Personal Pieces postsSaturday July 16, 2011
“And Off to the Right? A Massive Thunderstorm Bearing Down on Us”
Has this ever happened to you? My flight home from Minneapolis Sunday night was supposed to leave at 9:35 but departed 15 minutes early to avoid thunderstorms. All well and good. Full flight, so I assume everyone was on board. But in the air—20,000 feet? 25,000 feet?—we saw the thunderstorms off to the right, which I assume was north, since we were heading west, but may have been west and we were heading south to avoid them. Either way, it was quite the show. We didn't hear much thunder over the drone of the airplane but we saw the flashes of lightning every few seconds and saw the actual bolts of lightning zinging down. Went on for 10 minutes.
That was a long, freakin' 10 minutes.
I was already semi-paranoid about the flight, too. In the Humphrey terminal bar—you know the one: there's only one—I struck up a conversation with a Brit, Matt Chapman, on his way to LA to making a living, or to improve his chances of making a living, as a freelance movie writer. He writes regular features for DVDreview.com.uk. We had a good time talking celebrity interviews (he's done many, me a handful), blasting “Green Lantern,” and talking up DVD commentaries. I asked him for his favorite DVD commentary but his answer has already slipped my mind. Apologies. (Matt, if you read this, please add it below.) Mine is still Craig Wright's commentary from the episodes he wrote for “Six Feet Under.”
As airport bar conversations go, it was pretty decent. In the middle of it, though, something was said, or thought, that led to a pretty strong deja vu moment for me. It was as if I flashed back to a dream I'd had years earlier—a dream that ended with me about to die in an airplane crash. Now, I felt, I'd reached that point in time. I tried to shake the feeling but couldn't but refused to allow it to change my course. Then, at 20,000 feet, the whole thunderstorm lightshow began.
Do you pray on planes? My airplane prayers tend to consist of entreaties to God to look out for various loved ones I'll leave behind. For some reason, it calms me down. Not until now, not until writing this, did I realize the mild threat implicit in these prayers: Really? You're gonna take me? OK, then this is who You have to look out for ... Maybe secretly I'm hoping God thinks, “Oh, man. Seems like a lot of work. OK, I'll let him live ...”
In the end, of course, we passed by the thunderstorm not only safe but with hardly a bump, and life, in all its pettiness, picked up anew.
The lightning-bolt-striking-Air-Force-One scene from “Superman: The Movie” that I kept flashing to during those 10 long minutes of our thunderstorm lightshow.
A Walk Through the Old Neighborhood in South Minneapolis
It’s muggy. Seven in the morning and already muggy. Last night, leaving the Humphrey Terminal at 10:30, the air felt soft, but now it’s too soft. Muggy. Mugg-ee. Even the word sticks together.
I feel like a giant here. That’s the way, isn’t it? The cliché? Return to the place where you grew up and everything seems small. Except it feels smaller than it did a year ago when I was 47. The distance between Dad’s garage and the end of the alley is supposed to seem longer and longer, as I get feebler and feebler, but now I feel like a giant bestriding it. How did this alley ever wear me down? How many times, as a kid, did I slink home? Weighed down. By what? What weighs down a kid again? I couldn’t ride a bike. I wet the bed. My parents were fighting, then separating, then divorcing. There were bullies. The world was big and violent and strange and I was small and soft and strange.
Ah, that spot between the two garages, that narrow spot with the slanted concrete wall, where Mark Noel and I—eight years old? nine?—ran and hid with the cigarette pack. My parents had a cocktail party the night before, and in the morning light the living and dining rooms, scattered with remnants of grown-ups—martini glasses and wine glasses and napkins smeared with lipstick—seemed stiller than usual. Mark and I walked through it carefully, reverentially. Then we spotted the cigarette pack on the mantle and whoosh! Why do I remember this moment out of all the other moments? Mark had no problem with the cigarette. He could do it. I took a puff and nearly vomited. Kept me away from cigarettes all those years.
