It Was Twenty Years Ago Next Tuesday, Part CVII

It was Tuesday, November 1 8, 1988. 

Although I fully expected to be moving to New York before too terribly long, I’d long since learned that job leads weren’t a gift horse you could look in the mouth.  And there was a station in the east suburbs that wanted to talk with me. 

The program director was a guy who’d audibly lit up when I called, the previous Friday.  “You’re Mitch Berg? From the Don Vogel show?”   He’d been a huge fan.  He’s also heard my old weekend graveyard show – he’d caught it on the way to do his own airshift a few times.  In fact, we had met, at one Don Vogel remote or another.

“I’d love to talk with you!”.  He hosted the station’s morning show, and he wanted a news guy/sidekick type. 

Sure, I was interested.  Anything to get me out of the bars, until something in New York came through.

He gave me directions to a bar in Stillwater for Tuesday at 1PM.

Election day.

“Yeah”, he laughed when I quizzed him, “the bar is open on election day.  It’s kinda ‘under the table”, he said, audibly nudging and winking.

And so I drove out to Stillwater.  I took a right off of Highway 36 and drove down a frontage road that led to the bar – the Club Tara, a funky-looking little roadhouse. 

I walked into the bar.  “Miiiiiitch!”, the program director – a very Minnesotan-looking fellow in his early fifteis – yelled, waving.  He had a half-empty pitcher and a big basket of fries on the table in front of him.  Another guy, thin, sharp-faced and younger than me, sat with him.  Both were nursing beers, although seemingly nursing them pretty quickly.

I sat.  The program director introduced me to his Operations Manager.  We chatted for close to an hour – mostly about politics, Don Vogel, and what a fun place the Tara was.

The Ops guy checked out, and another guy – the Sales Manager, another, pudgier guy in his late twenties, checked in.  We talked for about an hour and a half, polishing off another pitcher and a plate of mini burgers in the process as we talked about…politics, Don Vogel, and what a fun place the Tara was.

It was about 3:30 when the Sales Manager left – just as another sales person, this one Cathy, a mildly zaftig and plenty-cute mid-twentysomething woman with light auburn hair and in high heels, walked in.  We sat until 6PM, knocking off probably a pitcher and a half between us, talking about…yep, politics, Don Vogel, and what a fun place the Tara was.  Oh, I may have flirted a bit; Cathy lived in Saint Paul, as luck’d have it. 

Finally, we all had to leave; the three of us talked until close to 7PM in the parking lot, exchanged business cards, and promised to call later. 

I took the back roads back to Saint Paul that night. 

I followed up a few times in the next year; they never quite got the money bit worked out.

UPDATE:  D’oh.  As Flash points out in the comments, Nov 1 was not election day – November 8 was.  I forgot that election day was the first Tuesday after the first Monday. 

I get the dates (and, occasionally, info) for some of these “20 Years Ago” bits from various notebooks and journals I wrote over the years.  Others, I reconstruct from proximity to other events.  This’d be one of them; there was a long, sloppy loopy job interview at a bar on election day – whatever the date was. 

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part CVI

It was Sunday, October 31, 1988.

Mark, Bill and I were in the basement of a house on Dupont Avenue, in the “Wedge” neighborhood in South Minneapolis.

And it was the time of my life.

After Bill called me in September, the three of us – Mark, Bill and I – got back together and started playing again. It worked out very well, actually – all of us worked nights (Bill and Mark were short-order cooks, and I, of course, was in the bars).

One day in early October, we heard that a couple of musicians who lived around the corner had built a recording studio in their basement. Mark and Bill’s sister’s boyfriend’s band, in fact, had just recorded an album there. The price – $15/hour for an 8-track recording studio – was right…

…assuming we planned everything out perfectly.

And so the plot was hatched. We figured that among us we could pool maybe $200 to put into recording…something. That boiled down to about 12-14 hours of recording time. In that time, we figured we’d need to…:

  • put down basic tracks – the three of us doing the rhythm guitar, bass and drum parts
  • dub lead and background vocals and any extra instruments.
  • Finally, “mix down” from eight-track recording tapes to two-track stereo “masters” to be put onto vinyl or cassette or whatever we ended up doing.

We talked with one of the owners – “Ron” (who was the lead singer of an anarchic, Red-Hot-Chili-Peppers meets Grateful Dead band, the “F**king S**t Biscuits”), and booked three of the slowest nights of the recording week and, as it happens, the recording year – nights when the studio’d be happy to get any revenue at all – Wednesday and Thursday (I took a couple nights off from the bar), and tonight.

Wednesday night, we booked six hours to bang out basic tracks. We settled on five songs: four of mine (“Fourth of July”, “Long Gray Wire”, “Great Northern Avenue” and “Five Bucks and a Transfer”) and one of Mark’s (“Black Window”).

How tight were we? In three hours, we had ’em all done, and managed to put down the lead vocals for a song or two.

Thursday night, it was overdub time. Four hours (which Ron, being a good mensch, let us stretch to five and a half.  I think he was having fun). Mark and I finished the lead vocals pretty quickly, and then it was on to overdubbing. I put down the lead guitars on all of the songs – I managed all of them in one or two takes, except “Fourth of July”, which involved switching guitars and playing one slide-guitar solo between a couple of verses. Then, an organ part on “Fourth of July” (two takes and out, and it sounded great!), and a completely-extemporized piano part on “Long Gray Wire” that sounded a little like Ian Hunter if he’d had a stroke. Next, Bill and I knocked out the background vocals for “Great Northern”, which took a take and a half – we’d been doing the song for almost two years. With the last hour or so, Mark and I noodled around with percussion parts for “Window”, which had morphed from a straight-up minor-key rocker into a psychedelic escape and evasion drill; a bucket of broken glass and me talking through a set of headphones to sound like a police radio completed the effect.

And tonight? The mixdown.

Whether through artistic perfectionism or sheer boredom, Ron wound up throwing in two hours for free, on top of the six we’d booked (and could afford).

And damn, it sounded good. We left the studio around 3AM, and walked around the corner to the band house, lugging our gear about a block, very happy with the results.

Hope, as they say, springs eternal.


Well, hope for my career as a rock star did not spring eternal.  Indeed, my career as a Minneapolis Underground Rocker was very near an end, although I wouldn’t know that for a while.  But Mirror Image Studios seems to be pretty much eternal, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of guys.   I found their website a while ago, and Ron still runs the place, in the same house it was in 20 years ago. They list the band, as well as me. No, I didn’t do a solo album – but I did record there on my own. A lot.

But that comes later in the story.

It’s fun reading the list of some of the people who’ve recorded there, before and since – lots of names that had faded into the recesses of my memory get yanked out and slapped awake:

  • Babes in Toyland – a friend of mine dated Lori Barbero before they became famous – back when a chick named Courtney played in the band.
  • The Fuckin Shitbiscuits – ibid. Famous for shows more anarchic than the Replacements – and done entirely straight. Ron didn’t even drink beer, as I recall.
  • Neomort – I had a roommate who knew these guys.
  • Ingrid Chavez – When she first moved to Minneapolis, she worked at a coffee shop with a friend of mine. We talked. She mentioned she had a demo tape. I hit on her. We had a good laugh. Two months later, she was better known as Prince’s girlfriend.
  • Strange Friends, Perfect Strangers, – in later attempts at starting a band, Bill and Mark and I played with a bunch of these guys.
  • Lisa Wray – I saw her opening for GB Leighton, I think, on one of my first dates after my divorce.
  • Dumpster Juice – I know some of these guys, but I can’t remember how.
  • Tina and the B-sides – one of the great losses the Cities’ music community ever suffered.
  • The Blue Up – The band that was the beginning of the end of the Twin Cities’ punk scene.
  • Mofos – hosts of a zillion great nights at the Uptown.
  • The Flaming Ohs – I jammed with Bob, their drummer, many times. Last I heard of him, he was running worst “open stage” night in the history of music, at the late, unlamented Fernando’s.
  • Rifle Sport – the first band I ever saw performing when I moved to the Cities.
  • Powermad – I met a bunch of them at a party with a speed-metal-singer roommate of mine.
  • Tequila Mockingbird – never saw ’em, but I always loved the name.
  • Jeff Walker – he sat in on guitar during the last gig I ever played on a stage with a band in the Twin Cities – with “The Supreme Soviet of Love”, in 1996 at the Turf Club. Amazing guitar player.
  • Boiled in Lead – one of the greats bands in Twin Cities music history.
  • John Fenner/Mubla Buggs – Friends of friends. Like Phish for people who aren’t as serious and straightlaced.
  • Paul Metsa – the GB Leighton of the eighties.
  • Duck Kicking Vulture – perhaps the scariest night I spent in a bar in my life, at the First Avenue in 1986.
  • Mitch Berg – Who?
  • John Q Public – That’d be us.  We changed our name to Joe Public soon – but I’m getting ahead of things.
  • Run Westy Run – I never knew how much I hated The Doors until I went to about ten Westies gigs. But their first single, “Dizzy Road”, is one of my favorite records ever to come out of the Twin Cities.
  • Dezzy Dickerson – speaking of your Prince connections…
  • Destroy All Monsters, The Sluts, Beat the Clock, The Neitzches, Halo of Flies, Glennrustles, Spam Grievance, That Darn Kat, Swingin Teens, Farm Accident, Bone Club, The Sizzling Eggheads – all had about eight seconds of Twin Cities Reader-induced fame. I knew some of them, but didn’t make a big deal about it.
  • Cheap Dates – as above, but really bad.
  • Cows – Incredibly depressing noise-thrash band; like Sonic Youth on meth.  But great guys.


It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part CV

It was Saturday, October 29, 1988. 

I’d taken a well-deserved night or two off from the bars the previous week to record the demo tape with Bill and Mark.  But now it was back to work. 

My employer, the sleazy DJ service, was putting me in a new bar tonight. 

The sleazy DJ service’s “office staff” – Scott, really – could be pretty awful with directions back in those pre-Mapquest days.  It didn’t help that I was pretty ignorant about the ‘burbs – what road went where, how everything was laid out.  In three years of getting around the Twin Cities, I joked that every single time I tried to find something in the suburbs, I muffed it on the first try.  It wasn’t far from the truth; whenever I had to find something in the far ‘burbs, I usually allotted an extra hour or two, since I almost inevitably needed to call for help or ask for directions somewhere

But this one was easy, said Scott.  Go north on 35W to County Road H.  Go west on H – the only option you have.  “Look for the signs on your left”, he said, and if that failed “you’ll see the big naked Mermaid”. 

It was the fabled Mermaid Lounge, Supper Club, Lanes and Night Club, in Mounds view.

I parked out front, and walked in the front door.  It looked pretty mild-mannered; mostly middle-aged folks sitting around drinking Schmidt, munching on popcorn and burgers and watching sports on the overhead TVs.

It looked very, very tame.  Like, the tamest place I’d been in…well, ever. 

I looked around for the DJ booth.  Nothing.

I walked up to the bar and flagged down the bartender, a short, stocky woman with dusty blond hair.  “Where’s the DJ booth?”

“Oh, that’s downstairs”, she said in an accent straight out of “Fargo”, pointing over toward a staircase that led down. 

I walked through the bar and down the stairs.  The smell of stale cigarette smoke reached out like the tentacles of the Hydra, beating me over the head and shoulders.  I walked into the basement, the “Mermaid Nightclub”.  Lit by a hundred flashing tubes of neon – overheads, beer lamps, whatever – it was dark, dank, smoky, and throbbed with a dismal energy I hadn’t felt in any of the many other dismal, reeking bars I’d worked in the previous…

year?  Yeah.  Almost a year.  Damn.

It was a huge room, with three bars – two little satellite bars at the ends; and a big one in the middle.  The near end of the room was given over to nearly-empty tables; the far end, to pool tables, which seemed very, very busy.  I walked to the main bar, where a couple of bartenders – a stocky, muscular guy with curly sandy hair, and a gorgeous woman with peroxide hair – were stocking up for the evening. 

The guy – Larry – walked me over to the DJ booth…

…that would be, I had no way of knowing at the time, my home away from home for the next two and a half years.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part CIV

It was Monday October 26, 1987.

One thing that I missed in the confusion of my trip to New York (and, frankly, the effort of untangling it all 20 years later) is that I’d gotten a call from Mark and Bill a few weeks earlier.

They wanted to get the band going again.  They’d tried a couple of different bands with a couple of different groups of people over the previous ten months or so.  I’d only seen one or two of their gigs – working nights got in the way of having much of a bar-based social life. 

But as Bill put it, I was the one who wrote the good material, and who had the drive to try to make it.

True enough“, I’d thought as I’d planned to try to move my life to New York.

But we did plot one big plot, and I figured I’d have time to do it even if one of the job offers from NYC came through quickly; one of their neighbors owned a recording studio.  And he liked our band.  And he’d cut us a break on recording an eight-track demo. Mark and Bill’s sister’s boyfriend’s band, in fact, had just recorded an album there. The price – $15/hour for an 8-track recording studio – was right, presuming we planned everything perfectly.

The three of us got back together, on my free nights in the week or so before I went to NYC, and played some of the songs we’d done back when we were gigging steadily in the bars. 

And damn, it was fun.

We booked time for the coming weekend. 

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part CIII

It was Sunday, October 22, 1988. My last day in New York City.

I had a late-afternoon flight out of the city. I slept in a bit, waking up around 10ish. I packed my stuff, ran down to a liquor store to get a six-pack of my long-lost second-cousin’s favorite beer, which I left with a thank-you card in the ‘fridge, and locked up around 11ish.

And then…I moseyed. Meandered. Took my sweet time. I walked up Broadway a ways, past Union Square, just savoring the flavor of the place a little more.

But finally I couldn’t put it off any more. I walked down into the subway, and went to Grand Central, and there onto the “7” to LaGuardia. The subway became an “el” after it crossed the river, and I watched Brooklyn and Queens roll past below me, Manhattan receding in the distance. I switched to a bus somewhere in Queens – a very West-Indian neighborhood, if memory serves, and it might very well not – and wistfully watched as the neighborhood slowly switched from a tumbledown scrum to row after row of tidy brick houses – and, finally, the approaches to the airport.

One of those jobs has to pan out. It just has to, I thought. It HAS to. Nobody’s luck is that bad.

I caught my flight home without any major events. We climbed out of the city as the sun started slipping below the horizon. I craned my neck and watched the city fade into the distance behind me.

The flight home was uneventful. I flirted with a cute redhead who was in the seat next to me. She was connecting to Atlanta, I think; we talked for a solid hour; she about her travels (she was in sales), I about the job hunt. She seemed fascinated – but not enough to miss her connecting flight.

And I left it all behind when the plane landed. It was about 9:30 when we landed. I hurried down to the exit, and took a bus to downtown Saint Paul. That left me a mile to get home; I slung my suit and duffel bags, and started walking. It was a damp, chilly night, and as I walked across Lafayette over Swede Hollow, I felt…vulnerable. Alone. Compared to 4AM the night before, walking down a still-teeming Broadway, I felt like I was the only person on the street, but for the occasional shadow around the occasional corner.

Finally, I shambled up my street to the house. I walked up the stairs and around the back of the house. Passing the living room window, I saw Teresa, standing by the couch, naked, pulling on her underwear, yelling something or other in an angry shriek. I turned my head and went to the back door. “Hey, everybody”, I said with gusto as I rattled the key as loudly as I could in the lock. “Home from New York, baby!”. I opened the door, slowly, and loudly plopped my stuff on the kitchen floor.

“Hi, Mitch”, Teresa said, poking her head around the corner, having donned a burgundy turtleneck and jeans.

