Back to Fargo. Thanksgiving at home, in the general sense; the place where I grew up was sold to interlopers long ago. It's my home town, but I have no home there. I end up sleeping in spare rooms in developments that were potato fields when I was a kid.
So what’s the plan? We were going to a restaurant. Reservations at 4 PM. We were bringing the dog, which meant visit sis 1st so Scout can play with their dogs, get him to Dad’s house at 3:15, leave for restaurant at 3:40 for 3:50 arrival. All that means: leave the house at 9 AM.
I said that because I knew that meant we would leave at 10.
Wife hears: time to take Scout to dog park. Gets home at 9:40. We leave the house at 10:40, which means it’s 11:10 before we’re really close to leaving town on the interstate, which means we plow right into everyone else leaving for the holidays. I show wife phone with red dotted lines for the next FORTY MILES. This is why I wanted to leave at 9, when the congestion was merely thirty-two miles.
But. I have escape routes. I juke north and west on 10 and south past all the congestion, and while it adds time we’re moving, not slogging, and there’s a fighting chance we’ll make it to sister’s house in time for the dogs to play. Punch it.
The ride up is fast and smooth, and I figure we’ll stop at Alex (Alexandria, but when you go up and down the road for decades it’s just Alex) for gas. Somehow, however, I miss the exit. I still don’t know how this happened. I know that exit. Muscle memory alone should have made me pull the wheel right to get off. When you leave Alex heading west there’s a sign, or used to be a sign, that said it was 100 miles to the border, or 161 KM. It was their way of getting you used to the metric system, but I think the sign was shot up and taken down because no one wanted to encourage the metric system.
I noted the highway mile markers: 97. 96. 95. Realized: huh. I missed Alex.
You’d think, so? Stop at the next one, gas up. Except it’s the interstate. The exits are widely spaced, and when the signs say GAS it means you must drive north or south to a tiny burg where the gas station is probably closed because it’s Thanksgiving. I’d have to stop at Fergus. (Fergus Falls, but, you know. Shorthand.)
Fergus was 43 miles away.
The needle on the gas gauge read 3/8ths. And it was sinking. Fast.
Dilemma: speed up and bleed off gas but get closer, or drive slow, consume less gas, but be overly occupied with worry over the maddeningly slow progress towards the Gas Pumps of Fergus? Solution: floor it and pray that “E” on the gauge really means you have a gallon left. Or two. Of course I made it, but man: for a few miles I was kicking myself. HOW COULD I MISS ALEX.
After all these years, to be out of gas here:
But I made it, and coasted in to the Big Chief. It's a truck plaza whose flaming neon sign was a famous beacon held aloft for the traveler at night, but the sign is gone. The Yelp reviews of the cafe are generally favorable, although someone was disappointed in the salad. At a truck stop. The salad. Keep on drivin', stranger. You'll find salad down the road more to your likin'.
Cruised to sis’ place at 3. Scout scuffled with their Golden for half an hour, then we put him in the kennel in the garage. It was nine above but two below with wind chill. The garage, however, is heated, because this is North Dakota, and the garages will sometimes have a big TV where the guys go to watch the game in their shirtsleeves in January. Otherwise there is nothing to do but sit inside and stare at the collection of porcelain figurines your wife collects and you never really knew how much you hated them until now, because it's just not something you ever thought she'd like, but there they are, forty of them, little angels with wings and all, and if you snapped off one wing every week it might take her a while to notice, if ever, and only then because she bought another and opened up the cabinet to put it in. Who the hell is ever going to want those things? They're angels. With professions.
So men go in the garage where such thoughts do not occur.
Off to the restaurant for Thanksgiving Feast!
They had no record of the reservation!
The place was jammed, like every other eatery in town; I don’t think anyone in Fargo ever cooks. But they got us in and we all made merry. The restaurant had old pictures of Fargo:
Yes, that's Fargo. (Right by the Daveau's, if you're wondering.) They brought platters of all the staples, and when we had finished more platters were brought. Theoretically this could go on forever, but you had to leave room for the enormous bowls of pure sugar. For dessert there were two options, one being an apple crisp described as “serving two,” so I said bring half the number of Us. They brought desserts in a container the size of a punch bowl, and we all stared at them, helpless. Then we did what we could.
Outside: shrieking wind, miserable lancing scouring wind, two, three, four below, snow whipping up and stinging your eyes. AND PEOPLE LIVE HERE. WHY you think. Back to sis’ place to let the dogs return to combat; watch bro-in-law play ping-pong with nephew, prompt Dad to tell a few war stories which leave nephew open-mouthed with awe and respect. He’s in high school. He notes that he just does this stuff in Call of Duty but Grandpa is, like, well, wow.
He never knew.
And I never knew some of the details. There was a net on the side of the aircraft carrier for the signalman who waved in the returning planes. If the plane came in low and it looked like the prop or the wing would take off the signalman’s head, he jumped into the net. Which hung over the side of the ship. Over the ocean. All in a day’s work.
Wife and child had gone to the mall to see a movie. Back to dad’s house with the dog, who would behave and be good and settle down from exhaustion. Dad and I get to talking; I hear a thumping sound in another room, and discover Scout is eating THE OLDEST PHOTO ALBUM he could possibly find, because it was bound with leather. Mmmmm: century-old rawhide. He didn’t ruin any photos, but jeez: this is like showing up at a grandma’s house after you’ve just married someone, getting drunk, falling into the shelf that holds all the Hummels and knocking them over.
