4 EAST HEADS OUT OF MINNEAPOLIS and into the lushness of Wisconsin where the highway opens up like a museum and abruptly one recognizes the cheese state is worth considering.
Two hours out of the twin cities: only to escape Minneapolis, only to escape Minneapolis, I repeat to myself, my only motive, my chant, my prayer. I speed along, a little high from the hash in the trunk of my car. I promised Klippinger I would only skim off the top and he agreed that it would be best if I smoked or else I might be a danger to others on the open road. “You’re going to kill someone behind that wheel if you’re so fucking sober all the time,” he spit at me.
I’d told Klippinger as they pulled my car away the night before, with the snow plows descending upon us, that I would never return to the dreadful city again. He cackled and hit me in the head with a snow shovel. I awoke in my car this morning in the holding lot. How I got there, how he transported my body, I’ll never know – these are the elfish trickeries Klippinger is capable of, to both entertain and rid the world is his motive.
When I had first arrived in Minneapolis 26 hours earlier I was hopeful at the prospects; to visit the city in the midst of its winter, a season it wears on its sleeves all year, seemed only appropriate. No other city, no other people could sustain the goodness, the progressiveness, the straightforward logic and rationale of the city itself. Minneapolis makes too much sense in the summer, it is too damned humane and this is why it must endure the winter – a deathly, icy grip that chokes relentlessly beyond decency – none should have to recall, let alone relive the blinding horror of subzero migraines, a frozen hell. But it is this same sufferable winter that molds a sound mind, a clear disposition of rightness, a beacon of intellectual prowess in the midst of the large continental body America.
I arrive to find Klippinger living in a chic vacant townhouse with only a couch, a TV, an X-Box, the complete works of Tolstoy, cupboards full of Kellog’s name brand cereal, and a closet full of top-grade hash. There are no pleasantries, he is in the midst of a fantastical journey on the X-Box, “Sit down, get high,” he commands, his eyes arrested on the screen. I stand in the foyer of the magnificent space, attempting to piece together what story he will tell me, what patchwork line of bullshit brought him to reside so meagerly in this small castle. “Hey dickwad, sit down. Smoke this.”
I exhale. Shit. I revel in it, unlike the pot I’ve been smoking out of my tarred and feathered one-hitter for the past few months this is monumental, original and fierce. I fall back, a bit wearied from the haul, having taken the back roads from Denver in one ambitious charge. When I open my eyes from the glistening Pink Floyd-induced crystal dream sequence, I see a black spider dangling in front of me. I bat at it. It’s a heavy metal spider.
No it’s not. It’s a gun.
Klippinger is less dangling it, he’s handing it to me. I overact, obviously. I heave; I jump to my feet and pace.
What is that metal spider?
“Self-protection. My brother gave it to me. I think it’s a good idea.”
You need a gun. For what? What do you do that’s gun-worthy?
That’s when he takes me to the closet and introduces me to the hash I’ve just smoked.
What is the meaning of this?
“I’m in a new line of business,” he says, picking the morning’s Frosties from his teeth. “I deal mass quantities of drugs. Wanna do some coke?”
I want to leave Minneapolis immediately.
I’m just leaving Minnesota, I tell her.
“Yea, yea,” she smacks her lips and looks back down the road, at the ghost of my speeding car a mile back, “Ya know you’re in Wisconsin, yea?”
Yeah, I am in Wisconsin. Beautiful, beautiful country by the way. The bluffs! Right? I love the bluffs, is that what -bluffs, you call em?
She gives me an incredulous smile. “You know you were speeding?”
I was? I was. I must have been, otherwise… trailing off.
I stare at her. Her eyes go to my passenger’s seat, to the back seat and to my face in one sweep, “You traveling?”
I have bags, yes, those bags are for travel. Like I said, just trying to leave Minnesota.
“Yea, you said that. Now you’re in Wisconsin where the speed limit is 65.”
I look out in front of me, the cars speed past, and the whole moment turns into water, it drains out of me. The sky is grey, the land is dead, and Wisconsin, the foreign soil with an incredibly slow speed limit, is my death, because it is at this moment I remember what I have in the back of my car. It all drops from me, held by some god who has my testicles, my lungs, and my tongue in his hand and has injected my stomach with feverish tickle juice. It is all over now. I see him before me, this invisible inventor, the mad scientist-love child of cosmos and afterbirth, “Yo bitch,” god rumbles in me, “You shoulda left that hash where you came from.”
