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Wednesday, July 16,2014

Oddball lansing

Several Lansing-area oddities made it into Jerome Pohlen´s “Oddball Michigan” (see related story) but there are plenty more. Here are some things he missed.

by City Pulse
1. Remy eat world

Remy Mumby is currently greater Lansing’s most famous, and interesting, oddity.

Mumby, 14, has posted over 100 YouTube videos in which he cheerfully samples exotic foods like tarantulas, scorpions and balut, or partially developed duck embryo, a delicacy in southeast Asia. He started the series as a moppet of 8 and plans to continue them indefinitely.

Mumby’s upbeat, offbeat videos earned him a slot on “America´s Got Talent” July 1. (The judges seemed to enjoy his gustatory display, but he was eliminated from further competition by “no” votes from Howard Stern and Heidi Klum.)

The grossout factor is Mumby’s hook, but he really relishes the chance to explain the folkways and history behind each food he eats. This tousle-haired, all- American kid, headed for the wrestling team at Lansing Catholic Central this fall, is a living rebuke to the conservative Midwestern mindset.

“There are chicken fingers on the adult menu at some restaurants,” he lamented. “They still won´t try any other stuff.”

Mumby said he has always had a curious palate. When his baby brother was born, he realized “there were people who didn´t like things.” Later, when he went to school and saw how squeamishly his peers ate, he realized he was special.

“I’m eating sushi, I´m eating lima beans, why not dig a little deeper?” he said. He was on the road to ant eggs and lutefisk. His two grandmothers and a great grandmother egged him on, suggesting he post videos of his oral adventures.

“It’s not as much about the taste of the food, it’s about where the food came from,” he said. “I’m trying to show that there are people different from us who may eat foods that seem crazy to us, but it´s everyday food to them.”

His favorite example is the tarantula, which became a staple of the Cambodian diet during the privations of Khmer Rouge rule. (The legs are excellent deep fried.)

“Behind every meal, there´s a story,” Mumby said. “Scorpions, for example, aren´t something to run away from in southeast Asia. They’re something to put in a frying pan. They have deep fried scorpion on a stick, like corn dogs.”

Mumby has munched his way, smiling, through dishes of rattlesnake, bamboo worms, pork brains (“tastes like pork”) and swingin’ sirloin (bull testicles), but he met his match in a mess called stinky tofu, a prized dish in parts of China which he described as “tofu covered in fish, salt and ash and left to rot.”

“Apparently it´s better deep fried, but I couldn´t ever imagine it being considered good,” he said.

Surströmming, a Swedish fermented herring dish banned from some airlines because of its pressurized gases, was another gorge-raising challenge. “This is horrible," he gasps in the video, opening the can with tears in his eyes. "Rancid, putrefied, foul.” Fighting the messages from his brain, he swallowed a bite, “for my dignity.”

Mumby has gotten hundreds of text, tweets, emails and Facebook messages, many of them from grateful parents whose kids found him while surfing the Web, got hooked on the series and started showing an interest in other foods and cultures. “I wanted to show kids they could try stuff other than what they get at McDonald’s,” Mumby said. “I didn’t think it would be super successful.”

He plans to keep making videos, but he expects the pace to slow as he adjusts to high school. There are plenty of foods he’s dying to try, including the potentially deadly puffer fish.

“I’m trying to get my hands on a stingray, but apparently it´s not stingray season,” he shrugged.

2. Earthly grave of ‘the stratosphere man‘

Nobody made his “pre-need” funeral arrangements more public than Arzeno E. Selden, “the Stratosphere Man of Lansing, Michigan.”

Selden, a high-wire daredevil who performed for millions of people around the country, made his tombstone the centerpiece of a nationwide publicity campaign.

“Located in Deepdale Cemetery, Lansing, Michigan, Selden´s tombstone is ready and waiting,” trumpeted an ad in the Nov. 25, 1950, Billboard Magazine. Go to Deepdale Memorial Gardens, at 4108 Old Lansing Road, to see the elaborate, poignant stone, which waits no longer.

The stone was unveiled May 20, 1950, as part of Lansing´s Mid-Century Festival, with Selden doing his act directly above the monument.

“Alive … and still performing the world´s highest aerial act,” the ad read. “But … one never knows when something may happen … so it is best to be prepared!”

Selden danced with that stone many times. In June 1947, he performed before 300,000 people in Chicago, his biggest crowd ever. His closest brush with death came before a crowd of 25,000 at Pittsburgh´s Kennywood Park in 1944. As he slid down a wire by his neck from the top of a 175-foot pole, the brakes on his wire slide failed. The fall crushed his collarbone, chest and ribs. A doctor advised him to quit because of a bad heart, but he outlived the doctor, who died of a heart attack.

Selden exuded a cheerful fatalism that suited his profession. His wife was killed falling from a trapeze in 1930. A colleague, “The Great Peters,” hung himself in a hangman’s act in St. Louis while working with Selden. “We all go on until we go out,” Selden philosophized.

Selden died of a heart attack in 1950, a week after falling 50 feet during a performance in Florida, fracturing his hip and leg.

3. The ghost theater

Usually, when grand old theaters are turned into parking lots, they don´t leave ghosts behind, but Lansing´s downtown Michigan Theater did.

Look at the back of the building at 211 Washington Square, from the Grand Avenue backside, and you will distinctly see the terraced seating, French-style balcony curves and “vomitoria” (exits to the lobby) of the old vaudeville and movie house, built in 1921 as the Strand and renamed the Michigan in 1940. The salmon paint job makes the old auditorium’s innards look like a Pueblo cliff dwelling.

After the theater closed in 1980, its elaborate front arcade facing Washington Square was turned into mixed use office space, but a fundraising drive (including a concert by jazz legend Dave Brubeck) failed to save the whole structure.

In its heyday, the ceiling of the Strand was painted sky blue with wisps of clouds. Now the phantom seats look up at the real thing.

4. Shortest pier in the Great Lakes

Now that the Grand River is cleaner than it´s been in decades and the River Trail is giving the water a hug, the city is trying to whip up kayak and canoe traffic, but this silly dock shows how far it has to go. The “shortest” claim is unprovable but, at about four and a half ducks long, the Metro Marina dock in the heart of downtown Lansing is absurdly small next to the Grand River and the large buildings surrounding it.

5. Cops, robbers and elephants

Stone elephants guard a strange menagerie of masonry in the heart of downtown Lansing, cloaked in the dignity of the city’s most venerable bank.

Look for two hunched figures near the top of a window on the Michigan Avenue side of Comerica Bank at 101 Washington Ave., designed in 1933 for the Bank of Lansing by the New York architecture firm York and Sawyer, builders of the Federal Reserve in New York.

To an architect, the two lurkers are corbels — small supports that seem to hold up the top of the window frame. But they´ve got business of their own. One holds a nightstick and the other a bag of cash. The cop and robber are carved in stone like medieval demons. A man with his hand on his jaw and a dentist with a tooth extractor take corresponding places on the opposite window. (The upper floors of the building used to house medical offices.)

No classical Greek austerity here. This is a money palace to match the era’s baroque movie palaces, with scrolled archways, giant tile mosaics, limestone walls and painted leather-covered wooden beams. Inside and out, hundreds of details are carved into the walls, from monetary symbols to abstract patterns to cameo roles by real people, including modernist Lansing architect Kenneth C. Black and former City National Bank president Benjamin F. Davis, who didn’t like his likeness because he thought it made him look like a miser.

Perched high above the tellers, Davis looks like he’s about to kiss a bag of cash.



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