“It wasn’t nothing”, I heard Wyatt yelling from upstairs.

“F**K YOU, AS***LE!”, she yelled back at him, walking toward the front door. “NEVER AGAIN, YOU BASTARD!”

“See you, Teresa”, I called.

“Bye, Mitch”, she yelled back.  “BYE, AS***LE!”

“Bye, you crazy bitch”, Wyatt yelled down the stairs as Teresa slammed the door.

I carried my stuff to my garrett at the front of the house. Wyatt slumped down the stairs. “How’s New York?”, he asked, sounding slurred.

“Love it, man”. Christ. He was bombed. “What’s up?”

Wyatt rolled his eyes. “Oh, Ruby called, and she answered the phone and got all weird”

“Crazy, man”.

“No sh*t”.

He opened the door, and walked outside as I slid my door shut, hooked it, and lay down on my bed.

Oh, dear Lord, I hope one of those things comes through for me.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part CII

It was Saturday, October 21, 1988. It was my “free” day in Manhattan. I was going to reward myself with a day, and night, of…

…I had no idea what. Roaming the city, doing whatever sprang to mind, mainly.

I walked down to Washington Square. Had a bagel at some kosher bakery just off the Square. Grabbed a copy of the Times and sat on a bench and read for a while.
Took the subway downtown. Got off at Cortlandt Street, and looked up at the World Trade Center towering above me. It was about 10AM. I stood with my back against the wall next to the stairs to the subway and just stared up, not caring that I looked like a total tourist. I crossed the street, and stood for a moment at the northeast corner of the North Tower, just looking up, taking in the huge-ity of the whole thing. It was a brilliantly clear morning, a couple of cirrus clouds accenting the sky like pieces of white garnish on a huge nouvelle cuisine plate.

I went inside, and got into the very, very long line of people waiting to go up the elevator to the observation deck.

I stood behind a couple of very Italian-looking girls from New Jersey – Camille and Angela. They were students at some college or another. We struck up a conversation. I mentioned I was from the Twin Cities. Both of them were huge Prince fans. I regaled them with stories of running into Prince and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in Minneapolis, popping tops with Brown Mark and Matt Fink, shooting pool with Lisa Melvoine, running into Marty Z at First Avenue.

All bullspittle, of course. But I was in New York, place of new beginnings. I wasn’t going to get a little thing like my boring past from four days ago get in my way.

Finally, we went up the elevator. It took a couple of changes, as I recall, to get all the way up to the observation deck (106th floor, I think), but finally, we were there.

I spent an hour and probably a couple of bucks worth of quarters using the telescopes; it seemed you could see halfway to Iceland. Or Iselin. I scoped out the Hoboken docks (I loved On the Waterfront) and the “Swamps of Jersey” between Jersey City and Newark, and the whole panorama of Manhattan and the boroughs across the East River. I circled the deck several times, drinking it in for a solid hour, losing Camille and Angela in the process and not really caring all that much.

I could really learn to like this.

I finally made my way back down the elevator, and jumped on the train. I ran over to Battery Park to the South Street Seaport museum (?) – being a North Dakota native, naturally, I loved ships.  It was all a blur, even then, but I was enthralled.  I could have spent hours more, but I moved on.  I figured I’d be back soon enough.

I grabbed a kebab from a pushcart and sat and just watched New York harbor for a while.  I was too excited to think much; I remember sitting and feeling aware of my blood pounding through my head, my fingers, my teeth, as I sat, ate, watched and dreamed about what a future here could be.


Then it was off to Central Park, where I wandered around for hours, ending up in front of the Dakota on the place where John Lennon was murdered, watching a raucus double-dutch competition across the street.

I could really, really learn to like this.

I got back on the subway as it got toward suppertime, and went back downtown.  My mind churned. What do do? Take the voiceover gig and get a job in a video store or driving a cab to make ends meet until something else comes up that’ll pay the bills for real? Or hold out for one of the better gigs – like the overnight or the network jobs? One of them has to come through – right?


Well, I had some time to think about it.  I figured in a week or so, it’d all get clear enough.

I stopped back at the loft, clipped some cash into my pocket, and turned around, locked up, and left again. As the unseasonably warm day started drifting into a fairly balmy evening, I walked down Broadway, sauntering slowly, marinating myself in the sights and sounds and smells of the Village. I lost track of how far I walked, but I hung a right on Bleecker Street – mainly because I remembered it from Springsteen’s “Kitty’s Back”, I think – and kept going.


I walked through a chunk of (I think) NYU campus, and then into a warren of clubs, dive bars and little diners. Guys roamed the streets, pressing “complementary ticket” flyers for bands playing up and down the street into my hand. I grabbed a Gyro at some little diner at Bleecker and – Sullivan, I think? – and sorted out what to do, luxuriating in having too damn many choices, and loving it.

Went into a couple of bars; one horrible punk band, one really good “white soul” band, and a couple of two-drink minimums later, it was back out on the street. It was closing in on 11PM when I walked into a comedy joint.

A woman – the manager? – met me at the door, and ushered me to a table for one. I bought a vodka sour, and waited five minutes for the show – a triple bill featuring a couple of comics and an improv group, “Noo Yawk Tawk” – to start.

The first comic, a guy from Champaign Illinois, who looked for all the world like Mystery Science Theatre’s Mike Nelson, made the biggest rookie flub a non-New-Yorker performer can make in Gotham; he admitted he wasn’t from New York. The hecklers chewed the poor guy to bits. He was a trooper, and he held on by the skin of his teeth, but he got rattled, bad.

The next guy – a short, bald fellow who looked a little like the Gestapo guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark – got the payback, though. He took the stage, stared at the hecklers, and tore them to shreds, shutting them up – I really, really wish I remembered how – before starting his real routine. I was agog; I wanted to learn this.

And then I noticed; he seemed to be playing to me. And not in the whole “make everyone feel like you’re playing to them” sense of the term. As in, lots and lots of eye contact.

He killed. And then he left the stage, and “Noo Yawk Tawk” started their routine, taking suggestions for topics, nouns, verbs, activities and so on from the crowd. And I was gratified to notice that just about everything I yelled out made it into the act. And, like the second comic, they seemed to be giving me a lot of attention.

Twenty minutes into their act, the manager came over to me. “Excuse me, sir – are you a producer?”

I probably did a double-take. “Huh?”

“Are you a producer?”

“Well, I used to be…”

She grimaced. “I’m sorry – this table is just for producers! I’m sorry – could I get you to sit over…”, and she pointed toward the bar. “I’m so sorry – I’ll comp you a couple of drinks. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding…”

I had, and have, no idea why she put me there in the first place. But for a couple of free drinks, it was a worthwhile flub.


I wandered up and down Bleecker for hours afterward, finally walking home up Broadway at around 4AM. I felt – and this was the last thing I’d expected – without the faintest worry about anything going wrong. Even at 4AM, the streets were still plenty busy; I walked past dozens people in small groups.

I got “home” to the loft, and flopped into bed.

I could really, Really, REALLY learn to like this.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part CI

It was Friday, October 21, 1988.

Only one interview today. But what an interview – at WOR Radio. Gotham’s version of WCCO (more or less).

I met the program director at the studios. We had a brief – maybe fifteen minutes – chat. He seemed to have been very impressed – especially with my voiceover tape.

At the end of the conversation, he asked “So if you’re gonna move to New York, I think I can use you as a staff voiceover guy”.

My heart quickened.

“It’d be nine hours a week at $25 an hour”.

I did the math in my head. $225 a week.


I smiled. “I’d have to figure out how to make ends meet, but I’m interested, yes”

He agreed – I’d have a lot to think about. We shook hands, and I agreed to call with a decision next week.

I walked up to Times Square.

I could really learn to like this, I thought.

Then, I turned my thoughts to figuring how I could move to New York and manage to earn the rest of a living, on the pretty fair assumption that $225 a week wouldn’t go as far in New York as in the Twins.

