Part Two: The Things (I Carried)

January 30, 2014
Andy Blissenbach

Drills and hammers continue to make their iron racket and I dare to turn around, to look at the abandoned building I just exited. A bearded man, young and blonde and handsome in that sunburned, construction-worker way, smokes a cigarette while pulling at the stubborn guts of a window frame. Noticing my hands-in-pockets nonchalance, he gives me a curt nod and smile. I imagine that he is a kindred spirit, a man that takes pride in discovering knowledge that lies beneath the surface of dead or purportedly understood quantities. I also imagine a reality where he and his multiple coworkers don’t chase me down and smash my face with a hammer.

A garbage truck is backing into the alley. I give a wave to the driver, a man in glasses who seems too smooth-faced to be working with refuse. He gives me a tight half-smile as a sarcastic reply. Suppose I would be grumpy too if I had to deal with stuff nobody wanted on a day-to-day basis. Without real purpose, I walk out of the labyrinthine alley and find myself next to the Red Stag, a well-regarded restaurant in Northeast Minneapolis (try the Brussels sprouts w/garlic and thyme; a-fucking-mazing). After navigating a stupid jumble of asymmetrical intersections (Northeast Minneapolis is notoriously confusing), I’m going north on CENTRAL Ave., which is the opposite direction of home, so I pause, fixating on a banner declaring that Northeast Minneapolis is “Making History Again.” Don’t think too hard about this statement, as the pithiness is a thin layer of varnish atop a specious construct. Okay, here’s what went through my head: when did Northeast Minneapolis decide to stop making history? Was this a conscious decision? Can any place truly be exempt from the forward march of time and thus remove itself from historical record (outside of total annihilation, of course)? But let’s say, for a moment, that a location (like Northeast Minneapolis, perhaps?) has existed, uninterrupted, for a number of years. Is there a way to cease its inclusion in all historical annals while it simultaneously still exists in a blank and unrecorded manner? And is there a way for a location to reclaim the status of history maker? And what of the lacuna between eras of history making? These are important questions.

The hum of combustion engines is constant, as is the obnoxious orange of construction. I should at least make an effort to avoid the polar opposite direction (straight north), unless I absolutely have to. Turning around and facing south, I’m greeted by a billboard that announces the grandeur of Queen Latifah’s new talk show. The sun comes out and it gets hot. Guess I’ll go south on CENTRAL Ave.

Prior to taking a step south, however, I pat at my belt and pockets and do an inventory, ala Captain Ebenezer Falcon in Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage.

From now on you’d do well to follow a formula I’ve developed. Every few seconds pat yourself: knife, guns, keys, in that order, to make sure you’ve got everything. A light touch now and then is all it takes; then it’ll become instinctive.

And instinctive it’s become for me, as it’s been a paranoid tic of mine since I read the novel in 2007 (working as an educator of EBD students has only emboldened the power of this tic), and I sure as hell don’t want an adventure to be ruined by my forgetfulness.

For the sake of completeness, here is a thoroughly exhaustive list of the things I carried:

KNIFE:  A Gerber folding knife, stainless steel and four inches in length, is affixed to my belt and quickly accessible. There isn’t a more versatile tool and I carry it for every reason you can imagine. Yeah, especially that reason. Because it is better to have a knife and not need it than to need a knife and not have it.

SHOES: A black pair of Nike cross-trainers with gel-filled insoles. Light, comfortable, and utilitarian, they get the job done in yeoman-like fashion.

BELT: A black leather belt with a hardy steel buckle. It does a good job of keeping my pants up.

