I had spent four days in Ann Arbor, Dexter and Chelsea. This stay allowed me to experience a whiter and more Norman Rockwell Michigan. On two previous trips, I was confined to mostly black and car wrecked Detroit.
Flying out from Detroit Airport, I bought two National coneys and, boy, were they sad. Hotdogs, chili, onion, mustard and buns were like holograms. Though seemingly real, there was nothing there, really. Only the napkins were true.
I noticed lots of Muslim women in headscarves, and even a couple in burkas. There was Freedom Center, a lounge for soldiers, military veterans and their families. “Serving Those Who Serve Us.” Staffed by volunteers, it had a donation box outside the door. Snacks were laid on a counter. A young black man chilled on a black recliner.
Inside a store, there was a display, “TREAT OUR TROOPS—Purchase any item you wish to donate here and we’ll deliver it to a local agency supporting our troops in this area.” Qualified items included wet napkins, aspirins, mints, chewing gum and candies.
A recurring announcement warned travelers to be vigilant for anything suspicious since we’re on “heightened alert.”
Since all the TVs were tuned to CNN, I had no choice but to hear some guy tell Wolf Blitzer that Donald Trump was encouraging Vladimir Putin to tamper with the US election. Our mainstream media feature many professorial, avuncular men who are entirely vapid and phony. They are paid to appear concerned and wise as they spin and lie. Deep down, they must be laughing at their audience’s stupidity. Blitzer is just a variance of Jerry Springer.
At the end of the jetway, a chirpy sign announced that Spirit Airlines had added more seats to each plane to save its customers money. Whatever, I thought. It’s only an hour and a half flight. I had an aisle seat, with no one next to me. By the window was a man with short hair, in a golf shirt, in his late 30s.
Exhausted, I just wanted to close my eyes until home. As the steel tube taxied, I shifted in my seat, winced, sighed, turned to my right and saw that my row mate was trying to get my attention.
“Sir, I just want to warn you that I always get sick on takeoff,” and he mimicked throwing up into the white paper bag, his head bobbing. This odd confession, said too loudly, drew the attention of two other passengers. Nervously smiling, they turned to look.
“It’s no problem, man. You do whatever you have to do,” I responded.
“Also, I must warn you that I have really bad gas!”
As the dude cracked up, I laughed too, “You had me for a moment. That’s pretty good!”
Hank was his name, and he was going to Philly on business. A native of Hudson, Michigan (pop. 2,273 and dropping), Hank lives in a Detroit suburb just 30 minutes from downtown. Leafy, neat and nearly all-white, its proximity to the high crime city keeps housing prices low.
Yeah, I’ve been in southern Michigan nearly my whole life. In college, I studied English and education. I wanted to be a teacher. My wife teaches first grade.
For nine years, I was a financing executive for Yamaha, but after the 2008 crash, they laid off 4,500 people. All these dealerships went out of business. No one was buying anything.
I was out of work for nine months. I taught summer camp and coached football. I became a substitute teacher, then got a full time job in Detroit. I taught courses like world history, civics and English.
If I told you the truth about what it was like to teach in Detroit, you’d think I’m the biggest racist. Most people don’t believe me, or they get really angry. People are just ignorant of the reality.
It’s worse than anything you can imagine. When I see a 16-, 15-year-old, I think he’s just a kid, not an adult yet, he’s just a baby, but in the ghetto, a 15-year-old is no baby. He’s thinking like an adult. He’s mean and tough, and he’s always hustling.
They aren’t fuckin’ kids anymore. They’d shoot you dead, stab you, steal from you, motherfuck you, in a heartbeat.
They break every rule.
Let’s say you’re a teacher, and there’s a rule, No gum in the classroom. Let’s say I’m a student. I take out a stick of gum, put it in my mouth, chew it, right in front of you, so you go, “Hey, no gum in the classroom! Spit it out!” They’d look at you straight in the eye and say, “I don’t have any gum. What are you talking about?”
It’s like that with everything. They put more effort into avoiding doing the right thing . . . Does that make sense? They would rather walk half a mile to avoid picking up a piece of paper, than a hundred feet to bend over to pick up that piece of paper to put it in the garbage.
I was one of the very few white teachers. I didn’t teach much. They didn’t show up.
On count days for government funding, they give the kids iPads, computers, even phones, just so they will show up and be counted so the school can get its funding. After that, they disappear.
They come to school just to socialize or hustle. You might see a kid once every two weeks. If it’s raining out, they’ll stay home. If it’s too cold, they’ll stay home.
Their ma, grandma or aunt can’t be bothered, and if you call them in, they’ll make it about every other issue but their kid’s education.
Since we’re on a plane, I must watch my language. If we were in a bar . . .
While I was trying to teach, I saw a middle-school girl give her boyfriend a blowjob, so I said something, and you know what the response was?
“Why are you looking?”
In Detroit, if you have tenure and don’t feel like going to work, you don’t call ahead, OK? Instead, you just call your friend or cousin and say, “Hey, go cover my classes.”
