Seeing Red

You may be aware that Detroit boasts a cryptozooligical/magical creature roaming the streets — the Nain Rouge (or Red Dwarf/Red Gnome). First spotted by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac (aka Cadillac) in 1701, the creature was described as, according to Wikipedia, “a small child-like creature with red or black fur. It is also said to have ‘blazing red eyes and rotten teeth.’”

The creature, not content to simply scare and attack the city’s founder, went on to be present at the beginning of or malevolently mid-wife such Detroit tragedies as the Battle of Bloody Run in 1763, where he was spotted dancing on the banks of the Detroit River. He was spotted more than once on the eve of the 1805 fire that destroyed much of Detroit; he was spotted near 12th Street the day before the riots/civic unrest broke out in 1967; the imp was seen leaping 20 feet from electrical pole to electrical pole in 1976 the day before one of the worst ice storms in the city’s history. He wasn’t spotted again for nearly 20 years. The latest sighting on record was a couple patrons emerging from a downtown bar only to find the Red Dwarf fleeing the site of an apparent car burglary.

So where has the Nain Rouge been hiding out as of late? With Detroit regularly in the national spotlight for both good and ill, one would think that the sightings of the wee menace would be as frequent as spotting hipsters at the Bronx Bar. And apparently he’s not above petty crime, either. So why the scarcity? Cameras are surely fixed on the Renaissance Center, waiting for video evidence of a dwarf visit, what with GM’s much-ballyhooed troubles as of late. Yet that’s too conventional for a modern urban cryptozoological phenomenon, isn’t it? On the eve of All Hallow’s Eve, it seemed like as good a time as any to try to gather recent “evidence” about the roguish imp. We put out feelers in the community to see if anyone had picked up on any dwarf action. The results are encouraging; the accounts of the Nain Rouge seem to indicate that he, like us, has embraced grass-roots change and a do-it-yourself spirit that would shame the inaction of his reclusive “big-footed” cryptozoological cousins in the Pacific Northwest.
In any event, here are some of our findings.

One theory that seems to be supported by several of our DwarfSpotters, is that there’s every chance that the Nain Rouge’s particular brand of mischief has been — to put it in the parlance of the corporate world — downsized.

Listen to this chilling report from a reader who prefers to go by the handle Rocktimus Prime:
“You’re not gonna believe this, but I didn’t know who else to tell. Anyhoo, my buddies and I were coming out of Lafayette Coney Island at like 3:30 this morning – Go Wings!!! – and this, um, thing comes jumping out from the shadows and does this kinda half-hearted ‘awooo!!!’ yell. It was this little man, maybe a really weird kid in a devil suit. He stunk, though, like men’s-room-after-the-game stink. Well, we just started laughing at him, threw him a handful of change, got in our car and went home. I didn’t put two and two together ’til the next morning that that coulda been that nine (sic) rouge guy. Man, that’s creepy … .”

Other e-mail sightings report spotting the creature counting change outside Dutch Girl donuts muttering through his “foul, foul breath” a word that sounded like “cruller.”

So, if these sightings are any indication, the nain rouge has fallen on hard times. It’s entirely possible that he’s bogeyman’d his way out of a job. By showing everyday Detroiters how to cause havoc by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he’s mapped out a simple course for mischief that it seems these days everyone from city officials to teenage delinquents have adopted. Detroit did invent planned obsolescence after all.

An anonymous e-mail posits an interesting theory that the Nain Rouge has taken as his new millennium handle the vowel-less appellation “TRTL.” The tipster claims to have a first-hand account of a nimble little “man-beast” climbing freeway overpasses, whipping a can of Rust-Oleum from his backpack and tagging every free surface he can reach.

Stranger still are a handful of sightings of a figure that matches a rough description of the Red Dwarf, “dressed in the most dreadfully mis-matched thrift store clothing” toting a children’s guitar around Eastern Market, apparently looking for a spot to busk before being politely ushered out of the area by the local gendarme.

This low-grade vandalism and makeshift occupation make sense in the big picture. The Red Dwarf was simply so good at what he did that, well, his services as a catalyst for unfortunate events were no longer needed. The weird version of this theory includes a claim by “LittleRed75” that network television producers edited the tape of “Bubba” in the conflagration that followed the Tigers ’84 Series victory. They claim disturbing video evidence showed the drunken reveler had a tail before TV producers inexplicably digitally removed the thing.

Or maybe his “contract” is simply up. Since the first firm documentation of the little fella dates back to Cadillac, maybe he only had a term of 300 years – some expired Faustian pact that now leaves him free to pursue other interests.

This somewhat counter-intuitive take is bolstered by the friend-of-a-friend account of a happy couple (who, for our purposes, we’ll call “Jim” and “Laura”) out for a dusk stroll through Southwest Detroit’s Clark Park. As Jim and Laura paused for a quick embrace near the park’s baseball diamond, Jim – an English teacher prone to linguistic embellishment — looked over Laura’s shoulder to see, “a diminutive profile crouched in the darkness, a sack over his shoulder and a razor thin poking stick in hand.” Thinking quickly, the pair ducked behind a nearby tree and supposedly observed this “flame-colored, hirsute ‘man’” continue on “his merry way” cleaning up little bits of trash, candy wrappers and empty cans and bottles.

Could it be that the Nain Rouge has shuffled off his mysterious burden for trouble and is now somehow karmically atoning for his years of destructive behavior? Has he, too, started to believe that it is indeed a Great Time in Detroit?

Tipster “Angelsrock” sends an account of a “stinky, hairy, very, very short dude with a strange hump in the back of his ill-fitting Zubas” waiting online to volunteer for the annual Angels’ Night citizens’ patrol only to be turned away when he found out he needed a driver’s license to lend a hand to the cause.

Another potential sighting – made somewhat less reliable by the reportee’s state of mind – has the Nain Rouge fashioning a boat from fallen tree branches and river mud, paddling up and down the river that shares part of his name and stopping occasionally to dive in and “pull out a bunch of sticks and old tires and junk like that,” according to a group of not-quite-reliable Redford teenagers. That would explain the imp’s telltale odor, that’s for certain.

Throughout his reign of mischief, the Nain Rouge is said to have been followed by his nemesis, the spirit of Pierre Livernois. Livernois’ spectral task seems to be to clean up the messes made by the Red Dwarf. If some of the above sightings hold water, it could be that these two spirits who represent a sort of yin and yang of Detroit’s mythic otherworld have reached some sort of détente.

Now, all of these sightings could just be the manifestation of some collective Jungian unconscious. Definitive photographic evidence has yet to surface. But even if these recent accounts were true, it would appear that our shared mindset regarding our glorious, scrappy burg is veering toward optimistic. That’s gotta be good news, right?

All photographs copyright Dave Krieger

Cate Ramsey, as the Nain Rouge, visits American Coney Island, the Spirit of Detroit statue and Tiger Stadium.

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