Entries Tagged as 'Life Writing-memories and experiences'

For Dirk

Tonight on Facebook I learned that a high school classmate had died. He was not someone I was close to in school but I remember being pleased when I saw his friend request-flattered even. (I always feel stupid when teenage popularity angst visits me in my late 30’s.)

My first reaction was that he was lost at sea. I knew he did something maritime in Alaska and I pictured a dramatic, poetic end to his life. Now I am hearing that it was peaceful, in his sleep. Tragic in it’s own way. More terrifying to my own sense of mortality.

When someone my age dies of “natural causes” it shakes me up. I find myself online reading the obituaries of my hometown newspaper and pausing on all of those within a few years of my age. There are starting to be more and more of them. I start to wonder if other classmates have died but before the public parade of Facebook.

Tonight I know I am not alone, sitting here in the dark scrolling through Dirk’s photo albums and reading the comments that people have posted. I go so far as to click on the link for his wife so I can see more pictures. She is smiling in all of them. I look at their vacation photos and snap shots of their life in Alaska.

The pictures that finally make me cry? The dog.

The people who have been close to him in the last twenty years seem more pained in a visceral way that comes from proximity. The people who knew him for his first 18 years are posting blessing and prayers mixed with fond memories from junior high and high school because that is all we had to remember him by. Now in my mind those memories are mixed with the comments and posts from people who knew the man he became. I smile that the tall basketball player I knew in school grew into a man who seems to have touched the lives of so many others. I would have liked to seen him in action as a Marine Corps drill sergeant. That would have been impressive.

If I was to post something to his Facebook wall it would be this:

Dirk-I remember your zubas. You were so tall and you always wore those awful, crazy, colorful pants. In psychology we had to write a paper describing our Utopia, our perfect society. Rule #3 in mine was NO ZUBAS. You laughed. For the last 20 years whenever I thought of zubas I thought of you.

And when I wrote that commentary for the school paper about how having a letter jacket didn’t make you God you tried to convince me not to publish it. You said it would only cause trouble for me and my hippy musician boyfriend. I remember being pleased that you cared. In the end the principal wouldn’t print it. I still have it, here in a box in my office. Maybe I will still publish it.

Blessed Be.


The Year I Ruined The Water Show

April. 1989.

Every spring the foreign language classes of Superior Senior High School would climb aboard chartered busses and head to St. Paul, MN for the Festival of Nations, “celebrating cultural diversity with food, music, demonstrations, exhibits and dance.” Basically it was a chance to get out of school, buy ethnic trinkets and eat egg rolls.

Now what bus you boarded was decided by what foreign language you studied-French, German or Spanish. Carrie and I boarded the Spanish bus with Seniorita Linman, a tiny pale blonde woman with a fondness for red checked blouses and not an ounce of latin flavor in her. Her salsa would definitely be mild.

We arrived in St. Paul and the bus pulled to a stop in front of the convention center, our cultural home for the next few hours. We received specific instructions to be back at this specific spot, on this specific bus at specifically 1pm. Then we were set loose.

Carrie and I had bigger plans than any convention center could hold. We entered into the hall, took a quick look around before sneaking back outside and heading to a local shopping mall. Our local malls were nothing compared to the sleek chrome and sky lighted malls of the big city. And Carrie knew of some cool diner restaurant where you could get hamburgers delivered to you by servers on roller skates!

We hit the mall, had our burgers and shakes and felt very big city rebellious for having snuck away from the group. In our urban adventure we lost track of time and had to race back to the Spanish bus. We arrived at the specific spot but not at the specific time-we were ten minutes late. The bus was gone.

We started to walk around the building, thinking that maybe we had the wrong location. Logically they would not just abandon two teenage girls 200+ miles from home. Would they? Then we saw Beth C, a traveler on the German bus. “What are you still doing here?’ she cried. “The Spanish bus left!”

Now we were in trouble. We had strayed from the pack and would now have to find our own way home. So Beth introduced us to the German teacher, Herr Leibforth. Unlike Seniorita Linman he fit the part of a German teacher, a heavy set and bearded man.

