Out of Characters

In the parlance of journalism, feature is a catch-all for any longish story that doesn't necessarily have a time peg. At City Pages features are a place where characters are drawn, from Jesse the Body to Bear in the Woods Bly to Saint Mary Jo to the guy who thinks his body has been inhabited by Vlad the Impaler. It's where human enterprise is saluted, from metal scavengers to pinball wizards to repo men to the kid who sells rocks in the alley behind his home. It is a place for first-person narratives by a department-store Santa, a phone-sex operator, and a worker on the turkey-evisceration assembly line.

Three of the finest feature writers to have published work in these pages are still turning out work for the paper. Josie Rawson, a published poet and current City Pages associate editor, is a superb prose stylist, as anyone who has read her story on the camp for kids who have been scarred by fire or her profile of John Holtby, who was scarred by the mental-health profession, can verify. Both pieces make you simultaneously want to laugh and cry. Elsewhere, the rhythm she captures in a conversation among carny vets reveals an ear for dialogue that's as sharp as her eye for detail--virtues enriched by a profound empathy for her protagonists.

Longtime freelancer Brad Zellar likewise isn't afraid to lay his heart on the page. His affinity for offbeat maestros--souvenir peddler Ray Crump, for instance, and the wacky posse that is the Shriners--have prompted some indelible features, while his first-person account of life as an insomniac is a tragicomic tour de force that prompted at least one book offer.

And finally there's Dara Moskowitz. While you might not expect a weekly restaurant review to provide a forum for feature fodder, during her tenure at the paper, Moskowitz has virtually reinvented the medium--and delectably so.


A rock band calling themselves White Lie played at Boyd's in December, bringing with them some of their big friends from Milwaukee. Wrestlers Jesse Ventura and the lovely biceptual Adrian Adonis joined in on the three-night stand, with Ventura making a new kind of stage scene one night by singing "Cocaine." No body slams were reported at any of the gigs.

Martian Colour, January 7, 1981


One particularly successful bad guy now living in north Minneapolis is Jesse Ventura....There is a touch of the dope-smoking hippie in his character: He wears wire-rimmed sunglasses, psychedelic wrestling tights, and sports a menacing beard and thinning, long, bleached-blond hair.

Sheldon Anderson, October 8, 1981


Jesse "The Body" Ventura should have a 12-inch dance single in the stores any day now--"The Body Rules" b/w "Showdown With Mr. V." The only hope here is that it comes close to the quality of the Crusher's single ("Do the Crusher") released nearly 20 years ago.

Jeff Pike, December 19, 1984


But his ring persona pales beside the Jesse one might encounter on the street, or, say, at Runyon's Bar. At six-foot-five, 260, Jesse is visible from all corners of any room. On an average evening he'll be wearing a wig of purple dreadlocks, shades, six earrings, glitter specks on his cheeks, a black leather biker jacket, and a gleaming sequin sunk deep into the dimple of his chin.

"I feel sorry for those punkers uptown," Jesse says. "People pick on 'em. Hell, I've always dressed exactly as I pleased. And nobody picked on me....I'd like to publicly criticize the Twin Cities radio stations for not playing my record. The people want to hear Jesse the Body and they're not gettin' it! TWIN CITIES STATIONS, WISE UP AND GET WITH IT!"

Bruce Rubenstein, March 27, 1985


Out in the parking lot ten minutes later, Ventura suggests that a photographer get a shot of the license plate on his 1990 Porsche Carrera 4. UDT (for Underwater-Demolition Team) SEAL, it reads, encased in a plate holder adorned with the words, "Mess with the best/Die like the rest." Asked how fast the sports car could go, Ventura eagerly takes the bait. "You know that high stretch of road leaving town out of Two Harbors? I've had it up to 140 up there." With his massive arms folded over his chest beneath an insouciant smile, the bald-headed candidate looks like an unholy cross between James Dean and Mr. Clean.

In political circles Ventura's campaign has been treated largely as an afterthought to the serious business of the election; at best he's referred to as a spoiler who could cost one of the others the election. That Ventura personally and the third-party movement in general have a constituency of their own--one which has grown from near-obscurity a decade ago to prime-time status today--barely seems to register.