I took the train back downtown and took a walk through the Village.  I wandered around ’til close to midnight; eating Chinese food and stopping in bars and walking up Broadway way into the thirties, and back, as it got dark.  It was a gorgeous night out. 


It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part C

It was Thursday, October 20, 1988. It was my second full day in New York – and the busiest day by far.

My cousins gave me the keys and a self-addressed envelope. They were going out to a “cottage” on Lawn Gisland; I’d have the loft in the Village to myself. I’d mail the keys to them on my way out on Sunday. I thanked them profusely; they headed out by 8AM.

I had my work cut out for me.

My first stop was a shabby office building up in the Thirties. I was going to meet a guy to talk about being a producer/host for an all-weekend, all-talk network – the first attempt I’d heard to exploit the repeal of the “Fairness Doctrine”. The concept: hire talk talent from around the country to do three-hour shows on the weekend; beam the shows via satellite to New York, and thence back out to other stations that wanted quality, major-market talk talent for their weekend lineups. The guy talked a great game; Morton Downey, Tom Leykis, and a slew of other major market names were “interested”.

The job: serve as the network’s producer. This involved working a forty-hour week – on Saturday and Sunday. The work day would involve being in at 6AM Saturday to 2AM Sunday morning, and then again from 6AM Sunday through 2AM Monday morning, with four hours off in between.  Two twenty-hour shifts – a forty-hour week in two days, followed by a five-day weekend.  Or more likely four, if we assume Monday was for recuperating.

To set the hook in my cheek? I’d get a show, from 6-9AM both mornings.

Hell yeah.  I was interested.

I left after two hours. The guy sounded interested. We agreed to talk again in about a month, when the financing picture was a little clearer.

I grabbed a slice of pizza, and went to my next interview. It was at a radio station on Seventh Avenue, just south of Central Park. The program director was a Hispanic gentleman in his late twenties to mid thirties. We chatted for an hour or so. The job…

…well, the job was the perfect metaphor, in retrospect, for the Dinkins years. It would have involved being on the air from midnight until 5AM, every weeknight. “But don’t worry”, said the PD, “you won’t have to do much prep. All anyone wants to talk about is race”. The way he described it, the job would sound a lot like the classic “bigotry” scene from Do The Right Thing, listening to whites, blacks, Puerto Ricans, Russians, Dominicans, Koreans and every other ethnic group bitch about each other all night. “You can try to talk about other things”, he added sardonically. “Sometimes it catches on, but usually, all anyone wants to talk about is race”.

It sounded perfect.

He was interested. We agreed to talk again in a couple of weeks.

I spent some time wandering around the southern reaches of Central Park, on an unseasonably warm day, soaking up New York.

I wandered down Seventh, mildly shocked to see Carnegie Hall – THE Carnegie Hall, I thought, as if there might be another one around somewhere – to my left.  It was late afternoon, and I just kept walking, block after block after long, colorful, filthy, fascinating block, in my interview suit and my new, pinchy interview shoes, wide-eyed and gulping it all in.  And, I might add, fairly sure I wasn’t lost, and that I had a fair idea of where I was…

…until I realized I’d wandered into the top of Times Square, in all of its tawdry, tacky pre-Giuliani splendor. 

I grabbed a hot dog from a street vendor (pondering after I ordered how one could order “onions” on a dog and get a thin, runny slop of tomato broth with a wan assortment of floaties that may have been dried onions that had soaked in whatever the juice was) and wandered around the place, gawking and gaping like a complete tourist and not really caring a bit; I’d imagine people thought I was high.  I had a big day coming the next day – but I was in no hurry to get back to the loft.

I can do this, I thought.

Finally, I hopped the train and rode down to Union Square.  The stairs smelled like urine.  A guy was busking at the top of the stairs, really badly.  I acted like a New Yorker (!) and ignored him completely as I walked up the stairs and over to Broadway to get “home”. 

I grabbed a couple of slices of pizza and went upstairs to the loft.  My cousins were long gone; I had the place to myself.  I was footsore and tired…

…and I couldn’t sleep at all.  I grabbed a beer and a plate for the slices, and sat on the leather couch in my cousin’s front room, looking out at the skyline in the Village, at the apartment building across the street, with lights shining through windows and people having dinner at half-seen tables, and people and cars going past below, and a constant “thrum” of cars and horns and stuff contantly humming in the background.

Something’s gonna break.  I can feel it.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part IC

It was Wednesday, October 19, 1988. My first “working” day in New York.

And I was going to have to figure out New York’s transit system now. I had an interview at a little talk station in White Plains. I got up at 6AM and caught the subway up to Grand Central Station. I caught a train, next, and watched as the city, eventually, morphed into the leafy ‘burbs of Westchester County; Scarsdale and points north.

The interview?

I should have stayed in Manhattan. The program director – a tired-looking fellow in his late thirties – spent about an hour telling me that White Plains was too expensive for anyone to live in on the salary he was willing and able to pay.

My actual suitability for the job – mid-day talk show host – never really came up.

Two hours later, I was on the train back into Manhattan.

I got back to 12th and Broadway around three in the afternoon, and spent about two hours browsing around the Strand. I picked up a copy of Warsaw Diaries by Kasimierz Brandys – the story of the Solidarnosc uprising and the attendant crackdown in 1981 as told by someone who witnessed the whole thing from a table in front of a coffee shop where he and his graduate students debated the whole thing in the context of post-existential literature. I bought it because…well, it seemed like a Greenwich Village-y thing to do.


My cousins and I left the baby at the apartment (with the nanny, natch) and walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. The sights and sounds of the Village (and the smells – whole blocks reeked of burned hemp) put a spring in my step. I figured I could learn to love this.

Tomorrow – the busiest day of the bunch. Two interviews. I laid out a clean shirt and got ready.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part XCVIII

It was Tuesday, October 18, 1988. I was off to New York.

My pal Rich stopped by around 6:30AM; I ran down to the street lugging my duffel and suit bags, threw them in the back of his ’82 Accord, and away we went, through the claustrophobic crack-alley of my street down to LaFayette, and thence to Highway 3 and, finally, 494 to the airport.

My flight left at 7:30; I made it in plenty of time by the standards of those pre-9/11 days. It was the first I’d been in a plane since the summer of ’82, when I went to Europe. It was cool but pleasant out, with scattered breaks in an overcast sky. I sat in a window seat, and watched the bustle of the airport turn into the blur of takeoff, the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers and the southeast suburbs and the farmland of western Wisconson flling away and, finally, the sense of flying over miles of gauze as the plane reached cruising altitude over a wall-to-wall overcast, somewhere over Cheese country.


It was three or so hours later that the plane dropped through the overcast somewhere over the water, on final approach to LaGuardia. The disconcerting part, for me, was seeing nothing but human edifices for as far as the eye could see – not a significant stretch of unblemished green anywhere in sight.

I kinda dug it.

I got my luggage, and walked through

I walked out onto the concourse in front of the terminal and hailed a cab. “Union Square”, I told the rumpled looking Russian driver.

We pulled out onto the freeway, and then over to the BQE, my sense of direction doing flip-flops…

…until I saw the twin towers of the World Trade Center to the southwest. Now I knew where I was.


I got out of the cab near 12th and Broadway, by the Strand Bookstore, and walked up Broadway, looking for the address. It took me a couple of tries, but I found the door, and rang the bell.

My long-lost second cousin and his wife were both big-time executives with Wall Street firms. They had a brand-new baby – maybe six weeks old – and a nanny…

…and a loft apartment straight out of Architectural Digest, seven floors above Broadway. A huge rehabbed industrial space with newly-varnished floors, with a raised kitchen with all-brushed-stainless-steel appliances way back before brushed stainless steel was cool, and three bedrooms spaced around the back of the huge open “living room”, with a gorgous view of the Village out the eight-foot-tall windows over Broadway, this was not, I figured, your typical “New To New York” setup.

