Archive for the 'Sad' Category


Glass of Water for Mr Grainger!

Rest in peace, John Inman. Now you’re free.


R.I.P., Oddfellows


My favorite restaurant in all the world was a darling little number in Northeast Minneapolis. (“was” … It hurts just saying that.) It was attached to a gay bar called Boom! under the same ownership. I just learned that the venerable gay-owned Oddfellows closed down on the 10th and Boom! will pull up stakes later this month, which makes me very, very sad. Some heteros got in on the “Nordeast” economic boom and bought them out, I guess.

Oddfellows always claimed it wasn’t a “gay restaurant,” which I found to be a.) usually inaccurate given the clientel, and b.) irrelevant and a slightly off-putting designation.

However, their chow was magnificent. The menu changed every season and was always fresh. Oddfellows described its food as “Contemporary American Cuisine with an ‘odd’ twist of flavors from around the world.” (Read the description here, before their Web site completely disappears.) Their orange-lacquered pork tenderloin was one of the finest dishes on earth. And I once had a lavender-infused custard dessert there that nearly made me mess my pants. Oddfellows taught me to appreciate excellent gourmet food in human-sized (read: non-Applebee’s) portions, and to not be so uptight about a high restaurant bill — as long as it’s worth it. And it always was.

The inimitable Dara Moskowitz of the alternative news and arts weekly CityPages predicted upon its opening that it would become a “big destination restaurant.”

The shingle soon to be removed.

The restaurant and bar occupied a historic building (c. 1891), the meeting lodge of the Independent Order of Oddfellows. Lots of exposed brick and holes in the wall where heavy timber floor joices once inserted. The high pressed-tin ceiling throughout was cool. The blonde woodwork was a little bit too “Target” for my taste, and the stainless steel bar felt a little cold to me. But it was always clean and bright.

I’ll miss that place. Lots of anniversaries, birthdays, Valentine’s Days and impromptu “fancy” dinners out.

As for Boom!, I can take it or leave it. As a bar, it was not remarkable. The burgers were fantastic, and the fries were tasty (both were from the Oddfellows kitchen), but the drinks were too pricey and it was famously impossible to get a bartender’s attention on a busy night.

The one thing that impressed me about it (besides its Nordeast location — I lived in the neighborhood) is that it was the first gay bar I had seen in the Twin Cities that had enormous windows that were not blackened out or boarded up. It left the ‘mos inside exposed to the blue collar and the sunlight. To me it represented a proud declaration that Minneapolis’ queers would not be kept underground and in the dark.

Oh, how I used to love standing in front of those wide-open windows on Showtunes Night, belting out “Nothing Dirty Goin’ On” from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, being gay and free.


So Long, and Thanks for all the Wiki

Douglas Adams was nothing if not a visionary. Of course, he was much more than that, but the thing about him that impresses me most is his concept of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I can’t say he predicted the Internet — any more than Jules Verne predicted space travel — but I think we can certainly say that he saw the potential of the Web technology we are now settling into.

The fictional Guide was written by intergalactic traveling researchers — hitchhikers — who sent their entries back to editors at the publishing houses of Ursa Minor who red-penned them (One of the major jokes in the Hitchhiker’s books is that the entry for Earth was boiled down to the diminutive and somewhat insulting “Mostly harmless”), compiled them and sent them back through the sub-ether to all the copies of the electronic book, the Hitchhiker’s Guide. Simple collaborative publishing. The convergence of laptops and WiFi made the Web into the embodiment of Adams’ vision.

This was not lost on Adams. For a while there was a site called H2G2. I think he started it, in fact. “Researchers” made entries about whatever they liked, or proposed additions to existing entries. A team of editors would review the work and publish the entries. A whole community of nerds came together over the project, including myself. I had readt the Hitchhiker’s books in elementary school, and have always felt them to be among the major influences of my life — how I talk, how I write, how I think. Adams himself made appearances on the site. I remember in particular his entry on tea, which taught me the invaluable lesson that it is not enough to merely pour hot water on a tea bag. Rather, he opined, the tea must be met with boiling water — not water that had just been boiling, but water that was at that moment boiling. In other words, one must briefly boil the tea leaves.

I wrote an entry on the OED, which to my delight was published. And then the BBC bought and absorbed the site. And after I got into an argument with someone over the shape of Michigan (He adamantly denied that it was the shape of a mitten and a rabbit. Idiot.), I realized I had little to no interest in maintaining a presence in an online community. I wasn’t ready to live online yet. A late adopter, me. So I gave it up. Someone else would have to write about Dolly Parton, I reasoned, and Michigan (uhm, check out the shapes) and Madonna.

And, as if by magic, someone else did.

