Cursing a blue streak
After a victor had been declared in the spaz-dancing competition and the Geek King and Queen had been crowned, it was time for one of the unofficial traditions of the Geek Prom: the Geek Streak. And so on May 12, at the Science Museum in St. Paul, a group of friends dutifully disrobed in the bathroom and prepared to give the crowd a lesson in velocity and human anatomy.
As U of M-Duluth geology graduate student Irvin Mossberger explains, "We ran out naked, ran up onto the stage, out of the main room, through an exhibit. When we ran back into the room, a policeman was at the doorway."
Mossberger remembers seeing something like a can of Off in the officer's hand, and feeling a sensation of wetness hit him as he flew past the cop. "I didn't know what he did—a few of us thought at first it was some sort of tracking dye."
But when the streakers got back into the men's room, the situation became clear. "Dude, I think he pepper-sprayed us," Mossberger remembers hearing a cohort exclaim. Arms and stomachs began to smart. Then St. Paul officers Tracie McHarg and Genaro Valentin, who had been acting as security for the alt-dork dance, ticketed the men for indecent exposure, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail.
Neither officer responded to City Pages' requests for comment.
While the aftereffects of the chemical agent were minimal—"I didn't breathe it or get it in my eyes, although I'm glad he didn't aim lower," notes Mossberger—the incident is unsettling to those who see the nerd fest as a place for geeks to be free. More serious are the secondary consequences of an indecent exposure charge. "I could be ineligible for social service jobs, or adopting a child," Mossberger says.
Prom founder Paul Lundgren says, "I'm giving him [the cop] the benefit of the doubt and hoping he committed a Barney Fife-like blunder, because I'd hate to think he calmly decided to pepper-spray a half-dozen defenseless, naked nerds." —Sarah Askari
The night of November 11, 2002, Kristina Lemon woke up her partner Cynthia Miller with a peculiar question: "What if there was a fire in the garage?"
The question took on more significance a few hours later when Minneapolis firefighters responded to a call from Lemon's house on the 4300 block of 29th Avenue South. Upon arrival they discovered the garage in flames. Odder still? Kristina Lemon was—and is—a Minneapolis firefighter.
Investigators determined that the fire had been intentionally set, and according to a search warrant filed in Hennepin County last month, they quickly zeroed in on Lemon as the prime suspect. Lemon appeared to be intoxicated at the scene, the warrant alleged. And Lemon's then-partner, Miller, relayed her memory of that unusual conversation.
If Lemon's name sounds familiar, that's because she is one of four firefighters who sued former fire chief Bonnie Bleskachek last year. Lemon's lawsuit alleged that Bleskachek engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment and discrimination toward her. (See "A Hunk of Burning Love," 5/31/06.) The city settled the case in March, with Bleskachek and Minneapolis agreeing to pay Lemon $35,000.
Lemon has not been charged in the arson investigation. She referred questions about the garage fire to her attorney, Dan Rasmus, who denies that his client was responsible for the 2002 blaze. Rasmus counters, "The timing of making public, through the search warrant, what was previously confidential investigative information is very questionable given the fact that we just settled with the city."
It's unclear why the investigation is heating up now. Sgt. Erika Christensen, the primary investigator on the case, did not return calls seeking comment.
Investigator Sean McKenna, who previously worked on the case, says that the fire was clearly arson. "The fire was set," he says. "By whom is the question. I think Kris Lemon is a problem employee, and I wouldn't trust her as far as I could throw her, but that doesn't make her a fire starter."
The statute of limitations on arson investigations is five years. Meanwhile, Lemon continues to work as a Minneapolis firefighter. "There's no grounds at this point to take action against her," says Matt Laible, a spokesman for the city. "She's on duty and she's performing her regular job." —Paul Demko
The Hockey Night calls in the Zamboni
This just in: The Hockey Night split up. Two months ago.
News of the local indie-rock quintet's demise would have broken the hearts of fans, especially since the band was rumored to be on the brink of signing a major contract with DFA Records, an imprint partly run by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy. Except that news never got out. Even the band members were sketchy on the details after it happened.
"We did a really bad job of communicating with each other," says drummer Alex Achen. "It was dudes talking. You know how dudes talk to each other. They're terrible at it."
Then, unbeknownst to the band, the music website Daytrotter.com issued a statement from Paul Sprangers, the group's founder and lead singer, making the breakup official.
"We were operating under that indie-rock idea where it was fun and everybody's buddies," the website quoted Sprangers as saying. "We just want to do it right and we couldn't get things done."
The post went on to say that Sprangers and Scott Wells, Hockey Night's other guitarist, were still signing with DFA. Almost immediately, the message board on Modernradio.com—frequented by Hockey Night members and fans—exploded with criticism, much of it accusing Sprangers and Wells of firing the other three members of the band in order to hog the glory of the major label. The separation was especially underhanded, posters sniffed, because Achen, Sprangers, and Wells had gone to high school together and were supposed to be best friends. As one poster, who calls himself Coach, wrote, "That's integrity my friends, spelled c-o-c-k-s-u-c-k-e-r-s."
Achen admits that the breakup was hard at first, but he looks at the situation with considerably less ire than those anonymous message-board posters. "It wouldn't be inaccurate to say I felt kind of betrayed," he says delicately. "But I don't begrudge Paul and Scott. I would have liked to remain in the band, but there were ills. We weren't being productive."
