A gentleman in his 80th decade walks down the corridor. As we pass he pauses.
“A good afternoon to you,” he says.
“How are you doing today?” I ask, going against my personal vow to avoid trite social questions.
“This the best day of my life,” he responds.
I didn’t ask what made this a grand day. His response could have been either cynical or deeply meaningful. Not knowing the man well enough to probe, I smile and continue on my way.
Ze hayom, a Hebrew phrase meaning “this is the day,” opens Psalm 118:24. What day? Asah Adonai. The day that the Creator has created. So what? Negilah v’nismacha bo. So, we are to rejoice and be glad in it. End of story. Just do it.
Once upon a time, I called my mom, who is no more in this life, to complain, “I am having the worst day ever.”
Her response? “Well, Gail, if this is the worst day ever, then tomorrow has to be a better day. Right?”
But was it the worst day? That have certainly been some dillies since. Did that day, with its unremembered challenges, teach me something important? Are there really “good” days and “bad” days? Who are we to judge?
I am sitting at a desk in Minneapolis, looking out a window as snowflakes pass by on a 45 degree trajectory from the south. A man with a COVID mask hanging from one ear walks by accompanied a high-stepping maple brown poodle. They walk under a leafless ash tree, its twigs swaying in a light breeze. Earlier, on a brisk morning walk (3 degrees F), I watched a pair of hunting coyotes, on the lookout for bunnies or rodents. Then I spotted an albino squirrel on a tree, which despite the presence of my dog, stayed still long enough for me to dig my phone out and take a photo.
This is the day. The only day. This is the moment. The only moment. As I write this, as you read this, the moment is here, then the moment passes. We awake, we sleep, we dream, on and on, the days pass.
Back in June, early on a gentle morning, my dog Roo and I walk through an encampment of 40 or so tents set up on the west side of Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis. A man in his 50s stands over a Coleman stove making a pot of coffee.
“Good morning!” I say.
“Morning. That’s a cute dog you have there,” he replies.
“Thanks. Her name is Roo and I’m Gail. How are things going for you here?”
“Nice to meet ya. I’m Bobby.* It could be worse. There’s a few troublemakers but I steer clear of them.”
Joined by older camper named John, we chat about the nice weather, and the beautiful location under large oak trees. They don’t address why, as individuals with a past, present, and future, they dwell in tents in a public park.
I walk on among the rainbow-colored tents, some with lawn chairs out front, others surrounded by large plastic bags, some covered by tarps. A young man sits alone on a bench. Again, I introduce myself and ask him how things are going.
“Yeah, I’m Jason and my girlfriend and I want to get the hell out of here. This is no kind of life. My uncle up in Red Lake says we can stay with him, but no drinking or he’ll kick us out. That’s good with me.”
His girlfriend comes up and sits next to him on the bench. She is a tiny woman, unhealthily thin, with sallow skin. He introduces her as Fern. Jason continues to talk, telling me that he is a drummer and wants to get back to to playing in a drum group. I tell him that I used to work for the Red Lake Forestry Department. Then we discover an acquaintance in common. He invites me to attend a pow-wow up there. I tell him that I’ll try.
Fern sits silent, with closed eyes and bowed head. Then she lets out a low moan. “Sorry, I’m but I’m so hungover,” she says.
Roo is getting restless so we part company.
The question I refrain from asking is this: What brings youto this place in life?
For a fascinating, difficult, and transformative year of my life, I worked as director of spiritual care at a men’s maximum security prison. What brought the inmates there was not a question I asked in relating to them as individuals. What I found of more interest were three related questions: Who are you today? What do you hope to achieve? What do you need to get there?
Circumstances beyond control, poor life choices, and mental or physical ailments land people in predicaments. Why are you struggling with substance use disorder? Why are you a repeat felon? Why are you unemployed? Why are you lacking education or job skills? Why you struggling with untreated mental or physical health problems?
What matters much more than “why” is what an individual needs to help them thrive.
