It is Fair week. It was partial Fair week last week, but that was fun and new; everything was fresh, and we were dancing in the delights of Brigadoon. But then came Monday, and what was a bright gay day (sorry, I still want to use the word in the old sense) for some is work for others. Duty. Routine and travail.

Hey, look at this! A smelly mackerel. Pick it up, won't you? Slap me hard in the face because I am complaining about going to the Fair.

I really love it. I do. I've been away for a day and I miss it. The last visit was so wonderful I think it might have been an entry in the Top 5 All-Time Fair Days - for reasons I'll explain tomorrow.

You ask: I have Ranked Fair Days? Not really. But let me tell you a story of Youth and its Passions.

In 1978 I had my first big College Love, a waitress at the Valli. I was smitten from the moment we met, and asked her out. I do not remember where we went, which is dismaying; at some point that piece of information, ignored for decades, was filed away in the big vault with the inscrutable locks. All I know is that it went well, and we were an item instantaneously. But I leaned in too much, it seems. She was coming off a Big Long Relationship, and I was too serious. The only thing worse is to be too flippant, I guess. What, I'm not worth your seriousness? Okay, I'll be REALLY SERIOUS. Whoa whoa back off. Okay, I'll call you Thursday for Friday night. Maybe I'll be busy. Okay I'll call you Wednesday. Stop crowding me! I need space.

After a month she gave me the air, and I was demolished. Mind you, we still worked at the same restaurant. Utter scraping hell. It was miserable; I was smoking cartons of cigarettes in bleak despair. I mean, I'd shove the box of Kent Golden Lights in my mouth and light the other end. Cut right to the chase.

One night at the end of summer when my peculiar roommate was working his scary serial-killer-training job as an overnight parking lot attendant, there's a knock on the door. It's . . . it's her! She . . . she's come back! The last thing in the world I expected. The lickerish smile, the lowered head with upturned eyes: hey.

Now you, cynic that you are, might think: some other likely jasper didn't turn out as she'd hoped, and I was the small red hammer behind a thin sheet of glass. No. It wasn't like that. We worked at the same restaurant, remember. Same shifts. I would have known. The quicksilver gossip of restaurants would have gotten to me in a day. She had rethought things. Would I take her back?

The first time this happens you're ecstatic, and you say of course. The fourteenth time, you might set conditions. But this was the first.

The next day we went to the Fair.

Come the summer of the next year she took a summer job as a camp counselor in Baraboo Wisconsin and I went on the road to work as a Seed Salesman for Northrup King.

She sent me a Dear John letter on Bastille Day.

It reached me via company mail pouch when I picked up my mail in Paris, Tennessee.

As I later learned, she had fallen for a lifeguard. I had a drink with her seven years later, when I had become what I wanted to be when we met: a writer! She said she was surprised I wasn't married, since that seemed to be what I had wanted. (She was married. To the lifeguard.) Her last name, common enough, was a drop of dye dissolved in the ocean of matrimonial nomenclature, and I've no idea where she is.

Needle-scratch FX; go ahead five years. - which, when you're in your 20s, is a very long time. I go downtown to a bar at Happy Hour because Rick, the Valli fry-cook / radio dude, is DJing. The place is empty. It's not a popular spot. I don't even know why they have a DJ booth. But hey it's a gig, and Rick was all about the gigs; he would be flipping flapjacks at the Valli one day, then packing up the next to go work a radio station in Montana, and he'd send word it was awesome and he was living with this chick and it was love and then bang, spring, he's back in Dinkytown, playing pinball and smoking True Menthols and maybe working the grill at Vescio's, waiting for the next radio job. Town to town, up and down the dial. So now he's working in this place, and he had called me because he had a song I had to hear, and so here I am. What? He drops the needle.

Cruel Summer, by Bananarama.

Because I'd told him. How the girlfriend had decamped for a summer locale - in this case, New York City - and found another swain. Heart: sundered. I'd told him how she'd dropped the news when we met in the middle of the summer in FARGIN' BARABOO WISCONSIN. THAT GOT-DAMNED TOWN WHAT STOLE WOMEN. She was there for a wedding, I came down to see her. Met at a woody bar; beer and disaster.

