What Makes Barbara Run
On the last Saturday morning of June, 30 delegates and a couple of slumming daily newspaper reporters are gathered at the Logan Community Center in Northeast Minneapolis for the Minnesota Reform Party convention. While they grapple with issues of procedure in the building's rear classroom, Barbara Duffy Carlson impatiently paces the white-tiled hallways, grousing about the humidity and obsessively adjusting her high-piled hair. "My God," she mumbles while cracking the day's second sweaty can of Diet Coke. "This is boring."
Ten minutes later Carlson is rattling the Reform Party's makeshift podium with her fist. Delivering an impromptu speech that would impress even her ex-husband, Gov. Arne Carlson, she mourns the loss of a Minneapolis that was, rages against the "Murderapolis" that is, and unofficially announces her intention to unseat Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton in November. She promises to fight crime by standing behind the cops, guarantees a new professional baseball stadium, says she'll admit when she's wrong, stand up for what's right--and demand the same from her constituents. "I want people involved in the fabric of the city. Otherwise, I don't want them here," she says.
The party of Perot is perched on the edge of its folding chairs. Carlson's acute rhetoric plays well to this crowd's often vague sense of outrage. Her emotionally charged bromides about civic engagement touch a chord. Down deep, though, what really excites them is Carlson's ability to shuck and jive like a real live candidate. A former three-term member of the Minneapolis City Council who recently finished a seven-year stint hosting a morning talk show on KSTP-AM, she's not a utopian toker from the Grassroots Party or some obscure neighborhood activist. She's a boisterous, press-hungry brawler with a familiar face. And she's courting their endorsement. "Barbara is a front-runner who can help our cause," says Sheree Breedlove, the Reform Party's 58th District Chair. "We can't afford to take on a candidate who doesn't have a remote possibility of winning."
At the end of her five-minute plea, Carlson takes a yellowing page out of the campaigner's Old Testament by venturing into the crowd and retrieving her 3-year-old granddaughter, Alexandra Davis. The child is lovely in her little blue dress with the precious yellow ribbon specially tied by Grandma Baba for the occasion. Carlson pauses until the ooh's and ah's subside.
"Allie's my granddaughter. Because her parents thought it would be best for her if they moved from Minneapolis, she lives in Edina. Someday, I believe we can make Minneapolis fantastic enough that the Allie Davises of the world can live here again."
At this, all 30 delegates leap to their feet. Some of them chant Run Barbara run, run Barbara run. Carlson just grins and gives Allie a kiss.
"Aren't they funny," Carlson muses a few days later. "They're trying so hard to go against the grain, and then they follow the traditions. I think that's interesting."
In the days leading up to the Reform Party presentation--her first semiofficial campaign speech--she's agreed to let me spend time in her world. She isn't out to push her raunchy, revealing autobiography, This Broad's Life. She does not wish to revisit the circus-like publicity stunts that defined her tenure on the City Council, or reminisce about her talk-radio days. No. She wants to talk about the bread and butter, meat and potato issues that threaten to turn her adopted hometown into just another American city. "Everyone loves Sharon, including me," she insists again and again. "This isn't about personalities. It's about the future of Minneapolis."
She dreams of dancing on Daddy Duffy's coal-black wing tips at the Old Nicollet Hotel, a Cole Porter tune wafting from the bandstand. She can still smell the tender steaks and plump shrimp sizzling at Harry's restaurant and see the shiny, mahogany bar buzzing with business at Charlie's Cafe Exceptionale. She shivers at the memory of snowy afternoons at Memorial Stadium, and still smiles when she thinks of shopping for shoes at Jaffee's or buying designer dresses at Harold's. That is Barbara Carlson's Minneapolis: a vibrant, ever-budding metropolis seen as few can still see it, through the soft light of a privileged postwar upbringing. Growing up she lived in Anoka, where her father was a remarkably successful lumberman.
Minneapolis consequently became the young Barbara Duffy's playground, a place where she felt honored to join the father she adored as he sipped icy cocktails and made small talk with associates who must have seemed impossibly witty and glamorous. There was no grime then, no street crime to speak of, no gaudy, declassé strip joints. Not in her field of vision, at any rate. She couldn't wait to make that Minneapolis her home. "I loved the energy, those people--dressed up, mingling in sidewalk cafes," Carlson reminisces as she drives past Block E. "It was vital. It was young. It was magical."
