Out of Characters

David Schimke, October 8, 1997


The carcasses sway gently in their shackles. From a distance, the turkeys seem to move slowly, an optical illusion like watching fence posts from your car window. Up close they roll past quickly. Each bird enters my field of vision and leaves it again in the space of about two seconds. The birds are just a few minutes dead. Their bodies are still hot. My job is to cut the oil glands out of the tail of every other bird. On my left hand I wear a knit glove, a rubber glove, and a steel-mesh glove. In my right hand I hold a tool called a whizzard, a pneumatic knife with a spinning circular blade. A small wart on the top of each bird's tail indicates where the glands are. If I cut too deep, I hit a bone and waste meat. If I cut too shallow, I sever the glands and a thick grease the color of French's mustard drips out.

An hour and 2,000 turkeys later, I stand in a small pile of warm oil glands, small cylinders about the size of film canisters. A man with a shovel scrapes them away into the waste system. After he does, my feet suddenly cool.

Joseph Hart, November 26, 1997


"Ditched my diploma and joined up in Del Mar," Chad's telling Shorty, who rolled in with another crew around noon. "Got on running grease for the Scorpion in Utah. Climbed to the doghouse"--the ride's control both--"in Texas. That was, hell, '88, '89, I lost count now, but fast, I mean by Georgia that year. Tattoo in Knoxville. Postcard home from Missouri. Guess I was born migrant. Lucky me, though--follow the carny route and it's like you're living in summer year-round. By the time we tore down and shipped out for winter camp, I mean you couldn't talk to me about shop work or getting stuck in some spot with the same front yard every time you wake up." "Like a magnet, right?" Shorty, who's been running rides for nine years, drawls through a cheekful of chew from the stoop of his bunkhouse parked on the shore of the Midway's vacant, one-acre island. "Right? Like a big fucking magnet?"

"Maybe a magnet," Chad answers in no hurry. His felt hat looks chewed up, with tufts of sun-bleached hair poking through the crown. "Maybe like what they say the sea does. I mean calling you out off dry land, like you can't stay put there."

Josie Rawson, August 26, 1998


I mean, I've seen Xena. I've been to Mardi Gras. And I like to think I'm not unfamiliar with sex. But I never expected in my life to find, in the middle of a field in Shakopee, so many codpieces. And breasts! Bursting like winter tides out of tight-pulled corsets, falling like summer harvests out of loose-looped blouses, shaking, bubbling, tasseled, gilded, crushed like birds into nets of chain mail. This is where parents spend quality time with their prepubescent kids?

Dara Moskowitz, September 2, 1998


Watching a Pearson's Nut Roll take shape is a strangely giddy experience--in part because of the strong candy smells, and in part because it's like being inside one of those cheery educational minidocumentaries that run during kids' cartoons. More important, for a pop-culture buff, local-history enthusiast, and candy hound, being allowed into the inner sanctum of the Nut Roll empire feels like gaining access to a past unmediated by sanctimony: This is history you can stick in your glove compartment; these are antiques that can't be forever hidden in museums. The Pearson's factory is not only a rare survivor of the once-vibrant Twin Cities candy culture: It's a busy manufacturing plant--noisy, lively, electrical.

Dara Moskowitz, December 23, 1998


All alone at work on a Saturday in 1987, [Richard Proudfit] ran out of patience. He didn't get down on his knees to pray for an answer this time. He erupted, raging at God: "Tell me what you want! Tell me now!"

The next day, just before sunup, Proudfit says, a bolt of lightning shot across his bedroom. In a moment, he was standing at the foot of his bed. He would have his answer. "It's three in the morning, I'm in my skivvies, and I hear this voice. 'Feed my starving children. It will be package food. It will go by airplane. And five million dollars.'"

David Schimke, January 27, 1999


Prisoners responded to most of the fictional characters we encountered, but [Raymond] Carver's people became especially real. Theirs were lives the students knew, teetering on some internal edge between moving forward and falling back.

Once we were talking about how Carver creates suspense even though his characters don't do much. One student had already floated a theory about how Carver flirts with something dangerous and despairing in humans.

Then, in the back row, a man named Gerald lifted his hand and said, "You know, reading a Carver story is like scouting a house before breaking into it. You keep circling the house, looking through the windows, seeing that dark inside from different angles. You keep thinking about being in that house and what you're going to find in there. Thinking about which window you're going to break to get inside, and the sound the glass will make when it breaks. You keep thinking and circling, but you never break in. That's the thing about Carver--you never break in."

Steve Healey, July 7, 1999

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