but knowing he's really never going to let you starve) and your father not having a pile of cash.

Eventually Robbins made his own fortune by writing the bestselling title Diet for a New America, but later in life he lost all his money because he had it invested with...wait for it...Bernie Madoff. (I read it too fast to get all the details; I'm not sure he knew who he was investing with, but that's not really such a good idea either.) So now he's poor and looking to live simple again, and, ta-da! He's written this book.

I wouldn't be so bitter about all of this (hey, good for him for trying to find a way to cash in; God knows if I could I would) but this book is the most utterly bland, derivative, hodgepodge example of its type. He starts off with some generic information about getting to know your money type, taking four steps to financial freedom (largely borrowed, with attribution, from Joe Dominguez's and Vicki Robin's Your Money or Your Life), and chapters on saving money by maintaining your home (and cutting energy costs), trying to live where you work, eating smarter, and thinking carefully about how many kids you have and how you will raise them.

That's all all right. But I have two main beefs with this book: health insurance, arguably any individual's biggest money sink today, is barely mentioned (except in the first chapter, where Robbins does state that his grandchildren, a set of twins, have special needs and require expensive care) and doesn't show up in the index.* He also engages in what I call modern green thinking--that is, thinking that purports to be green but doesn't really seem (to me) to be. To wit: "If you have an old fridge, consider getting a newer one, preferably one with an Energy Star label. Old fridges are electricity hogs. The most efficient newer ones use only a tenth as much energy as those produced before 1993." (p. 108.) I always get very squirrelly when someone's energy- and money-saving suggestion is to go buy something new; it's just a gut reaction.

So. All of the above are the reasons for my reaction of "whatever, jerk" to this title. Also: I'm just plain Crankypants Reader this week. Let's hope for better times next week!

*I can save all I want on my clothing and home budgets--ask Mr. CR; I've been wearing the same pair of pants all winter because I want to fit in my old pair of pants (yes, singular; even when I lose the baby weight I'll still only have the one option)--but that ain't going to put a dent in what we pay for partially-job-subsidized health insurance premiums, or what we would have to pay if we tried to cover our own insurance. 

Glutton for punishment.

I'm pretty much done with politics. I've been pretty much done ever since I read John Bowe's superlative book Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy, in which he pointed out that the system isn't broken, the system is working exactly the way it was set up to work.

So why on earth would I check out George W. Bush's memoir Decision Points?

Decision I read the first chapter of it last night, and I just spent a good half-hour washing the dishes and thinking about it. My questions about this title and why I would read any of it are legion. Let's consider them, shall we?

Q: Why would anyone who is done with politics, and who was no fan of W., be interested in this book?

A: Sometimes, when I am in a whimsical mood, I find autobiographies and memoirs by people I dislike amusing. In this case I was also vaguely curious to see how W. put a spin on the events of his life and presidency. I liken this, particularly in George W. Bush's case, to "getting inside the mind of a serial killer,"* which is a reason some people cite for reading True Crime. Also, this is a book a lot of people will be reading, and the librarian in me wants to look it over. Last, but not least, it always gives me an illicit thrill to check out Republican memoirs from--gasp--publicly funded libraries.

Q: Does W. himself actually believe this stuff?

A: I don't know. Sure seems like it. In the first chapter, W. gives a flash history of his life up through 1986 and his decision to quit drinking (chapter 2 starts in 1999, with his presidential bid). In a sick sort of way there was a lot to laugh about in the first chapter.** Here are the highlights:

"Nearly all the historians suggested that I read Memoirs by President Ulysses S. Grant, which I did." (p. xi.)

(I have my doubts about that. Grant's memoir is over 500 pages long. But I digress.)

"As the days at Andover wound down, it came time to apply for college. My first thought was Yale. After all, I was born there. One time-consuming part of the application was filling out the blue card that asked you to list relatives who were alumni. There was my grandfather and my dad. And all his brothers. And my first cousins. I had to write the names of the second cousins on the back of the card. Despite my family ties, I doubted that I would be accepted." (p. 13.)