They’ve kept the mailbox on the corner of 53rd and Dupont. When do they...? One p.m., weekdays and Saturdays. It feels like it’s from another era. A mailbox, out here where there’s little foot traffic, in the digital age. But I’m glad it’s here.
Take the creek? No. Muggy equals buggy. Those high-school cross-country practice runs along the creek, shirtless. The bugs, the no-see-ums, dying on contact with your sweaty body. You’d come home speckled in death.
Parkway is good. Man, look at these homes. When I was a kid they were just homes, other people’s homes, but now they seem ... like places I’d like to live: stucco and limestone and brown trim. Particularly compared to that clapboard crap they tossed up in Seattle.
Don’t really know this side of the parkway well. I always took the other side, the Friendlys’ side. This was the Premacks’ side. Where does this lead again? Right. Nicollet Bridge. Why that big embossed “T” on the column at the front of the bridge? Is it a “T”? Nicollet. Where’s the “T”? A reminder to pronounce the “T”? Effin’ Minneapolis.
Look down there. The wide, clean pathways next to the creek, amid the green grass and green trees, for bikes and pedestrians. A kiddie-land for adults. Minneapolis used to seem large and sharp-edged and now it seems small and carefully cultivated. That thought from “Eli, the Fanatic.” Have children ever been so safe in their beds? Parents so full in their stomachs? Never in Rome, never in Greece. Here was peace and safety—what civilization had been working toward for centuries. Minneapolis.
Keep going down Nicollet or through Tangletown? Tangletown. Let’s get off the grid, man. Let's get off the grid plan. “The Cruise.”
Wow, these homes are even nicer. Holy crap, that one’s got a gate and a drive-up entrance. Did I know this back then? Why didn’t I go into Tangletown more often? I guess my friends were elsewhere, and by the time I hit high school, Washburn, I found the lack of right angles confusing. My streets made sense: 54th led to 53rd led to 52nd; Aldrich led to Bryant let to Colfax led to Dupont led to Emerson and all the way to Zenith. Too much sense, probably. I expected order from the world. I expected peace and safety. I was for the grid plan.
So does this come out at Ramsey? No, Washburn. Have I stepped back in that building since graduation 30 years ago? Don’t think so. Is my aversion because of what happened there or what’s happened since? Because of who I was or who I am?
The rocks. We’d paint them the school colors, orange and blue, and other schools would paint them their school colors, then we’d paint ‘em back. They’d come in the middle of the night with their paint cans and paintbrushes and show us. It was supposed to matter. Your team vs. my team. What is my team now? Are those the original rocks? They look flatter. Didn’t I hear something about kids from another school actually stealing the rocks rather than merely painting them? Bad form. Would make it my team again.
Doug and I used to do our Spanish dialogue here on the way home. “Hola, Douglas.” “Hola Enrique, como estas?” “Muy bien, y tu?” “Oh, asi asi. Adonde vas?” “Voy a mi casa.” That’s as far as we got. We merely kidded around with being smart. We really wanted acceptance and girls. We kept our eyes off the prize.
Somehow that dirt strewn over the sidewalk feels so Minneapolis. Or is it dirt? Ick, ants. Hundreds crawling after a pop spill or something. So Minneapolis. We don’t get that in Seattle—that constant reminder of the life beneath. The creepy-crawly smallness of it all, swarming outside, invading your home. The reminder of what you’ll come to, the dirt to which you’ll return, and who rules it. What’s it like—that smallness? That subterranean living? How are ants part of the plan? No, no plan. There can’t be a plan, not with ants. No wonder Minneapolis stays carefully cultivated. Keeps the ants away. Keeps the bad thoughts away.
Should I try this Caribou place? Seems busy. Too busy. Keep walking. The Boulevard Theater, now an Anytime Fitness place. Effin’ Hollywood Video. They took it away and couldn’t maintain it. It should still be a theater. Could it be turned back into a theater if you had the money? That would be nice. A neighborhood theater again. Except you can’t go back again. We can go back, it can’t. Red Owl is Kowalski’s, Salk Drugs is Starbucks, Little General is a doctor’s office. Beek’s lives.
