It’s not like I hadn’t tried it before. Of course I had, probably a half-dozen times. I’d never really liked it, though. It always made me deeply anti-social, self-concscious, made me want to crawl inside a mental cavity and lurk like a dry zucchini in a dark fridge listening to 70s Miles Davis.
On the other hand, other people seemed to like it plenty, and I wanted them to like me too, so I’d pretend to be having a good time. But inside my own head, I was seven different kinds of miserable. I’m talking, of course, about “marijuana.” (And by “marijuana” I really mean “two shots of Red Bull Energy drink with extra taurine,” if you know what I mean Officer Friendly and/or unnamed distant prudish relative…)
Let me set the context. Earlier that summer, I’d read an announcement about something new they were trying at the Soap Factory art gallery (perhaps the best gallery in town, then and now). It was the first ever Ten Second Film Festival. You were allowed up to six entries, no edits, no fancy cameras.
As a formerly aspiring, recently disillusioned, documentary film-maker, this seemed like the medium for me! I got to work, producing an opus of short-shorts the likes of which haven’t been seen since Daisy Duke. A film about squirrels, shot from the squirrel POV, camera tied to the end of a long pole which would be used to zoom in on, i.e. chase, the squirrels in Loring Park. (“Extreme close up!”) Abstract Terrence Mallick-style images of cottonwood seeds flying upwards. A closeup short short of my father’s absurd and sickly dog with its tongue hanging out. And, the magnum, a short short narrative tale of a plastic cowboy sitting on a horse, who screams “Geronimo!” before being launched from a cliff to his certain demise. (I tied the camera to one end of a popsicle stick, the plastic cowboy to another, and dropped them off a six-story balcony.)
Such frenzied productivity has not been seen this side of Van Gogh, and submitting my films, I was vindicated to receive notice that the cowboy tale had been accepted into the festival. Would I care to attend the award ceremony to take place in the Soap Factory back yard, by the railroad tracks near the Stone Arch Bridge, immediately following the fireworks on the 4th of July? I’m ready for my close-up, Mister De Mille.
The best part was that my girlfriend at the time knew someone who knew someone who lived in Stevens Square and had access to rooftop. For some reason, maybe the persistence of single family homes, rooftops in Minneapolis are rare as ladyslippers. Getting to the top of one was a coup. The friends of friends were cool, a bit older, and they seemed to like to party. The rooftop reminded me of my old rooftop in New York, an old industrial loft roof on the East edge of Williamsburg where the Manhattan skyline lay like a stalgmite horizon. Stevens Square always reminded me of older, larger cities, the last remnants of dense destroyed Minneapolis.
Don’t get me wrong. I knew they were “special” brownies. But you know how parties are, and in the kitchen someone offered me one so I shrugged and ate it. I had no idea. I think I ate two, as is my gluttonous wont.
The brownie hit me just before the fireworks started, exploding in my brain, and the effect was a horrifying cascade of discomfort. From the vantage on the roof, I could see fireworks going off all along the Western horizon. Or at least I thought I could. I wasn’t sure what was going on, which direction I was looking. I saw fireworks in South Dakota. Everywhere exploding and downtown filling the sky, each color a fresh fissure in the time-space continuum, single gunpowder blossoms filling my head like a long Russian novel.
Have you ever been to a three-hour fireworks display? I have. Believe me when I say that brevity is the soul of explosions.
Many lifetimes later, the high-flying show was over in downtown Minneapolis. For me, not so much. There was no dark hole, no Sadaam cave in which to crawl. I was on a roof and had a date with destiny across town.
The bike ride to the river was a whole new terror. All the buildings in Minneapolis doubled in height, and I clung to my bicycle like a liferaft. Crossing the Stone Arch Bridge was the worst, the whole place choked with people moving chaotically, kids darting like guppies. My girlfriend fell off her bike and bruised her ego.
We made it to festival yard. Goddamn artists, the whole event seemed designed to disorient. Slapdash torches, people perched on rusting rails, the festival itself playing out like expressionist vaudville kabuki. Categories were announced by small people emerging from some sort of magic doorway shouting half-inaudible words that made no sense, practically Dada, followed by short images like a Buñuel montage. Picture the puppets in Mister Rogers dubbed into Japanese, and translated back into English again, played in slow motion… Category after category went by as I waited for my film, coveting the trophies, being handed out like candy, my mind plummeting like a plastic cowboy flung from a great height…
It never came. At the end of the festival, one of the last of the films, up on the screen appeared ten seconds of my father’s dog, his one tooth, his dry tongue eternally draped from the side of his mouth lightly crusted with dust, his glossy unblinking puss-lined eyes, his absurd shape, half pekinese half dachshund, crammed akwardly into a too-small bed, the very picture of pathos.