Britt Robson, September 30, 1998


Once you penetrate the theories of the four Mothers, the three brains, and the two consciousnesses, you reach the one and only Robert Bly--a weird, high-energy emanator, a Lutheran born to repression, as he has said of himself, and a Capricorn born to concealment, brooding through the years and, in the storm of civilization, turning over a new leaf.  

Zeke Limehouse, March 23, 1983


Tip jars were legalized back in 1979, possibly because no one could imagine that such a dull and pointless pastime would ever lead anyone to ruin. The idea is simple: You pay money, usually a dollar, and receive a little folded slip of paper, fished from a cookie jar by the cashier. You open it up, look at it, and discover that you haven't won anything.

Tonight there is a couple, perhaps from out of town, definitely from the Midwest. They stand by the tip jars, opening ticket after ticket, as if they were on an assembly line. When they are through, and 30 bucks' worth of useless paper lie scattered at their feet, they look at one another and then towards the tables. You want the pit boss--a man in glasses with PRAIRIE PUBLIC BROADCASTING written on his coat--to come over, pump their hands, thank them for keeping Masterpiece Theatre on the air for another week, but he is bent over bookwork, counting the take.

James Lileks, March 13, 1985


I don't eat at the fair. At the end of the night I just have someone punch me in the stomach, hard. Same effect and I save a bundle. I'm convinced that people eat the stuff at the fair because it's never served anywhere else. If there were a Pronto Pup stand outside your house, how often would you go for one? I thought so.

James Lileks, August 27, 1986


"It's like the Republicans and the Democrats," [former tribal chairman Norman Crooks] says of the factions battling for control of the reservation. "We call it the Bows and the Arrows."

...Lost in this free-for-all is the delicious irony that here in the rolling fields near Shakopee, the Indians are finally cleaning up on the white folk. Nobody on the reservation--least of all Crooks or tribal chairman Leonard Prescott--would utter such an obscenity, but you need only look over the crowd of suburban gamblers on a Thursday afternoon to realize the Mdewakanton have come a long way. The big question is where they will go from here.

Craig Cox, June 8, 1988


Oliver North had a dramatic effect on many Americans, but Patricia Barnett says he really did a number on her husband. When the colonel was on a roll, Robert Barnett was a happy man. Weekends he'd don his camouflage garb and while away the afternoons in the woods near their Anoka County home, taking harmless potshots at imaginary Viet Cong.

In fact, her husband's self-conception was so heavily tied to the persona of the mute Marine that when North's legal troubles began to mount, Barnett's morale plunged. She claims he reverted to some old and nasty habits; wife-beating and slipping mickeys in little girls' cocoa so he could take their clothes off and photograph them.

"It's a lot different than she says it is," Rob Barnett counters. "The voyeurism is Patty's primarily. I had to get involved sometimes, but she was the instigator." He claims ignorance about any crawl-space peepholes, but admits there were two-way mirrors in the house. "We were both in on it," he explains, "but Patty made me do it."

Bruce Rubenstein, October 19, 1988


A male-bonding spectacle awaits me at the Cabana Bar, where a wounded vet has removed his prosthetic leg and is daring people to drink a beer from its cup. People chant like Vikings as a handful of patrons chug stump-flavored brewski. The veteran's girlfriend acts as barker, mustering recruits.

The only time I feel threatened during the whole week is while I'm watching the prosthesis trick. A very intense, very cryptic guy who looks like a young Peter Lorre appears at my elbow. "Don't be too quick to judge," he intones. After glowering some more, he drifts away.

Monty Mickelson, November 8, 1989


There was the little boy who stood in front of me trembling violently, held my hand, and despite his trepidation, was determined to cite his Christmas list. There was the little girl who wanted only cough drops....There was the three-year-old girl who brought me a picture of herself and some play money to help defray the cost of my trips back and forth from the North Pole. There was the crippled boy who slapped me five and just stood in front of me, saying "Santa Claus" over and over. There was the kid who wanted the hole puncher; the one who wanted a screwdriver "so I can help my dad." There was the huge group of Hmong kids who didn't understand a word I said but gave me big hugs anyway.  