My cousins – and their nanny, a sixty-something Queens native who sounded for all the world like a less-screechy Edith Bunker – welcomed me to New York, made dinner, and debriefed me on the last ten years of all of our lives.

I shared a room with the baby but, I was informed, only for two nights. They’d be going out of town on Thursday, and I’d have the place to myself for the rest of my week in the city.

I got my suit situated, and got ready for the next morning. It was going to be a busy couple of days.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part XCVII

It was Monday, October 17th, 1988.

I was leaving for New York in the morning. 

Who could sleep?

Well, not just from excitement.  Nosirreebob.  I had to work – the trip was going to pretty well clean me out.  I spent a dreary Monday night out at City Limits, spinning records to almost nobody.  By 10PM, it was just me, the bartender, the “bouncer” (a guy who was all of 5’5 and 130 pounds and who’d never actually stopped a fight in all the nights I’d worked with him) and the waitress, who spent most of her time over in the bowling alley, schlepping beers to the few duffers rolling desultory balls down the lanes. 

And that was OK; my mind was all focused on the next day anyway; picturing the city; visualizing my way between stops on subway routes and intersections I’d long memorized; most of all, visualizing myself getting one of the jobs on my slate over the next week.  I pictured the studios; I envisioned myself behind the mike, taking my first caller (“Gino from Bensonhurst”, I figured), finding a place to live, grabbing a bagel in the morning on my way to, or from, work; the lights at night; Broadway; the Hudson, the WTC, CBGB; hopping the train to Asbury Park to hobnob with Bruce and Steve and Joe at the Stone Pony; meeting a neurotic Italian girl from Brooklyn named Angela with big Jersey-Girl hair and a black leather skirt and an accent that’d set your teeth on edge and who could probably beat me up, but wouldn’t want to…

…well, the daydreaming was always the same.

The bartender decided to close up early that night.  I drove home, the long, lonely, dark, winding path up Highway Three back to Saint Paul, across the Lafayette Bridge, looking at the riot of lights on downtown’s seemier side, practicing my delivery.

“Yehuda in the Village – you’re up”. 

In my mind, Yehuda was completely batspittle crazy.

“Yehuda, take your medication and call me next week.  Maria in Jersey City, you’re on…”

I came off the bridge and drove past the Savoy, up Tedesco street and around the corner to the tumbledown house on the narrow Swede Hollow street lined with houses that had seen their salad days when Coolidge was president.  I parked, and walked up the sidewalk. 

I heard music as I walked in the door.  There were half a dozen people in the living room; Wyatt, Shane, two guys I’d never met who had the shifty eyes and puffy demeanor of  bar-room drug dealers, and a couple of young women. 

“Miiiitch”, said Wyatt, sloshed and smelling like pot smoke.  “This is Amanda and Carol!  Have some pizza!” he yelled too enthusiastically, pointing toward three Dominos boxes on the table.   

“Hey”, said Ashley, a strikingly attractive, petite blonde with a pixie hairdo, wearing a short black skirt and strappy FM pumps.  Her friend Carol – ruddy-faced, with long, straight hair, dressed in a bright maroon blouse and a gray skirt, like a legal secretary except for a garish necklace – was lolling on the couch, seemingly oblivious. 

“Hi”.  I was hungry.  I grabbed a slice.  “So…how do you know Wyatt?”

Ashley smiled.  “Wyatt lets me into the bar”.

“Ah.  So you’re…”

“I’m a senior at Cretin!” she said, laughing. 

“And her fake ID wouldn’t fool anyone!” Wyatt chortled with gusto, like…well, like a drunk. 

“Huh”, I said. 

Hard to follow up on that.  I stood there, holding the slice of pizza, nodding my head at the conversation around me…

…until I felt something tugging at my slice of pizza.

Carol had crawled over to me on her hands and knees, and was chewing on the pointy end of my slice of pizza. 

“Er…would you like…” I started, and noticed she probably wasn’t getting a word I was saying.  Hammered, high, whatever.  I guided her back to the couch, gave her the slice, and retired to my room.

I had packed everything I needed earlier in the day.  I was ready to go.

Boy, was I.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part XCVI

It was Thursday, October 13, 1988. 

My roommate?  Still drugged out of his mind.

Me?  Didn’t care.

As I got ready to go to New York in just a couple of days, I had another couple of contacts to work.

I’d called a station in White Plains, somewhere up north of the Bronx.  The guy sounded like he was seriously trying to manage expectations – “White Plains is the most expensive place in the world to live, and I’m not going to pay a whole lot” was his constant refrain – but he was interested in talking. 

And today, I talked with a guy who was starting up a very interesting talk network proposition.  It was going to be based out of Manhattan, and he sounded thrilled that I was going to be in town to talk.

So I had four appointments for interviews.

The trip was shaping up nicely. 

I worked at Wallaby’s bar in Columbia Heights.  “But not for long“, I thought, a genuine spring coming back to my step for the first time since…

…well, since I could remember.

Four days ’til takeoff.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part XCV

It was Friday, October 6, 1988.

The previous night, the sleazy DJ service slotted me into a new bar – a Chi-Chi’s on Brooklyn Boulevard at Regent, stuck amid a bunch of car dealerships and apartment buildings.

There were maybe a dozen people in the room – not horrible for a Thursday at a crappy bar, really.  Five of them sat at a table next to the booth – three rough-looking guys and a couple of very drunk twentysomething girls. They were in the mood to dance, anyway.

It was around 9:30, and the five of them were on the floor, lurching clumsily about.  One of the women – whose birthday party the evening was, as it turned out – was shrieking loudly, a little too happy.  It all seemed pretty harmless.  I turned away from the floor to pick my next record.

One of the guys came up to the booth.  “You need to play something you can’t dance to”, he said, sounding urgent, “or you’re going to have one very naked bitch on the floor”.

He seemed to think that was a bad thing.

“OK, well, you might wanna get her to slow down a bit”, I said, paying the guy as much attention as I now pay the kids when they bug me for something dumb.

“I warned you, man”.  He walked away.
“Thanks!”, I called after him, not knowing or caring if he heard me.

I was having a hard time finding my next record; my attention was focused on the bin for about a minute, until a commotion behind me, on the dance floor, caught my attention.

The birthday girl had managed to toss almost all of her clothes in that minute; she was on the floor in her panties, lurching about, trying to peel them off as her friends tried to reason with her – as opposed to, say, keeping her from getting undressed.

I called for a bouncer.

The evening got a lot quieter after that.


Earlier in the week, I’d heard from a friend of a friend that a friend of a friend of his “has a big project starting up”, and that I’d be “perfect for it”.

I called him.

“I’m starting an all-weekend, all-talk radio network”, he said, explaining his business plan.  It’s in New York”.  He needed a producer and off-hours host.  And, if I was going to be in New York, we could certainly talk.

As luck’d have it, I pointed out, I would indeed be in New York – in about ten days, in fact.

We set up an interview.

That was three.

Certainly – certainly – something would pan out.

It had to.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part XCIV

It was Wednesday, October 5, 1988.

You might be looking back the last year or so of this series, and noticed a bit of a pattern; Mitch deals with issue with his druggie/sex-addict roommate, goes to work at one crappy bar or another, and pines endlessly for something that was just out of reach. You might even think it’s getting a little stale.

And you’d be right. It certainly felt that way twenty years ago.

But things were so close to changing.

After a year and a half of focusing my job search on radio stations and jobs where I might reasonably think I could have a chance at a job – hosting at smaller and mid-market stations, or producing at bigger-market operations – my unexpected success at landing an interview in New York led me to try a bolder approach. I tried a few more wild leaps.

A week or so earlier, I called WOR Radio in New York – sort of the WCCO of Manhattan, at the time.

I got through to the program director. He asked for a tape.

I followed up today. And he liked it.

