We were sitting around my patio, grilling kabobs and drinking brews as the sun set on another scorching Saturday in Minneapolis. My girlfriend and I were joined by our good friends Annie and Nolan, a couple who, like us, have quickly become satisfied with the slower, quieter life come the weekend. Good food, good drink, good company — that’s good enough for us.
We live on a corner just a few blocks from the neighborhood convenience store, so we get a lot of characters strolling by. Sometimes, it’s good for people watching. Sometimes, it makes me want to Google “Northeast Minneapolis Karate classes.”
Sometimes, but rarely, you’ll have a woman, age 35 but looking 50 from the crack use, slathered in tattoos, hair spiked and sideburns like rattails, walking frantically in your directions to ask, “WHERE IS MCKINLEY STREET?” Before you can call to memory this street’s whereabouts, she’ll go on: “MY SON JUST GOT IN AN ACCIDENT AND I NEED TO PRAY SO WHERE’S MCKINLEY? I NEED TO KNOW NOW. I HATE TO BE AGGRESSIVE.”
And she was aggressive. If not for Nolan’s time in the military, I’m not so sure the four of us could’ve held up if she’d chosen to beat the directions out of us. Annie later pointed out the woman’s unibrow tattoo, in the shape of a scowl like one of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits. I wonder if this inspired her tattoo, and if so, what inspired the rest of them.
We pointed her eastward toward McKinley, each of us a little shellshocked. This hurricane, emotional and irrational and probably high, just came through and spilled her tragedy on us in the same unrequited way a child will cry help to anyone who’ll listen when they get hurt. I imagined the synapses in her withered brain flickering like a lighter without fluid. She, among other reasons, is why we pay just $750 per month for rent.
I spend a lot of time in our new neighborhood feeling like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, minus the whole racist, senile, war vet schtick. There’s always someone driving by slowly or parking awkwardly to get out with their dufflebags full of god knows what. I might be better served to play stupid or ignore the neighborhood activity, but that’s not me. That’s where I live. I’m the one who gets to stare at passersby, not the other way around. I owe it to my neighbors to be aware, even if they’re the same ones I should be aware of.