Interviewed October, 2000
I was born October 4, 1940. On the day of delivery, the Detroit Tigers were playing in the 1940 World Series against the Chicago Cubs. The Tigers won the game that day but not the series. I was born on Seminole Street between Warren and Forest on the lower east side of Detroit We were renting half a duplex and on the first floor. The house is still standing. It is the fourth house from the corner. From Warren, it is on the right side. I don’t have much recollection of the first three years of my life. I remember picking raspberries from the bushes in our back yard. We had sweet peas too. We used to just peel down the skins and eat the peas right out of the pods. I ran around with my brother, Gary, who was two years older. I didn’t have a lot to do with my older sister, Joan, other than to help with the chores in the house. They would put a milk box in front of the kitchen sink, I would have to wash the dishes, and they would dry them from the family meals.
Other early memories of living there included going to my grandfather’s corner grocery store six blocks away. We had to cross Van Dyke, a major street, which we weren’t supposed to do but my brother and I would always find a way to sneak across to see grandpa and get a liquorice stick. I remember chasing the water truck that would clean the street. Detroit was a very prosperous city. The automotive and military industries, which boomed during WWII, had created the strongest middle class infrastructure in America. We had good libraries. I remember going to the Mark Twain Library on Gratiot and Burns and to Pingree Park and swimming in the pool. However, we had to watch out in August due to fears of contracting polio. It was before the vaccine was invented.
Those first seven years, we lived in a diverse neighborhood. Many of my friends were first generation American born kids who’s families had immigrated from Italy, Belgium, and Eastern Europe countries like Serbia and Croatia, (after the war people from there were referred to as Yugoslavians). There were also Polish, Greek and Black families, although not as many Black families as there were on the other side of McDougal Street. Segregation was maintained by the racial policies of the real estate people who weren’t known to show homes to Black people in white neighborhoods. Our neighborhood was predominately Caucasian/Anglicized but there were also many varieties of ethnic people. There wasn’t any TV. I never saw TV until I was almost 13. We’d run and play kick the can, and hide and go seek. We called it hide and go seek instead of hide and seek.
We used to dance on the corner for the older people. They would have the radio going and they would throw pennies at us if we danced. I liked to get my pennies because you could buy a lot for a penny back then. A stick of liquorice was a penny, a lollypop was a penny, you know, all the little treats of life. Coca-Cola was a nickel of course. That was really special to get five cents put together & get a cold orange soda or a Coca-Cola. It was fun to do that. That was my first interest in music, as a five-year-old kid out there dancin’ for those pennies.
After the war in 1946, the gentleman that we rented the house from planned to rent to his brother who was returning from the military service so my parents had to look for a new place to live. In the fall of 1947, we moved across 8-mile road into one of the first suburbs. It was considered middle class but in reality it was a lower middle class neighborhood. People don’t want to say they are lower middle class. Everybody tries to bump up their game a notch it seems in American society and they all have to be tagged. So we moved to East Detroit into a little three-bedroom row house that my mother and father purchased for $8,000. My mother still lives there.
It was a new world for Gary and me. Joan was four years older and she really didn’t want to have too much to do with us. She had her girl things to do. Gary and I would roam into the backfields where they were building other new houses. Our street was the first to go up. It was half way between eight and nine-mile road so there was probably half a mile of empty farmland, which within a three-year period slowly became housing. It was like Levitt Town in New York. Levitt Town was built during WWII. All the houses looked the same and everybody was trying to get their little piece of suburbia. Except in our case, I believe my parents would have lived in Detroit but they couldn’t afford to buy a house there. Property was more expensive than in the new suburbs. We played in the fields and we built forts. I had to transfer into a school three blocks away from where I lived and we walked to school. We collected empty bottles that the construction workers left on site. All the bottles were returnable in those days. We received two cents a bottle, so we were real, real strong in getting’ out there early and getting those bottles. If you picked up a case, it meant a lot of money for you.
1947-8 was a big transition year as a far as going from the city with the good libraries and schools to this little town that had a different government. For Christmas, my Aunt Mary gave Gary and I a membership to the YMCA, down on Gratiot and Harper. We’d go back down to the city and be amongst the same type of children that were around us at the Seminole neighborhood – many ethnic and Black kids. We swan with them, played basketball, and shot pool. We always got a dime from my mother to buy a bag of Oke-Doke’s and a soft drink and we’d have our bagged lunch – normally something like bologna sandwiches. The Oke-Doke’s were cheese popcorn and let me tell you they had a lot of cheddar cheese on the popcorn in those days. It was all orange and got all over your fingers and you’d lick your fingers! Those were fun days to go down to the Y. We did that for three or four years.
East Detroit, unknown to me at the time, was a very, very prejudice city. Like a lot of other suburbs around Detroit, they had it written into the deeds that you were not allowed to sell to colored people or have them in your community other than as domestic help. I was ten or eleven when I found out about it. I was not happy. My family didn’t live that way, especially my father who was a man of all people. He had friends in every walk of life. Although he only had a ninth grade education, he had friends that were college educated and those that were high school dropouts. Back then there wasn’t a real need to finish high school if you had other skills or a need to make money. My dad had friends in the Belgium community that taught me about the Belgium pigeon races and bike races in Europe. He had friends that were old Germans and Italians. He would sit and talk to the Chinese guy who did his laundry for twenty minutes about what was going on in the neighborhood. I missed all that when we moved to East Detroit.
I really wasn’t all that happy with some of the things in East Detroit, but we lived there and I developed friends in the neighborhood. We played touch football and had a baseball team. We didn’t have the uniforms that the more organized church teams had, St. Peter’s Lutheran and St. Veronica Catholic come to mind. We had T-shirts though and we bought letters, which our mother’s pressed onto them. We were called The Side Street Bombers and nobody wanted to play us! We had a lot of good, good players in our neighborhood. One kid eventually signed a pro-baseball contract and another could have if he didn’t let his temper get to him all the time. He was one of my best friends; a guy named Eddie Polachowski. On Thanksgiving we would go out, play football, and then watch the Detroit Lions play the annual Thanksgiving Day game. It was a very simple life.
We hung out at the park all summer until we were ten years old when Gary and I started caddying at the golf course. Before that, Gary had a paper route with the Detroit Times, the first paper to go under. The Detroit News and the Free Press are still there. Besides our paper route, my dad had us selling the “bull dog” addition of the Sunday paper. It came out on Saturday night. Gary sold it in front of White Castle and I sold it in front of the Top Hat at Eight Mile Road and Gratiot. Those two places are still there. They sell the greasiest, heartburn burgers in the world. To this day, people will fly them all over the country just to have one. They had a little slab of sawdust beef smothered in fried onions with a pickle. You slapped on the mustard and they were twelve cents – a Big Time Meal – a lot of fun!
Some of the collection thing that I am into with my life today started out with the paper route money. My brother and I were big collectors of baseball cards. Our legacy was in the basement of my mother’s house, our retirements, both of them, were thrown in the garbage. Now those Mickey Mantle cards we had are selling for $25,000 and here we are – but that is another thing – it is no big deal.
The other things that we both collected were records. It was funny how Gary, Joan and I all liked the Rhythm and Blues. We had those stations in Detroit because the city had such a large Black population. There were two Black owned radio stations. I believe they were the first two in America. That was rare in the 50s. I think it came to be that way because Walter Ruther from the United Autoworkers helped get the licenses. We used to listen to people like Frantic Ernie who would get on there and say, “What’s the word Thunderbird? What’s the joy Nature Boy? What’s the price 44 twice!” Thunderbird and Nature Boy were brands of cheap wine with twist off caps – same as Madd Dogg 20-20.
Frantic Ernie’s delivery, style, and the songs he played always intrigued me. He played people like Nolan Strong. This was way before Motown. It was the first time I ever heard, “Sixty-Minute Man”. I was dancin’ and doing the chicken, the bop, the dip -what have you. It was something that I carried on. Even later at East Detroit High, I danced differently than most kids did and I listened to R& B music. I would play those songs on the jukebox. I had a little 45 record player and we’d stack them on one on top of the other. We’d play Laverne Baker, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Most of the Anglicized artists that we would play came out of Sun Records in Memphis, TN.
Those were pretty simple days. We worked all the time. It was our job to clean the basement. My mother and Joan would clean the upstairs. My other little sister, Linda, was born in 1946. I was happy about that because I didn’t like being treated as the baby of the family. It was probably right around that time, between my seventh and ninth year, that I realized Gary had been born with a mild case of Cerebral Palsy. In the modern day and age, they may have done a blood transfusion to correct it but back in those days; there wasn’t anything to do about it. So I went from being the little brother to being an equal to my brother in most endeavors and later having Gary follow me.
I assumed the role of older brother. We stayed fairly close in school. We were good friends. When he graduated from high school two years ahead of me, he still hung out with my friends. When we were younger, I had to defend him. People tried to pick on him. I didn’t like to fight but I’d get into them. That all stopped about the eighth grade and I as able to get through high school without too much trouble.
Joan and Gary were introverts. I was a total extrovert, I was always getting into some sort of trouble and people would say, “why can’t you be more like your brother and sister”. My younger sister was more like me only more refined. By then, she had probably figured out how not to get into trouble and still be able to have her fun side of living. I didn’t play much with my sisters. Joan was too old and Linda was too young. Joan used to have these shoes called Oxfords. She spent more time polishing her shoes to make sure she didn’t get any black on the white and vice versa. We sat there and laughed at her because we couldn’t have cared less about how our shoes looked.
My mother was pure German; my dad was German and Irish. My mother was a housewife and took care of the home and the cooking. Back then those chores were demanding because we didn’t have the fabrics we have today and you had to iron everything and wash with a roller machine. My mother had allergies. We didn’t have air conditioning back then, and she spent most of the month of August in misery.
