Part Ten: The Path Most Taken

July 10, 2014
Andrew Blissenbach

It’s 2:07 p.m. and I have less than three hours to walk home from LORING PARK. A caveat I forgot to mention, prior to my fence-climbing-and-urinating-wherever-I-please jamboree: I have to get home by 5 p.m., as I must retrieve my daughter from school (alright, it’s daycare, but my wife and I spend pretty much all our money on a Montessori education for a two-year-old, so I’m gonna refer to it as “school”). Now I want to get home (as mentioned in the final paragraph of the preceding chapter), but such real-world strictures quench the fires of adventurous verisimilitude, leading to a hurried reduction of laissez-faire wandering. I’m still pretty far from my house (about seven miles), meaning that I’ll have to add a dash of efficiency if I’m to make it in time. And I have no choice but to make it in time. You ever pissed off a woman and her toddler? No? Well, let’s just say that mouths become tightened, nostrils a-flare, and a sexless wonderland of guest bedrooms are suddenly unveiled.

Did someone say “efficiency”? LET’S START THE TIME-STAMPING STRUCTURE, BITCHES!

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2:08-I leave LORING PARK and take W 15TH St. east. I say, out loud to no one, “What the fuck is with these green mailboxes?” after encountering one of those weird, non-functional green mailboxes. If they don’t serve a purpose, why are they still around? I ponder, for only a second, the concept of purposefulness, which leads to a brief examination of my domestic purpose. Huh. I continue east, greatly respecting the unheralded green mailbox.

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2:10-When writing, it’s pretty cool when things come together. A scene serendipitously meshes with the “deep subject” and BOOM writing gold is produced. Take this for example: I’m writing some steel-footed, heavy shit in my notebook about the philosophy of structuralism (in the form of Claude Levi-Strauss or Jacques Lacan) and the natural human inclination toward interconnectedness within a kind of universal and overarching system. Then BOOM, I see a grand tower being built on the horizon, a buzzing honeycomb of interrelations. There are twenty-story cranes, latticed and sinewy; focused men in plastic hats; scaffolding that beckons the clouds. It’s all there, a jigsaw-puzzle worth of connection: steel, sparks, I-beams, rebar, the hot orange and yellow of construction.

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I take aim with my camera, snapping digital photos of the building-in-progress as paragraphs on the necessity of order and human relationships bloom in my…Shit! Oh, shit. There’s a pain in my right thigh and that inevitable “CLANG CLANG RATTLE rattle” when cheap metal collides with unyielding concrete. I’ve knocked over three junky bikes. Apparently I’m not pink-cheeked enough, because a black guy in a blacker Cadillac Escalade (while blasting that Tupac and Dr. Dre song, California Love) embarrasses me further by rolling down his window and then yelling, over the already thudding volume of the music, “YOU KNOCKED OVER THEM FUCKING BIKES, DOO!” Now that the gentle strands of my structuralist thesis are atomized from my head, I have to agree with him. Yes, indeed. I knocked over them fucking bikes something good.

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2:15-I take a right and go south on LASALLE Ave. Although I’m walking (a-fucking-gain) over the serpentine mega-burrow that is I-94 (the freeway has become a reviled but inspiring nemesis of sorts), the neighborhood seems unsullied by the proximity. Trees and their green canopies of shade are provided. The architecture is sturdy and the brickwork has the aesthetic of an old-world armory. Two African-American gentlemen, looking almost identical in their Oakley sunglasses and charcoal Brooks Brothers suits, have the following conversation about the yellow Dodge Viper one of them leans against:

MAN #1: Yeah, this baby’ll ZIP!

MAN #2: Only God hisself could stop it!

MAN #1 and #2: (Laugh deeply and it makes me smile)

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2:19-There’s a place called the Van Dusen Mansion on my right. It looks like the house of someone who could almost qualify as a Robber Baron during the Gilded Age. And it’s knock-your-nuts-off beautiful. The Van Dusen Mansion is like a mini-castle with its burgundy stonework, ivied walls, towers topped with oxidized copper cones, and an archway big enough for carriages.

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A group of men in tuxes are getting pictures taken next to a cherub-topped fountain on the mansion grounds. They’re handsome and confident and tan and possess defined jaw-lines. Pushing, laughing, swearing, and light wrestling run rampant. Silver flasks make the rounds and a haze emanating from extinguished cigars refuses to leave. A kind of alpha-male energy boldly proclaims their presence. Their horseplay-as-masculine-announcement doesn’t seem to faze the photographer. The WASP aura of the whole scene is overwhelming and initially indicting, so I convince myself their parents paid a lot for educations that aren’t exactly appreciated. Yet this is the role of all men going into matrimony (there is probably little difference between their boisterous wedding party and mine from many years ago). Yes, it’s annoying and a little threatening, but it’s also a display of insecurity. The exuberance is a way to combat the marriage’s formality and the shift in brotherly bonds. The final dissolution of “bros before hoes.” They’re scared of the change, of the bachelorhood-in-twilight. I get close enough to really hear what they’re talking about. During a lull in the picture posing, two of the guys (both reeking of good scotch) separate from the pack to discuss football. And what do young men in Minnesota talk about with such acuity and pathos, as if analyzing every step in a death march? The Vikings.

DUDE #1 (spiky black hair, thin face, nice brow; looks like an Abercrombie and Fitch model or the jock douchebag in a teen comedy): “Their future’s still with Christian Ponder, man. Guy’s athletic. And has heart. He has heart. Remember the 49er game?”

