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Blue Star



By Scott Sullivan



Head’s up, guys! It’s National Condom Month …

“Cut!” the director cried. “Take two:”

Here’s a tip …

“Never mind,” he said.


When I was a boy, my parents took us on trips through West Michigan. Heading home Sundays, we couldn’t find restaurants open.

“It’s the Lord’s Day from Grand Rapids to Holland,” my dad said. We couldn’t wait to reach Saugatuck, where sin never took a holiday.

Times have changed. Who’d have thought back then that the Ottawa County Health Department would announce this is National Condom Month. The OCHD provides for Allegan County too.

Of course most of us, even now, just say no. Should the flesh be weak, though, you can stock up at Blackwater Tattoo & Piercings, Bubba’s Sports Bar and other fine Allegan establishments, plus the county parole and probation office. In Holland, try Hoodoo Tattoo, Pure Addiction and Sammy’s Nails.

Grand Rapids back then was a Gospel of Wealth center — think Amway — with the emphasis first on Gospel. Mr. Fables, Russ’ Restaurants and other family dining staples were closed, even though there was money to make on Sundays.

Mom admired this part-time God over Mammon ethic. Dad didn’t, but knew better than to say so while we were listening, just keep driving. I was neutral, just hungrier by the time we had crossed the food desert to the Promised Land.

That’s changed too. In 2013, after I’d came to work here, I found a Pure Michigan film crew shooting at Oval Beach.“You’re featuring Saugatuck?” I asked the director.

“Grand Rapids,” he said.

“But you’ll say the beach is in Saugatuck …:”

“Not when Grand Rapids pays for the ad,” he said.

Seems GR was trying to exchange its dowdy “Furniture City” feathers for “Grand Rapids and the Gold Coast.” Based on Pure Michigan ads that resulted, you’d think you would step out of the Amway Grand onto sugar-white sands ringed by Hemingway haunts and wineries. “Where can I sunbathe?” you ask the valet.

“I don’t know … the fish ladder?”

This was “Pure” something, but not Michigan. Next Grand Rapids tried “Beer City USA.” But the best came last week when it proclaimed Feb. 14 International Clash Day in honor of the ’80s punk band. When you’re hip like GR, Valentine’s Day is just V.D.

I loved The Clash 40 years ago. “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” “Rock the Casbah” and so on were calls to revolt. Early critics found them, in turn, revolting. “The Clash are the sort of garage band,” wrote NME’s Charles Shaar Murray, “that should be returned to the garage, preferably with the motor still running.”

Who’d have Eagle Scout Gerald Ford’s hometown would go gaga about this anarchist band years later.

“The punk ethos of The Clash,” read the city’s Jan. 30 proclamation, “goes hand in hand with the progressive spirit of Grand Rapids, by supporting individual liberty, diversity and inclusion — in the words of (guitarist/lead singer) Joe Strummer, ‘People can change anything they want to, and that means everything in the world.”

Strummer said other things Mayor Rosalynn Bliss did not quote. The Clash, GR’s proclamation continued, added to our “local culture” when they played a “raucous” show Aug. 14, 1984. Their Grand Rapids show was actually two years earlier, but in 2020 what do facts matter?

Recent Sunday travels to Holland and GR show the Gospel of Wealth still thrives in them, but the emphasis has shifted. “Do you serve,” I quivered to ask at one open restaurant, “root beer?”

“The Amway heirs own distilleries,” the waitress said. “Are you kidding?”

Should I stay or go? I asked myself

“Want a condom to go with your whiskey sour?”

After filling myself with spirits and wallet with Trojans, I decided to test Grand Rapids’ new punk ethos. With hair spiked and dyed pink, I asked a passerby where’s the Reformed church.

Which Reformed church?” he asked.

“There’s more than one? OK, where’s the Formed Church? Based on that, I will know what the other ones are reforming.”

“What do you know about God?” he said.