Full Circle by Thad Ray

March 5, 2012

Editor’s Note: I received an email a couple weeks ago from Thad Ray. Thad had a couple essays he wanted to submit to MasonCountyPress.com. He had written them for an English composition class at West Shore Community College and received favorable grades from his professor. I read them through and thought they were quite unique, especially today’s piece. Thad tells a story from a different, but valuable, perspective. His introductory autobiography does a much better job at describing himself than I can do, so I will let him speak for himself. But, I hope that he continues to submit because I like his edge!



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It’s always a struggle for me to write these “About Me” pieces. I agonized for hours trying to figure out what to write for my Facebook bio. I can tell you about myself, that’s no problem: I was born in Memorial Medical Center and raised in Ludington. I went to Ludington Area Catholic, O.J. DeJonge Junior High, and Ludington High School. I currently go to West Shore Community College. I work at Dreamweaver Lure Company and I also write part time for a large Internet publishing company.

I can list facts about my life and tell you about my likes and dislikes rather easily. For me the hard part comes when I try to get across who I really am, not what I do, or what I like, but that something that makes me me.

So far, writing is the best tool I’ve found to chip away all the “What I do’s” and “What I likes” to get to the core of who I am.

I think that who I am changes every day, and summing it up in a few short sentences is beyond my skills as a writer.

I had heard this quote a while back and it’s kind of stuck with me because I think it describes my writing process almost to a T. I Googled what I could remember of the quote, thinking that it had to do with Michelangelo (who actually said something similar), but it turns out that it came from the movie “Rambo 3.”

In the movie Rambo’s commanding officer tells this story about a sculptor who finds a stone, a very special stone. He worked at it for months and months until finally, when it was finished, he revealed it to his family and friends who lauded his work as a masterpiece and heaped praises on him for creating such great work of art. The sculptor said that he hadn’t created anything. The statue had always been there. He had just cleared away the small pieces surrounding it.

When Rob asked me to do a short bio I dreaded the idea. As I said at the beginning, these types of things are always a struggle for me. So instead of telling you who I think I am, I’d rather just write and try and clear away all the small pieces and let you decide for yourselves.


The Neighborhood


Most of the houses are run down and the streets are in need of repair. There are no manicured lawns, and the days I see blue lights in my neighborhood happen almost as frequently as the days that I don’t. There have been drug busts, stabbings, overdoses and even a drive by shooting. Across the dirt alley behind my house is a factory that clatters and clangs like a truckload of pots and pans tumbling down a hill.

I grew up three blocks from where I now live and although it’s the same neighborhood, it seems like a whole different world.

Growing up I wasn’t allowed on Melendy Street which is where I now live. I had friends on Danaher Street that I could play with, but my parents preferred that we play at my house. Danaher was a little too close to the dreaded Melendy Street.

I was an anomaly in my neighborhood because I went to Ludington Area Catholic. Almost everyone else went to Foster School. In second grade at Foster, I got in trouble because the kid who dared me to pull down the fire alarm told on me after I did it.

My parents thought that my friends were the reason I got in trouble. That belief led them to enroll me in a private school. They would later find out that that I was quite capable of getting into trouble on my own, but that’s another tale.

By going to a private school I missed out on a lot of the happenings in my neighborhood. The people who I went to school with weren’t like the people whom I hung out with after school. The kids I was in class with were the children of doctors and lawyers, accountants and architects. There were a few blue collars, but most of the LAC kids had parents that made white collars seem a little bit dirty.

In my neighborhood kids swore and sneaked behind bushes to smoke cigarettes. They got suspended for bringing knives to school. My friend’s mom got in trouble for bringing in pot brownies as the class treat on her son’s birthday. I was in a gang called the Black Tigers; membership, four.

My dad worked at Harrington Tool and Die when we first moved here, and my stepmom taught ceramic classes and tended bar at the Towne House. I don’t know what a lot of my friends’ parents did, hell; I’m not even sure if half the kids knew what their parents did. It wasn’t a subject that came up very often.

For a long time we played basketball at the old St. Simon’s church. When we first moved to the neighborhood the actual church was still there. By high school the church was gone, but the basketball court remained. We spent hours dunking on the 9-foot rim.

In the spot where the majestic church once stood, is the city police department. I don’t know if they thought that moving the police department into the neighborhood was going to help, or if they just got the land really cheap. Either way, the architecture in the neighborhood took a couple of steps backwards, and we lost a great basketball court.

