Rooting Against the Home Team

Seven Minnesota authors pen poison Valentines to the place we call home

Amazona Itascica

BY KEVIN MURPHY

Picture a lithe young Minnesota woman of Scandinavian descent, fresh from junior college--strong of form, tanned of skin, alma mater stitched onto the butt portion of her cutoff sweat shorts--and, whooshing back and forth in the summer derecho, her shining field of flaxen, luxurious hair, cascading like a white-gold cheese fountain at a fondue shoppe during the very apex of the '70s' fondue madness.

Atalanta in the flush of the boar hunt was less fearsomely beautiful.

This idyllic stage of a young Nordic lass's life, between the ravage of forehead zits and utter decrepitude, lasts a brief while--depending on weather and bacon intake, anywhere from three weeks to nine minutes. At this point the woman's golden mane shrinks, dims, and frizzles into what I can best describe as the Minnesota Brillo pad. It sits atop the mature feminine head like an arbor vitae or fine sphagnum moss, though generally not green, although one cannot rule this out if the woman in question has improperly combined her L'Oréal products.

I used to think that this change in life had to do with the underreported and pandemic dependency on perm chemicals, but I have come to learn that the phenomenon strikes the permed and permless with savage disregard, descending at the prime childbearing age--nature's way of shoving wonton sexuality out of the way to allow room for the grim, thankless duty of childbearing, at which point the libido is put on hold until the last towhead is out of the house and the Minnesota maiden can return to thoughts of sexual congress with her pruny, knob-kneed, half-deaf beloved, his fine Medtronic components humming away under his ribcage, gonads vainly coursing with internet Cialis, his lucky shaft now made of graphite with a custom handle.

Many unpleasant outward signs herald this sad womanly transmogrification: a predilection for driving slowly in the passing lane; a flattening of certain vowels into nasally dipthongs ("Okeeey, theeeenks, seeyah laydur"); the stunningly off-putting compulsion to dress in clogs and sweat suits, invariably adorned with puff-paint cats. All far more repugnant than the manatee-like softening of all body tissue, which strikes both genders equally.

But it is in the hair that the slide from Hellenistic grace to Gorgonistic horror most obviously manifests itself. It is why in decades past the stolid Minnesota mother would hide her head of muskeg under a colorful scarf. Yet in this era of ever-lengthening life spans and freedom from gender-based oppression, it is better to shamelessly wave one's Northwoods afro and flout present conventions of beauty, since said conventions generally issue from the pages of Maxim alongside an in-depth interview of Dog the Bounty Hunter.

Women of Minnesota, wear your frizzy hair-biscuit proudly, imagine it the moniker of the Amazona Itascica, emblazon it with L'Oréal product and wave it in defiance of smirking men such as I ,whom you will long outlive. But do yourself and humankind a favor and leave the puff-paint sweat suit in the clearance bin at Marshall's where it belongs.

 

Kevin Murphy is the author of A Year at the Movies; he played the robot Tom Servo on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Kenwood Is a State of Mind

BY JEFFREY HATCHER

What drives me nuts about the Twin Cities? There's so much to choose from. The flat plains and endless highways that make you sympathize with the boredom serial killers face. The downtown architecture that looks like giant air conditioners dipped in beige and stood on their sides. And, of course, Lorie Line.

But for me, it's got to be Kenwood Fucks. A Kenwood Fuck is not an action. And the "Kenwood" is not even a geographical description. It's a state of mind. A Kenwood Fuck can come from Uptown, Downtown, Nordeast, Highland, Summit Avenue, your pick. A Kenwood Fuck is a person who believes his vote for John Kerry absolves him from decent behavior in other aspects of his life. A Kenwood Fuck is disproportionately proud of his "choice" not to live in Wayzata. A Kenwood Fuck will go to see Fahrenheit 9/11 to prove how correct-thinking he is, but then lets his friend from the Crocus Hill cooking class sneak in front of him at the refreshment line, thereby slowing the process for everyone who followed the rules and went to the back.

A Kenwood Fuck--or Kenwood F, if the children are in the room--is the kind of person who was humiliated when Jesse Ventura was elected, because he'd spent years trying to convince his friends in New York that Minnesota was really "surprisingly sophisticated." A Kenwood Fuck calls Garrison Keillor and Katherine Lanpher "Garrison" and "Katherine," not because he knows them personally, but because they were on the same plane once.