All you had to do was stick a beer stein in one hand and a sausage in the other and and you had a perfect cultural stereotype. We told him that we had been so enthralled by the cultural offerings of the Festival of Nations that we lost track of time and were left by the Spanish bus. He did not seem concerned or interested, just told us to get on his bus for the ride home.

Now the German bus was much less crowded AND it had a VCR! We settled in with our new tour mates and began the 2.5 hours back to Superior. We stopped at Toby’s in Hinckley and loaded up on snacks before completing our journey to Superior. We marveled, a little hurt, that no one seemed to notice that we were not on the Spanish bus as we ate our maple fried cinnamon rolls and sipped Diet Cokes.

Pleased with the adventures of the day, Carrie and I arrived back at the school and headed for our lockers. We were in the building for about 5 minutes when the principal’s voice came over the intercom. “If Laurie Viets and Carrie Kennedy are in the building, report to the Principal’s office IMMEDIATELY.”

Carrie and I looked at each other and grimaced, assuming we must be in trouble for skipping the festival for a shopping mall and missing our bus.

It was so much bigger than that.

When we didn’t arrive back at the specific spot at the specific time the bus had to pull around to make room for the next charter bus. So they moved up to the other side of the convention center to wait for us. 3 hours later and they were still there. Waiting.

The police had been contacted in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth and Superior. If this had been present day there might have been an Amber Alert. Our parents had been contacted, Carrie’s brother in the cities had been called and my boyfriend in Superior was to be on the look out for us. There was a panic.

So while we were watching movies, munching on baked goods and sipping sodas, our fellow Spanish students were sitting on the bus. For three hours. They wouldn’t even let them off to go back to the festival. They just had to wait. I like to think they might have spent a little time being worried about us but I am pretty sure they just sat there and fumed. When they finally got clearance to leave they still had a 2.5 to 3 hour ride home.

This would have been bad enough on a normal Friday night, but this was not a normal Friday night. This was the Water Show Friday Night. Every spring the members of the swim team put on a song, dance and swimming review-like a talent show in the water. There were girls in army uniforms spinning rifles and lip-synching to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” There was synchronized swimming and diving. It had follow spots and everything. It was a big deal. And on that Friday night it had to be cancelled because over half of the cast and crew was stuck on a bus in St. Paul. All because Carrie and I wanted to go to the mall.

We tried to explain that we were told that the bus had left and we thought we were doing the responsible thing by reporting it to a teacher and accepting his offer of a ride. We might have cried. In the end the only punishment we received from the school was a stern talking to and a guilt trip about how we had worried our parents.

My boyfriend was waiting to drive me home. We sat on my couch, waiting for angry Spanish students to storm my alley with pitchforks and torches. Luckily we had the weekend for them to cool down. Plus Carrie was much more popular than me and had friends among the Water Show performers so we were spared a lot of retribution.

If this had happened today the teachers involved may have been fired. Even though it was 1989 I still find it kind of insane that Herr Liebman didn’t call the school or radio the other bus to let them know we were on it.

Around 2005, members of my old high school attended Blue Man Group as part of a field trip to Chicago. When I saw the school name on the guest list I went down into the audience to say hello, to let them know how I had graduated from Superior and had a cool job. As we were chatting I just had to ask. “So does Superior still go to Festival of Nations?”
“Yeah” a teen replied.
“Did you ever hear about the two girls who got left behind?” I probed.
“Oh yeah! The ones who got on the wrong bus?”
“That was me!” I beamed proudly.

While I may have gone to down there because I was proud of my professional success in the city of Chicago, IL, I left even more proud.

Proud that I have become a cautionary tale in Superior, WI.


Oorah in Hell, Indiana NYE 1994-1995

When I met my college boyfriend, Billy, he had just come out of the Marine Corps and enrolled at UMD. We always use to joke he went from his Mama, to the Marines to Me. About a year and a half into our relationship he invited a few of his best friends from the Corps to come stay with us in Duluth for their first reunion since their days in the service. Aaron flew in from South Dakota, Mick and his girlfriend Tracey drove from Indiana, but the third friend, Ray Ray couldn’t make it from LA.