What has been catching my attention lately is the phenomenon of wiki, from the Hawaiian word meaning “quick.” The collaborative writing of Wikipedia — no official editors; anyone can log in, create a presence in the wiki community and edit — is a step beyond the Guide. But rather than chaos, what seems to happen is that the people with good reputations are trusted, and their work sticks, and Wikipedia seems to take on some coherence.

Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of wiki. Meta-wiki. Yay! Fun with prefixes.



About a month ago, Jeff and I went to the Metropolitan, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Nothing interesting happened. We met a friend from Park Slope there. Had some beers. Went back home. But it was a personal triumph for me and Jeff. An exorcism of sorts. We had been avoiding the place for over a year because of what we remembered about the last time we were there. Last fall, somewhere in the early days of November 2004, we met a friend there who would be found in his apartment a couple of weeks later dead from a heroin overdose.

We called him and persuaded him to meet us at the Metropolitan one night. He just wanted to stay for one drink. He had to get away for a little bit because he was having an argument with his roommate. We persuaded him to stay a little longer. He told about the argument. A plate was thrown and broken. It was something stupid. We told him we wanted him to come over for Thanksgiving, and we made tentative plans. Jeff and I were still new to the city, he having been here five months and I having been here just over one, and we were both hungry for friends. This guy was brand-new to us, but we felt like we were on a path toward something real. He was full of stories and jokes. He was comfortable and familiar after very little time. He had not the easiest life, but he wasn’t full of blame. He was just making do like anyone else. And he seemed so directed and in charge of himself.

The way he told it, he was at a point in his life where he was trying to ease into his 30s and settle himself a bit, to shed some drama and the people who bring trouble down on him. He was no stranger to drugs. He was known at at certain East Village connection points. But but he wasn’t irresponsible. He always took care of himself. And he wasn’t stupid. I remember he made a point of telling us once that he never touched heroin. He’d seen too many horror stories. And we believed him.

Jeff and I hadn’t heard from him since the Metropolitan a couple of weeks later. We knew he’d had some recent trouble with his phone, so we didn’t necessarily expect a call. We just didn’t know how to get a hold of him. So we walked into an East Village bar where we often hung out with him, half expecting to run into him. And we did, in a manner of speaking.

After a few minutes there, I noticed a tall candle burning in a glass enclosure with a note on it. I didn’t pay attention at first. Just some bar room bric-a-brac. But Jeff saw it, too, and we soon realized the note read: “For F____.”

You wonder sometimes when you don’t hear from someone for a while: Man, what if he’s dead. What would I do? How sad and weird! What’s the last thing we did together? When’s the last time we spoke? Wow, just imagine. Heh — I shouldn’t think like that. He’s fine. I should really call him one of these days.

We called the bartender over. Is that the same F____ we think you’re talking about? The bartender lowered his eyes. Yes, it was. And he told us the story: He had been found dead a fews days ago in bed in his apartment. He had been dead three days. It was a heroin overdose. There was a note next to him: “You looked so peaceful sleeping there, I didn’t want to wake you. —Ricky.” No one knows who this guy Ricky was. We think he’s the one who sold it to him. Either it was some bad shit or just a bad decision. Really loved that guy, you know. Everyone knew him. He was a real good guy. The funeral is this weekend in New Jersey. I can get you the information if you want.

Sure, thanks, we said.

We just sat there, silent, sort of stunned. Neither of us could imagine what to say next, except, occasionally, “I just can’t believe it.”

We left the bar without collecting the funeral information. I don’t think either of us wanted to go. He had far closer friends who should be there instead of us. It was a difficult night for us. We went for a good long walk and stayed up late talking about it and getting angry and sad and crying at times. The things you have seem so much more precious when you realize that someone you know has lost them forever. Forever. And what a waste to lose so much — all that goes into 34 years of life — and suddenly, it’s wiped out. Jeff and I had each other, so we held tight and remembered and cried for all of the things that would never be.


I Still Don’t Remember Her Name

In downtown Minneapolis, there is a parking garage at 9th Street and La Salle that looks like it will collapse at any minute. I called it the House of Cards Ramp, but it was cheap and close to The Saloon, where I was most likely to be found on a weekend evening, so I parked there often.

After a certain hour, the parking attendant no longer took money by hand, and drunk drivers were forced to insert dollars and quarters into a machine that controlled the exit arm. (Many times have I received an annoying 68 quarters after inserting a $20 bill.) The attendant was still on duty at this time, but hiding out in the little office, and he would only come out when the machine malfunctioned and the drivers were making enough of a fuss about it.

One night, a new person had started working the booth. She should have been a librarian or a high school hall monitor. She was a largeish woman, shaped somewhat like “Martha Dumptruck” from Heathers. She was probably in her mid-30s. She had large plastic-frame glasses, curly hair, a penchant for wearing pink sweaters, and such a pleasant and sweet demeanor that I wondered how long she would last at this particular job.