SHIRT: I’m wearing a tight University of Minnesota Golden Gopher Football shirt with the sleeves cut off. Although I would like you to believe that there isn’t much thought in what shirt I wear, that’s a lie. For practical purposes, the tightness and lack of sleeves allow for excellent ventilation and ease of movement. The real reason I chose this shirt for my adventure, however, is precisely calculated and rooted in how social dynamics unfold. The fact that it’s a shirt displaying the colors of a local sports team camouflages the fact that I’m a voyeur, writer, and a bit of a tourist. To you, I’m just another solitary Gopher fan walking the streets of Minneapolis. No big deal. Yet there’s also the “tight and sleeveless” angle. My muscles (which aren’t steroidal, but could qualify as “huge” on a good day) are clearly advertized to all, letting the world know that there are better people to fuck with. Most people are initially defensive and uneasy because of my appearance, leading to all sorts of judgments. My hope, however, is that once I smile, flash a bit of self-deprecating wit, and keep my posture affable and open, the stranger’s judgments will have been rendered moot and I’ll be standing in front of a person whose initial notions have turned out to be wrong and thus they’ll be more accepting of my pleasantly distinct persona. Now perhaps I’m a tad delusional about the effectiveness of my burly-jock-cover contrasting the articulate-clown-contents in regards to displaying charisma, but know that I’m not alone in using appearances to frighten, confound, and then charm unsuspecting citizens.

SHORTS: Baggy and blotted with forest camouflage, my shorts have ample room to mitigate sweating while also providing numerous cargo pockets that can house all of my accoutrements. It seems that every man in his twenties and thirties, regardless of whether they actually served in the military, has at least one pair of camouflage cargo shorts (I have two). Perhaps this is a reflection of a culture that has been thoroughly saturated by the military-industrial complex and its rationale that every international political problem can be solved using military means (if you’re interested in such theories, Andrew Bacevich talks about this in his fantastic book, The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War). Or that take could be total bullshit. Anyhoo, next time you’re outside in an urban area during the summer, count how many pairs of camo shorts you come across. It will blow your fucking mind.

HAT: Bought in 2001, it is a navy blue fitted baseball cap made by New Era, facing forward with the bill curved significantly (fuck you, straight-brim-big-gold-sticker-still-stuck-on-the-hat guy), sized 7 and 1/8, featuring the red and white “TC” logo of the Minnesota Twins, a baseball team that, like all 90+ loss baseball teams, is akin to a bad sunburn, in that they show up, get uglier, and seem to exist and irritate far deeper into the summer than they should. Go Twins.

PHONE: I use a ludicrously outdated Samsung/T-Mobile flip-phone, model SGH-T139, that was probably considered a mediocre phone sometime in 2007/2008. It’s black, gray, and makes phone calls.  

WRITING NOTEBOOK W/ THREE PENS (ALL OF WHICH HAVE BEEN TESTED FOR FUNCTIONALITY): Black and bound well, my Ecosystem-brand notebook fits easily in my pocket. It still has about forty blank pages and is filled with the golden jottings of a genius writer, such as “I’ve got the fever for beaver!” and “Skyr is fermented milk and was consumed by Vikings!”

WALLET: A black leather billfold featuring the Clovis-point-like arrowhead logo of Indian Motorcycles. I love the rugged quality of this wallet, even though I feel like a bit of a poser using it, as I have never owned or ridden an Indian Motorcycle. It contains my debit card (I don’t carry cash and have no credit cards), a Blockbuster membership, a receipt for a tuxedo rental, pictures of my daughter and wife, and other random ephemera, including a 2009 Vikings football schedule and acquaintances’ politely accepted business cards relegated to a dark and leather Purgatory. Yeah, I’ll clean it out after this is all over.

CAMERA: I’m a D+ photographer, yet, what the hell, why not supplement words with images? But again, my tech is obsolete. I’m sporting a Canon PowerShot A430, a camera that was bought by my wife circa 2006 using her Westlaw points from law school. I have little to no clue how the focus or flash works, but I’m pretty good at keeping it steady. Truth be told, I mostly use the camera to snap shots of my videogame accomplishments. I wish that was a joke.

DENTAL PICK: Because it sucks when stuff gets stuck in your teeth.

Check in next Thursday for Part Three: Pleasant Jackhammers, Delicious Women, Attractive Pizza!!!!!!!!!