"My attitude toward the [Vietnam] War was skeptical but accepting...One day in the fall of my senior year, I walked by a recruiting station with a poster of a jet pilot in the window. Flying planes would be an exciting way to serve...Dad referred me to a man named Sid Adger, a former pilot who was well connected in the aviation community. He suggested that I consider joining the Texas Air National Guard, which had pilot slots available. Unlike members of the regular Guard, pilots were required to complete a year of training..." (p. 16.)

And so on and so forth. There's more, about how his early oil businesses failed due largely to bad timing in the mid-80s (there's lots of talk about merging with other companies, not being bought out for political good will) but I just realized, typing just now, that I've hit the end of my whimsical mood. I'm rapidly passing into my disgusted mood, which for some reason often does follow the whimsical one. But more questions remain: Does this guy really think he wasn't going to get into Yale? (A corollary: can he imagine what it must be like to come from one of those backward families where not everyone does go to college, let alone Yale?***) Does he really think serving in the Texas Air National Guard counts as serving in the Vietnam War? Is he the dumbest man alive, or is he so clever he just appears dumb?

Anyway. Even with a lot of dishes to do I didn't come up to any answers for my questions. After the dishes I picked up Decision Points, read a few more pages, looked at the pictures, and checked the index for "cocaine use."**** Tomorrow I'll take it back to the library.

*Literally. And also.

**Laugh about in the way Albert Brooks describes in the movie Broadcast News: "At some point, it was so off-the-chart bad it just got funny."

***Sometimes I think about Helene Hanff, she of 84, Charing Cross Road, not having the money to attend college, and it breaks my heart. Particularly in light of this guy wandering through his years at Andover, Yale, and Harvard. That's all right--Helene educated herself, and gave us a great book about it: Q's Legacy.

****I'll end your suspense. It wasn't there.

Tuesday articles: Librariana

If you're a librarian, or you want to be one, and you're not reading RickLibrarian, you should be.

I love Rick's site because he reviews primarily nonfiction, and also because he reviews a lot of historical and biographical titles (and natural science) I'm never going to read. It's almost like we have opposite tastes, but in the best possible way.

But what I've really been enjoying the past week are his articles on what he does as a reference librarian. Reading the varied task lists actually made me miss being an on-desk librarian*, but I found them interesting. Rick's a thoughtful guy, and I love reading any kind of blog posts and articles by thoughtful people. I hope you do too.

*For about three seconds. Then I remembered trying (and often failing) to answer people's medical questions, pulling the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue out of the men's bathroom, and being in charge of the paper tax forms, and thanked my lucky stars that I'm lucky enough to be on a little reference librarian hiatus right now.

Forget history textbooks.

Camelot I firmly believe all history textbooks in use in schools today should be tossed.

Instead, I think students should just have access to big beautiful books like Portrait of Camelot: A Thousand Days in the Kennedy White House (by Richard Reeves, with photographs by Cecil W. Stoughton).*

I'm no huge fan of JFK (or Jackie), but I found this a fascinating book to look through. I also really enjoyed the introduction, in which the family's attention to matters of detail, image, and photographs is discussed. Good at PR, they were, those Kennedys (even the coining of "Camelot" came from Jackie herself, in the aftermath of her husband's assassination).

All the photographs have captions, although I'll admit they aren't real in-depth about actual historical events; this is more of a personal history about the Kennedys and many of the ceremonial activities at the White House. But the real value of the book is that it makes me want to read more about this era, and about JFK as president. I've got another book home right now, titled Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books, and I must admit this book has made me more interested in her as well. I'll give her this--one of the most arresting photos in the collection is the one of her making her way, alone, up the portable staircase to the plane on which her husband's body was waiting to be flown back to Washington. That had to be tough--even if your husband was a womanizing jerk.**

*Yes, I know nobody learns by looking at books anymore; when they do learn, they're probably looking at computers. That isn't always the best--when online, you're always looking elsewhere, and not focusing on what's in front of you.

**This is just the phrase that comes to mind when I think about Kennedy. I can't help it.

I've found a way to like Barbara Ehrenreich!

I just needed her in smaller doses!