Does he know I had no choice?
After we steal the groceries I ask him if he has any immediate intentions for his life, a question he always avoids but I ask anyway. He shakes his hand at my face, as if to detract a frenzy of paparazzi, and demands that I drive. I don’t mind driving, I just don’t know where I’m going. He jumps on top of the car and flashes his genitals to a passerby’s. “Hurry,” he screams. “They’re gonna turn around and kick our ass!” He jumps into the passenger’s seat, getting his way after all. I’m driving.
Klippinger had lived in and around Minneapolis most of his life. I had met him in Pittsburg years earlier at which point in his life he was an attorney and was well regarded amongst his colleagues as the craziest motherfucker to ever step foot into a suit. He was fresh out of school at the time and had landed himself what he referred to as an “idiot’s job,” fighting for the rights of small time criminals. His greatest accomplishment, equally bewildering to him, was his ability to make anyone believe he was telling the truth and for this he was the only honest lawyer I have known. I would meet him in the evenings at our favorite bar and he would arrive bowled over in hysteric laughter at himself, tears welling up in his eyes as he relayed his day in court. He could barely get through his monologue without choking, “And they believed me!” he would scream in finality.
Klippinger slammed into shots that he would share copiously and if you wouldn’t let him buy you a shot, he would pull a knife out and quietly, quickly, remind you, in a whisper, how close we all are to losing everything and that it’s a terrifying comedy so one must participate absolutely. You could not argue a man with a knife disclosing these profundities, especially when you knew it was meant for you only. His terror was inflicted intimately, his only means of bridging the gap between his wealth of knowledge and his inability to communicate.
His face remains the ugliest. It wasn’t that way when I first met him but alcohol will add surprising creases to the mask. His face bulges and pops, and when it rests it sits in constant disapproval, mocking your idiocy. His eyes sit on the edge of the lids, looking over effortlessly saying, “Fuck, this is too easy.” I have never seen anyone so consistently unimpressed. There are times when his side commentary and grins would reveal a man who might be interested in your opinion, but this does not exist.
His scheme is so perfect it only works for him. His rules are so illogical they resound like waves and you think to yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
I once asked him, What do you like to fuck? “As long as it isn’t another person, I’ll stick my dick in it.” And this epitomizes Klippinger, to some level, and at another much more complicated level, it is only the beginning.
He throws directions my way, “You’ll want to take a right eventually. Not now, of course, but in a ways. Jesus, listen to me fucking go on! Blah blah blah. Shoot me already. Shutup, Joe! Shut the fuck up, Joe! Why don't you shut the fuck up already, Joe! Jesus! Just keep driving and I'll shut the fuck up.” He puckers his mug and puts his finger to his head, "Bah!"
We don’t talk the rest of the drive to the unknown destination, which at this point I can only assume will end in our deaths – an overarching plan Klippinger is always pining for, dreaming of, “One of these days I’m gonna blow up,” he confesses at his drunkest. “Kablammo!”
Driving into Prescott, Wisconsin from the west we stop where the St. Croix crows into the Mississippi, two disparate bodies of water touching but keeping their own properties, their own personalities, at the intersection the St. Croix remains the St. Croix and the Mississippi the Mississippi. Nothing is lost in their meeting. Prescott remains a dream to me now thanks to Klippinger’s hash. The people on the street are large and white, the formidable description for the common Minnesotan – cows overfed on their own meat, cannibals of the great white north.
We pull into the Prescott VFW and Klippinger reveals a clip on tie; even during his years in the courtroom, he never learned how to tie a tie.
What’s the tie for?
He grins at me, a menacing joker, “My brother’s wedding. I told you about this right?”
Your brother’s wedding? This? Now?
“I guess we missed the wedding. We didn’t leave in time. But it’s fine, he didn’t even want the wedding anyway, just the party. And I’m the best man!” With this he leaves me in the car and jogs into the VFW.
I take another necessary hit of the hash before I follow.
