On nearly every trip we take to Minnesota, something odd happens to Louise, as if the state senses that a woman not of this continent or hemisphere has invaded and needs to be dealt with. It's the same types of things that happen to natives of this fine land, but that's not surprising if they've lived here their whole life. But Louise can be here for 10 weeks - or 10 minutes - and something strange or horrifying will dampen her spirit, if just for a few moments. They're the types of things that usually end up as deleted scenes in a Renee Zellweger or Reese Witherspoon fish-out-of-water romantic comedy.
One year it was frostbite. Nothing severe, just a small case of it, in a circular form on her index finger. She'd had real frostbite before on a couple of fingers, an African native unfamiliar with the concept of freezing temperatures and gloves. I told her she'd be fine if she wore gloves in Minnesota. We stepped outside my parents' house one day and walked a single block. On our return, she took off her glove to reveal the frostbite on her finger. We inspected the glove and found a hole in the finger, the exact size as the frostbite. Minnesota didn't need much of an opening to leave a lasting impression.
Today, after a delightful family picnic in the park, we capped off the night with a walk up to the bustling Dairy Queen. A hundred feet from our house, I turned around after hearing Louise squeal. She stood motionless, her arms outstretched. She said nothing for a second. Then, in a South African accent, "I got bird shit on me!"
A Minnesota bird, probably a robin, maybe one of the two bluejays we've seen around the house, had indeed left a disgusting deposit on her face. I'm sure it wasn't aiming for her. Right?
It somehow managed to avoid her curly mass of hair. Instead it hit her hand and near her eye, like it was shot out of a cannon from 50 feet away. My nephews and sister helped out by laughing uncontrollably. I felt terrible, of course, but a bird shitting on someone's head is funny anywhere, in every language, on every continent. It's the equivalent of football in the groin. I escorted her back to the house to get washed up. Minnesota struck again. It gets her during the winter and during the 90-degree spring days. She's not safe here. But, fortunately, she still loves visiting here. Living here, on the other hand...
On Friday, our first night in Janesville, we went uptown for a hamburger feed, which supported youth baseball in the town. Louise acted the way most people do when they learn they've won an all-expenses-paid trip to London. She'd never been to a "hamburger fry." She was like a sociologist, eager to see how us small town folk constructed hamburgers with all the fixins. As hamburger feeds go it was standard stuff. Throw the meat on a bun, top it with some condiments, add a few fries, grab some pickles, sit down on a long table and talk with your neighbors. I looked back in line and saw Louise taking pictures, documenting every drop of ketchup and capturing the atmosphere.
"I've never seen such a thing," she said excitedly. She was more excited than Jane Goodall the first time she went to Tanzania.
New York City people are tough to impress? They've seen it all? I suppose. Until you take them to a hamburger feed in a town of 2,000.
The trip's been everything I want when we return home. Relaxing, but we've also had the chance to already see numerous family members and friends we hadn't seen in way too long. Today we had a picnic in the park and invited everyone from both sides of the family. I got to see people I might not have been able to visit during our 10-day stay. It's great seeing them and it's days like this when I realize how much I do miss them and my friends and my tiny hometown and my home state. But I'm also grateful, and lucky, that I have a great life I love in New York City. Minnesota will always be home, but how many people are fortunate enough to have two places that feel like home?
The night ended with me in the basement watching the Lakers in the playoffs. It was a scene out of 1985 or 1991. My folks and sister upstairs, me in the basement screaming at the latest reffing atrocity or three-point brick from Odom or Artest. At one point my nephew Bronson visited me downstairs to watch a few minutes. I think he might have studied me the same way Louise analyzed the hamburger feed. He must have wondered, how can a calm, mild-mannered easygoing person transform into this grotesque creature? Earlier in the game, when I was still upstairs, I looked around for something to fire across the living room. My dad handed me an old pair of socks, figuring they'd do the least damage. I threw them and added some newspaper flyers for good measure. Out of respect for everyone else in the house, and because I do like to set an example for the younger kids, I refrained from swearing (although it's difficult when watching Robin Lopez play).
It's what I also do in New York City. I'm not proud of the behavior. God no. But it's what I do in our one-bedroom apartment, in the comfort of my home. And it's what I do in my parents' house, in the comfort of my other home.