This geography was imprinted in my brain back when I learned my alphabet from the avenues of Minneapolis (Aldrich, Bryant, Colfax, Dupont, Emerson, Fremont, Girard, Humboldt, Irving, James, Knox through Xerxes, York, and Zenith), which I might recite on my deathbed to prove I still have brain function. Superimposed over that geography, like a Jackson Pollock painted on a fishnet, is the geography of a man’s life, the griefs and pleasures of various streets, Washington Avenue along which I had to memorize a Bible verse every Sunday, Nicollet and the funeral home and the corpse in the coffin, street corners where I used to wait for a bus on those killer mornings in January and February, the landmarks of experience—Loring Park, where I liked to sit and smoke after a ten-hour day in the hotel scullery where I washed pots and pans after high school. At the end of a day in the steam of the dishwasher, a summer evening was blessedly cool, and the smoke was ecstatic. Girls strolled by in loose white blouses and skirts, and some stopped and asked for a light and leaned down, holding their hair back, and the lit match illuminated their faces like medieval saints. In that park I am still 18 and in a state of adoration, but driving east on Franklin I feel an ache in my gut passing the building where I helped clean the small dim apartment of my former wife after she died, her souvenirs scattered around, the loneliness of the furniture, the unspeakable sadness of the cupboards full of health food. I drove to the river and sat by the bridge and wept 30 years’ worth of tears.
Garrison Keillor // There’s no place like home
There has maybe never been a more acutely accurate depiction of Minnesota than this. This is Garrison Keillor’s story, but it could easily belong to any of us. Our city, despite it’s evolution and progress has remained modest and grounded. We deflect compliments, apologize for our success and can’t help but explain how the thing you like that we are wearing was purchased on discount.
When I was little, I didn’t understand that you could change a few sounds in a name or a phrase and have it mean something entirely different. When I told teachers my name was Benna and they said, ‘Donna who?’ I would say, ‘Donna Gilbert.’ I thought close was good enough, that sloppiness was generally built into the language. I thought Bing Crosby and Bill Cosby were the same person. That Buddy Holly and Billie Holiday were the same person. That Leon Trotsky and Leo Tolstoy were the same person. It was a shock for me quite late in life to discover that Jean Cocteau and Jacques Cousteau were not even related. Meaning, if it existed at all, was unstable and could not survive the slightest reshuffling of letters. One gust of wind and Santa became Satan. A slip of the pen and pears turned into pearls. A little interior decorating and the world became her twold, an ungrammatical and unkind assessment of an aging aunt in a singles bar. Add a d to poor, you got droop. It was that way in biology, too. Add a chromosome, get a criminal. Subtract one, get an idiot or a chipmunk. That was the way with things. When you wanted someone to say ‘I love you,’ approximate assemblages—igloo, eyelid glue, isle of ewe—however lovely, didn’t quite make it.