I went down to Prep Fest today, which is a Festival of Preparation. Saving most of my remarks on the matter for Friday’s column, but there were some things I can’t fit in. This year they were friendlier and more inclined to joke; I remember doing a video on it years back, and man, did I get the full Rushmore face from some of the LEO when discussing amusing scenarios. Especially the Bomb Squad guys. This year the Bomb Squadders were ready to play, and fielded every ridiculous question in good spirits. They had a nifty robot that went up stairs and had an arm, and also two barrels for “projectiles.” Bean bags? Rubber bullets? Double-ought buck?
“We don’t have the shells . . . for that,” he said, with a bit of a wink-wink to indicate this thing could blow a hole the size of a dinner plate in anything it close.
“Can it find water on Mars?” I asked, because it did look like a NASA probe.
“It found life on Mars,” he said.
“What? I thought they only found water.”
He raised his eyebrows: that’s what they’re telling you.
I asked if it had a name, and they said no, but the old boss who’s gone now, he called it Shania.
Really! I heard that St. Paul had one they called Mark. I don’t suppose you ever got them together, or never the Twain did meet?
Hyuk. Mostly I had fun talking to the guys who had prep instructions, and telling them how bloody well prepped I was. One guy pointed to the list, and said “we keep hearing that it’s missing two things: whiskey and a gun.”
So that was my day, after hosting an interview with Dr. Thomas Sowell, and dealing with the gutter cleaners. They presented me with a bill that was $90 more than the stated bid. I said sorry, I won’t sign that. The fellow was sorry and called the office and when he rang the door again he apologized and said the bill was now $90 less. Amazing what you can do when you just say “No, I won’t pay that,” and the work’s done, and they’re standing there waiting to get on to the next job. But I wouldn’t have done it if they’d exceeded the bid. I mean, we agreed. No contract, no signatures, but we agreed like gentlemen, and it would be the act of a cur to vaderize the deal at that point.
One of my favorite daily writers - well, almost daily - is Sadie Stein, over at Paris Review. She has a gift for telling the small skewed vignettes that arise from an ordinary day. I suppose it helps that she writes from New York, where such moments abound, at least if you talk to people who mutter or pay attention to old people who are yelling. Recently she wrote about Flam, and the Maidens of Flam, and I gathered it was a honeymoon. Aw: newlyweds. That's why this entry made me wince.
In the hours before the lunar eclipse, my husband and I were in one of those nightmarish, mammoth craft stores—shopping for some vellum, as one does—and I began to sing along with Dion’s cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” I sing a lot, and with great gusto. And if you’re doing Dion, well, you have no choice but to go full falsetto on the wah-wah-wah-wah-wonder part. I mean, anything worth doing, et cetera.
My husband looked slightly self-conscious. After a moment, he said, “It makes me feel funny sometimes when you sing along like that in public.”
I was stung. Because, again, I sing a lot. By myself, too—it’s a spontaneous expression of joy in life. Or so I have always thought. First tears came to my eyes. Then, in short order, I became coldly furious.
“I wish you hadn’t said that,” I said with great dignity. “I’m sorry I embarrass you. It won’t happen again.”
It ends sweetly, but I’m here to tell the husband that he will never, ever live that down, and she will never, ever forget. I mention it not because I, too, sing in public - I do not, of course, because it is not done around here. I whistle, if the space is deserted, because I like to do it and I’m not bad at it. No one likes to hear other people whistle unless they’re good, and not trying to impress anyone. Done right it has a haunting quality - providing you’re not whistling Pop Goes the Weasel, of course. Walking home late at night in the fog from my waiter job in college, I would whistle the opening melody from “The Stranger,” by Billy Joel, which makes you feel romantic and tragic and world-weary, but wiser for all that - and ready, perhaps, for another round in some dark place where the bartender’s at the end polishing a glass and there’s a dame a few stools down who might be waiting for someone. And maybe she’s not.
But I mention this because I did sing in public, at the hardware store, last week. Menard’s has a piano player on the second floor, by the jacuzzis. They play familiar songs, and sometimes you get 70s standards played with the sort of emotion that tells you “that was high school for her.” Or show tunes. In this case it was show tunes, and I know about six of them. As we passed by, the piano player was working on “I’m Getting Married in the Morning.” It’s in my range and I can fake a good tone if I project and lay on the cockney.
Ding dong the bells are going to chime! Let’s kick up a rumpus / but don’t lose the compass! And get me to the church on time!
