Missouri

     Missouri holds a special place for me. After North Dakota and Minnesota, it’s probably the state I’ve visited the most, the state I heard about the most, and the state I most know something about. I had been going there since I was a boy visiting my grandparents, who worked at the university there. My parents attended the same University of Missouri, and I would later go there for a significant semester for graduate school, in journalism. Even during my undergraduate years, when I made the time to see my grandfathers (my grandmothers had all died by 2012) at least once a year, I would go down there, so that I nearly have the route by heart. Not that it’s hard, you go south from Fargo, and either take a left at Kansas City until you reach Columbia, or take a left at St. Joseph and a right a Moberly.

     This time my errand was three-fold: I needed to drop off a package to my grandfather, I was going to visit friends, and I planned to make it down to Mississippi for the aforementioned graduate school visit. The package, obviously, should have gone by mail, but this proves a woeful task for the Columbia post office, who left a sopping, went cardboard thing on my grandfather’s doorstep with very few unbroken contents. I was happy for the excuse anyway, so I went.

     I arrived at my undergraduate friends’ house that evening, all known from the fencing club. I was greeted with food, then a shot of some green liquid that one of them had brewed. I took it, and wandered why it was crunchy.

     “That’s sugar” said the one serving me. “To cut the taste.”

     I found out why momentarily. What I can only describe as a deep bitterness, one that I think coated my tongue and went down to the roots of my taste buds, stayed there and didn’t leave. My friend from Nevada, who by all accounts is a better drinker, and I then proceeded, through curses and screams, to alternatively split a bathroom, in which I would take the sink to spit and he would take the toilet to vomit.

     “Look, mistakes were made” said the girl who brewed it. To this day I don’t know what it was, some sort of licorice I think.

     I proceed for the next four days to sleep on their couch, alternatively talking with Nevada, who like to drink late into the night, and trying to clear out before the first of them went to class. I saw them mostly in the evenings when I was not busy with other things.

     My time during the day was often spent feeling homeless. I had everything in my car, but not as many places to go. I saw my grandfather, who was happy to get his things, but also very much older. He’s nearly ninety-five, so he was always old, but I think he’s starting to feel it. I had old pictures of family members he looked through and identified, but I do not know if he liked it. He said a few kind words about my grandmother though, which was good. Sometimes we worried she was a bit forgotten.

     His girlfriend, unfortunately, took up a lot of his time. I avoided her: she was of the “bless your heart” sort of Southern meanness, and she liked neither myself nor especially my mother. Besides my grandfather, no one on that side of the family really treated my mom with anything better than indifference, but usually this wasn’t afforded. They were cold at the best of times, and cruel at the worst, which was far more often. I don’t regret not knowing them well.

     I would look up a few other of my old haunts when I was in Columbia. I stopped at a diner early for breakfast in the hope of seeing an old professor who had taught my father. He had invited me out for dinner a few times, and was a very interesting, if not eccentric old man. He was not there, and we had a brief phone call later, but that was about the extent of it. Likewise, my old music friend was not available. He was “high as a potato” when I wrote, and I didn’t get too see him.

     I paid one visit to the university. I didn’t leave happy with it; it was a poorly run, bureaucratic institution with not much to offer. The journalism program largely morphed into making connections, and I think the protests showed more of what that particular school practiced in actuality. Nevertheless, I took a walk around town after the diner, and left. I might be the last person in my family to have anything to do with that place, but I didn’t miss it. It was good I was gone.

     As usual, I spent a lot of time at Steven’s Park, a small park surrounding a small lake of the same name. I had spent a lot of time there as a graduate student, as I was trying to spend a lot of time away from my apartment; more specifically, I was avoiding a somewhat insane and disturbed roommate, who was convinced (among other imaginations) my half carton of juice took up unneeded space in a mostly unfilled refrigerator.  I liked the park because it was quiet, and had a little island one could walk out too. Usually, if I wanted privacy, I found some sort of natural setting to be best for this.

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Steven’s Lake, Columbia MO

     I visited the Katy Trail, a long biking and jogging trail that went for many miles, eventually paralleling the Missouri River. It was quiet and solemn. My mother used to run there, and I did too. It was getting towards autumn, and the leaves were in a timid green or pale yellow, but was about three weeks behind our own.

     The nights were usually some television or board games. I ended up staying one day later, and went to fencing. I didn’t do well, but hadn’t picked up a saber in years, except for my lessons with Todd. Not to make excuses, but I also had no grip on the floor. Oh well. It wasn’t so much about fencing as it was about meeting people one last time. I visited once a year since I left, now I was most likely done. When I left I didn’t know if I’d see any of them again. Our goodbyes when I finally left were generally short or nonexistent. It was probably better that way.

     I did track down, to some extent, some friends of my mother’s who are very accomplished folk musicians. I was very excited to be there, but also very tired, so I may have babbled more than I meant. I got a lesson on the mountain dulcimer, gave them some chocolates from Fargo, and left. It was a good day whenever I get to talk about folklore for a few hours. Other than Troyd, I don’t get that option much. Certainly not much from my generation, they usually aren’t interested in it, at least more than superficially. Folklore and folk music are similar to what Mark Twain said about classics: everybody wants to say they like them, but no one wants to take the time to do so.

     I had been visiting my grandfather throughout this time, at least once a day, usually for lunch, or when I fell asleep while he napped, or once when I stopped into his senior center and ate quite a lot of food. My grandpa is very particular about food, for some reason. He himself wasn’t eating much, and it worried me. I would have stayed with him, but I was avoiding the aforementioned “girlfriend” who insisted on popping around sometimes. I met him for breakfast, and played music, and took my leave. I lingered, partially because I was worried I wouldn’t see him again, and partially because I was tired. He gave me a strong hug and a wave. I broke up a little, but don’t think he noticed. With that I drove out of the apartments, and headed east, towards St. Louis, and eventually southward to Mississippi. There may be one more time left in me, but that will be it. I’ve visited since 1989 or 1990, but no more. It wasn’t a bad chapter in my life, for all the consternation and roadblocks it threw to me, but one that’s almost closed.

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I’ve Been All ‘Round Cape Girardeau, And Parts of Arkansas (I’ve Been All Around This World), Part Four: The Quilter

The Quilter

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     I woke up and got into contact with my friend, and we agreed to meet about ten. I killed time by going to my favorite bookstore down in the town, who’s yellowing trees and mostly small storefront sat under a thick humid haze. It was homecoming for a football team in the South, and even at nine people were gearing up. My own cousin attended this university, many years ago, and I had been there many times visiting my grandfather. I liked it’s campus better than the one in Mississippi, and it felt older. Ole Miss was filled with mostly newer buildings that looked old (although that’s not entirely their fault, I was told the Civil War set them back for unwanted restoration projects). Arkansas had old buildings that looked old.

