Over lunch yesterday, I rented a car in order to drive an Irish artist I know — formerly living in New York and now temporarily residing in Minneapolis — around town to scout for a location for a public art piece he was working on. Specifically, he was looking for abandoned billboard support structures, and a mutual friend had told him that of all the people in town, I’d be best able to help him navigate the landscape. I said of course, I thought I knew of lots of stretches of city road that were home to clusters of billboards. Surely a few must be abandoned.
I picked him up at the U, and we drove down Cedar and Minnehaha to East Lake Street, where I thought we’d find forests of billboards. I take the bus down East Lake into St. Paul every day, and I seemed to recall seeing a lot of billboards from my seat.
Actually, it turns out there’s not so many. There’s a few, on top of commercial buildings, but all appear to be in use. Most depict local network weather people, sleazy bilingual attorneys, or gurgling babies mouthing platitudes about their fingers and dreams. There is one billboard near Cedar of a corpulent local conservative talk radio host, wearing a billowing white shirt so massive it looks like it was draped over him by Christo.
The artist tells me in New York, billboards are a bigger part of the visual landscape. He thinks it’s because of the aboveground trains. Most Minneapolitans see the city from a car. A billboard is really too high up and too fleeting to be effectively seen from that space. On city streets, anyway.
I’d forgotten how unattractive Minneapolis is, as seen from car. Unattractive, and even ugly. At 40 miles per hour, behind glass, most of the city is a bland, indistinguishable blur of one- and two-story buildings, on a flat, unending grid that stretches off to the horizon in all four directions, broken up only by massive parking lots. There are no curves, and there are no diagonals. There is little variety in the elevation. Just a grid; just a blurry one- and two-story x axis blowing past you, and an infinite y axis around you. And half the year, it’s all covered in snow.
Minneapolis wasn’t built for the automobile, which is something I didn’t understand at all until I started seeing the city from mass transit and bike and foot. The city was laid out for streetcars, starting mostly in the 1890s, with most of the layout done by the 1920s.On public transit, you see that Minneapolis is really a thousand classic small-town Main Streets, low-rise strips of brick buildings, sewn together in a tiled pattern stretching over sixty square miles centered around the St. Anthony Falls on the Mississippi.
The start-and-stop rhythms of mass transit mirror the way the city blocks are organized: each suite of blocks begins with a cluster of brick commercial buildings and storefronts, where the streetcar or bus stops to collect passengers. Here, during this pause, the eye rests on the commercial signage and the window displays and the people entering and exiting the shops. Then, as you begin to move again, a short collection of quiet, tiny brick and stucco houses on small lots, of all colors, passing by with increasing speed, then decreasing speed, and then drawing to a close at the next intersection, another cluster of brick buildings and storefronts, back to the activity and color and visuals of the street corner.
I think of it almost in musical terms: the four or five blocks between stops a bar of music, each little structure you pass — a house, a church, perhaps a storefront — comprising a note, all working as a melody, and then at the end of the bar, a rest.
Really, the only things that look truly great from a car are the neon liquor store signs — Franklin Nicollet, Minnehaha, Skol, Zipps. I had a visitor from New York in town this weekend, the mutual friend that introduced me to the artist. The one feature of the landscape she was consistently bowled over by was the liquor stores’ neon signage. “There’s that one liquor store sign I liked again,” she’d say when we passed one on the street. “No, that’s a different one — the one you liked before was Hum’s. That’s Lowry Hill.” I’d say. “Another one!” she’d exclaim. The liquor store neons were meant to be seen from a car, which is why half of those stores have drive-in windows. They’re absurdly garish, and they’re one of my favorite things about the city.
This gridcentricity is one of the reasons, I think, why so many people bike around the city, and why even committed automobile users will usually snowshoe or cross-country ski in the city parks as a winter hobby — they just need to be able to move diagonally. When you see the city from bicycle or foot (or snowshoe), it’s a richer, more self-directed experience. You are freed from the grids, and you may move through parks and past rivers and lake shores and through alleys and side streets and plazas and parking lots in more rambling, discursive sorts of ways.