My father worked as an accountant for Continental Motor Company although he only had a 9th grade education. Previously, he had been a manager of an A & P (Atlantic & Pacific) grocery store; he was one of the youngest managers ever hired at the age of 19 in 1929. During the depression, he had a better job than anyone could have dreamed of having. He liked to party and drink and he had a brand new car. When he married, he had children right away and had a drinking problem and finally left A & P. He was very bright and finally got his game back together although he did continue to drink and did so throughout his whole life. He always brought his money home and always paid his bills. He cared about how nice his house, shrubbery and grass looked. He wanted his children to be successful and to do something with their lives, especially me because he knew I had the talent.
Sometimes I couldn’t understand why I had one set of rules and Gary had another. I finally understood that it was because of his disability when I was in high school. When I was little though, it was kind of tuff because I’d be disciplined more for my miscues and he could get away with it. My dad was a tuff taskmaster. He demanded we be good in school and not give the nuns a hard time. We had to go to church every Sunday and go to confession every Saturday. We ate together as a family every night. Sometimes we’d have breakfast. My dad would have a soft-boiled egg and we’d have cereal. Most weekends we ate breakfast together.
My mother and father would hug, kiss, and show warmth to each other. I think my parents love was strained a lot of the time because of my father’s drinking. My mother didn’t have a lot of skills herself. She had an 11th grade education. She stuck the marriage out and kept the family together. I think my father was lucky. He would have been devastated if she had left him because he came from a broken home and I don’t think he ever wanted that to happen.
His father had left his mother to raise her three children in poverty. I assume my grandpa left in 1920. Therefore, during the roaring 20s, when everyone was making money, my father, uncle and aunt all had to work. My father never had a good father-role-model to learn parenting skills from and they didn’t teach them back in those days. So I don’t look down on my father for the mistakes that he made and the way he dealt with us. He loved his children and his wife. He never beat my mother; he cared enough about her not to do that. They argued a lot – who knows about what. I don’t think my mother wanted to have any other children after me. Linda wasn’t planned but she may have been a blessing in keeping the relationship together especially after I left home. Otherwise, they may have broken up. Especially since my father started drinking more during the 60’s. I think he was always nervous about his job and his lack of education. To relieve his tensions he would drink.
Another big problem was that my mother didn’t know how to discipline her children at the time problems would come up. It was always, “Wait until your father comes home”. So my dad walked into the house after a stressful day and he had to hear everything his kids had done wrong. He had to be the disciplinarian, which to him meant to get out a paddle and whack our ass. We got our ass whacked a few times and then mom would come down and say, “That’s enough Louie. Don’t hit them anymore.” So I knew as I got older to stay away from home until my dad might be dosing off because he was so darn tired or had too much to drink. Consequently, I spent a lot of time as young person in the library.
They finally built an East Detroit Library. It was never as good as the Mark Twain Library which had copper gutters, a slate roof, stained glass windows and wood inside that would blow your mind, like out of a mansion. That was the kind of city Detroit was back in the 40s, it had money, while the suburbs were old farmlands, with no trees. Therefore, we didn’t have any squirrels. My dad had his favorite squirrel Petey that he used to feed peanuts to when we lived in the city. Life was way different in the suburbs.
I was 13 the first time I saw television. I never watched much of it though because I wasn’t into waiting around the house for my father to find out what I hadn’t done right or what I hadn’t done period. It was just easier to stay away. In college, I worked nights and didn’t watch TV. Later, in the business world, I traveled a lot. I was on the road between cities – so I never really became a big TV person.
I did all right in school. I pulled straight A’s in the fifth grade because I fractured my foot jumping in the swimming pool. I was on crutches, so I couldn’t get out of the house, and boom – I got great grades. I went back to my old ways the next year. I only stayed in public school for one year after we moved to East Detroit. By the third grade, I was in St. Veronica Catholic School. Of course, we had to have a job, so my job at St Veronica was to sweep a room after school every night. We weren’t paid much. I’d get on my hands and knees to push the broom under the desks, which were attached to the floor and had ink wells. Next I swept the aisles, washed the black boards and emptied the trashcan. For all that, I’d get a little money. I was in the third grade doing that. That job, peddling papers and caddying at the golf course were the jobs I had in my early life. I also packed groceries in the 10th grade. My dad kept part of the money we made to pay our tuition, which was $20/year at St. Veronica.
St. Veronica was a great sports-elementary-school. The Catholic league was huge. There were at least 75 Catholic High Schools. Detroit was hugely Catholic. They had leagues all over the city and suburbs. Every year in football, basketball, and baseball, St. Veronica was in either the finals or the semi-finals for the whole league. I was decent in sports but never really good. I liked being around it and part of the scene.
In the seventh grade, they held me back because they said they felt I wasn’t mature enough. I thought I had failed and I was real despondent because I knew I had been cheated. I knew I didn’t deserve to be held back. If it had been explained differently to me maybe I would have thought differently about it, but when you fail, it is like you are a dummy and it is a real stigma to carry. I knew that most of the kids that passed were no brighter than I was in some areas of the classroom. So how they could say, “Well you failed music and you failed art. . .” They couldn’t say I failed math, history or geography because I was good at those subjects. I sucked it in after the summer and went in with the next set of kids. I thrived actually. I was repeating everything so I knew everything and I finally decided I was going to try to stay out of trouble. I wanted to play football so I realized I had to be a little disciplined in that arena of life. I blossomed in the classroom although at first I wasn’t pleased about what had happened.
I got a new teacher named Sister Marceana. We called her Marceano because of the boxer “Rocky Marceano”, the heavyweight champion of the world. She positioned everyone in the classroom according to his or her math grade. I was in the third row after the first marking as I was still carrying an attitude. The girl sitting in the first seat would walk to her seat with this look on her face as if she was so much smarter than everyone else was. I said to myself, “I am going to get that seat”. Within two marking periods, I was right there. I found out later the Nun put me in the second seat so I’d work harder to get the first seat although I had already earned it. I decided afterwards that I would try to be somewhat what my father wanted me to be: a good student with plans to go to college someday and make a better life than what he had. I was surely going to do it my way though. I did not want to be an accountant, although I took bookkeeping in high school.
I got out of elementary school in 1955. During that time frame, it was the Eisenhower era. I remember the end of WWII and the end of the Korean War. I remember how happy everyone was that we had defeated the evil Nazi empire. When we were little kids we used to sing this song, “Whistle while you work, Hitler is a jerk, Mussolini is a sheeny whistle while you work.” Mussolini was the head of Italy, he was a fascist, and Hitler was a Nazi. We were Americans; we weren’t Germans. I think with the Korean War, everyone was just relieved to get the heck out of there because the body count was so high. I believe the United States lost more men in Korea than they had lost in WWI and WWII combined. I was eleven or twelve at the time the Korean conflict started.
There were two new Catholic schools built then, an all boys’ high school, Notre Dame and all girls’ high school, Regina. Almost all the kids that I knew in the class that I was supposed to graduate with and all the kids I did graduate with went to these two schools except me. I opted to go to St. Anthony down in Detroit. Gary had gone to St. Catherine, the parish into which I was baptized and born. He went there one year before transferring into East Detroit High. I didn’t want to go there. Joan went right into East Detroit High. How Joan didn’t go to a Catholic High school, I’ll never know. I wanted to make my own break, plus St Anthony’s was a great sports school. They had Dan Currie, an All-American football player with MSU who became All-Pro with the Green Bay Packers. I spent my ninth grade there. By then we were caddying at Lockmore Country Club the whole summer.
My family never went on vacations. We’d go up to Bill Nogorney’s, (a friend of my dad), cottage on Lake Huron. He would let my dad use his cottage for a week maybe, and I enjoyed it. We never really traveled as a family though. I had only been out of the state of Michigan once to Windsor Ontario. I went in the ninth grade to be on Bud Davie’s Dance Party. It was sort of like the Dick Clark Dance Party except Bud Davie’s was integrated, so there were Black kids there. They had a spotlight dance. I got off to the side as all the bigger kids were in the middle figuring the spotlight would come down there. Where did the spotlight come down? Right on myself and a girl named Carol Hodge, who was quite a sexpot for going to a Catholic school in the ninth grade. Carol was always trying to show cleavage – driving the Nuns nuts. Why she came over and was dancing with me – I don’t have a clue. We were always good friends though. So, I won the Bud Davie’s Dance Party and he gave me a Louie Jordan Album. Louie Jordan became one of my heroes after that because I owned a Louie Jordan Album. I had grown in to liking music, which carried over into my adult life.
I never really dated a lot in high school. I always felt a lack of confidence in myself because of my chipped tooth. I didn’t have a car, or nice clothes. I always related that as the image you had to have to get girls to like you which I later learned to be a falsehood. I learned it wasn’t all about that.
I started off taking the bus and streetcar to St. Anthony but that took too long and I didn’t like getting up too early in the morning. I developed a magic thumb and started hitch hiking. I was fourteen then. I put that thumb out one morning and this guy picked me up. He happened to live nine blocks away on Juliana. He told me if I got to his house every morning; I could have a ride. I didn’t tell my parents about this sideline that I had going because that meant I had money. They gave me bus fare to get to school. Therefore, I had extra money that they didn’t know about which was good because I could use it for my next habit of life, which was learning how to gamble.
Now I am back in the city and this breed of kids are a whole different breed than suburban kids. The first thing I learned was how they fought. They didn’t look for a nun to break up the fight. They pulled your coat over your head and pummeled you until you were down, bleeding and bruised. The day I saw that first fight in the ninth grade I said, “I don’t ever want to fight again”. I never did either. I had really stopped fighting after the seventh grade because Gary was on his own and I didn’t need to defend him. He had also learned to live with people teasing him because of his disability.
I was part of the first integrated class at St Anthony. There were two Black girls in my class. There was quite a buzz about the coloreds coming to St Anthony. Because I had been involved with the kids before that were of color at the Y, to me it was no big deal. I always liked their culture and the way they smiled, what they thought about life, how hard they played and how tuff they were.
There were also a lot of Italian and Polish students. The kids were so city wise. They learned how to shoot craps in the city with dice while we were learning how to flip baseball cards in the suburbs. I watched the game a little bit and was pretty good about knowing when to lay my money down and when to fold. I learned how to say, “Seven, come eleven. Momma needs a new pair of drawers.” I was always the guy that the Nun caught with the dice. Notes went home to my family and my father decided to teach me a lesson about gambling. He took me down to the basement and took the money I had saved from caddying. He was going to gamble against me. When it was all said and done he owed me $590. Which he never paid until I was in college when he gave me $600 towards a car and said, “We’re even!” It was kind of funny.
