Detroit’s assault on me started at the airport, where two unreasonably cheerful airline employees said my suitcase was lost. By the time they found it, I’d overdosed on their accent. My old accent. The nasal honk I ditched the second I arrived in New York City and spent seven years pretending I never had. I called myself the man from nowhere, and if pressed on my birthplace, I’d say “a small town,” which always worked. New Yorkers don’t give a shit about your small town.
Whenever someone got me to name the fucking state — the state that reluctantly tolerated my birth and stood by in its silently judgmental way the walls of my parents' house were filled with holes — they’d ask why I lacked the accent, which is famous for sounding backward, with vowels the speaker had to pinch their nose to say or risk being hit with the stink of rotting lettuce. I’d say the Internet told me accents are partly formed by how much you want to resemble the people around you, so I’d picked people to imitate who weren’t the fucks I’d grown up with.
But you’re never supposed to admit you hate where you’re from — not if it’s a small town. Oh, you’re allowed to have a mild distaste for your suburb. You can admit to liking big-box houses and identically square backyards and streets people never appear on if they’re not getting into or out of their cars, but it’s also OK to say a lifestyle based on buying shit to stockpile in a house among empty porches and quiet yards is a form of death. If you need to turn people against a city, mention crime, and people’s heads will fill with rape and murder, whether those acts occur in large numbers in the city you named or not. The city can be demonized any way you want. It can be the blackness to the suburban white; a devil, even if your city stories are full of warmth and light.
But small towns form the backbone of a romanticized America. Abandoned factory towns like the one I grew up in, which had traded self-love for an ever-expanding hate against whomever we blamed for taking the factories away. If I closed my eyes, I could see my native dose of small-town hate as a training regimen and pretended that shit had turned me tough, like an experimental medicine too rough for the general market; but really, I blamed my hometown for wrecking my family. If we’d lived someplace bigger, we would have had something more entertaining to do than resent one another.
I accepted my suitcase and told the airline people that our whole band was from New York before anyone could volunteer a Midwestern hometown that would draw questions about the origins of the only half-faded Midwestern accents that Wesley and Ethan and Natal had, but the fucking airline employees wrecked the moment by saying NYC was “very nice,” with the tone they’d use to praise a rice pilaf. Wesley knew to drag me outside before I could argue them from rice pilaf to bloody steak. His gentle hand clutched my shirt hem and dropped me into the backseat of his dad’s gold, ’70s Cadillac, a car large enough to masquerade as a boat in a pinch.
We left the airport and took a highway lined with polite billboards for plumbing and locksmithery. I missed Williamsburg already, where people had ditched politeness for silence or a generously offered warmth, where small talk might become a story about a building super who had saved enough money to buy a burger chain in New Mexico or a quest to drink out the night together. I hated the Midwest, but I’d loved it once, too, at seventeen, as a tan guy who felt like talking to Natal, the other tan guy at school. I had zero idea that we’d talk our way into our first band in his parents’ basement, where I lived when living at home proved impossible; the band was a rap-rock hybrid that deserved to die, just like all other unholy combinations of two genres of music that sounded less tragic on their own. But we couldn’t live without our take on the sound: harsh, fake drums and the lyrics that slashed across them until our ears rang. For a while, our sound satisfied us for being new. I believed in our mistakes because they taught us how to come up with lyrics and mix them with music, so later, when we wrote better songs, we knew how to perform and record them.