Submersion Enter the investigative book Submersion Journalism: Reporting in the Radical First Person from Harper's Magazine, edited by Bill Wasik. Now, I LOVE investigative writing. I love submersion journalism (although I tend to refer to it as immersion journalism). So I thought this book would be perfect.

Well, yes and no. Most of the pieces were too political for me, and I am quite simply not in the mood right now. But there's still a lot of other good stuff here. The book's split into six sections: Politics, Violence, Illness, Vice, the Arts, and Confessions of War, and includes essays by such writers as Wells Tower, Charles Bowden, William T. Vollmann, and Ehrenreich.

Ehrenreich's piece is on her diagnosis with cancer, and how annoyed she was by all the pink-ribbon boosterism surrounding the disease, which eventually became the basis for her book Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America. Here's my favorite bits from the article:

"But I have never admired the 'natural' or believed in the 'wisdom of the body.' Death is as 'natural' as anything gets, and the body has always seemed to me like a retarded Siamese twin dragging along behind me, an hysteric really, dangerously overreacting, in my case, to everyday allergens and minute ingestions of sugar." (p. 113.)


"Worse, by ignoring or underemphasizing the vexing issue of environmental causes, the breast-cancer cult turns women into dupes of what could be called the Cancer Industrial Complex: the multinational corporate enterprise that with one hand doles out carcinogens and disease and, with the other, offers expensive, semi-toxic pharmaceutical treatments. Breast Cancer Awareness Month, for example, is sponsored by AstraZeneca, which, until a corporate reorginzation in 2000, was a leading producer of pesticides, including acetochlor, classified by the EPA as a 'probable human carcinogen.'" (p. 126.)

I didn't care much for Bright-sided, but this journalistic piece has some bite to it. Evidently I just need my Ehrenreich in article, rather than book, form.

How I miss Kurt Vonnegut.

There's a new collection of previously uncollected Kurt Vonnegut stories out there titled While Mortals Sleep: Unpublished Short Fiction. And of course, it's fantastic.

Mortals Vonnegut wrote short stories during my favorite era for short stories: anytime but now. I used to really love short stories, but that's because I read authors like Kurt Vonnegut and Ring Lardner and Dorothy Parker--in short, people who wrote short stories I could understand. Most modern short stories leave me either confused or depressed, and let's face it, if I want to feel that way, I'll just leave my house and interact with society.

There's sixteen stories here, and you've even got to like the titles: "The Epizootic," "Girl Pool," "The Man Without No Kiddleys," etc. None of them are earth-shattering, but they all tell a good little story, and because they're all by Vonnegut, they all have a nice little message without making you sick of the message. And of course the man can turn a phrase:

"'I done ate twelve barium meals in my time,' said Noel Sweeny. Sweeny had never felt really well, and now, on top of everything else, he was ninety-four years old."

Ha. That first line (of "The Man Without No Kiddleys") just made me laugh. And then there's this, in the story "Bomar":

"The loudspeaker was playing spring songs when Carmody and Sterling left the sixty-four-year-old Miss Daily in charge, and went out for morning coffee.

Both were lighthearted, unhaunted by ambition as they sauntered along the factory street to the main gate, outside of which was the Acme Grille. It had been made clear to both of them that they didn't have the priceless stuff of which executives were made. So, unlike so many wide-eyed and hustling men all around them, they were free to dress comfortably and inexpensively, and go out for coffee as often as they pleased."

The "priceless stuff of which executives were made." Awesome. The world is a poorer place without you in it, Mr. Vonnegut.

It was the wrong time for me to read this book.

I try not to go crazy with the capital-letters-and-period style, but I can't help it here. I hated Maira Kalman's And the Pursuit of Happiness SO. MUCH.

Happiness I'll give it this: it's a very different book. It's big (470 pages) and heavy and a pseudo-graphic novel in that it contains numerous illustrations. It's Kalman's take on American history, in chapters organized by the months of the year ("January: The Inauguration. At Last." "February: In Love with A. Lincoln."), although it also includes anecdotes from more current affairs.