That was the downfall of my staying at St. Anthony. It is funny though because I never became a gambler as an adult. When I went to Vegas later in life, it was to see the music. I did love to gamble and play cards in high school. I could remember the cards that had been played on the table. We used to play euchre and poker and I would come home with $100 easily at times, which was a ton of money back then. St. Anthony requested that maybe it would be wise if I found another place to go to school. I don’t want to say I was kicked out but the last day the nun decided she was going to teach me a lesson and keep me after school. I probably tortured the old lady, she probably taught beyond her years anyway. I climbed out the window and waved to her as I jumped. I go by that school to this day and look out at that window. It was my last day at St. Anthony. I went down to Gratiot, stuck my thumb out and bingo, I had a ride home. That was my goofy way of doing things.
My father decided he was going to bust my balls and make me caddy to make enough money to send me to Catholic Boarding school in Canada. When he found out how much it would really cost, he backed right down and I went to East Detroit High just like Gary and Joan. I missed the city. I did love it when I rode the streetcar and we hit the colored neighborhood. The whole scene changed. It was another whole cultural scene of the street. You also saw the hard edge of life, seeing the men waiting around to become day laborers to go and work somewhere. They were discriminated against getting regular work. Although the automotive industry was one of the least prejudicial to get in the door, most of the foremen, and all the bosses were white. The Blacks were the sweatback laborers and they had the hardest jobs, for example in the foundries. I didn’t know a lot about that until later on – but when I think back I remember seeing these men waiting to get work and I realized how prejudiced people were against people of color especially in the work force.
When I went to East Detroit everything was lilly white. The school was hugely successful in their sports endeavors. I tried to play football but they were just so big, strong, mean and evil and could make me look like a pancake in no time. I was able to play on the reserve team but the talent level was so high even there. I became a booster and was the student manager of the basketball team. We went to the state semi-finals that year where I was exposed to the racism that existed in the metropolitan Detroit area for the first time. East Detroit was all white and the league we played in had Black athletes. Mount Clemens, famous for its bathhouses in the old days had integrated by having Black people come to work the mineral bathhouses. The town stunk from the mineral smell. There was always that fear when you played where there were a lot of Black athletes although we had no trouble competing against those schools. We dominated the league.
Ferndale, our major rival was an integrated school and always had at least three starters that were Black. People would make snide remarks and comments that never set well with me. There was a kid from Ferndale named Earl McNeil. A popular song at the time went, “They often call me Speedo but my real name is Mr. Earl.” So his nickname was Earl “Speedo” McNeil. My dear friend later in life, Ernie Scott was a fraternity brother of his at Western Michigan University. Ernie was kind of surprised that I knew his good buddy Earl. I explained that he was always a challenge to us on the courts.
We ended up playing in the quarterfinals against Flint Northern, an all Black team. It was the first time anybody in my school was exposed to an all Black situation. Remarks were made that people make when they want to be stupid. I never got involved in that, although I also never got involved with making a stand as far as saying things back. I never had much clue or knowledge on how to go about it then.
At East Detroit High, the first time a question was asked in class, I stood up to answer the teacher and the kids laughed at me. In the Catholic schools, there was more discipline and structure. I knew some of my classmates from the playground, little league sports and St Veronica. So I felt in a comfort zone and fell in with some of my old buddies. I was a decent student in school. I think I graduated 17th in my class although I didn’t take some of the harder academic courses.
I was a school spirited kind of a guy and made up banners and posters to create excitement at the games. I felt part of the school and the athletic victories. My sophomore year the football team was undefeated and ranked one of the top five teams in the state. The basketball team, ranked in the top 3-4 all season, went to the semi-finals and lost in overtime to Austin Catholic. Their best player, Dave Debushere, became an All-American and played in the NBA. East Detroit High had a great band, the yearbook rated nationally and the school newspaper was rated the best in the state. For a lower middle/middle class area, East Detroit was a school of champions in everything. I never really appreciated until later in life the good teachers we had there. Although I never played a varsity sport, I did receive a Varsity letter for being student manager of the basketball team. I wasn’t the manager the next two years but I was allowed to sit on the bench my senior year and consequently learned a lot about coaching.
One of the things that I had a problem with in high school was my physical appearance. I went through those three years with a broken chipped front tooth. The first thing I did when I got out of high school and got to California was to get my tooth capped. I wanted to be able to smile without people picking on me. It reminded me of the times my brother had been picked on because of his disability. I was always embarrassed over my tooth. It was a tough time in my life. I didn’t get along with my father at all during those days. I would stay away from home all the time. If I wasn’t hanging around a sports practice, I was at the library until it closed.
During my junior year, I had a history class in which I pulled a straight A. The teacher suggested I move up a level along with one other girl into his highly advanced all college-prep history class, which was in the morning. I was a little scared. It was first hour and I didn’t like to get up that early to get to school. I still pulled an A in the class and discovered I was able to compete with the college prep kids. That is when I decided to change my course academically and not graduate as a general student but plan on going on to college. I worked hard my senior year to prepare myself. I took tougher classes and did all right.
During my senior year in high school, I decided to run for class office. By then, I had enough confidence in myself to think that other people would vote for me to represent them. Some people thought that I should run for president. Vice president sounded like something I could do. I found out I was running against one of the smartest kids in the school, who was a good guy, and one of the most popular girls in the school, who was a good friend of mine. It didn’t matter though. We just ran against each other. They had very professional campaigns and I was running mine quite loosely. I didn’t have campaign manager, a staff, or anyone making posters. I felt I could put it together well enough to make a run for it. If I didn’t win, I was enjoying being part of the process.
At that time, late 50s, there was a French Movie that had come out made by a director named Roger VanDam. He was involved with an actress named Bridget Bardot, a very famous movie star at the time in France. It received an X rating because of the nudity content and was talked up as a scandalous movie. Of course, the more scandalous things are, the more people are interested in seeing them. Gary and I ended up taking a bus over to a college basketball game at the University of Detroit. After the game, we decided to go and see the movie. It was called, “And God Created Woman”. It wasn’t as scandalous as everyone made it out to be.
Walking out of the theater, there were several posters of Bridget in a very sensuous pose showing a little cleavage, maybe a fair amount. It said, “Bridget Bardot says See One of My Movies, “Viva La Difference”. I took these pictures, put them on posters, and cut off the words after Bridget Bardot Says. Instead of, “See One of my Movies”, I put, “Vote For Nieder, He is our Leader!” Niederstadt is my last name and many people called me Nieder, not that I really liked it but it rhymed and I thought it would fly. Fly it did.
I betcha by noon, everyone in the school knew for which office I was running. By Noon, I was also in the principle’s office with the assistant principle pounding his little fingers on the desk, just as nervous as he could be. I think deep down he knew that I would win. A few of the teachers had taken the posters down and put them in the teacher’s lounge. I think they thought it was hilarious. They became collector’s items very quickly, disappearing inside student’s lockers. I was told that the posters had not been OK’d by the art committee and that is why they had to take them down. It didn’t matter to me. My campaign strategy had worked. Surprisingly, one of the counselors who was also my math teacher told me, “You know David you ended up with more votes than anybody”.
We ended up with co-presidents. Between the three of us, we made many decisions about the senior prom, class rings, etc. They were all planning to go to college. I was gaining confidence being with this group. Ten years later that class of 320 had less than 20 college graduates. In Detroit, it was so easy to go into the automotive factory and make more money than you could make with a college degree. Through holding that office, I gained leadership skills. I even tried to be one of the orators to give a speech during commencement. I wasn’t selected but gained even more confidence, believing I came close. I began to believe in myself more. I was honored at the final high school ceremonies and received a certificate for leadership and a plaque given and paid for by the students naming me, “Mr. School Spirit of East Detroit High School”. It was a good feeling.
I had a teacher named Mr. Hackett. He had been real tough on me to try to help me develop into a man and understand what manhood was all about. Many people thought he was gay, and to this day, I don’t know – he could have been. He was a theater arts teacher and had never been married. He left East Detroit and moved to New York where I dug him out of the woodwork in the 70s. I visited him and thanked him for helping me grow up. I explained how he had been a good influence on me. He had been my English and Speech teacher. He had told me two things and I will never forget. He said that after your high school career, if you have three good friends out of your class you are lucky. He was right to the dime because that was about all I had. To this day, I see two of those three people. He also told me that East Detroit was a nice place to be from, because everyone has to be from somewhere. There is a much larger world out there to know about. East Detroit was a stifling world. It stifled learning about anything other than the four square miles that made up the town. I never forgot that. To be from there was all right but to stay there forever was not alright or to stay in that mind-set. You could move to Warren or Sterling Heights, or one of the other suburbs that became famous for the Regan Democrats of the 80s. It was in those places that people stayed in their square little worlds with there square little mind sets and maintained the one thing in life that I grew to detest which was racism. I had no regrets leaving East Detroit.
The day after my high school graduation, I jumped out of bed Monday morning and headed to California. There was no interstate, so I went Route 66, which has many a story written about it. I drove out with another guy who wanted me to share the price of gas with him. He was a little older and had been in the service. I went out there with him and was all excited about living on my own and living in the land of gold. I was excited about “California living” but soon realized that living was for people with money and I was broke.
I got a job working in a warehouse for the May Company, driving a forklift truck, and making $1.50 an hour. Most of the people I worked with were Black, Hispanic, Philippine, and Chinese. There were also many Japanese American students I met when I started college. Through them I learned about their history and how racism had affected their lives. I learned about how the US government confiscated their belongings and threw them in concentration/relocation camps during WWII. I learned things that had never been taught to me in my history book. American History always seemed to stop at the depression. Supposedly we all had families that had lived through it so we didn’t need to study it.
