Mon Feb 27, 2006

“What a bust!”

I was wearing a faggy 80’s sweater, tons of cologne, and had just made a final adjustment to my hair when Corey all but shoved us out the door. Did we even have keys to get back in?
“Oh, well,” assured Dave, “we’ll just have to pound on the door till the sonofabitch opens it.”
I imagined Corey finally jerking open the door to the hotel room we shared, two in the morning, standing there red-faced, and then I remembered the bruise he’d left on my arm from that punch the other week.
“Yeah,” I winced, “or maybe we can just get the guy at the lobby to ring him till he answers.”
We rounded the corner into the lobby and headed up the stairs towards Mountain man’s room. I noticed it was still snowing outside, kind of a drizzle or sleet, driven at an angle by gusts of wind. What a dreary, cold, windy, dark place Fargo-Moorhead is, I remember thinking.
I hesitated and knocked for the third time on mountain man’s door. This time there were
sounds, footsteps and then the door cracked open. A bleary-eyed Mountain Man squinted at us.
“Oh, hey guys... hold on a second.”
The door closed and re-opened a few moments later. Chris’s shirt was buttoned low and
crooked, his hair a tousled mess. And a girl, whom I didn’t recognize, sat on the bed, knees tucked up towards her chin, a blanket wrapped below her bare shoulders.
Dave, I think not realizing what was going on, struck up some small talk, and Mountain man admirably returned his volleys.
I nodded, embarrassed towards the girl on the bed, and then mentioned something about
the girls on our team having a get-together in their room.
“Oh, really?” said Dave.
“Yeah, I think we’ll be headin’ down there- just thought we’d stop by and invite you.” I motioned to Dave and we headed for the door.
“Yeah, I’m thinkin’ it’s gonna be an early night for me. We’ll catch you guys tomorrow.”
offered Mountain Man as we left the room.
“What a bust!” I sighed to Dave as the door closed behind us.
“Yeah, why’d you tell him the girls on our team were having a party, anyway, Rog?”
I was cutoff by the sight of four pretty girls heading down the hall in our direction. I raised my eyebrows and nodded in their direction.
What luck! It was the Aitkin squad.
They were led by Jen, a short, fiery-spirited brunette who More...