Jim Walsh, December 27, 1989


In actual fact, the client, Larry, tells me precious little, except that he wants a woman to strap on a dildo and perform anal intercourse on him. That being a limited topic for conversation, I'm left to improvise: Larry, judging by his breathing patterns, is obviously too busy to elaborate much further. "Use your imagination," he keeps whispering, "say anything you want." Problem is, I don't want to say anything, really, except to ask him questions. I want to know what he does, why he's calling.

Judith Lewis, October 24, 1990


"Bambi's mother gets violently murdered," Lucy protested. "How do you think that makes your nephew regard violence against women?" "Well," I said, "I don't think it made him very happy, but I doubt it will lead him to a life of voting Republican."

Judith Lewis, February 6, 1991


Like a vision, [Carlson Companies vice president] Marilyn [Nelson] appeared again, talking about a blind breadboard maker from Eagan who had a lot of courage and was making breadboards as gifts for a Super Bowl something or other. A guy in a Pepsi hardhat drove around on an ATV hauling an actual block of ice from the Pepsi Palace at the Winter Carnival; a small army of people came out pushing snow blowers, representing Logistics-Transportation-Security, with special thanks to Toro. I began to think we would be trapped in Met Center all night. Hot Hosts would bring us more Cokes; we would clap and jump up and cheer on cue. Luckily things calmed down for a poignant closing with Marilyn and her special puppet version of Super Bowl Baby Lambchop from Target.

Julie Caniglia, January 22, 1992


In their careers as repo men, Latvaaho and Bolkcom have been shot at, chased by bikers, dogs, and cops, threatened with death, cursed at, threatened with plastic explosives, lied to, threatened with pipes, punched, shoved, and scammed. Even so, they like their jobs.

Bolkcom parks the Mustang 25 yards away from the Chevy, which sits just off the front yard, and opens his trunk. Silently, the repo man gathers the tools of his trade: the Slim Jim, a large metal yardstick with which to trip the door lock; a box of ignition keys; and a leather pouch that houses a set of lock picks. He says he's forgotten his Mace at home, and opts to leave the blackjack on the front seat of the car.

Jim Walsh, June 24, 1992


"How do you like it here, Kevin?" [Grace House executive director] Keith Dorenbach asks softly.

"I like it, I like it just fine. No complaints. I like going out into the garden. It's a wonderful garden. I go out there on the gazebo and I smoke out there. I smoke all the time. I smoke my brains out. Yes, indeed. I smoke in the garden and I kill ants left and right."

"When did you move back to Minneapolis?"

"Eight years ago. More than eight years ago."

"Was that right around the time you found out you had AIDS?"

"Yes, it was. Exactly. I've got cigarettes here in my pocket. My top pocket. Four left. Four more. Nooo kidding. Nooo doubt about it."

"When did you first hear about Grace House?"

"Right before I came. I don't know."

"Didn't you have a friend who lived here?"

"Yeah, Keith. He lived here. He died here. In my bed."

"Is that kind of creepy for you?"

"Yeah, it is...."

"How old are you, Kevin?"

"I'm 34. And I'll be 35 December first. Yippee skippee, I can't wait 'til I'm 35. I hope I'm alive for it."

"I hope you are too, Kevin."

Jim Walsh, November 4, 1992


"RO-OO-OCKS FOR SALE!" The little boy sits on a plastic bucket filled with, yes, rocks. On the sidewalk before him he's got hundreds of them, most perfectly ordinary, carefully arranged in rows and ready for sale. And the kid's got an impressive reserve in case of a rush: Another plastic bucket and an empty 12-pack beer box sit brimming at his side....He's a good salesman, explaining the fine points of his products and lingering admiringly over one he says contains a fossil. Charmed by his laid-back pitch, I pick out four rocks and let him name the price. "I think about 80 cents," he says, after a moment's ciphering. I offer him a dollar and tell him to keep the change. Ecstatic at first, he pauses and then suggests, "Well, you can take another rock if you like." A happy customer is a repeat customer.