     I hurried to my bookstore, under the hazy blue mist still hung over the city, so that I couldn’t even see the town a quarter mile away. This bookstore is indeed the perfect epitome of where one should go to buy used books. Narrow shelves were stacked to the ceiling, and walking to the back of the store it seems one goes on into its own (very literate) alternate dimension. It just doesn’t look that big from the outside. The same older man sat at the desk, and cardboard signs stuck in the shelves delineated what topic you were looking for. I always zoomed into the folklore section, in front, where I could find rare books that I found no where else, even Amazon. They were in the old, original covers, and had the slightly musky but pleasant book smell that old books should have. They were also priced about as much as they should be, and were rung up on a calculator and pencil. I purchased a few and would come back later.

     Fayetteville was starting to fill up- it was homecoming, and even by nine people were walking around in red and white, men in sweatshirts, t-shirts, and caps, and girls with faces painted. I walked down to the stadium, along an avenue with the names of graduates from the 60s and 70s, and snapped a few photos of the tents that had begun to spring up around the stadium, and. I had enough of football for the weekend.

     The campus made a nice walk, but I needed to hurry back so that I wasn’t late. I drove back to the village where my grandparents used to live, to the same house where my friend had always been.

     The Quilter was a very happy and energetic older lady, and she brought me in and we sat and chatted for a good long while. I showed her pictures of North Dakota, where she had not been, and she inquired after my family, who she knew. After a time, she mentioned that I probably wanted to see the quilt, which I very much did.

     When I last saw her, some years ago, she was still making it. Growing up in the South, the Quilter had a heavy accent and a great amount of personal experience in rural life. Some years ago her son, who became a teacher, had received stories from the African-American students in his class about how their parents or grandparents used to live. Using this as a template, my friend designed her story quilt.

     She went through each block with me, and I will write what I remember, the best I can do so. I recorded bits, but did not want to turn the camera on because it was more important for me to hear how she told the story naturally. My captions, very short and to the point, do not do anything close to hear her explain it, but nevertheless I hope they provide a small amount of insight and clarification.

 

 

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These were towns from the quilter’s life.

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(Going from left to right): Following the signs, the next two blocks depict traditional foods and common tools used in the South, respectfully. The time period is the late 1800s-early 1900s. The photographer was I believe a travelling entrepreneur, and the next block depicts a still (One more block, a bath, will be shown below). Next row: They are making lye soap, and following that is a boy playing a game, using a rim from a auto wheel. Washing by a pond comes next, and women shearing sheep (notice the sheered lamb) and spinning wool. A further block (see below) depicts women making quilt patches.

 

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Third Row: This of course is a barn and a smokehouse. The quilter said that normally hams wouldn’t be on the outside, but she needed to show that it wasn’t an outhouse. And there are the little piggies. She said they’re hoping they won’t be in there this year. The house is on rocks to keep it cool, something I was unused to in the north.

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Third Row (cntd): Outhouse, a family with a cat and baby, a well, and pumpkins. The quilt was also seasonal, and changed with the seasons, as will be seen.

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Fourth Row: We have a wedding party going to a church.

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I especially like this block, as it is also something new to me. This is jumping the broom, which was a traditionally-driven way of “formalizing” a marriage. In the pre-Civil War South, when ministers were scarce, the master would have a married couple jump over a broom and declare them married, which has continued since then.

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Fourth Row: A graveyard and a gravedigger. The names on the tombstones are all associated with the quilter’s herself. The next block over is a baptism in a river, complete with fish and a turtle.

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Row Five: The first block is a child at school and his teacher, and the child is wearing a dunce cap. The quilter said she didn’t like that much. After that are children with a swing.

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Row Five (cntd): A schoolhouse, and two children jumping rope. Next is a gospel choir and a fiddler.

 

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Row Six: Two lovers courting over a picnic, I was told teenagers or somewhere around that age. Followed by children flying kites. Next is fall, and the man is going hunting (notice the birds in the top corner) with his dog.

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Row Six (cntd): Forest animals, and then fishing (notice the boot) and swimming. Of course, back then one would swim in the nude.

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Row Seven: A cow and dairy products, followed by a farmer in a field. The cotton fields were something the quilter knew a lot about, having grown up near the Mississippi River.

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Row Seven (cntd): Finally, eating more watermelon, some more food in the South, and a block explaining the quilt’s origin.

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Another view for the blocks that were cut off. The end.

   When we had finished, she took me to lunch. We talked for awhile, and we hugged and said goodbye. I don’t know if I’ll see her again. Having older friends is nice and very important. My generation never really understands that, except superficially. The downside is that you never will know when will be the “last” time, so every visit is made like that. I learned that older people have an art to this, which I’ve gotten better at. You don’t say anything, you just say goodbye like you’re going to the post office. And that’s that. You’ll see them again or you won’t, or you’ll hopefully see them in an afterlife, if some such exists. But I always felt that when someone passes, the living tend to become a little more like them. Maybe it’s just because of the memory wanting to remain strong, but I do think in a way good people live beyond their life.

     Having written that, I write briefly of my drive home, which was uneventful. I left Fayetteville at one, and due to traffic, was not able to visit my grandparents’ grave, as I usually do. Around ten, I pulled into Sioux Falls. The hotel clerk was nice, and I checked in. I wanted something quick, so I went to a McDonald’s, managed to have both slow service and cold food, and ate it over a “Friends” rerun. That sounds sad, but I actually was pretty happy to do so. Teenage girls were in the lobby, and I think some sports event was going on. The next day I grabbed breakfast in the lobby, and an older lady with red hair chatted with me for awhile, before chatting with a guy who was apparently living in the hotel on a work trip. I packed up and left, and drove until I reached Fargo.

     My old professor, who sometime in 2009, when I was nineteen or twenty, had talked to me about Joseph Campbell when I went to his office, had briefly come out of retirement. He had started me on the path of folklore back then, and had just published a work of fiction. One of the reasons I decided to hurry home from Mississippi was that I wanted to hear him give a lecture again. He’s an excellent storyteller, and signed the book to “a fellow folklorist” which was an honor to me, as that’s what I had been trying to be all of this time. He said that one sort of just became a folklorist after a time. It’s never official, apparently, which is very fitting. I admit I cannot comment yet on the book- I’ve been trying to knock of Le Morte d’Arthur for awhile, and finding myself close, want it done (there are only so many times I can hear of Sir Tristram knocking someone off a horse and Sir Launcelot being the “goodliest” knight in the world). However, I was happy to see him again.

     I talked a bit with our state folklorist, and we plotted ways to help strengthen the traditional arts in North Dakota. Then I went home, and thus ended my trip.

 

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I’ve Been All ‘Round Cape Girardeau, And Parts of Arkansas (I’ve Been All Around This World): Part Three, The Bus Driver

The Busdriver

     Coming in from Mississippi, Arkansas was rural, and then rainy. The warm sunny skies and cotton fields made way for clouds and small houses, where it seemed even the most run down house had a column in front. Somewhere past Little Rock I was in the pouring rain and blaring a few different songs, most prominently “Have You Ever Seen Rain?” as I turned the wipers up to maximum. Somewhere in the west of the state I split towards Ft. Smith, and drove through the Ozarks. The rain made big puffs of mist rise through the mountains as I went over bridges and up mountains, and the rain hammered down. Eventually, right before Fayetteville, the sun glowed orange over the sky, outlined perfectly by a straight gray line that went over the horizon. By dark, I had settled in.