It didn't help that the book starts with Kalman traveling to President Obama's inauguration. She doesn't tell a straightforward story; she sprinkles some text with drawings on each page: "The angels are singing on this glorious day," followed by an illustration of an angel, followed by "And we mortals, driving down to Washington, passing white mountains and black mountains of unidentified industrial stuff, listen to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sing words from a Bach cantata...'Now is the time of grace.' The heart is racing. And all I can say is hallelujah." (pp. 4-7.)

And all I can say is, calm down, lady, you're just going to the inauguration of another shithead politician. Who actually may be worse than other politicians because he seemed to promise something better, but has turned out to be more aggressively just like every other shithead politician than even I, in all my cynicism, thought he was going to be.

As you can see, it was just the WAY wrong time for me to be reading this book.

There's also lots of stuff in it about the Founding Fathers, particularly Jefferson, and those parts of the book are vaguely interesting and informative. But everything else about this book, including the fact that most pages have just a few words of text or one drawing (seems wasteful to me), simply annoyed the hell out of me. Friends who liked it have told me they enjoyed the whimsy of it, but I guess my current mood is just beyond whimsy. Ugh. Rarely have I appreciated more the words of Dorothy Parker, who once reviewed a book and said something to the effect that she "didn't want to put it down...I wanted to throw it across the room." I would throw this one across the room, and hard, but I don't want to put a dent in my wall. Gah.

Here's an attention-grabbing title: Fist Stick Knife Gun

Gun The book Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence, by Geoffrey Canada, has been sitting on my table for weeks now. I can't figure out what I want to say about it.

I can't remember how I originally found the book, but I think I saw the title and felt that I had to read it. (I abhor violence and yet can't stop reading about it.) If you've never heard of him, Geoffrey Canada is the president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone, and you may remember him from this American Express Members Project spot:

The book is a memoir, and short: 181 pages, so it can be read fairly quickly. Canada describes his childhood growing up in the Bronx, and how he learned early on the neighborhood codes of how and when to fight, how to gain a rep so he didn't have to fight, and how quickly things can spiral out of control once violence is introduced. Thinking of children across America, across decades, having to learn these lessons made me very, very sad.* This description of what happened before the fight really got to me, for some reason:

"During the time I was sizing up my situation I made a serious error. I showed on my face what was going on in my head. My fear and my confusion were obvious to anyone paying attention. This, I would later learn, was a rookie mistake and could have deadly consequences on the streets." (p. 20.)

It's a pretty shitty world where a kid can't let what he's feeling show on his face without having the fear that he'll get the shit kicked out of him.

About half of this book is Canada's coming-of-age memoir, and the other half is more about his experiences with the Harlem Children's Zone and his opinions about what is going on in today's inner cities (and he is not shy about saying that everything on the streets changed and became exponentially more violent as handguns became ever more available).

Do consider reading it. Oddly enough, it's not nearly as depressing as it sounds. I salute this guy and believe more firmly than ever that people like him are much more worthy of attention and charitable giving than any asshole politicians.

*Not least because I know if I'd grown up in these surroundings I'd have been toast--I cried easily as a kid, no matter how much I fought it.

Tuesday article: More Paul Clemens

Not so much an article today, as a quote from Paul Clemens's book Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant, which we discussed yesterday. I didn't have room for this anecdote from the book, but it should give you a pretty good idea of the narrative's tone:

"Unlike Eddie, Dave felt sympathy for the other guards--the Pinkertons, so-called, who sat at the plant gate. Dave once told me the story of one of the male guards. The guy made nine dollars an hour after seven years, Dave said, and had just worked a sixteen-hour shift, as the guard who was to follow him had called in. He wanted to quit but couldn't. Neither, really, could he continue working: he didn't have enough gas in his car to get home, or, once there--if he made it--to get back to work. Dave said that he gave the guy five bucks. 'I wish it'd been ten,' he told me. A few weeks later, Dave said, the guy paid him the five dollars back.

That the man had settled his debt despite all drove home to Dave just how desperate the situation in Detroit was. That a seemingly honorable man who'd worked a double shift would be reduced to begging gas money--well, the ironies were hard to wrap one's head around. A Detroit man, willing to work, who could only find work guarding a Detroit plant where work had ceased. A man who had a hard time getting to work because the work he had paid so poorly. A man who...'These people are fucked,' Dave said." (p. 164.)