I got and apartment with this other guy. He was in love with this girl back in East Detroit, and was heartbroken he missed her so much. He returned to Michigan and left me alone. I couldn’t afford to live in the apartment we had together. I went to get a place to stay by myself and could only afford one in the poorer neighborhood. The Mexican neighborhood was close by. I didn’t have a car and needed a furnished place. I saw the apartment I rented listed in the newspaper for $60 a month. I rented from these Mexican people. They took me in and taught me about their culture and their food. They treated me almost like a third son. I saved my money as best I could. They didn’t have yard sales where one could go out and buy pots and pans. I slept for probably a couple three months at least just on top of the mattress with a blanket and then I started buying things little by little to make my living conditions better. I realized what it was to be on my own. It was going to be a little tougher than I thought but I was determined to make something out of my life and to go to college. I started at East Los Angeles. I started with History, English, and Speech at night and worked during the day.
While working at the May Company, I started hanging out with some of the Black guys with whom I worked. Although I was underage, they took me to this Jazz club. It was the first time I ever learned about marijuana. I didn’t even drink, let alone smoke and someone offered me a joint. I didn’t smoke it but I was just having a whole lot of fun being there. It was my first experience where I dealt within the culture of Black American people. My first experience being in the minority was with the family I rented from, the Manuels. I was also invited to an Asian event, which was unique for me to see how that culture operated. I didn’t really get involved with the Asian culture. With the Black guys it was a sports thing that I could relate to, identify and interact with and a musical thing so it was more of a comfort zone for me. Plus I didn’t have a lot of money or time – I was going to school and working. Playing basketball with the Black guys, going to a jazz club or a rhythm and blues joint fit my schedule. Hanging with them was more in line with what I liked to do.
I also learned to play a card game called Bid Whisk which I loved playing. It is a cross between pinnacle and bridge and there was a lot of animation that went into playing. When you knew you had a winning hand and you could knuckle those cards down, you did it with flare. I remember watching elderly women just smacking them down really hard and laughing and joking. They were using terminology and word usage that I had never heard before. I loved it; I was intrigued by it.
I went to UCLA for one semester. I’d go and take my class and then boom I’d go to my job so I really didn’t get involved in the social scene. It was the only school I went to where I could have done the traditional college things. It had a campus although it was in an urban area – in westwood. East LA was in the fringe of the Hispanic ghetto. Later I went to University of Detroit for two semesters. Then I transferred over to Wayne State University.
At East LA, I saw John Kennedy when he was running for President in 1960. He came to our campus and spoke. I remember seeing all the people around him – it was quite impressive. Besides experiencing racism, I also saw how anti-Catholic people could be. I was still a practicing Roman Catholic, attending church and confession as I had been raised. I was aghast at how people would tell these jokes and make these statements about Catholics. It showed you how ugly people could be. John Kennedy did win and that was of course a celebration for me. Having one of my people, a Catholic elected to the presidency. Religious affiliation means nothing to me now. I don’t vote that way at all. I vote on my beliefs on who can make the society better for all people and not just the privileged people. I was too young to vote for Kennedy but I voted for him in my head. The first presidential election I could cast a vote in was 1964. I voted for Lyndon Johnson.
I learned a lot out there about race, people and life. It sort of set the tone for where I would go with my life. Of course, I wasn’t afraid to go anywhere in Detroit after being all around south central LA and other places where I would find myself a real minority. In fact, in LA one of the Black guys told me the streetcar I was taking was the long way to work. He said if I took the Vernor Bus I’d get to work a whole lot faster but I’d be, “the only one on the bus that looks like you.” I was like, “That’s cool.” I loved to take that bus to work every morning because the Black people on the bus would laugh and joke. They found humor in some of the most horrible things that could happen in life. They had the attitude that life was good, “I am alive”. I was amazed at how resilient they were. I watched Sweet Daddy Grace, one of the most famous Black street preachers. He had long purple fingernails. Everyday I waited to see him. I had my window rolled down and I was just engrossed in the whole cultural experience that I was living in.
Black people in LA had built everything in WWII. A lot of them were not allowed to go and fight in the war. They didn’t want Black soldiers around those southern boys. There were just too many problems with the race game I guess. Many Blacks stayed home. Of course, Black women have been working their whole damn life anyway. It wasn’t nothin’ for them to go and be part of the Rosy the Riveter game. Although they never put their picture up there- it was always a very coiffured white girl with fingernails of red – like that was really what the factory world was like. Everyone knew that was a lie. L.A. had a very liberated proud Black community like the community I would come to know better in Detroit when I returned.
Gary came out from Michigan and lived with me for a little bit. I wasn’t happy with how much I was able to accomplish making $1.50 an hour and going to school. So I decided that I was going to go back to Michigan. I could make more money caddying than I could at the May Company and I didn’t have to pay taxes on it. I moved back in with my parents. I figured I was a little bit older and that I could get along better with my dad. I was already an adult though and used to paying my own way. I wasn’t used to somebody telling me what time I had to be home at night. Eventually, I moved out and got a room in a hotel down in the slums of Detroit where a group of people who had been let out of a mental hospital lived. It was quite a shock. I don’t remember what floor I lived on but it was pretty high up. The room was $6/week. Two people committed suicide jumping out of the windows.
The neighborhood was loaded with winos, junkies, and prostitutes. Life was kind of real and thrown into your face. They were real people with lives and stories to tell. I liked to hear stories, so I was able to adapt to the culture. There were as many poor southern whites as poor Blacks living there. You learned about how people without things were treated and how harshly their lives were dealt with by the system. They overpaid for everything in the grocery store. I would always bought where my dad shopped. He knew the A& P manager and got a better cut of meat. Down in the neighborhood stores it was as though they had put shellac on the meat to keep it from turning gray. It is so horribly ugly the way people of power deal with poor people. I found out how racism worked and how ugly the world could be for the underclass. I started identifying more with them. To this day, because of living in those situations, I have an understanding and a feel for how stacked the deck is against people who don’t have opportunities. I was lucky enough that United Parcel Service (UPS) would hire me.
Initially, I did go back and caddy. I was caddying for the Mafia and they liked to gamble. Arnold Palmer was a big star in the golf world. The broadcasters would say, “Arnold Palmer is putting for $10,000 and the pressure is really on.” I was going, “I got guys putting for $10,000 every nine holes who want me to tell them what club to use next. You don’t even know what pressure is!” They didn’t think nothin’ about killin’ somebody. They kind of liked me though. I was still a young kid in their minds and they wanted me to do something with my life. They would give me a little extra money than they might have paid another caddy. They always liked to see a kid succeed. You learned one thing with those people – they’ll do anything for you but don’t ever cross them. One time a kid stole golf balls. I saw that kid take an ass wippin’ from a guy about 50 years old that I have never in my life seen since. This guy just pummeled and kicked him into the ground. Then they would turn around and for another kid tell the dentist at the golf club to fix the kid’s teeth. Every year they sponsored an American Italian Delegate (AID) party. It was a big party where they brought in strippers and had gambling, canolis, other Italian food, music and the whole thing. They caught someone gambling with loaded dice. Later his body was found in the Clinton River. You learned you didn’t cross that crowd.
I made enough money to get back in school and started at U of D, University of Detroit, a Jesuit School. I stayed there until I had been in Michigan long enough to get my residency status back and attend Wayne State University without paying out-of-state tuition.
Detroit had the largest Black community in America. They had economic power and political power. It had a lot to do with Walter Ruther and the United Autoworkers. In my mind to this day, I believe he was on of the great men of the 20th century, definitely one of the top ten. He ran a clean union without corruption and he never took a huge salary like the teamsters, Jimmy Hoffa and others. I have a lot of respect for Ruther. He died a horrible death in an airplane accident with his wife. They were in the process of opening up a retreat for retired union people in Northern Michigan – Black Lake I believe it was. It was a sad day for me to see him die as it was when Kennedy died in 1963.
When Kennedy died, I got a telephone call early in the morning. It was early for me because I was working nights at UPS. It was November and their busiest time. I had worked until two or three a.m. unloading boxcars the night before. I didn’t have a class until late that afternoon. I always took about 11 credit hours so I could work too. I was recovering financially from a setback. I’d had a hernia operation, which was real tuff. I was renting an apartment with Bill Gaines, a guy I worked with at UPS, and Jim Herman, a childhood friend. We shared a place for $65/month – that was crazy.
I was lying there sleeping, the news came on that Kennedy died, and a buddy of mine called me and said, “turn on your TV, John Kennedy just got killed.” I was stunned. I watched the whole thing. I didn’t even go to class. I watched until I had to go to work that day. I actually saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on national news. I felt horribly sad about Kennedy’s death because he represented the change over from old politics to fresh new politics that was hopefully going to change America. I think John Kennedy was given more credit for helping things along with the race issues than he deserved. It shows now as history proves out but back then he was given credit for the things that people like Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, S.N.C.C. (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) and all these other groups down south were creating. I think John was just trying to keep peace to balance Congress more than he believed in his heart that this was the right thing to do. In all honesty I personally believe Bobby Kennedy was more interested in breaking down the racial barriers in America than John was. I think John was concerned about his image and how he was going to carry the Southern Democrats in ’64. He was trying to balance that all out.
In 1962, I attended school as a full-time student at Wayne State. Luckily everything I took at East LA, UCLA and U of D transferred to Wayne and I never lost a credit. I didn’t take the religious classes at U of D that they said I had to take because I knew I wasn’t staying there. I was not about to pay their tuition rate, which was horrendous. At East LA, I paid $2.50/semester. Wayne State cost me $105/semester. College was nowhere as expensive as it is today.
At Wayne, I started going a little harder at my academic progress and had most of my course work completed within the next four years. Technically, I didn’t complete my degree until 1968. The one class that I had left to get a grade from, the professor was in Egypt doing research. I wasn’t about to take it again. I was already making $7,500/year working at UPS nights and I was teaching school during the day for $5,200. With the degree, I was told I could make $5,600/year. For $400, it wasn’t worth my time to take the class over. I was making good money than. I think I made $15,000 one year. My father didn’t even make that kind of money.