     I went to a restaurant near the parking lot of where I was staying, a general chain but above say, a Subway or McDonalds in terms of quality and variety. Being Friday it was full of students and couples. Me being alone, I ate at the bar, where the college-aged girl insisted I got a straw for my water. She was nice enough, but busy.

     I sat next to one guy a few stools down and a couple to my right, neither of whom were interested in talking. An older guy with a Papa John’s hat then sat down next to me, ordered a diet coke and an order of southwestern egg rolls without looking at the menu. He made sure to get the avocado ranch dipping sauce too.

     By and by I asked him if he was from around here, and he says he has been for a few years, but originally he was from Chattanooga, Tennessee. He said that he moved here to live next to one of his four daughters (he also had two sons). He lived to try to live near them for awhile. He also had a son who worked at Disney world, a couple children in California, and one in Mississippi. He used to drive buses for Travelwind, but they shut down. He asked me if it didn’t sound suspicious that the CEO of Greyhound was fired in the 80s, became head of Travelwind, and then went back to Greyhound? I said it did. He said he had been to all states but five. I asked if North Dakota was one. It was not, he had been to Minot, and drove some country music singers there from across Canada, starting in Calgary. It snowed. I said that sounded like North Dakota

     The Busdriver said that he hadn’t been to Washington, Oregon, Maine, Hawaii, and Alaska. He also mentioned that he still wanted to work, so he got a job delivering pizzas, but he had a Ford Taurus and the gas mileage didn’t make it very profitable. I told him mine had been going up on the highway, and he asked what model, and I told him. He said that was a good car. He talked slow and in few words, and so did I. When his food came, he took off his hat and prayed over it. I told him a bit about driving to Fargo, and why I had been in Mississippi, and about how the Director of the Graduate program at Ole Miss had more or less brushed me off, which he had. He asked if that would affect my decision to go there. I said it would, because I didn’t want to work with him, but I’d have a long drive to think about it.

     We talked about rent in California, among other things, and how he once lived there and ate breakfast in a hotel every day (about twenty-two dollars a night) until the waitress told him about some good rooms in her apartment. They were, and the Busdriver asked why she hadn’t mentioned them before, and she said that it was because she wanted to see if he was a good guy.

     He got some more Diet Coke and dipping sauce, and asked for the rest in a to-go cup. We talked a little more, and he told me to drive safe, and that he’d be praying for me. I said “thank you” and then, after a pause, “back at you” and he also said “thank you.” He asked my name and I asked his, and we shook hands. His hand was strong (but not that annoying strong where you feel like your fingers are being broken) and calloused. We sat in silence while the checks came. I thought of wishing him luck, but I didn’t know in what, as he seemed to have it, mostly. I said it was nice to meet him, we shook hands again. I told him to have a good one, and left.

     There are always good people about wherever you go. Just sometimes they are a little less at places, but it seems to balance out in the end.

I’ve Been All ‘Round Cape Girardeau, And Parts of Arkansas (I’ve Been All Around This World): Part Two, The Drive

Mississippi (continued)

     For my last morning in the Magnolia State, I started by trying to go to the Faulkner home at Rowan Oak, but it was closed for a private event. Most likely, something to do with football. Planning on leaving Oxford, I had done about all I needed to do, except to meet with the Director of Graduate Studies. As written before (but bitterness desires repetition) four days prior, he had my schedule. One day prior, he had my confirmation of arrival. Yesterday I had stopped by the department twice, his office, and still no response. This morning I gave up, and went to a bookstore to pick up a pin.

     There was nothing going on there, and the people inside were pretty friendly, probably because it was so slow. I asked about local beers, which I always bring back, and one of them recommended a store, where I meant to go anyway. In 2012, back in the days when Cody Conner was still alive, a man came through Dempsey’s in Fargo one Thursday. He was from Mississippi, and showed me all sorts of pictures of Oxford and the football team and the like. He wife was from Fargo, so he was up visiting, but he gave me his number and told me to look him up if I was ever in town.

     Six years later I did, and he seemed pretty unsurprised, which was fine with me. I went there and got some supplies, mainly some beers and a few local things, like some jellies made with fruits with strange names, like “Mayhaw”, that I hadn’t heard of before. I didn’t get the pickled pig’s feet though. I figured I’d just eat a hot dog if I wanted some and spare myself the hooves. 

     I found the owner near the coolers, and we chatted for awhile. He was real nice, and pretty friendly, like I remembered. We took a picture for his wife. He asked if he could put it on Facebook, but I was still pretty camera shy. Probably shouldn’t be though. He told me to let him know how the application goes, and we shook hands and I bought my stuff and left. Later I ran back and left a business card. It seemed like a good time to do it. Mississippi was somewhat redeemed for me.

     The last place I stopped was a liquor store I happened to see on my way out. My brother, who once he decided to occasionally drink, only would drink scotch and other expensive drinks. Since his birthday was coming up, I managed to find some high end bourbon-whiskey brewed locally, and got a bottle for him. I can be stingy, but not of gifts. I like to think that it makes up for other flaws.

     I left Mississippi as the traffic began to reach a level that is usually seen in big cities at rush hour. I had driven around Oxford, which did look like a beautiful small town, the university excluded, bought some beer, tracked down some local whiskey for my brother’s upcoming birthday (he started drinking later than most, and decided to drink only high end booze) and left. I wanted to reach Fayetteville by nightfall, and Fargo within a day. Partially this was the fact that I had somewhere to go. My oldest professor, who started me on the path of folklore way back when, was popping out of retirement for a new book and I didn’t want to miss it. Partially this was because I was cheap and didn’t want to stay any longer than I had to.

    I checked my email around twelve-thirty. Still no e-mail from the English professor I had written. I put the phone down, turned on music, and left. Hotel rates would be a killer anyway. Sometime around four-thirty, in a gas station outside of Little Rock, I would find an e-mail from the secretary in the English department saying that he was busy, but I could meet with a PhD candidate. Not that I wouldn’t have if I was there, but I had no illusion about what happened or any regret about my decision: I was snubbed, plain and simple. That was when I said my final goodbye to that program.

     I passed cotton fields as I headed on rural roads going west. Later I was told that they marked what was left at the end of the year, and were probably just the leftovers from the main crop. Even the most run-down houses had columns in front of them, and small towns with a stoplight or two and a railroad track made up the rest. I sort of wished I had time to stop into one, but did not. I crossed the Mississippi again, a narrow, two lane bridge that seemed like it stretched a mile above the river. Once again, I thought of the little trickle near Itasca and the slow moving swamps of Minnesota. That was still my river, I suppose, although it had the feeling of someone you knew and hadn’t seen since in preschool who grew up. And subsequently became a Navy SEAL.