Few people choose to live without permanent housing. My daughter-in-law, as a nurse (later a nurse practitioner), worked with homeless vets. There were those who, because of trauma, did not feel safe indoors. They preferred living in the open. Others, being in a state of active addiction, avoided housing that requires abstinence. Mental health issues prevented others from getting along with others in a congregate setting.
No human being should be living in a tent in a park. How would you feel spending Thanksgiving Day or any other day there? What’s the answer for those in such a regrettable situation? The answer is that there is no one answer. For example, one size will never fit all in terms of housing. Some simply need help getting into an apartment. Others need sober housing. Still others may need a harm-reduction setting. Even if every one of these people were housed, providing housing alone is like giving charity. It helps today, but doesn’t necessarily provide what is needed for a long-term positive change in circumstances.
Some look to the past success of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the depression of the 1930s. ‘Let’s give people jobs! Make them work hard and they’ll be fine!’ I think this is truly a laudable idea for some who lack homes or employment. For others, not so much. It seems that current methods of addiction treatment are not successful for many addicts. Is anyone working on new models? Solid mental health treatment facilities or access to therapists are sorely lacking. Working in prison system taught me that the current model of lengthy incarceration, solitary confinement for rule infractions, and dehumanizing conditions does not make people better. Also the stigmatization of those with a felony record is permanently damaging to the life prospects of those individuals.
On and on it goes. Dear friends, where do we begin?
On November 6th I had a milestone birthday. On the 7th, I resigned my position as a hospice spiritual care coordinator. A few days later, a friend asked me I how felt. My response, “Exultant.” Singingly, dancingly, giddily, ridiculously happy. Not that I had disliked my work with hospice patients and families. I loved hearing their stories and helping them toward acceptance of the inevitable, helping them make peace with the situation, and at times, with each other. However, the hospice work, demanding on several levels, kept me from doing that for which I longed with my mind, heart, and soul.
Closing a door opens new opportunities. What I am feeling two weeks later is a deep sense of shalom. Inner and outer peace. Four hours a day, six days a week, I have been typing words into my laptop. Words forming sentences, forming paragraphs, forming pages, forming chapters, forming (God willing) completed, published books that will bring light, humor, hope, and entertainment to readers.The book I am working on at present is the first in a series of three. Number two is also partially written, Number three is sketched out. Another book, begun long ago, is also still alive in my mind and in a file. And I can envision writing a non-fiction work based on my Central Avenue NE blogs, maybe focused on the fascinating Thorp Building. This should keep my busy for a few decades.
This past Friday I had the privilege of hearing Chris Koza perform with his band at the Landmark Center. In my opinion, Chris is a musical genius and deserves huge concert audiences and record sales. But no matter how talented the individual, be she musician, visual artist, actor, or writer, the road is challenging. Only the very few are “successful” as the world measures success. The recipe for succeeding as an artist may require luck, connections, or the ability to appeal to common tastes.
Throughout history there have been millions of unremembered, uncelebrated creative artists, starting with the pre-historic cave painters. At least their works endure. Were there also musicians, dancers, dramatic performers in ages long past? Even though the work remains unrecognized and unappreciated, or vanishes with time, perhaps the spirit of all artistry endures. Is that what gives us the courage to do our work? Is this the source of what we experience as inspiration, that sense the the work produced comes from somewhere beyond ourselves? Friends, fearlessly pursue what you love. Make the necessary sacrifices. Take the leap. And let me know how it goes for you.
This 0.7 mile stretch, no more than a 15-minute walk is home to a surprising number and rich variety of businesses and dwellings. Below you will find what we have as of 10/24/18 in our target area of NE Minneapolis. As changes occur, and they will, the list will be updated. The properties on each block are listed from north to south. Note the number of businesses on redeveloped blocks versus those on blocks with original structures.
UPDATES: (1) This morning an electrical company truck sat outside the one-story vacant property on the southwest corner of Central and 22nd. (2) The “2 Amigos” store has a sign in the window advertising 50% off. Never a good sign. (3) I saw a man entering the empty block where Kim’s Chinese closed down this spring. The building appears run-down, so we will see if it stays or goes. (4) And I received some fascinating and spooky news about the Thorp Building. This will be further investigated.