When Carlson describes what the city could be, she inevitably talks of the days when neighbors ran into each other at the corner store, traded gossip, and voluntarily did good deeds for the unfortunate through the auspices of the Catholic church or a privately funded social club. There were no homeless men begging outside Dayton's, no kids making trouble at the corner bus stop, no single mothers on welfare driving in from Gary or Chicago. The city was as fresh and uncorrupted as a Norman Rockwell soda jerk. Opportunity was a state of mind.
"Give me the middle class," Carlson says. "Give me someone with strong family values who's pro-dogs and cats, pro-church, pro-religion. Give me someone who will work hard and not expect to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Give me someone who wants their tombstone to read, 'She was a wonderful mother and a wonderful friend.' That's what this city used to be about. That's what I want it to become again."
In 1964, electoral politics became an inextricable part of Barbara Duffy's romance with Minneapolis. That was the year she met Arne Carlson, a sober, clean-cut candidate for Minneapolis City Council--a man who, she now believes, married her largely as a matter of political convenience in 1965. Barbara excelled at playing the role of a future first lady. She spoke at rallies, pamphleted neighborhoods, hosted dinner parties. "I was so attracted to what Arne was doing," Carlson says. "I mean, here I am 26 years old, calling my mother telling her that I was at a cocktail party for the governor. That's heady stuff."
It didn't take long for her to fall in love with the proximity to power. Her marriage, meanwhile, was turning into a nightmare. In her book Barbara accuses Arne of being a cold, detached husband. She admits that she was a crazed alcoholic with a penchant for binge eating. After losing their first-born to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Barbara plummeted into depression. Arne became more distant. Finally, 13 years and several houses later, they got a divorce. Arne eventually got primary custody of their children, Tucker and Anne.
The tabloid-ready details of these defining years, documented in her sporadically scandalous 1996 autobiography, This Broad's Life, contradict Carlson's idyllic recollections of middle-class Minneapolitans tripping on the American Dream. Her own life was a faithless mix of erratic public presence and private, Valium-addled misery. "Family values" were not a long suit in the Carlson home; neither was thrift or modesty or church on Sunday. So where exactly does Barbara Carlson find the authority to talk about the virtues of the good old days? "I come from a strong family," she says. "We take care of our own. That's been indelibly imprinted on my life. Though we were dysfunctional and alcoholic, we had tremendous respect for one another."
There is something touching about her devotion to her own weird family milieus, both in the Duffy and the Carlson households, but it feeds her myopia as well. As far as Barbara Carlson's concerned, she was down-and-out once, so she knows what it takes to crawl back out. And it doesn't take public assistance. To this day, she regards publicly funded social programs with a casual contempt and is suspicious of anyone who claims to have nowhere to turn. The fact that she herself has led quite a privileged life--well-to-do family, well-connected friends--has no bearing on her analysis of what ails the poor. "Don't tell me the lower class doesn't have access to support systems. There are churches, synagogues, fraternal organizations, and loving relationships between human beings," she says, cocking a loaded eyebrow. End of discussion.
"She didn't really understand or have much empathy for the less advantaged citizens and constituents in the city," says Joan Niemiec, who worked with Carlson on the Minneapolis City Council. "Just like she didn't treat her office with dignity, she did not treat others with dignity."
Carlson and Niemiec first butted heads in 1984, two years after Carlson was elected to the Minneapolis City Council as an Independent Republican. Like most of Carlson's Council colleagues, Niemiec viewed her as a rabble-rouser who hated the practical minutiae of governance. Carlson smiles at Niemiec's criticisms. Says she wouldn't have had it any other way. She prides herself on having played the heckler--the oddball voice of conscience, part Greek chorus and part bleacher bum, cheerfully unconcerned with the details but always ready with a quotable opinion.
When then-Mayor Don Fraser delivered his budgets, Carlson annually wrote letters of objection to the Star Tribune. When the Council offered up to $3 million for a proposed state arts high school, the pet project of Gov. Rudy Perpich's wife, Lola, Carlson showed her scorn by playing a recording of the song "Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets" at a public meeting. She tirelessly worked to cut the city's property taxes and constantly urged her colleagues to do more for upper-income citizens, a position that pleased the bulk of her Kenwood constituents. "It's very, very easy to get involved in the immediate needs of the poor and the North Side and development out in the wards without looking at how many people are going to the suburbs," Carlson told a Strib reporter in 1987.
