Snap Shot – Minneapolis Back in the Day

Prince aand Husker Du and later – Tina and the B-Side rumbling through the coolest venues and Kid Johnny Lang playing everywhere. But it was more than that. Deeper. The music came from the vibe. The vibe came from the streets; the tribe of street people, the tourist restaurants, the drugs, high end clothing and shoe stores, gay bars, local bars, and seedy bars like The Speakeasy, adult book stores with 24 hour video arcades – the hunting ground for the chicken hawks. The labor pools and Catholic charities drop-in centers, Rifle Sport Pool Hall where the hustlers hustled the hustlers, and Tourist Education establishments like Moby Dicks where, in the back at the pool tables, some of the best acting, finessing and double-talking sharp shooters will rob you in a few games of straight-eight call your shot. Money was laying around, you just had to pick it up

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Alley Cat

 

There is a tall tree of a human named Mark who owns a fantastic, barely real Bohemian  coffee house called The Alley Cat Café. It’s not part of the world, it’s just in it. When you go inside you know it immediately. The whole joint is done in sepia. From the moment that you walk up the stairs that lead from the alley and pull open the door, everything you see is cool and it appears that every cool thing you see has been there for years. As though nothing is new, but it’s not true. I’ve seen the ebb and flow of art, décor and architectural design over the course of fourteen years, and even though the management has changed a time or two, the character in the visuals stays deep and vibey.
I go there for the coffee and the slightly vibrating barely contained pulse that draws me back. The U-shaped counter is wrapped in copper sheeting that has been beaten and burnished to perfection over the years. Every acoustic ceiling tile is an original work of art, in mediums ranging from oil paint to Sharpie, and each one was done by a patron. The music playing reflects the tastes of two twenty-something java sorcerers working a shift, and it moves from Coltrane to Kraftwerk and Avenge Sevenfold to Etta James, Trance, Jam-grass and everything between the cracks.
The cadre of Baristas is well curated and vetted in the refining fire of the most successful coffee house in Fort Collins, Colorado. Their educations range from BA, MFA, Master’s to ‘I just dropped out of high school and lived on the streets until The Alley Cat took a chance on me’. Some were born abroad and some here. Big, little, Rasta, Bald Girl, Man-bun, Yoga pants, ripped jean, cargo shorts, performers, writers, engineers. The Baristas are a tribe unto themselves.
The taco joint downstairs doubles as an over-night bakery for ‘The Cat’,which is open twenty four hours a day, and the duties in the past year have been split between three bakers, all of whom take great care and add their individual character to every sinfully decadent bite that we wait to experience. If you’re fortunate enough to be there at 4 or 5 a.m. when the fresh hot trays come up from that amazing cave, the sensory overload is enough to kill you.
I can sit at a table and stare off into space, slack-jawed and unaware of my appearance, and at any given time there will be half a dozen others doing the same thing. To the one’s who don’t know me, I’m “Older dude with the cool hat”. I’m in my mid 50’s, and there are a few of us around that age range that are regulars, but for nine months of the year, most of the customers are chai-drinking college kids with fire in their bellies and in their eyes. And about them I have to say; they give me hope for the future and God bless the creator of Yoga Pants.

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The Alley Cat – If you haven’t, you should and if you don’t get it, it’s okay, you never will.