     Arkansas didn’t differ much from Mississippi at first, except that there were less towns. I went down a truly bizarre two lane-road, where it seemed the bumps, instead of being evened out, were just paved over, making a smooth but uneven drive. The sunniness of Mississippi disappeared, and it went from overcast to dark. Somewhere around Little Rock it started downpouring, and never really cleared up until Fayetteville.  I mostly listened to “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” on repeat and thought about what I was doing out here anyway.

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Pretty Much Arkansas, Most of the Way

     The lowlands made way to the hills, and soon I was in the familiar Ozarks. The rain lessened enough that puffs of clouds rose throughout the forest, making it look like something out of a folktale. Massive bridges dramatically plunged across the trees and mountains, and I went through tunnels and by overlooks. Finally, in sights of my destination, the end of the front appeared, and an orange glow marked the sunset.

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Almost There

I’ve Been All ‘Round Cape Girardeau, And Parts of Arkansas (I’ve Been All Around This World), Part One: Mississippi

Mississippi

   I had gone down the east of the Show Me State, getting frustrated with the bypasses of St. Louis, while I listened to my friends’ CD as I passed the limestone on the east of Missouri. I paralleled the river for awhile (although I never saw it), while the trees and bluffs gradually made their way into low rolling fields. With that, I finally crossed into Arkansas, where the density of semis made a driver’s life frustrating and strange exit ramps broke up the road. Arkansas endeared itself to me because it was also (finally) where at least one police car that actually got someone who deserved it.

     Somewhere along the way I stopped in one of the strangest bathrooms in my life in some gas station (the floor was so flooded and you nearly waded to a toilet) before I crossed over the Mississippi to Memphis. I watched the barges as I drove over steel road, and wondered how much of the water was Itasca. I then almost immediately hit the traffic in Tennessee. That took awhile to get through, and I attempted to help a teenage motorist who was stranded, but could not. Finally, in Mississippi, the pines and a well-maintained highway are all that greeted me in the most southern of states.­­­

     I arrived in Oxford and stopped in a hotel along Jackson street, and was interrupted by what sounded like a very load broken air conditioner. I stepped outside, and the other guests and I watched a helicopter fly slowly over the road and the parking lot. The police closed the road off, and it landed, while everyone stood outside and took pictures. A stretcher came, they loaded up, and the helicopter took off. The papers, as far as I know, never wrote a thing about it.

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Proof- It happened

     The next day I went to Ole Miss, a confusing labyrinth of circular roads, buildings that looked like fraternity houses (and fraternity houses that looked like regular school buildings), and clean, modern street. It confused me. Eventually, after talking with undergraduate and graduate studies, where I talked with the student at the desk, I was told to e-mail someone. It turned out she was out of the country, but I came back and talked to someone new who thought to just ask around back, and graciously a student came out. Thus I managed to find my way into a campus tour. The student who took me was very nice, and we drove around in a golf cart. She told me about some of the eccentricities of Ole Miss, such as the rush to find spots to tailgate, and the fact that apparently in the South, they don’t use blinkers. She showed me the school of Southern Studies upon request, as well as the English department, and did a pretty good job. No complaints.

 

 

     It was the school of Southern Studies that I learned about the “Bless Your Heart” mentality of the south. I had previously written the center about meeting, introducing myself as a folklorist and a potential graduate student. I got a response about how this “might be arranged” and decided to stop in. A frizzy, red-haired secretary, left for lunch, and I looked up my contact, knocking at her office door. She wasn’t there. The secretary came back, I explained my predicament, me being from North Dakota and not knowing my way around and all, she also went upstairs knocked at the door. No one, answered. She said she liked my tie, and I tried to explain about it, but she didn’t want to hear. I mentioned that I had some pamphlets, but are there any more? She said “yes yes, sounds like you got everything you need.” She smiled as she kicked me out the door. Southerners. I went back to ask her where to eat just to throw her off.

     More disappointingly, I had also earlier gone to the English department, explaining how the graduate director said he may be able to make time in his schedule to me to ask a few questions. Three days prior, I wrote him about Thursday or Friday. He didn’t respond. I wrote the night before. He didn’t respond. I talked to the student at the desk. Office hours by appointment only. I later came back and talked to the other secretary. She said I could go to his office. I did, for an hour and twenty minutes. He never arrived, so I don’t know if he went home or was busy. I guess too busy to talk, or tell me he was too busy to talk. It was midterms, perhaps? Well, I knew when I was snubbed, anyway.

     I left, and ate the second half of a cold sandwich from last night, and wrote this. I will not miss Oxford, and I will not miss Ole Miss. Now to withdraw my application fee…. Well, we know that’s not going to happen.

     However I had one morning left.

 

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In Which I Read the Writing on the Wall (In Large, Times New Roman, 72-Font Letters) And Leave

     The summer drew to a close quickly for me, performance-wise, for the simple reason I was tired of it. Actually, anyone who reads this blog would know this: I grew tired of it long ago, for reasons I’d explained better elsewhere. I think I announced my “retirement” six times. In this case, I may not go into hiding and only crank out the odd studio album (which I haven’t done since 2012 or 2013 anyway)- or only do so like the Rolling Stones and just call in a few more performances when the money is low. The money here might be in a slightly different tax bracket than that example, but the point is I may still play. but it is not likely, I don’t like performing, and I think I had my “sign from the divine” that it’s over.

     One Friday in mid-July started my “last weekend.” People were unusually loud- and also dormant. It was like trying to sing while being near a stagnant pond of bullfrogs in the height of mating season, which for the intoxicated denizens of Fargo, is pretty much year round, opportunity-allowing. I did get one nice member though- a blond woman, maybe a little older than me. She had a black, spangly dress and glitter in her eye shadow. She actually let me finish up the song I was on (“Star of the County Down) and then asked me for good songs, starting with the “59th St. Bridge Song.” I usually don’t get both impressed by a request and ashamed by not knowing it as well as I should, because that had been one of mom’s staple songs back in the day, and she tried to teach me the pattern, which I hadn’t memorized. I did as much as I could, and she asked me to play an Elvis song, another request I hadn’t heard but wanted (I went through an “Elvis phase” at fifteen) and played “Don’t Be Cruel.” She lit a cigarette, and tried to sing to “59th Street.” A young pony-tailed guy (who was probably waiting to meet the girl) sat close and listened with a dreamy look on his face. I hoped he was trying to talk to the girl.

     She kept apologizing and saying she had to go to Dempsey’s, and gave me some money and was sorry she didn’t have more. I said that was okay, but she was being nice. She called herself “Susie Q” (a Creedance Clearwater Revival song) and although she earlier wanted that (which I couldn’t play) she asked for a song by Cheap Trick. I thought for a moment and got out some of “Surrender” which she was impressed by. She went on into the night, back towards Dempsey’s, and I never saw her again. The dreamy guy eventually drifted back towards the bench as well.