Joyce Turiskylie, August 18, 1993  


"We've won $6,000, three trophies, and a dozen plaques since our first tournament in Milwaukee in '92, and OH MY GOD!" Fred Richardson gasps. His partner-in-pinball, Paul Madison, leaps back like he's been jolted by Whitewater, a game in Blondies' on the West Bank. The machine seems to be having some kind of mechanical orgasm, every light, bell and whistle strobing full force as the points slowly rack up. "He got the Vacation Planner shot!"

Julie Caniglia, September 8, 1993


Maybe you know the type: Greg makes do with three 45-cent bagels for breakfast and lunch each day, and one $92 session with his shrink each week. Amy squeaks by month to month working a few shifts at a coffee shop, yet her bathroom is stocked with expensive aromatherapy toiletries. Andy sees a Persian rug for sale on the street and runs to the cash machine, even though he knows he doesn't have enough to cover it. "You just sort of trust in the fact that things are going to work out," he explains simply. Somehow, they always do.

Julie Caniglia, March 23, 1994


Then comes a '59 LeSabre, lowered, nosed, decked, metallic ruby, no door handles, just a tiny hole where you key the solenoid so the door pops open. Sometimes Neil gets up and goes out at night and just cruises because there's no feeling like it. "I put 8,000 miles on this thing last year and I didn't go nowhere." When he graduated high school in '57 he got $125 and spent $95 of it on a '48 Ford....

It's hard to understand the attachment if you didn't live through it. But it's real simple. When most of these people were little kids, the big war was on and they didn't make cars. So for years they sat in the musty back seat of the family rattletrap and figured, well, this was it. This was cars. Then came the Fifties and good times and gorgeous, powerful chromewagons, and suddenly the big moments of your life had to do with the car you were driving.

Like Jerry and Judy. Back in '64 Judy was sitting in a white '61 Skylark three rows in from the fence when Jerry comes over from this burgundy '61 Invicta and he works it around to where he gets her phone number. And here they are tonight in a perfect, lemon-yellow '53 Nash Rambler. Huh? Yeah, but wait. Jerry has put a CZ-1 in it, a 350-cubic-inch custom block that gets 345 horsepower along with a new tranny and beefed-up rear end. Don't mess with him.

Then there's the occasional chirp of rubber when a car pulls out onto University. Not a long peal, mind, just a sedate little chirp. It's like a rare birdcall for these people. Clothes weren't much back then. Or hundred-dollar athletic shoes. You could get a car for that.

Roger Swardson, May 4, 1994


Council Holds Firm: No Basilica Buyout

by Kevin Ducksoup

Rocked by its Target Center battles, the Minneapolis City Council sent a message on Thursday. And they hope it's loud and clear enough to be heard all the way to Rome.

"We aren't buying the Basilica, and that's it," said council president Jackie Cherryhomes, following a short, terse meeting with Vatican attorneys. "We very much want Catholicism to stay in Minneapolis and Minnesota, but if market forces aren't enough to ensure their viability here, maybe they're better off moving.


Lunchtime Lynching?

St. Paul eyes public hanging to bring 'em back downtown

by Jill Hodgekins

If St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman has his way, Holidazzle will seem like Holifizzle. The Aquatennial Parade will look all wet. If Coleman's vision becomes reality, St. Paul may have hit on the granddaddy of downtown promotional schemes: open-air public executions.

staff, Star Tribune parody, March 30, 1994


Now Vlad is part of all their daily routines. Mornings, Kathleen wakes up and greets them both. While Dale and Vlad eat breakfast, she feeds the goats and the cats. Then she and Dale cuddle on the couch to watch the shows she's recorded the night before, late-night TV fare about UFO sightings, channeling, anything to do with the paranormal. Vlad puts in his two cents about the shows--his five centuries' experience on the other side is time enough to accumulate knowledge to rival any tabloid TV producer.

Sharing the same body, Dale and Vlad have fallen into an easy intimacy, a friendship close enough to let them share Kathleen without tension or jealousy. It's hard, anymore, for any one of them to imagine life without the other two.

