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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Flashback from my gypsy life, published in 2014 in Duluth Reader

I didn’t come from the mountains of Romania, but most of my life I have been a traveling gypsy.  I liked to run…from my problems, as an athlete and as a way to navigate the world.  I was a state champion runner but I had the personality of a vagabond, lining my soul with writers like Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor and Truman Capote.  This love affair with Southern Goth genre cultured my path into an eternal destiny of wandering, looking for things under rocks where others fear to tred.  My childhood friend who I walked from K to 12th grade married her high school sweetheart at age 21.  She lives in her former parent’s house and has two fine children.  She most likely planned her life.   I have left the Midwest at least 4 times in a 20 year period and managed to come back.  I have amnesia when it comes to snow.   My reunion with Minnesota soil this time was breached with record breaking winters two times in a row and a quiet horizon which begged my mind for one encounter with the homeless L.A. population just for company.  I could not adjust from L.A. back to Minnesota after a 13 year escape from the land o’ lakes.   While interviewing for the job that led me back to Minnesota, I stayed with my brother’s best friend, John, in Mc Gregor.   He was overly plump in his farmer bibs, divorced, a former educator in Minnesota prisons and a jolly good soul with a gift of hospitality.  He made me feel at home.  My interview was one week before the famous Duluth flood of June, 2012 sending pre-rapturous vibrations which may have been clueing me in not to take the job.  I remember staring at the computer screen in my North Hollywood apartment, seeing caved in Duluth streets and swimming seals, wondering if Moses intervened just to teach me a lesson.   Ninety percent of my relatives were dead.  There were only four rag tag Finlanders left of which three who seemed quite normal.  The other one was tarnished by Vietnam and his recessive anti-social gene surfaced just as I returned.  Two months after I moved here, I was shopping at the Salvation Army on West Superior Street for a snazzy outfit to wear to an East High School dance I was chaperoning through Americorps.  My older sister from San Francisco called in a panic, “John fell off the four wheeler and now he is presumed brain dead.”  I found out he was flying in from McGregor to St. Mary’s where he would be treated.  I refused to believe that my only close friend within 60 miles would not survive.  I visited him in St. Mary’s and prayed for God to intervene and prompt a miracle.  His son flew in from Alaska and within 48 hours it was determined he could not be salvaged.  He donated 3 organs to people who needed them.  He had given his life to everyone and now he gave 3 organs.  I was now short one close friend and still had not heard from the one they deemed the crazy Finn, the Vietnam War veteran.   I started making friends in the casino but one and a half years later, quit.  It was just a sideline bet to avoid the upcoming frozen winter and the inevitable silence of the long, winter nights.   My son had a new prosthetic –  X Box headphones permanently glued to his head in which he rode imaginary cars on split lane highways into rocky valleys, ghetto strewn neighborhoods, through graffiti stained walls.  I pretty much did not exist except to make dinner.  I started working 2 to 3 jobs to keep busy.  I also did 2 radio shows a week and worked on my screenplay piecemeal.  Moving back to Minnesota got me closer to nature in which I can see Chester Creek outside my window, but it did not bring me closer to myself.  Except my one year stint in the casino, I rarely went out.   I did join Toastmasters and gave five to ten minute speeches to a battery of a mostly female audience who were highly driven, disciplined and loved professional challenge.  I used to watch one of the speakers organize her notes and all her actions were so procedural.  I, the gypsy, was a misplaced Jack Kerouac about to recite Howl in a room full of neutrally dressed corporate climbers.  However, they were genuine.  I was the stranger.  Finally, after I quit gambling, I was able to face myself.  I joined gamblers anonymous and met people really dedicated to recovery.  People who had quit 8 to 10 years prior, were still attending.  I found unity and clarity by attending.  My church opened up the other valve of fulfillment by playing interesting, intellectually minded videos in Sunday school before church.  They even had a Lake Superior day and heralded nature.  I didn’t see Al Gore in the audience or any environmental gurus.  It just seemed to be a congregation that was able to commune and worship the stratosphere of Duluth.   Eighty year old women would smile on Sunday even if it was 20 degrees below zero.   After about two years, I noticed I have not really dated since I came to Duluth.  My closest proximity to a man was making small talk with the laundry mat owner.   There was also a black jack dealer that captured my heart.   It didn’t seem to bother me.  I was streamlining in intellectualism reading Thomas Merton and Albert Camus and was too busy to notice.   However, the slow paced culture of Minnesota did force me to challenge myself and decide what really made me happy.  Movies and book didn’t seem to cut it totally and I had to find a way to be fulfilled.   When I joined a gym, I realized that special element to keep one motivated butterflied and freed my soul.   I now swim four times a week and chase the old ghost of my former running days down the pool lane in my aqua socks.  I may be chubby but I haven’t given up.   Being middle age means that sometimes things do slow down even if I am working 70 hour weeks.  It means really finding yourself.   I live in a country where I have the luxury to survive, not go hungry and become “deep” and enriched.   With those advantages, I have overcome loneliness by just being grateful.  Except on those sub twenty zero days when I swear like a sailor as I drive behind someone going 30 mph because that’s what Duluthians do.   No matter the zip code, I will always be a gypsy but I paused long enough for my son to attend the same high school for four years so he doesn’t have to combat the urban streets of L.A. and he can have friends from well rounded families who invite him for supper with names like Johan Johnson and teach him colloquial Minnesota lingo. You betcha, I made the right choice.

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