Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Some Pains Just Ain’t Meant To Be Soothed

A few days before arriving in Minneapolis my friend Ali offered to let me stay at her aunt’s house in St. Paul. The whole family, including Ali, would be at Cape Cod in Massachusetts so I was supposed to have the house to myself. I agreed this sounded like a good idea; I had a lot of laundry to do.

On my way to the house Ali called to say two of her neighbors would also be in the house. Apparently their neighbor was violating several restraining orders they had against him. He’d also recently tried to burn down their garage. This worried me and I regretted agreeing to stay in the house, but after a quick visit to MALL OF AMERICA!, I made my way to the house in St. Paul.

The house is on a hill and has a plaque near the back door with the date the house was built. Apparently it’s some sort of historic landmark even though it’s only 200 years old. In New England a house that’s 200 hundred years old is practically brand new.

I knocked on the door and a small woman answered the door. I immediately got the impression that I was making her nervous, so I took off my American flag bandanna and sunglasses. She said hello and told me there was beer and wine in the fridge—I’m not sure why she thought it necessary to inform me of the house alcohol in the second sentence of our conversation.

After telling me I could do whatever I wanted she retreated to the living room and busied herself with books and crossword puzzles. I took a shower because I hadn’t had one in nearly three days.

Her S.O. (she said this instead of significant other) came home a few hours later. We both had beards and understood each other very well. I think this put his S.O. at ease.

My friend’s aunt arranged two coffee dates with bookish people for me. I met Jim Rogers at Coffee Bella. I wasn’t sure why we were meeting, but I always like to meet new people, especially people with any connections in the publishing and writing world. He asked me about my book and took a look at it. He assured me he’d tell some writing groups to use DMR and then he handed me the journal that he’s responsible for as the head of the Irish Studies Department at The University of St. Thomas. After talking for a while we realized was friends with a professor at the community college where my dad teaches. Jim was very encouraging and we discussed fact vs. fiction in writing.

That night I went to a book reading hosted by my friend’s aunt’s other St. Paul connection. The coffee date fell through mostly because of my lack of internet in the days leading up to my visit. The reading was good and well attended and I got to speak to the bookstore owner for a few minutes about my trip.

The next morning I met my friend Leah. I hadn’t seen her in years, not since we both lived in western, MA. And when we thought back to the last time we saw each other we both remembered an awkward encounter when I waved to her in the street in front of Woodstar Café. At the time she only limply waved at me, but she explained at breakfast (we ate at the Seward Café) that she’d found out her grandfather died a few hours before I waved to her. It was nice to see her and realize she’d been hiding her Wisconsin accent with its fluted Os the entire time she lived in Massachusetts.

A few hours after leaving Leah I got a call from my dad. My mother’s cousin, who I think of as more of an uncle or something, had died that morning. This is the man who met me for dinner on the second night of this trip, the night of my New Haven reading, the day after my laptop was stolen. He had glioblastoma multiforme and lived years longer than anyone predicted he would. I’m going to miss the funeral because of this trip. Paul was always very supportive of my writing and after finishing my first book he sent me a very nice note with a poem by Olav H. Hauge, a Norwegian.

On Friday night I had my Milwaukee reading at Darling Hall where everyone talks like the mom in Bobby’s World. It was a great experience and I met like ten awesome people. The reading didn’t start until about 10:30 p.m. but we got a good little group together. When I finished reading Jon Burks played guitar and sang ten or so really great songs. I got three of his CDs for friends.

I stayed in the apartment above the hall that night and met Kati, the funniest girl I’ve ever met (except for maybe Tunch), and her roommate (also Kati but I’m not sure of the spelling), a freegan. Kati O. showed me through her cupboard and told me which dumpsters she’s pulled various food items out of, and she offered me pot butter for my toast.

Outside their building they’ve built a pretty impressive garden with about a dozen varieties of vegetables crammed into a small space. Despite the small amount of light that makes it into the small yard/alley they have corn that looks like it’s doing pretty well. They water everything with water that’s reclaimed from their shower (they have to use natural soaps). And all the piping has been removed from under the sink and replaced with a bucket that they use to flush the toilet when it gets full enough of handwashing and toothbrushing water.

If I ever publish another book I’d definitely love to go back to Darling Hall. I think I’m probably a little less revolutionary than the people they usually have for concerts and readings, but hopefully they’ll allow me to read again.

From Milwaukee I drove to Kenosha, Wisconsin. My cousin had gotten married the night before and they were having a barbecue to celebrate. They insisted I come over even though I worried I was intruding. I appreciated this immensely; I had no plans of where to sleep that night.

As soon as I got there my cousin made me a frozen Phil’s hard lemonade. Then my uncle Bob grilled me a smoked turkey leg. I ate pretty much the whole thing and proceeded to eat a couple hot dogs and a burger.

After dinner we played touch football with the four or five little kids at the party. My cousin Rory quarterbacked for one team and I for the other. In eight minutes of play we both managed to make a ten-year old cry. I accidentally nailed some kid in the chest with the ball and Rory accidentally grabbed one of their ears. The final score was tied 7-7, and this didn’t sit well with either Rory or me.

Rory and I discussed our last foot race, when he was about 12 and I was 22 or something. I’m not the nice kind of cousin who lets other cousins (no matter how young) win, and Rory still had some pent up rage about this incident. I suggested we race again and Rory agreed. Phil would be the official and we were to run about 60 meters. Rory was wearing basketball sneakers but I was in jeans, so we figured we were pretty even.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m 26 and Rory is 16. He’s just about as tall as me and much more athletic and strong than I was at his age.

We got set and started when Phil dropped his arms at the finish line. I got out much quicker than Rory and extended my lead through the first 30 meters or so. I kind of let up at this point and began striding (I get tired quickly these days and don’t like to work any harder than I have to), but as we neared the 45 meter mark I heard Rory’s turnover quicken—he was saving stuff for the end, trying to make me look like a fool! The fact that Rory thought he could outstrategize me in a 60 meter race enraged me. Suddenly the race became much more serious and I felt as if I was running against old age.

I woke up and transitioned back into sprinting mode (not an easy thing for a 26 year old to do) just in time to keep him safely behind me. I won by about 6 inches (maybe less). Most of the people there were shocked because Rory is known to be a good athlete and I look like a hairy dump truck at this point in my trip.

Although he tried to hide it, Rory was very unhappy with the outcome of the race. He asked for a rematch and I just laughed. In less than two years Rory will be my superior in every way—stronger, smarter, faster, and about six inches taller. I can’t believe he thought I’d be willing to risk the glory of what will probably be the last great physical victory of my life as a young man.

But if it’s any consolation to him, the race (and the turkey and Phil’s hard lemonade) did give me a pretty nasty case of hypodtodenarunnit (I had to press my face against the cool stones of the patio for twenty minutes to keep from booting). And in the end, I guess Rory did pretty good . . . for a boy.


Tribblemaker said...

Wasn't that race story an episode of Seinfeld?

daniel trask said...

I've secretly been home for two weeks now. I'm running out of stories.

liljames said...

If anyone is interested, I'm selling tickets for the Real Dan Trask bus tour.