DUDE #2 (blonde military haircut, ruddy Scandinavian cheeks, short; in a movie, he’d be played by Sean Astin or the fat guy from Entourage): “You’re fucking nuts, dude. The 49er game was last year. Ponder sucks. Sucks! Matt Cassel should start against the Steelers and for the rest of the year. Ponder’s done. Done!”

So I give them a head nod and they continue easing the stress of their newfound symmetry. But I can’t help myself, so…

WRITER GUY: “They should really go with Cassel.”

DUDE #2: “See? See? Even that guy agrees with me.”

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2:23-Still pretty nice around here. I take a left and walk east on E FRANKLIN Ave. For the first time, I really know where I am. There’s another mansion, a white/gray place, brushed and perfect with Ionic pillars, called the Semple Mansion. I bet the Semples didn’t get along with the Van Dusens, but they probably pretended to like each other.

2:25-I really have to pee again.

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2:26-Now that I have a complete understanding of where I am, I take the familiar NICOLLET Ave. south. A weird autopilot takes hold of my feet and there’s a creeping sense of tedium that gnaws at the edges of my adventurous ideal. Because of both my want to get home (for comfort and security) and my need (my daughter needs to be picked up), the cliché about adventure becomes inverted: it’s about the destination rather than the journey.

2:28-A few dozen people, most of whom are Somali, enjoy coffee on the outdoor patio of a Starbucks. Sunlight reflects off the watch of a Somali man and it turns my vision white. My blindness recedes and I squint. The Somali man’s ankles are the only thing I see. They’re so thin that I’m certain I could put my hand around them.

2:33-I’m craving beer. How can I call this an adventure without chugging a beer?

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2:34-The golden arches of a McDonald’s rubs the familiarity of NICOLLET Ave. in my face. Its banal omnipresence turns into a screeching metaphor, one that stridently voices the negatives associated with structure and clipped efficiency. With thoughts of family and responsibility always in the background, all I can see on NICOLLET Ave. is an endless assembly line ushering me and a billion pre-cut burgers into a universe of Everyday Everymen and their routines.

The mind of an adult does a great job of grounding itself when confronted with the familiar. We love when things are the same, when they’re clearly defined, when they’re concrete and sensible. Boredom aside, this isn’t all bad, I suppose. Our surroundings, when there’s minimal new stimuli, tend to melt away when they’re known, allowing us a freedom of thought that doesn’t occur when our prehistoric brain is locked in survival mode and looking for sabertooth tigers in new terrain. Sometimes boredom and familiarity, shitty though they may be, are the best fertilizers for creativity.

2:36-Well punch me in the taint! Apparently NICOLLET Ave. is known as “Eat Street.” You’d think someone who’s lived in the Twin Cities his whole life would know that.

2:37: Shit, now I’m hungry.

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2:39: Most of the businesses I pass are festooned with either Asian or Spanish writing. Featherless nude chickens, whole and tanned golden-brown, hang like posh decorations. Part of me feels like a white American who’s guilty of contentment and purposeful ignorance. I consider myself a scholar and a very curious soul, and yet here I am, flummoxed by the simplest of advertisements presented in a “foreign” tongue. But the other part of me realizes the ludicrousness of such guilt. The United States is a massive landmass, free of the balkanizing borders and cultural insularity that basically force such people as, say, the Swiss to learn four languages (English, French, German, and Italian). It has less to do with American exceptionalism and more to do with the fact that we’re free to go from Maine to California without harassment and thus English became our common cultural touchstone. Still would be cool to know a little Cantonese and Spanish, though.

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2:41-A group of Asian men gathered on the sidewalk, all wearing white, tell stories and smoke. Their hyperbole, complete with emphasis and hand gestures, is obvious even though I can’t understand them. Wild-eyed assurance and tall tales: all men, regardless of cultural impediments, apparently speak the same universal language of Giant Slayer.

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2:44-Hoofing it with real alacrity now! The urine in my bladder is a horseman’s whip, pushing me forward in search of sweet, sweet release. Gotta keep moving, though. Maybe I can sweat the pee out of me.

2:46-I’ve seen at least three Muslim men with their beards dyed red. I’ll have to research why they do this when I get home.

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2:48-A place called Old Arizona Studio is on my left. Cool! My friends, Gabe and Tyler, were married here a few years back. Old Arizona Studio has all the hallmarks of the southwest: the yellowed adobe architecture, the frontier-ish woodwork, and faint addendums of Apache, Navajo, Hopi, and Pueblo art. Memory, the pleasant footnote of the familiar, floods my senses. The delicious aluminum flatness of keg beer; those delicious caprese salad skewers; the joyous squeals that flutter around the married couple; the smell of sweat and deodorant working overtime while limbs pulse frenetically on a hardwood dance floor.

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2:50-NICOLLET Ave. ends above some ancient railroad tracks and the MIDTOWN GREENWAY (a path for cyclists). I take a right, going west on W 29TH St. and, in order to go south, eventually tromp down BLAISDELL Ave., past a mural-decorated shop called Sunrise Cyclery. There’s some cool looking stuff jutting from their graffiti-decorated dumpsters. LAKE St., the always pulsing main artery of Minneapolis, beckons further south with its grind of traffic and action. I stop, take a breath, and ignore my bladder. I think. Creative stupidity takes over. There’s really no such thing as absolute familiarity, anyway. A good city like this is always changing. Keeps us on our toes. So I crawl into a dumpster reeking of melting food and dried oil. I’m still five miles from home. Alright, fuck it. I’ll go without sex for a while and sleep in the guest bedroom. The structure that is adult life can wait. Nice! A clustered mess of rust-red bike chains!

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Check back soon for the FINAL chapter in my epic saga, Part Eleven: Water in Polychrome!!!!!!!!