Next to the police department is AJ’s Party Port. AJ’s is part of a dying breed; the mom and pop store. Les Johnson and his wife bought the store five or six years ago from Greg Meisner. When Greg owned the store it was called Captain John’s. The actual Captain John was Greg’s dad, and I don’t think he was actually a captain, but I think he originally owned the store.

A block to the south of A.J.’s is an abandoned building with a broken sign out front. When I was young it was called Lion’s Market, or maybe Lion’s Super Market. I don’t remember. I do remember going shopping there with my step mom, and if they didn’t have something we needed we would go to The Market Basket , another grocery store in the neighborhood, to get it.

Gunberg’s Appliance is in the building The Market Basket used to be in, and old Mabel Gunberg will cut you a hell of a deal on a washer , dryer, dishwasher or any other appliance your heart desires.

Next to Gunberg’s is Bud’s Tap Room. That’s always been there.

It’s funny walking through the neighborhood and seeing what’s changed and what hasn’t. There’s still graffiti that I spray painted on a building when I was 14. Apparently it wasn’t enough of an eyesore to bother cleaning off. I think that was my first and last piece of graffiti, although for years after I had dreams about going back and painting a huge mural.

I have walked and ridden my bike over every sidewalk block and curb in this neighborhood. I’ve skinned my knees and left my blood, sweat and tears deposited throughout. I’ve kissed girls, gotten in fights, and learned from all of it. I grew up here. This is my neighborhood, not because I live in it, but because it lives in me.

I started thinking about how different this neighborhood was when I moved back here a couple of months ago. I had some friends over and we were on my front porch drinking beer. It was a warm evening, and I looked up and down the street and saw that on almost every porch there were people doing the same thing that we were. Just hanging out.

I spent quite a bit of time on my porch drinking beer after that, and I began to notice that in this neighborhood there were always people milling about. People hanging out on porches, people walking up and down the street, people just being people, doing what people do. The dancers might change, but the music was always there.

In the summer if you go down my street it’s like a block party. On almost any night you can walk down Melendy from James Street to Washington Avenue, and on every block people are sitting on porches and standing in yards socializing. There are kids riding their bikes up and down the street, kids skateboarding, and cats roaming unmolested.

When I drive through other neighborhoods I rarely see people hanging out on their porches. The only people that I see walking are generally power walking. As in walking for exercise.

In my neighborhood people walk because they need to go somewhere and they don’t have a ride. Feet are a completely viable form of transportation.

I started noticing that other neighborhoods seemed kind of sterile. Like there’s no life left in them. The people seem plastic, cut from the same mold. As if they’re going through the motions of life, but don’t understand what living is.

In my neighborhood life can sometimes be too real. When a guy and his girlfriend get into a screaming match at 1 in the morning after sitting on the front porch drinking all day, or when the cops hang around because they figure sooner or later something is going to happen.

I can’t say for sure what a good or bad neighborhood is. I think it depends on what you’re looking for. I know that eventually I’ll move away from here. That is the way of progress and of life. Forward motion is how evolution works. Just as the things that I remember from my childhood have changed to other things, so do we as people change to other things. To not evolve is to die.

The environment that shaped us remains a part of us, and the things we learn there we apply to all aspects of our lives. This is the place I was forged, and I never realized how deeply it impacted me until recently. I have come around full circle.

It is here that I come to lick my wounds and heal. It is here that I will walk and contemplate the course of my life. It is here that I will think and dream and move onto grander adventures. It is here that I will gather my thoughts and plan my tomorrows. Here, in this neighborhood.

Earlier I said that it was like two different worlds, but I’m seeing now that it’s the same world. A world that evolved and changed because that is the nature of things.

Everyone looks back on their childhood and fantasizes about how much better things were. But the truth is that things are what they are. It’s how you look at them that makes the difference.

Yes, the neighborhood is run down, and the houses have seen better days. The streets are full of potholes, and there are a lot of stray cats. But there is also life here. Pulsing, throbbing, vibrant life. Real, not censored for television life, nor a cookie cutter plastic facsimile thereof. Things are the way they are. It’s the good and the bad that make us who we are; without one the other does not exist. So good or bad, this is the place that made me.

I haven’t taken a walk through the neighborhood in a while. With work and school and my daughter, life gets kind of hectic. But I’m going to soon. These sidewalks and buildings tell the story of thousands of lives, really, thousands of different stories. And when I walk through the streets, on certain nights, it’s almost as if they’re speaking to me saying “Welcome Home.” And though I’ve lived in other places and will again, in my heart; in the part of me that matters, the part of me I always return to, this is home.


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