I was at an arts fundraiser some years ago, and the organization (I won't name it) was running a silent auction. My wife and I had our eyes on a photography session for our newborn son. We scribbled some bids, as did others, including a guy who was the board chair of the organization. Finally, we reached the end of the auction--a bell was rung--and the announcement was made: "The silent auction is now over. Please put down your pens." And, as we all moved away to the bar, Mr. Board Chair Guy tiptoed back to the bidding sheet...and scribbled his higher bid over mine.

I snarled, under my breath, "Kenwood Fuck." I'm hoping the appellation catches on.

 

Jeffrey Hatcher is the author of the plays Three Viewings, Murderers, and Korczak's Children; and the screenplays for Stage Beauty and the upcoming Casanova.

Paris Has the Champs-Elysées; Minneapolis Has 62 Precision-Engineered Tubes Lined with 7 Miles of Industrial Carpet Piling

BY DOBBY GIBSON

We have a special love for the great outdoors here. Or so proclaim our license plates, government seals, even our new state quarter. And yet the indelible image with which visitors leave the Twin Cities is only sometimes our lakes, and almost never a loon sighting. More often newcomers are captivated--in many cases literally held captive--by the skyway, the human Habitrail we've constructed to allow us to go entire weeks without setting foot outside.

We all love a toasty skyway on a bitter January day. Unfortunately, the skyways themselves aren't seasonal, and so their barren, no-frills convenience has become our city's defining characteristic year-round. It's given Minneapolis, especially, the vibe of a Saskatoon airport concourse.

Chicago has the Magnificent Mile, Paris the Champs-Elysées. Minneapolis has the skyway: 62 precision-engineered tubes lined with 7 miles of industrial carpet piling, a good deal of it no doubt sprayed with a sensible coating of Scotchguard™.

Up there, the unchanging atmosphere of our city's collective HVAC systems keeps us all as uniform as tennis balls in a pressurized Dunlap can. Not only do the skyways make us look more alike, they prevent us from altering our routines. Bored silly, we're all invariably checking voicemail, new messages or not. And then there's that skyway wave, the one we administer to those we recognize without stopping to talk. Unlike a city street, the skyways aren't for congregating--only passing through.

The skyway could only thrive in a city that hedges its bets, where everyone eats promptly at six and is in bed by ten. We don't take risks with food or fashion--we damn well aren't going to take any by walking at street level. What a perfect complement to our skyline's other Tupperware-like feature, the Metrodome, where fake grass thrives and events are pumped full of artificial crowd noise. I suppose someday we'll figure out how to broadcast city "ambience" in the skyways, too. Prerecorded horn honks. Canned watch-it-bubs.

In Dante's hell, the damned are plunged into rivers of boiling blood, then frozen into a lake. In my version, they'll be given a worse fate. Forced to travel one story above actual sensory experience, they'll be kept impossibly cool in the air conditioning of an endless Minneapolis skyway.

They'll shuffle in silence until they pass one of those senior citizens slumped motionless on her foldout chair. The only sound will be the soft click of a single digit advancing in the old lady's mechanical hand counter, signaling the onset of another tomorrow, horrifying for being completely indistinguishable from today.

And now that I've gotten that off of my chest, can anyone tell me how to get to the Government Center?

 

Dobby Gibson is the author of the poetry collection Polar.

"My Name Is Ivor, "and I'm Calling "from Copenhagen!"

"BY R.D. ZIMMERMAN

The calls come at any time of the day or night. And they come from any part of the country--Tennessee, Texas, California--not to mention from any part of the world. Like this one I got not too long ago from Denmark:

I'm happily lost in sleep when the phone rings. Rolling over, I see the little red numbers on my digital alarm clock, and assume that nothing short of a family emergency would prompt a call at three in the morning.

"H-hello?" I grunt.

With a beautiful Scandinavian accent, the bright, happy voice on the other end asks, "Ja, ja, hello, is Robert Zimmerman there?"

"This...this is he..."

"Really? Truly? Oh, my God! I can't believe this--I'm your number one fan!"

Well, at least it isn't a sales call. And at least this isn't some kind of dire emergency. This guy, whoever he is, is decidedly pumped--as much from alcohol, apparently, as from finding me.

My number one fan continues, saying, "My name is Ivor, and I'm calling from Copenhagen!"

I can't balance my checkbook, but I am good with time zones, and I quickly do the math and calculate that in Denmark it's 11:00 in the morning. My guess is that Ivor has been drinking a few too many bottles of Tuborg since the night before.

"This is a dream come true," blurts Ivor. "I can't believe I'm really talking with Robert D. Zimmerman."

"Yep, that's me."