"She had some basic premises--fiscal responsibility, pro-neighborhood--that I appreciated," says Pat Fleetham, a 7th Ward business owner during Carlson's Council tenure. "She had the ability to cut to the heart of an issue and deal with it in a direct fashion. Back then, property taxes were a hot-button issue for the people who put her in office. So that's what she worked on."
Beneath her dogged attention to the city's pocketbook, however, Carlson was anything but an ideologue. Her second husband, Pete Anderson, whom she married in 1983, is an old-fashioned New Deal Democrat. During her Council tenure she was, as she now remains, adamantly pro-choice. On the Council she also opposed a controversial anti-pornography ordinance that received national attention. She routinely leaked confidential memoranda to the press and consistently razzed the private sector to do more for the poor. In 1984, she made headlines when she leveled a blast at the "single-issue fundamentalists" and born-again Christians she believed were taking over the Republican party. In that year's election she ran successfully as an Independent.
Today, however, Carlson says she's more conservative than she was on the Council, and plans to run as an Independent while seeking endorsements from both the Reform and Republican parties. "Now more then ever, I believe it's wrong to just throw money at a problem," she says. "We need to encourage our schools, our churches, and the families in our community to teach responsibility and respect. That's the only way we can make Minneapolis great again."
Rip Rapson, who served as deputy mayor to Don Fraser and is now a senior fellow at the UM's Design Center for American Urban Landscape, says he has always respected Carlson's motives, if not her judgments. "When she talks about the great city that was, is she talking about an inclusive community or an exclusive club?" Rapson asks. "That's not clear. If she becomes mayor she'll find herself coming into contact with people who have different opinions and experiences than her traditional circle of friends. To survive she'll not only have to form new alliances, but find translators and guides. Watching her choose those alliances, translators, and guides may make her campaign interesting."
It is as close to a ritual as she gets. Each day Barbara Carlson gets up early to consume the Strib, Pioneer Press, and New York Times, all the while engaged in a stream-of-consciousness critique of what she's reading. She slams a Diet Coke and a pair of Prozac capsules and changes from her dressing gown to one of at least two dozen black outfits. Then she begins her assault on the day--making phone calls, taking phone calls, applying makeup, fixing her hair, checking voice-messages, donning a strand of pearls. This morning she's running late, so she offers me a stack of newspapers and a "fancy water" before dispatching me to the family room, which is framed by bookshelves packed with best-selling titles and a puzzling but tasteful array of knickknacks. If I had asked for Prozac, she no doubt would have obliged. Carlson is the consummate host. Old school.
Before applying her lipstick, Carlson calls a friend and former colleague who worked for her when she served on the City Council. Sixty seconds into their conversation, it's clear the day's busy schedule will have to wait. She slams the door to her bedroom and takes her cordless phone back into the master bathroom, home of the fabled hot tub. The ceramic tile does little in the way of soundproofing. "Look, you arrogant son of a bitch," she yells. "She [Sayles Belton] is a horseshit leader and I want to get together and talk to you about this campaign."
Listening to her shake the walls conjures a fleeting image of Sayles Belton and Carlson face to face in a televised debate; it flashes through my mind like the trailer to an action flick.
Several more oaths and a brief lecture later, Carlson slams down the phone and comes to find me. "Oh, I don't know if I have the constitution to be mayor," she sighs with a feigned exasperation that's betrayed by her fox-like grin. "I wanted to get together and talk to him, and he didn't want to because he said I couldn't listen. So I called him a little prick.
"Bureaucrats are the bane of society. Write that down," she demands. I do. Then she throws me the keys to her black, four-door Chrysler.
"You drive while I finish putting on my makeup," she instructs in a clipped, military cadence. "You are traveling with Barbara Carlson."
Our mission is to meet with as many friends, enemies, former colleagues, and potential supporters as humanly possible in the next three days. Carlson wants to "talk about the issues" with people in the know, conservative and liberal. Her purpose is threefold: Take the city's pulse, find issues around which to frame her campaign, and convince a skeptical reporter to take her seriously.