Neither Scott Wells nor Paul Sprangers responded to CP's requests for comment.
Achen, who says he loved playing in the band but couldn't stand its name, prefers to remain positive. "Hey, at least I'm not in a band called 'the Hockey Night' anymore." —Chuck Terhark
Even the pay stays in Vegas
Thursday night, six folks crammed into a booth at north Minneapolis's Broadway Pizza to down some cocktails, wings, and flat pie—and to prepare for a lawsuit.
Back in early February, the six joined about 100 other locals who had heard of an interesting way to make some quick cash. A Minnesota security company, Captains of the Guard, was contracting with another operation to provide security in Las Vegas for the NBA All-Star Game weekend. As the Broadway Pizza crowd remembers it, former MPD cop Jonathan Beecham made the pitch in a church on the North Side: His company would cover airfare and expenses (except for food). In exchange for a little crowd control and celebrity escorting, the security staff would get a nice working vacation.
"We were gonna work a little and play a little," recalls Travis Lee, the publisher of local society paper Trendsetter and a well known DJ in town. "It was $10 an hour for staff, $12 an hour for supervisors, and the feeling was 'Hey, I get to go to Vegas.'"
The weekend got ugly, though, even by the low standards of the NBA and the sinful city of Las Vegas. On top of five shootings, police made more than 350 arrests, and the strip had to be closed down twice because of violence. One security company pulled out, and the situation became chaotic. Those working for Beecham's company were soon pulling 12-, 16-, even 20-hour shifts at places like the Mandalay Bay casino and the NBA store.
The fact that the working vacation was heavy on work and short on leisure was only part of the problem. The Broadway Pizza six claim they never got paid.
The group has contacted a Vegas attorney, who wrote a letter to the Vegas security company, PRS Security and Investigations, demanding some $40,000 in wages for 37 people. Yvette Thompson, who is regularly a special-ed assistant in the Minneapolis public schools, estimates PRS and Beecham owe each temp employee about $1,200.
At the pizza joint on Thursday, anger rose as some recounted how they'd been played. "I knew [Beecham] from coming up together and everything," says Sean Phillips, a 38-year-old writer, adding that he feels "betrayed." (Beecham did not return phone calls seeking comment.) "I saw [him] in church two Sundays ago, and the sermon was about personal responsibility," Phillips continues. "My heart started pounding, and I asked him if everyone was going to get paid, and he said yes. But I thought I was going to jump him. He's lucky I was in the Lord's house." —G.R. Anderson Jr.
Fight or flight?
Flight attendants might want to start pocketing those little packets of pretzels at the end of each run. In the new airline economy, Cinnabon runs at the airport may have turned into a distant luxury.
When Northwest Airlines flew out of bankruptcy court last week, top executives were rewarded with eye-popping bonuses: CEO Doug Steenland, who already enjoys base pay of $1.8 million, will get an extra $26.6 million. Northwest's four other top officers will take home $10 million to $13.5 million each. Former Board Chair Gary Wilson walks away with $2 million, plus healthcare and a $75,000-a-year office allowance for life. The bonuses came for slashing $1.4 billion from the airline's payroll during Northwest's restructuring.
For the flight attendants, however, the cuts mean starting wages fell from $19,593 a year for a typical schedule of 75 hours of flight a month to $15,714. The top pay rate fell from $44,190 to $35,433. Another job perk? Flight attendants only collect wages for hours spent in the air, and their salaries come with new work rules that demand more unpaid time on the ground.
"A lot of people are taking in renters," says the Association of Flight Attendants' Andy Wisbacher, "or taking second or third jobs. That's hard to do because they're away from home about 20 percent more than previously."
Forget about pilfering the pretzels: How about a raid on the rolling minibar? —Beth Hawkins
Home of the homeless
Everyone called it "the Clump of Woods." It wasn't much—a small stand of mature trees and just enough undergrowth to allow a modicum of privacy for bathroom runs. But for 68-year-old William Siedlecki and a few friends, the Clump of Woods was something like home.
Now, the Clump of Woods is a clump of dirt. Last week, construction crews leveled the little scrap of land, wedged between Mariucci Arena and the Burlington-Northern Railroad tracks, to make way for the University of Minnesota's new on-campus football stadium.
In years past, the Clump was a bona fide hobo jungle, with dozens of people sleeping and partying in the old trailers and railroad cars that once rusted on-site. More recently, it has been a quieter scene. This past winter, Siedlecki spent most of his time at the Clump alone, interrupted only by occasional visits from drinking buddies and outreach workers.
In the bitter cold of January, Siedlecki began thinking about finding his way indoors. But with the arrival of warm weather, his interest in the straight life has waned. Siedlecki, who has lived on the streets of Minneapolis for the better part of three decades, seems to be taking the razing of his campsite in stride.
"I got a couple of blankets and I'm looking for another place to stay," he said the other day, toting a pillowcase stuffed with his earthly possessions: a change of clothes, some body wash, and a day-old copy of the New York Times.
Wouldn't he be happier in an apartment?
"I'm never happy, inside or outside," Siedlecki responded. He paused for a moment, and then lightened up. "What the heck, it's summertime. What I need now is a good fishing pole." —Mike Mosedale
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.