Inside the VFW the large white Minnesota cows graze over the toxic sandwich meat, mooing back and forth at each other. They gnaw their meat and bow their heads as they feed in their stalls, digesting with multiple stomachs. Klippinger runs about shaking hands and buying shots for every cow he knows, whose eyes protrude in fear at our tornadic arrival. Many of these cows have Klippingeresque features, square jaws, fat cheeks, foreheads like facades to banks of the past century, and wide stances that begin in the mid portion of the belly and crane out to the air between their knees. This stance elicits a movement that is offensive, only exacerbating as the Klippinger’s drink more and moo louder. There is a clear distinction between the indigenous Klippinger tribe and the timid class of Anthropology 101, the bride’s family, being married into the ordeal
As I am lost in the mix Klippninger pulls me aside, introducing me to his brother and the bride. Our late arrival does not seem to faze his brother, as if it were expected. The truth is, I would not have held it against him myself if he missed my wedding either. This is what happens when you are born with a spirit built for Greeks, for gods, for men larger than should exist in our times; the hugeness of his soul has prevented his horrendous acts from ever going unforgiven. Klippinger’s insanity is that he was born for bronze, a golden age where he could have ruled the peasants and slaves with a poetic cruelty; his first ruling would have been to rid the world of Klippinger’s first and then move on from there.
The centerpiece of the evening is his best man speech, as he takes the microphone wiping his nose of the cocaine that somehow materialized. No one offered me, which is fine; from my one night affair with cocaine I recognize it as an event I would enjoy far too much to ever indulge in again. “You’re all pathetic,” he begins. The cows roll their eyes as his speech turns into roaring demands that go on and on as he surpasses the fifteen-minute mark, he shouts and marches across the stage like a little Napoleon. “I want you all to see what this whole fucking thing looks like,” he seethes, over articulating each word. He cackles like a hyena and the room sits on edge as he pulls out his little black spider. His gun. “Hey, Firefly,” he bellows at me.
Please don’t bring me into this, I scream as I run out of the VFW, the cows all turning towards me, on the verge of stampeding what feels like this deus ex machina moment.
As the doors to the VFW close behind me the gun goes off. Has Klippinger killed himself or a heifer? Or is this a warning shot to be recognized as the start of an internal revolution that will be played out for the rest of our lives, as long, of course, as we all knew whom Joe Klippinger is? I can hear that, I can hear that he has been preparing for that since the day he was born.
There are few people in this world who are born for something, for something specifically; we are all spit out unknown, disordered in birth with only the idiotic destiny of genes to guide us blindly through our great meaningless tenure. Klippinger was born on the messiah-track, among those giants whose future is carved in their tenacity to tear at the surface fearlessly and expose their own truth bolder and louder than anyone else, baring their internal flame to the rest of the world though irrevocable acts by night with no rest. Others of us, the common men fear of some stupid final judgment that will never come, but even our rational logic cannot interfere in this dumb magic show, the fear is too powerful. The gods among us rise above and know inherently that the difference between creation and destruction is personal taste. Klippinger embodies this and breathes it into those lucky enough to know him.
Klippinger runs out of the VFW and kisses me on the lips, a wet sloppy embrace. We jump into the car screaming, he hangs out the passenger’s side window and shoots his gun into the air as we make our way for downtown Minneapolis, on fire.
New York City is a woman. New Orleans is a belly. Minneapolis is an ungendered experiment in rightness, in human goodness, an American venture that presents the possibility of living with the best intentions. It is in this light that I think of Klippinger and believe that he should never leave this city he hates so much, it is why all of us should stay trapped in our worst nightmares, to flourish in them, to seize them, and finally, to conquer them. I don’t see the city he talks of with so much disdain; rather I see a city that pleases itself. Never has a city looked at itself and been more pleased. Other cities build to hide from themselves, like so many people, or perform acts of self-destruction, but Minneapolis, at least in the physical, is not a city suffering from an identity crisis. The buildings are not haughty, they are proud and you are too as you swell from their breath. I walk away from the city with this to report: the chest is full in downtown Minneapolis, it is weaker from afar. Minneapolis, city of progress, austere and regal in its reflecting glass robes of steel stars and sky, is a pleasure to watch.
And this is to say nothing of the people.
Because His Majesty Klippinger commandeers my time in Minneapolis and I will only ever participate in a violent assault on the city. And even as I do so, as the provocateur’s agent, I feel drawn to run from him, to leave Klippinger in his murderous rage and find a bench to sit quietly and make love to city alone. If he saw me do this it would surely be the end; if he saw me falling in love, if he saw my heart exposed to the world Klippinger would castrate me for my own good, knowing that someone would surely take advantage of me sooner than later.