“If you’re ever in New York…”


“I’m actually going to be in the city the week of October 16th…”


We set up an appointment.

That was two job interviews in New York.

Certainly one of them had to connect. Right?

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part XCIII

It was Monday, September 19, 1988.

I called Charlie, the program director at the station in New York. He took my call – always a good sign.

“So – you said to stop by if I was ever in NYC. And I was actually going to be passing through the week of the 17th of October…”

“Great!”, Charlie said. He checked his calendar. He was going to be out of town on the 17th and 18th – but he’d be in on Thursday the 19th.

He gave me the address – just south of Central Park.

And so it was set.

I drove to the travel agency and checked for a cheap ticket for the week of October16th.  And found one.  Real cheap.


I still wasn’t sure if this was a good idea.  But I mentally crossed my fingers and wrote out a check.

Start spreading the news…

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part XCII

It was Monday, September 12, 1988.

I’d been settled into the new digs, over in Swede Hollow, for almost two weeks.

It was pretty friggin’ awful. Wyatt was…well, Wyatt, only moreso. More women. More booze. More ugly scenes; Teresa had this unfortunate knack of catching Wyatt with other women, lately. It’d always boil into a huge fight, with screaming and smashing things.

I tried to spend most of my days out and about the city – biking, walking, whatever, just to stay out of the house until it was time to come home, clean up and get to whatever bar I was working. There was some good news, there, anyway; I’d gotten a bit of a raise, and they were putting me in some other bars. Not necessarily “better” bars, but other ones, bars that, unlike Jams and City Limits, I wasn’t bored stiff with yet. At least, not individually. All the bars were more or less the same; Silks in Woodbury, Mingles in Brooklyn Park, Websters in Bloomington, Shooters in North Saint Paul, the White Bear Inn in White Bear, Whispers in Minnetonka, J.P. McPicklesh***ers in Burnsville…

…oh, wait. That was from The Onion, as a spoof of that same kind of dismal bar with its atmosphere of contrived fun covering a veneer of Bergmanesque emotional barrenness.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyway – lots of bars. The sleazy DJ service loved me because they could put me into any kind of bar – R’nB, rock, biker, country, boring, what have you. So I went into all of them.

My other solace? Maybe, just maybe, getting my radio career back.

I called Charlie, at WMCA in New York. “Yeah, I like your tape!”, he said – five words that almost stopped my heart. “Y’know – it’d be great if you could stop by in New York sometime. We might have a need coming up, and I’d like to talk with you about it”.

Go to New York?, I thought. That’s crazy. I can’t afford that.

“I think I might actually be coming out to New York fairly soon on…other business”, I vamped.

“Good”, said Charlie. “Tell you what – keep me posted. I’d love to meet”.

I hung up, and started looking for cheap airfare. As it happens, I’d never booked an airline ticket before.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part XCI

It was Thursday, September 8, 1988.

Wyatt and Shane and I had moved to the big, tumbledown house in Swede Hollow the previous week.

Wyatt quickly claimed the big upstairs bedroom. The other two were kinda…well, crummy.

I saw that the front living room had a couple of pull-out partition doors that could be pulled out and hooked shut to become walls. I claimed that one; Shane was happy to claim the other two.

The good news: the living room had plenty of room for me, my “desk” (an old banquet table) and a big, beautiful stained glass window and looked out on the street. The bad news? The street was a crummy little ditch lined with decrepit buildings largely full of drug dealers and lowlifes.

Like, I guess, at this point of my life, me.

I had a nice thick curtain, too.

I settled in.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part XC

It was Wednesday, August 17, 1988.

After I turned down the apartment on York Street, it was time to get down to business; we had two weeks to find a place for the three of us to live.

And not a day went by where I didn’t have a bad feeling about my decision. While Wyatt had a brief stretch of relative sobriety, it was always more a matter of situational tactics than a change in lifestyle. He dried up enough to get a job with an asbestos-abatement company. “I’ll be able to pay some of the back-bills I owe”, he said, not-all-that-convincingly.

But as soon as the checks started coming in, he started hitting the bottle again.

And while he was a fairly jovial drunk, most of the time, you could see bits and pieces of ugly leaking out. He’d yell at someone, smack one of the dogs…the usual alcoholic stuff.

The worst? The day after I called the guy who’d offered me the apartment, Teresa – Wyatt’s gorgeous “girlfriend” – came over during the day, unannounced. Wyatt, of course, had another girl – a west-side Mexician girl named “Rosa” – over.

I was down in the basement working on some project or another in the early afternoon; Teresa walked in, and apparently caught Wyatt and Rosa in flagrante. First came the yelling. From where I sat, it sounded like Teresa actually got the better of Rosa, who walked out (or so I heard from the footsteps). Then the real fight, with thrown laps and scratching and kicking and a little actual bloodshed, started. I heard six feet walking out the door above me; Teresa had apparently taken one of the dogs.

Wyatt came ambling down the stairs a few minutes later – until he got to the bottom of the stairs. Then he broke into a run out the door. From the basement, I could hear the screaming on the front lawn; Teresa had apparently keyed Wyatt’s car before she left.

I thought briefly about calling the guy on York to see if the apartment was available. I figured there was no chance…

At any rate, we found a house for rent in the Pioneer Press; a three-bedroom frame out in Swede Hollow, on the East Side. The house was on an impossibly-narrow one-way street, surrounded by dilapidated houses with people sitting out on the porches; bullet holes stitched the walls of at least two houses. The whole enterprise smelled like “crack neighborhood”. But it was three bedrooms, no garage, $500 a month. I think the landlord liked the fact that we didn’t look like Section Eight or crack dealers; he offered us the place on the spot.

I walked away from the meeting relieved to have a place, but not really feeling good about the whole thing.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part LXXXIX

It was Monday, August 15, 1988.

I called the guy with the apartment – the affordable, gorgeous apartment with the $275/month rent in the not-tops-but-who-cares-I’m-6’5-and-have-a-gun neighborhood…

…and told him I was gonna find a place with my roommates.

I think it was the commitment of jumping my rent $100 a month higher, looking back.

But I do remember that I knew almost instantly it was a very bad idea.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part LXXXVIII

It was Sunday, August 14, 1988.

Our landlord – the crazy guy who’d tried to start a group home for victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse under the same roof – had tired of our complaints about sewage leaking into our kitchen cabinets and refrigerators that made better crock pots, and decided to terminate our lease on the first of September.

The landlord was as inept as a property manager as he was a therapist – and, as it turned out, his day job wasn’t much better.  He ran a hardwood floor refinishing business.  Wyatt, Shane and I went to look at a place – a lower-duplex in Frogtown.  We noticed the finish on the floor stopped a solid two inches shy of the wall moulding.

We all started laughing.  “Did [landlord’s name] do this finishing job?”

“Yes”, said the landlady, a rather irritated looking black woman. 

We all guffawed. 

We didn’t get the place.

The guys – Wyatt and Shane – thought the three of us should get a place. “No kidding”, I thought. Shane was making like $4 an hour and couldn’t afford much, and Wyatt no doubt figured it’d be plenty cheap sharing a house with a couple of guys who’d cover him when he skipped his bills. Which was frequently.

Although at least he’d caught the utilities up – once we heard the landlord was kicking us out.

So we started shopping for places.

And so did I. Part of me figured “I gotta get out of this place”. I could sort of afford a place of my own – as long as it was cheap. Part of me figured “what difference does it make?”, and thought I might as well stay with Wyatt and Shane.  As miserable as it was sharing a duplex with a guy whose drinking, pot-smoking, womanizing and bill-skipping was getting pretty much out of control, it was cheap; I’d been paying $166 a month in rent, plus generally $40 a month in utilities (more if Wyatt skipped out), plus $50-100 for the phone, depending on how many radio stations I called that month.  I was bringing in about $800-900 a month after taxes.  Not horrible, but not good.