I can’t tell you how wan the piano player’s smile was. It was wanner than wan. It was a pale shade of wan, seen through a thin scrim, in the light of 5 PM on a late October afternoon in a room with the drapes half-drawn.
I’m never shopping there again for lightbulbs and industrial degreasers! The piano player isn’t entirely friendly!
Back to the old building to see if there was anything left. There was.
But not much. The front is still intact, inasmuch as the spandrels and windows and a few pieces of irreplaceable stone carvings are still hanging on. Tomorrow's the final push. It'll be early; I'll miss it.
So much history in that building. And so many meetings! I imagine the souls that were somehow lost during these meetings were contained in the meeting rooms for decades, and fled in relief when the walls were clawed down. They couldn't leave until the whiteboard was removed. It was the magic object that kept their souls in bondage.
Part Two. At first I thought I'd mislabled a folder. This is Minot? But it is. The Parker Suites.
Obviously a hotel. Emporis says construction began in 1929 and ended in 1946. This doesn't mean it was under construction for 17 years. It was built in two stages - and now that you know that fact, the point where they stopped after the Crash is quite obvious.
Almost there. So close. Maybe some glass on the top floor? Everything else is just as it was the first day.
"Hey, should we paint them all? I mean on the side that faces out, the side people can see. We've done three."
"Nah, who cares."
Yes, that's North Dakota in the summer. Ninety-fargin'-six degrees. Pity those little flowers by the door.
This one's tough to read. You don't know what it was built to be. Some kind of warehouse? It's not retail. Offices, perhaps - but why do they make you go up half a flight to the main floor? So the basement can be taller? Those dark-grey bricks came later, and the sign was obviously something else.
It would be "niess to know" the story.
Solid and impressive, but not ostentatious. The quoins suggest it was built pre-crash, so it's not a response to a diminished economic environment. No grand banking hall, I suspect. Modest but authoritative.
Poke in some airholes so no one suffocates!
It has the vibe of an old movie theater, too - but perhaps that's just wishful thinking from the ground floor, which looks like it as spaces for movie posters. None of it makes sense. And the cornice is intact! They couldn't commit all the way, or saw no need to.
One hundred and ten years ago, a name was raised:
James Scofield went to Minot in 1886, and was elected Mayor in . . . 1886. There's a story.
One of the tenants was the American Cafe. This site says: "The American Café opened in September of 1922 in the Scofield Block on Main Street by a Chinese-American named Louis Lolling. The menu featured Special Chow Mein at 25 cents a plate and Lobster Egg Foo Yung at 55 cents a plate. Mr Lolling, while looking for an employee at the Dakotah Hotel, 60 South Main, was arrested in an opium raid. After convincing authorities that he was just looking for an employee, charges were dropped."
He left town in 1924, and entered the wind.
Your friendly neighborhood government building:
Interesting how the representatives of a newly empowered Federal Government went for that Hail-The-State look. At least the American examples are different than the European ones; Fascist architecture is all clammy and overscaled and wrong. If these buildings say anything, except effeciency over aesthetics, it's competence and sobriety. They're not a celebration of individuality, but they're not scaled to crush the individual.
They did love their ponderous staircases, though.
I could have edited this one to be symmetrical, but for some reason I find all of this pleasing.
But not in the sense that the actual building would give any pleasure.
The punch-card era of facades left an example in Minot, as it did everywhere, without remorse or emotion.
No looking out the window! Everyone get back to your Selectrics!
Finally: a Carnegie Temple.
They're everywhere across America. Andrew doesn't get the credit these days he deserves. Over 2,500 were built.
They used at least two different designs, I'm sure.
I posted the Master list, by the way - and now you can always access it by clicking on the Main Street banner. Months ago I made a note about Google Maps new iteration, and how it would destroy this site; turns out it doesn't. Not only do I have enough sites to fill out this year, I'm into April for next year, and I've found some marvelous, and heart-breaking, places.
You blink: you're into April? Of 2016? Yes. The matchbook additions are all laid out and written for the entire year, presuming an update of 2 per week. The Wednesday Miscellany section, which cleans out the Updates to Come folder, is written through August, and covers the 20s, 30s, 60s, the Gallery of Regrettable Food and a half-dozen other sites, is written through October.
There's the matter of redesigning every element on this page, but that's mostly done, and I think you'll like the improvements. (Hint: Calendar.) Anyway, if you like these views, they'll be up every Thursday as long as I can find them.
See you around - should have the work blog today (other work intruded) and of course the Tumblr. And, of course, five motels below.
Have a bright and slightly crisp October First!