     He sat next to a few guys on the bench. One was a man, black and toothless, who panhandled people for money or food. He was good at sweet-talking. There was nice couple listening to me, and they said no, but still gave me a tip. He got some money, and a sandwich, and a glowing neck thing from a bachelorette party. Eventually he left, but it wasn’t great for me. It takes money, and makes me look bad. Greg said I shouldn’t let guys like that hang out around the corner. He’s probably right.

      Saturday was both loud and boring. There were no conversation, no interaction for most of it. Nothing. I had been playing with my glasses off lately. When they’re off, I get picked on less. I also can’t make as much eye contact, but when people are just blurs I tend to feel better about playing anyway. My eyesight is actually pretty good, but details are sparse. At any rate, not much happened. There was a guy who asked me for my “best song.” I explained to him, as I have to a lot of people, it was whatever I felt like playing at the moment. Some jerks appeared out of the proverbial beer and vomit-filled sewers towards the end, I got some loose change, and tried ending with the first song I had ever learned, “Buffalo Gals” which wasn’t too good, ironically. I stopped. It was over, and I was glad.

     Went to my car, thanking some higher power (or whatever god watched over street musicians) when a well dressed black guy went around the side of my car. I thought he was getting in it, or something out of it. There had been a lot of weird stuff going on that side of downtown. Sometimes guys would just jump in and out of cars, or people would be fighting, or cops would show up. I waited. Somewhere in my groggy mind, I heard him tell his friends about the bathroom, but it didn’t click. I moved in the driver’s seat (he was on the passenger side) and he looked in the window. Suddenly it clicked to me. He was peeing on my car. I turned on the engine and drove away, leaving him to angrily zip up midstream and hopefully wet his pants. Still hoping I was mistaken, I saw the puddle as I left, and later saw it on the side of my car.

     I should have yelled. I should have screamed. I was stunned- as I said, this hadn’t even occurred to me. But I was tired, and almost expected this sort of thing somewhere in the back of my head. The people of Fargo are pigs on weekends. The “Fargo Nice” ideal is an ideal, just one they selectively hold on to. I was, perhaps liked the man, somewhat relieved. I didn’t want to do this any more, and haven’t done it since.

     Like I said, nothing is ever final. I might even play a few songs out there one day. However, it is over. I’ll write some epilogue, or something more someday. But for now, I want it over. What started with Herb ended that day. Two nights ago, I saw another young man in my spot. I wish him well, probably. I haven’t heard his music. But I once again went on home.

Author’s Note: I’ll be publishing my final song list shortly. For now, in order, it begins:

Final Song List:

“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”

“I’m Heading Down this Road Feeling Bad”

 

Fencing in Georgetown

     Some years ago I was accepted as an intern for my Senator in Washington, and went to live in the district. My cousin, long since graduated from Georgetown and off to the Navy helped me find a place in his old fraternity house in which to live. It was every bit of what one expects one to be, but that is not for this story. Of all the things I did in D.C. that semester, several things stand out: 1) My Senator swears like a sailor 2) Midwesterners really are nice and ) it was by chance (as most good things are) that I started to learn to fence. I only stopped a two months ago, in a club in Fargo. It may not be entirely for the last time, but then again, it very well could be. I didn’t stop because of a fight, or something dramatic- the season closed, and I was done. I wasn’t too sad to go, but I was sad that it ended. Fencing had been one of the better things about my twenties.

     In late 2013, I was living inside Georgetown. The aforementioned fraternity house was a of a fraternity of which I wasn’t a part. Details of living there are really worthy of a whole blog in itself, which I did indeed start at the time, but suffice to say it was “eclectic” and “robust.” At the time, I lived on the third floor of what was once a Georgetown mansion, and a guy a little across the hall came down carrying fencing gear. He was an Italian-American guy from Philadelphia who I knew as “Dero” and usually hung around in the lounge with a few other guys. Like me he was a “Squatter” (my own term, we paid rent) and those guys and I tended to hang out together. I had always wanted to learn fencing, but never had the opportunity. I asked him if I could join, and he said “sure,” he’d grab me next time he goes.

The next time, as it turns out, I was busy, and left a note for him on my door (I think it was to an infernal “White House Garden Tour” which was really an overrated event, pawned off to the interns by a staffer) but caught him the time after. I wore gym shorts and a t-shirt when we walked to Georgetown University, and that night went in one of the many buildings that looked like a house, but was not. It had the peculiar orangish glow and humid halo of lightbulbs that I now associate with lights at Georgetown. He led me to a small room in the basement. Neither of us were Georgetown students, but the club was there.

There were around ten other members. A thirty-something guy, led the club, and was a foil, as were two others. Dero was an epee, and I met a few other sabers. For the first lesson or two, I tried out saber and epee (foil fell by the wayside). I remember going through drills with an epee, who said I had good control of the tip. Then I went through drills with a grad student everyone called “Chester” and a younger undergraduate girl. The girl said that she was a saber because she just “liked smacking people” and finding I too, just liked smacking people, went with that blade.

I make no illusion that I was very good there. If I won a match, I cannot remember it, perhaps I did, I think there were a few. But I enjoyed it. I knew the sabers best, and it was Chester who took the time to teach me anything, like to keep my elbow in so people wouldn’t whack it. I also enjoyed the warm-ups, and the people there were pretty open, more so than many of the interns I met while I was working at the Capital. Three times a week I went, and three times a week I was happy I found something to do away from home. It was also a welcome escape from the frat house, especially on pledge nights, when I was confined to my room. I even attended Chester’s birthday in “The Tombs.” It was one time where a bit bleary eyed he said I was “a good guy, a really good guy” which I decided to take as a sincere complement regardless of alcohol. He turned out to be one of the people I would end up respecting the most out of those I met in my youth, and certainly in D.C.

I left at the end of the semester. There was a Christmas party I was invited to. To this day I couldn’t find that house if I tried again. But there was also one at the frat house, and Dero invited everyone back there. That one ended badly- details of which I would provide perhaps another time and post, but suffice to say, I didn’t see them for another year, when I got an internship in D.C. and ended up living in the same place again.

The second time was still fun, but more muted. I was more tired that year, but still went to their meetings, this time in “Bulldog Alley,” behind a cafeteria, even as someone more fatigued than before. 2014 and early 2015 had slown me down. I don’t deny, I was lonely that year. The first time I was in D.C., things seemed to fall in place. The second time, not so much. Still, I enjoyed fencing.

Most of the same people where there, the newest addition to me being graduate student who was a saber. He was head of the sabers, actually, and the club. They played music during practice, and I never saw someone dance as gracefully as he did before beating the crap out of me with a sword. He reminded me a lot of my aforementioned cousin (the one who had attended Georgetown and had given me the connection to the DPE house) in that he was pretty smart, pretty quick, and talked about a mile a minute. Chester was busier with his own work, but I saw the young girl and the rest. Often the walks to practice in and of themselves were a break. I liked the campus at night, when there were deer in the graveyard and no one about. At times there I wished I was a student, as I looked at all the bright lights in windows and had nowhere to go except a place I was only mildly tolerated.