Here’s a guy who just walked off the street. Who are you? Oh, I’m covering for such and such. He’s not a teacher. He has no ID or anything. The principal doesn’t care.
To substitute teach in the suburb, you need to have your certification, a background check, a lesson plan. In the hood, a guy can just call his baby mama or some crack head to cover for him. Throw her 25 bucks.
The test scores are false. The diplomas don’t mean anything. These high school kids read and write at a second grade level.
So what do you expect me to do? It’s a fight you can’t win.
I gave all I had, I did my best, I tried. The kids who wanted extra help, I did everything I could. I gave extra help, time, effort.
When you’re with them, day in and day out, it hardens you, and you must be so alert, because they’d set you up. They’d shoot and stab you, in a heartbeat.
You know who wins an argument in the hood? The one who shouts the loudest the longest. It’s pointless to argue with someone who doesn’t know anything. You can give them all the facts and reasons, but you’re not going to change their way of thinking. It’s like trying to have a debate with this seat.
Ghetto schools get so much more money compared to other schools. There are all these special programs, and side money for accessories, equipments and books, and money for extra security guards and counselors.
Twenty-six Detroit principals have been found, so far, to embezzle thousands and thousands of dollars. The mayor went to jail in 2008. Everything went through him.
People don’t realize how much money there is in Detroit, but it’s all in the suburbs. Inside the city, 90% of the people are on welfare. It’s a burden on our state. They tax the crap out of us to support Detroit.
The unions ruined Detroit. There was a time when the unions served a purpose, there was a need, but it got out of control. You give them an inch and they take a foot, you know what I’m saying?
In Detroit, a guy pushing a broom for Ford, Chrysler or GM makes at least $28 an hour, with good health benefits and a nice retirement plan, and we’re talking about some dude with no job skill and no education. That’s why all the factories left. In the South, a skilled worker makes just 15 an hour, and people fight over it.
With the union, you can only do what’s in the contract. If my job is to wipe and not lift, then I wouldn’t even lift this magazine right here. I’d have to wait for you to come and do it. If I touched this magazine, I’d be breaking union rules, you know what I’m saying?
People who are on welfare for a long time shouldn’t be allowed to vote. If you’re not contributing to society, you shouldn’t be voting, and it’s not about race. If you’re a welfare queen in Appalachia, you shouldn’t be voting either.
If you can’t take care of your kids, the worst thing to do is to bring more into the world. If you’re on public assistance and you can’t take care of what you already have, then there’s no friggin reason why you should make three or four more babies. It’s not fair for the kid. He’s born behind the 8 ball from day one. That’s why we should have government-mandated birth control. It’s common sense.
My wife and I would love to have ten kids too, but we can’t afford to give them everything they need to get ahead.
If a guy has no regard for life and just kills somebody, he shouldn’t get life. He’s not going to be rehabilitated. We should just put a .22 in his chest. This way, we won’t have to spend $40,000 a year for a piece of shit. There’s no other word for it, he’s a piece of shit. Don’t keep him behind bars, feed him, babysit him, give him medical. We should just shoot his ass. I don’t want to sound inhumane, but we should just take a guy like that about five miles on a boat, and make him jump.
I was so glad to be done with teaching in Detroit. Now, I’m a financial advisor. I show people how to access capital, build their business, finance their equipments, find working capital. I show them how to utilize money for growth. I’m a banker.
You don’t know how many times I’ve heard from an immigrant, “I came here when I was 19, I spoke no English and I had six bucks in my pocket.” Fifteen years later, they’re running successful businesses. They’ve saved every dime to send every single one of their kids to college. They’ve brought their extended family over and set them up. They all say, “I never would have had this opportunity in my homeland.”
They are also minorities, but they don’t need handouts. The Chinese were treated worse than blacks not that long ago, and look at how well they’re doing.
It bothers me when people don’t take advantage of what’s available, and don’t contribute, because they make it harder for people who want to do right.
I have tons of friends from other countries, from all different religions, all different backgrounds. They tell me, “People have no idea or appreciate what somebody can accomplish in the US, even with all the shit that’s going down.”
I came from no money. I worked my tail off. I want my boys to have a step up.
I love to teach, and I love children, but I’m making three times more money in corporate America. My company treats me well. In Philly, I’ll have the use of a house and a 2016 BMW. Maybe I’ll substitute teach when I’m retired.
I love a good book. I read all kinds of stuff. When someone can get inside your head with a great book, so that you can’t even put it down to go to sleep, that to me is a true gift.
One of my favorite authors is Sherman Alexie. I read “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.: I read about China. I’m really intrigued by the Song Dynasty.
I’m voting for Trump.
There is a lot of tension right now. Unfortunately, there are a lot of politicians who depend on that animosity for their power. They need people to be poor so they can dangle that carrot in front of them.
Here’s what I’m thinking, Don’t piss on my neck and say that it’s raining. Hillary Clinton will piss on your neck and whisper in your ear that it’s raining. Donald Trump will stand behind you and piss on your neck, but he’ll tell you, “I’m pissing on you right now. How do you like that?”
I like to know, at least, what I’m getting.
Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America.