I was living down by Wayne, which had a large Black student population. For an integrated University, Wayne had the largest Black student population in the country. It was 19% of the total student body. There wasn’t any “minority program” at that time. They were all very bright kids who had come out of the best school system in America, the Detroit Public Schools. It proceeded to fall into disarray in the late 60’s after the riots when everybody that had influence and money evacuated the city. The school system went on a downhill spiral that still hasn’t recovered. Even New York University didn’t have as many Black students as Wayne did. In fact, Wayne was the #1 basketball power in Michigan ahead of the flagship schools- Michigan and Michigan State. They didn’t like playing Wayne because Wayne was too tuff.
I moved and lived down there and immersed myself in the culture of Black America. I lived in that culture for about 20 years – more or less. A lot of things that happened during those years shaped my life. Most of the kids that I had started college with had completed their degrees by 1963 – 1964. In 1964 all hell started breaking loose. In 1965 the first riot since the 1943 riots in Detroit broke out in LA Watts. When I watched the riots take place, I recognized and knew all those places – hell I might have even recognized someone on the TV screen if I had looked hard enough. I could see how it all came down. When the riot hit Detroit in 1967, I fully saw how all that came down.
I made a good selection of friends at the University. I think I blossomed as a person of understanding and appreciation for different worlds and cultures. I actually took time to learn more about theater and art, something never brought up in my family life. Now that I was living on my own and meeting people into those things, I was invited to attend events that I never otherwise would have thought of going to. I learned to appreciate theater and art. The University helped me to become a better person – well rounded. My major was history and physical education. My goal at the time was to become a basketball coach. I really felt that would be something I would like to do. I had a minor in English.
The Vietnam uprising was happening in 1965. I saw how the capitalism of the US Government was pushing forward on the war for no other reason. It certainly wasn’t about liberation of the Vietnamese people. I didn’t have to go to that war. I was too young for Korea and too old for Vietnam. They wanted 18 year olds not 26 year olds. There may have been something else about not taking guys who had been married before 1965 too. Had I been drafted, I am not sure what I would have done. I had been thinking of moving to Canada anyway because I wasn’t happy with things in the USA. In fact, we ended up looking at moving to Western Canada of all places to start a new life. We did the flip-flop though and moved into the inner city of Detroit.
Wayne Sate was considered by some to be a communist school because there were a lot of radical people there and many Jews. Jews had a tendency to be considered communist by people. It came from the old world thoughts in Eastern Europe. Jewish families liked having there kids at home, they didn’t want them going away to school. It was good to go to school with bright people that knew how to cross lines. Jews have been crossing lines with Blacks for a long long time. I got to know a lot of Jews through the radical movements with civil rights- Villot was taking classes at Wayne State and got killed marching in the south.
Things started by breaking the backs of the southern racist for integration of the lunch counters and than Malcolm X came to Detroit. I went to hear him speak. He scared the living hell out of people the way he spoke. I heard Martin Luther King Jr. speak in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. He put a challenge to those people out there. They had a lot of money and power and he brought the problems of the south to an explanation that they had never heard before. It was a great speech. “Free at Last, Free at last.”
I was really immersed into the whole idea of making change in America. The Vietnam War came and I was against the war. The real Black radical movement came on. I had an Angela Davis sticker – I had a button I’d wear. I was thought of as pretty much a radical in a lot of people’s eyes. I got involved in some of the activities and also in the women’s movement. I was involved in that early on in the late 60s. Although I was out of college, I brought home people and introduced my wife to women who were going to make changes to the system and the world. I wanted to be part of the change because I had two little daughters and I wanted them to have opportunities. I saw early on at UPS that Blacks couldn’t have the job I had. All they could do was wash the trucks. They had their own separate union even. They had one white guy in their union, Bill Gaines, my roommate. He’d go to the meetings and come home with all these stories. I was learning about all these things that were going on but not written up in the paper.
The paper tried to portray the Black community as criminals and racists and everything else, it was never a positive thing whatever it was. If someone was robbed by a Black man that is how it was written up but they wouldn’t include the race if it was a Caucasian man/woman. It didn’t change until the Black community put pressure on them to change. They didn’t have any Black writers either.
I jumped around from apartment to apartment in mostly poor neighborhoods throughout 1963-1964. I didn’t interact with the Mexican community in Detroit except to go to Mexican town to eat the food I had grown to love in LA. Still to this day, I appreciate the simplicity and goodness of Mexican food.
In 1964, I went on a skiing trip with some friends on the weekend and met a woman named Donna Walsh. A year later I ended up marrying her in the summer of 1965. At that time, I was close to finishing my degree and had my night job at UPS. We bought our first home in East Detroit so I could be close to my job and come home during my “lunch” break and have dinner with Donna. We stayed there for three years. We weren’t very happy there, as the community had grown even more racist than when I had lived there the first time. I wasn’t comfortable having my friends from school come over to the house and having people stare at them and make remarks. After the riots in 1967, I convinced my wife, certainly against her parent’s wishes to seek housing in the city. We looked around and found a home in the historic neighborhood, Indian Village.
My parents were worried I wouldn’t be able to build equity in that neighborhood. My in-laws were totally against it. They didn’t want their daughter living down there but we did it anyway. It was something that I gave my wife credit for. I wasn’t forcing her to do it. It was something that she wanted too. Everytime she was around my friends she liked them. It seemed to be an easier transition because of that. When she got into the city she was very comfortable being around the diversity. It didn’t matter whether people were Black or white, gay or straight. Our community certainly had a taste of everything.
When Donna switched from teaching in the suburban school to the inner city school, I feel she became an even better teacher. She was still teaching children – it wasn’t about color to her. When she would come home, she would have stories to tell about her day. She had never really talked about work when she was in the suburbs. I think she was getting stale out there and she was frustrated with the politics at Riverview. Everyday she had interesting things to say. She taught right up to the day she had Leah. Leah was an early delivery and Donna had planned on teaching for another 2 months. She actually was paid for the day she delivered.
We were quite involved in the Indian Village community. It was a community of 352 old homes, many of them mansions, in a three-block area. Surprisingly, we were living about 1-1/2 miles from where I was born. In fact, one of the street that made up Indian Village was Seminole, the street to which I was born. We lived on Iroquois in a house that was built by the man that was president of Cadillac motors. We paid $30,000 for it. It was a mansion with a garage apartment, which we rented. After we factored in the rental income, our house note was very low. We lived there for about 1 1/2 years.
I never really got into teaching. I taught school for a year and a half. I wanted to teach in Detroit. I was teaching in the suburbs and I didn’t like it. To go into Detroit and get a teaching job was easy; to get a coaching job was going to be tuff. None of the suburbs had ever hired Black coaches unless they were Black suburbs so after the riot of ’67 the Black people were demanding that their people hold the coaching jobs in Detroit. I fully understood that. My friends were all getting these jobs and deservingly so – they were all bright, qualified coaches. I should say they weren’t friends of mine at that time – I would come to know them later through a friend of mine named Bernard Simms.
Bernard was older and had transferred into Wayne about the same time as I had. He took pity on my poor white ass and took me home and fed me. I was always broke and he said, “I never met anyone as poor as you.” Bernard made good money on the side working for his cousin. He was a “bagman”. He used to go and collect the money from the “numbers”. His cousin was the #1 numbers’ man in the city of Detroit. The “numbers” has since been taken over by the legal arm of government and renamed the Michigan Lottery. The “numbers” were huge in the Black community as a form of gambling. Bernard’s cousin probably had a job equivalent to a small corporation. Bernard was my friend through college and beyond. When I moved back into the city, he would always come by the house. When we had lived in the suburbs, he only came by once or twice.
I got out of teaching because I didn’t see an opportunity to coach. Had I stayed with it, I might have had that opportunity to work with one of the coaches I came to know and be good friends with. The funniest thing was a lot of them came to me at once and wanted me to run for the job of Athletic Director for the City of Detroit. They were looking for somebody that could go up and deal with the state. Someone that could wear a white face but have a Black mind. They told me, “If we send a Black guy up there, they’ll send him out for coffee and vote. With you, they’ll let you be involved with it all and you can shake the sheets up a little bit. I had already been out of teaching long enough. I’d doubled my salary and had a family with kids and a different life style. I was also getting to see America free by going around and setting up distributorships and representatives for a pollution control company. It was a very interesting business and I thought I was doing well by society by cleaning the air.
We moved from the McNaughtin Mansion in Indian Village to a home that was two doors a way. It was approximately the same size and built by the same builders but it was the Edsel Ford Mansion. It was a nicer home inside with more wood. It cost $45,000. It had an acre of land, a sunken garden, and woods. The house note was $250/month and we rented the garage apartment for $185. For $65/month, we had a 17-room mansion. I used to kid people – they had a little limerick contest in the paper where you had to use a name of a town or a city. Mine read: “I don’t live in the Pointe and I don’t live in the Hills, but come the end of every month I always pay my bills. My street is not named Willowwisp or even Friar Tuck. If you really want to know, I don’t give a #%^. For me, show no pity; ’cause I’m happy to lay up in the inner city.” Everybody kept saying, “How can you live down there in the inner city with all those Niggers? How can you do this and ho can you do that? And raise your children down there?”
I found peace and tranquility being away from all those people that lived a race game everyday. I didn’t have to live that down there. The white people that lived there made a choice to do so. They were normally people that came from other places in America. A psychiatrist that lived across the street was from New York. He was the head psychiatrist for the state of Michigan at the Lafayette clinic. His wife, an artist, was from Joplin, Missouri. They had a summer home on Cape Cod out in Providence Town, for which they paid $17,000. Boy I tell you if they still own that home I know it is probably worth 1.5 million.
We were all living down in these beautiful homes and having this nice lifestyle close to all the best restaurants. Many neighbors in the surrounding areas were of a lower class economically but they were solid people and it didn’t matter. There were some real horrid ghetto situations where the people were struggling but they were still good people. You would meet them in the market shopping or sit on the community control board for the schools with them. It was no where near as bad a place to live as people would tend to believe. If you weren’t around looking for prostitutes or drugs, you were all right. I never carried a gun and I never had a problem going into an all Black situation whether it was shopping or going into a bar to have a drink or to do anything. I wasn’t there looking for trouble. I also never hesitated to take my children with me which stunned even Black people. They would say, “Your bringing you kids around us? We get white people that come around, but they don’t bring their children around.”
