A warm day, of all things. Why, it was 44, which is summer weather! In Celcius. Damp and grey and generally dreary, and I liked it. There’s something annoying about sunny days this time of the year; they’re like someone who insulted you trying to make up and pretending that nothing bad ever happened.
The picture above looks like something from "Things to Come," and I'm thankful it isn't; that would mean I lived in that place with those insufferable, tiresome maniacs. It's downtown Minneapolis, with one of the skyways catching the late-autumn colors. The image was thereafter futzed with by me, using a computer! Obviously.
It looks as if there should be a train traveling through that tunnel. Nope; just lawyers on foot.
One of the earliest segments on this site is the Matchbook Museum; it goes back to the start of the site in 1996, when it was called Matchbook Diary. I had a 1960s coffee can (one my mother had saved, because it could be useful, you never knew) filled with the matches I saved during a brief spasm of collecting in junior high, and over the years I tossed in a matchbook that seemed worthy of saving. One of the first was a Pizza Hut where I worked; another was Ralph and Jerry’s.
I tweeted about a grocery store clerk who began the check-out process by saying “Enjoy your day,” which made me think he was stoned; his subsequent conversation did not disabuse me of the idea. Someone tweeted back: was this at Ralph and Jerrys?
Hah: an old Dinkytown Denizen. Except I don’t remember anyone who was stoned on the job, except perhaps for Lloyd, who had the attributes of a functioning, intelligent stoner. He was memorialized in a quote on the wall, where he predicted tremendous success for Tahitian Treat. I believe "It's going to be huge" was the exact prediction.
Let me back up again: the basement of Ralph and Jerry’s was covered in the most literate, imaginative graffiti in the world. It was a grocery store on the periphery of a major university, and hence the staff would be learned, snarky, given to in-jokes that required a subset of specialized knowledge - and it would have the bitter tinge of the know-it-all outsider, since the highly successful members of the U would not be working at R&J’s. (I numbered myself among them, a point of shame and a point of pride.)
Lloyd, in my memory, has turned into the blind astronomer from “Contact.” Others I recall quite clearly - well, no, just one. Don. He was a big, big man. Tall, obese, missing some teeth, mixed-race, myopic. Close-cropped hair. Always there in the evenings, always dealing a fast line of patter to the clientele, because that’s what people expected: Ralph and Jerry’s, after all, was a Cultural Center as well as a grocery store, and when you came in for beer and smokes you would be expected to rise up to the level of discourse the clerk was dishing out. I learned from Don. I never thought I’d be in his position, until I was.
When I left the U and severed from the Daily, I was bereft and cast off. No place to write. Oh, they’d take the occasional piece, but I didn’t have a column anymore. The Valli had closed. My girlfriend had left me for a New York ad-mag writer. Everything was awful. Life was Old Milwaukee and Ramen and late-night shifts at R&Js. I was now the guy behind the counter in the green apron, cracking wise, running the floor show; I had the Meat Shift at the beginning of the night, where I’d take the ground chuck and put it in the packages and heat-seal the plastic. I’d restock the cooler. I’d make sure there were enough bananas on the Chiquita display, which was a pole covered with fake grass, studded with hooks like a Hellraiser prop.
It was the worst. It was the best. I learned to bag groceries, a good skill; I leaned to play the till like a piano, how to flip a pack of smokes in the air and catch it and hand it over. I mopped the floor. I watched the locals who had no phone come into make a call at the booth at the back. I waited for someone to come in and hold me up.
I lived cater-corner from the place, so after I closed it was a short walk home to a dim smoky room. There wasn’t much TV left at that hour. You had a beer and slept and woke at noon, and believe me: after a while, this is a schedule you have a hard time thinking you’ll ever break.
The worst was watching someone who started after you quit before you did. Victor, for example. Victor did a stint. (I should note that Victor was my grandfather’s name, Ralph is my father’s name. Jerry was the name of my father’s second wife’s first husband, although of course I didn’t know that at the time.) We’d been roommates at the Crazy Uke’s place a few years before. He did his time at R&J’s, then got a job elsewhere. The night he left we went out back and watched him douse his apron with lighter fluid (yellow plastic bottle; we sold it) and set it on fire.
I do not know what job he went to; later he became a private detective, and then a priest. He was a good guy and I always enjoyed his company. I think I put him in a novel somewhere.