Just west of downtown we stop at Lee’s Liquor Bar for what he finally professes is going to be a drug deal.
Oh, that’s why you brought the gun!
I ask if I can wait in the car, he shrugs saying drinks are on him if I go in, a hard offer to turn down, especially because deep down I want nothing more than to be a part of this drug exchange.
In Lee’s Liquor Bar, one of the truly outstanding American bars that embody what it is to drink beer in the middle of this country, it is Gay Cowboy night. Ralph, the aged barkeep, pulls his stool up to our corner and slouches over our drinks, “Ya all know what LGBT means?” On a bad day Klippinger confesses to prefer the sexual advances of his own gender, yet has had sex with every woman we’ve know, so he smiles stupidly and says, “Oh, faggots?” Ralph bobs a yes, “Yup, but they’re good folks. They been doin this goin on six years now. We certainly like em here.” We all stare at the gay cowboys, line dancing in front of the large stage mirror; we are entranced in our collective silence, perhaps with a secret wish that we were dancing right now, maybe not here, but somewhere.
But of course, this is not to say I actually believe Klippinger is thinking this in the moment. What his silence signifies I will never know.
All of a sudden he is there. His presence is immediate and I know who he is. Ralph nods us good night and pulls his stool away to serve a surly gay cowboy. Klippinger stands, “Rufus, follow me.”
I don’t want to.
“Ruffy, get up.”
He’s too convincing. “This is Rico. Rico this is Ruffy.” I put my hand out to shake his. Rico is a big man and the sunglasses at night throw me. I search for his eyes behind them.
“I don’t give a flying fuck who this cracker is.” His jaw trembles with violence, he cracks his neck, his barreled chest heaves, – and then he busts into a heavy bass laugh. “I just fucking with you Ruffy, I’m Rico,” he pulls me in and bumps me in the chest. “Now fuck this shit, let’s take care of business, bitch.”
So thoroughly authentic this maniac is!
We huddle out to the parking lot. I see it looking down at us, the city of Minneapolis, oh please, why must we do this outside? This is the first time I have felt physically protective of a city.
Joe, I say, why aren’t we doing this inside the bar? You know, discreetly?
“Because, Ruffy, it’s a beautiful night out.” And it is, the snow is just beginning to fall fat dry flakes, powdering the cityscape. The city arches its stomach, concaving its bare back to hold the flurries. It looks so right doing it too.
Klippinger instructs me, “Go get the shit in the backseat?”
In the backseat? The shit in the backseat? What shit? Oh, is it drugs I’m looking for?
“No,” Rico says. “You’re looking for fucking tootsie pops.”
Klippinger cackles, “I love this guy!”
I go to the backseat and look around. What stuff? I turn around, Rico’s handing him a gym back. A deal is happening! a deal is happening! Joe, what shit?
And it is this moment that everything changes. Klippinger turns to me with wild eyes and he pulls his gun out. “Hey Rico, fuck off.” He shoots Rico in the foot and runs towards the car. It all happens so quickly I cannot even piece it together.
“Front seat, Ruffy! Front seat! Drive!” Rico obviously came unprepared, as his only defense is throwing rocks after us as we peel away.
“Rico never carries a gun. He’s a walking target. Maybe this’ll learn him to carry one of these,” he flashes the gun and his large teeth at the moon, magnificent.
Joe Klippinger discovered at a young age that he was smarter than his parents, his teachers and his pastor. It happened in that order for, as he puts it, “I realized that there were these incapable idiots making decisions for me.” He was astonished at this discovery and used this knowledge to charge after the world in which he would live. He pursued academics and sports and art and was the best at everything because, as he puts it, he knew “how to dupe every asshole who had grown up with idiots.” He was student body president, the only president to serve two terms because he was so well liked by the students who voted for him, and the faculty, who fudged the results and supported his liberal movements, like supplying condoms in the bathrooms. “I wanted to see all the young people fucking each other! Idiots!” This followed him into his university career where he scampered back and forth between every possible department during his six years as an undergraduate, where he never once initiated relationships that would get too personal. This was when he began to discover the Terror, as I would later come to understand it, which he would inflict upon his world and those inhabiting it. Pulling the cloak over imbeciles in power became easy for him and he could see his future clearly, he was too smart not to see what would become if he stayed on this trajectory: he would become a great power who would control others and the world would be no better for it.
