Endless Summer

James O'Brien

Nothing was happening, so I went to the intersection of Chicago and Lake in Minneapolis. The sun was coming up over the old Sears building as a gaggle of women hovered over their toddlers and scurried across the street to catch the 5 bus. Cars blaring hip hop drove by. A large woman in a motorized wheelchair stopped at the corner, reached into her purse, took out a pack of Marlboros, lit one, and waited for the light to change. An empty Doritos bag blew down Lake Street, put a move on a salsa-blasting motorcycle, feinted past the gutter and into the intersection, where it was flattened by a minivan and again by a bus.

Nothing was happening, so I went into the Chicago-Lake Liquor store. The air-conditioning was going full blast, and the store's three clerks were sitting on top of their checkout conveyer belts. It was 11 o'clock in the morning. The only customer in the place was a dark-skinned woman who stood in front of the beer case, stoically looking into her palm at the two bills and change that filled it. She grabbed a 12-pack of Miller, put her head down, and made her way up to one of the clerks, who helped her count out the money ($6.79). The woman took her brown paper bag and disappeared into the parking lot.

Nothing was happening, so I went into Michael's Hip-Hop Shop, where the gent who works there--dressed in red print shorts, matching shirt, red socks, red sharkskin shoes, and red plastic derby--tried to sell me Negro League baseball jerseys, a Satchel Paige commemorative shirt, and various other flashy street gear. "I'm gonna make you a junior mack daddy!" he said, confidently, repeatedly, between gulps off a quart of Mountain Dew.

Nothing was happening, so the next night I went to Lord Fletcher's on Lake Minnetonka, where dozens of small yachts were parked at the outdoor bar. Ruddy-faced white people in golf caps, polo shirts, Tommy Bahama print shirts, sweatshirts, and T-shirts (Augsburg, Stanford, Minnesota) played volleyball, drank "Tonka Teas" and "Tonkaritas" ($7), roasted marshmallows, and danced to a cover band called Rhino. A boat the size of a whale tooled by, its white Christmas lights eliciting smug yelps from the landlubbers. Over by a rack of televisions above the bar, a golf-capped twentysomething man holding three beer bottles in his right hand and another in his left reared back, swayed, and looked at his friend, whose uniform suggested they were members of the same agreed-on-but-never-discussed club. "You valeted?! Why did you valet?" he bellowed; then, to the semicircle of fellow golf-cap clubbers that surrounded him: "He valeted! Can you believe it? He valeted!"

Nothing was happening, so the next day I went to the Art Car Parade on Lake and Lyndale, where the Walker Art Center was giving out free ice cream and a dozen city blocks were filled with people grinning almost drunkenly at cars made up to look like defecating horses, a bunny-turtle love nest, robots, a Paul and Sheila Wellstone shrine, a couch (complete with man, potato chips, and TV guide), and one festooned with, "Even Nice Girls Want to Lick Bush."

Nothing was happening, so the next day I went to church, where the reading was from the rebel St. Paul. I almost nodded off, except the invocation of the word "transgression" reminded me of this passage from writer/philosopher Thomas Moore: "Georges Bataille, the extraordinary French writer who has long spoken for the dark passages in the soul's journey, says that every love involves transgression. Soul is to be found in the vicinity of taboo."

Nothing was happening, so the next day I went to the Rose Garden at Lake Harriet, where six scruffy young white guys were playing a combative game of croquet. Each held a green can of beer. One guy with a hornet's nest of dreadlocks botched a shot, threw his head back, and said, "What the fuck was that?" Across the way, several dozen handsome Somali men and woman lolled around the garden in formal suits and dresses. The bride and groom sat on a bench in the shade while the best man and maid of honor fed them clumps of orange and white rice by hand. After the newlyweds got up to have their picture taken, three of the bridesmaids sat down on the bench, and a fourth lay across them, as if on a mattress. A semicircle of revelers gathered around them. Nobody talked. One of the sitting women stroked the horizontal woman's hair gently. Some of the men took off their coats because it was getting hot.

Nothing was happening, so a couple of days later I went to the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, where, under storm-threatened skies, Lucinda Williams opened her set by talking about visiting the zoo's two tigers and saying, "We're having a great time connecting with the animals," which reminded me of this passage from marathon runner guru George Sheehan: "The endurance animal has a larger heart than the animal that is domesticated or in captivity."

Nothing was happening, so the next day I went to visit a sixtysomething friend and sat on the step of her house, which is wallpapered with old-timey sheet music and stuffed with knickknacks and a working telephone booth. In the yard are two park benches, on which two female mannequins have taken up permanent residence. The yard itself is an explosion of red, yellow, orange, purple, and white flowers, which provide a canopy for the small St. Francis of Assisi statue that sits almost unseen amidst the vines and greens. Birds drank at the feeder and sang a song of the sun going down.

Nothing was happening, until a chipmunk poked his head through the flowers, looked at me, and dove back under. He did this three times, getting bolder and closer with each peek. Finally, he came up on the sidewalk next to the step and stared straight into my eyes. I thought he was going to jump in my lap. Instead, his black eyes fixed on mine and he said, "Quit looking so glum, Bub. What did you think was going to happen, anyway? Get your head outta your hands, already. You got no problems. You wanna talk problems? Look at my cheek. See that? One little nut. It's all I got, and winter will be here before you know it."


Jim Walsh can be reached at 612.372.3775 or [email protected].

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