The end is foggy - I know I started working for City Pages, which was my way of getting back into print, and once I grasped that rung I was on my way up. City Pages to the Pioneer Press to Washington DC to Pioneer Press to StarTribune. I wrote about R&Js for City Pages, and the piece was illustrated by the amazingly great artist who’d done art for my columns at the U.
It’s hard to describe how much hope and failure that picture represents. It was a shot to get back into print, and it worked. Also, I had carried a torch for the artist that burned past my elbow; it’s one of those situations where you want to just call the person up after all these years and say “I apologize I was so besotted. Sort of.” Everyone remembers the First High School Crush, the First Great Mutual Love, the First Great Unrequited. But most people don’t have the Great Unrequited drawing their picture for a newspaper every week.
Ah Jaysus, two of the GIS results are for lileks.com. To this day she probably has to roll her eyes: that guy.
Anyway, I quit R&Js when I got a job at TV Guide, and now I was legit, taking the bus to a job at a magazine, writing for a weekly. R&Js’ closed, but not before I made a little TV show about it for KTCA. And the very fact that the video is already up on YouTube suggests I’ve told this story before.
But I had to tell it again, because someone tweeted “Ralph and Jerry’s,” and I tumbled down the memory hole again. I write a “Throwback” feature for the StarTribune’s Sunday glossy magazine.
This matchbook, one of the first to appear on this site, will be the subject of a future contribution. Back in the R&J days I tried to get a job at the Strib. I dreamed of a job at the Strib. I would work my way to the East Coast and back to get a job at the Strib. Putting this matchbook in the feature I write will be like planting a flag at the pole.
The spot today.
There was a church where the apartment building stood.
It went out of business.
The last thing you saw before the horrible, musty, feathery thing engulfed you, stinking of hair oil and ear wax:
Margaret died of a broken neck during this photo session. No, of course not; she made it to 1972, when she passed at the age of 96. Her last talkie was alongside Eddie G. and Mary Astor, so she kept herself in the upper tier quite nicely.
Here's a stilted bio, complete with swastika.
We're currently enjoying . . .
When last we saw the Hornet, he was in a truck that went over a poorly maintained bridge, the mainstay of the genre. Well:
As I said last week: another ring SMASHED by the Green Hornet, who’s finally getting some good publicity. (It helps that he owns the newspaper.)
So now we're between crimes. Back to the office, where the spunky gal Friday slams the reporter for insinuating the Green Hornet is a bad guy. Her boss, who is in reality the Green Hornet - or is it the other way around? - walks in:
The mob bosses concur.
The drunken Oirsh reporter investigator comes in with a new racket: the Suit Cleaning Racket. The mob’s strong-arming laundries into paying protection.
See, that’s why I like this one. It’s not about invaders from the Moon. It’s about guys leaning on dry cleaners.
Drunken Irish reporter picks up Clicker, the snappy-talking gal photographer, and they head over to interview Mr. Lavinson, the laundry owner who slipped a note into the Oirish reporter’s coat pocket to alert him to the scheme.
As it happens, the guy leaning on Lavinson calls up before the Hornet gets there.
What’s that on the wall?
Anyway, Mike the Oirish reporter comes in on the Hornet braving Lavinson, and says, of course, “Ghost of St. Patrick, it’s the Grain Hornet,” and immediately thinks the Hornet is the one behind the racket that caused his suit-cleaning to increase by 75 cents. And so:
Ah, the good old days when reporters carried guns, and couldn’t aim for crap.
Let’s hear that again: it’s fun.
But Clicker snapped a picture, and it’s on the cover of the Sentinel now. Back at Sub-boss’s HQ, he gets info from the unseen boss, who says they should rub out Lavinson before he talks, and pin it on the Hornet.
Lavinson is shot holding the Hornet’s little ID coin, so now everyone thinks he’s the bad guy. Our intrepid publisher, who is in reality etc etc, goes to the Main City Laundry to nose around. He meets with Mr. Lynch.
Look who Lynch is:
A CLUE, for us:
The guy says “the Green Hornet takes all the collections from the laundries!” and Brett Publisher realizes okay, this guy’s full of it. Kato phones Lynch and says “the cops are going to raid your laundry tonight,” in order to make him to go his laundry and burn his papers. BUT it’s the same night the mob is going to kill Lynch because he’s no longer needed, and they can pin it on the Hornet. But the Hornet shows up as Lynch is disposing of his stuff, and gets to it with his customary angry hectoring style:
This thing is action packed.
That'll do; see you around.