It was Wednesday, November 23, 1988.
I was going to head back to Jamestown for Thanksgiving. I didn’t want to miss Christmas in the bars; lots of extra money and tips for working the Xmas holiday, so I figured I’d tough it out.
So I worked out a Wednesday through Saturday “vacation” with my boss, packed up the night before, and got ready to leave.
The phone rang; Wyatt, hung over as usual, grunted “got it” upstairs before I could get to it.
Wyatt, as usual, had been “entertaining” again. I’d never really kept track, but he’d kept to his old average of seven or eight women a week, including the “girlfriend”. There were a few semi-regular ones, but I hadn’t gotten a look at whomever it’d been the night before. I’d gotten home from the bar a little too late.
As I was packing my duffel bag, Wyatt walked down the stairs wearing a pair of basketball shorts. He was moving with a little more purpose than his usual hung-over shamble. He looked worried.
“Hey, dude”, he said in a whisper very unlike his usual booming baritone with the fake arklahoma accent. “Could you do me a favor? I’m in a big-ass jam. Teresa’s on her way over. Could you give Jennifer a ride home to Saint Louis Park? And keep it all quiet, OK? She’s hot, man”.
I stood for a moment. On the one hand, Saint Louis Park was on my way out to 94, more or less. It wasn’t far out of the way, really.
On the other, I wanted Wyatt to rot in hell. He was late on the bills again. His dog was crapping all over the place, again. He was hitting the bottle with both fists, again. And his drug-dealer friends – oh, yeah, the coke dealing – were over at all hours of the day and night.
“Ummm…”, I started, looking up the stairs as a woman came down the stairs. Early twenties, auburn hair, gorgeous…
“Hi, I’m Jennifer”, she said.
“See ya, Jenn”, Wyatt said, ambling toward the kitchen as we walked about door.
We walked out to my car.
We started talking as I drove down the hellish little one-way, past the crack house. Jennifer was an art student at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She loved Russian literature, I found out around Dale Street. By Snelling, I found she knew some people I knew, in the Minneapolis music scene; we had at least two common acquaintances. And she played guitar.
By the U of M, we were comparing Bob and Tommy Stinson anecdotes.
And by downtown Minneapolis, I was falling madly in love.
And damn, that sucked. I was living in a garret next to a crack house, working as a nightclub DJ, eating ramen most of the time, sharing a miserable rodent-trap house with a slacker and an addict.
Worse? We were hitting it off.
“Worse“, I thought, as I listened to her talking about her big senior project. “That’s how screwed up my life is. I’ve met someone just mind-warpingly gorgeous, and we’re hitting it off famously, like I’ve never hit it off with a woman at a first conversation before, and the first thing on my mind is all the reasons it can’t possibly work out.”
I drove down Hennepin to Lake Street, past the Walker and the Guthrie; she loved the theatre, and I could fake a love for art as well as anything else. She’d been in plays. I’d been in plays. She’d been to a production of Lion in Winter that she’d loved, recently; I’d played Henry II in Lion in Winter, just five years earlier, in college.
As we drove past Lake Calhoun, I was grinning ear to ear, as I cringed inside. “There really is no way. There is no f*cking way“.
She lived at her parents’ place, near the junction of 7 and 100 in Saint Louis Park, the near-western suburb of Minneapolis.
“So what can you tell me about Wyatt?” she asked after directing me down an arterial off of 7.
“And if there’s no f*cking way for me, there’s no f*cking way for him, either”.
“Wyatt has a girlfriend.”
Her head spun toward me.
“On top of that, he is probably banging seven or eight other women a week that he picks up in bars.” She cocked an eyebrow. “Serious. The guy’s a whore. If he’s bagged one chick in the last year, he’s bagged two hundred”.
I felt a weight lift from my soul.
Jennifer was quiet, except for directing me down a street toward the cul-de-sac where her parents lived, in a brownish rambler with trees all over the place.
“He doesn’t believe in protection. Not at all.” A brief flash of alarm crossed her face. “Seriously. Get yourself tested. The guy’s a poster boy for “high VD risk”. [Anyone but me remember when it was called “VD”? – Ed.]
She was looking at me; like I was crazy, or she was alarmed by the information, or (I’d suspect at twenty years’ remove) a little of both.
“Look, sorry, but the man is a pig.” I paused for a moment. “You deserve better”, I added.
She sat for a moment and wrinkled her face in contemplation.
“Well, thanks…”, she said, sounding a little nonplussed. “Good to know.”
I gritted my teeth. “Look, sorry. But when I say he’s a pig…”
“Yeah…” she said, opening the door. “Gaah. Seriously – thanks…”
Our eyes met for a moment.
She got out of the car and closed the door.
I watched her walk in the door, and inside.
I turned back toward Highway 100 for the six hour trip to Jamestown.
It was good news, in a way, that I never saw her again.