Joseph Hart, November 23, 1994

I've driven by [Minneapolis's Zuhrah Temple] hundreds of times, always wondering. Certainly I wanted to go there, to eat there. So did lots of other people I know. But no one ever did. Maybe it was something about the Shriners, a lingering perplexity. They'd show up in my childhood town every year on the Fourth of July, exotic, bizarre, over-the-top oddballs amidst the usual display of wholesome Midwestern pomp and dignity. Grown men in bloomers, sunglasses, red fezzes, and odd shoes, playing banjos or bagpipes, wielding swords, or roaring crazily down Main Street on motorcycles, in go-carts, in miniature helicopters. And the wackos threw big circuses to boot. How the hell, you wondered, do I join?  

Brad Zellar, January 25, 1995


Consider this: On an average day of getting to work, doing eight hours, hitting the supermarket, and maybe going out to a club, a straight guy may cross paths with perhaps 50 women; if he isn't too preoccupied (and I'll testify to this) he might imagine--if only for the most fleeting second or two--fucking, sucking, and/or tweaking 20 of them into a delirium. And we're not talking just about the overimaginative here, or those who aren't getting it at home....I don't think this state of desire is bad. It just is. Sometimes, I admit, it's tiring, annoying, even painful. Sometimes it's just amusing, our psychobiology doing its thing. Sometimes it's totally absurd.

Will Hermes, March 15, 1995


"When the Americans and the leaders flee," says Xai Bee Moua, "the news came out that those who worked for the CIA would be hunted down and killed." In November 1975, when he and some other men were outside the village, the Pathet Lao entered and found 29 people there, including Moua's mother, his brother, and his brother's family. "And from a distance I watched my mother and members of my family killed, pounded by sticks."

The current [welfare] reform bill would cut payments to Xai Bee Moua and what family he has left. "They just want the Hmong soldiers to do slave labor," Moua says, and for the first time in his narrative, his voice cracks a little. "I would like to plead to the American public to acknowledge the dignity of our friendship we gave to them; that we were once by their sides."

Britt Robson, April 19, 1995


Ray Crump is in the middle of one of his Redd Foxx stories when he does an agitated little hop to his left and throws a jab at one of the hundreds of signed photographs on the wall. "Dolly Parton," he says. "I took her to Kentucky Fried Chicken."

Brad Zellar, June 21, 1995


"My fire," Rochelle Greengard starts in--naming it, like a possession--"happened on a windy day like this." [The 11-year-old has been] a regular at camp since her fire three years ago on Labor Day weekend. "Somebody poured gas on it," she says, still not wanting to tell, after all these years, who was there...."I can't say who," Rochelle goes on, "but it was five or so in the afternoon, and the wind blew it up. I caught fire when the gas got on my clothes. I went running as fast as I could for the lake. Then my brother tackled me and rolled me in the sandbox until the flames went out of me.

"You know," Rochelle goes on, "I just forgot about 'stop, drop, and roll,' since maybe I was in shock, like a weird dream. It was creepy. It was like my brain caught on fire too, and didn't work right."

Josie Rawson, August 30, 1995


John Holtby remembers this about the time he lost all his teeth: "What happened was the dentist in Richfield already had me in the chair when he pulled out a big screwdriver. It was terrible, terrible. Big question mark here about who set all this up, but then he came at me with the screwdriver. I had my mouth wide open and I screamed. Then he was on me yanking at the teeth. All of them, they all came out, nothing for pain killing. One tooth, then another tooth, just like that. I jumped up and ran across the office and opened the side door there and my big German shepherd who was demanding to come in and save me ran into the room and at the dentist. My dog was on him in a flash. What a sight!"

When the story reaches this moment, John stops. He's breathing hard. He's looking around, to the side, behind him, making sure no one else can hear this. Then he reaches up and with his index finger draws a long, slow slash across his neck.


