Out of Characters

Tonight there is a couple, perhaps from out of town, definitely from the Midwest. They stand by the tip jars, opening ticket after ticket, as if they were on an assembly line. When they are through, and 30 bucks' worth of useless paper lie scattered at their feet, they look at one another and then towards the tables. You want the pit boss--a man in glasses with PRAIRIE PUBLIC BROADCASTING written on his coat--to come over, pump their hands, thank them for keeping Masterpiece Theatre on the air for another week, but he is bent over bookwork, counting the take.

James Lileks, March 13, 1985


I don't eat at the fair. At the end of the night I just have someone punch me in the stomach, hard. Same effect and I save a bundle. I'm convinced that people eat the stuff at the fair because it's never served anywhere else. If there were a Pronto Pup stand outside your house, how often would you go for one? I thought so.

James Lileks, August 27, 1986


"It's like the Republicans and the Democrats," [former tribal chairman Norman Crooks] says of the factions battling for control of the reservation. "We call it the Bows and the Arrows."

...Lost in this free-for-all is the delicious irony that here in the rolling fields near Shakopee, the Indians are finally cleaning up on the white folk. Nobody on the reservation--least of all Crooks or tribal chairman Leonard Prescott--would utter such an obscenity, but you need only look over the crowd of suburban gamblers on a Thursday afternoon to realize the Mdewakanton have come a long way. The big question is where they will go from here.

Craig Cox, June 8, 1988


Oliver North had a dramatic effect on many Americans, but Patricia Barnett says he really did a number on her husband. When the colonel was on a roll, Robert Barnett was a happy man. Weekends he'd don his camouflage garb and while away the afternoons in the woods near their Anoka County home, taking harmless potshots at imaginary Viet Cong.

In fact, her husband's self-conception was so heavily tied to the persona of the mute Marine that when North's legal troubles began to mount, Barnett's morale plunged. She claims he reverted to some old and nasty habits; wife-beating and slipping mickeys in little girls' cocoa so he could take their clothes off and photograph them.

"It's a lot different than she says it is," Rob Barnett counters. "The voyeurism is Patty's primarily. I had to get involved sometimes, but she was the instigator." He claims ignorance about any crawl-space peepholes, but admits there were two-way mirrors in the house. "We were both in on it," he explains, "but Patty made me do it."

Bruce Rubenstein, October 19, 1988


A male-bonding spectacle awaits me at the Cabana Bar, where a wounded vet has removed his prosthetic leg and is daring people to drink a beer from its cup. People chant like Vikings as a handful of patrons chug stump-flavored brewski. The veteran's girlfriend acts as barker, mustering recruits.

The only time I feel threatened during the whole week is while I'm watching the prosthesis trick. A very intense, very cryptic guy who looks like a young Peter Lorre appears at my elbow. "Don't be too quick to judge," he intones. After glowering some more, he drifts away.

Monty Mickelson, November 8, 1989


There was the little boy who stood in front of me trembling violently, held my hand, and despite his trepidation, was determined to cite his Christmas list. There was the little girl who wanted only cough drops....There was the three-year-old girl who brought me a picture of herself and some play money to help defray the cost of my trips back and forth from the North Pole. There was the crippled boy who slapped me five and just stood in front of me, saying "Santa Claus" over and over. There was the kid who wanted the hole puncher; the one who wanted a screwdriver "so I can help my dad." There was the huge group of Hmong kids who didn't understand a word I said but gave me big hugs anyway.

Jim Walsh, December 27, 1989


In actual fact, the client, Larry, tells me precious little, except that he wants a woman to strap on a dildo and perform anal intercourse on him. That being a limited topic for conversation, I'm left to improvise: Larry, judging by his breathing patterns, is obviously too busy to elaborate much further. "Use your imagination," he keeps whispering, "say anything you want." Problem is, I don't want to say anything, really, except to ask him questions. I want to know what he does, why he's calling.

Judith Lewis, October 24, 1990


"Bambi's mother gets violently murdered," Lucy protested. "How do you think that makes your nephew regard violence against women?" "Well," I said, "I don't think it made him very happy, but I doubt it will lead him to a life of voting Republican."

Judith Lewis, February 6, 1991


Like a vision, [Carlson Companies vice president] Marilyn [Nelson] appeared again, talking about a blind breadboard maker from Eagan who had a lot of courage and was making breadboards as gifts for a Super Bowl something or other. A guy in a Pepsi hardhat drove around on an ATV hauling an actual block of ice from the Pepsi Palace at the Winter Carnival; a small army of people came out pushing snow blowers, representing Logistics-Transportation-Security, with special thanks to Toro. I began to think we would be trapped in Met Center all night. Hot Hosts would bring us more Cokes; we would clap and jump up and cheer on cue. Luckily things calmed down for a poignant closing with Marilyn and her special puppet version of Super Bowl Baby Lambchop from Target.

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