9:24 pm

Sat Feb 11, 2006

How I got punched over a JFK joke

So, we’d made it to the tournament, we’d drawn our schedules, and we were headed for the first round of competition, which for myself and fellow seniors Dave Schramm and Corey Stewart, was extemporaneous speaking, or extemp, a category in which you draw the topic you’ll be speaking on just minutes prior to your speech.
Extemp topics are based on current events and ask such questions as, “What should the government do to stop the spread of AIDS?” In each round, students from several schools speak on a multitude of topics before judges who decide which speakers most effectively addressed their questions.
Dave and Corey and I had been on the extemp circuit for the past two years and of the three of us I was the weakest speaker. I enjoyed the little things: the thrill of opening up the little slip of paper with the question on it- like a fortune cookie, and the challenge of mustering a speech in a matter of minutes.
My problem was depth, a lack of it. I held only a passing interest in current events because reading magazines like Time and U.S. News and World Report put me to sleep, and the valuable insight that our coach Jack Armstrong offered never took root with me. I tried to make up for it by keeping things simple, organized, and by being dramatic, but most judges sensed it was superficial.
Corey, on the other hand, was prepared. He was up on the issues, kept an ear open to Jack’s advice, and worked hard to prepare his speeches, which were deep on analysis, but often lacking the charisma needed to deliver his point.
And then there was David. He had something in spades that neither Corey nor I possessed: sincerity. He spoke in an easy-going, but deliberate manner that gave you the impression of a grandfather telling a parable, his heavy-set frame draped in a tan pinstripe suit, a solemn expression on his face; deep brown eyes imploring from behind beat-up spectacles, everything told you that he was serious about whatever he was talking about. And he’d grown into an excellent speaker over his junior year, showing vast improvements with each tournament.
In between my own speeches that day, I decided to sneak over to the room where Dave was competing. He was giving his, “Every journey begins with one step...” introduction to warm-up a judge to the idea of improving trade-relations with China. Where other speakers would come at you with glitz & glib, facts and figures, Dave would tell a story, weaving in examples and statistics precisely when the listener needed them, building suspense that eased only when he drew you back to his original conclusion.
What had Jack said about Dave? -That he was a plow-horse. And we’d ribbed Dave a bit about that. But now he was reaping the harvest. His delivery, though still natural, had smoothed out nicely. He sounded... polished. And the judge, I could see out of the corner of my eye, was already nodding towards him in agreement.
That had to be a good feeling. My judges often got a quizzical expression on their faces. Which was actually helpful as it’d cue me to go into explanation mode- or BS mode in my case; either way the judges knew it wasn’t prime-time.
So it was no surprise that by the end of the day, after four speeches, Dave had scored high enough to guarantee an advance to the quarter-finals on Saturday, while Corey and I were on the outside looking in; we’d need top scores in our first speeches on Saturday morning, otherwise we’d be out of it.
Dave’s high-scoring, along with some smaller sophomore successes, had put the team in a good mood, and we all went to Pizza Hut afterward to celebrate.
It was easy to be excited for Dave because he was modest. If it had been Corey, I think I’d have been jealous, but with Dave it was like having your brother do well- and that’s the kind of friendship Dave and I had.
It was around 8pm when we arrived back at the hotel. Jack smiled wearily and admonished us all to get to bed early so we’d be up for tomorrow’s competition.
Corey took Jack at his word, eagerly unpacking his things and preparing for bed as soon as we'd returned to our room.
Ugh! I thought to myself. Friday night and it’s what? -not even nine o’clock. And to make matters worse it was my turn to share a bed with Corey. Last time that happened, a few weeks earlier, Dave and I had stayed up late making wise-cracks from across the room, ignoring Corey’s pleas for silence when I pushed it too far by making a crack about John F Kennedy’s alleged affair with Marilyn Monroe. Suddenly he turned over and punched me in the arm as hard as he could.
“Shut-up, Hastings! That’s a bunch of bullshit that no one’s ever proven, and if you guys don’t shut up now, I’m gonna beat one of you up.”
I buried my face in my pillow and screamed, dying of laughter, my ribs busting up, hurting twice as hard now, and Dave wasn’t helping, wasn’t trying to hide his laughter.
Corey just shrugged and rolled over.
Apparently the incident was still on his mind, too.
“Hey, I don’t want any bullshit out of you guys tonight, all right? I’ve got a good chance tomorrow and I don’t want you guys to blow it for me.”
I took advantage.
“Dave’s got a better chance than you, Corey, and we’re going out tonight, right Dave?”
“Ummm. Yep. Aitkin girls, right?”
“Umm hmm, Mountain Man’s party.”
“Well, whatever you guys decide to do, just don’t wake me up, all right? Otherwise there’s gonna be trouble.”
“Whatever, Corey.”
“Rog, da ya have to spray that shit in here right now before I go to bed? How can anyone stand that stuff anyway?”

10:20 pm

Sat Feb 04, 2006

Just another chance at a good time

The Concordia campus was alien to me; I wasn’t getting any kind of a vibe from it, yet I was only blocks away, only minutes away from my future. In a few years, my band, Pica, would come to this campus and fail an audition to play Cornstock, the college’s yearly spring party, where a year later I would meet my closest friend and collaborator for many musical projects. My future wife and I would meet just a mile from here and our first child would be born across the river in Fargo.
Even the past was nearby, on a small farm south of Moorhead, my Grandpa Seth, the hired man, created upset when he More...

11:24 pm

Thu Feb 02, 2006

Punk rock was being born in Fargo

My recollection of the rest of that afternoon in 1987 is blurry, but I know what was on my mind: Mountain man's escapades, the Aitkin girls, and what might happen that night. Lewd scenarios leapt across my mind, distracting me throughout the afternoon.
I thought I was in a strange place, in a strange town, on just another weekend getaway.
But I was surrounded by my future. Punk rock was being born in Fargo. Paul Erickson and Paul Sanders were out there, experimenting with guitars and sprouting the scene with bands like The View, December's Children, and Floored, eventually adding drummer Jeff Mooridian to forge the pummeling sound that would become the staple of Fargo for years to come, in a band that would exert an immeasurable influence on my peers by the time I returned in the early 90's: HAMMERHEAD.
I had a guitar.
But it was gathering dust in Duluth because More...

