I left for Duluth at 9:00 the next morning, as I had to make a meeting in D-Town by 1:00. I arrived with time to spare so I had a sandwich and soup at Sir Ben’s. Beautiful, beautiful, just as I remembered. I got the English onion soup, which looked like tapeworms drifing in a brown liquid but tasted like caramels and soy sauce. Gotta love the culinary prowess of them Englandians.
With still more time to kill I tossed the Petersen Family Van in the Technology Village parking garage. The parking garage doubles as a bum dormitory at night, and thus concludes the extent of technology companies attracted to Duluth by the Technology Village. I walked a few laps around the blocks of downtown Duluth, breathing in a gorgeous fall day as crazy people milled around me. I tried to raise a signal on my cell phone, which wasn’t working and would continue to be dysfunctional until it got a moment to suckle at some Duluth electrical outlets.
I went to my meeting, left my meeting, and on the walk back to the van deposited fifty cents in the calloused hands of a red-eyed, gray-haired bum. He told me the steep hills of Duluth were killer on an old man’s joints, and suggested that somehow being weighed down with a pocketful of other people’s change would clear up the malady.
I drove to UMD and parked in the paylot. It was Friday afternoon and parking was not in demand so the attendant waved me right on through. Even so, parking would have only set me back $1.25 for the whole live-long day. In contast, when I was taking classes post-secondary at the Twin Cities campus I would pay $6.90 for three hours of parking. This was a fact of life, and I had to do it three days a week. And yet, at UMD you don’t even bother running for student government unless you are promising a flying parking garage or a free limo service or asphalt fields that radiate for hundreds of miles from the hub of campus. We live for parking lots, waiting around for no reason.
Finally on campus, I started meeting people. Laura in the Student Association office was floored to see me, and said that the office has been dreadfully quiet without me barking in the Wooch! lounge every day. I have never heard anyone else use the word “dreadfully” and give it such positive undertones.
I drifted by the music department and spoke with some professors. I learned that Eric Johnson, one of our greatest guitar players ever, has skin cancer and is going through chemotherapy. I learned that the Duluth economy has been mashed into a fine paste and fed to bears during this recession. I learned that Massachusetts and Pennsylvania had become horrible places to live ever since the coal fields dried up, the economy dumped and the skies turned blue again. I learned once again that purple is a delightful color for an office, but must be reserved only for those truly memorable professors.
And then I met Dave Adams at the UMD Bookstore, and we revisited our traditional Friday Afternoon Loiter from the halcyon days of senior year. As always, he pretended to work, I distracted him, and we laughed ourselves stupid. I recoiled from the counter for some reason and got slammed by a gal cookin’ by in an electric wheelchair. I ran into many more familiar people, drifting aimlessly in the lazy tomb silence of a college campus come late Friday.
I met Dani on her way to work in the Dining Center and told her of the predicament I was in, a predicament that I often forgot during my wild fits of meeting lovely people. I needed to get ahold of the legendary Silent C, but my cell was dead and that was the only base of operations I had. I didn’t know the C’s address. I didn’t know his phone number. I didn’t know where I was staying this evening. I didn’t know if I remembered to write my name on my underpants. Dani had to run to work but she gave me directions to her house, where I would be able to find Silent C’s number and possibly meet Jen, who would love to see me as well.
I went to the house (which I had dubbed “Crazy House” during the summer, as it was the locale where Jen, Silent C, Jon and Commander Keane were holed up. Keane lived in the garage.) and Jen answered the door. We caught up on news, both old and new. I called Silent C and got directions to his house. They lived in Apartment C of Kensington Manor. As it turns out, I had just missed Silent C when I went by the planetarium looking for him, and likely just missed him again as he went for a sauna with the Commander. Shucks.
I went to Kensington Manor and got to see this kid for the first time in eight months. Silent C had left for Italy in January, and I left for Hood River mere weeks before he returned to Minnesota. But now, now we had finally both returned, and there were words to be had and plans to be sprung. It was getting somewhat late (as in dark, not late) and a few people had since bailed on the overnight camping trip we had been pseudo-planning for the weekend. A plan of a different order was in order.