Our first visit is with Curt Johnson, the chair of the Metropolitan Council. A former colleague of Gov. Carlson's, the smooth, measured policymaker is a walking, talking antithesis to his shoot-from-the-hip visitor. They spend several minutes talking past each other. Or so it seems.
Carlson say she's worried that "they"--in this case, welfare cheats--are coming into Minneapolis by the carload. Johnson talks about putting affordable housing into traditionally affluent neighborhoods. Carlson questions Sayles Belton's ability to articulate a vision. Johnson says city issues must be approached on three levels: local, regional, international. Carlson tests a sound bite: "There's hope, Curt. There's hope. And that's why I'm sitting here. Last summer I could walk the streets of New York when I was on my book tour. This summer I can't walk the streets of Minneapolis. All you have to do is go to Phillips and look at how many children have been shot there."
"In the role of mayor, you have to ask questions and give answers," Johnson replies. It's unclear whether the statement is meant to inspire or to admonish, but Barbara goes with the flow.
"I know people are just going to have a fit when I say this, Curt, but I want to license parents." She cocks the eyebrow. "I want you to prove you have the tools to raise your child. And if you don't, you'll have to learn. And if you aren't willing to learn, then I want your kid."
Johnson chuckles. Changes the topic to urban renewal. The two of them talk about transit issues, sports stadiums, and St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman's qualities as a salesperson. Barbara gets lost in a revery of her Minneapolis of the 1940s and '50s. The two reminisce briefly about Arne, then end the meeting.
After lunch we are off to see Sam Grabarski, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council. In less time than it takes Carlson to grab a bowl of mints from the conference table and place it in front of her, she is off and running. The main themes raised by Johnson in their morning meeting are now part of her spiel. Suddenly mass transit is central to her campaign. She quizzes Grabarski about whether the council is interested in creating pocket parks in and around downtown. She muses about marbling prime downtown real estate with low-income housing. The city, she confides to Grabarski, can only move forward if its leadership has a local, regional, and international awareness.
Grabarski says his organization is mainly interested in five things--transit, crime and safety, property-tax reform, the convention center, and a ballpark. Then he jokes about the three questions he's asked most frequently when making public appearances. Are there plans to build a grocery store downtown? What's wrong with the IDS Crystal Court? And the perennial: What about parking? Carlson nods knowingly. She has studied the issue firsthand. "When I go to Nordstrom's at the Mall of America, and then I have to go downtown and pay for a day of parking, I'm a very, very unhappy person," she says gravely.
Before leaving, just to get a reaction, Carlson says she wants to talk about licensing parents. Grabarski just shakes his head. "There's a public perception of you and a private perception," he tells Carlson. "People on the City Council remember you as more eccentric than your constituents. On the radio, though, politicians say you were very effective, while the public perceived you as outrageous."
The meaning of Grabarski's parting analysis, if it has any, is lost on Carlson. She just seems pleased people are already talking about her candidacy. She thanks Grabarski for his time, grabs a few more mints, and heads for the door.
When we meet Rapson at the Espresso Royale Caffe in Dinkytown to trade off-the-record gossip about Sayles Belton, Fraser, and landlord activist Charlie Disney, Carlson insists on buying us all creamy coffee drinks and "something sugary." ("I'm going to eat my way through Minneapolis during this campaign," she tells me later.) Before we can say no, she's at the cash register with her oversized black plastic purse, mingling with fresh-faced university students who have no idea who she is.
"Iced coffee. Now is that too sweet or just right?" she asks a grad student working the counter. "Oh my, look at those croissants. Don't they just look yummy, yummy, yummy?"
While the coffee beans grind, Carlson paces noisily in front of the dessert case, pointing at the cookies and wondering out loud at the prices on the chalkboard. All around the cafe, solitary students studying for summer classes look up from their books with curious smiles. An old radical sipping tea in the corner just chuckles and shakes his head knowingly. Later, as we leave, a young woman--tattooed and pierced--pulls me aside to register her vote: "She seems like a fun woman. I'd love to hang out with her."
"I'm going to excite young people in this campaign," Carlson says, pleased to hear about her newest fan. "They'll know I'm not a fuddy-duddy. They'll know I'm alive."