The Last Time I Saw Scarface Billy

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I saw Billy at the Bus Stop on Nicolette and Franklin. I hadn’t seen him in eight years, but Scarface Billy looked 20 years older. He was on crutches dragging a bum leg in a brace. His face had been always been a cross-hatch of scars, but it looked worse. One eye was milky, blind, and that side of his face was drooping. His once jet-black thick hair had more salt than pepper and it struck me that I never knew how old Billy was…55? Maybe, but he looked 65. He didn’t have many teeth left, but the old tramp had fire blazing from his eyes and muscles still rippled in his forearms. He looked like what he was – an old wolf that, if pushed, would just kill you because he was too old to last in a fight.
I was embarrassed for him to see me in the condition that I was in; I had just come from my twice monthly hair-cut, I had a well-cut Brooks Brother’s suit flipped over the shoulder of my white light-weight Perry Ellis shirt. I was wearing pleated pants and expensive shoes. Hell, even my socks were expensive. He saw me.
“Hey, Soldier!? Is that you, man?”
“Hey, Billy. Yeah man, it’s me.”
“You look like a mark. Spare any change, mister?”
“Fuck you, old man.”
We stood there grinning at each other for a long ten seconds and then he said,
“Buy me a drink and give me a tailor-made smoke, ‘Citizen.’ “
We made our way to The Speakeasy – where all of the two-in-the-afternoon drinkers were pros. All of the men had decades old tattoos and some of the women had all of their teeth. It was where guys like us felt at home…when we were with guys like us. I was 29 years old, a kid in that bar, but I had lived ten men’s lives.
Billy asked about my clothes and I told him that I was married, separated, had a son and a different life than I once did. I was an account executive for print advertising for a publication that had a circulation of 100,000. I bullshitted my way into a job that had a company car and two-hour client lunches on the expense account. But I blew into town in a stolen car, had a warrant out for my arrest, and my life was coming apart.
“Who do you think you’re bullshitting, Soldier? Guys like us, we’ll never be Citizens.”
He called me Soldier because that was my street name when I met him. I was an 18 year-old street punk looking to get schooled in the art of hopping a freight train from Minneapolis to Eugene, Oregon. I rode the rails for the first time with Scarface Billy, Limpin’ Ed, Curly and Jim Forney. There was a girl in that mix too. I brought her along, but she disappeared with Curly when we hit Spookaloo. Billy took me under his wing and taught me how to roll my own cigarettes, make coffee over a fire in a soup can using a tied off clean-sock-pouch. He showed me how to get fifty cents on the dollar for food stamps, how to dive the best fast food dumpsters, and how to drink White Port, Wild Irish Rose and Thunderbird wine. I discovered Mad Dog 20/20 on my own.
Billy and the other guys knew where all the Salvation Armies, Rescue Missions, soup lines and food banks were in every town that we stopped in along the way. It was their way of life and I was being shown the ropes. I hung with Billy for a couple weeks, saw him open up the forearm of a big Ute with a broken Wild Irish Rose bottle, he was a wolf back then and I hadn’t seen him in the 8 years since.
An hour of drinking draft beer and Bacardi shots and I had stripped down to my wife-beater and threw my Perry Ellis shirt in the trash. We got shitty drunk, played shitty pool, Billy hobbled around the table on crutches, banging peoples shins and pissing off the room. It ain’t easy to get kicked out of the Speakeasy, but we did find ourselves out on the sidewalk in the hot sun of the late afternoon.
I got Billy back to the physical rehab place where he was sleeping, which was supposed to be a sober environment. I left him leaning on a buzzer and telling me not to forget that I would never be a Citizen.
I got arrested a week later and was sent to a work farm for six months.

 

 

Another Day in the Life

Another Day in the Life

 

Hypothermia, hunger, addiction, dehydration.
Nicotine, caffeine, ephedrine.
Revulsion, degradation, medication, hallucination, humiliation, resignation.
Freight train, roll yer own, box car, don’t want to die alone.
Street light, street fight, stolen car, fugitive.
Food shelf, soup line, tramp stamps, dumpster dive.
Chased down, locked up, broke down, humbled.

Day two

Hypothermia, street fight, chased down…new orleans

 

My Mother Was a Writer, But I’ve Never Read Her Work.

The Northwoods of Minnesota, in the ’60s and ’70s, was a blue collar enclave of iron mining communities. The women and children worked hard on the home front while the men (and a very few women) worked swing shifts at the mines. With all of the responsibilities of raising four kids and taking care of my Dad’s needs, Mom wrote.

It’s taken me until very recently to realize that therein lies the roots of my writing. One would think that it is a glaringly obvious statement, but her writing was almost never discussed. Ever present, in various locations around the living room, were copies of Redbook, McCalls,  and Ladies Home Journal and Reader’s Digest. There were novels by Leon Uris, Anais Nin, William Peter Blatty, Victoria Holt or Mario Puzzo. And then there was the Writer’s Digest – The Bible of writers.

Mom wrote short stories and submitted them to each of the women’s magazines, and received her rejection letters quietly. In fact, her entire writing experience was done quietly. No one ever discussed it. It wasn’t taboo, it just never came up. I was barely aware of it, being so self-absorbed as kids are I do remember her tap tap tapping on her typewriter on days that I was home sick from school. I’ve never read her work. I can only assume that the subject matter would have been appealing to women – based on the magazines that she was submitting to.

She was repressed by time, place, societal norms and expectations. As more time passes since her death a few years ago, I’ve come to see her in a much different light and along with that comes a much deeper appreciation and respect.

She was an avid reader and always encouraged me to do the same, and I did. When I showed an interest in photography, she subscribed to two photography magazines for me. She was a good singer, and when any of us showed an interest in music, she supported it. She was always trying to expand her world. After my father passed away, she married an artist who worked in the painting and sculpture mediums.

She was bigger than her surroundings, but I didn’t appreciate it. I do now, and I am proud of her.2015-05-10 14.17.33