That weekend is worth a post on its own, but today we are here to talk about the following New Years Eve.

Tracey and Mick decided to get married on New Years Day 1995. Billy was the Best Man, Aaron a groomsman and Ray Ray was the videographer. The rehearsal would be on December 31st so we needed to be in South Bend, Indiana by noon on New Years Eve Day. We drove from Duluth to Chicago and crashed at my sister’s place and then woke up the next morning to head over the Skyway into Indiana.

A scary gas-up in a bad part of Chicago and a $110 speeding ticket put us behind schedule and we hit Indiana just a little late, around 1pm. The drinking has already started and we quickly caught up. Remember those big glass heads that were popular at Pier One Imports that year? They came in green, blue and clear? Well we had brought two as “orgy cups” because they were huge and couldn’t be set down. This may not have been a wise idea.

(Mick, Billy, Ray Ray & Aaron)

About an hour into the party Billy pulls me aside and says,
“Do you love me?”
“Do you trust me?”
“Then when I tell you to get down, get down.”

Twenty minutes later Aaron, who I had only met that one time before puts his arm around me and looks into my eyes.
“Do you trust me?”, he asks.
“Yes. “
“Then when I tell you to hit the floor you hit the floor.”

When its time for the wedding party to go to the rehearsal I opt to stay at the house and take a nap. Our bed is up in the cold attic, a mattress on the floor with the only illumination a bare bulb from the ceiling and a small, grimy window. Mick and Aaron come upstairs and give me a loaded shotgun. “Just in case” they say. “Just in case of what?” I ask. “Just don’t let anyone in or answer the door”. “Okay.” After they leave I call my mother who is at my sisters place in Chicago. They encouraged me to come back to the city. I said, “don’t worry about me, I’m armed.”

At one point the doorbell rings and I don’t answer it, per my orders. I look out the dirty little window and see some Hells Angels looking dudes. I reach out and stroke my shotgun reassuringly. Later I learn that this is the father of the bride, who is in some scary biker gang.

The wedding party returns and we realize that no one is throwing Mick a bachelor party. Somehow I am nominated. Bachelor party for some former Marines with no notice on NYE? No problem. Porn.

Aaron, Tracey and I load into Aaron’s ride, a vintage ambulance he had borrowed from his father, and head to the video store. In the parking lot Aaron pulls out his 9mm Gloc to show me. “Why do you have a gun?” I ask. “You never know” he says. “Okay.” We go into the video store and head for the ADULT section. The lonely men selecting the appropriate porn to ring in the new year stare at me and Tracey. We smile back and make our selections.

The party roars into life and more people start to arrive. The biker gang father and some of his friends, Tracey’s little sister and her boyfriend, a Latino “gang banger” who the family can’t stand. The kid is an 18 year old punk and is trying to act all gangsta, talking shit to Ray Ray who is from LA and used to be in a real gang. Ray Ray is not amused and the kid gets all offended, threatening to have his boys come and teach us a lesson. You don’t mess with “South Bend, Bitch!” gets him kicked out.

The party roars on. We put on the porn, I don’t remember the title but I know I chose well. There was some tropical island theme with a giant penis Tiki God. Tracey’s older brother arrives with his beautiful wife, a Polish girl with blonde, curly hair, short tartan skirt and tight red sweater. Whenever her husband is not around she is hitting on Aaron. I am sitting on the couch, Aaron is on the floor next to my legs and the Polish bride is across from us when she pulls a “Basic Instinct” and flashes me and Aaron her business. Aaron and I look at each other, not sure how to react. She smiles.

We are distracted from the Tiki God Penis and Eastern European Snatch by Mick and Tracey who are suddenly in an epic fight. A screaming, throwing of plates kind of fight. Mick cancels the wedding and jumps into Tracey’s car and takes off, tires squealing into the Indiana night. He’s wasted and it’s icy. Billy and Aaron stumble out into the ambulance and go after him. I am left with the hysterical bride-to- be. An hour passes before Mick returns, crying and hugging Tracey. Wedding back on! No sign of Billy and Aaron. About 45 minutes later the ambulance pulls up out front with a cop car behind it, lights flashing. Aaron managed to crash through a median and bang up the ambulance and the cop was kind enough to escort them home without arresting him for drunk driving or searching him to realize he was carrying a loaded handgun. It was a New Years Eve Miracle!