9:54 pm

Tue Jan 31, 2006

Getting in fun was trouble

Yes, Mountain Man was indeed a non-conformist, he was a take-charge kind of a guy, I guess, behind the scenes. You’d just never guess from talking to him, not that people boast of that sort of activity.
So that was on my mind as we slipped into our suits, scrambled into the van, and swooshed over to the Concordia campus. I always thought showing up late to these things was kinda cool; it was like, yeah, we’re here but it’s no big deal, probably gonna lose anyway, but don’t underestimate us cause we might just kick your butts. Something like that- and I’ve already told you how far that attitude got me.
As fate would have it, when we strolled into the lobby, a gaggle of girls from the Aitkin
squad were standing around, and smiling at me was Jenny: short, dark, smoldering brown
eyes, and a slightly devious smile. Had it been Jen?, I thought to myself. No way, she was
too nice, I think she kinda had a thing for me and that repulsed me, but in this group of
potential debaucherists, her currency had just risen.
“Ladies... allow me to introduce to you the next State Champion of Extemp, David
“Oh God, shut-up, Roger!”
“And did I mention, modesty?”
(girls) “Hi Dave.”
We stood together in the lobby for a few minutes, chatting about the blizzard, our
speeches, and then finally I slipped it in:
“So, you guys coming to the big party, tonight?”
I could feel Dave looking at me sideways.
“Party? Where?”
“Umm, I think someone from Grand Rapids is having it up on the 2nd floor- Mountain
“Mountain Man?”
“Yeah, what’s his name, Dave?”
“Ummm, I don’t know.” he lied.
“I think it’s, like, Chris or something like...”
A chorus of “Ohhhh’s” and “Yeah’s” and then “Probably not’s” passed through the group
and I examined each face for a sign of guilt, but since they all seemed to be looking at the
ground, it was difficult to tell.
“You guys should stop up- just for a little- we’re not gonna be there long... thinking of
having our own party or something.”
“Yeah? That sounds like fun!” Brightened Jenny.
“Oh look,” I averted “Jack’s waving us over, but uh... we’ll see you guys tonight, huh?”
“Okay, bye Roger, Bye Dave”
“Jesus!” sighed Dave as we walked away. “Party? Our room? Tonight??? Do you realize
we are sharing a room with Stewart!?”
“Yeah, let’s worry about that later.” More...

10:08 pm

Sat Jan 28, 2006

We Called Him Mountain Man

We arrived in Moorhead, Fargo’s sister city to the east, early that afternoon, and made our way to- I believe it was a Super 8, or Motel 75, just south of I94 on 8th street. The sleet had continued through most of the trip, slowing us considerably, and now we were running late. There was tension in the van; we’d have little time to check-in to the hotel, change into dress-clothes, find our way to the Concordia campus, pick up our schedules, and then find the site of our first round.
But when we arrived in the hotel lobby, there was a familiar face beaming at us from the top of the stairs on the second floor.
“Hey guys!”
It was Chris Pollard from Grand Rapids, but we called him “Mountain Man” because he’d once walked into a round versus Dave and I, wearing only a pair of shorts and a raccoon-skin hat with a tail, and argued passionately that going back to the days and ways of Davy Crockett was the only solution to the country’s unemployment woes.
He was also the only person from Grand Rapids that we ever talked to. Mr. Armstrong had villainized their team, whose Greg Crowe and Tracy Lessman had won the state championship the previous year, calling them greasers. (Meaning slippery arguments, not 50’s style-haircuts.) And after watching Mike Vergin rock the novice championship for ‘Rapids in my first year, it seemed as good as explanation as any for their success.
“You’re running late, too?”
“As always, you guys wanna hang out and listen to my new speech?”
“Wish we could, but we gotta fly! The girls wanna get there early and scam Cardy
“WHATEVER, Roger!” chipped in Amy Leino.
“Well, hey, you guys- AND girls- are all invited to my room later, gonna be a big party.”
“All right, cool. We’re there!”
“Ewww, not me!” said Amy, under her breath as we turned and headed for our section of
“What?” I said, “You don’t like Mountain Man?”
Amy was a tall, thin-framed junior, quiet most of the time, but excitable to the point of
“Well, let’s just say I’ve heard rumors.”
“Rumors?! What kind of rumors?” More...