The fencing year ended, with not a lot of fuss. Our president was a controversial figure, but mostly for his seventy-something push-up burpees before and after class, among other warm-ups. An epee named nearly took out my eye, and at one time, one of the cleaners let her toddler son just wander in and hang with us while she went away. The child was about three or four. Some of the girls gave him a mask and a blade, and the foil in charge of the club went about crazy when he saw it. I think he was there for law school and knew about liability. There was a party toward the end- I learned a lot, including how to play “Kings” and what homemade wine tastes like. Good food too, if I remember correctly.

Then there was the end of the year dinner. I was a dues-paying member that time (I am embarrassed to say that I think I forgot the first go-around) and we went out to eat, which is traditionally how fencing clubs end. After that, we said our goodbyes- I never have seen any of them since, although I’ve kept up with a few. It meant a lot of me that they let me join them, and I didn’t forget it. It was an unofficial club- there wasn’t a prerequisite, they just wanted to fence and were happy to have a few members. I was always thankful to them for that. At the time, especially, it disproportionally meant a lot to me, and I didn’t forget guys like Chester or the girl or the rest. They were nice to me, I tried to do the same as I got older and went on in life. People and things like that need to be remembered.

And so I didn’t fence again until Missouri.

 

Where I Know Dueling is Wrong and I Mistakenly Try to Help Out

     The weekend was quiet, starting off to two dull days, beginning with a dull Friday. The same curly haired young guy as some weeks ago, with an intensity that I didn’t like much, come immediately and asked me to play “Bob Dylan.” It was my first song, and as I was going to do it anyway, I obliged. Then he asked for “early Dylan.” I pointed out that he wasn’t even really doing much except folksongs, and asked if he wanted something off “Freewheelin'” (his second album).

     “No,” the guy said. “I want when he was on the street and….”

     He went on to indicate something about being homeless and from the heart and what not. How I tired of that. I played Woody Guthrie’s “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” which I just assumed Dylan had heard at some point and probably covered. The guy went over to other guys on the bench and liked the song. When I started playing “City of New Orleans” (Goodman) he left.

    “I love you on many different levels” he said.

     As long as one of those levels wasn’t “Blatant Romance” I could handle that.

     A few of the young guys on the bench gave me money, and a tanned, pony-tailed guy in his late thirties or so also did. He listened after they left.

     “I hope you don’t mind” he said.

     I said that I didn’t, and played until Aldie, an older gentleman, came up.

     Now I have mentioned him before, and as soon as I find the past post, I’ll save myself the time describing him and simply link it here, in order to take advantages of internet shortcuts that really aren’t shortcuts. Suffice to say, however, he is a nice, older guy who I have seen for years. He writes, and likes singing karaoke in bars. He has had many wives, girlfriends, and grandkids, and hangs out in the downtown McDonald’s. When it’s warm, I see him wander late at nice, his silvery hair always neatly combed back. That night, I said “Hi” as he walked by, and he sat down next to me while I sang “You’re Cheatin’ Heart” which I was almost certain he knew.

     “I hope you don’t mind that I was singing” he said, but with him, I didn’t mind and told him so. I did a few more songs before he left on his way. The Ponytail Guy remained with a sort of half smile the whole time- not the mean kind, but sort of the kind that’s friendly and enjoying the music, and said he’d give me more money before he left, which he did.

     Not all people are nice- without stopping a guy walking in a group of three told the girl next to him “EVERY WEEK I see this guy….” He continued with something inaudible about how I can’t play, and started telling the chords I was doing as he passed, “C,C,C,C,G,G,G,G,…..”

     It is times like this I would like, dear reader, to have an original, witty retort, but all I can immediately think of (and immediateness is of course a necessity in wit) to express my sentiment, which at the time was the desire for a duel of music, a duel of wits, or a duel of logic and reason, was a quote from a better writer than myself. Thus that was that of which was written by Mr. Mark Twain, who once was writing on the subject of duels, will have to suffice:

          “I thoroughly disapprove of duels. I consider them unwise and I know they are                    dangerous. Also, sinful. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and            forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet retired spot and kill him.”

     I talked a bit to Garret, who had taken over the hotdog stand from Anthony during the summer, but after that the night was uneventful. I retired, and went home.

     On Saturday, Dameon was playing about halfway up the street when I arrived- apparently, someone had taken his usual spot. I asked if he didn’t mind me playing in my usual spot, and he said that he didn’t, so I set up. He was the loud one anyway, I wasn’t really going to interfere with him much.

     I might have said that his presence hurt the tips, but I had been running minimum wage (or less) with or without him, so I don’t think it mattered. For the first twenty-five minutes, I didn’t get anything, which isn’t a good sign. Finally, a guy with a bill and wearing a baseball cap broke the trend, but it was still a slow night.

     A bigger guy, drunk and barefooted, came up to me and told me it was “time to go.” I told him “Nah, I’m good, thanks” and he stood there for awhile staring at me before walking over to the Philly cheesesteak stand and bothering Garrett. Dameon came by, and asked if there was trouble. He said the guy had seen me, and told Dameon to “hang on” while he clears out a spot for him. I told him nothing much had happened, I just told him I wasn’t moving.

     I did have a nicer moment, in time. I was playing “Mama Tried” when a shorter guy, Diego, stopped by with a small group of people. He asked what I was playing, and I told him, and he tried to find the words on his phone to sing along. I figured I’d give him a break here, and suggested “Wagon Wheel”. He grinned, and at least knew the chorus. I led him and the rest of the group in that, and he was a pretty good singer in terms of harmony. They were pretty happy, and at least left me with some tips for the trouble.

     Leo came back- we chatted for awhile, mostly about his day at the lakes (the weather had been perfect). The guy with the ponytail came back too. However, the most eventful part of the night came after I had finally decided to close up.

     I walked down the street and talked to Dameon before leaving, as well as Leo, when a black guy came sprinting down the street and laughing. He was followed by three Native Americans, one guy and two girls. One of the girls, a large lady in a red sweatshirt ran as we went passed to call the cops.

      “Why?” I asked.

     If one is wondering for what reason I would ask that, it’s simple: most things that happen on late weekends are simply people being drunk and stupid. It’s not even unusual. If you, the Sober Population, get involved, it’s usually for a trivial reason and then you have to talk to the police, or get beat up, and so on. It’s usually best to mind your own business.

      “My friend was assaulted!” the woman screamed. I watched the first guy, still laughing and running like a maniac, go behind the HoDo, while the others followed. “Think it’s worth calling dispatch?” I said. They didn’t give me an answer, but I guess that is someone was going to get hurt, I’d give a call. This of course led to a long ring time, before a guy picked up. Through my scratchy, terrible phone (I hate smart phones, I really do) I was telling him what happened, when the woman in the red sweater came by and told us “thanks for nothing” and not helping them. I told her I was on the phone with the police, and she could talk to the dispatcher herself. She took my phone, yelled at them for about thirty seconds about someone shoving her friend and running away, and them pushed the phone back at me, telling me how useless I was. She walked away, leaving me to try to explain to the dispatcher what happened, while her friend, an older, drunk lady in a blue sweater (why always sweaters in July?) said “thank you for believing me” and then just started blankly at us for a while I finished the call before going away. I gave them the general area where everyone was, the dispatcher said he’d send officers, and that was that. Thus, why I don’t usually get involved in these sorts of things.