Welcome 1995!

The next day we load into the cars and head over to the park district hall that will be home to the wedding and reception. Here I meet Tracey’s youngest sister, a sweet seven-year-old girl who you can’t help but feel sorry for, knowing her family. We are all there early and decide to crack open the keg before the ceremony even begins, drinking cheap beer from our plastic cups, smoking Camel lights. Then there is a wedding.

(Biker Dad & Bride Tracey)
Billy caught the garter and I the bouquet.

(Billy & Me)

It was a normal wedding, well, white trash Indiana wedding normal, and then suddenly it wasn’t. Now it was one of those bar fights from a 1970’s movie.

The Best Man, my man, comes flying out of the bathroom, hands around the throat of the brother of the bride. They sprawl on the linoleum in their tuxedos and Billy is beating the guy senseless. The gang banger kid comes running out of the bathroom crying and yelling that his “Boys are coming for you!” Aaron stumbles out with a dazed look on his face and the Gloc 9mm hanging limply at his side. People are screaming and running. Except the bikers. The bikers just look on as if this is common wedding behavior.

We separate Billy and the brother of the bride and try to figure out what the hell is happening. The gang banger had made some threatening remark to Aaron who then pulled out his gun and stuck it in the kids mouth, asking “Do you feel tough now, Bitch” This made the brother of the bride punch Aaron and then Billy went all Semper Fi in defense of his friend and attacked the brother.

Everyone is going crazy. The hot polish wife comes tearing up to me, threatening to kick my ass if I don’t get my man away from her husband. Sweet me in my green velvet dress and spiral curls gets right back in her face and yells, “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY FACE AND PUT SOME PANTIES ON, BITCH!”

It’s pandemonium until the groom picks up a large metal trash can and hurls it through the plate glass window, screaming, “Why can’t we ever have anything nice?!!!”

The shattering glass and rush of cold January air seem to take the wind out of everyone.

Most of the guests leave. I am sitting on the floor, legs out in front of me. I am cradling the seven-year-old sister in one arm and Aaron, the twenty-three-year-old former Marine in the other. They are both crying. I now have the gun.

Biker Dad suggests we all get of there before gang banger boy comes back with his friends. We all head back to the house and go up to the attic. We sit with the guns and the lights off, waiting for a drive by that never happened.

(me, sister who dates gang banger, ?, Tracey, 7 year old, Mick, Billy, Aaron & Ray Ray)


1994. The Refrigerator Story.

My first apartment was on Third Street, right below the ghetto Spur and the Casa De Roma in Duluth MN. I had lived at home until I was 21, finally moving out of my mothers house because my coworker on the railroad had a spare bedroom and I had a new boyfriend. It was time.
One of my favorite tasks of my new found independence was grocery shopping. I distinctly remember my first trip up the hill to Cubs Foods and how exciting it was to buy my own food, make my own choices, plan my own meals. I had a well-stocked fridge and one day noticed something odd. I pulled out a bag of Lenders Onion Bagels and noticed that the bag was a little torn. Then I realized it wasn’t torn, but that something had taken little bites out of them. At first I thought maybe my family dog Baby had done it. She was visiting the last time I went shopping, maybe she had tasted things as I had them sitting on the floor, waiting to go in the refrigerator. But they were just little nibbles and seemed to small for a medium sized dog. I started to pick up other items and noticed the same thing, itty bitty little bites. I started tossing items to the kitchen floor, more tears, more holes, more bites. Finally I worked my way down to the crisper and opened the drawer. There in the bottom corner, happily munching on a kiwi was the biggest, fattest, furriest mouse I had ever seen. He was more like a teddy bear hamster than a mouse. He looked up at me in shock, blinking in the light. I squealed “MOUSE!”, slamming the fridge door. My boyfriend was in the bathroom and came out running. “There’s a mouse in the refrigerator!” He opened the door and pulled out the crisper-no mouse! Then we looked closer and saw it, stretched out in the upper corner between the crisper and the shelf. That must have been its hiding place when the light came on-pressing itselff up into the corner like a jewel thief trying to avoid a laser security system.