Every meeting plays out the same. With each new encounter, Carlson assimilates what she has heard previously with the ease of an old pro playing catch-up. She filters what she doesn't want to hear--Johnson's assertion that most poor families make good tenants, Grabarski's contention that downtown is safer now than it was 10 years ago--but demonstrates a surprising deftness and flexibility. Despite her bull-in-a-china-shop image, Carlson is a very good reader of situations.
"Every week for eight years, I had a breakfast with my constituents," she says. "I'd like to do that in all the neighborhoods in Minneapolis. I'm going to be out there listening to them and hearing them. And let me tell you, if you want to have a productive meeting, you'll learn there's a difference between just listening and really hearing."
After having a few greasy lunches in Northeast (at restaurants recommended by the 1st Ward's own lame duck alderman, Walt Dziedzic), Carlson finally agrees to let me attend her first official campaign meeting. Scheduled just two weeks before she's to announce her candidacy for mayor, the gathering is billed as part strategy session, part logistics seminar. Giddy to be in on a ritual traditionally off-limits to the press, I imagine cigars and cognac, hastily drawn policy papers, and scrambling efforts to pull together preliminary polling data. Upon arrival at the secret summit, I'm handed a plate of cold pasta. Carlson gives the same talk she delivered at the Reform Party convention. To put it mildly, I'm disappointed.
Those in attendance are mostly white, middle class, middle-aged Minneapolitans with close ties to Carlson's Kenwood neighborhood, the governor's mansion, or the old Independent Republican party. In the words of marketing man Jim Bernstein, they're here to sell "one commodity, and one commodity only": Barbara Carlson. And like most salespeople, the bulk of the crowd, from Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce VP John Bergford to Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein, is dead-set on coming up with a slogan:
"Sharon ran on the schools, and she's getting an F."
"Minneapolis, not Money-apolis."
"Whether you're from Wayzata or Gary, Indiana, you need to contribute to this city."
Peter Bell, one of two people of color in Carlson's core camp, is running the meeting. A founding member of the Center for the American Experiment, a conservative Minneapolis think tank, he is slated to be one of several co-chairs of Carlson's campaign committee. Earnestly scribbling notes and nodding his head, he encourages attendees to help Carlson articulate people's "hopes, fears, and dreams."
"I think Barbara is a secular, cultural conservative," Bell tells me later. "I think socially she's somewhat tolerant. But at the same time there are some clear values and standards we must adhere to. And I think that's where many Minneapolitans are at. It's how you navigate that thicket that gets interesting. You allow for lifestyle differences, but then establish some cultural, familial, and social truths. Two parents raising a child is better than one. Valuing education is good. Hard work is good. Loyalty and perseverance are good things. A lack of civility in our community is bad. I don't think she's afraid to say those things."
No. Carlson has enough one-liners to restock Bartlett's. What she desperately needs is a plan. And she knows it. It's one thing to criticize Sayles Belton for being reactive instead of taking the initiative, Carlson admits. It's another to offer a palpable alternative. "I don't want to raise money and I don't want to run a campaign. I just want to get out there and create a discussion about the issues that I can use," Carlson told me the first time we met. Just a week later, her resolve is visibly weakening.
"This is the most dangerous city I've been to in the world," one woman at Carlson's strategy meeting says. No one blinks. Carlson starts spinning: "We look like pantywaists. We look like we can't get our act together. I don't see any strong leadership. I see a let's-stick-our-finger-up-in-the-air mentality. I think Sharon Sayles Belton puts together seven votes before she takes a stand on anything. Leadership should be a discussion, a vision, not another boring report from the planning commission. When is my granddaughter going to move back to Minneapolis?!"
The room lights up. This is their Barbara: an attack dog with Limbaugh-like gusto and a flair for the memorable phrase. "People don't care about the details," Michael Zipko, a public relations executive, enthuses from the back of Barbara's living room. "People want strong personalities." If he's right, Carlson is good to go. If he's wrong, her "inner circle" will never help her find her way out of the woods.
"I like Barbara," Walt Dziedzic says. "But I always told her she was easy to debate, because she didn't care about the details of day-to-day government. If something would get her on the TV or in the paper, boy, she would be all over that issue, whether she was on top of it or not. And that kind of publicity worked sometimes, but it backfired too. People knew who she was, but they weren't sure if she was really representing the people of Minneapolis."
