Going to the Eastern Market in Detroit
While in Detroit Rachelle and I stopped in for lunch at a place called Zeff’s Coney Island Restaurant. The diner was bustling, full of a diverse assembly of people all streaming through the Eastern Market.
In the booth behind us sat two women. One of them had a tattoo of Tinkerbell– sluttily composed on all fours– inked on her back, while the other woman had a tattoo of a several dollar signs on her back.
“I don’t know what was wrong with the bitch,” Slutty Tinkerbell said.
“She’s always had an attitude,” Dollar Sign agreed.
“Well, I wasn’t going to let her get away with it, so I told her, but before I knew it bitch had me by the hair and whipped me to the floor!”
The waitress was about 7 months pregnant, had sweet but tired eyes, and was an utter ace at her job. Flashing about, she was like some serving telepath, predicting needs and wants long before they were actually articulated. When she brought us the bill it occurred to me to ask if she’d come up with a name for her child. She seemed a little bit startled by the question, and then a little bit sad, “No, no, I’ve been too busy to think about it, I’ll have to just wait and see, I guess,” and then she spun off to another table, her life now receding like a partially glimpsed ballet.
Crossing the pedestrian overpass to the Market, we were greeted by a tall, thin black man in a frayed dashiki. He gave me a quick appraisal, “Hey there Little Man, how’s it going?” In front of him he had an array of mysterious oils and dyes that I had paused to inspect, “The Little Man’s day goes well, how does the Tall, Thin Man’s day go?” He laughed and banged his fist into mine, and I felt proud, like I had just passed some sort of Detroit test.
Not far from him a woman crouched near to the ground in a position that seemed almost predatory, as if she was planning on springing up and pouncing on all who passed by. She was wearing a complete, black Burqa that she’d accessorized with a pair of impenetrable wrap-around sunglasses. Somehow, I knew that she was stunning beneath the intimidating cover—you could feel strength radiating from her and it was obvious that her concealment was a function of pride rather than modesty. Beside her a handsome man with a Thelonius Monk beard sat on a pillow chanting Muslim prayers. They were rock starts to me–perfect in their alien beauty, as if pulled from the cover of a Miles Davis album.
In the open-air market we bought some blueberries from a pair of fussy, 60 year-old gay men.
“No, it’s three dollars each or two for five dollars!” the one with the beard and mustache corrected. The other man sighed and closed his eyes for a second, and then with an edge in his voice that was directed to his partner, said to us, ‘That will be two-fifty, please.”
Down Russell Street we saw heavy men with diabetic limps. Clustered in a group in front of us, one wore the jersey of Detroit Tiger slugger Prince Fielder, while the others arrayed around him, leaned on canes, wore t-shirts from rib joints or hats tilted at a jaunty angle.
Boisterous and playfully combative, we could hear them bantering. The closer we got, the more clearly we could hear one of the men shouting out every five seconds or so, as if part of an unfolding musical improvisation, variations on a riff:
“Leave the white girl alone.”
“Now you be leaving the white girl alone, you hear.”
“Don’t be messing with that white girl’s business.”
“Just leave the white girl alone.”
As Rachelle and I passed, one of these men stepped out and scowled back at his buddies, “Ah, white girls can’t cook worth a damn!” Winking at Rachelle, he gestured us away with his hand, his pals all laughing and tossing high-fives.