Suddenly I'm overcome by a triple wave of vanity, pride, and joy, which wakes me faster than a triple shot of espresso. Oh, my God, I realize. It's finally happening. My books are everywhere. I'm being read around the entire globe. I've finally attained worldwide fame.

But then just as quickly Ivor shoots me down, asking, "Would you please, Bobby, sing something for me? Please? It would make me so happy for the rest of my life!"

Oh, dear God. How could I be so stupid? This isn't a call for me. It's another one for him.

"Holy shit, Ivor," I snap, "You got it wrong. This is R.D. Zimmerman, the writer."

"The...the what? The who?"

"The author! You know, the guy who writes the books!"

"Ohhhhh...oh, my. The writer? What writer? Nej, I've never heard of this person, never," Ivor replies, his beautiful Scando lilt suddenly going horribly flat. "You mean...you mean, this isn't Robert Dylan Zimmerman, the singer?"

"I can sing almost as poorly as he, but, no, this is Robert Dingwall Zimmerman, the writer, got it?! You know, don't you, that the other guy, well, he just made up his name?"

"Oh, my..." And then just to shove the knife deeper, he asks, "What kind of strange name is that--Dingwall?" He starts giggling. "It's kinda funny sounding, you know, this...this Dingwall!"

I slam down the phone and find myself lying there in the dark, steaming and unable to sleep. Hmpf. So much for my global aspirations. Which reminds me of the incident at Borders in Uptown just two days earlier. When I'd handed the clerk my credit card, he looked at the name and smiled. Ah, sweet fame, I thought, wondering just how many hundreds of my books he'd sold, for I've lived in the neighborhood for 25 years and surely I all but own this bookstore.

Then, however, the clerk laughed aloud, saying, "With a name like that you must get teased all the time. Why, I went to high school with a girl named Joni Mitchell, and she always was getting crank calls."

I growled and left.

So that's why I did it. That's why I started using the pen name of Robert Alexander. And that's what I hate about living in Minnesota--the endless calls...for the dreaded him...The Other.

At least, I'm sure, I can type faster.

 

R.D. Zimmerman is the author of the Todd Mills mysteries Hostage and Innuendo. Under the name Robert Alexander, he has written the novels The Kitchen Boy and Rasputin's Daughter, which comes out in January.

Fairness Is Not the Media's Respon- sibility; Truth Told Well Is Its Responsibility.

BY FAITH SULLIVAN

In a recent interview in the Star Tribune, the writer Vince Flynn said, "I think Muslim fundamentalists are the biggest threat around, not just to our safety but to concepts like feminism." All right. I buy the idea that Muslim fundamentalists are a threat to our safety and, as a paranoid feminist, I also buy the idea that they're a threat to feminism.

But, Vince, Christian fundamentalists are a threat to our safety too. Ask the people who staff abortion clinics or even Planned Parenthood offices. If Roe v. Wade isn't overturned by the current administration, how far will their zeal carry them? Fundamentalists of any stripe are a threat to the general welfare because for them it is "My way or the highway," not "There are many paths to heaven."

But mine isn't an argument with Flynn, who writes well-received thrillers about dangers to U.S. security. My problem is with the so-called mainstream media, which is increasingly not that mainstream. The Christian Right has bullied and harassed the media for at least 25 years, and the media has caved--this despite the fact that the Christian Right is a numerical minority in this country and in Minnesota.

There is a misconception out there that newspapers have no right to lean left or right. Every week the Star Tribune prints letters whining about its liberal bias. Hey, folks, that's the paper's right. And it's your right to cancel your subscription. You folks on the Christian Right have your papers, magazines, television channels, and radio stations. You're telling me that no one else has a right? The founding fathers are spinning in their graves.

The virulence of fundamentalists is such that the media not only have trimmed their political sails but have hired the likes of Katherine Kersten in an attempt to be "fair." Fairness is not the media's responsibility; truth told well is its responsibility.

In my travels around the state I have heard horror stories of threats to small-town newspapers from the fundamentalist Right. In signed letters to the editors? No. In anonymous letters and phone calls. Fascism at its finest.

 

Faith Sullivan is the author of The Cape Ann, The Empress of One and the recently released Gardenias.

You Trust the World

BY QUINTON SKINNER

I am driving through the blessed familiarity of the leaf-strewn streets of my neighborhood, tucked under the warm blanket of routine, when you throw open the door of your parked car and vault into the road in front of me with utter obliviousness to my presence. I run through my options: I could run you down, maybe; or initiate a head-on collision with the SUV coming the other way. I opt for coming to a complete stop while you fiddle with your laundry basket and your cell phone. If I hadn't stopped, I would have run you down. If my brakes had failed, you might be dead.