Back to my friend the artist. I felt as if I’d let him down; I’d disappointed him and made a poor case for the city. I’d wanted to help him find what he was looking for, though what he was looking for possibly doesn’t exist in the same way. Minneapolis isn’t a city that gives up what you’re looking for easily. It’s not always eager to help you. As I have written here before, it’s not a city that wears its eccentricities on its sleeve. You really have to get out and look around.
As it happens, we did find a potential site for him — not a billboard support, but a railroad bridge. A beautiful, iron-wrought industrial design that lifts a segment of a major road up over a series of rail lines that meander through the grid below grade. Minneapolis can often seem stubborn, and unwilling to help. But if you’re willing to look on its terms, you can usually find what you’re looking for.
OK, I know I have been hitting you nice people up for money a few too many times lately. But watch that video (and young Ruby steal the show), and tell me this one more time is not worth it. The Dressing Room needs your assistance!
David Peterson and Crystal Quinn are two artists that both had a hand in Art Of This Gallery, which closed last year after a three-year run. They now live in a fall-over-beautiful loft on the third floor of a turn-of-the-century brick building in West Phillips, where they program shows a few times a year. Let me say it here, unequivocally: the most interesting, most adventurous place to see new work in Minneapolis was Art Of This Gallery, and now it is the Dressing Room. If you have a stake in the cultural life of these great cities, this is a good investment of your money.
Editor’s note: Coincidentally, I will be showing new work there myself on April 30 — actually, now that I think about it, it is my first solo show ever. Of all time! In thirteen years as a working, functioning adult artist, I have been so KRAZY 4 KOLLABORATING that I have never shown work by myself — always as a group, collective or partnership! Wow! Can you believe that? I am screen-printing hundreds and hundreds of gorgeous halftone artist’s photos I discovered in the venerable midcentury Minneapolis arts magazine The Potboiler, onto small, loose-leaf newsprint paper, all for you to take away and pin-up in your apartments, studios and workplaces at no charge. I didn’t know how to screen-print before this! I learned, just for you! That’s worth a few dollars, isn’t it?
vickyj asked: Raclette *is* a wonder cheese! Tell me about some of your favorite uses for raclette.
Oh, raclette. It is among my favorite cheeses. I owe it all to Vicki Potts and Matt Hoiland at my neighborhood cheese shop, the Grass Roots Gourmet, who first sold me raclette and told me what it was capable of. It’s capable of a lot.
Here’s the thing about raclette that makes it so unlike other cheeses: it has a really, really low melting point. Absurdly low. You put a little bit in your mouth, and it begins to melt almost right away. It was recommended to me because I was asking what would be good in a broccoli soup. It’s great in soup, because it melts almost instantly.
This is a very unsophisticated way to think about a cheese, but it may do the trick for you. Imagine, in your own cooking, when you come upon a situation where the lizard part of your brain that was raised in the 1970s and ’80s in the suburbs hisses, “You know what would be great here? Some Velveeta! Or some nacho cheese! Right? What’s the matter, kid, you too good for Velveeta now?” I have that voice inside me, and I’ll bet you do, too. Now you have an answer: you can use raclette instead.
Look, I couldn’t cook a real meal until I was probably 26 or so. Even now it’s a stretch to say I’m a “good cook” (at best, I am “inoffensive”). But I am a whole Kessel’s Run worth of parsecs beyond where I was at age 21, when I’d try to cook meals for girls coming over to my apartment and didn’t know the difference between butter and margarine. Disgraceful!*
But that tiny lizard part of your brain is right: melted cheese is great. You don’t need to stoop to using processed cheese to incorporate it into your cooking. I’ve done all kinds of things with raclette: put it inside Jucy Lucys, made soups out of it (mix in some pale ale for that classic Wisconsin wintertime super-treat, beer cheese soup), used it with baked potatoes. You can even use it in the traditional Swiss fashion, which is similar to a fondue: melt it and scrape it onto your plate and eat it with prosciutto.
So there you go: buy some raclette and use it today. I wish I had answered your question earlier, Vicky, because it’s such a great winter food. But depending on where you are in the world, there may be a few chill-in-the-air opportunities remaining for soups and dips in the next couple of weeks.
