Tuesday, March 14, 2017

February 2017: Anniversary Letter

The lobby of The Dearborn Inn
     It has been 13 years for this letter. Until last two years, I was really good at writing a monthly letter. Let’s atribute it to a dedication to my teaching position that surprised even me… and that is a good thing.
     In 2017, I would really like to get back into the daily writing and monthly letter topic. Yes, you could call it a New Year’s resolution. Wish me luck.
     January 7: While this is my February letter, I began writing it on January 7. Here’s why.
     It is 7:40 am. The time doesn’t really matter, except that I may be like many other writers, simply more lucid in the early hours. The time doesn’t matter as much as the place does this morning.
     I am at the Dearbron Inn.
     I am in the lobbly of the Dearborn Inn sitting at the same desk where on July 20, 2002 I sat and wrote my daily page. I had started my daily writing of one page on June 25th of that same year. As written in several previous letters, I had the notion to chronicle my 50th year with insights, humor, and a transformation to a much better physical and mental human. I was 26 days into that regimen. The chronicle, which was to be a best selling book, is, in theory, still pending.
     I remember that morning because up until then, it was the most beautiful location in which I did my daily writing. Perviously, I had written at home, on the train to Manhattan, or in a coffee shop in Manhattan. Being in the lovely lobby of the Dearborn Inn that morning led me to want to write in beautiful lobbies of classic hotels. Sitting here today has me thinking the same thoughts. 
Desk in the lobby of The Dearborn Inn
     While I was handwriting my page that morning in July 2002, I remember thinking that I should always write in the lobby of a grand hotel when I could. At that time, I was travelling a lot for Colgate. I also travelled throughout Latin America, often stayin in Inter-Continental Hotels which fit the bill nicely. When I was not traveling, I was in Manhattan. Well… there were certainly grand hotels there including the Waldorf Astoria right across from my office and an Inter-Continental just two blocks away. It was a grand idea to write my life changing great books in the lobbies of great hotels.
     I never got the same feeling that I felt in the Dearborn Inn that July morning in 2002. Perhaps, it was the location in the heart of the Ford country. I mean Henry Ford was sternly gazing over my shoulder from his portrait that was above the fireplace. Maybe it was, a mere stone’s throw from Body and Electric Engineering where I had my first grown-up job.
     Alas… it really only brought me to this reflection. It is, however, a good reflection. It really matters not where one writes, it is the routine and relative comfort in the location. I love my home library. It s a great place to write. The coffee is probably even tastier and most certainly cheapter at home. The ambient noise, early in the morning, is more controllable at home. There was a lady vacuuming here when I first began. I hate vacuum cleaner noise if I am trying to write. Actually, I hate vacuum cleaner noise if I am doing anything other than doing the vacuuming myself.
     The desk? Well, the desk here at the Dearborn Inn is a lovely cherry Hepplewhite partner’s desk. It is an antique while my desk at home is nice, it is Bombay not antique. The biggest difference at home is that I, sadly, let the desk and workspace get cluttered. I have a resolution to prevent that from happening moving forward, let’s see how that resolution works. Here the desk only had a lamp on it. It was a pleasure to sit down, pull out my laptop, put on my reading glasses, and get to writing.
     What brought me to the Dearborn Inn that July Saturday morning in 2002?
     I was here, then, visiting my parents, as I was living in Connecticut. The AYF Junior Olympics was that weekend at Dearborn High School. I had arranged to meet my old and dear friend Bob Jones at the Inn for breakfast. He loved having what he called a “fat breakfast” at the Ten Eyck Room in the Dearborn Inn. I got up early and arrived an hour early for our 8 am breakfast. It was a sunny Detroit summer morning. I arrived early with the intent of writing, just as I am doing this morning. I found this desk by the window in the front of the hotel. I really enjoyed writing in the lobby of the Dearborn Inn. It is a beautiful lobby in a grand hotel.
     Knowing that the Dearborn Inn, now a Marriott hotel, underwent a major renovation, I was wondering if the lobby would look the same and if the desk would still be here. As the Inn is a classic hotel, Marriott updated things that needed updating, no doubt behind the scenes and in the rooms, but kept the essential spirit of the place the same. I was delighted to see the desk in the same location that I recalled. I was even more delighted to experience the same feel as I did fifteen years earlier. In fact given the passage of time, it was no mere feel, it was a magic I felt in that place and at that desk.
     What brings me here today?
     We are here for a wedding. Haig Berberian and Melanie Topouzian. Haig is from Boston and Melanie is from Detroit. It is really cold, like single digit lows. They are having their wedding on the same day as Melanie’s parents twenty something years ago. We are delighted to be here and be part of the festivities. It is the first time staying at the Dearborn Inn.
     It was a true nostalgic pleasure writing at that desk again.

