My wife, to paraphrase the Sloopy song, works in a bad part of town. But it’s on the way up. As long as I’ve lived here this neighborhood has been synonymous with urban decay and a high percentage of feral citizenry, but you have to adjust those concepts for Minneapolis – I’ve driven through the area for years and never felt threatened. Mainly because I’m driving through, and partly because the DC experience  made me recalibrate my notions of what a bad neighborhood looks like. No bombed out blocks, no acre of unintelligible squiggles smothering every surface, no restaurants with barred windows where they push the take-out food through a hole in a thick plexiglass window. For the last year I’ve driven through one of the major intersections and marveled at the improvements – the street was repaved and Old Style Streetlights installed, since we all know the presence of such lights means it’s safe to spend $400K on a townhouse.

Her building was empty for years, but rehabbed at great expense. It’s quite an accomplishment – although the neighborhood liquor store, invariably described as “infamous,” is still across the street. The lobby and hallways are decorated with large historical photos of the neighborhood in the 20s – to judge from the photos, it’s always been something of a dump. At least it lacked the high-tone brick & spats mood of the tonier parts of town. But back then this part of Minneapolis was working class, and that meant exactly that: the men worked, in factories or shops, and came home at night on the streetcars to houses where wives and children waited. You said grace and ate supper and drank a Gleuk or a Hamm’s and listened to the radio for an hour, and that was the day. To the west, the lakes; to the east, a poorer part of town, but nothing like the shacks and slums that made up the wretched sectors of town. It was mostly lower middle class – hardly paradise but solid and secure. After the war, everyone left.

Or so it seemed. It took a while for the neighborhood to slide. The big department store in the middle didn’t close until the neighborhood’s old constituency was long gone. When I say big, I mean it: a dozen stories, I think, a full block in severe Deco stone. That’s where you went for tires and galoshes and underwear and washing machines and cosmetics and toys – I can only imagine what it was like for the nabe kids at Christmas time. It’s one of those buildings that defines a neighborhood; you could see if from everywhere, see the name in the sky at night in calm green letters. The day they turned the lights off, it meant less than it might have. The kids who grew up under the sign of SEARS had moved up and out. The store had a shabby, tired mood. It closed. Twelve stories of asbestos and rubble.

But as I said, it’s been rehabbed. Offices and condos. Pride of the city. New beginnings. A neighborhood reborn, a corner turned. The lights came back.

“Someone from the company was shot today,” said my wife when she came home.

According to an email sent out from her company, the employee was waiting for the bus in the afternoon, and was winged by a stray bullet, fired by someone aiming at someone else.

This was a few hours after Senator Norm Coleman had visited the building. I don’t know the exactly time frame or any details -  Nothing on the Strib website as I write this, and  nothing on the WCCO site. It’s possible this won’t even register.

But. Well. I don’t have to worry.

She doesn’t take the bus.

And I predict this will cause the civic authorities to double their decision to appear at the site of violent crimes and insist that these things will not be tolerated.

Let me put this in context: this marks three shootings in the last six weeks in places where I’ve been just a few days before or a few hours afterwards.

And I don’t get out that much.


On happier news: the other night I was spooning away at a Jell-O Sugar-Free pudding cup, wondering why they couldn’t make a caramel version. Chocolate’s okay. Vanilla – it depends. But caramel, that’s my friend. Caramel and me, we get along famously. Always have.

Today I walk into the big grocery store in the burbs, a place I rarely go because they have great prices on huge quantities, and I DO NOT NEED SIX BUSHELS OF SPINACH. But it’s $1.99. I’d be a fool not to buy it. That’s why I never go. Anyway: today I stopped in for a few items, and I swung by the individual-serving sugar-free pudding department. There it was: caramel. “New!” Like they’d read my mind. Like somehow a million others had shaped the great Dessert Force and bent the mind of whichever executive greenlighted brand additions. I bought two. And some spinach.

Eighty degrees today; lovely. Called G. Burly Mofo, informed him that the Water Feature had drained bone dead; he was silent for a second, perhaps out of personal shame. He had a lot riding on that repair job, I think. But he knew, in a trice, that this was bigger than any of us.

“I think I’m done with this design,” I said. Calmly. Conversationally. “Do you design waterfalls as well as fix them?” He said that he did. So I told him we were going to start from scratch. Everything that’s here now? It’s gone. We’re going to buy a pond from Home Depot, use the existing stone to landscape the area, bring up the liner, replace it.

He seemed to agree.

As for tonight, well, I banged out the Diner, and did so without the vast repository of sound clips on which I depended. See, I got this idea, and it depended on a particular DVD in the movie collection being where I thought it was. But it wasn’t. To say this put a crimp in my idea understates the case, so this is probably one of the least successful entries. But it’s free. You’ll marvel at how I get out of it, though. It’s just shameless. And what is it, you ask? Conversation and curious music at a roadside Diner, that’s all. With a hint of plot. Oh: it does not requires a certain familiarity with a particular classic of 20th century lit, but it doesn’t hurt. Subscribers will get it automatically; the MP3 link is here.

Thanks for the patronage this week; hope I earned your visits. Have a fine weekend; Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Tax Day. See you Monday.




c. j lileks. email may be sent to first name at last name dot com.