(Author’s Note: I performed this piece on Sept. 27, 2000, at the Guthrie Theater, in front of a crowd of 500 well-adjusted, sensible residents of Minneapolis/St. Paul, who comprised the inaugural audience for A McSweeney’s Home Companion.)
It’s been a quiet week in Lake Minnesota. Pastor Engquist’s wife, Lorna, sat in the hot dish again. This ruined Sunday supper at the church somewhat. But Bjorn Bjornsen went out on his boat, cast his rod, and soon pulled in 1,000 walleye, so everyone was feeling better within a matter of hours.
The regular customers at Ingemarr Johannsen’s barbershop, Roy Royquist, Lars Larquist, and Casey Caseyquist, all showed up at the exact same time for their weekly haircuts. Lake Minnesota people, as you know, are patient, and the men alternated snips, one-third of their hair at a time, until they had spent a pleasant afternoon talking about outboard motors, Lutheranism, and Daunte Culpepper’s rushing statistics.
Over at the Hot Box Café, Sven Svenson was pining away for Frieda Friedricks, who, Sven figured, was the most beautiful waitress to pour Sanka there since his wife had left him so many years ago. All night, Sven Svenson looked out the window at the moon and remembered the summer afternoon when his wife Petra left for Bosnia to work as an army nurse.
I hope that Turkish soldier takes care of her, thought Sven. I hope he has a nice house for her on a lake somewhere.
“More pie, Sven?” asked Frieda.
Sven sighed and asked Frieda to marry him instead.
Frieda, as always, declined.
A bus pulled up to the terminal, and out came the junior-high hand bell choir, two of whom had just had sex during a regional competition in Chicago, and Torkel Torkelson, who had been caring for his elderly mother at an expensive Jewish-owned rest home in Eau Claire. Last off the bus was John Johnsen, young writer and hopeful radio personality, returning home after ten formative years in New York City.
John Johnsen was tired of his apartment in the East Village, of sparking a joint and walking down to Tompkins Square Park to watch the police heap abuse upon the freaks and their dogs. He was done with the cocaine and the models and all the burdens that come with being a successful writer. He had come home to Lake Minnesota, to the seedbed of his patented regional style.
He walked down Ventura Avenue, under the soft glow of the streetlamp. He saw hooligans chase the town’s only black resident, who screamed in terror. He saw the old men eating their mint cookies at the bait-and-tackle store. He breathed in the moisture, the sawdust, and the gasoline. The church steeple loomed gently before him, and across the street, Edna’s whorehouse and its inviting lights beckoned. He was home.
John came along to the white wood-frame house where he had grown up, where he had listened to the Green Hornet on the radio and watched his grandfather fall into a coma, a state he hadn’t left for 34 years. The door was unlocked, as always, and, as always, John Johnsen’s mother sat at the kitchen table with a bottle of bourbon, a copy of the collected writings of Martin Luther, and a steaming bowl of cranberry oatmeal.
“Hello, Mom,” said John Johnsen.
“Hello, John,” said Mom. “How was New York?”
“The last decade has been wonderful, Mom,” John said. “I must tell you about it sometime. But first…”
“She’s here, John,” Mom said. “She’s waiting for you upstairs.”
There, in John’s boyhood bedroom, with its posters of George Mikan, Fran Tarkenton, and Rod Carew, among his Prince albums and Replacements EPs, lying atop his now-valuable Minnesota North Stars bedspread, was Inge Svenson, in a white cotton nightdress, looking just as splendid and Nordic as the day John had left her there, ten years ago.
“I’m home, baby,” John said. “Are you still a virgin?”
“Oh, yes, John,” Inge said. “I, and all of Minnesota, have longed for the day when you would return and once again make us your own.”
John Johnsen took off his Yankees cap, removed a lighter from his front pocket, and set aflame his New York Public Library card. He was done with the latest issue of Vanity Fair, and he burned that as well. He had come home to Lake Minnesota, and to his virgin bride.
Later that night, as John Johnsen smoked a Lucky Strike in the room of his youth, and Inge, utterly sated, gasped for oxygen in the bed behind him, he knew that he had made the right choice, because in this state, we wait for our literary heroes, and then we have sex with them. We’re glad to see them. Now. And forever.
And that’s the news from Lake Minnesota, where all the men are funny, all the women want to date me, and all the children attend well-funded public high schools.