Manifest Destiny

Nate Schoitz, 65, with Ug (for Ugly) and Spy Mama, and their daughter Foxy

Nate Schoitz, 65, with Ug (for Ugly) and Spy Mama, and their daughter Foxy

By Nate Schoitz as told to Beth Hawkins

My story, I think, has to do with the neighborhood. In 1981, I was working as a cowboy on a ranch in Mille Lacs. My mother tricked me. She asked if I could come home and take care of my dad. My father died shortly thereafter and my mother went into the Augustana nursing home. She's 101. Both my brother and my sister said to me, Get a job. And I said, Fuck you. I'm basically unemployable. I have no income except for Social Security.

I had been to the university and worked as an editor a bunch of places. But I'm a stone-cold alcoholic and for some reason women terrify me. I never figured out who I should be professionally, in order to take care of a woman. And intimacy, for me, is about the terror of being alive.

My landlord at this house where I lived on 15th Avenue South, he worked for the city as a mechanic, and he'd always been able to keep the inspector out. Sometimes he'd even physically block the door to keep her out. I was able to be in there for $200 a month, within striking distance of my mother.

I had heat from the stove with a fan. I didn't have to worry about the fumes because the house was airy enough. There was a guest room in the back and the last guest was a young Indian lady with a crack habit. She was very discreet but the house almost got known as a crack house.

We'd been working on trying to get things up to code. But I made the mistake of letting the city in. There was a change of inspectors. I'm fairly innocent, and the new inspector snuck in behind me. That was last fall, a year ago. Now my dogs and I live in this truck. I move this bike out at night and we all sleep back here.

One of the reasons I wasn't able to figure out how to work things out after the eviction is 'cause it got to the point where I was medicating myself with wine. I was just living, and visiting my mother, and staying wined up.

This house was known as the hippie house. Hippies lived downstairs. Someone else who was a guest said it was a house of love. The owner used downstairs as his place of possibility, but he was living elsewhere.

My friend invited me into the house, but then he died. He worked in a plant in northeast Minneapolis and something there worked its way into his body and he died. And there I was. I inherited the place. I'd been there for a while; I was known as Dog Man. My dog had two litters and because of those litters, I became a part of the neighborhood. Kids would want to come see the puppies.

But we're talking about the house and the block. When I moved there in the late '70s, boy, it was beautiful on both sides. The house immediately to the south is architecturally something, French Renaissance of some sort from the 1890s. Magnificent. It was built by a woman for her two sons. When I was there it belonged to a Native American family and their business was selling marijuana. They were magnificent fuckin' people, except that the only way they could keep it going was to stay high. Then they left.

The landlord then was a wonderful old Jewish man. After him, three people tried to make something of the house. The landlord now is an amazing man from Palestine. And the house is something to behold. He's opened it up, followed the integrity of the initial thing. Now the city wants to gentrify neighborhoods like that, you know.

The house on the north was condemned. There were some people who wanted it, thought it would be a nice place. The Olsons were there, and then a Hmong family, and then it was demolished. I saved two beams from the downstairs of the house and I wanted to put them up in a cross in the middle of the lot.

And then, like a mushroom, a new house happened. And then somebody moved in, and now that somebody is part of the neighborhood. They're a young Chinese couple and they're Baptists. To my knowledge their grandparents were indentured servants on the railroad. He flew a flag for Jesus and for Nebraska football--it was always one or the other, Jesus or Nebraska football.

The block, I think, is pretty interesting in that almost the whole universe is there. It's at the crisscrossing of I-94 and 35W. There's Native American and Southeast Asian. There's the new introduction of the Spanish-speaking. There's artists, yuppies, and Baptists who work for Billy Graham. And I still park my truck in back of the house next door to mine.

It's a block in the city in the heart of America. It's manifest destiny.