Ten PM: to the mall to get wife and child. Pre-Black-Friday. It’s the mall of my childhood. You have no idea how cold it is.
Oh, this again. Again.
Inside it was hot and it was packed. Find family, have some coffee in the food court at 10 PM because . . . because we’re in Fargo at a mall on pre-Black-Friday. All the rules are suspended. Festival! Back to Dad’s house. We stay up for two hours talking about Mom, and Doris, and the station, and the war, and other things. He’s all alone in the house now. Things are hard. I set all the clocks so they show the same time, except the big Grandfather clock. Doesn’t work. It was his wife’s; her dad made it. It stopped.
“That’s a song. A children’s song. A depressing children’s song. When did it stop?”
He doesn’t remember.
I go to sleep in one of the spare rooms, the one daughter didn’t want because it had too many dolls with blank ceramic faces.
In the middle of the night I get up, asleep, trip - the bed had pointless pillows, and I’d put them on the floor. Head into wall. Confusion. Adjust. Re-orient. Made my way to the door, turned right to the bathroom, misjudged the distance and smacked my head into a mirror on the wall.
Morning: hear footsteps upstairs. Shoveling. Dad’s up. Clock: six. Back to sleep. Alarm. Clock: eight. I get up, knowing he will be impressed if I get up before ten. Coffee in the kitchen with the paper, then once everyone is up: IHOP.
Daughter wanted to go to IHOP, because she’d never been, and the Instagram possibilities were endless. She orders a specialty coffee. It arrives wearing a bouffant of whipped cream three inches tall.
“Whoa” we all say.
“That’s what everyone says,” the waitress smiles.
When our pancakes arrive they have a similar swirl of whipped cream, and I realize that “hold the whipped cream” is a phrase I should use when I am eating in a restaurant in Fargo.
Everything is delicious. Back to Dad’s house, goodbyes; heart breaks and re-mends on the spot when I see my father and my daughter hug, because it’s a genuine thing. She’s spent some time with him and she understands who he is. Earlier in the morning I waved her over to a shelf where he had his medals in a ceremonially-arrayed box. She gets it.
Plus. he’s funny. He’s a hoot. And he thinks she’s just aces.
On the way back I stopped at Verndale as I always do. Stretch the legs and arms. Just as I started to leave . . .
Tanks heading empty back for the oil fields, probably.
Slight problem driving home: at some point big thick fat drops of freezing rain fell, hit the windshield, turned into dime-sized splats that the wipers just smeared. Wiper fluid pressure was low . . . then the fluid level was nonexistent. I was out. The windshield presented an inscrutable view. I hunched over and found a clear spot and piloted the vehicle as best as I could. Because it was Highway 10, and not the Interstate, there was a gas station right up the road where I could buy some fluid, and the rest of the trip was fine.
But when you grow up in these parts you find yourself looking out a narrow aperture on your windshield, watching the road for ice beneath the blowing snow, avoiding the berm of white between the lanes, feeling the wind buffet your car, knowing that when you step outside the very air itself will nip your skin like a flock of birds who believe you are made of suet.
And since Thanksgiving was yesterday, maybe you are.
One last look at the land.
Sometimes you get the idea that this isn't a big movie with a lot of time to spend.
Title! Actors! Let's get moving. And move it does; the film begins with one of our favorite devices, the Blaring Newspaper:
As usual, I'm interested in the rest of the copy. Job survey is nearing completion; suspension faced and council ready to vote. But one paper isn't enough.
It's as generic as news gets: Mayor Outlines a plan. Bids given. Aid is received by flood victims. Generic map illustrates situation!
The next paper suggests these are all from the same day, seen from different angles by various papers, depending on their tone. The papers all have different news.
The Star-Dispatch doesn't give a patch for the kidnapped kid or the DA's daughter; what matters is blaring out the news that Peronni, famous gangster, dueled it out with the cops and went out in a blaze of glory. Possibly sneering. Possibly gasping "nice shootin' . . . for a flatfoot" as he grasped the hand of his childhood friend who went on teh straight and narrow.
People who'd been following the case were perhaps confused by the relevace of Gyrating Sterling.
Since it's an "ethnic" story in the upper east side, with a good boy / bad boy who goes good (and hence is more interesting than the good boy, because he never had a bad side to reject and hence is not in need of ballistic absolution) we have scrappy poor kids who taunt everyone.
Kid in the middle: the saw-toothed cap. The type favored by Jughead. Whether any kids wore them, I can't say, but movie kids did. And not just this one, as we see.
Here's the problem. The newspapers above tell us that Louie Perronnini is dead. But here he is:
Because it's all flashback. The entire story is told to a newspaper reporter by the family doctor. But hey, hold on, wait a minute, NOIR MOMENT:
That's the only shot in the move that seems composed. Everything else is straight ahead - but for an hour-long programmer intended to keep the groundlings happy for a while before the real movie comes on, it's not a bad shot.
Alas, the guy is a bad shot, and the victim survives, which means the movie goes on for another 47 minutes. At least there's a scene with another kid with a sawtooth cap:
You just know he says g'waan, don't you?
Anyway: nothing to see here. Move along.