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    Ypsilanti police are still searching for the person dubbed the “mystery pooper.” Someone has been, as the Associated Press politely puts it today, “soiling slides at an Ypislanti playground over the last six months.” So, of course, someone purchased an electronic billboard along I-94 near Huron St. at exit 183 that delivers multiple calls for action: For instance,”Help us flush the pooper.” The company that purchased the billboard, Adams Outdoor Advertising, knows how to reach the world in the 21st Century, branding each billboard with a hashtag for the public utilize in its efforts: #ypsipooper. WJBK-TV says the billboard also toggles through other rich lines, such as: “Do your civic doody, report the pooper #YPSIPOOPER” “Help us catch the poopetrator #YPSIPOOPER.” You can have the runs, but you can’t hide. They’re still looking for you, Mystery Pooper.

    The post The Ypsilanti mystery pooper saga continues appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • City Slang: DJ AvA, Chuck Flask & Keith Kemp preview Movement at Urban Bean Co.

    It’s a really, very cool idea. Paxahau, the good people behind the Movement Electronic Music Festival, are hosting a series of warm-up events, or previews, to the big festival which takes place Memorial Day weekend. On Thursday evening, Movement moved into the Urban Coffee Bean on Grand River in Detroit. While Dj AvA and Chuck Flask & Keith Kemp ably worked the decks, the regular coffee shop goings on continued behind them. It made for an interesting and amusing webcast experience – one guy was taking a nap on camera, while others supped coffee and tappd their feet. It should come as no surprise – the Urban Coffee Co. people have always been big supporters of electronic music. The place includes a DJ stand, and co-owner Josh Greenwood encourages customers to bring their own vinyl and spin on the open turntables. Not on Thursday night though. This being a coffee shop, and it not being particularly late at night, the music remained pretty chill throughout. DJ AvA (real name Heather McGuigan) includes Beth Orton, Madonna, the B-52’s, Daftpunk and David Byrne among her list of influences, so you know that she’s capable of both whipping up a storm and also […]

    The post City Slang: DJ AvA, Chuck Flask & Keith Kemp preview Movement at Urban Bean Co. appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Here is why landlords could do well in Wayne County

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    The post Here is why landlords could do well in Wayne County appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • The Record Store Day Guide for metro Detroit

    This Saturday, audiophiles across the world will venture out to their favorite independent record stores in search of limited releases that quickly become collectors items. The third Saturday of April marks the fairly new international holiday Record Store Day. There are certainly dos and don’ts to know for RSD — like where to shop, and how to shop. That’s right, there is an etiquette to shopping on Record Store Day and violating that code makes you look like a real asshole. In my experience of celebrating Record Store Day, I’ve seen stores use a few different tactics as far as stocking the special releases. Some establishments will set up a table, somewhere in the store, where a few shoppers at a time can flip through records in a calm and contained manner. Other places will have a similar setup, with all the releases at a table, but shoppers ask the store employees for the releases they want. It’s like a record nerd stock exchange. This process gets loud, slightly confusing and incredibly annoying — this is where elbows start getting thrown. Then, there are places that put the releases on the shelves, usually categorized by size — twelve inches with the twelve inches, seven inches with the seven inches and […]

    The post The Record Store Day Guide for metro Detroit appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • City Slang: DEMF 2014 canceled

    The Detroit Electronic Music Festival, which was supposed to be making a triumphant return this year, has been canceled. A statement on the website says that the festival will be back in 2015. Back in November, Ford Field hosted an announcement party for DEMF, where it was revealed that a new DEMF festival would take place at Campus Martius Park in Detroit over the July 4th weekend. “I’m proud to be involved in the biggest and best electronic music festival in the world,” said Juan Atkins. “The future’s here. This is techno scene.” Not the immediate future, apparently. The DEMF people claim that the M-1 rail construction is partially to blame for the cancellation/12-month-postponement. Read the full statement here. Follow @City_Slang

    The post City Slang: DEMF 2014 canceled appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Metro Times wins heavy at the SPJ Awards

    Despite a turbulent 2013 which saw Metro Times change owners, move buildings and change editors twice, we picked up eight awards at the Society of Professional Journalists Awards on Wednesday night. The big winner was Robert Nixon, design manager, who picked up a first place for “Feature Page Design (Class A)” for our Josh Malerman cover story, first for “Cover Design (Class A)” for our Halloween issue (alongside illustrator John Dunivant), and a second in that same category for our annual Lust issue. In the news categories, our esteemed former news editor and current contributing writer Curt Guyette won third in “General News Reporting” and third in “Best Consumer/Watchdog” – both Class A – for the Fairground Zero and Petcoke Series respectively. Music & Culture Editor Brett Callwood placed third for his Josh Malerman cover story in the “Best Personality Profile (Class A)” category, and former editor Bryan Gottlieb picked up a couple of Class C awards for “Editorial Writing” and “Headline Writing” (third and second, respectively). We were also pleased to learn that our investigative reporter Ryan Felton won first place and an honorable mention for work published while at the Oakland Press. The MT ship is steady now, […]

    The post Metro Times wins heavy at the SPJ Awards appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.



