Sunday, January 1, 2017

Estrogen in the Water

Let me provide some background first.
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I was born in Pontiac ("the yak"), Michigan, a fact for which I hold a sort of scrappy pride. Pontiac suffered a fate similar to Flint, Michigan's when the car industry backed their cars out, left town, and the neighborhoods declined. 

The last time I drove down my old street, there were boarded-up houses and empty lots where homes had been demolished. The street looked like the grin of a gap-toothed skeleton. I sobbed all the way home. 

But people still live on that street, some of them my old neighbors, and where there's life there's hope. I still love Pontiac. I would never have had some of my best memories and many of my best friends without it. 

The other day I was loading groceries into my car when a woman who was parked nose-to-nose with me yelled, "Hey! Excuse me!" I walked toward her. She was a black woman, middle-aged, with glasses and a not quite trusting smile.

"What's that mean on your windshield?"

I looked and saw that she was talking about the decal at the top which read: IMPORTED FROM DETROIT. It was there when I bought the car, used, a year or so before. The salesman explained that it was intended as a point of pride about the car being as good as any import. Once he said that, I didn't give it a second thought. 

"Oh!" I smiled with the suburban white bread naivety of Mary Tyler Moore's sitcom persona. "It was there when I bought the car. I think it's just a little poke at the imports."

"You sure it doesn't mean Detroit's no better than a third-world country?" 

I stopped dead and stared at her. She didn't look like someone trying to pick a fight. Instead, she seemed to be trying to sort something out with me, something that clearly had the potential for making her ready to fight.

My eyes got very wide. "Honestly, ma'am, I never took it that way at all, and if I'd thought that's what it meant, I would have had the salesman take it off. I bought the car used and it was already on there. I always took it as pro-Detroit, not anti."

"Oh!" she smiled. "That sounds better to me. You see, I'm from Detroit and I was just about to go a few rounds with you if that was your opinion."

I smiled back. "Well, ma'am, I'm from Pontiac, and I think people like you and me ought to stick together."

"I think you're right!" she laughed. "You have a blessed day now!"

Life would be a lot better for everybody, and maybe last a lot longer for some, if we talked things out before jumping to conclusions. 

I know that two men could have defused this tense situation just as amicably; still, I think it's a good argument for pumping estrogen into city water supplies.