I wanted my children to be exposed to the goodness of Black people and their culture. White people would say Black people were culturally deprived. My question was always deprived of whom? Deprived of what culture?” Their culture is stronger or just as strong as any Anglicized culture. It is just presented in a different manner. I thrived in that world and enjoyed being around people of color and people of culture. Many of my neighbors had upscale jobs and a better education than I had. It was a constant learning experience being around them. I also hung around the stoop brothers on the corner. I didn’t drink any of that Madd Dogg 20-20 but I’d pop a cold beer every now and then, sit down, and talk with them about life and sports. I learned all the Joe Louis stories that way. It was a wonderful time.
We had a friend named Yvonne, who was a beautiful Black woman. She became good friends with Donna and I and was my daughter Leslie’s godmother. Yvonne did well in life academically and raised two fine sons. Her father, Grandpa Smith, took me to all these old haunts. He’s now in his early 80s and he saw the world differently then my Black coaching friends.
I also developed friends in the symphony who chose to live in the city instead of commuting. The community we lived in was a thriving one and everybody had a goal to maintain it and prevent it from being taken over buy the slum landlords who wanted to bust it up and make a fast buck. We won. Now those homes that were selling for $50,000 – $100,000 throughout the 60′ s-70 are now selling for over 1 million. Although my wife and I sold in 1976 and moved up to Northern Michigan, I have no regrets. It was a wonderful place to live. Until our divorce, we had a home or an apartment down in the city, which I ran my business out of, and a home in Northern Michigan. We maintained a presence in the city and were a part of the scene. It was good – it was a nice place to be part of. Although I don’t live there anymore, it is nice to see it coming back and becoming a strong city again.
In the early 70’s, my father had a stroke. Between the time I got married and after I moved to Indian Village, I had become good friends with my father and it was pleasant. We would go to a football or baseball game together. I could sit and talk with him about my life, dreams and goals and I think he was kind of proud that I had earned a college degree. I was the first one in my family and I turned out to be the only one. I was in the business world and was doing well. I think he was proud of that. He ended up having that stroke and never was the same. His mind was like that of a two-year-old. He couldn’t talk real well and the whole right side of his brain was gone. He lived another seven years as an invalid but was at least able to meet all of his grandchildren except Gary’s son. He passed away in July of 1975 five weeks before his 65th birthday.
Sometime in the early 70s, I went through a phase of drinking more than I should. I thought it was very adult to drink martinis. I drank martinis and scotch. I was out of shape and all stressed out over the relationship with my wife so I started smoking cigarettes. One day I decided that I was not going to live that way. I cut back on the drinking and I quit smoking. I feel as though that was the wisest decision I ever made. It was 1973 and I weighed 185 lbs. I was 33 years old. I was sitting on the toilet and saw my fat gut reflected in the mirror and I said to myself, “You look just like your father.”
My father was already having health problems at that time. I could tell that a heart attack or a stroke was just down the road. I told him to go see a doctor. I said, “Dad you’ve got to quit drinking and smoking cigarettes. Why don’t you start walking more and maybe take a class instead of sitting in the bar.” He was too far-gone and lost a lot of life because of it.
I started jogging. I would jog a block than walk a block. I got to the point where I could go a half a mile and than a mile at a time. Than one day I ran to the post office and back, about 3 miles. Than I ran to Belle Isle and back. Than I ran to Belle Isle, around the island and back. By than I knew that I was the athlete that I never was in high school or college. During that time, I met a woman that told me to take bee pollen as a way of building up my immune system for my allergies. I had inherited allergies from my mother and it was horrible. I remember in school that I was always disrupting class because I had to blow my nose. They didn’t have air conditioning back than so to let in air they would open the windows and with the air came the pollen. Occasionally, I would take my mother’s allergy pills but they were so potent they would make me sleepy and groggy. It made my whole college life especially difficult to get through. I took many summer courses because I was working so hard for UPS during the Christmas season. So I was finally able to break free from my allergies. I think the running also helped clear up my allergies. I also changed my diet, which I think helped. I became good at running. The first marathon I ever ran I brought home a trophy. It was the largest trophy I ever won. Although I didn’t make my goal of breaking three hours because we were running into the wind, I had fun and I finished the race. I never quit races. I always completed them. The next one I ran in 2:52, so I knew I was legitimate. I was able to take it down to 2:43. I wasn’t one of those crazies that practiced all the time. I averaged 70 miles/week.
I had a guru who had been a professor of mine named Frank McBride. He had an affect on my life. It wasn’t in college that we connected but later when I got to know him through a mutual friend named JB Dixon. J.B. was one of the founding mothers of the Feminist movement in Detroit. When I first met her, she stood up for me when some guy was running his racist mouth. She leaned over and told the guy that she thought he had a shower syndrome problem from WWII. “It’s all about the size of the Black male’s penis in the eyes of the white man,” she said. I thought to myself, “Wow, this woman is deep.” She said this in front of a client from Michigan Consolidated. She was trying to get money out of them to fund Homes for Black Children, an organization she represented. She had gone to Syracuse University and worked as an independent public relations person. She was a very attractive white woman that sure knew how to operate in all kinds of worlds. JB and the Michigan Consolidated client came home with me that night. I got Donna out of bed and said, “Come down stairs and have a class of wine and meet these cool people”. That was probably in 1969. She is still a friend to this day and my daughters have gotten to know her which I think is good because JB is the kind of role model for any young woman to want to be like. She believes in equality of all people in Society.
JB reintroduced me to Frank McBride. He was the track and field coach at Wayne State. We had shared some interesting conversations in college but nothing really in depth about his beliefs in life. There wasn’t a person who went to Wayne that had a bad thing to say about McBride. He was a runner too. Frank and I ran together and Donna and I became friends with he and his wife, Angela. To this day, I have never met another man who is as non-sexist and racist a human being as Frank. He was a Physical Education teacher with a doctorate in Philosophy. In the 50s, he had a beard and long hair so he looked like a cross between Jesus and Willie Nelson. Everybody thought he was a communist because, you know, Carl Marx had a beard and long hair.
The Black guys who came to Wayne to play basketball would run for McBride. They didn’t like to but did it because they could feel this man’s understanding of their world. He treated them all as fair and honestly as a human being should be treated. It wasn’t about race. Other coaches and teachers treated Black and white students differently, Frank never did. They would do everything for him, except for this one time. My friend Smitty said, “Coach I ain’t doing the high jump today.” Frank replied, “Smitty, we need your points. We’ve got a chance to win this.” They were down somewhere in southern Indiana. Smitty replied, “Them crackers over there are throwing the javelin way too close. I don’t wanna be no accident. But I’ll run a leg on the 440. We’ll get your points anyway. But I ain’t gonna be no accident.”
The humor Black people could find in racism always used to amaze me. They were in a Christmas tournament somewhere and they had a Queen’s court. Charlie Premis called time out. Wayne’s coach had put five Black guys out on the court for the first time at an integrated University in the United States. Texas Western made it famous because they won the NCAA but Wayne was the first. Coach Mason never let anybody call time out unless he gave the OK. So he said, “Charlie, Why did you call time out? I didn’t give you the OK.” Premis replies, “Coach, you have five colored guys out here.” The coach replied, “I want to win the game.” Charlie said, “Coach, the game is in hand. You put that white boy back in because somebody’s got to go up and kiss that queen and we want to get out of here alive.” “Without the white boy on the floor, one of the brothers is going to have to go up there and we ain’t gonna get outta here alive kissing that queen!” So they always found humor in the worst situations. I marvel at that – they could go in the heart of clan country and find humor.
Frank was good for me. He gave me good visions on life. Frank would help a stray dog. If a person needed help with something, he would stop his run to do so. One time I was out running by myself. I always ran wherever I wanted. I didn’t worry about in which neighborhood I was running. “Who is going to mess with a runner”, I thought. Late in the 70s things got a little tuffer. Gangs started to form and these wanna be Black kids were calling themselves Colleoneys from watching the Mafia movie, “The Godfather”. They didn’t even know how to spell Colleoney. They were out there. I had stopped to help a guy put some furniture on his truck. I was probably a half a mile away from there and I felt good about helping him and he had thanked me. All of a sudden, I ran into some of these Colleoney kids and they were harassing me. They could have taken my ass down and kicked it a few times and it wouldn’t have been pleasant. Than out of nowhere, this Black guy, who I had helped and who was not small – he was a large and in charge kind of guy, pulls up and says, “What cha doin’ with my friend there? You don’t know that, but that man’s my friend.” All of a sudden they got kinda gray in the face and tried to scam their way out of it but he wasn’t puttin’ up with it. He let them know, “You don’t touch him because you know I’ll be back in the neighborhood lookin’ for you.” He didn’t even know me. I may not have stopped and helped him had I not known the way Frank would always stop to help a fellow human being. I tried to live my life that way. Maybe I don’t always do as good of a job as Frank did but it is always in my mind. He’s been an excellent role model for me. Frank was ten years older than I was. I have been out of touch with him lately but I have got to believe he is still alive. That man could run. He ran a 4.25-minute-mile when he was 46 years old. He was my guru. I became a better runner because of Frank but I also became a better human being.
Frank’s wife, Angela, was from Germany and she could cook. Both Donna and I learned things from Angela. Donna wasn’t much into cooking – up until then she and I were probably still using Ritz crackers and American cheese. It was down in Indian Village that we learned about drinking wine and having wonderful meals. We threw parties because we had this beautiful mansion. They weren’t spectacular parties like rich people throw. They were just good fun parties. We would make up 50 quarts of Chili.
We had the garage apartment we rented called the carriage house. At that time, we rented it to a Black guy named Tepper Gill, who is now a professor and the head of the Mathematics department at Howard University. Tepper used to bounce my girls on his knees and hang out and tell stories. That man had to love me because he was the only Black man that ever gave me his recipe for BBQ. Brothers don’t ever give their BBQ recipe up. Believe me. He did and we were like family. We ate a lot together; we did that with many of our tenants that rented from us – they became good friends of ours.