But damn, we know time. We decided tonight would be Thai night, and people would be invited over for a rolicking party. We went back to Crazy House to grab a wok from Jen. We went to University Liquors and got Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale and James Page Burly Brown Ale. When you pronounce it you gotta say it down low, all “BURHLAH” like, down in the throat. I ranted about Oregon and beer taxes for about five seconds with a fellow in the store. As we left, Silent C and I tuned into the clerk as he helped the next customer in line.
“Just the Bud Light for ya?”
It was said with the subtle and perfect blend of amusement and scorn. We laughed about it all the way back to UMD, where we were to pick up Laura from the SpHc. Laura was a long time in coming, and it required two recon missions on Silent C’s part to flush her out of the wilds. No matter; for the most part we pumped some live Phish shows in the car, sat back and relaxed.
Once we had all the necessary personnel collected we flew off to the supermarket to collect the necessary components for a ripshitkickass Thai meal. We got bean sprouts and then got distracted with sniffing pineapples for fifteen minutes. Finally, we needed peanuts. I wanted to buy peanuts but they only had them with shells. Hell if I’m gonna shell a fargin’ pount of peanuts for some measly peanut sauce! I ranted and raved about this. Loudly. Always with the Loud in the Midwest for some reason. I was home. I needed to shout to be heard over the loud rolling plains of Minnesota. I needed to be shout to be heard through the thick pine forests of the earth’s boreal crown.
And only in clumsy supermarkets across the nation do they manage to conflate Indian, Thai, Japanese and Chinese food under one heading CHINESE, PASTAS. I felt insulted, and was further insulted by the complete and utter lack of the Thai components that I required. I needed Phad Thai sauce and coconut milk. They had soy sauce and fortune cookies. We threw down all our gathered food in disgust and made off to Cub Foods empty-handed. Well, not completely empty. We had invested way too much time in selecting the perfect pineapple to just dump it in a fit of rage. We bought the pined apple creature and went to the Super Mega Food Store Ultimate of the Northland… TO THE MAX!
Super Mega Food Store Ultimate was nary better at Thai food than the shop before, and after Silent C made it clear that he was none too enthused about peanut sauce we backtracked to creating a teriyaki stir-fry. Rice Noodles. Chick peas. Bean sprouts. Three colors of peppers, including hot house peppers!
We went back to Kensington Manor and cooked up a stir-fry that rocked without apology. As soon as the rumors of free food took to the wind and spread throughout Duluth, our friends started showing up. We broke out the Leinies, the Page, the Moon, turned up the Widespread and String Cheese and talked and jammed and laughed late into the night. And me, loud and excited. Always loud, as though huge pressures had built up within my soul over the last four months, and were now able to find escape.
Silent C and Laura made a cake for me brithday, outfitted with photos that illustrated the many moods of the Burglar, the Hamburglar, Burgs, the Great Sun Ra, Eggbert, Cornelius Wallaby, Q-Bear, Dane Petersen, and all other aliases by which he is known. I have the best friends in the world and almost cried. Seriously. I got a tasty cookbook and an old red stuff sack. Everyone sang and I blew out a candle congratulating me for turning one. We didn’t have enough plates so we all grabbed spoons and scooped away rich chunks of chocolate cake until there was nothing left but full bellies and a mussed up coffee table.
Honestly. Best friends in the world. The night drove on and became saucy and crazy. Some girls had tattoos on their backs that I decided needed modification. Armed with a complete set of Crayola Non-Toxic Hyper-Washable Markers, I turned a cross into a cactus. I turned a moon and star into an outhouse. Thus inspired, I populated the outhouse with mountains, clouds and a happy sun. It was a masterpiece, and by the time she woke up the next morning she had forgotten all about it.
The evening dwindled and people left, so around 2:00 I fell asleep on the futon, using my jacket for a pillow.
And thus ended my first day back in Duluth.