I need a better way to post when I'm away from home. Last week, in Minneapolis, I brought along my iPad with wireless keyboard for such a purpose and it kinda fell flat. It worked well with almost everything except this blog. Specifically it didn't recognize the window I normally write in as a window to write in. Plus there was no way to upload photos from the iPad. So still a few bugs in the system. A long way of saying some of the upcoming posts might have the flavor of last week. Apologies for that.
In the meantime, as St. George used to say, I'm back, baby.
From the Mill City Museum in downtown Minneapolis, the July 4th fireworks gave one the impression of being in a war zone. Speaking of: the museum is currently closed because of the state government shutdown.
Conversation with Jordy, My Nephew, Turning 10 on Thursday
Sunday night I gave my nephews, Jordy, 10 on July 7, and Ryan, 8 on July 4, a book I wrote for them: “Jordy and Ryan at the Superhero Museum.” I'd written them a picture book, in verse, three years ago in which they were superheroes, Soarin' Jordan and Flyin' Ryan, but this was, as the kids say, a chapter book. Jordy immediately began reading it. After the first chapter, which deals with me coming down into the basement, where Jordy is playing Wii and Ryan is playing with Legos, and the two get into a fight, and after much back-and-forth I introduce the idea that there might be a superhero museum we could go to if they were good, Jordy looked up at me.
Jordy: Uncle Erik, is this contemporary realism?
Me (startled, practically gagging): Do you know what that means?
Me: What does contemporary mean?
Jordy: Like... now?
Me: Good. So does the story seem like it's happening now? In this time period?
Me: And does it seem real?
Jordy: Yeah. Except for the superhero museum.
Me: Right. So maybe it's magic realism more than contemporary realism.
Jordy (nodding): Maybe.
Fifth grade next year.
My friend Kim Ricketts, an event coordinator and book planner and the last of the big-time readers, died last month at the age of 53. She’s one of three friends who died this year and I haven’t written about any of them. I’ve written about the deaths of movie stars and baseball stars but not friends. Feels wrong. But of course the death of those we don’t know, even when their deaths aren’t easy to take, are so much easier to take.
Kim was full of energy. I worked at the University Book Store in the late 1990s, in the warehouse, and suddenly she was there. She would corral me in the hallway, grab my arm, ask me about this, tell me about that.
“Who are you again?” I asked.
“The events coordinator.”
“I thought that was Whatsherface.”
“I’m the new one.”
She arrived, bursting with energy and ideas, which is always the wrong way to enter certain rooms, particularly certain Seattle rooms, where the clothes are casual and the people are buttoned up. She didn’t care. That’s how she arrived.
She made enemies fast. She came up with a million dollar idea and shared it with the dull folks at the top who weren’t in it for the books, who were just in it to be in it. They didn’t get her idea. Or they thought it a threat. They probably thought she was a threat. They were right.
Here’s the idea: Instead of forcing people to come to see an author at, say, a bookstore, why not bring the author to the people? At, say, Microsoft, or Starbucks, or Boeing, or whatever big corporation is in your city. You can see why the bookstore honchos hated the idea. Looked at in a narrow way, it rendered them irrelevant. When they didn’t bite, she left to implement the idea herself. It became Kim Ricketts Book Events. Within a few years, she was being written up in The New York Times.
Here’s my favorite memory of Kim. I'd already left the bookstore, she was still there, and I stopped by one evening to buy something when I noticed an author reading across the room. For ... oops! David Shields and his new book “Black Planet: Facing Race During an NBA Season,” which, the day before, in The Seattle Times, I'd panned. Badly. I immediately tried slinking away but Kim saw me and ran after me. When she caught up with me she kissed me on the lips. I nodded toward the event and half apologized for the review. She gave me that thick-as-thieves look. She said: “Honestly, somebody needed to say it.”
I saw her maybe a dozen times after that. She was always full of energy, always moving forward, always ready to introduce you to A, B or C (with “C” being Michael Lewis), always interested in what you were reading and doing and thinking—probably in that order. Whenever I left her, I’d think, “Now that’s the way to do it.”