[This content recycled from my now mothballed website, www.excitablemedia.com. Please enjoy!]
They say that "up North," people won't look you in the eye until they shake you in the hand. It's true what they say. I've been there, past the miles of shrub-strewn peat, its narrow strip of pavement bordered by moats that seem neither ditch nor stream. I've been past outposts of forgotten times, people who will bring their way of life to their graves. They watch me pass, outsider wary.
"Mighty fine place you've got here," I call out.
I might as well have skipped the song and dance routine. They act as if deaf, heads down and feet shuffling as the group of North woods folk puts final spit and polish on a pristine glass case filled to the gills with old models of older horse-drawn fire engines, and, later, the collection of Indian wigwam photos. When three quarters of the population is on social security, you can't get cell phone reception, and the only jobs come from the pulp mill or the government, decorum is backseat to survival.
There's something about the place though. Relicry isn't just holed up up in old fruit boxes or amassed in the school gym. It's also out in the woods where they've got horse flies the size of pistachios, surrounded by signs declaring "Private Property," and "no trespassing." Out there, under the water tower stamped from the same cylindrical and pointy mold as a tin man from Oz, lie the bones of an Indian princess. I'd tell you more, but it takes a skin thicker than I've got to last long in this wind. It'd take a head wilder than mine, arms more hardy, and feet bound for glory. Apparently, it also takes a pair of heavy-duty sunglasses, worn as far back as you can push 'em.
Yep, they've got me pegged as a city boy right off the bat. It's gotta be the spectacles, and the way I walk around with my wonder-all hair-do and shadowy shirt. The moment I crack a smile every one of them will look away, until I shout out my line with an "I'm from the city," or "just passing through... got any root beer?"
What little cheer I can muster is lost and wandering around like a dowser in a desert. They've seen me before, and they'll see me again, every few weeks after I've gone. There's Mennonites, Jehovah's, Hutterites, natives and Natives, hunched-out lumberjacks, suspicious well-wishers, and the stray Canadian. But I don't belong. You can be sure that all of them fall a few rods short of a portage when it comes to out of town checks. Same holds for public nudity.
That said, anyone you ask will gladly tell you about the glory days, when jobs flowed like water through a dam. They tell me this town peaked back in 1920, before all the trees were clearly clearcut. Over there was a hamlet down the road aways, where people could pull sturgeon out of the river from dawn til dusk. Until the fishing went the way of the dodo. And way over here, see on the map, there was a town lasted for about five years, back in 1896 to 1901, while the gold rush was on. Here, its not so good... we've lost ten percent of the population since the last census.
[Main Street. Virginia, MN.]
Back before she ever knew me. You'd think the only happy days she's ever known were in her father's home, or at the Convent, praying and playing the piano.
Jealous resentment in his bitterness.
As I've told you before, you must take her memories with a grain of salt. Her wonderful home was ordinary enough.
--Eugene O'Neill, A Long Day's Journey Into Night
[Statuary at the Bronko Nagurski Museum. International Falls, MN.]