"Yep. Dead. I was in jail for 18 hours before the authorities figured out I was innocent....I just went home and that's why I don't have teeth now." John also remembers the tête-à-tête he had with Lee Harvey Oswald...."That Oswald, oh he was the quiet, spooky type.... Oswald stopped by my cell and he looked at me and he said, 'Boy, you better get home fast as you can.'" John remembers when the doctors conspired to speed up time in 1967, and he knows this is the reason we are all exhausted now. He remembers when he stopped breathing forever in 1969, a condition from which John has never recovered. He remembers tricks the Mob used to play in Vegas back in the Seventies, how he had "several serious talks with them about who's really in charge."  

"What you've got to understand," John's job coach said the other day as we were studying his file, "is that, like anyone with severe mental illness, John Holtby exists as a creation of the imagination--not only of his own but of the social-work profession's. He's like this strange anthology with dozens of authors. Who knows what's at the core anymore?"

Josie Rawson, January 10, 1996


Many medical professionals believe that the dominant memories in Alzheimer's patients are often the ones that confer a sense of identity. Most of all, Murray Tate remembers the railroad.

Nearly an hour into one of our conversations, I ask him if the disease ever scares him. "No reason to be scared," he says. "I never paid any attention to it. Because when you are working on the railroad, you don't keep up with anything else. It's a one-shot job, more or less."

"Is it hard to remember what I'm saying?" I ask. "Sure it is. You've got three or four diesel engines. You're pulling 200 cars, keeping them in line all over the track."

Occasionally when he's lost, something will shock him back to the present. When I ask whether he has any grandchildren, he says, "No." No grandchildren? I repeat. "Wait a minute. What am I talking about? My boy has got a son and my daughter has got a girl. A lot of that stuff, you just get a glimpse of it and then you don't see it anymore. And I don't know what causes that. I don't know." It is the first and only time I see him angry.

Britt Robson, May 22, 1996

The word around the Bradshaw Family of Funeral Homes is that there are "no stoppers," nothing they can't or won't do. It was Bradshaw who choreographed the funerals, not only for Minneapolis and St. Paul police officers Jerry Haaf and Tim Jones, killed in the line of duty, but also for Jones's dog, Lazer. "Having the dogs at the ceremony, and police dogs lining the steps up to the cathedral, was an expression of who Lazer was," Bradshaw says.

Ann Bauleke, November 27, 1996


Part urban pioneer, part pirate, and part nomad of tar-and-concrete streets, a scrapper views the entire cityscape as an enterprise zone where anything is possible--even if it means defeating the laws of physics by fitting a 300-pound brass slab into a '78 Vega hatchback.

There's nothing safe or predictable about it. I've driven for days and found nothing, but also had the good fortune to chance upon recently demolished gas stations that put hundreds of dollars in my pocket in two hours' time. I've been sprayed in the face with Freon and ammonia gas, sliced up by jagged metal, and come close to being buried alive in several dumpsters.

This is a tough, risky job that can involve toxic chemicals and flying debris. However, the therapeutic value of bashing an old auto bank teller machine with a sledgehammer cannot be denied.

Paul D. Dickinson, February 12, 1997


The gist of what the experts can tell you is this: (1) you're living wrong; and (2) insomnia can wreck your life, but it can't kill you. Sleeplessness is still a subject about which there is little consensus.

I've swallowed things on orders, all sorts of things, hopeful for a chemical vacation, but almost none of it has worked. Halcyon, Klonopin, Ambien, Xanax, Melatonin, Passion Flower, Valerian. You run your fingers down the laundry list of possible side effects--many of them truly terrifying--and you roll the dice. Ambien kept me up all night jerking violently, teeth chattering. Halcyon gave me two hours of violent nightmares and then left me flat on my back and wide awake, doing everything in my power to ignore the stiff aluminum balloon that was straining against the top of my skull. Melatonin gave me eye-crossing headaches.

I have strenuously avoided cable television and the Internet; diversions that far-flung, with that many absurd snags and crannies, would capture me wholly. Television has always terrified me. I know that such an obsessively lonely anchor would be the end of me. Whenever I find myself in a hotel room with a remote control in my hand, the entire world recedes and I am paralyzed. Perhaps that is the point, and perhaps it is therapeutic, but I remain skeptical. Recently, in a motel room in Illinois, I sat up most of the night watching Manson groupie Leslie Van Houten's parole hearing on Court TV, skipping up the dial to beach volleyball during commercials. When the sun came up I felt hung over and ashamed, and took my dog for a run to assuage the guilt.  