     I think Dameon was getting tired of me being there, and Leo had long ago left. I was going to say something to Garrett, but he was busy, so I headed off home.

 

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In Which The Nights are Quiet and Country Music Works

     The Fourth took place on a Wednesday, so everyone was confused about when they weekend actually was. Dentists, professionals, and I assume members of congress were fairly loose in their interpretations (when I was there, Columbus Day was a whole week in the Senate) but the rest of us were not, and most generally just planned around our work schedules.

     On Friday, not much happened. For the first time, a guy knew “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” as I opened with it, and sang along in his best Bob Dylan voice. He was a younger guy too. I was surprised but glad someone knew it. My song choice gets lonely sometimes. However, I didn’t get a dollar until about a half hour or hour in. Even then, most money came from when I performed an original song, towards the end. I hurried up my set and headed home, with about ten dollars. Some nights just aren’t my night.

On Saturday I went past police (something was going on) to my spot also got a twenty dollar bill off the bat from a young man. I put it in my pocket. “I understand” he said, as I played on. A couple of guys and their girlfriends came by next, and the guys were real excited. “Wear the hat!” one said, pointing to my cowboy hat by my feet. I usually left it there because, well, some people just like putting money in a hat more than a guitar case. They caught onto the country thing right away, and wanted Garth Brooks, then George Strait, then they asked who my favorite country singer was, and I said Hank Williams. So I played “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and the two guys started dancing with each other, while the girls looked on and filmed then. “You’re better than Hank Junior!” said once as they stepped around each other. They gave me some money, thanked me, and then left into the night.

The older man who had been there a few weeks ago came and listened for awhile. He was tall and skinny and always carried a plastic shopping bag. We didn’t talk much, but he said something along the lines of me being good and enjoying it before walking away. After that, a younger guy walked by with some friends, and made a sort of gesture to the case, which looked to me like he was motioning to take the money. He kept walking, however, and was replaced by a guy and his girlfriend on the bench in front of me. Towards the end of the night the man came back, showed me a twenty, and put it in my case. I thanked him, and he moved on.

     At the end of the night, when I was closing up, a Hispanic guy with two girls told me that if I was “hitting the guitar” he’d give me something. I ignored him. I hear that a lot when I’m cleaning up. A black guy came up at the end and said “See, I told you I wouldn’t forget” and gave me a dollar. I thanked him, but couldn’t remember hi from earlier. That’s what I get for not wearing my glasses, I guess.

     And with that I went home, the first week of July over with.

 

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How I Relearned to Hate Improv, and Don’t Explain Zoning Ordinances to Drunk People: Music in the Month Of June

     The music world was quiet this month. One wedding, bad weather, another guy in my spot, and a carpentry job which required my waking up at five in the morning all combined to make it so my days on the street were numbered pretty low. Nevertheless, I got out a few days this month.

     For once, I was indisposed on the first Friday night, and could not make it to my corner. Actually, I could but the weather turned bad anyway. I had already (and successfully too) just put on my brother’s bachelor party, in which we ate dinner, drank scotch, and found a video game place that had older consoles to play, which excited the groom. I didn’t feel like working after that, and on some nights you’d rather be the crowd than the entertainment.

     Alas, however, I still had nothing to do an Saturday. Rather than reflecting on this at home, I instead got the guitar and went out. Then, I remembered I had forgotten something, went back home, came out again, and got stuck behind a train. But this wasn’t any old train. This was a special train, it was one that slowed down, stopped, than sat there for like, an hour. Then it moved again, but I had already long gone, having turned around in a driveway and found a pass under a bridge. The point is, over a half hour later, don’t forget your stuff.

     Upon arriving, my guitar, of course, was out of tune. So I fixed it up, while people shouted at me. At least three girls shouted that I was doing great. I wasn’t, but I make no secret of being befuddled by street women, and chose to keep working on a stubborn G-string (for the record, I was originally going with the also stubborn “D” but that sounded worse, so there you go. This is a family-friendly blog). Anyway, once I was all set up I started to play.

     Not much happened at first. I got a few tips as I was getting through my set, until on my third song, a guy in light-colored clothes and a white baseball cap sat down. It took me a minute to recognize that it was Marcus.

     “Hi, it’s Marcus, remember me?” he said.

     I said I did, and it was nice to see him again. Marcus had a lot on his mind. He hadn’t been drinking for awhile, as he had gotten a bit wild (there were stories of office parties and gambling) and was cooling down. His permit had also just expired, and he had never used it. He wasn’t happy about the fifty dollars down the drain. From there he effortlessly segued into asking me to play my guitar. I told him no, but tried to be nice about it.

     “You let me last time” he said.

      I reminded him that was not true, I had not “last time” but I had a long time ago. Not anymore. He said he’d give me a twenty. I said others had offered me fifty. He seemed surprised, and I said “Well, drunks you know.” I told him how if I did it for him, then everyone would want to, and he said he understood, nodding.

      But he still wouldn’t give up. Once again, he saw some people he knew on the street, and told them to come over and tell me to let him play “Classical Gas.” Some guy and two girls came over and told me to let him play “Classical Gas.” I still said “no.”

     “Just sing it” said one of the girls.

     I told her that was pretty impossible, as it was an instrumental. She looked disappointed. The other asked me for some band I didn’t know, and she looked disappointed too. I began to fall into my groove. This is more what busking nights should be.

     They eventually gave up, and talked to Marcus for awhile. The tips then dried up, since they were talking in front of me, but it didn’t last too long. They eventually left, and Marcus and I chatted about his job, life, and so forth. He’s in his last semester of college, and working for financial securities, or anti-fraud, of something of that nature. He talked to me more about working there (He says he’s a “who you know” sort of guy) and then offered me a twenty to play again.

     “Tell you what” he said. “I’ll throw it in either way.”

     I said “No” but he wanted to. He asked to play again, and I still said “no.” He wasn’t mad, but he told me just to say it once directly. Marcus said that he was using the fact that he knew me as leverage, and that I should just say “no” directly, at the beginning. I pointed out that sounded like what he said he did at work.

     That started him on another train of thought, the details I cannot remember, but ended with “But now I’m contradicting myself.” For someone who claimed he wasn’t drinking much anymore, he was doing a good job acting a bit like he was. Maybe he was just tired.

     At any rate, he said he had taken enough of my tips away from me, and got up to go. I did the rare move of trying to give him back his twenty, as I didn’t feel right taking it, but he said that was okay. He showed me the app on the phone with his budget, and said that now that he wasn’t drinking, he had the cash. I eventually said okay. He told me again to say “no” right away and people would respect me more. I tried to say that’s how I started, but then didn’t. We shook hands, and he walked away into the night.