Some would identify your behavior as selfish, but I know better. I'm not here to cast aspersions on you. The people of Minnesota are no more selfish than the rest of their species; if pressed, I would assert that they are less so.

I am driving through the Warehouse District when I see two of you deep in conversation on the sidewalk. As I get closer, you move to street's edge and (I can't believe this is happening) you walk into the road without looking, directly into the path of my Japanese-manufactured death machine.

Are you sensory-deprived? Suicidal? No and no, I presume. Have you experienced a one-time lapse in caution, a unique mental hiccup never to be repeated? Hell, no.

You approach me on Nicollet outside downtown and ask, if I'm heading south, how far I might be able to drive you toward Edina.

You leave your keys in the gas tank while you go into SuperAmerica for a pack of Marlboros.

You insist on paying me for a parking pass I no longer need, meaning that I park for free while you're out three bucks.

You crowd me at the ATM, unaware that I think you're trying to steal my PIN.

Don't get me wrong. I don't consider you naive. I don't think you're unsophisticated. I don't buy into all that coastal vs. flyover-country crap.

It's just that you trust the world.

I chalk it up to the whole good-life mentality up here, where the walleye practically fry themselves in tasty batter and where the police helpfully offer burglary prevention advice such as lock your windows when you go to sleep at night. Don't take this the wrong way. I'm two generations removed from the farm, but in my case it's of the Kentucky-gothic variety, with weird stories of gangrene and hatchet-wielding, and relatives disappearing to the wilds of cities where they were never heard from again.

You might not want to be friends with me, but you trust me. Come on, admit it. You want to, because the world is a benevolent place and, really, isn't it easier this way?

And yet the world I live in is full of malevolence, perfidy, hypocrisy, and all manner of schemes and scams. I understand you think it's kind of pathetic and wretched to see things this way, and you find it hard to deal with me when I go all big-city paranoid. But jeez, you know, I saw your life flash in front of my eyes when you opened your car door this afternoon. What would have happened if I hadn't been looking out for you?

 

Quinton Skinner is the author of 14 Degrees Below Zero and Amnesia Nights; he is working on the authorized biography of Tupac Shakur.

"No Reason to "Cross the River. "We've Got Everything "We Need Over Here."

"BY WILLIAM KENT KRUEGER

When my wife and I moved to the Twin Cities 25 years ago and established ourselves in St. Paul, the neighbor who lived next door to us--an older woman with a fondness for pink hair curlers--mentioned the fact in passing that she hadn't been across the river to Minneapolis since--well, it had been so long she couldn't even remember.

"No reason to cross the river," she went on with provincial pride. "We've got everything we need over here."

I thought this an odd, even quaint sentiment, and smiled indulgently.

Shortly thereafter I got a job in Minneapolis working at the University of Minnesota. I soon discovered co-workers to whom the idea of crossing the river to St. Paul was on the same par as a trip to Outer Mongolia. This baffled me. I'd come from Denver, Colorado, where there's nothing, really, to denote the passage from one municipality to another except perhaps a small, easily overlooked sign.

A river made a big difference, it seemed.

We define ourselves in part by the life decisions we've made. Where we choose to live is a big one, and we want it to reflect as radiantly as possible on who we are. It's important to think highly of the city where we've chosen to reside. Sometimes, however, defending that choice escalates into taking potshots at our neighbors on the far side of the Mississippi. The exchange goes something like this:

* Minneapolis has culture.

* St. Paul has character.

* Minneapolis has great restaurants.

* St. Paul has great neighborhoods.

* Minneapolis has beautiful new skyscrapers.

* St. Paul has preserved its architectural heritage.

* Minneapolis has a major crime problem.

* St. Paul's street numbering system is intelligible only to drunken Irishmen.

 

The barrage goes on, insults thrown across the river like rocks from a catapult.

It's ridiculous, this provincial snobbery. As someone who came from the outside, I can see this clearly. But okay, I admit to succumbing to it now and again myself. When I'm on a book tour, I'm often asked where I'm from. Usually I reply, "The Twin Cities." If someone is present who's from Minneapolis, I always hasten to add, "I'm actually from St. Paul. The good side of the river."

The Mississippi River divides more than just the land. It divides good from bad, smart from dumb, beautiful from homely. How you see this all depends upon something as arbitrary as the side of the river on which you stand.

Go figure.

 

William Kent Krueger is the author of Mercy Falls (the fifth book in the Cork O'Connor series), Blood Hollow, The Devil's Bed, and other novels.

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