Brad Zellar, March 5, 1997


Let me start by saying that there may be no prettier sight in this mean, mean world than the way a winning jockey tosses his riding whip to his valet at the cusp of the Winner's Circle.

While the tote board in the background flashes with the bet returns--win, place, show--the jockey puts out his own high-wattage smile. The grandstands might be empty; the horse may be the worst kind of dog--or soon to be dog food, even. The jockey may have spent all afternoon sweating in the hot box to make weight, or kneeling on the bathroom floor with fingers forked, for a speed-purge. But the previous two minutes have been...can the feeling be put into words? I mean, you try describing the precise sensation of your last orgasm.

Just before the radiant instant fades and the jockey returns to the world of the giants around him, he tosses that whip, and it is thin and balletic in the air. The motion is crisp, jaunty even. The instrument of victory takes wing. Sometimes the whip flips once or twice end over end, or twists, or both--but I have never once seen the valet drop it. The thing never hits the ground.

Michael Tortorello, June 25, 1997


Hmong New Life Victory Assembly of God

Basically, we're trying to focus on the Hmong people, trying to recruit them so that they know who Jesus is and what he's doing for our people. The service is all in Hmong. Most of the people who worship here are the older ones. Right now we have about 35 families.

In the Assembly of God we like to worship not just within ourselves. The Bible says if you don't praise the Lord, then the rocks and the mountains will praise the Lord. That is why we are so emotional when we pray. Some people are touched and are healed. We like to shout it out loud. We move around. King David liked to dance in the Lord's presence. We do that. We like to jump in the joy of laughter. We say praise the Lord, amen, and hallelujah out loud. We believe in speaking in tongues as a way of staying in the presence of God. We believe in faith healing. We've seen a lot of miracles.

From Wing Young Huie's Lake Street Project, reprinted in City Pages, September 10, 1997


The first time Mary Jo Copeland tells the story, you weep. You feel closer to God, any God, because you're closer to her. You whisper "amen" when she whispers "amen." You dig deep to give whatever you can. You even consider becoming a disciple....That's why she shares it with everyone she meets. The parable's protagonist is a 13-year old girl Copeland calls Maria. In the beginning she is sitting in Copeland's office at Sharing and Caring Hands in downtown Minneapolis. "Mary Jo," the little girl confesses, "a man hurt me. A man hurt me and I hate him."

"The little girl was raped," Copeland reveals, her lips quivering. "And I told her, 'Maria, we have to pray for the man who hurt you, because he is a sad, sick man'...The next morning, Maria came to me and told me she prayed for that man," Copeland concludes. "She said, 'Mary Jo, I prayed for that man because you asked me to.'"

But the second time you hear Copeland tell Maria's story, its power is stunted. The tears seem staged. The dramatic pauses become nothing more than spaces on a page. After the third or fourth performance, your stomach begins to turn: maybe because you want Maria's life to be more than a metaphor, or maybe because she seems less real, less alive every time Copeland drags you through her anguish. Then, without warning, the truth reveals itself. Maria is Mary Jo Copeland's lifeboat. The very act of telling the story both reveals and absolves her hypocrisy. Through characters like Maria, she can wallow in the pain of her own complicated history without disturbing her perfectly crafted persona. She can dredge up her harrowing childhood on a daily basis, remind the world of who has done her harm, and then--as Saint Mary--forgive and forget. By publicly exorcising her past, she can privately deny the contradictions driving her work and haunting her life.  

David Schimke, October 8, 1997


The carcasses sway gently in their shackles. From a distance, the turkeys seem to move slowly, an optical illusion like watching fence posts from your car window. Up close they roll past quickly. Each bird enters my field of vision and leaves it again in the space of about two seconds. The birds are just a few minutes dead. Their bodies are still hot. My job is to cut the oil glands out of the tail of every other bird. On my left hand I wear a knit glove, a rubber glove, and a steel-mesh glove. In my right hand I hold a tool called a whizzard, a pneumatic knife with a spinning circular blade. A small wart on the top of each bird's tail indicates where the glands are. If I cut too deep, I hit a bone and waste meat. If I cut too shallow, I sever the glands and a thick grease the color of French's mustard drips out.