Today, I was having an “Option A” day. I’d picked up a Sunday Pioneer Press this morning, and found an interesting-looking place.  I made a call, and drove over around noonish on a gorgeous Sunday.

It was on the East Side, over on York street, by the big Rainbow Foods store that serves as the home away from home for every schizophrenic in the east metro.

But it was nice – a newly-remodeled one-bedroom in a six-plex, with a small but new kitchen, a nice living room with a sliding window opening on the patio, and a bathroom of my very own (!) – for $275 a month plus phone.

The landlord liked me. “I’ll knock money off the rent for shoveling, fixing things, calling the handyman or the dealers if there’s something you can’t fix, that sort of thing.  You’d sort of be a building manager”, he said. “The place is basically yours if you want it”.

I was thrilled. I told him I’d call back tomorrow. Might as well not appear too eager, I thought – not quite realizing that that only applied to jobs, not apartments.

I turned the thought over in my head as I drove home to get ready for work. Nice place. I’d be alone – which I loved! But $275…

I kept on thinking.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part LXXXVII

It was Tuesday, August 9, 1988.

I was getting irrationally exuberant.

After my “success” the previous week getting the program director at WMCA in New York to actually ask me for an audition tape – and it was a success, in its own way – I started thinking big.

I called WOR. Perhaps it was the confidence that comes from irrational exuberance, but I got through to the Program Director.

He was a nice guy. We chatted for a bit. He, also, asked for my audition tape.


I dug through the book a little more, and found another talk station, up in White Plains.

I had no idea where or what White Plains was, but I called.

He wanted a tape too.


It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part LXXXVI

It was Friday, August 5, 1988.

I’d been job-hunting almost a year and half.

I had called – or at least tried to call – every talk radio station in the United States, or at least every one I could find evidence of.

With a few exceptions.

I figured there were a couple of markets into which there was no chance in hell I’d land; Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philly, and of course New York. Maybe I could get a producer gig – but even those, I figured, would hardly be worth the effort.
I was working in bars. I was living with a stoner sex addict and a speed metal singer. I was in a house where sewage oozed from the ceiling, and the landlord couldn’t be bothered.

I woke up this morning, and figured “what do I have to lose?”

I opened up my ratty, disintegrating copy of the SRDS, and called WMCA Radio in New York – a talk radio station.

To my amazement, I got through to the program director.

I did my patter. It was a short conversation…

“Send me a tape”, he said.

…but a good one.

Exhilarated – and not really expecting much – I picked out an audition tape, typed up a cover letter, and biked to the post office.

I actually had a spring in my step as I drove out to City Limits that night.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part LXXXV

It was Monday, July 18, 1988.

It had been scorchingly hot all summer. It was a muggy, awful night out.

We had a new roommate; Shane, a singer in a speed metal band. He was nineteen, about 5’6, wore his hair in a white trash afro (long, frizzy and all over the place) and looked every inch the metal dude. He was a nice guy, though, and paid his bills on time. This became important, later.

Shane and Wyatt both worked nights. Wyatt worked as a bouncer at “Hot Rod’s”, a dive bar on University Avenue, where he basically sold pot, pilfered free drinks, picked up an endless stream of girls or, sometimes, just had sex with them in a storage closet back by the bar’s kitchen, or, not infrequently, both. Indeed, he’d brag on occasion about “trifecta” days; bagging Teresa at home during the day, banging one of the bartenders in the storage locker during his shift, and picking up one skeeze or another to bring home at night. Sometimes, rarely, he’d even toss an old drunk or underage Hamline or Concordia dweeb out of the place.

Shane worked the night shift at a foundry out on the East Side. The hours meshed nicely with his band’s rehearsal schedule. On non-practice nights – like tonight – he took the bus around 9:30PM.

Me? I had the night off. I noodled around on guitar for a while, and then settled down with a book I’d gotten at the library over the weekend.

And I heard the front door open downstairs.

My ears perked up – but it wouldn’t have been the first time Shane missed his bus and needed to bug me for a ride to work; even more likely was Wyatt to have gotten off work early, and probably picked up some skeeze or another (or, if all else failed, called Teresa).

I heard footsteps – two sets – downstairs. Option B, I thought.

And then I heard a male voice. Not Shane’s nasal Wisconsin chatter. Not Wyatt’s affected Arklahoma drawl.

And then I heard another male voice. A different one.

These were not my roommates.

I sat, frozen in my chair, for a moment, as I heard the two sets of feet moving around downstairs, now pretty loudly. They were moving through the living room, and into the kitchen. I heard something clattering.

I had no phone – the only one was downstairs in the kitchen. All the exits to the house were downstairs. The dogs – worthless as they were under normal circumstances – were both out back. My only way out was through my second-story window.

I had one option.


Well, no. There was one other.

I got up as quietly as I could, and padded in my stocking feet over to my bed. I reached down into the gap between the wall and the mattress; I had a little box wedged in there, holding the mattress almost imperceptibly out from the wall. On it lay my pistol – an American Arms PK22. It had a magazine in it, with eight rounds (of .22 Long Rifle) loaded. (My rifles, in the closet, would have taken too long to load).

I turned, flipped the safety catch off, and started padding toward the top of the stairs. The old floor creaked loudly, and the footsteps downstairs stopped cold for a moment.

I crouched behind the thick wooden top pillar of the banister; I heard one of the voices below, sounding only slightly agitated. They started moving again – toward (I imagined, rightly or not, and I wasn’t about to ask) the stairs.

But it was all I had.

“You c*******ers come up the stairs, and I’ll f***ing blow your heads off”, I yelled – loudly, trying to will my voice not to crack.

More footsteps.

I took the slide and racked a round as loudly and ostentatiously as I could…

…which chambered with a not-very-intimidating tinny “tic-tic-schluck” sound that had me wishing for the beefy “KA-SCHLACK” of a 12 gauge shotgun, or the sharp “ksssh-LOCK” of an M1 Garand.

“Sh*t”, I heard one of them mutter. From my vantage point, I saw a pair of tennis shoes racing out the door. They left the door open.

I crouched at the top of the steps for what seemed like a couple minutes, hyperventilating as my heart pounded, watching the screen door drift aimlessly in the dank humid breeze. Then, slowly, I crept down the stairs, pistol in front of me, pointing where I was looking, making sure they were all gone. I shut and locked the door, checked the kitchen and basement, and then stopped and took stock. They’d made off with Wyatt’s boom box and some cassettes, and not much more.

My ignorant nutslap roommates had left the door unlocked.

And today, I became a big believer in self-defense shooting.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part LXXXIV

It was Friday, July 15, 1988. 

It was hot.  Blazingly hot. 

I’d been out biking since early morning.  Not the kind of fast, purposeful riding I do today getting to work or going places, mind you – more a sort of aimless rambling about the metro.  I went up to Northeast Minneapolis, by Broadway and Stinson, meandering about the tangle of roads that, today, are a thriving shopping center, but back then were just…well, it’s hard to remember.  There wasn’t much there, there, back then.

I ambled down Broadway down into the presidents (north-south streets in Northeast Minneapolis are named, in order from west to east, from Washington through Coolidge (including the little-known eighth president, Central, responsible for the Central Doctrine if I recall correctly). 

My level of motivation was dropping by the day.  Oh, I was trying to keep my brain moving; I’d bought a cookbook, “Cooking for One Or Two” – either a supremely optimistic title or a very depressing one – the other day.  I’d spent a few hours getting a big pile of beef and veggies cooked and stored in the freezer of the old wreck of a fridge in the house on Fry and Minnehaha.  That way, I could just grab as much of these staples as I needed to get a quick, modestly healthy mean for one (or two!  I mean, it could happen!) ready in a hurry. 

Baby steps, I figured.  Hang on to some semblance of normalcy, and normalcy will return.

And on I pedaled. 

There is nothing more miserable than a concrete vista on a hot, miserable, humid day, I thought.  The only way it could be worse was if I was walking, I thought, as the scorching mid-day turned into a steamy, humid morass of a late afternoon. I started pedaling home.  Gotta take a shower and get ready for another night at City Limits.