10:14 pm

Wed Jan 25, 2006

A Rescue Story

Finally we hit the road. There were a dozen of us in the van, driven by our assistant coach -whom I can’t remember except for that he was quiet and liked to listen to Simon and Garfunkel. The rest- Corey Stewart and a couple others -rode with our coach, Jack Armstrong, in his brown, 4-door Buick. We’d barely exited the school parking lot when I noticed it. Jack’s unmistakable nuclear yellow gas-station coffee mug with the red screw-on top: it was resting on the roof of his buick. “Hey everyone, look!” I pointed toward Jack’s car. “What a dough-head!!!” roared Dave. “What? What???” exclaimed Amy Leino. And then, “Oh my God!!!” A cacophony of laughter erupted in the van. The oddity of Jack’s Mug, fixed atop his car as it glided down Central Entrance towards highway 35, had us squealing in delight and speculating as to its fate. Down the entrance ramp and onto the freeway; we groaned in anticipation. Our driver attempted to signal Jack with the van’s hazard lights, but to no avail; The Buick steamed ahead, the mug shimmying along with the rest of the morning rush-hour traffic. How he- or anyone else in the car, for that matter- hadn’t noticed the mug’s absence was almost beyond belief, but it had the full attention of everyone in the van as we began the crawl up the massive hill leading out of the city. Wait! Was it sliding? It looked like it just slid about 2 inches!!! We screamed. More...

11:26 pm

Sat Jan 21, 2006

My hair, Jack's hair

Duluth, Minnesota is the western-most point on the world’s largest body of fresh water, Lake Superior... On the morning of my second visit to Fargo...Thousands of orange lights competed with the dim glow of dawn to illuminate the harbor, its famous lift bridge obscured in inland bay whose far shores formed the city of Superior, Wisconsin.
It was the usual pandemonium...“Just wear sneakers like a good yuppie,”...looking you dead in the eye trying to explain how a certain syllogism cost you the round, screaming as the van weaves over the center line...Garrison Keillor’s voice booms...“A prairie Home companion” cranked over the van’s crappy radio. Bruce Messelt and Judy Grew, they’d won the State Championship...I should’ve been wearing a hat, but I figured that might mess up
my hair...the brown 4-door Buick, pulled up to the van and screeched to a halt. “Hey, you’ve got to hear about this article I was reading in the U.S news and World Report, last night!”
“Yeah?” Jack was a genuine logical thinker... What does a guy do on a computer in 1987, anyway? Did the internet even exist then? playing Castle Wolfenstein on the school’s Apple IIe’s was as good as it got...but that’s when I noticed it: A comb... More...

8:00 pm

Tue Jan 17, 2006

Mr. Steele meets Giorgio of Beverly Hills

... is the greatest sport high school has to offer. You skip classes to make road trips...en route to college towns to dress-up and pretend... with punks, anarchists, and outcasts from around the state...all possible because our coach, Jack Armstrong, believed... It was senior year and my confidence was high... finished basic combat training... in the trumpet section, next to mighty Jon Flanders, anything seemed attainable if you just smiled. One of the sophomore girls, Mariah Steele, lived in the central hillside...her Dad inexplicably rolled down his cologne. More...

10:05 pm

Thu Jan 12, 2006

The Summer of '76

And I did make it to Montana.
It was the summer of 1976, the country was about to turn 200 years old.
Other guys my age loved it, but handling grimy bait and dirty hooks and those sharp spines on the fish- a guy could get hurt. The real fun was building a fire. We passed under the baby-blue “Gateway to the west” arches on I-94 & University. The voyage from Fargo to Montana is remarkable. we would immediately drive up one of the nearby mountains through a place called “Beartooth Pass”. Time had no place in Montana, for me. I have only inane memories. The town was lit-up. that guy just got kicked in the ribs by a saddle bronc’- .The lady in front of me was really a piece of work. wild, swingin’ in the streets, partyin’ kind of a place. More...

1:02 am
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