bemused in bemidji

I’m not sure I can define ‘hip.’ I’m pretty sure I’ve been ‘hip’ occasionally (once in 1980, for about a month in 1994, and there might be a weekend in the early ‘aughts when I pulled it all together), but I’ve usually only acquired ‘hipness’ by being around other ‘hip’ people.

I’ll admit I’m an urban snob. I like having having symphonies, and pro sports, and the other things that go with a few hundred thousand people living together. The only time I haven’t lived in a big city was the three months in Bemidji, Minnesota, and that was a bit…less than hip.

So, realizing the power of language to change perception, I tried to get the locals to start calling Bemidji…wait for it…The ‘Midj.‘ That’s right–roll it around on your tongue–say it out loud. The Midj. Which sounds hipper–“I’m spending a few months in Northern Minnesota,” or “I’m doin’ The Midj this summer.”

I guess the hardest thing to get used to there was the talking. As in, people talking to other people. On the street. Just–randomly. You see, in big cities, we’ll talk to strangers on the street, but only to efficiently communicate important information:

“Watch where you’re walking, buddy!”

“Back of the line, asshole!”

“I have twenty dollars in my back pocket–please don’t shoot me.”

But there, people just say hello to you when they walk by. And they’re not asking  for money. Very disturbing. I think I might have pissed off one our neighbors, because when they asked “How’s it going?,” I said “I don’t have any change, but I can give you a cigarette.”

Three in the morning, I’m sitting on the front stoop having a smoke, and twenty-something dude walks by. He bums a smoke, and then, I assure you with no prompting for me, he says, “Yeah, some chick just hit my girlfriend in the head with a rock.”

Now when someone says something so…out of nowhere, I like to play a game I call “Guess The Backstory.” Like maybe he’s at a party, his girlfriend gets into a heated argument about “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” when suddenly a crazed Taylor Lautner fan gets all rock-throwy, and he decides to wander the streets of Bemidji hoping to run into an off-duty paramedic (who smokes, cuz it’s stressful to see your girlfriend hit in the head with a rock)? “Yeah, some chick hit my girlfriend in the head with a rock, and if you happen to know how treat a skull fracture that’d be cool.”

Then there was Random Talking Woman From Down The Street. I’m going to give you three things she’s said to me (although ‘to me’ isn’t really accurate—she simple says them as she passes me without actually looking at me)…now for your writing exercise, you “Guess The Backstory”:

“I’ll put my hair down as soon as it’s not so humid.”

“Thank God I finally got rid of that bassinet.”

(said while carrying a cushion on her head after leaving someone’s house) “At least I got a good chair—if you wanna fight, go ahead.”

I think even Random Talking Woman (her Native name?) would tell you it’s beautiful up here. Lake Bemidji is gorgeous. And at least they went to the trouble to name the lake, rather just describe it.

Amongst Minnesota’s thousand of lakes, it turns out there are several named simply ‘Round Lake.’ Now that’s just being lazy. I don’t know if there’s a state Lake-Naming Commission, but c’mon—were all the good names taken, so the town founders just thought, “Well, it is sorta round.”

There are at least ten thousand famous people are lake-worthy—nobody’s done philosophers, so why not Lake Schopenhauer? Or how about honoring one of the greatest progressive rock bands of all time with Emerson Lake and Palmer Lake? But instead, Minnesota has a lake named ‘Woman Lake.” Nice gesture, but go the extra step–be specific. You could…pay tribute to afternoon talk show hosts with Rikki Lake Lake. These are just off the top of my head, people!

My first week wrapped in a heartland americana snuggie ended with watching Bemidji’s annual Fourth of July Parade. It started with what must have been every emergency vehicle in the county (side note: maybe not good planning to tie up all the fire trucks on a weekend when people shoot off fireworks). Then the veteran’s organizations, or more accurately, four old guys in a jeep.

I had to support the local high school band, having walked that path myself (“OK—welcome to marching band…now just so the rest of the students can easily identify you as misfits, we’re gonna make you wear a tall furry hat while you march.”). Not sure why the girls in the flag team were dressed as wood nymphs (sprites? I get nymphs ad sprites mixed up.), but they looked kinda unhappy.

Square dance float? Check. Local car dealers? Check. Local roller derby team? Check—whaaaaat? Well there’s something to boost civic pride! Nothing says country and patriotism like women in spandex crashing into each other at thirty miles an hour.

Ah, America, where we welcome with open arms anyone who can get past a security fence and present their papers, unless you have a suspicious-sounding last name. Now I really don’t mean to dwell on the diversity thing, but it was a parade to celebrate America.

So the whole town comes out for the parade and I see exactly three people of color. It really made me uncomfortable that two of them were on the same float—I was worried the parade was gonna end in some sort of auction. Thankfully, that was not the case.

You know, despite my crusty sarcasm, the parade was actually quite charming. The kids all seemed to have fun, the weather cooperated, and the forest sprites, I’m assuming, got to change out of their freakish outfits. The reality is, how can you not like a town with a roller derby team AND a statue of Paul Bunyan? Just ask Random Talking Woman.

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Posted 7 May 2011 by goodwriting in category "IT'S PERSONAL