* Of course, most of the girls in question didn’t know anything about food, either, so I was safe. Do you remember that time before people cared about food? I do, but only barely. I guess everyone was so busy working on their zines and mixtapes they didn’t have time to think about anything else.
About 9:00 p.m. one night, towards the end of one of our recent blizzards, I got sick of being entombed inside my apartment and decided to drudge out into the world. I laced up my knockoff Red Wings and hiked it across the mile of South Minneapolis that separates me from Matt’s Bar, snow still coming down. It took me about half-an-hour.
Matt’s has one of my favorite jukeboxes in the city. It’s nothing spectacular, but it does have Big Star, Otis Redding and It’s A Shame About Ray. It also only plays music when it’s been programmed to do so; no ghostly electronic cycling through the catalog to pass the time between quarters. A dollar buys you three, so more often than not, you’ll hear suites of three songs, then silence again. While I was eating a burger and reading Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate, some other blizzard refugee had programmed a cycle of three songs, ending with “More Than This,” by Roxy Music.
I always remember the first time I heard “More Than This” at Matt’s Bar. I was having dinner with the girlfriend from a few girlfriends ago, a New York-ish East Coast gal I was tentatively trying to persuade to move here, and finding my powers of persuasion hilariously ineffective. The trip was, in retrospect, sort of a disaster, but a disaster that unfolded very slowly. Maybe it only looks like a disaster now in retrospect. Actually, “disaster” is too strong a word — it’s not like anyone got hit by a truck — but a lot of those few days consisted of a slow, steady accumulation of small arguments, petty resentments and pained, silent confusion. Like the jukebox: short three-song suites of enjoyment, punctuated by long bouts of silence.
However, we were having a great time on that night in particular — she really loved the burgers at Matt’s, as anyone with a heart will — and the Roxy Music song coming on over the jukebox sewed it up. We’d been talking about Roxy Music recently, because with certain types of boys and girls, Roxy Music is a great band to talk about when you’re trying to project a certain type of self-aware cool. The song came on, and she sighed contentedly and then asked if she could come sit next to me in the booth. I know that nobody likes walking into a restaurant and seeing two people on a date sitting next to each other, because it’s sort of gross and teenage-y, but secretly, that will do it for me every time. I melted. It was bliss. The whole mess would be over within a few months, but that was certainly one of only a handful of times where being in love felt like being inside a three-minute pop song.
So whenever I hear “More Than This” at Matt’s, I am always vaguely irritated. This time in particular, though, I was more irritated than usual, because it was in the middle of a blizzard, and blizzards will have really strange effect on your emotions. “I see what you’re doing, Universe,” I grumbled, probably poking a french fry into the air. “You’re trying to do the old compare-and-contrast, because I am by myself and sweaty and covered in beardcicles and feeling gross because I hiked a mile over two-feet high mounds of snow on the street corners and because I am sitting all by myself, drinking beer, reading an 800-page biography of Lyndon Johnson, and I probably have french fries in my beard. And I am emphatically not sitting next to a beautiful New York girlfriend who’s a little tipsy and seem, for the time being, to be crazy about me.” I ate the fry, and continued.
“Well, it’s not working and I am not buying it. Because a.) I am feeling just fine right now, thank you very much, not just right now at this moment in particular, because Lyndon and I are having a fine old time, but about, like, my life in general, give or take a couple things, and b.) the specific experience you are referencing was certainly a treasured moment I will also think of with great fondness for years and years to come, but all in all, it was in its entirety a highly dubious experience that it should be pointed out ended not-very-well, and I think Bryan Ferry would absolutely agree with me, because it is more like Bryan Ferry to be sitting somewhere by himself in a bar thinking about love than almost anything else, although he would probably be wearing an eye patch and a pair of epaulettes and not knock-off Red Wings and he would also be drinking something classier than a Grain Belt Premium in what at Matt’s is referred to as a ‘scoop,’ but it’s still a lot closer.”
My words hung in the air for a moment, then the song ended after that synth outro. And there was silence, because it was the last song in the person’s dollar cycle. And I realized I had proved the Universe wrong, and I was right about “More Than This.” Or maybe the Universe wasn’t doing compare-contrast at all, and I had misinterpreted its intentions to begin with.
