I was out of sorts. My novel completed, out seeking a partner to bring it to readers. Tightening and polishing rejected short stories. Planning my next novel, its first draft to be typewritten during November’s National Novel Writing Month. Falling behind in my reading. Seeing my work through a new writers groups’ eyes. It felt like I’d stepped beyond the point in the lake where the bottom dropped off, my feet no longer planted, my arms splashing to keep my head above water.
I needed to breathe.
I’ve been reading The Great Spring: Writing, Zen, and This Zigzag Life by Natalie Goldberg. It triggered the memory of another book of hers; The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language. A book about her True Secret of Writing retreats.
Flipped my calendar open. The coming five-day week had no court appearances. No appointments. No Detroit City FC matches. Wife out of town for the month. House completely to myself.
A Zen/writing retreat. Exactly what I needed.
Since her seminal work, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Ms. Goldberg has taught an approach to writing as a practice. Influential to my writing, back when I first discovered this book, was the following passage:
When you write, don’t say, “I’m going to write a poem.” That attitude will freeze you right away. Sit down with the least expectation of yourself; say, “I am free to write the worst junk in the world.”
I didn’t have to write something great each time I put words to paper. Freedom.
She also presses handwriting for writing practice. Back then, I did. For a spell. But any insights were lost due to my illegible handwriting. For the retreat, I would type.
After purchasing lunch in the Guardian Building, I pulled out a pen and opened my notebook.
Had to rest in the quiet and cool atmosphere of Cobo Hall. Walking from the Guardian Building, past the Spirit of Detroit statue, through Hart Plaza, along the river to Joe Louis Arena, I looked forward to riding the People Mover back through the area. However, rail replacement closed the public transportation, making for a long walk back under the blaze of the mid-day sun. I wrote this in my notebook as I cooled.
If you are from Michigan, and have been involved in hockey in any way, chances are you have a Gordie Howe story. Learning of his passing from a friend who I was having lunch with at Schuler Books & Music in Grand Rapids, MI, rekindled memories of my brief moments with this legendary man.
The oldest memory has been with me for decades. It hung in my parents’ basement until recently when it found a place in mine.
My aunt worked for the Ford Motor Car Company. In June, 1972, after Gordie retired from 25 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings and before he signed with the Houston Aeros of the WHA, Ford hosted an event where they brought Gordie in to sign autographs. I was nine-years-old and had recently found hockey to be my favorite spectator sport. I attended my first hockey game on January 9, 1971 – a 3-2 Detroit victory over the Buffalo Sabres at the Olympia. My parents talked up Gordie, while I, being a youngster in the 70’s, was drawn to Gary Unger, and his flowing long hair (The Wings’ traded Unger less than a month after my first hockey game).
At the Ford event, Gordie was situated at a table. My mom took some photos of me standing near him or with me in the background.
We then stood in line and waited to have him sign my autograph book. When my turn came, I nervously and silently placed my autograph book before him. He didn’t open it. Instead, he noticed the shirt I was wearing. He took the shirt at my waist and pulled it toward him. Then he pressed the ballpoint pen against the material, signing his name. I was stunned. A few days later, a Ford photographer at the event talked to my aunt at her office, saying he had photos of Gordie autographing my shirt. He gave them to her, and my parents framed the shirt and photos. Touched my greatness, I was inspired. That fall, I signed up for the only season of sports I ever played – a house-hockey league at the Plymouth Cultural Center.
Hanging on the wall in my parents’ house, it always reminded me about how attentive and kind this man was. As the years went by, and I became more involved as a fan, spectator, booster club president, photographer, and columnist in the sport, it was also a reminder of the contrast between him and the next generation of superstars. He did not think his superstar status made him superior to us. He was one of us, appreciative of our adoration.
I remember watching the 1979-80 NHL All Star game. No. Scratch that. I remember nothing about the game. It was played at the brand new Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, and the only thing that mattered was the pre-game player introductions, saving the Hartford Whalers’ right winger for last.
Still gives me chills. Man’s example of humility.
Though the 1979-80 season was his final year of hockey, he was not done. There was one record yet to break.
I started photographing and writing for Great Lakes Hockey Alliance – a free monthly newsprint hockey publication covering all the Michigan hockey teams in the NHL, IHL, UHL, OHL, & CCHA – in 1997. I photographed Detroit Vipers’ games at The Palace of Auburn Hills. It was magical timing. After so many photos from the stands, having a press pass and seeing my photos published was thrilling. To cap it off, the Detroit Vipers won the 1997 Turner Cup, allowing me to go on the ice, capture team and player shots with the Cup, and the celebration in the locker room afterward with players’ friends and family. Life was good. Then, it got better.