At least I had all the fixings I needed for stuffed peppers.  That’d be a nice treat. 

I got home.  Wyatt was “entertaining” upstairs – probably one of the bartenders from the bar he was working at. 

We had a new roommate, by the way, since early in the month; Shane, a singer in a speed metal band.  He was nineteen, about 5’6, wore his hair in a white trash afro (long, frizzy and all over the place) and looked every inch the metal dude.  He was a nice guy, though, and paid his bills on time.  This became important, later.  Anyway – he was off practicing with his band.

It was about 4:30.  I went to the fridge. 

I grabbed the handle. It felt kind of funny, but it didn’t register before I pulled the freezer door open.


A blast of warm, dank, rank air met me as I looked into the freezer; a freshet of filthy, stinking water sluiced out onto the floor at my feet.

It was at least 120 degrees in the “Freezer”.  All the meat I’d cooked and frozen was warm, suppurating, and worse than inedible. 

I spent half an hour throwing out ruined food, and then went to the sink to wash my hands, grumbling about the $40 worth of food I’d lost – a  lot of money for me, back then…

…when I felt a drip from the cabinet above the sink.  I looked at the cabinet; a little stream of water was oozing out from under the cabinet door, collecting, and dripping into the sink.  The water looked brown, and smelled…also brown.

I opened the cabinet.  Filthy water was leaking into it from…

..above.  The bathroom.

So I’d lost a cabinet AND a freezer full of food. 

This was adding up to be a great day.

I called our landlord – a fella we’ve talked about before – and left a message. 

Then I stalked upstairs and started getting ready for work.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part LXXXII

It was Friday, July 8, 1988.As usual, I was working at City Limits, an innocent-looking hellhole of a bar in Rosemount.

It was a typical night at City Limits – “Slims”, as we at the sleazy DJ service referred to it. It was a bowling league night, so I’d play background music while bowlers filed through the place buying a steady stream of pitchers to carry out to the lanes. Then, as the leagues let out, bowlers would grab tables for an after-league beer and a burger. They’d mostly have filed out of the place by 10-ish, leaving a thin film of regulars at the bar, and – on a lucky night – some local girls who wanted to dance or, rarely, couples who would dance. The staff adjusted accordingly; after about ten, the place filed down to one bartender (a guy who looked and sounded just like Kevin McDonald of Kids in the Hall, but with frizzier hair), a waitress (Tammy, a cute, amazingly dizzy 18 year old – underage cocktail waitresses being legal in Rosemount at the time), and a “bouncer”, a 5’8 guy who ran maybe a buck forty and who, with his long stringy hair and spotty teeth, looked like he was fighting a meth habit.

Now, there were four kinds of male customers at “Slims”, ever, back then (aside from employees):

  1. Bowlers.
  2. Barflies – a group of maybe eight or ten guys who were there every night, occasionally to bowl, but usually just to hold down a stool at the bar and BS with the bartender. Most of them had tried and struck out with every female that walked through the door.
  3. Bikers. At least, in the summer it was bikers. In the winter, they’d switch to snowmobiles. Either way – same crowd. They talked loud, they started fights, they acted like they owned the place. And they occasionally surprised me – although we’ll get to that in a much later episode.
  4. Rednecks. It might be hard to see, going through the area these days, since the suburbs have completely engulfed the area in the past fifteen years or so, but in 1988 that area – Dakota County 42 and South Robert Trail – was still rural, teetering on the south edge of then-exurban Rosemount. There was a big rural clientele – guys who worked at tractor-parts stores in Farmington and feedlots near Elko and all the other niches in the semi-rural ecosystem that I remembered from North Dakota, and hadn’t seen much of since then. Rednecks and bikers frequently intermingled – but bikers travelled in groups, and “rednecks” travelled in ones, twos and fours, usually.

Anyway – things were going well. It was around 11PM, and for a summer Friday, it wasn’t half bad. There were maybe eight or ten couples – almost all girls, naturally – out on the tiny dance floor. I’m told it’s a Twin Cities thing; girls’ll hit the floor if there are no guys available (or worth bothering over). Not a big “floor”, but useful for marketing, since seeing a bunch of drunk twentysomething girls on the floor gave some of the drunk twenty/thirtysomething guys at the bar and among the tables something to hope for.

The key to keeping the girls on the floor? Play music they can dance to. In 1988, that meant dance music; Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna, “Word Up” by Cameo, Run-DMC’s version of “Walk This Way”, Beastie Boys…all the Top40 dance stuff that was current at the time. It was simple; if you play music that drunk girls can dance to, they’ll dance. The music set the hook; I would then beat-mix it together so the beat didn’t stop for half an hour a time – making them hotter, drier, and more likely to keep beering up. This helps business.

This made the bartenders (and the bar’s owner) happy; girls who are dancing, and guys consumed by unrequited lust, drink. A lot. And in Rosemount, they might even leave a tip.

The key? The music.

Around 11:30, four rednecks walked in and sat at the table next to the DJ booth. They ordered Budweisers. They looked at the girls out on the floor. And one of them -wearing a sweat-stained white T-shirt and a scruffy beard that made his face look like Eddie Rabbitt, shuffled up to the booth.

“Hey”, he said, his breath smelling like a party that’d started after work and had just kept going, “you know what’d really get people on the floor?”

“Huh?”, I said, shuffling through the records, trying to set the hook a little deeper in the wan little crowd on the floor.

“If you got this n***er s**t off and played some white people’s music”.

I carefully controlled my face, not so much out of anger as to control breaking out laughing as I looked at the guy. His eyes were flitting around in that unfocused, jerky way of the very, very drunk.

“Whaddya mean?”

“White people’s music. Not this n***er crap. I bet everyone on the bar gets out on the floor if you play some white people’s music”.

I thought for a moment. “White people’s music? You mean, like Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry?”

“Yeaaaah!” he said, his head jerking forward like he was losing his balance, leaning against the formica tabletop around the booth.

“I’ll see what I can do”, I said.

I was not going to see what I could do, of course. Playing “Can’t Get Enough” or “Slow Ride” or “All My Rowdy Friends” would empty the floor – and drunk twentysomething girls don’t just leave the floor when the beat stops; they hit the doors and find a bar that won’t kill the buzz.

So the beat rolled on.

It took maybe fifteen minutes, but Eddie Rabbitt came back, bringing his friend – a nondescript, stubbly, potato-shaped man in a seed cap and a sweat-stained wife-beater.

“Hey” said the potato. “Didn’t we tell you to get the n***er s**t off?”

“Yeah, I’ll get to it – the girls are dancing, man”.

Potato looked at me; he looked angry.

“You’re a faggot”.

He and Rabbitt glared at me as they slunched back to the table. The four of them looked at me and shared a vicious sounding chuckle as I pondered a safer exit from the place at the end of the night.

As it happened, I didn’t need it. Another group of rednecks came in. One of them was apparently diddling one of the first group’s cheating girlfriends or ex-wives or something. A fight broke out. Meth-Head the bouncer hid behind the doorway to the bowling alley as the seven of them went at it. Tables and chairs flew, and I grabbed the sawed-off pool cue that was standard equipment in most DJ booths back then, just in case.

The police came in about ten minutes, hauled the whole lot away, and left us…

…with Tammy, the bartender, Meth-Head and I, along with one old regular who probably hadn’t noticed the fight in the first place. The fight had cleared the place.

I played nothing but requests the rest of the night. Tammy loved Madonna. The bartender wanted country. I beatmixed an impromptu Springsteen medley. The bartender let everyone but Tammy have a round of drinks even though none of us was supposed to drink on the job. We’d all earned it.  Except the bouncer, but hey, we were all in the same miserable boat.

I checked the parking lot carefully on my way out at 1AM, and started the long drive up South Robert back to Saint Paul.