But the point is, I will never go into Matt’s Bar again and not play “More Than This.” Because on top of all of that, it’s a really great song.
A few months ago my pal Rebekah was kind enough to send me a few tiny, spiral-bound art books from Chicago called Memory is Not Enough. They are collections of photographs made with 2005-era drug phones, very much like the model that I own (the LG2000, which some cell phone camera connoisseurs have dubbed the “Leica M4 of mid-fi cell phone cameras”) (that link goes nowhere because I made that quote up).
This morning, I was rushing to catch the bus at Bloomington and Lake, and passed another snowbank that had an empty, dry Little Caesar’s pizza box resting on top of it, very much like Mt. Hoettenreiddie. I didn’t really have time to stop, since I could hear the bus approaching from behind me and I was still a hundred yards from the stop, but I stopped anyway to take a quick shot.
Of course, when I hit the button with the tiny camera embossed on it, the screen flashed this message: “MEMORY IS NOT ENOUGH.”
Damn it! The LG2000 may be the Leica M4 of mid-fi cell phone cameras, but it only holds about 10 images at a time. I couldn’t spare the time to go in and erase one, so I had to stuff the phone back in my pocket and run to catch the bus, leaving Hoettenreidie’s sister peak uncaptured.
Sitting on the bus and thinking about the lost opportunity, I thought then about the poignance of that phrase, “memory is not enough.” I understood why the publishers of Rebekah’s book had chosen it. Memory isn’t enough. Memory is never enough. That’s why you have been unable to go to a party in the past six or seven years without cameras flying out of people’s bags and photos of you ending up on Facebook the next day with your hair looking all crazy and from a not-very-flattering angle. I have certain friends I feel a great deal of anxiety going out with, because I know the whole evening is going to end up documented no matter how awful I look. If it didn’t happen on camera, it’s like it never happened!
So you’ll just have to trust that I passed Hoettenreidie’s sister peak today on the way to the bus, at Bloomington and Lake, without the benefit of photographic documentation. Drawing on memory, I have depicted it below on paper with pen. I will call it Mt. Geringhoettenreidie, which is mangled fake Germano-European for “Little Hoettenreidie” (unless any of our German-speaking readers rule otherwise).
In this instance, the presence of the pizza box is less surprising, since the nearest Little Caesar’s is only nine block away.
Do you think it’s the same party that left the first box, at Dupont and 34th? Was this a set of earlier provisions on their westward journey, consumed in a panic and then abandoned? Frankly, it seems unlikely. But it would be pure hubris to rule it out entirely.
I was loitering outside the Pizza Luce on Franklin Avenue last night, when two bros on single-gear bicycles wearing Sally Jesse Raphael glasses pulled up, parked their bikes, and purposefully walked inside. A few minutes later, they walked out, and I overheard part of their conversation.
“I know, right?” said the one. “I’m just going to in to say hi and see what’s up, and she’s all…workface.”
“Workface”! Have you ever heard this term before? It’s perfect. I looked it up on Urban Dictionary, which is always my first destination when I hear a new word in the wild, and it looks there’s a lone entry for it from 2007. So it’s not original, but it’s still new to me.
Using a single well-placed word can vividly illustrate complex ideas. “Workface” was so vivid that I saw the whole encounter play out in my head without hearing another detail about the conversation. The bro rolls in and puts his arm up on the counter and says, “Hey, [Female Millennial Name], wasn’t that party at the [Punk Rock Adjective] House last weekend totally [whatever people like this say instead of “bitchin’” these days]?” And he nods expectedly, except then she looks up and screws her face, and sneers, “What kind of pizza would you like, sir?” And she rolls out the “sir.” He says, with genuine shock that his affable bro qualities don’t seem to be carrying him, “What? No, I don’t have any money. I just came into say…” And she says, “[Male Millenial Name], I have customers. Please.” And the bros flee.
I am going to write and direct a low-budget mumblecore movie about this heroic pizza parlor employee called Workface. Workface is a really great name for a mumblecore movie, even though I know you’re not supposed to call them that anymore.