For the home opener of the 1997-98 season, not only would the Vipers raise the Turner Cup Champion banner, they would start the season with #9, Mister Hockey, in the line-up. It was an opportunity for Gordie Howe to be the only athlete to play a professional sport in six decades, breaking Minnie Minoso’s record of playing in Major League Baseball in five decades. Minoso was present at the event.
Things were definitely different that evening. The press box was overflowing with reporters from across the globe, as I went to pick up my media notes.
When I descended from the heights of the stadium to my usual spot at ice level – the box between the players’ benches – three photographers had climbed in to get photos. They did not like shooting through the glass, so one-by-one they climbed out. I reclaimed my place.
The Palace, packed with 20,182 fans, provided another standing ovation for #9.
He skated the first shift; forty-seven seconds of historic ice time. Vipers defenseman, Bobby Jay, moved the puck into the Kansas City Blades’ zone, then passed it to Howe, who redirected the puck on net. Another shot on goal to his professional career statistics.
He stayed on the bench during the first and second period, not returning for the third. Which was too bad. At the end of the third period, the score was tied 4-4. The IHL had the shootout as a way of breaking ties (the NHL did not implement the shootout until 2005, nineteen years after the IHL adopted it in 1986). Imagine if Gordie had been on the bench for the shootout, skated onto the ice, went one-on-one with the goalie, and scored. Would The Palace have had to rebuild its roof?
The power of Gordie Howe transcended generations. The following season, the Vipers celebrated his 70th birthday as a promotion night. I arrived early at the game, and was walking through the corridor by the locker rooms. Most Vipers games started at 7:30, with the doors opening to the public at 6PM. Before the doors opened to the public, little league hockey teams would play on the ice. I stood in the hallway as the kids – probably the same age I was when Gordie signed my shirt – waddled by on the blades of their skates, weighed down by their equipment, on their way to the locker room. Gordie, randomly patted one of the kids on his helmet as he walked by and said, “You played good.” The kid looked up, then stopped. Awestruck. The look on his face was one of a kid empowered. Gordie Howe said I played good.
I drove through a drizzle into Detroit for this Sunday morning at Cass. But by the time I arrived, the rain stopped. The only time we got wet was when the wind blew, causing the droplets on the leaves of the canopy of trees to lose their grip.
Last time, I had brought a platter of cookies that I purchased at Meijer the night before. People gladly took them, however they were loose. I was concerned that if not consumed at the park, they’d end up crumbs after being packaged with all the other food and supplies our guests take home.
I did something different this Sunday. I bought four 20-count boxes of chocolate chip cookies at Meijer, along with a package of fifty zip-lock sandwich bags. At a card table in my basement, with a turntable spinning vinyl, I packaged two cookies to a zip-lock bag, making them a little more convenient for our friends.
It seemed to work well, and thus this has become my practice.
Chocolate chip cookies are my addiction. And I refuse to recover. I am especially addicted to Meijer’s chocolate chip cookies from their bakery. The practice of placing two cookies in each bag, these delightful treats, with thoughtful intention, knowing they are going to be enjoyed by someone who needs them more than I, enhances appreciation for all that is around me. I have been fortunate. A small catastrophe, and I could be on the other side of the table. Giving what I can, when I can, just feels right. The fresh, chocolate aroma stimulating my senses, adds to the powerfully good feeling of giving them to our friends at Cass.
In 2013, a committee of volunteers coordinated a fund-raiser in which all the money raised would be spent on food and supplies donated at the park. The first was held on November 14, 2013, with subsequent fundraisers held on October 16, 2014 and October 1, 2015.
If you are interested in participating, just come down to Cass Park in Detroit on the 2nd or 4th Sunday of the month. The table and food set-up begins at 11AM and lasts a couple hours. Don’t feel you have to bring something. Just show up, and soon you’ll discover how you can help.
The evening before was the first home match of the season for Detroit City FC at Cass Tech High School stadium. They hosted a friendly (an exhibition) match against the Muskegon Risers. The rain fell hard before the game, which caused my camera to shutdown before the match started. I dropped it in a bag of rice, hoping for it to dry out quickly. It emerged in the morning from its Lazarus Pit ready for another trip down to Cass.