     Robert K. Jones (August 29, 1937 – August 26, 2015): Beyond the Ford history of the Dearborn
Robert K. Jones

Inn and surroundings, I think it was more the memory of my friend, Bob Jones. He was on my mind that morning back in 2002. That is not a big revelation as I was meeting him for breakfast. Bob, or RK, as he was also called, was often on my mind. Thinking about him made for the magical feel of writing in that pleasant space back in 2002 and even more so now.     He was my best friend from my few years at Ford. We stayed in touch after I left Ford and even after I left the Detroit area. We did not call or write enough but truly Bob was often on my mind. When back in Detroit with some free time, I would try to get together with Bob. That Saturday in July 2002 was one of those few times.
      I met RK in the fall of 1976. I was working in the Warranty Analysis Department, my first full time grownup job, for only a few months. One morning my supervisor, Carlos Dominguez, came and told me that an engineer, Bob, was transferring into our department and the Carlos thought he was someone I should get to know and be friends with. I asked why he thought that. I was simply curious as to what was behind his suggestion. Carlos said it was because we were both smart, personable, and well-read.
     Carlos could not have been more correct. RK was the right person at the right time to help me develop a more balanced and worldly view. He embraced life and learning in a most charming, almost innocent yet deadly serious, way. He wrote, painted, thought, and was involved. He lived in and was dedicated to the City of Detroit. He never moved even though he could have. Bob loved his alma mater Wayne State University.
     Bob was a classic fellow. He always dressed Brooks Brothers both formally and what we now call business casual. He loved to write letters and always used a fine fountain pen and Crane stationary. Under his signature, which was always RK Jones, he always sketched a pair of wire rim glasses with round lenses. These were the only kind he ever wore.
     We had drifted apart, probably since 2010. By we, I mean I drifted apart. Bob became a lot more conservative in both politics and religion. He would genuinely contest my centrist bloggy bits on both fronts pointing out the flaws he saw in my logic and premises. I did not react well to such, I must admit. For some reason, I can handle criticism from just about anybody else. I could not handle it from RK. He used to challenge my thoughts and views more from the left. I think I was just confused by the shift in his change in perspective.
     He sent me a letter in August of 2015, just before he passed. I did not get that it was a good-bye letter. Because he did not specifically say it was. I did not respond. I only learned that he passed away in a Christmas card from a mutual friend. I felt horrible, an odd mix of stupid, sad, and empty.
     I know the lesson here. Keep in touch with those you value even if the context of the relation or friendship has changed a bit or maybe even a lot. It is a bitter lesson to learn once. I have been relearning this lesson a few times in the past few years. It is more important as I am at an age where people that I know, love, and value will be passing on with greater frequency.
     Writing most of this letter at The Dearborn Inn was even more special. I did have a “fat breakfast” in the Ten Eyck Room. I wished I could have had just one more with RK.

     George Orwell: In my anniversary letters, I often will quote another, generally someone from the pantheon of great writers. Thanks to the January 14th Wall Street Journal for providing this passage from George Orwell in a somewhat regular column, Notable and Quotable, in the Opinion pages. I am not sure how much of this applies to my beyond the first phrase, but Orwell could write.
All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed.
      It has been a pleasure writing these letters and the blog that grew out of it. I look forward to doing it more.
     Thanks to one and all for the great support and encouragement over these 13 years.