Sunday, May 06, 2007

Grand Forks, etc.

I feel most comfortable in a city where mental patients can freely roam the streets. If the freaks aren't circulating, something must be wrong. Even in Evanston, we lived around the corner from a long-term nursing facility--basically a low-security halfway house for recovering alcoholics and the like. It somehow comforted me to know they could mingle with the people their conditions supposedly placed them below, ocassionally making a bomb threat at the nearby bank ("nearby" meaning just steps away), but mostly just smoking a lot and spouting gibberish at scared college students and yuppies. One night I saw one of the patients sitting in the middle of the road; luckily, a bouncer in a nearby bar had just ended his shift and helped me lug the guy back. We knocked on the door, waited, and met a lone night nurse so obese she could barely walk.

The big cities are really there for the part of the human race that needs to see its own turbulent image reflected back at all hours of the day. To love Chicago I first had to hate Chicago, and what a ridiculous clusterfuck it is. Madison's a great deal smaller, but also strikes a certain balance of pleasure and aggravation. That's what makes a good city for me. In short, a good city needs to be extremely perverse. It needs to make people ask themselves: "Why the fuck do I live here, again?"

So how can I react to the mythical lure of a place like North Dakota: Healthy people working hard, being happy, making steady incomes, striving in serenity--what the fuck kind of fun is that, and will the junkies be on crack or (how gauche!) meth? In two days in Grand Forks, I met at least a dozen people who just seemed to have it figured out. Bright, giving, kind, worldly people. Not that there's nothing urban or restless going on in Grand Forks or neighboring East Grand Forks, MN--at least two new restaurants should include "the aroma of our gleaming young hardwood floors, much like a handsome sheik's well-oiled chest, with a side of drycleaned business-casual" on their menus, and at least a few bars melt the mind's defenses with cruel 22-oz. pints. But most people there just seem to have their nerves under control, in a way that immediately projects warmth to the newcomer. Maybe I was just meeting the right people (for the most part--there are assholes everywhere, of course). Soon enough, I stopped itching to see other neurotic, hyper types. But now I'm back to normal.

Worth a note: An exhibition called Beyond Likeness at the North Dakota Museum of Art. I haven't been able to find many good pictures of the works online, but here are some from Lalla Essaydi, who creates mesmerizing, calligrapy-laced images of the lives of Arab females. The most memorable part, based on sheer creepiness, was Eidolon, a video by Elizabeth King. See the still? Well, it's basically 11 minutes of that mannequin just kind of staring at you, making movements that are just lifelike enough to startle.

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