It remains to be seen whether the establishment will take Carlson's candidacy seriously. Her son Tucker, worried that the media will have his mother for lunch, has urged her repeatedly not to run. Husband Pete is conspicuously absent whenever the topic comes up. And even Barbara knows that her greatest initial strength, name recognition, is also her greatest liability. One on one, though, Carlson is undeniably infectious. The quintessential candidate, she lets people in, makes them feel at ease, remembers details from their lives, and finds a way to empathize with their trials and triumphs. In bars, parking lots, and restaurants throughout the city, she approaches the public with an unaffected ease, and they return the favor. When she's talking to you she'll often touch your arm or put a hand on your shoulder. When talking about herself she manages a becoming modesty, peppered with admirable self-confidence. When talking about others she drops her voice an octave, giving whatever she says a flatteringly conspiratorial air.
When we discuss her support of gay rights, for instance, she slaps the table with a smirk. "Oh, please," she says dramatically. "I can see the headline now. Carlson Supported Gay Congressman Steve Gunderson, Believes in Gay Marriage, Seeks Republican Nomination. You guys. Don't do that to me. Give me a fighting chance." But she knows I'll print what she's saying, and that's the way she wants it. Just like she wants people to see her marching in the Gay Pride Parade that weekend.
It's this apparent quality--larger than life, reflexively candid, and entirely unaffected--that helped Carlson win a City Council seat, sold her radio show, and won her a book deal. And it makes her a potentially formidable candidate. She is a politician who runs against type in an age when most people despise typical politicians; and, like Ronald Reagan, she is an affecting yarn-spinner in part because she believes unabashedly in fairy tales herself.
One of our last stops is at Mary Jo Copeland's privately run shelter and food shelf in downtown Minneapolis. Carlson volunteered here in the early '90s, and points to the organization as an example of goodwill without bureaucratic meddling or government support. "I just think she (Copeland) is doing the work of the Lord," Carlson says. "Yes, she has an incredible ego. And yes, you have to be a titch off to do that kind of work. But there's no one like Mary Jo Copeland. And I think the people running City Hall have a lot of trouble when something works and helps people, and it's not in their control."
Sitting in a vacant office at "Mary's Place," Carlson meets with Solomon and Marsha, a Native American couple from Wyoming who have six kids and no place to stay. After reconstructing the last two years of their lives on pieces of scrap paper, which she promptly misplaces, Carlson starts to check their stories with the housing authority and Solomon's temporary employment agency. Then she administers a quiz, making a show of what she thinks can be done at a grassroots level to ensure responsibility: "Do you love these kids?" she asks. "Do you have a record, Solomon?" "Marsha, do the two of you drink alcohol?"
The questions are delivered in a stern parental tone. "They just keep having babies," Carlson says later, shaking her head in disbelief.
Outside, Carlson continues her pilgrimage by chatting up a woman living in one of the shelters. Carlson suggests she look for a job at Burger King or learn to clean houses. "Do you know how much I pay my cleaning lady an hour?" she asks. The woman stares at her blankly. "Twelve dollars an hour." A few seconds later Carlson walks away exasperated. "She's got to get a job. That's it. There's just no choice."
Back inside Mary's Place, the proprietor is saying grace over the noon meal of ham sandwiches and baked beans. When Copeland has finished, Carlson surveys the surroundings one last time and eyes the door. Her work here is done. "What do you say we blow this pop stand?" she asks.
If this sounds a little callous, one thing I've learned by now is that she'd have said exactly the same thing after a talk at the Minneapolis Club. Barbara Carlson has no time for loiterers along her road to the mayor's office. The professional politicians, the people who can't get a grip on their own bootstraps, the well-intentioned handwringers who insist that times have changed and there are no easy answers--well, she has one thing to say to them: Outta my way. Having decided to run, Carlson is now on a race against time to save Minneapolis from "those people" who don't understand how great the city was and could be again.
Later, over a blue plate special in Northeast, Carlson muses about the religious overtones at Sharing & Caring Hands. "I was educated in Catholic schools, and I think a strong spiritual base is very important. And a lot of children aren't getting that, including my own. It's just not something I've pursued," she says. Then, after a rare moment of silence, she flashes a knowing smile.
"I know I need a spiritual home, which is why I've always wanted to be Jewish. Then you can jump right over Jesus and get to God."
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