Monday, January 5, 2009

Minnesota 20.5.02: Vexed Shimmies and Go Go Gas and Groceries

In New Ulm, in the car outside the Schell brewing company, Steve and I having just taken a walk in the park nearby. Raucous talk radio-cum-country rock station playing loudly in the brewery. As we drove up, an extraordinary thing, a peacock in full display.

When we got out of the car carefully and stood watching, he turned around, insolently, slowly, one foot then another, back to us: an act of aggression? He remained that way, turning slowly at an angle as we tried to retrieve the frontal view, determined to shun us.

Then we approached slightly—aggression for aggression—and he righted himself again, displaying his eyes and feathers, those little spring-like tufts at the nether end of each pin, with a vexed shimmy. The eyes stood out, glaring and moving like the eyes of some menacing predator—as nature has obviously designed them to do in order to protect the male peafowl.

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Now gassing up at a Little Dukes On the Go Go Gas and Groceries. More music blaring on loudspeakers—“Sugar Shack.” When we arrived at the Holiday Inn last night, it was also pouring out of speakers into the parking area, country music fitting incongruously with the kitschy Fachwerk and German flag flapping in the breeze outside the hotel.

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Expressions I’ve heard: Steve’s cousin Beverly’s husband calls Hutchison a “spendy” place; Steve’s aunt Josephine says, “He was natured that way.”

At the restaurant last night, two American Indians were ahead of us in line. When the hostess finally emerges, she looks at them and says, “You want a table?” Then pauses, “Or?” What the hell else could they want, standing in a queue in a restaurant foyer? And what does “or” mean in such a context? The question itself, re: wanting a table, is either-or.

At first, I thought this linguistic subterfuge was her way of coping with anxiety at the presence of wild Indians in Perkins’ Family Restaurant. But no, I think it’s just that way people have in MN—an absolutely maddening way—of pulling the linguistic rug out from under any direct statement. God forbid we should ever express an opinion, reveal a true feeling directly, take a stand, put a foot forward.

This drives me up a wall. The night we arrived, Steve and I talked in the car about how nice it would be to have a Vietnamese meal. After we sit around having a glass of wine and chatting, Glenn proposes going out to eat. He asks what we’d like. Steve asks about Vietnamese places. Glenn says there’s a Vietnamese restaurant at which they’re regulars.

Shall we go there? he asks. Steve says, Anything is fine. And didn’t you mention Greek? And a fish place? Glenn enumerates. Another question: What would you like? Steve: Anything is fine. Glenn: Vietnamese? Steve: We like anything.

I was wild with hunger after a day’s travel in which we had eaten half a sandwich in the Memphis airport. And we’d agreed on Vietnamese ahead of time! But Steve was determined to do all in his power to side-step, duck, evade, avoid commitment, field a direct question, provide a tangential answer. It’s deep in this culture, and I simply cannot comprehend it.

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