We were the only white couple that would have truly integrated parties at our home – other than the Lowengers’ across the street. Other people would have a party and would ask me to invite my friends. They would say, “Call your friend Bernard and tell him to bring some of his friends because they are always a lot of fun!” Of course, when they came, the party didn’t start until they got there and around 11 p.m. They’d say, “Hey – you white people start parties way too early”. Bernard taught me a little thing called CPT – Colored People Time. “When we get there, it be happenin’ – We get it happenin’.”
Boy I never saw so much finger poppin’ and people dancin’ together and having fun it was just great. The barriers would break down. It was a cool community to live in. Sure there were some people who were a little uptight about some things but they would either break down and become regular or they would move. There is an old saying Black folks have, “You gotta get in, where you fit in!” If you fit in – make it happen and have fun and live life. Your going to be pushin’ up ground somewhere along the line.” That is the good earth unless they cremate you. Those are just some of the simple attitude and ways of living that I try to live by. I always try to make humor of my problems. It’s like an old line I learned from one of the stoop brothers. “It’s short steaks and bad breaks and the only joy in life is dishwater detergent – and I’m alive so that’s good – alright.”
I started traveling a tremendous amount. Donna and I had gone skiing up north and she really liked it up there. She had a girlfriend whom she had gone to college with living in Harbor Springs, a beautiful little town. Our marriage wasn’t going well and it was almost as if we were wondering if we tried something new, it might help. I still thought in the end I would probably end up divorced and back in the city, which is exactly what happened. I don’t regret the fact that we ended up in Northern Michigan. I think the girls really thrived and had wonderful things happen by being in that little town that made an affect on their lives.
Leah was born January 9, 1970. As I said before, Donna was pulled out of school and taken to the hospital for Leah’s birth. Leslie was born September 4, 1971. I had Leah with me at a party that Labor Day weekend. It was funny neither my wife nor I was really good at putting those diapers on. Donna was probably ok but I wasn’t worth anything. I had Leah at this party with all these Black people just having fun, eatin’ barbecue, laughing, joking, playing cards, and tellin’ stories with kids running all around. Leah needed her diaper changed. I started to change it and this Black woman came up to me and said, “Honey, get aside. Let me show you how to do that.” I go the lesson of my life on how to change a diaper. By the time Donna got out of the hospital she was like, “Where did you learn that? Show me.” It’s funny how just being open, going somewhere, doing things, and being around people how much and from whom you can learn. You never know.
The girls were pretty close together. They were always fun to hang with and be with. I would take them to the basketball games and the market on the weekends. Eastern market is a huge open market on the weekends where you can buy fruits and vegetables. Everything is wholesale. All the ethnic and old Black people would go there. The Chinese would buy bags and bags of rice. It was like the United Nations. Everybody was comfortable enough to say, “Excuse me, hello and how are you doing”. It was a fun place to be. I have fond memories of those times. I was very content with the family being that size and content with having two daughters even though a lot of guys thought I’d want to have that son for sports but to me it didn’t matter. I was real comfortable with things as they were. I knew Donna had had a couple of real tough pregnancies so I thought it would be just as well that we only had the two girls. Surprisingly, Donna was pregnant a third time and Ryan was born on September 2, 1974. I had the two girls with me up in Boyne City at the time. We brought the farm in Boyne City to have an escape for the weekend and partly because we felt we could make some money off the property. We had no overhead living in the city and skiing was a popular thing.
At that time, we also had an apartment in Detroit on VanDyke. I loved it there – it was so cool. There was no grass to cut. The Ford property had been a bear to take care. We didn’t have the money to hire a gardener, as the Fords had. Donna and I did most of that work ourselves. Cleaning the gutters was no picnic. There were three floors and you had to crawl out a window and you were on some treacherous territory. I had to go out there and put out mothballs to keep the pigeons away.
The first home we had bought fell back into our hands because the people defaulted on the land contract. When we got it back it was a mess but we only owed $6,000. We fixed it up and put the sweat equity into it and were able to sell it for $38,000. We used some of that money to buy the home in Harbor Springs.
Bob Brazelton was my roommate when I moved back into that home to fix it up. What fun he was. He had gone to Mumford High, the school made famous by the Eddie Murphy movie “48 Hours”. The school made almost $20,000 selling t-shirts after Eddie Murphy wore one in the film. By then, the school was almost all Black. When Bob had gone there it was mostly Jewish. Bob spoke Yiddish. He had been the quarterback on the football team called in Yiddish, the Signals. I don’t know what would be harder in life than being the Black quarterback at a Jewish High School getting your ass kicked because Jews weren’t too big on playing football. They weren’t the biggest people in town when it came to size. Jewish people weren’t nearly as large as the Croatians, Polish and Italians. In fact, one of those teams had a front line that was larger than that of the Detroit Lions. Bob used to take a pretty ruff whooping. He knew more Jewish people then I had ever met for somebody that wasn’t Jewish. He had two boys and he was divorced.
The next apartment I had was in Indian Village Manor, which I had until I ended up moving to Maine in 1985.
When Ryan was born, I was traveling a lot and I wasn’t involved as much in family life as I should have been. To this day I do not have a close relationship with my son because I have never really been much of a father to him. Even though we made changes by going north, the marriage didn’t get any better. The farmhouse in Boyne City burned down and we ended up moving to Harbor Springs. We had a lovely home.
In 1978, Donna and I split up. I was still semi-involved with my children but it wasn’t always easy. I also had lost my job with the pollution control company in February of 1977. It was a break point year of everything for me. I had spent nine years with Duall Industries. They fired me in the morning and hired me back at noon as a manufacture’s representative. This meant I had to go out and make all the money on my own and start from scratch. I wasn’t afraid of doing that but I didn’t have any money saved initially to be able to back up my expenses. Things got real tight for the first nine months. Then I landed a job that allowed me to make a lot of money and pay back some of the debt. Then my marriage was over and I was on my own as a representative.
Initially, things were over with Donna and I but we were still married. In 1979, I had given some thought to putting it back together but it just wasn’t going to work. So it was all finalized and I got divorced. I have never remarried. I am not against it but if it’s going to be something I have to look for what I sought the first time and didn’t seem to end up with which is a friend and a lover. I still believe in the institution but I don’t think that I should be married to have some woman take care of the things that are traditionally looked on as woman’s things. I know how to cook and houseclean so it isn’t something that concerns me.
Going from education to business, never having a father who owned his own business, and never having worked where I saw how small business people develop their business, I took a bold step. I started my own business, Midwest Air Products Company (MAPCO), along with another man I had worked with at Duall Industries.
I had built Duall Industries from a $585,000 company to one worth 3 million in sales. I received a half a percent of their gross. Eventually, they didn’t want to pay it anymore so they finally fired me and hired me back as a rep. I struggled at first but eventually was making more money than they had previously been paying me. They fired me a second time when they found out I had a chance to make $100,000 on one job. That was a lot of money back in 1980. They sent their salesman in to see the engineer at the Gould Corporation in McConnelsville, Ohio where the job was and the engineer said, “We don’t buy off Duall Industries. We buy off Dave Niederstadt. I think you are wasting your time.”
Rick told me he felt bad about Duall. He said, “I didn’t want to go in. Don Stanton forced me.” Don was my former sales manager. He never liked me and he was a racist redneck. He was a typical Owosso, Michigan redneck: white socks, a huge redneck which would have fit well in any southern Sheriff movie and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. That was the real red, white and blue for sure. Of course, Owosso, Michigan was an extremely racist community besides being the home of Tom Dewey who ran for president. Tom was the first cousin to the owner of Duall Industries. Owosso was the town that was written up in the Malcolm X autobiography as the place you didn’t want to get a flat tire if you were traveling between relatives in Flint and Lansing, cities with sizable Black communities. I was never comfortable dealing with the Owosso crowd to start off with. My boss was such a racist that any time they got involved with anybody Black; they wanted me to deal with them. It was the same thing with women. I think I was able to move up with that company very quickly because for some strange reason in the Electro plating industry there were three major companies in America that all had women head buyers. I got along with all three of them. They were Utylite in Warren, MI, M & T Chemical Co. in Matawan, NJ and Allied Research Co in Highland Park, MI. They all had plating machines and needed duct work made of plastics, scrubbers, and fans to remove the acid out of the by-product to prevent it from going into the atmosphere. Anything that is plated, pickled or anodized in America needed a scrubber system. All three of those corporations also. I didn’t go in there and patronize no more than I would to the Black engineers I met. It was a people world to me. I had more than one black engineer tell me, “You know, you never tried to tell me a special little racist joke that they all come in with.” One guy said, “I have been doing business up in Owosso at this battery plant and no one has ever once taken me to the Owosso City Club.” I had demanded that he be taken to the Owosso City Club for lunch. The owners backed down and allowed him to come in. We ended up doing a lot of business with Clem Johnson. He would buy my children presents for Christmas as would the buyer, Marge Smith from Utylite and she would come and visit my house. So I was able to use some of my earlier experiences of learning to appreciate and treat all kinds of people to get a foothold in the business world. I worked for people who had better business backgrounds then I did.
Rick Whitehurst and I became business partners. We figured we would get that Gould order and build that whole job. We did. All of a sudden we were an instant threat to Duall because I had built their whole rep organization and I immediately started calling people all over the country that I was still in contact with as friends. Although I had never done anymore business with some, I would send a Christmas gift. I never bought anyone liquor. I would get them pistachio nuts or maple syrup. One guy had young children so I gave his kids a subscription to Ranger Rick. All of a sudden, I was back in business. I could call he and others up to do business without patronizing – I had already been their friend.
Duall was real scared about this so they decided they were going to sue me for going to their existing client base. They said I was stealing their knowledge. I replied, “First of all I know all their kids names. I know that the son of the California Rep goes to Rice University. You don’t even know how old the kid is. I know everything about him. I know his wife’s name. I broke bead with them. They have invited me to stay in their home. I’ve slept in their house over the weekend when I didn’t want to waste your companies money by flying home and then flying back out.” They couldn’t win on that one. I got a hold of all their records, as I knew one of the salesmen. I found out they were house-accounting me and not paying me commissions. Reps always say that happens to everybody but not me, I fight. After building my company up to over two million dollars a year, I went to court. I won over $100,000 of which my lawyer got the most. I still had enough money to pay off my debts and rethink my life.
