7:10 AM. By the time Mom showed up with coffee, a caramel roll, and dismissal from my post, I was getting pretty stir-crazy. I climbed the geodesic semi-spherical climbing thing and stood on top of it, surveying my domain. All was calm…suspiciously calm. So I stood there for another minute, and then tried to lower myself down through the top of the sphere until I realized I was setting myself up to break both arms, then hauled myself back up and slunk down the side of the semisphere.
I returned to my station at Bud’s Burger Barn and tried to work, but my fingers were cold and my mind was fuzzy, so I just sat there until suddenly the school door opened and out walked the rotisserie guy. “Anyone steal anything?” he barked. I said no. “Humph! Quiet night, then!”
Yes, quiet. I packed up and decided I would just Instagram stuff until Mom came to set me free, and as it turned out I had time only for one Virgin Mary banner before she pulled up in her Camry. I gratefully accepted my food and my payment, then got in my car and turned on the heat. Now I’m home and warm, and I have time for a couple hours of sleep before my first scheduled morning activity: a screening of Moonrise Kingdom. If I stay awake for it, it will be safe to say the film lived up to the hype.
4:41 AM. I’m surprisingly awake—I’ve just now cracked my third eight-ounce can of Red Bull—and surprisingly cold. Patience for work is declining steeply. Sky is beginning to lighten, birds are chirping. It’s funny to realize how staying awake all night is just not that big a deal. I’ve always been a night owl, but to stay up all night…when you’re a kid, that seems like a rare, death-defying feat. Now, I guess I can just do it pretty easily any damn time I want. I’m learning, though, that the time you spend awake isn’t all that productive. Especially if you’re sitting outdoors at a parish-festival ghost town.
The corn in the photo above proved surprisingly difficult to stand up. How can a giant plywood corn-ear be that complicated to set up? It fell over loudly once. I hope it didn’t wake the sleeping seminarians.
Passersby: a woman hustling by with books, another walking by in a party dress and carrying shoes, on the phone complaining to some really good friend who wanted to hear her complain at 4 AM about how much her feet hurt. “Literally!”
3:32 AM. Now that bars have closed and parties have ended, my prospects of amusing human contact have dwindled. There was a brief, exciting moment when the ride-rental people came to deliver the swing ride and I grabbed the truck driver’s phone from the asphalt before he accidentally backed over it. (“Must have fallen out of my back pocket! I keep it there because it’s illegal to answer the phone if it rings when you’re driving. $12,000 fine! Did you know that?”)
Then there was a little drama across Prior Avenue when a woman in pajamas came stalking out of a house, with a guy hot on her heels. She told him just to leave her alone, but he followed her anyway. He came back a few minutes later, ladyless. Does she live nearby, or is she still fuming around the neighborhood in her socks?
I should explain that I have some personal history with this parish, St. Mark’s. My dad grew up a block and a half away, and he and his siblings all attended the parish school. We bought my dad’s childhood house from my grandpa just as I was going into seventh grade, and my siblings and I were all enrolled at Dad’s alma mater. It didn’t go well for me. As I recounted in my review of the movie Bully:
“After finding me one day after school in seventh grade screaming and beating my bedroom floor with my fists, my parents made an appointment with my homeroom teacher and the school principal, to inform them that I was transferring schools to get away from the unceasing bullying I’d been enduring. I don’t remember the principal’s and the teacher’s exact words, but I remember the general sentiment: ‘This won’t solve your problem, Jason. The only way for you to stop the bullying is to fight back—or just stop being so weird!’”
I fared better in the next school, and never came back to school at St. Mark’s. My siblings all graduated from this school, though, and a lot of kids I baby-sat went here. I have a cousin here now. We went to church here for years, until I entirely stopped churchgoing and then my sister married a Lutheran pastor, inspiring my mom to decide that God would rather have her attending church with her grandchildren than coming to St. Mark’s just because it’s Catholic. (I always thought my parents were closet Protestants anyway.)
So my family history has been tied up with this church and school for 60 years. This is where my dad had his Glory Days as a football star in eighth grade, where he and his brother were proud crossing-guard captains. My dad just helped to organize his 50-year grade school reunion, an event that was so meaningful to him that it was a motivating factor in his decision to end his 38-year marriage and start a new personal journey to reconnect with the Jim Gabler of 1960: a prince of Minnesota, as John Irving might say, a king of the Midwest with a million dreams to chase.
My time at St. Mark’s, by contrast, was bleak. To Dad’s credit, he agreed with Mom that I had to get out of this school—but I had to go further. I had to get clear out of Minnesota, and stay gone for 14 years. Finally, at the age of 31 I came back, to make a new Minnesotan life on my own terms. I live in Minneapolis now instead of St. Paul (think Brooklyn vs. Long Island), I’m no longer Catholic, and I have the Internet to connect me with a larger world that seemed completely out of my reach back when I was sitting in my school uniform in the same office that’s now beaming the wireless signal I’m using to post this.
I imagine that back in seventh grade, I might have thought something along the lines of, “To get me to go back to St. Mark’s, they’d have to pay me.” Finally they did, and here I am.
11:20 PM. I was sitting planning the Twin Cities Daily Planet’s social media schedule for tomorrow when I heard a roadblock being kicked aside. I looked over and saw a pack of five bros sauntering up Dayton Avenue. Figured I’d better establish a presence, so put Trembling Blue Stars on pause and stood up. In my black Talking Heads hoodie, I figured I cut a fairly intimidating figure. The bros just stood there on the street in their backwards baseball caps, kicking a soccer ball around (because, you know, gotta have a ball to kick around). I considered approaching them, but I decided that I wouldn’t escalate the situation unless Parish Festival property was in imminent danger of being compromised.
While the bros broed around and I stood there looking menacing from 100 feet away in the tungsten glow of the parish school’s security light, a woman walked her bike up the street. “Got a flat tire?” one of the bros bellowed to her. She said no and kept walking while all five bros eyed her ass. A few minutes later, another woman walked by, this one in a little black dress. They said something to her that I couldn’t make out, and she gave them a curt reply.
Eventually, one of the bros called to me. “Hey, bro, what you doing?”
“Just keeping an eye on things,” I called back.
“Oh,” he replied. “That’s a good thing to do!”
Cowed by my show of resolute presence, the bros retreated down the street. One of them even moved the roadblock back into position. That’s some kind of life, I thought. Swinging your dick around a quiet middle-class neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota.
TO BE CONTINUED
10:26 PM. I’ve agreed to serve as overnight security at the St. Mark’s Parish Festival in St. Paul, Minnesota. The festival hasn’t begun yet—it starts tomorrow, so everything was set up today. My mission, if I choose to accept it (too late, I already did) is simply to stay awake until 8:00 AM, ensuring that no miscreants steal or vandalize any of the festival’s elements. Those elements currently include but are not limited to a couple of rides (Scrambler, Ferris Wheel), two dozen tables with folding chairs, some sort of rotisserie cooking trailer (“Just the aluminum in there would be enough to make it worth someone’s while”), and several food stands. We’ve established a perimeter with roadblocks, and I’ve set up camp at Bud’s Burger Barn. My provisions: one can of Bud Light (provided by the festival, and I’m already anticipating that one of my late-night activities will be searching for more), four cans of sugarfree Red Bull, 24 granola bars, and three bottles of water. “They haven’t set the port-a-potties up yet,” said my mom, one of the festival’s organizers and thus my employer for the night. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
TO BE CONTINUED