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Herbal essences

A little Detroit store dispenses the remedies of a fading tradition

Photo: , License: N/A

Gary Wanttaja stands before his jars of herbs.

Silence lingers in the old shop the way it would inside a library, as if to say that here too, years of accumulated wisdom are stored and revered.

The old wood shelves on the walls are lined with hundreds of glass jars filled with colorful powders and mysterious leaves, like containers of magic potions. Some jars are clear; many are brown to protect their contents from the light. A small label on each says in carefully hand-printed letters what they hold. 

Irish moss sits dried and crumbled in one, myrrh fills half of another with fine grains. They share shelf space with the oat straw and the yam root, the hyssop and the shepherd's purse, the sassafras bark and the coltsfoot. 

This small room is home to Nature's Products, a bulk herb store whose simple name reflects the essence of its conviction — that long before the modern drug industry, nature provided cures to most of our ailments. It sits in a plain building on Conant by Seven Mile, a dusty stretch of road where its closest neighbor is a noisy collision shop that strews crumpled cars along what little parking the road affords. With its dim lighting and old tin ceiling, the shop has the air of an apothecary a century ago.

Its regular customers are practitioners of folk medicine, who use the herbs in traditional remedies often passed down through families or learned from neighbors in the rural countryside. So the labels describe the jars' contents not in their proper name, but in their common one. Thus the euphrasia is labeled as eyebright, to indicate what it does, and the phytolacca is introduced by its vernacular name of pokeroot, to suggest what it looks like.

When someone comes for help with an illness, or for an ingredient for a family concoction, owner Gary Wanttaja will twist the lid off one of those big jars, pour a portion into a plastic bag using his eyes as a measuring stick, then confirm his estimation by putting the bag on one side of an ancient, heavy metal scale that sits in the sunlit window among all the houseplants angling for the light.

But that ritual happens less every year, and not just because business is slow, as it is throughout the city. The hand-me-down knowledge this store embodies is utilized mostly by old folks now, and they're dying off. And marking a break in a long chain, they say their children and grandchildren have little interest in learning the old ways. The tradition is slowly fading away.

"It's not just here, it's happening all over the planet," says the slight, pale Wanttaja, 54. "They're changing all over. They're looking at this like, 'This is the old way, this is going backwards. We need to go forwards.' Their attitude is, like, 'We don't need all this funky weeds and seeds.' And that was what kind of happened here."

Wanttaja had severe allergies when he was young, and he turned to alternative medicine when doctors couldn't help. "Regular medicine just wasn't doing anything," he says. "So after a couple of years of changing my diet, using nutrition and using the herbs and realizing it worked, I started looking at more alternative things, and I thought I'd like to do this as a living."

He opened the store in 1978, in an old building that used to be the neighborhood's little grocery store. At first he expected the growing interest in alternative medicine at the time would provide him a natural customer base. He was wrong. "I thought I might have all these hippies coming in here," he laughs. 

But to his surprise, most of the customers were middle-aged and elderly black people from the neighborhood, many who grew up in deep poverty down South, where for years they had little access to doctors or modern medicine. For them, the woods and the backyard garden were the pharmacy.

"You've got a sick kid, what are you gonna do? You look through the options — I could go to the doctor but I don't have money, I could watch the kid burn up with a fever, or go talk to your neighbor, who knows to use some herbs. So that became part of the culture. A lot of Detroit came in around World War II to work in the factories, so they brought that culture with them."

His customers began sharing with him years of shared secrets and traditions, and he became a repository for different strains of herbal knowledge. "I just started logging this information, and after years it was kind of neat," he says. "You get an idea of what they were using down through the South, and they were happy to share it."

But he's not supposed to share it himself. Telling customers what to take for certain ailments crosses the line into practicing medicine, and could land him in trouble. Instead he shares stories of how certain herbs worked for him personally, and from those hints, some of his longtime customers have realized that he knows more than he's letting on.

"Gary knows it, he just won't tell you a lot," says 78-year-old Faith, an eccentric, longtime regular who years ago rechristened herself with that single name. "He'll tell you he's not a doctor, but as far as knowing it, he does know it."

She grew up in the backwoods of Louisiana, where the family created cures from things growing in the wilds out back. "There weren't any doctors," the 78-year-old says. "The only thing you had was herbs. And you had an herb for everything. They used them to heal us with the things that just got on everyone's nerves. We call them weeds, but yet these herbs heal." 

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