In 1983, I was not having very good relationships with my ex-wife. When we initially divorced, we got along fairly well. We knew we weren’t meant for each other as husband and wife. It wasn’t going to be good for our children. So I agreed I would leave the family home. I quit my business because I was not involved with my children, I had three houses I was taking care of, and I was trying to keep the business afloat that was costing 24% interest. A banker had talked us into a quarter of a million-dollar SBA loan. He had financed a business that had failed and he wanted somebody in that factory. He kept saying, “You guys are growing to fast. You need a factory. You need this.” We should have stayed right where we were renting. I didn’t have the business background. Rick had a high school education.
I was just fed up. What and who am I living for and for what reasons? I walked in and gave Rick the business. I probably shouldn’t have done that – but I did even though I had built it. He is probably a very wealthy man. It was at that point that I went to try to re-establish my relationships with my children. I think it was probably a wise choice. I don’t think that I would be as healthy as I am today had I stayed in that business. I think I was on a road to destruction. Even though I was still running and eating right, the stress was destroying my life. I’m glad I made that call. I did have success in that business. I built it from nothing to 2 1/2 million dollars and then I walked away.
I moved to Maine and I built a show promotion business from scratch to $300,000 and then lost it all when the Mall management philosophy changed. I am still staying afloat and staying alive. Some days it is still short steaks and bad brakes and the only joy is dishwater detergent but I am alive. I am alive because I have that attitude that if “I live and last and death with pass” – as some woman told me one time down in New Orleans that I danced with at the Jazz and Heritage Festival. She was in her 70s – what a fun dancer. I said, “I’ll see you next year sweetheart.” She said, “If I live and last and death will pass.”
I have been able to carry this cultural game that I picked up on starting way back. With every culture, I look to know the good side. I don’t need to know about the bad. We are more similar than we are different even between the Jews and the Palestines. I remember when my daughter Leslie brought these students from Northern Ireland to my home. They were a mix of Catholics and Protestants here on exchange through a program called Friends Forever. They were here with the hopes that they might learn it isn’t always about a religious game. To get along you have to break bread and figure out how to make things work otherwise you will end up blowing each other up.
All these things seem to happen over religion and yet people are so much alike in so many ways. I try to get to know every culture. I think the only reason I have made it this long in Maine is because I know culture. Believe me, Maine is as different a culture as the inner city of Detroit. It is so opposite from everything that I ever grew up with. To survive it, I had to learn and respect it. The culture in Maine is something for which I have a lot of respect. Had I not been open to culture and people and learning what they are all about and why they do certain things I never would have made it this long in Maine. Deep down, I think it all started with my father who was that way. He was a people person, and it didn’t matter what color or how much money they made. He wasn’t impressed if they were millionaires. I think he did show me a way. I made my own decisions, but he was a good role model in that way for sure. That was important.
I have probably only had one true love relationship. I’ve had other loving relationships but it was the only time where I said to myself, “So this is what it is all about. This is what I always dreamed it would be. This is the friend and the lover with whom I could really spend the rest of my life.”
I don’t think I understood love when I got married. There is a good possibility that I married for the wrong reasons. I had gone through a timeframe at the University where you had to take tests to get into the school of education. I was honest about my responses. They called me in because they wanted to talk with me about a couple of feelings that I had expressed. I spoke with a psychologist and he said, “There is nothing wrong with you. I wanted to discuss some of these feelings you had regarding your parents”. I really respected my parents but I didn’t really love them. The therapist told me what I probably needed in my life was a woman and to be in a relationship that was meaningful. Up until that point, I hadn’t really dated much. I was always working. In the past, I’d had a few relationships with women and I had slept with some women. I felt that my sexual identity was all in order. When I married, I didn’t think hard about the person I was marrying and the idea of living with her the rest of my life. Had we lived together, which was taboo at the time, we wouldn’t have married. We did and I ended up with three children and I am not upset that it all happened as it did.
I was very cynical when I got divorced about relationships. I was in very good physical shape and I was attractive enough, educated and clean. I presented myself in a nice enough way that women seemed attracted to me. I had plenty of women to be involved with but I wasn’t interested in being in any real relationship. Than I met a woman named Ann Sinclair.
We became involved and I was thinking of it as I would have any other. She was a nice woman to be and do things with and make love with. I wasn’t looking at it as anything more than a passing through relationship but it didn’t go that way. It became a very strong and wonderful thing. I fell in love. I fell in love hard. We went out for about four years. After we broke up, I didn’t see her for about three years afterwards. She came up to Maine to visit me and I thought we would get back together. All the feelings and warmth were still there. We ate the same kinds of foods, did the same kind of physical activities and she loved to dance. We would go to Black bars, dance and have fun. She liked my friends. Ann filled all the requirements that I was looking for in a woman. She was probably the most important love relationship.
I’ve had other relationships that were important to me – some of which I have already discussed – JB Dixon, Frank McBride, and Bernard Simms. Bernard died a few years back and I cried. I really cried. That was tuff. I was sitting with “Bone” and Ernie Scott, two Black men with whom I’ve shared many good times. Bernard had introduced us.
Don Baker, the principle oboist in the Detroit Symphony has been a dear friend of mine for 28 years. He has been like a brother to me. I don’t see my own brother anymore – ever since I moved back from California and he stayed. We have different lives. He is a good man. He chooses never to come back and see anybody. I talk to him every other year or so on the telephone.
I have also grown closer to my two sisters. Our relationships are strong. I feel I have an exceptional relationship with my daughter, Leslie and a very strong relationship with my other daughter, Leah. Leslie has been more a part of my life and I have learned more things from her because she is open and honest with me and teaches me how to become a better human being. After Frank McBride, who early on in my life taught me many things, I feel she has had the next greatest influence on me.
After Annie and I broke up there was one other woman that I felt I could have married and that was Christina Cundari. She was a real together, fun, interesting, brilliant woman. I always learned things from her and felt open to growing and learning from her. We had a lot of fun together. She left to work for NASA down in Florida and married another guy named David.
This past spring I ran into Ann Sinclair at a party up in Harbor Springs. She too is now divorced. It was nice to see her again. I’d like to find somebody like those two women to be in my life permanently, but I am content if that doesn’t happen. That real wonderful and lasting love relationship has evaded me up until now and it may be something with which I have to live. I envy people who have been involved for thirty years and still love each other and have fun together. I think that is cool. It was just something that didn’t come my way. Partly it is my own fault and maybe partly the way my jobs were. I didn’t have contact and opportunities to meet single women. Some people would say it is because I am such a picky son of a gun.
*See the attached “Average White Boy” song. I decided that I would add a song written about me. A friend, Mark Moultrup, wrote it. He is a Jazz Musician who I used to take on little jaunts into the city of Detroit in the middle to late 80s. In 1989, he wrote the song the Average White Boy.
The name, the Average White Boy, was given to me in the early 70s. At the same time, the Average White Band hit the states with the song, “Pick up the pieces”. It was huge on jukeboxes in the Black communities. The only thing was many people didn’t know the band was white and from Scotland. It just said AWB. Having been picked on more than once at the Raven Lounge where I used to hang out, I was happy to see AWB on the jukebox there. There was an old gentleman that used to say to me, “Whatchyou doin’ at that jukebox white boy? There ain’t none of your people’s music on there.” I would explain how I grew up on rhythm and blues and how I loved it. I just put up with him. It was all about havin’ fun. One day, I went over to the jukebox and saw, “Pick up the pieces”. I played the song and came back and said, “It’s about time you got some of my people’s music on your jukebox here.” He said, “there ain’t no whities on that jukebox.” I said, “No you are wrong. That band there is the Average White Band.” He made me a twenty-dollar bet and the next time I came in the bar I had the album with me. My man, Daryl behind the bar verified it and I won the twenty dollars, which I promptly spent by buying a round of drinks for everyone in the bar. We had a lot of fun. The next time I walked into the Raven Lounge they said, “Here comes the Average White Boy.” The name has stuck. I’ve enjoyed having that name. Many people don’t even know me by the name David. They call me Average. I like it. It has little bit of a hit to it of which I like the sound. Ann Sinclair and two of Leslie’s friends, Little Bear and Man’s Ruin, say it well.
This is Volume 1 of my story; we’ll do Volumes 2,3, & 4 depending on how long I live. I’d like to close out right now because I know there are deadlines to be met with the publishing people. I’m going to sign off with a little bit of verbiage from a song by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. Curtis is one of my all time favorites going back to when he sang with Jerry Butler in the late 50’s/early 60’s, “For your Precious Love”. With the Impressions, he sang a lot of consciousness music about bringing my people up and being part of the American dream. The Impressions had a song that stuck with me. The words are some that people should think about in terms of how to live life. “When you wake up early in the morning, feeling sad like so many of us do. Hum a little soul, make life your goal and surely something’s gotta come to you.” This is the Average White Boy AKA David Niederstadt signing off. Make sure you keep it on the backbeat out there in life. Catch ya’ later.
Middle Class White Boy song by Mose Allison.
This is my final message. I have added to the story something new that has come into my life recently within the past year. I had an opportunity to be a disc jockey at Bowdoin College. I was able to put forth in musical form some of the things that I’d learned throughout my life. Things I learned in dealing across cultural lines throughout America that I thought might be worthy to pass on to the students and the people in the Mid Coast Community. I had a lot of fun with it. As I had many experiences being out there with the stoop brothers and the righteous people of the city of Detroit and of America, I brought forth some of their thoughts and feelings about life and had a great time. In thinking about my future in the 21st century and what I could be remembered by, I surely wouldn’t mind being a 21st century stoop brother out there sending some messages down in a simple form. Maybe there is a future in the music business for me. I don’t know. I am certainly going to keep trying to pass goodness on in life. Peace, love and everybody enjoy. Take Care.