I dropped Daughter off to work at Baby Target, as it’s known, and headed up Hennepin to the office. Traffic was pre-COVID thick. About 25% of the stores were boarded up - better than the heart of Uptown, which is still in the Plywood Period of urban despair. But murals! Yeah okay.
Threaded through Loring on a side route you know if you live in a place, and came to a choke point where construction took the street down to one lane. There was a fellow with a backpack having some dance with a car, couldn’t tell if the car was trying to let him walk across in front of the car, or they’d both stopped and started and didn’t know who should go first. Eventually the car went through. I waved the fellow in front of me to pass with a broad, friendly gesture. He smiled and ambled across and then stopped and pointed at his wrist: got the time?
Ding ding ding
I’d read a story about a rash of carjackings and robberies: the criminals had gotten their victim’s attention by asking for the time. I was not going to roll down my window and tell him the time. Sorry. I held up two fingers to indicate “11,” although it could’ve meant Peace, of course, and drove on. The Previously Minnesotan thing to do would have been to roll down the window and tell him the time.
Maybe some day.
Hated that, and felt spiky at my reaction, swallowed it, moved on. It’s not as if I stop any time someone on the street says “can I ask you a question,” because no. I will stop every time for someone who says “excuse me can you tell me how to get to” because that’s different.
An hour later I wandered out to the little Cigar Alcove at work and was composing a tweet about how I’d had an odd reaction to someone who had asked the time, when I heard “EXCUSE ME.”
I looked up: it’s the Grey Stomping Golem, a huge man with unkempt silver hair who walks up and down the street, on crutches, every day.
“DO YOU HAVE THE TIME,” he said, and I gave him the time, and he said thanks and walked ahead, past the bus sign he passes 40 times a day, the sign that has the time displayed in LEDs.
Then I realized: I haven’t heard the City Hall bells chime for a long time. You take them for granted. How had I not noticed their absence? When I started going downtown in the empty days I hadn’t heard them, hadn’t even listened for them. If I had expected them, and they’d been silent, it would have seemed apt for the times. What happened?
I vowed to listen for them the next time the quarter-hour rolled around. .
Well, Lunch. Ah! Walkin’ Dog, give the guy some business. It’s that tiny hot dog stand in the food court of the Northwest building. The other day his son posted a promo for his dad on Reddit, and there was a brief and heartening outpouring of love for the Walkin’ Dog. As I entered the food court I passed the empty space where the convenience store had been, and noted a man with a broom inside the Cheetah Pizza place. The chairs were up. The headlamps were off. Cheetah didn’t make it.
Had my hot dog at my desk, then had a Zoom conference for work. Everyone’s on the back porch or home office, and I’m in the office, which is amusing to all. (My boss just sighed “Oh, James.”) At one point we were discussing a story on hobbies people had picked up during the Duration, and one writer said her husband was still making sourdough, and I said “bread? That’s so APRIL.”
A million years ago, April.
Later I went to Uptown to pick up Daughter, and stopped in to my old Lund’s to get foodstuffs. Abundance of meat and chicken and pork in all the old varieties. Prices lower. Normalcy in that sense, but everyone’s masked and that can never not be normal.
Went to Baby Target just to see what she was doing. Turns out she was a greeter, standing at a podium telling people they had to wear a mask - not, I think, a job she would have predicted for her summer break. I was delighted to see how friendly she looked even with her mask, the way her eyes were bright.
We’re accustomed to reading the upper floor of people’s houses now. It’s not enough.
The difference between Baby Target in Uptown and Edina Target? She asked the security guy what stories he had, and he told a tale where one morning a woman had a miscarriage in the restroom, and in the afternoon a guy went in, smoked crack, took off his clothes, and started yelling nonsense.
At Edina Target an old man came by to return some peanuts because he didn’t find the flavor particularly interesting.
At Baby Target, she said, a wide-eyed man who did not seem fully assembled came in, bought three 16-oz Mountain Dews, drank them all, then sat outside using duct tape to attach a series of red cups, which seemed to take all his powers of concentration.
We drove home past the luxurious cemetery, with its untoppled statues and lush hills. It had been, so far, a perfect Minneapolis day, and I expect it was almost indistinguishable from one I might have had last year. Except as long as the boards are up and te grafitti's spattered everywhere and the hammer and sickles are still painted on the barriers blocking the streets, everything still feels like clog dancing on thin ice.
Perhaps the least intriguing set-up I’ve heard, but then again, penguin-related homicide is a novelty.
It’s a Hildegaard mystery. We’ll get to that in a second. First, some inadvertant documentary:
The old NY aquarium.
We see shots of hideous fish, then go to the aquarium’s director’s office, who’s talking to his stock broker. The director is RUINED, wiped out, because the broker was crooked. We switch to his wife, who’s talking to her paramour, and explaining that she’s broke because Jerry lost everything in the market! All she has is insurance - hello? Hello?
Pensive 30s glamourpuss. We know she’s living the high life because she has a white phone.
Anyway. There’s a murder - the boyfriend does away with the husband, by accident, and in the confusion a crook runs away with her pocketbook. He’s tripped up by . . .
. . . by Hildegarde Withers.
Miss Withers "whom the census enumerator had recently listed as 'spinster, born Boston, age thirty-nine, occupation school teacher'" becomes an amateur sleuth in the first book of the series. Her adventures are usually comic but are nevertheless straightforward mysteries. She is a partial variation on Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. "A lean, angular spinster lady, her unusual hats and the black cotton umbrella she carries are her trademark. ... Hildegarde collects tropical fish, abhors alcohol and tobacco, and appears to have an irritable disposition. However, she is a romantic at heart and will extend herself to help young lovers."
She collaborates, and frequently butts heads, with Inspector Oscar Piper, a high-ranking homicide detective in the New York Police Department.
Spinster, aged 39.
The audience knew the character before the movie, I think.
Back to the plot: The body the couple knocked down the stairs turns up in the penguin tank, because that’s what the movie is titled.
The cops show up, and she meets The Obligatory Inspector. But if you note how this little scene ends, she considers herself worthy of the title as well:
It's a standard programmer, with a rather standard mystery, made interesting by the sleuth and her prickly relationship with Inspector Piper, and the fact that Miss Hildegarde has no trouble boldly going where no such character has gone before:
It has a courtroom drama at the end, which is a relief; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve nodded my way through these B-movie mysteries where someone stands around in the living room and explains how it was all done, and then someone pulls a gun, and then the inspector shoots him, or her. In this case the trial ends with a twist I can’t remember ever seeing. Anywhere.
There are two more. Do they get better? Does it matter? We’ll see. One more thing: this ending.
That was the 30s: Slap 'em if you got 'em.
See you aroundl, if you're at the Fairgrounds. That's where I will be. Full report to come.