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Catch me if you can



Market research suggests that women love the smell of cinnamon and vanilla and that men like the smell of desperation.  Personally, I prefer the smell of a good electrical fire, in a multi-family dwelling, very early in the morning.  Smells like… Detroit.

You’ll pardon my manners; I am but a simple French lutin who hitched a ride to America with one Antoine Laumet. I convinced him to come to the New World, found Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, sell fire sticks and fire water to the native people, and even change his name to "Antoine de Lamothe, sieur de Cadillac." Well, he was eventually sent away to New Orleans then got called back to France, a ruined man. But I stayed on -- in what you now call "Detroit."

You must understand something about me. Your demise is my glee, and your failure is what I live for. That is why I stay, in Detroit, a place where I can find infinite calamity to feed my sinister soul. I am here to keep you down; I am here to make sure you don’t succeed.

The rest is, as they say, history -- your history but also mine. I was never on anyone’s side. I led Chief Pontiac to Bloody Run so that he could massacre the British. I dropped my lit pipe into the stable straw and burned the place down in 1805. Ex cineribus resurget! Without me, you would not even have your city slogan! And just after you swept up those ashes, I told the Americans that it was OK to use regular mail to pass along the British declaration of war in 1812. Detroit was one of the last cities to become part of the United States, and with my help, it was the quickest to revert to the British.

In your centuries, I had even more fun. From the roof of Ossian Sweet’s house, I shot into the crowd. A few years after that, I made sure that both sides got to the Battle of the Overpass on time. The imagery that got people mad about the Diego Rivera murals? Torn right from my sketchbook. After the war, I convinced the Detroit Street Railway to switch to bus-only service. And whose fingerprints do you think are all over the design for the freeway system? It was I who called the vice cops to 12th Street and told them that someone at that blind pig had a gun. In the 1970s, my contribution to your civilization was in helping finish the designs of the Pinto, Corvair and Vega. For a time, I shadowed real estate agents, whispering in homeowners’ ears that the schools are better in the suburbs

And other things. All those lonely, dark, desolate years later, you tried to stop Devil’s Night. But you made the devil in your own image and you never even noticed me. And throughout the year, from any high point in town, no matter what time of day, you can always see a plume of dark smoke on the horizon. That’s me.

Even in your supposed moments of civic triumph: your big football and baseball games, redevelopment projects, council by district malarkey, and city hall clean-outs, I have been standing, waiting, on the sidelines -- like a Marine recruiter at a high school dance. And although my antagonists look for me in the open, they’re not looking to the shadowy moi within. There, I am hard at work turning brother against brother, turning friends into enemies, and turning your city into rubble and scattered weeds. I feed on ill will and resentment, and so far, I have not been hungry. And as long as there is conflict, mistrust, and pessimism, I will never be bored.

I hear that on Sunday, March 25, a bunch of you are going to come out and try to get me. Didn’t you try this last year? And the year before? Oh, rest assured, I will be there -- and you can chase me through the streets from the Traffic Jam to the Masonic Temple. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll catch me, banish me, and get a year of peace. Or not. Well, at least come and have a beverage and some barbeque for trying.

I am a perennial, an evergreen (though I prefer everred) favorite, a classic for every era.

I am the Nain Rouge.

Editor's note: this message was sent anonymously, in multiple languages, and painstakingly transcribed by Model D staff members reluctant to sign their names to this article. We don't blame them.

Photos by Marvin Shaouni
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