It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part CXIV

It was Friday, January 20, 1989.

I worked at City Limits in Rosemount.  It was a pretty tame night.

Bummer.  I’d hoped for a fight to break out.

Because I wanted to hit someone.

My heart raced, I think, all night; I seemed to be on a big adrenaline buzz, and for no good reason.  I didn’t do drugs – and I didn’t have anything positive going on that’d justify it, either.

It was a slow, cold night.  The bowlers took off by 10.  The few girls that tried dancing left by 11ish. By midnight, the bar was down to me, the bartender, a waitress and a couple of regulars.

I looked around.  I hated the place.  Not just this place; I hated every one of the horrible bars I was working, City Limits, Jams, Wallaby’s, Whispers, Shooters, the White Bear, Silks, you name it.

I hated the way my ratty tweed jacket smelled like smoke.  I hated the ratty tweed jacket.  I hated the music I was playing – indeed, I was starting to hate music.  I rarely listened to music at home anymore.  Music – the joy of my life, the thing that’d led me to the Twin Cities three long years before – was an irritation.

Toward midnight a bunch of drunk snowmobilers came into the bar.  Four of them sat at the table next to the DJ booth.

“Heeeeeeey”, one of them bellowed.  “When are you gonna quit playing this…”

He’s gonna call it “n***er sh*t, I thought

“…n***er sh*t off and play some…”

He’s gonna call it “white peoples’ music”, isn’t he?

“…white peoples’ music?”

I hate my job, my jacket, music, the smell, the sound…I hate my life, I thought. But not as much as I hate you, you fat f**k.

“Ah.  White peoples’ music.  Sure.  What did you have in mind?”  Hank Junior? Lynyrd Skynyrd?

“Play some polkas“.

My jaw may have dropped.

“Sorry, fellas.  I’m fresh outta polkas”.

“I brought some!”

I stood there,mildly agog. “You brought polkas – on a snowmobile…” I started.  Then stopped.  “Sure.  What the f**k.  Bring ’em in”.

Two of them got up and left the bar.  They came back five minutes later with four albums of Swedish polkas.

Not even f***ing Polish polkas, or German polkas.  Swedish.

I stood there, as I cued up a song, puzzled at the depths of the rage I felt for the fat, drunk, bearded rednecks.   Why do I hate them so?

It mattered not.  I did.

I played a polka.  And counted the beat in my head; perfect.

I reached into the record bin and pulled out Prince’s Erotic City.  I cued it to the chorus, sped up the turntable just a bit…

…and during an instrumental break, mixed in the bit from the chorus:

We can f**k until the dawn…”

The rednecks were none the wiser.

I cued it back, scratching the record over the polka beat.

We can…we we we – we can…we we we – we can f-f-f-f-f**k unti the the dawn

Three of the rednecks sloshed around the floor, dancing with one of the drunk women from the bar, oblivious.
I stowed Prince.  Just an hour to go.


Usually, when driving home from City Limits, I either went to Cedar (and then 35E) or drove up HIghway 3 to get to Saint Paul.  This time, when the bar let out for the night, I wandered over to Pilot Knob road.  Slowly – well below the speed limit – I meandered the back roads through Apple Valley, up through Eagan, and to the West Side of Saint Paul.  I crept through the side streets, as if I were sneaking up on an animal in my car – shifting, applying gas slowly, driving slowly and quietly.  Trying, it felt like, to disappear into the dark.

Eventually – like toward 2:30AM – I crept up Smith Avenue above the High Bridge. I turned onto Cherokee, which runs along the top of the gorge on the south side of the Mississippi River, across from downtown Saint Paul.  I slithered my car into a parking spot and sat, looking over the city.

I looked around.

I saw nothing but rejection.  My career had rejected me, I thought, flipping the radio off.  The music racket had pretty well had enough of me.  Girls, friends, attempts to break out of the rut – all of them shaken their figurative heads and looked elsewhere.

And so here I am.

F**k. There must be a reason for this.  There must be a reason my life has completely stalled.  That I’m living in a rat trap, getting conned monthly by a f***ing drug addict.  

I deserve this.

I looked over the city.

No.  Bulls**t.  Something’s gotta change.

I felt cold.

But it isn’t gonna change.

I was right.

And wrong.  But not in the way I’d have ever predicted.

7 thoughts on “It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part CXIV

  1. Did I ever tell you my dad was in a polka band called the Dobradons? heehee, no fat bearded redneck he, just a bunch of teachers playing at toastmasters parties. I have a tape of their rehearsal. Pretty funny stuff.

  2. Mitch, you’ve clearly taken the wrong message from this part of your life. You should be have been resentful that the world was treating you this way, that your obvious talents were being denigrated by evil capitalist entities. It wasn’t your fault that your artistry was unappreciated so obviously it was the government’s responsibility to step up and give you what you wanted.

    Too bad Obama wasn’t president 20 years ago. He would have fixed this and you could have fallen back into liberal orthodoxy, not into the blasphemous conservatism you follow now. Heathen!

  3. All these years I thought it was “we can funk until the dawn.” And I had the extended 12″ remix, too, not some Jesse-Helms-approved cleaned-up version safe from the Reagan Gestapo. Not “funk?” That other word? You don’t say.

    Prince? You’re sure? Next thing you’ll tell me Darling Nikki wasn’t musterbleating with a magazine.

  4. Tragically, my recent Polka exposure has been limited to the Wiggles. And they Polka Counter-clockwise in Aussie-land like the bathtub drain. But they do a mean version of Hoop-De-Doo.

    As far as the “Twenty Years Ago Today” series, it gets better, right Mitch? I mean this isn’t some Sixth Sense plot, right?

  5. And I would flip out if the Wiggles covered Erotic City or Darling Nikki. However in 2003 I heard them cover some Ozzy and Sabbath in a sound check – that was lovely for my then 2 year old. Crazy Train acoustically was striking!

  6. Lileks

    I wondered about Prince’s diction myself when I heard that it wasn’t “Let’s Go Greasy” (which would have also been pretty typical Prince fare…)


    Does it get better? Well, it gets different. I’ll leave it at that.

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