     I finished my song, and watched a blond girl in line at the cheese-steak stand dance to it, and then sort of got her date to do it too (but no tip for me….) They were followed by some girls, who wanted to dance to “Irene Goodnight” and then talk. I think their dates, not knowing quite what to do, went to the bench and looked chill. Or at least as chill as one can look with a white shirt and a blue sweater tied jauntily around the neck. Fashion Philistines.

     One of the them, a round-eyed girl in a pink tank top, and wearing a Hawaiian lai, wanted to know if I could play “Wagon Wheel.” She was very pretty, and I wanted to. I laughed and said that it was the most requested song. She looked disappointed. I chatted with them for awhile, which only allowed one bleary-eyed guy to turn around and say “He wants to sleep with you!” I said sorry, and carried on. One of the girls wanted to show me how to play a song, and reached around up close and was showing me the chords. After a while, as their dates looked at everything but the scene in front of them, but could no longer look cooler and nonchalant anymore, they said goodbye and left. I still think I had a case for being cooler than Sweater-guy anyway.

     Now I have met my share of annoying people in this job, but they somehow keep getting better at it. One could say “I’m getting older” and that’s true. But I also want to use the opportunity to blame Millenials for being somehow worse. Because they are. At any rate, my case rests with “Improv Guy.”

Improv (has a crueler word been invented? It even ends on a “v,” like a jerk. Nothing ends on a “v” outside of Slavic names) Guy was a tall, twenty-something in a white shirt, cargo shorts, and a backwards white cap. He carried an unlit cigarette, which somehow didn’t stop him from trying to take a drag on. And he wanted to join me.

Improv Guy wanted to do just that- improvise. Over. Every. Song. In a sort of “90s Soft Jazz” sort of way, but without even the voice. And he was one of those drunks that zoomed in and got fixated on this one thing. I played and he tried to interject over every single break. I tried humoring him. I tried boring him. Nothing would work. He just said he wanted to sing about whatever was coming to mind, so after looking for readily available reading material, his song material consisted a lot about the Bank of the West, the Alerus Center, and sandals (“and there’s a gi-rl. She’s wearing san-dals”!). Dylan (either Bob or Thomas) he was not. He wasn’t even Elmo, who performed deeper poetry while singing one word on a piano that I suspect was dubbed in. And he wouldn’t leave.

There is a time, when a busker, where you don’t want to be associated with certain people. I finally realized this guy was so mentally challenged and focused in when he brought a pretty girl to sing with him. I was trying to play the guitar, he was trying to sing over me, and she was there. It didn’t work there. The girl was only there because she thought the clothing store had a bathroom inside. It did, but it had been locked for five hours. She asked Improv Guy for a light, before realizing, as I had, that his remaining neurons made sure he was sucking on a cancer-ridden piece of cardboard out of habit, not actually how it was supposed to be used. You know, lit. “You don’t have to do this” I kept telling her. Or “there’s a bathroom across the street.” I was trying to be a gentleman. Apparently, as the parts of my mind clicked together later that night, she wasn’t looking for a bathroom, she was looking for a date. I know this because she said “Well, if no one wants to take me to the Old Broadway….” The Old Broadway is where Improv Guy and his ilk spawned on the bathroom floors, and required dancing, so I said “no.” Idiot. She left, and then I did. Improv Guy’s friend (how do these people have friends?) said “Quitter” and Improv Guy sang something about me leaving with my guitar and my hat I put on. I loathed them so.

Thus I ended early, and went to talk to Damian, of the Mohawk. We had a nice chat, and it wasn’t a bad night. I did glance back at my corner about a half hour later, and the guy was still there. If girls, boredom, and alcohol couldn’t drag him away, I guess he was really committed to sign-inspired poetry.

And thus ended another night.

     The next Friday there was someone new at the food truck, Anthony didn’t seem to come out anymore, but nothing much else of consequence happened that night. It was slow, and I only stayed out an hour.

     On Saturday, the food truck broke down, and I watched the employees have trouble putting it back on the trailer. They couldn’t get the hitch on as they backed up, although they eventually were successful, and Fargo was without Philly Cheesesteaks that night. Boy chased girls, and a girl sat down next to me a minute before her friend called her away.

     A young, blond-haired guy with a white baseball cap came up to me while I was playing “House Carpenter” and wanted Metallica. I never listened to one song of theirs in my life, and said no. He wasn’t happy, but was also drunk, and I came out of the arrangement with two twenties, so I was okay with it, although I think I tried to give one back. I’m too nice of a busker, but as I’ve written, never argue with a drunk person, especially when they want to be generous. His girlfriend was there, and they wanted me to play “Johnny Cash” so I played “I Walk the Line” as they walked away.

     A few young guys threw in some money, singing “shoe-be-do-wo-bopp” in some sort of pseudo-barbershop quartet. “He sings for everyone, we’re singing for him!” they said as they tossed money in. I appreciated the gesture. Another guy simply threw in an expired coupon for an oil change. I was less impressed, but still automatically thanked him, and they cheered that. I found out about the expiration later.

     One sort of burly young guy (“fat” and “burly” are more interchangeable to guys in their twenties) with curly hair and wearing a tank-top and backwards baseball cap decided to be a vigilante. He asked me if “Tom Church” knew I was there. I surmised later that this person was the one who owned the store that I was playing in front of. I thought he was drunk and rambling, and was talking about Eric Church, the country singer, and told him that was below his paygrade. Then I figured out the guy was trying to get me off the street.

     For the record, after the stores close, the city of Fargo, much less the store owners, don’t care if you are in front of their shops, of which this one had been closed for about six hours. The man’s girlfriend was standing in the middle, and kept pushing him back. Eventually, she got him away.

     A girl with red hair and glasses, who I had seen walk down the street many times, gave me a flower, while another guy threw in a vampire action figure, for some reason. I left the action figure out. I had enough in my case already. A guy named Victor sat down on the bench in front of me, and was filming me and everything around, while a Native American guy met some Native American girls, asking what reservation they were from.

     At the end of the night, a young man and his bland-haired girlfriend came by, she asking me if I knew any songs by John Denver. I knew a bunch, and asked her favorite, which of course was “Country Roads.” She and her boyfriend were dancing, and they gave me a twenty, and she a hug.

     “You’re going to cheat on me with him” the boyfriend said as he was getting her away. She thanked me and they headed off into the night.

     Normally, this is where the night ended, and as far as street music goes, it did. I talked to Viktor, and found out that he was a journalism student. It seemed appropriate, as he was doing what I had done: waited long into the night to film B-roll. He had a whole plan, and I gave him my card, but although he said he’d e-mail, as in most cases I never heard from him again. I had heard that a guy was trying to set up the world’s longest jam in the basement of a bar some blocks away, and I went to check it out. When I got there, he remembered me, but it was filled. Damian, Yannick, and some others were jamming out, and there was no room for me. The man putting it on, Julian, said that we should come back tomorrow in the morning to keep it up. It didn’t work out, but that’s another story.

     With that I crossed back past my corner and went on home into the night.

 

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