So I'm listening to this Cruel Summer song, and thinking, this is a stupid song, and didn't do a thing for me. Like any of the women in Bananarama would be alone and unhappy ever. There's nothing of what I feel in this song.

At the end of the summer the wayward girlfriend came back to Minnesota, and through mutual friends I was informed of her return. Fine. FINE. Don't care. Beyond tha now. Looking ahead, new prospects, new projects. Working on a novel. Inside: nanotech-sized buzzsaws in the bloodstream and greasy eels in the guts. You know how it is.

One afternoon at the end of August: ding dong.

Oh, it didn't last. I can't remember when it fell apart again. But the day she rang the bell, we went to the Fair. Rode the rides, had mini-donuts, fell back into the old familiar ways with relief. Because it still worked! It was still there! Ah, twilight; ah, summer. Ah youth.

Ah hell, come the winter. Now I don't care because why would I? Life is grand, lessons learned, hope I'm a better man than the one I was then. Everyone has that story in one form or another.

So I stand behind the counter of the Star Tribune booth and watch the crowds and know there are innumerable stories in this place, this one place where we all come together at summer's end at some point in our lives. Everyone has a story that finds its way here. I was so happy on both of those visits, and I still remember them, even though I know I'm a footnote in the women's lives.

We're all footnotes in someone's lives.



A proud moment. Our shoes are similar.

I'll explain tomorrow.




Over five thousand people today. I suspect there once was more.

The late-60s / early-70s swoop-down shopper-crusher made its mark in every town, big and small.

That was a bank next door, of course. Everyone knew that something on the corner with that color stone and those tall round things with the curly things on top - columns, yeah, that's the word - that's a bank.

You could probably make money just by putting up a building like this, sitting at a desk and waiting for people to give you money. The downside? Robbers wouldn't believe that anyone who operated in a building like this wasn't a bank.

Buckaroo Revival shingle awnings really helped a building soar, didn't they?

Not that the building wants to soar; that horizontal stone line holds it earthbound, but that's not a bad thing.

Another pillar of the community:

Let's take a closer look:

It's still around, at least in internet form. I can't find any history on the paper, and yes I checked their website. Newspapers are horrible when it comes to their own history. Sometimes I wonder if the people who know the most about the history are the most sullen and resentful, for whatever reason, and disinclined to share.

Oh, gosh.

Someone was really sold on the "class up the joing with shingles" sales pitch. Why, it's historic! Like a bit of old colonial America.

From this angle, it looks like it could be a post-war building, and you don't know if the enshinglement was done after it was built or during. And you don't care.

But let's look around the corner:

Older. Stripped and filled in.

Someone ate bad mushrooms and dreamed of Minecraft decades before it was invented:

That's just awful. Seventies style, oversized Mansard roof, shingles - it's almost perfectly bad. "Yeah, I want a tower, but I want it to look like a big plunger some giant hand could push down. Can you do that for me?"

I'd bet it's a Carnegie, but it's not one of the better designs. As with the ones I remember from Fargo, you walked up a set of steps to get to the main floor, because . . .

. . . well, perhaps because it didn't take as long to dig the basement. Perhaps because it meant the lower level had some sunlight. But it meant that the main floor would have to be elevated, and if the buiding was a classic Carnegie design - two wings flanking the steps leading to the portico - then it worked.

Here the floor just floats, as if hitching up its skirts in a flood.

Not a newspaper office, alas:

Of course it's a salon. Every town has to have at least one hair salon with a pun in its name. A single-entendre type.

Finally: from the Go-Away school of design.

Perhaps they chose a different color brick because they wanted the building to look as if it had windows, even though it had been bricked up to conceal whatever was going on up there.

They did admit the possibility of one window, but you'd have to bring a ladder.

That will do - enjoy some Motels. See you around - possibly at the Fair, if you're around in the early evening.



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