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.