Let Us Go Then, You and I

A paws for the claws: Judging the Basic Black Championship Cat Show

With apologies to T.S. Eliot, June is the cruelest month. The endless parade of ugly bridesmaid dresses, juvenile bachelorette-party antics, tiny fat-free bridal-shower sandwiches--it's enough to push a girl past mere envy and into outright rebellion. So rather than listening to another sorority sister explain the differences between ivory, eggshell, and parchment, I decided to embrace my future and seek out the Twin Cities' spinster culture.

The mission of the Minnesota All-State Lutheran Choir is, to quote conductor Thomas Rossin, "to confront young people with Jesus Christ." And as everyone knows, young people need to be confronted with something, lest they end up like those pregnant, crack-smoking, shoplifting, flag-burning teens on The Maury Povich Show. The apple-cheeked, uniformed, 16- to 18-year-old members of the MASLC, clutching one another's hands (even the boys) and rushing the aisles to spontaneously embrace spectators during an exuberant rendition of "Jesus Loves the Little Children," seem more likely to sew a flag for the veterans' home Fourth of July celebration than to burn one.

And the Wednesday-night crowd at Golden Valley's Calvary Lutheran Church definitely approves: There's no clutching of purses and pepper sprays in the presence of these adolescents. Lovely septuagenarians, decked out in Easter-egg-color knit pantsuits, ornate gold-rimmed glasses with tinted lenses, Mardi Gras-style necklaces, and Easy Spirit wedges chuckle lovingly at a song-and-dance number about Zaccheus the Tax Collector and murmur excitedly when Rossin announces that famed hymn composer and upstanding Lutheran Leland Sateren is in the crowd. By intermission the cherubic cantors for Christ have received not one, but two standing ovations.



HOW, THE OLD joke goes, do you get an 80-year-old woman to utter the F-word? By getting the woman next to her to yell BINGO! Yes, every culture has its seedy underbelly, its bastard sons and daughters, and many of them have turned out this Thursday for evening bingo at Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake. Though the players range in age from about 20 (a hyperactive young woman who proudly informs me of a $17 win she had last month) to about 90 (a gentleman who has surrounded his cards and dauber with various sacred bingo idols), it is the senior women who give this game class. Although Mystic Lake offers computers to aid in bingo scorekeeping, these women kick it old-school, tracking their numbers with the help of only a few carefully selected daubers and their lucky articles of clothing. (First prize: a jean jacket embroidered with the words "WHEEL OF FORTUNE" and an image of the actual wheel).

Tonight the machine that blows the bingo balls around in their Plexiglas box is on the fritz. The tension is thicker than three-day-old Postum, and tempers are short. When the bingo caller--an anxious-looking average white guy who looks as though he is ready to administer an O-64 suppository to the hapless maintenance man--takes longer than usual to announce the next number, the regulars (easy to spot by the homemade dauber caddies in colors to match their shoes) commence an angry drum roll on the tables that quickly crescendoes through the Celebrity Bingo Palace.

Late-night bingo was to have commenced at 10:00, and it's nearly 11:00; those who haven't fared so well in the evening round are becoming disgruntled. After a four-minute break between numbers, a diminutive sixtysomething woman is on the verge of cracking. Leaping out of her chair and leaning across the table, she screams, "Use the Bonanza machine!"

Her cry draws nods and applause from her fellow competitors, but the Bonanza machine--presumably the other Plexiglas box that occupies the bingo stage--remains dormant. A regular (red shoes, red dauber caddy) turns to the $17 winner and her boyfriend and snaps, "You boys shouldn't stick around--there's not gonna be any late-night bingo," and I begin to fear the worst: cross-generational bingo mayhem. When the voice comes over the loudspeaker, confirming Red Shoes' suspicions, I hear the swell of angry voices, but I don't stop to see the carnage.



EVERYBODY KNOWS A Cat Lady. Or at least, everyone has an image of a Cat Lady--that is, an older, childless woman who dresses her feline companions in costumes and makes them reenact the Civil War and lets them eat liver pâté from Waterford crystal and other related nonsense. The third annual Basic Black Championship Cat Show, held over the weekend at the Veterans Memorial Community Center in Inver Grove Heights, promises to be Cat Lady Mecca.

In fact, a minivan in the parking lot bears South Dakota license plates that read "CAT LADY." (Another set proclaims "HLY CT," which I assume expresses a similar sentiment in a more cryptic fashion.) There's even Waterford crystal, in the form of the Fancy Feast Cup, the ultimate prize, to be presented to the Best in Show. There are, unfortunately, no costumes, though several humans have donned fancy silk dresses and pearls, and one male judge has, in a roomful of Persians on the hottest day of the year, decided on an all-black ensemble.

The myth of feline devotion is further shattered by the presence of a Cat Man--a distinguished gentleman who proudly clutches his prized companion while tooling around the hall in a motorized wheelchair. The rest of the men in attendance appear to be of the--pardon the expression--pussy-whipped variety: fetching brushes and toy mice for their wives, and holding their hands during the emotionally intense judging sessions. "It's so exciting," one Cat Lady whispers to an onlooker, then chokes back tears when her entry ignores the judge's feather during the all-important test for playfulness.

The kitty-pageant circuit appears to be as cliquey as a country club; those whose cats rest in plain cages or zip-up bags huddle outside around the ashtrays while others gather haughtily near their row of pet-pleasure centers. I feel the excitement is contagious, until I realize it's just my Claritin wearing off and I run outside to seek refuge from the dander zone. Though the dowager underground may have its allure, it can indeed prove perilous for those without the worldliness and life experience to successfully navigate its back streets.

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