(Yes I’m telling this story out of order. No good explanation – you’ll just have to wait and see how it all comes together.)
A SMALL CHILD IS REACHING UP to look down from a round window in his second story house – he sees the neighbors. The kids are playing with some brightly colored ball and their father and mother are barbecuing on the deck and everyone seems to be having fun. They look happy from up here.
Isn’t that the kind beautiful sight that makes you want to run away from home, your boring little life, and forget everything you know? I don’t recall ever actually getting up the courage to run away from the tall house on Bell Street – but when I was 21, I abandoned the only thing I could call my home and ran off to become a “city boy” in the neighboring state. I just really had to get out of there, and the first step for me was the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
I’d been in and out of the Cities from time to time. Never knew nothing more than a few things there: largest mall I’d ever seen, huge hockey town, population of the city limits of Minneapolis proper was 500,000, the metro approaching 3 million, but to me it might as well have been double or triple that, since it seemed just enough to get out. So when I got my Bachelor’s in English from UND, I worked at a landscapers for three months while staying at my parent’s house to save the money I needed to cover the first few month’s rent. And as soon as I got it, I got a couple of my most “ambitious” high school friends together and we checked out to Minneapolis – the farthest I think that any of us had ever lived from our North Dakota homes.
Well, it was St. Louis Park technically, a first ring suburb of Minneapolis (hometown of the Coen brothers; not too far from Fargo, I guess) and moved into the 7th floor of a high rise with mirrors in the entryway, an outdoor pool (only serviceable bout three months out of the year), and a nearby Jewish community center, which I didn’t have anything to do with but I ran past it a lot and it was the first one I think I’d ever seen. Frankly, it was all real exotic. I quick picked up a calendar and started tagging events for every night I could find: cheap beer and the Juicy Lucy at Matt’s Bar, Sunday night trivia at the 331, my first tastes of Thai food at Sawatdee, going down to indie rock shows and sometimes folk music at First Ave and the 7th Street Entry, rushing the line for student tickets to MinnOrch’s new renditions of Ludwig Van Beethoven and especially his glorious 9th symphony, and countless names films I couldn’t pronounce whose thoughts and languages and stories would continue to resound in my empty head all over town. It hit me like the rush of a drug – not enough, never enough, it was NEVER enough – and even though it wasn’t home, I knew that I loved this city and everything it offered and everything that stuck.
But I had to introduce myself to people, which I tended to skirt around since it involved telling people that I was from…you know, North Dakota…none of which ever was or is meant to be malicious but I just felt a little strange being a transplant, though I think it might even be due to the sense of deference and humility that North Dakota had long instilled in me. So I played the role of a Reinhold Messner, mostly trying to cover up my North Dakota past, mostly so I could sit and listen to everyone else, absorb their stories, find out what I’d been missing. (I was even worrying a lot that the Minnesotans didn’t really appreciate all of these lodokos – lost North Dakotans – waltzing in to their towns and crowding up their lakes.) I wanted to forget the West, the life of loneliness, solitude, and desolation, and my own life in North Dakota, which had seemed dead set on killing my curiosity, my interest, my desire for life. I’d offer my own variation on Nietzsche here: it’s not that this experience didn’t make me stronger, but I feel like what North Dakota didn’t kill in me actually worked to make me stranger.
I feel as though I left North Dakota more desirous of all the world could offer. How long had it been brewing? 18 years of pent-up energy, stewing in my sleepy little hollow Bismarck, little tastes of living east in Grand Forks and Fargo during college. All of it I feel like I spent submerged in literature, philosophy and my own thoughts, and it built itself up as an immense appetite for knowledge, a greed for experience, and a need for everything everything all at once and all strange in its form. At that moment, I couldn’t help but marvel at all of the burgeoning possibility.
But despite the fact that my job was good, with benefits and great pay especially for a naive Dakota child of no experience and little consequence, and the situation that afforded me all the pleasures of the life in this city, in no time at all, I was hearing the call of another twinkling metropolis: New York, New York, the center of American Excitement, the town of a thousand delights. Maybe my odd personality had made it an inevitability to seek out this extreme. Maybe it was subliminal effect of hearing Fitzgerald tell of the great hero (or antihero, depending how you see yourself) Jay Gatsby, who’d come all the way from North Dakota to live a high life in the roaring twenties of Long Island. There was a definite feeling of being tugged pulled compelled moved forced to get OUT THERE and far from home where I could finally be on my own; but, really, it all came about as a contingency. I applied to some graduate programs in spring of 2009 and received a full tuition fellowship to start at NYU in the fall. It was my golden opportunity. It was a signal of some force underneath it all that I needed to accept, to see what I could only imagine in my second story room back home.
(to be continued)