I could do without another trip to Ann Arbor. I may have been born there, but the town I knew is now gone. In fact, just about everyone I once knew there has left. My immediate family bailed, and the only one of us left is my dad being buried there. The University of Michigan has played a big part in our lives, however. Not just on my side of the family, but my husband’s too. I love when we get crap in Cleveland for using Ben’s alumni credit card if we go out, “you’re pretty brave to be using that in these parts” someone will say. When this happens I want to scream, Look buster, at least my family all went to or taught at UofM and were on actual sports teams! And do I give a crap about every Wolverines game? No! I don’t. At least you have to be smart to attend school in Ann Arbor! Ohio State fans are almost as bad as Browns fans, which are almost as bad as Red Sox fans!
I will say, I did see some “WalMart Wolverines” fans pushing their kids in a stolen shopping cart down the sidewalk in front of the athletics building, so I guess you can’t avoid these people no matter where you live in the US.
But I digress.
My friend Mike who I hadn’t really seen since about 1995 (a local hero who caught the serial rapist in Ann Arbor around 1994 after he got in his cab) came and walked around his old stomping grounds. He and Ben marveled at all of the changes, and yet the odd things that hadn’t changed. The loser frat is still the loser frat, and the staff at The Earle are still the same after all these years. The art museum has expanded, and the library now has state-of-the-art everything. Mike recognized my husband because he said, “I know your eyes”. Amazing, they actually met at a party in the late 80s and he remembered Ben’s eyes.
As expected, the campus has changed in and around downtown so much that everything seems homogenized. The landscaping and common areas leave no room to sit or gather. Benches? Ha! Move along people. It seems getting students about their business and not loitering is the deal. I’m happy that at least my old coffee shop has expanded and it seemed rather lively and people actually talked, as opposed to the last time I was there. Doc Martens, flannel, and mom jeans were the fashion, as well as some familiar hair cuts on the boys that would fit in at Front 242 concert. There were signs posted for Quiddich. Yes, that game from Harry Potter. I have no idea what that entails in the non-wizard world of Ann Arbor but it seems they took recruiting for it very seriously.
To see the buildings where I did so many naughty things and ran amok; to see the places my dad used to take me when he wasn’t in class; to sit in the old familiar places. Even my next door neighbor’s house growing up had been re-done, but there I was drinking white wine in the kitchen with her, in the spot where I used to play Maniac Mansion and Oregon Trail because she had a color monitor and the computers at Ardis didn’t. I think we hadn’t seen each other since we were 14 (she’s a great photographer now). Sometime soon after my mom won the MacArthur grant, she once asked my mom, “what’s a grant?” to which my mom leaned over and said, “it’s money from HEAVEN”
This was a weekend that my whole family was together for the first time since I was married 12 years ago. It was also great to see people who had played a part in my life or the life of Ardis Publishers at some point or another. People I hadn’t seen between 12 and 25 years ago — some even longer. I didn’t take a lot of photos or video because I was so distracted the whole time catching up with people. A journalist from Russia was on hand, a former US Ambassador to Russia, former grad students, and so forth. If anything, the weekend proved how awful my Russian has gotten.
There is now an initiative at the university to have a fund in my dad’s name at CREES as well as a fund for grad students who want to study in the department. I hope it gets funded. I think I told someone it was “about fucking time” UofM named something for my dad rather than just the certificate saying it was Carl R. Proffer Day — which by the way, no one at the university seems to remember or know that was even a thing. A wing, or a hallway would be nice too, but hey, what do I know? I’m told these days how good it was I didn’t go into academia in this century because it is a whole different game, and not a very fair one. But in a strange twist, I am actually illustrating the thesis of a former student of my dad (yeah it’s taken her some time to finish), and it’s all about Gogol’s Dead Souls. Trust me, that book is funnier if you know Russians and get the culture there.
I’ve been told recently that my correspondence is very much like my dad. I got a glimpse of this when I saw old letters during an exhibit at the University of Michigan Library years ago. Surprisingly, I have never read a thing either of my parents have wrote or published, and, I have only read two Russian novels. Oh, and a collection of recent short stories called St. Petersburg Noir. That’s it. But hey, I still haven’t gotten around to reading a few things I actually painted the cover art for. What can I say? I’m more interested in memoirs of the British aristocracy, Joan Crawford, and Karl Lagerfeld, than I am in pretty much any type of fiction or essays. One of these days I’ll get around to Widows of Russia, as I certainly saw this book around Ardis and at our house all the time!
Things I took away but that I already knew: I’m a severe underachiever, it took a village to raise me, and I stuck to my guns as far as what I’d do with my life. Because though I might have been a capitalist at a young age charging for drawings as a child, at least I stuck with it.
I’m glad the whole thing didn’t become too much a memorial; everyone was proud no one really cried, and I’m glad it didn’t turn into a “I Liked Carl the Best” contest. Here are videos of the whole thing. Go on and nerd out!
btw, that’s not quite how my parents met, but that’s okay. I’ve also tried to find a copy of the “Russian Literature is better than Sex” illustration, but alas, there seems to not be one online. I remember that t-shirt well!