Let the Good Thymes Roll

How green is my Golden Valley? The 16th annual Herb Symposium packs them in.
Craig Lassig

We all need to kick up our heels and get a little kooky now and then--even us (allegedly stoic) Minnesotans. Perhaps Dad wears the lampshade at the annual Christmas party, or Grandma's been known to down shots of Wild Turkey during a particularly vicious game of pinochle. I don't know much about the tides or the stars or planetary convergence, but I do know that for one week in August, the Lake Elmo Luther League might have broken out the deviled ham, the butcher at the Burnsville Byerly's may have whistled "Born to be Wild" while weighing out ground chuck, and I found myself immersed in a sea of mirth, merriment, and good old-fashioned dance-naked-in-the-moonlight good times.

The annual Loring Block Party is a circus that will never see a PETA protest. A trained bear on a tiny bicycle can't compete with the diverse crowd of revelers milling through the straw-dusted streets clutching plastic cups of beer and tiny, fashionable handbags. Escorted by a Chino Latino sous-chef and two Radio K personalities and still feeling decidedly unhip, I focus on a group that looks more out of place than I feel: four collegiate types, most likely Block Party virgins, frozen on the pavement between a Starbucks and a Ferris wheel, gaping at a woman in a fairy costume and a man in a "Bitch Goddess" T-shirt. Block Party organizers have erected a jail cell that holds a young woman who's yelling at her friends to bring her a drink, along with three children small enough to slip through the bars. One of the kids climbs up the bars and emits a feral shriek, which elicits no reaction from this crowd.

Nancy McLean, the evening's (very pregnant) ringmaster, stands in the center of scenester heaven, managing to look radiant while passing out drink tickets for the local bands on the Block Party bill and somehow maintaining control over the writhing sea of low-rider jeans, multicolored hair, and cool tattoos. "Hi, I'm Nancy, your pregnant hostess," she says warmly before turning her head to yell, "Flim Flam Man has to go on now!"

Where, I find myself wondering aloud, do all these extraordinarily beautiful, well-dressed people hang out the other 364 days of the year?


LOCAL STAND-UP COMEDY is like sex with an ex: When it's good, it's good, and when it's bad, it's awful. How many jokes can a person make about lutefisk? Hard to believe the Warehouse District's Acme Comedy Club could pack the house on a Wednesday night for two local warmups and a national act. Catering to its youngish crowd, Acme serves all drinks--from diet Cokes to margaritas to Long Island iced teas--in carafes. I pray the massive drink size isn't inversely proportionate to the club's faith in the talent.

Opener and emcee Matthew Lindstrom is young and nervous and, now that I've been seated in the front row, informs us that he's suffering from a bad cold. His standard warm-up questions receive polite, Minnesota Nice applause, until the comic asks if anyone is from Eden Prairie, his hometown. Crickets chirping. Lindstrom plows on, undaunted. "No one ever claps, even if they are from there."

Our host assays some more local humor--an impression of what Cops would be like if it were filmed in Elk River and hosted by Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin)--then brings on the second act, South Dakota transplant Todd Jay. In a wife-beater and blue lamé shirt, Jay immediately catches the attention of a small but loud group of gay men in the audience. When one shouts out a request for Jay's shirt, he cattily retorts, "Ten dollars, Tatters, Lake Street--only gay men and hookers shop on Lake Street." Jay does the local shtick as well, running through a series of impressions of Twin Cities types, including a particularly scathing one of Dayton's human-resources director Jackie Buck, with whom he used to work.

Then on comes New Yorker Ted Alexandro, who has 'em laughing in the aisles until he comments, "So, Minneapolis is a party town." More crickets. But Alexandro's jokes about snow shoveling are a big hit, and a little Northern Plains pride comes into play when he asks what a mild winter is like here. "Minus twenty," says one guy, chuckling to himself. Pass the lutefisk....


ALMOST LIKE THOSE sexy Clairol Herbal Essences commercials, but not quite: The 16th annual Herb Symposium at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is a cross between Martha Stewart's TV show and a wild sorority party. The arboretum (by far the best use of all the money I've given to the university) is beyond a city kid's wildest fantasies--acres of lush, breathtaking flora, and plenty of helpful volunteers to explain it all. The symposium attendees are mostly women in cotton dresses; about 70 are packed into a stuffy auditorium to hear chef Lucia Watson (of Lucia's in Uptown) lecture on cooking with herbs. At the break, the samples prepared during the demonstration are devoured in seconds. The previous lecture, "Wreaths, Head Garlands, and Tussie-Mussies," appears to have been successful as well: Many a head is adorned in the style of Renaissance maidens.

Linda Ashley Leamer, editor of the Tea Time Gazette, takes the stage to present "The Pleasures of Afternoon Tea." In suit, hat, and stockings, Leamer is a picture of Victorian propriety, smiling brightly despite the room's uncomfortable heat. Her suggestively titled lecture is informative--we learn of the mocking irony behind the phrase "high tea"--and just a bit naughty, as Leamer extols the virtues of loose tea prepared in a teapot: We're going to convert you from bag ladies to loose." During these dog days of summer, that's pretty good advice: Let's all get loose.

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