|Chris and I with our Student Assistants|
In getting to know each other and becoming friends, we realized we were both from Detroit and actually attended the same high school, Cass Tech, albeit years apart. I did not graduate from Cass and I am not sure Chris did either.
Last summer, we both traveled to China and taught at the Anhui University of Finance and Economics in Bengbu. It was my second year there and Chris’s first. It was a great experience and a chance for us to hang out and bond even more. It was there that I picked up on something Chris did and recognized it as something I did as well.
We were in the Canteen, a huge four-story cafeteria, on our first day. After lunch, we stopped in the snack shop to buy water. Chris bought an ice cream bar. We paid using our school issued ID on which we had deposited some cash. The next day we did the same thing except this time we had our student assistants with us. Chris realized the same cashier charged him fifty cents or, maybe, a dollar less for the same ice cream when he was by himself then when he was with our Chinese student assistants. It bothered him a bit.
He brought it up a few times that day randomly. He would exclaim that he could not believe the same cashier cheated him when he was by himself but not when accompanied by Chinese students. He wanted to go back and confront her. He wanted to get his money back.
It was funny. We knew he was joking. Mostly.
But, he kept bring it up. The next day. It was always random and a bit surprising in the context of whatever conversation. It was still funny but a bit less so with each repeat. By the third day, it started to be downright annoying. But, then, after a more days, perhaps it was the 87th time he brought it up, it started to funny again… real funny.
So, I asked him, “Do you do that often?” He responded, “Do what?” I explained what I observed to him and confessed that in seeing him do that, I realized it was also something I did fairly often. He then thought about it and said, “yeah… I actually do.” I asked “Does it irritate your wife? It can drive mine crazy.” He said, “Absolutely.” We laughed and decided that it had to be a Detroit thing. Since, then it has been our Detroit thing.
Just last week, I was playing at a coffee house owned by a friend, Aynur, who sings in the Turkish Concerts at the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble (MEME) of the University of Chicago. There were five of us in the group and four of us were from MEME. It was a lot of fun. They put in long tables, seated 70 people in a space that barely could hold 70 people, served a delicious Turkish dinner, and we played a concert and then some dance music. As we were rehearsing for the concert over the few weeks earlier, I had asked Aynur if they would be serving “midye dolma”, a wonderful dish of stuffed mussels with
|Our Group with Aynur singing. Marc Dubay Photo|
Well… I soon found myself doing that Detroit thing and bringing up the midye dolma when it seemed appropriate. Appropriate usually, in the case of this Detroit Thing, means in an unexpected context with the goal at first of being funny. Aynur or Jim Stoynoff, our concert master, would suggest that we consider playing this song or that. I would occasionally say, “Sure, if Aynur will make midye dolma.” We would laugh.
Soon, I was getting responses like “oh, you and your midye dolma” and “you are obsessed with midye dolma” and such. I had moved from Phase 1 which is “OK funny” to Phase 2 which referred to either as “WTF?” or “enough already.” One only stops at Phase 2 if someone blows their lid which happens about 10% of the time. Otherwise, it is totally unfair to stop at Phase 2. So, I persisted.
Mind you, this is not really anything we do with premeditation. It is more of a weird habit or better yet a modus operandi or vivendi. It is hard wired into our personalities. It is our thing… our Detroit Thing.
The night after our concert on Friday where I mentioned midye dolma another 18 times, we went to a dinner party. Our good friends Claude and Audrey had three couples at their home. We were all Armenian and she served, yeah you guessed it, midye dolma. I
|Audrey's Amazing Midye Dolma|
I took a photo of it and emailed it to the musicians and Aynur simply responded, “When you mention 40 times, it happens.” She later wrote, the next time we do the concert, she will serve midye dolma and other seafood. Just today, Jim suggested I fly to the fish market in Istanbul to make the selections personally. Now, I was laughing. We were in Phase 3. Mission accomplished.
Is it really a Detroit thing? Chris and I would agree as academics that a sample size of two is not anywhere near definitive. We would have to design and field a survey, do a cultural observation and assessment, and on and on. But, this is not an academic thing. It is our Detroit Thing.