If Jimmy Doom approached you on Cass Avenue, you might be tempted to cross the street. If you did, you’d be missing out, for beyond the furrows and creases of Doom’s well lived-in face, lie fascinating tales from Detroit’s shadowy side.
The hustlers and the punks. The has-beens and the never-wases. “I laugh out loud when I drive past some house being upgraded into an urban palace somewhere like Brush Park, going for $500,000,” Doom remarks. “I was in that house at four in the morning, watching guys with sawed-off shotguns rolling dice, because that used to be an after-hours club. Some really seedy, crazy stuff happened in places that owners will never know.”
Now Doom, professional actor and onetime punk rocker, has compiled those Detroit visions into his first book, Humans, Being: A Story a Day for a Year (available at Book Beat in Oak Park, on Amazon, and at firstname.lastname@example.org, $19). In the process, he took on and accomplished a daunting challenge.
In a salute to the writing genre called microfiction, every page holds a complete story
in exactly 100 words — 365 narratives in all. It’s the fictional equivalent of haiku. “It was the challenge,” Doom says. “I knew people did it, so I wanted to see if I could do it, too.”
Moreover, Doom — James Kenneth Graham to his mom, having acquired his cataclysmic nom de guerre as a University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy senior after wreaking vengeance on an underclassman who sucker punched him in the mouth — was inspired to prove a point. He was creating content for an online open writing platform when it changed its payment structure.
“I said, ‘This is a huge cut,’ and they said, ‘No, it’s just a different system.’ But I argued if I wrote a 100-word story every day for a year they would pay much less than one 3,500-word piece. They insisted they were right, so I said, ‘OK, jerks, I’ll write a 100-word story every day, then we’ll compare numbers.’ I felt like Norma Rae.”
Ultimately Doom left the platform, but Canadian-based editor Dascha Paylor solicited him to keep writing for her publication, Tempest in Under 1,000. “It quickly became apparent that Jimmy was the real deal,” Paylor says. “He’s lived such an eclectic life and paints his beloved Detroit in vibrant, true-to-life vignettes. I became his biggest cheerleader.”
Doom, who has appeared onscreen opposite such stars as David Carradine and Christopher Walken and has two new independent films, Ash and Bone and Good Thief, expected out this year, admits acting is his first love. “But you simply don’t get to do it as much as you’d like, especially in Michigan,” he says. “So I don’t slap a title on myself, I don’t like that. I’m Jimmy Doom and I act and I write and I watch hockey like a madman.”
He didn’t have as much trouble conjuring 365 scenarios as one might expect, having worked for years as a bartender at several of Detroit’s more notorious establishments, including St. Andrew’s Hall in its rock ’n’ roll heyday. He spent many years on the other side of bars as well.
“Oh, certainly, the book is littered with conversations that took place in bars, or versions of some,” says Doom, who is now five years clean and sober. “Sometimes I would stop myself: ‘OK, Jimmy, you cannot write another story about two people in a bar.’ The bar — being on both sides of it — was such a huge part of my life.”
Does he really expect readers to digest only one story per day? “I really was hoping that would help people feel like they got their money’s worth,” he says, laughing. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘I tried to read a story a day, but then I started cheating.’ ”
Doom feels a bit like he’s cheating, too, at the unexpected age of 55. “I have ‘Live Fast, Die Young’ tattooed on my inner right forearm,” he says. “I keep saying I should get another tattoo like a sticker to put over it: ‘I Tried.’ There are so many people who can’t believe I’m still standing. I’m lucky to be here, I realize it, and I’m glad I got the opportunity to do this.”
An Excerpt from Jimmy Doom’s New Book
We asked Jimmy Doom to choose his favorite 100-word composition from Humans, Being: A Story a Day for a Year, which of course is like trying to choose among your 365 children.
After some deliberation, he declared, “You choose between ‘Stars’ and ‘Nom de Guerre.’ ”
Well, alrighty then …
He loved space as a little boy. The stars, the limitless possibilities. His space wasn’t one of rayguns and wars, but one of peace and solitude.
In the summer he ripped the sheet metal roof off his hut near the viaduct and just stared at the stars.
He endured the rain for his quality time with the billions of twinkling lights that couldn’t be drowned by the noise of the freeway.
When the company bulldozers came, the men were kind, but firm.
He took his propane heater. He let them keep his sheet metal roof. They couldn’t take his stars.