Go Al! Grrrr!
Some aspiring politicians find Jesus, but Al Franken would have you believe he's had a conversion of his own, from Saturday Night Live goofball to Deadly Serious Issues Guy. He swears as much in a long, rambling video posted to his U.S. Senate campaign's web site.
"I want you to know that nothing means more to me than making government work better for the working families of this state," says the wannabe senator, speaking before a bookshelf crammed full of undoubtedly important tomes. "And over the next 20 months, I look forward to proving to you that I take these issues seriously."
In his down time, however, Franken is apparently still quite the class clown. At least that's according to several of his neighbors in a downtown Minneapolis luxury high-rise. They say the Stuart Saves His Family star exhibits endlessly zany behavior on the treadmill in the communal workout room.
"He yells, 'Go Al!' and then puts his sweaty towel in his mouth, shakes his head back and forth, and growls like a dog," says Lauren Zeller, a 28- year-old risk consultant. "The cycle repeats: 'Go Al!,' towel, shake head, growl."
Hilary Cheeley, a health care technology project manager, says she recently caught him yelling at the television during a Twins game.
"When someone would strike out or whatnot he would say, 'Oooh!' or 'C'mon, hit it!'" says Cheeley, who is 32 and lives in the Grant Park condo building with her husband. "He was just kind of chatting up the TV while he was walking on the treadmill. I swear he was doing it just to get a rise out of me."
He later put his towel in his mouth, "maybe to curb his yips and yells," she speculates.
Cheeley had previously introduced herself to the chubby, ever-smiling Franken. She recognized him from Saturday Night Live and had listened to him on his erstwhile Air America Radio show. Months later, she says, he was extremely friendly when she "accosted" him in the lobby while he was walking his black lab, Kirby.
But on a recent Sunday afternoon, Franken seemed to regress back to his days as an entertainer.
"He had his earphones on and was singing out loud," Cheeley says, adding that the two were alone in the workout room. "I couldn't recognize the song. It put a big smile on my face and made me laugh, and I think that was intentional."
Zeller wasn't quite so amused. She encountered Franken in the workout room once in April and once in late May or June, she says, and both times he was decked out in a white t-shirt, white socks pulled halfway up his calves, and white tennis shoes. Also on both of those occasions, he asked her to help him find C-SPAN on one of the televisions. "He said he watches a lot of C-SPAN because it's important to stay politically informed, or something along those lines," Zeller says. He then began what she describes as a "politician's run"—a light jog with a whole lot of swinging elbows—before commencing the "Go Al!" towel-biting routine.
"It's clear that his activities in the gym are a performance, like a Saturday Night Live em> skit gone wrong or something," she says. "I think I felt mostly annoyed. When you're the only other person in the gym, it's hard to ignore. I actually left early so that I wouldn't have to see the growling and cheering himself on!"
Over at Al Franken for Senate, communications director Andy Barr fretted that these reports didn't sound like the kind of thing that would "make people take the campaign seriously." Although allowing that "Al's really into everything he does, including rooting for the Twins," Barr insisted that the rest of the behavior wasn't what he expected from the author of Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.
"That doesn't sound like him," Barr said, adding that he would discuss the matter with Franken and get back to us. But, he warned, "This is sounding less and less like the kind of thing we're going to have anything to say about." Two days later, after the collapse of I-35W, Barr said, "We've got nothing for you." Franken had been informed of what the Grant Park residents had to say, but, "I don't really think that it's the appropriate time for him to be commenting on what, with no disrespect intended, seems like kind of a light-hearted story," Barr said.
In any case, Franken's oddball behavior seems well known around the building. Cheeley and Zeller report that two other residents have also had strange encounters of the Franken kind, although neither responded to City Pages' request for comment. "My friend said a half a year ago or so that he was down there lifting weights, kind of pep talking himself, like 'C'mon Al, you can do one more rep!'" says Cheeley.
Apparently, the odd behavior hasn't bothered anyone enough to tell the landlord. Building manager Hamlet Vazquez says he has received no complaints about Franken's weird workout behavior. "I've never seen him in [the gym], but that doesn't mean anything, because I'm in my office most of the day," Vazquez says.
But the gym isn't the only place where Franken makes a spectacle of himself. Zeller says Franken has his own campaign bumper sticker plastered to his car, which she finds odd. Though she's a Republican, she swears her politics haven't affected her perception of Franken. "Politics aside, I prefer not to associate with people who are clearly attention seeking."
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