She was the sweetest thing, always saying hello and good-bye, efficiently counting my change and dropping the coins smartly into my palm. She was a little too nice sometimes, and not at all helpful usually. But somehow, when there was a problem with the after-hours machine, and the cars were lining up behind me expectantly, and she’d stand outside of my door encouraging me simply to try it again, try it again, try it again, the extra attention was always charming and reassuring.

She began to recognize me after a few weeks. She always made me smile on my way out of the House of Cards Ramp, no matter what drama I was escaping at the Saloon. It was fun to be just a little bit flirtatious with her. And one night I asked her for her name. I saw her so often, I said, I might as well know what it is.

I told her mine. And she told me hers.

And I promptly forgot it.

I always felt bad for her, having to deal with all the drunk homos pouring out of that ramp every night. Some people were downright rude to her. And it was beginning to show in her expression. So, I determined to be The Nice Guy.

The next time I saw her, I apologized. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but can you tell me again what your name is?”

She told me again.

The next time I saw her, I was excited to call her by her first name. But to my acute embarrassment, I realized I had forgotten it again. I played it cool. I didn’t use her name, nor did I ask for it again. I just tried to forget about the whole thing.

Over the months, her attitude began to change. She stopped smiling. She stopped talking. She would give me my change without looking up. When the machine malfunctioned, she would not come out and “help” anymore.

The job was getting to her. It was dragging her down. I tried my Nice Guy thing again and asked her for her name one night. She looked up at me, screwed up her mouth, cocked her head to the side, narrowed her eyes and did not answer me. You’ve got to be kidding me, that look said. I recoiled. The smile dropped from my face. I sat back in my seat, and I drove forward.

She had been transformed from a trusting, friendly, kind-hearted school nurse into a heartless, jaded downtown parking attendant. She was meaner than the men who worked there. I felt even worse about her situation and tried to be nice to her — until she started being rude to me.

Sometimes I wouldn’t have three dollar bills, and I’d have to give her a $10 or a $20. And she’d sigh heavily and avoid eye contact, throw open her drawer, and slap down the dollar bills. And I’d have to reach out of the car and grab for it myself. I’d drive away without comment, but strangely my feelings would be hurt.

Then the price went up to $3.50, and I always seemed to forget it. (After years of $3, $3, $3, you think you can count on something.) I’d hand her $3. At least it was correct change, right? And she’d look at me, thrust out her hand, and jab it forward a few times emphatically.

“Three fifty!” she’d bark.

And she’d jog my memory. “Ope! I’m sorry!” I’d say in that in-line-at-the-grocery-store voice. “I forgot again…”

And she would sit there, scowling and thrusting her hand again. I was flabbergasted. It was like being falsely accused of stealing. Maybe she thought I was teasing her. Whatever. I’d drop the precious 50 cents into her palm, and she’d let me be on my way.

She never got better. Sometimes she wouldn’t even shout “three fifty!,” but she’d just stare at me, waving that fucking hand of hers. One time when I forgot the 50 cents and she gave me that attitude, I lost it.

“Look! Calm down! I’m not trying to give you a hard time! I. Just. Forgot.”

But she never cracked that stony exterior. I never saw that nice lady in the pink sweater again. She had became The Raving Bitch of the House of Cards Ramp. That was her official title. We referred to her as The Bitch for short. My friends and I grew to hate her. There was always an edge of sadness to the stories we would make up about her as we drove away, because I remembered how she used to be. But she had lumped me in with the rude idiots who park in that ramp. She mistook my forgetfulness for intentional troublemaking. Before long, her attitude was justified.

I still don’t know her name. Maybe if I’d remembered those years ago, I’d have been able to maintain that small bridge to her kinder side.


Hell and High Water

I was on my way to work this morning after listening to gruesome and horrifying NPR reports from Louisiana and Mississippi, and I couldn’t help but recall the terrible 1997 Red River Valley flood of Grand Forks, North Dakota. I recalled the copy editor’s dream headline “Come hell and high water” that leapt off the front page of the April 20, 1997, Grand Forks Herald. (There’s an interesting back story here about the perseverance of journalists, despite the flooding and burning down of the newspaper’s headquarters, for those who care to read it. This small-town paper won a Pulitzer for their remarkable coverage.)

“Well,” I thought, “as much as New Orleans is dealing with — and it’s a lot — at least they don’t have fires on top of it all.” That’s something, right?

When I got to work and opened the New York Times online, I saw that a chemical plant near the French Quarter had exploded. So much for the luxury of no fires.

the untallied hours