KEY: +Subject of Previous Blog Post; * Redeveloped Property; X Vacant
26th– Lowry (East side)
+ Eastside Coop
+ Holy Land Deli
+ Sabor Latino
26th– Lowry (West Side)
+ Al Amir
Central Avenue Liquor
Islamic Community Center
Central Giant Wash
Water Bar and Public Studio
Sarah Jane’s Music School
Duke Albert Lifestyle Collective
Abu Shanach Barbers
NSC Tax/MN Financial Group/Home Realty
+ Aki’s Bread Hus
Fair State Brewing
Lowry – 24th (East Side)
Empty Lot/Community Garden
Paolitos Sur Envios
+ Khao Hom Thai
+ Adelita’s Mexican
Botanica y Herberio/Icebox Picture Frame
Jackson Hewitt Taxes
Lowry – 24th (West Side)
Liberty Tax/ Chicago Dollar/Spring Wells Massage and Colonic (Arcana Building)
+ Sen Lak Sen Lai
Dipped and Debris
+ El Taco Riendo
National Association of Letter Carriers
+ Anelace Coffee
Los Gallos 3
24th– 23rd (East Side)
+ Football Pizza/Crescent Moon Banquet Hall
24th– 23rd (West Side)
US Bank *
Madina Academy Central *
Multicultural Health Clinic *
Amana Dental *
Lions Tae Kwon Do
Amana Family Care
Central Insurance Agency
23rd– 22th (East Side)
Martha’s Hair Salon
Degados PC Repair
El Trebol Express/Rushford Bingo Hall
Hafiz Travel Agency
EZ Travel Services/Asly Care
X (IKE Vanity + Attached Vacant)
La Colonia +
23rd– 22nd (West Side)
* NW Dental
* Community Connection Partnership
* Cornerstone Studios
* Life Track/Knockout Bodies
* Higgins Insurance
* Hennepin County Library Branch
On a persistently gray damp Sunday I slow-walk the 8 blocks from 26th Street NE to Diamond’s Coffee Shoppe and back north again, jotting notes on each building and taking photos until my IPhone conks out. A few passersby eyeball me and my little spiral notebook with suspicion. Or maybe it is just curiosity. Whatever. I focus on the detailed documentation of an area which has become my obsession.
Despite having traversed this section of street numerous times, I see what had previously gone unnoticed: a gorgeous old brick 4-plex; an abandoned storefront with a fading sign of a confusing design, “IKE Vanity”, perhaps?; a mysterious-looking stucco-faced building with a vaguely Asian design.
My desire to know more deepens.
My own powers did not see it coming but the Psychic Reader is gone. In her place I discover, “The Cat and Cobra”, a vintage shop offering a collection of Harley tee shirts, boots, jackets, sweaters, and miscellaneous, which opened a couple of weeks ago. To my dismay, and undoubtedly much more so to the former chef/owner, Boncelli’s is out of business. Even the building looks dispirited.
The former Bonicelli’s, after two months.
A Central Avenue business person, who will not be named, shared his belief that the owners of the original buildings in this stretch are waiting for redevelopment demand to spread up from the lower end of Central NE. Properties will be sold, existing buildings razed, and the construction of new residential and commercial structures will commence. Many of the current businesses will be priced out. Hence, my effort to document what is here today. And thereby encouraging you (yes, you!) to come and wander amongst the wonders of the street.
Since we are in a somber and sentimental mood, let me share an image taken in front of the former Bonicelli’s.
A couple of blocks are already rebuilt. Tellingly, one houses a bank, another a realty development office, another a jobs program for economically disadvantaged people. A block-long stretch of new construction houses senior apartments, and Volunteers of America offices and programs, including a law office and the defunct-looking Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association.
Contrast that with another structure which I hadn’t noticed until today.
This adventure will continue and may result in a book-length exploration of the intersection of people, place, and time in the context of this neighborhood’s evolution.
For those who are as weirdly interested as I am, the next posting will be an all-inclusive list of buildings between 26th and the Thorp Building. Following that, we will visit the newly opened business “The Cat and Cobra”.