Mother’s Day. Single roses were distributed to the mothers this lovely morning.
This was the first Sunday that I went to Cass Park without going to Still Point first. I brought with me eighteen pairs of socks that I had purchased at Costco. From my hands they disappeared as quickly as I pulled them apart from their packaging. I observed and I photographed. In reviewing the photos and reflecting on the couple hours at Cass this morning, I composed these words which have been the headliner to every Facebook photo album I’ve created since.
I walk amongst saints
as they administer to
others whose hunger is so deep
I cannot fathom.
I am no saint. I’m merely a guy with a camera who shares these images of saints doing what saints do; performing miracles through their acts of compassion.
I have not experienced the sensation of going to bed hungry because there was no food in the kitchen; nor the anxiety of where tomorrow’s meal would come from. I have not been in a situation where I did not have a bed to rest my head on at night. I have been extremely fortunate. And as I pulled the socks from their packaging, I was struck by the desire of those who snatched them up. A shallow reaction might have been one of condemnation from a judgmental mind. But I took a deep breath. I realized that present before me was a hunger beyond the depth of my understanding.
Detroit’s Cass Corridor is a strip of the city which is bordered on the east by Woodward Avenue, on the west by the M-10/Lodge Freeway, on the north by Warren Avenue, and on the south by I-75. Lewis Cass, Michigan’s Territory Governor from 1813 to 1831 and the Democratic Party presidential candidate in 1848, purchased the strip of land. In the late 1800’s, the industrial revolution transformed the area into a neighborhood for the wealthy, until the turn of the 20th Century when the automobile industry grew, drawing more people to the city. The upper class began building homes further from the heart of the bustling downtown. With the increase in population, the expansive homes in the Corridor became apartments for new Detroiters to rent. The area became more urban, and with Wayne State University at the northern section of the Corridor, the area transformed into the home of both poverty and art. The revolutionary period of the 1960’s made Cass Corridor the Greenwich Village of Detroit, where artists, musicians, and writers created and protests took place while urban decay spread.
Cass Park is near the southern base of the Corridor. On its southern border is Cass Tech High School. Cass Union was the first school established in the area in 1861. In 1919, the massive building was erected. The new building was constructed in 2004, just north on an adjacent plot. The old school was demolished after a 2007 fire damaged the vacated structure.
Cass Tech High School has an enrollment of just over 2,300 students, and is a Michigan Department of Education Reward School-Ranked in the top 5% of all high schools in the state of Michigan. It was also the home stadium for four years to Detroit City FC, the city’s fourth-tier professional soccer team which entered the National Premiere Soccer League in 2012.
On Cass Park’s western border is the Metropolitan Center for High Technology. Owned by Wayne State University, it provides aid to technological start-ups. It was originally constructed in the 1920’s and was the corporate headquarters for the S.S. Kresge Company until 1972 when it was donated to the Detroit Institute of Technology.
On the park’s northern border is the Masonic Temple, one of the architectural gems of Detroit. Construction began on the temple in 1920 and was completed in 1926. The sixteen-story building is host to concerts, shows, wedding receptions and graduations. It is the world’s largest Masonic Temple.
On the park’s eastern border is about to be the new Illitch development. You know, the one where the City of Detroit is providing corporate welfare to a billionaire so he can have a new hockey stadium, while the City files for bankruptcy, unable to pay pensions and debts. I won’t rant, because Dave Zirin sums it up here.
I stopped by this particular morning after Still Point’s Sunday service.
Images of America: Detroit’s Cass Corridor by Armando Delicato and Elias Khalil (Arcadia Publishing, 2012) Cass Tech High School website
There are three events in the Buddha’s life that are recognized with special services at Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple. There is the day of his birth (recognized with a Sunday service in May); his enlightenment (recognized with a Friday evening through Saturday morning sitting in January); and Parinirvana, or the day he died (recognized with a Sunday service in March). On the day of the Parinirvana service in 2015 was another Sunday at Cass.
After having been given the honor to read the Four Brahma-viharas during the service – the four divine states of dwelling cultivated through meditation; The Way of Love; The Way of Compassion; The Way of Sympathetic Joy; The Way of Equanimity – and reminded and refreshed by the final words spoken by Buddha – Be diligent in your efforts to attain liberation – I made my way down to Cass Park after the service.
It was another chilly day where hearts were warm and hungry bellies filled. No matter the person’s individual spiritual practice, the common religion of compassion and community is powerful to witness.