My boyfriend was a Minnesota boy who had just returned home from the Marine Corps-I am not sure which of these details contributed more to what came next. He walked into my bedroom and grabbed a winter glove, and then went into the refrigerator and searched out the mouse. I think most people would have just thrown the mouse outside, or put it in a box and released it somewhere further away. He crushed it to death in his hand. Why I did not see this as a potential warning sign for our relationship I do not know. This would not be the first rodent to die a violent death during our time together.

We never figured out how the mouse got in, but we did realize he had been there awhile. My cardboard container of eggs that I had thought was just disintegrating was really being gnawed at to make a nest. He was furry, but I am sure it was a challenge to survive in the ice box. Then again, it was winter in Minnesota-maybe he was just trying to get warm.

Mice in weird places seems to be a theme in my life. Another mouse story from 1981…


Harden My 4th Grade Heart

4th Grade

I don’t remember what her name was, but I do remember that she told the principal that I pooped on the bathroom floor.

I was in fourth grade, Mr. Kuether’s class. I don’t remember the activity, but I do remember that I was standing in the back of the classroom, in a group of my friends, innocent and happy. Then I was called down to the principal’s office for the first time in my life.
4th Grade_2
I don’t remember how Principal Mertzig started the conversation, but I do remember his thick brown hair and bushy mustache as he accused me of pooping on the bathroom floor. Pooping on the floor! There had been a mystery floor pooper that spring at Blaine Elementary and while I had seen a giant turd on the floor I didn’t deposit it there! I don’t remember what I said in my defense, but I do remember him calling me a liar and saying that he had a witness who had seen me do it. He called my mother and I sat and waited in the front office, tears streaming down my face. Then Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart” came on the radio. That song of defiance and survival rang through straight to my 10 year old soul-
“I’m gonna harden my heart
I’m gonna swallow my tears
I’m gonna harden my heart
I’m gonna swallow my tears
Harden my heart…harden my heart…
swallow my tears
I’m gonna harden my heart….”

So I hardened my heart and I swallowed my tears-there in the principal’s office waiting room, the birthplace of my life long resentment and distrust of authority figures.

I don’t remember how long it took for my mother to arrive, but I do remember that she was furious when she heard what they had accused me of. We waited in his office while he talked to my accuser again. I don’t remember if he apologized for my false arrest, but I do remember his saying that the girl had lied, she had made it up. My mother demanded to know her name and what her punishment would be, but he wouldn’t tell us who she was, just that she was in a grade ahead of me. I don’t remember if I ever found out who it was, but I do remember that I had my suspicions and that she didn’t receive any kind of punishment for her wicked, wicked lies.

Just sayin.


Christmas In the 70’s

My first Christmas-1972


1975- Notice the snow shovel? We start young Up North!
1977 is missing so on to 1978. The cat’s name was Smokey. He was the biggest bad ass in the neighborhood. He was eventually shot around Halloween by someone with a bb gun. Bastards. We buried him on the side of the house.
ANd we’ll throw in 1981 because Simon is awesome!


Ghosts of Santas Past

1980 Mariner Mall Superior, WI
I seemed to have one pose that year…
Same mall, same Santa, 1982


Happy Birthday To Me

The First Decade:

From my Baby Book: “What a busy day. This year you know you get presents and cards. Every time the mailman comes you run to the door and say birthday card!…You loved playing and eating your cake but got real SHY when we sang to you.”

“You really enjoyed your birthday this year. You had your first birthday party. All you talked about for a week was about all your friends coming to your party. You felt pretty important and whenever you got mad you would say “you’re not coming to my party now!””

There’s another version of this last one that I wish I had. It’s me in this outfit but I am in front of the Taco John’s sign. My mom got them to put “Happy Tenth Birthday Laurie” on it. I was so cool.