An hour and 2,000 turkeys later, I stand in a small pile of warm oil glands, small cylinders about the size of film canisters. A man with a shovel scrapes them away into the waste system. After he does, my feet suddenly cool.

Joseph Hart, November 26, 1997


"Ditched my diploma and joined up in Del Mar," Chad's telling Shorty, who rolled in with another crew around noon. "Got on running grease for the Scorpion in Utah. Climbed to the doghouse"--the ride's control both--"in Texas. That was, hell, '88, '89, I lost count now, but fast, I mean by Georgia that year. Tattoo in Knoxville. Postcard home from Missouri. Guess I was born migrant. Lucky me, though--follow the carny route and it's like you're living in summer year-round. By the time we tore down and shipped out for winter camp, I mean you couldn't talk to me about shop work or getting stuck in some spot with the same front yard every time you wake up." "Like a magnet, right?" Shorty, who's been running rides for nine years, drawls through a cheekful of chew from the stoop of his bunkhouse parked on the shore of the Midway's vacant, one-acre island. "Right? Like a big fucking magnet?"

"Maybe a magnet," Chad answers in no hurry. His felt hat looks chewed up, with tufts of sun-bleached hair poking through the crown. "Maybe like what they say the sea does. I mean calling you out off dry land, like you can't stay put there."

Josie Rawson, August 26, 1998


I mean, I've seen Xena. I've been to Mardi Gras. And I like to think I'm not unfamiliar with sex. But I never expected in my life to find, in the middle of a field in Shakopee, so many codpieces. And breasts! Bursting like winter tides out of tight-pulled corsets, falling like summer harvests out of loose-looped blouses, shaking, bubbling, tasseled, gilded, crushed like birds into nets of chain mail. This is where parents spend quality time with their prepubescent kids?

Dara Moskowitz, September 2, 1998


Watching a Pearson's Nut Roll take shape is a strangely giddy experience--in part because of the strong candy smells, and in part because it's like being inside one of those cheery educational minidocumentaries that run during kids' cartoons. More important, for a pop-culture buff, local-history enthusiast, and candy hound, being allowed into the inner sanctum of the Nut Roll empire feels like gaining access to a past unmediated by sanctimony: This is history you can stick in your glove compartment; these are antiques that can't be forever hidden in museums. The Pearson's factory is not only a rare survivor of the once-vibrant Twin Cities candy culture: It's a busy manufacturing plant--noisy, lively, electrical.

Dara Moskowitz, December 23, 1998


All alone at work on a Saturday in 1987, [Richard Proudfit] ran out of patience. He didn't get down on his knees to pray for an answer this time. He erupted, raging at God: "Tell me what you want! Tell me now!"

The next day, just before sunup, Proudfit says, a bolt of lightning shot across his bedroom. In a moment, he was standing at the foot of his bed. He would have his answer. "It's three in the morning, I'm in my skivvies, and I hear this voice. 'Feed my starving children. It will be package food. It will go by airplane. And five million dollars.'"

David Schimke, January 27, 1999


Prisoners responded to most of the fictional characters we encountered, but [Raymond] Carver's people became especially real. Theirs were lives the students knew, teetering on some internal edge between moving forward and falling back.

Once we were talking about how Carver creates suspense even though his characters don't do much. One student had already floated a theory about how Carver flirts with something dangerous and despairing in humans.  

Then, in the back row, a man named Gerald lifted his hand and said, "You know, reading a Carver story is like scouting a house before breaking into it. You keep circling the house, looking through the windows, seeing that dark inside from different angles. You keep thinking about being in that house and what you're going to find in there. Thinking about which window you're going to break to get inside, and the sound the glass will make when it breaks. You keep thinking and circling, but you never break in. That's the thing about Carver--you never break in."

Steve Healey, July 7, 1999

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