So he pulled the cloak over his own eyes to save humanity from his will and now here he was, in the place he hated the most, dealing drugs in the Twin Cities.
The years had changed Klippinger from when he first opened his practice in St. Paul, to his successes in the courtroom, to his nightly drunken brawls, to the constant excess through a variety of drugs and women and men who he would bring to his bed and kick out after he was finished with, screaming insults in their face.
He always made sure they would never return or reach out to him again.
Klippinger’s truest moments of delight come from man-made disasters, a nuclear meltdown or an oil spill prompting him to chant, “More oil in the sea! More oil in the sea!” watching the nightly news, as if it were a Roman gladiator fight. “Oh!” he belches in orgasmic disgust, punctuating it with a cackle, “These people! They’re all so fucking stupid! I love it!” His ability to recognize the collective death we’re all heading toward is terrifyingly prophetic and he wants nothing more to than to be here for the last breath.
Others would throw Klippinger aside deeming him reckless or harmful to humanity, a bad influence, but he cannot be seen this way, or at least I will never think in this light. In our world when one acts out even in small terrors it is merely a drop in the well to validate the existence of the water, and one drop carries no more significance than any other. Consequences have no meaning, no purpose in the world of Klippinger, a precious thing to be reminded of when the seriousness of our existence weighs upon us. This is why I will never hold Klippinger’s atrocities against him, for he is only half responsible – because I am participating too. I am willfully not telling him to stop.
The snow is falling now and Klippinger’s death-defying heist is beginning to settle, I ask, Are we going to be killed?
Klippinger reaches across and grabs my hand on the wheel, “You’re going to be fine, buddy. You’ll be out of here by the time anything happens.” I believe him. He releases his hold and lights a cigarette, he inhales, “Either way, no one knows where I live.” Yes, I think to myself, but this Rico, this man you shot in the foot knows what I drive, and I am now inextricably tied to this act. As I drive us god knows where I want to stare at Klippinger, to catch him contemplating, to see if I can imagine what he might be thinking. But it’s impossible, his wall of silence too thick. He loads a pipe with the hash, puts it to my lip and lights me up, gently. The hash burns and crackles as I pull it into my lungs and melt into the seat. Thanks.
“Yeah, your driving was really starting to scare me.”
After I wake up in the parking compound with a welt from Klippinger’s snow shovel I decide to leave immediately. (The longer I spend time with Klippinger the more concussions I attain.) I get the largest coffee I can from the 7-11 and check my bags to make sure he hasn’t set a bomb to go off and I head west for Chicago, the nearest safety raft from this sinking ship.
It is somewhere near Prescott, where the St. Croix and the Mississippi meet and remain separate bodies, that Klippinger calls me and says, “Pull over, look in your trunk.” On the other side of the St. Croix I open the trunk and see the hash. “Sell it once you get back to New York,” he says, “I’m done with my dealing days.”
What are you going to do? There’s silence as I hear him hitting the hash pipe on the other end. Joe. Joe, what are you going to do?
He exhales and coughs, “Sorry what? Stimpy was on TV.”
What are you going to do?
“I’m gonna get high. I suggest you do the same so you don’t get in a fucking kill anyone on the road. Safe travels my friend. I love you dearly.”
He hangs up in the midst of a cough leaving me on the side of the road in Wisconsin with a trunk full of top-grade hashish passing the torch, as it were, on to me.
The policewoman writes me a ticket for $350 and directs me to pay attention to the speed limit. I tell her once again how beautiful I think Wisconsin is and she rolls her eyes. She pulls away and I light up one last time, to get me through to Chicago and then to Indianapolis and then to Pittsburg and finally, back to New York, the lady-city I remain faithful to despite her constant irrational demands.
A city, any city, can only exist in the arms of the people who offer it to you. The many years have seen me traveling to visit no one but myself, with no one waiting at the station or the airport, so the cities of the world have remained a reflection of my own desires and romances, rather than the bounty of offerings they could be from others.
I can no longer travel for myself or visit the far flung reaches of the globe in search of myself and walk the streets calling my name out in desperation; my well is far too full for that now.
And I will return to Minneapolis again and I will sing to Minneapolis now: You open heaving chest city / Lung and wind Minneapolis / The foshy the foshy the foshy/ At night.
I will return to visit your people next time, not just Klippinger, Minnesota.
by James Carney