Tales from Detroit: a duck dealer outlasts drug dealers and gets an assist from the city
Suzanne Scoville is pretty much like the rest of us: She just wants to be left alone to raise a few ducks, operate an inner-city bed-and-breakfast, tend to the rest of her growing empire on a battered east-side block and avoid a stalker known as Machine Gun Cutty.
All she needs from the City of Detroit is some cooperation now and then. And what did she get last week?
Some cooperation, actually. And from the county, too.
It was such a novel experience compared to her last few interludes, and it bodes so well, that it seems worth mentioning. Or even doing the Wave for, considering what a chore the city has historically made of the simplest tasks.
Scoville, 44, bought her main house on Neff Avenue 11 years ago, before all the cool kids were doing it.
A licensed contractor, she did such a nice job restoring it that she rents it on airbnb.com for $90 or more per night. When business booms during holidays or the Movement Electronic Music Festival, she moves two doors down to another home she’s partway through restoring.
Her compound now includes those two houses, a third one north of the second one, two empty lots and “my dream garage,” which is actually across the alley behind her.
Occasionally, she might have to hose down her house while the crack palace next door burns most of the way to the ground. And she shot video not long ago while scrappers helped themselves to a garage door.
“It seems extreme,” she says, “but it’s an extreme kind of city.” Which she loves and feels obligated to, even as one absurdity leads to another.
Before she owned it, for instance, a noted bus stop rapist squatted in the middle house and defecated in the bathtub. Who knows? If he’d been a bit more notorious, she might have been able to sell it on eBay – the poop, that is, not the property.
All of that serves as preamble to her trip downtown, which was necessitated by her stalker.
Machine Gun Cutty is a street name, not the one on the certificate marking his misbegotten birth.
He lived around the corner last year, and he was prone to ill temper and displaying weaponry. Not only was he appearing uninvited in Scoville’s life, she says, he was threatening to obtain what’s now her third house through the Detroit Planning and Development Department.
The house had already won the Triple Crown of urban decay: slumlord, squatters, drug dealers. Scoville bought it, and if $3,900 seems high, how do you put a price on not living next door to Machine Gun Cutty?
Besides, she says, “I’m investing in my neighborhood.”
But she was not prepared to invest another $6,000, which is what the county was suddenly telling her she owed in taxes.
Quarters and snacks
Back taxes on the Cutty house were supposed to be forgiven.
It was a poorly timed snafu because if her taxes were listed as unpaid, she wouldn’t be given the deed to her dream garage, purchased in a county auction, and she wouldn’t be eligible to bid on (and then tear down) the charred husk of a home next door to it.
The deadline was today, so she sighed and grumbled and prepared to do battle with bureaucracy.
“There’s a whole routine,” she says. “You bring a bunch of quarters and a bunch of snacks.”
Experience told her that the surroundings would be dreary and the assistance would be minimal. Off she went – and it was like discovering Oz.
Offices were more accessible, she says, and surroundings were more inviting. People were helpful.
In reasonably short order, she learned that yes, the proper information had been forwarded to the county in February. As she waited, a department head forwarded it again.
Not only that, he told her not to bother buying the charred husk; instead, he’d tag it for demolition.
Clearly, Scoville says, effort has been put into offering help instead of just bored stares – and yes, confirms John Roach from the mayor’s office, that’s been a focus.
Most assuredly, perfection has not yet been achieved and frustration runs rampant. But life is case-by-case, and making things even more blissful for Scoville, someone from the county called as she was pulling into her driveway to tell her everything was taken care of.
“Super!” she said. “Thank you!”
Then she jumped out, triumphantly slammed her door, and locked her keys in the car.
Like she said – it’s a city of extremes.