This past Saturday, my family and I ventured from the mean streets of St. Paul -- where tough-guy journalists like myself and Joe Soucheray pop the collars of our black leather jackets even in the most extreme summer heat -- into the "undrivable hellscape" that is Minneapolis, to take a walk by Minnehaha Falls.
It was walking the creek path where we encountered two people dressed in animal costumes that were way too clean and nice looking to not be suspicious. My daughter, Chuck, gave them an amused glance but my son, Lil' Tigger, wanted to give them hugs, so I let him. I mean, I have an aura of charity and friendliness about me. But I’m also a watchful dad, you know, the kind of guy who looks like he must know his way around a creek. Although, to be totally honest, I’ve never walked that far down the creek before, but aura, people.
I wondered if they were lost or something but neither were talking, just waving their plush hands around. Not to be unkind, but the costumes weren’t even that accurate, I mean, there were just too many pinks and purples in them to actually appear in nature. So that was suspicious, I mean, I’m not quite the tough guy that ol’ Joe is, but my dad used to hitchhike from his family farm in Little Canada to Cretin for high school every day in the '50s, so tough is in my genes. After the hugs, we moved along, no big deal.
Later, after making small talk with some guy drinking brandy by the creek, I recounted the incident to myself while stumbling over tree roots as a light rain started to come down just like in Taxi Driver, and two theories developed. I was convinced they were mascots for some sort of new sports team that we could build a stadium for right on the Ford Plant site, because we always need a new stadium for a new sports team.
But then, I told the story to a buddy whose mother’s uncle’s rabbi once performed a bris for someone in law enforcement. Actually, that’s not true, but that’s what the Souche would have done. Sadly, I’m not Jumpin’ Joe, so I don’t have such connections. However, about seven years ago I had a rat crawl up through the sewer into the toilet in my basement, and after squealing in fear like a total tough guy, I called animal control and they sent someone out to get it. So I just pretended that that guy was someone I could talk to right at that moment while dodging mud puddles.
In my head, he asked me what I was wearing and I told him, a black T-shirt and brown cargo shorts with black and yellow sneakers. Basically the exact same uniform I’ve been wearing since I was known as the toughest badass to haunt the halls of Macalester College, back in the '90s when they let in all sorts of weirdos.
Pretend animal control guy in my head said, "They were probably criminals in disguise who thought you were an easy mark because nobody but total tools wear cargo shorts anymore."
"Hey now,” I said to Imaginary Animal Control Guy. "Cargo shorts are super-useful, especially when you have cargo.”
But I thought about what the voice in my head said and I realized, at best these two animals were insidious people whose sort of fun was clearly not the kind of fun that tough-guy St. Paul journalists would approve of.
On our way back on the other side of the creek, I happened to notice that the guy drinking brandy was flat on the ground. I went to check on him and he was unconscious, bleeding. I checked to see if he was breathing, and my wife checked his pulse while a couple other walkers called 911. Then a woman who’d been playing hide and seek with her toddler son on the path came over, told me she was an ICU doctor, and began a more thorough assist than my First Aid merit badge experience would allow. Because Eagle Scouts like me totally have that friendly/charitible/badass aura. Seeing that he was in good hands, I helped point the emergency vehicles to where he lay as I walked up the path to the playground at the Wabun Picnic Area, where Chuck and Lil' Tigger wanted to play.
Lo and behold, under one of the picnic pavilions, was an entire gathering of folks mostly in animal costumes -- furries. I watched my kids run around and play. I watched the furries run around and play. I watched some kids play with furries. I noticed a guy with a Pepsi box on his head for a costume, which seemed a little out of the definition of "furry."
I couldn’t help loving life in the Twin Cities at that moment, full of all sorts of folks, whether it’s a bunch of people dressing like big, brightly colored animals for fun even if -- I’ll be honest here -- from the outside looking in it seems a little silly; or Good Samaritans helping out some hurt guy who it would be pretty easy to write off as “unsavory” because he was drinking by a creek in the rain on a Saturday afternoon.
I don’t know what Joe Soucheray would make of all this. I do know that last week he proudly wrote a WTF column about a couple of people asking him for help. People who didn’t look like they "belonged" in his natty little hood, although from his description, they’re a dime a dozen at the Minnesota State Fair and plenty of other places in St. Paul. He responded like a passive-aggressive sheriff hoping to run them out of town without actually having to say so.
I, on the other hand, have spent the better part of 25 years since moving here from the mean streets of my small town watching people in our two cities in all their unique ways interact and go about their business. Because that’s what life in the Big City is all about -- no matter how hard some people resist that idea.
We live in the Twin Cities because we get all kinds. Some folks would do well not to forget that. Especially journalists who would like to come off like tough guys.
No furries were harmed in the writing of this story.