Whirlwind Tour Part 4 – Minnesota

Oy yoi… so let’s see where we are.  The world has changed.  For the worse and for the better.

The terrible news obviously is that I am still reeling from the loss of 7500 dollars.  This is in no way a good thing.  It is because my expo pay was reduced by 20% to go to the Japanese government, but I was supposed to get a reciept for that money so that I could get a refund on my tax return.  Unfortunatly, that reciept is not forthcoming, and it looks like that money is lost forever.  on top of that, I had savings bonds that my family and I had calculated to be worth around 1000 dollars in the US, but when I cashed it, it was worth only around half that!  Put the two together, and I am 7500 dollars poorer coming back to Tokyo.  Sad things, but life is life, and this is the one I am living.  But The Rocker sent me an email that really cheered me up even though one of the grants he was after won’t be coming through, but I hope that something better will come in because of it.

Let’s leave that sadness and get up to date with these rambling gypsy-like travellings across the United States.

First of all, I love the life.  I love stopping into town to see a little cross section of what life is like there for just a couple of days and then zooming away in a weird zen-like state to the next port of call and absorbing that lifestyle for a little bit.

I wanted to meet with a friend of mine in Montreal for just an hour or so before leaving for Minnesota, but wouldn’t you know it, we started drinking and a lot of other friends showed up and we started talking about life and everything, and I didn’t leave Montreal until 9pm, about 3 hours later than I had planned to.

But it is fine, I love long road trips, night time doesn’t bother me, so off I go!

But I only get about one hour out of the city, just approaching the border from Quebec to Ontario, when I collapse.  I can’t go any farther.  I get off the highway and park in this huge housing development for rich people and sleep in my car in front of a big mansion.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work because I have no coat and no blanket and it is minus 10, so I drive to the worst looking hotel I can find and stay there for 50 dollars, and leave at 5am to get back on the road.  The rest of the trip is pretty uneventful, and it looks like I will get into Minneapolis to see my sister that evening, but it gets later and later, and I get hit with this fatigue again!  it is still way too cold to stay in the car, so I have to call my sister again to say that I will die if I try to drive for another four hours, and I find a nice hotel instead.

But the good news is that my sister is sounding really happy on the phone.  The last few times I had spoken with her she had been sounding down and depressed,  but she seems really happy and happy to see me soon!  This made me feel good.

So I sleep at another hotel (I feel like money just wants to jump out of my pocket!) and get up early to arrive in Minnesota around 11am.  Ah, Minnesota.  What a strange place.  I see my mom again, and no matter what, you turn right back into a kid, I think.  I said that I needed to do a little business, and I apologized, but I just quickly called all of the organizations I was supposed to meet with before heading into town with my mom to shop for underwear and deodorant (my mom’s idea.  strange.)

The weird thing is that my mom seemed to think that while I was working on the computer and everything, my email was totally there for her to read!  But at least she got to see me working and I think understands better the kind of work I do and that despite the fact that I am not getting paid right now, it is still hard work and very stressful!

But my mom announces that she knows I am very busy, but she has taken these three days off to be with me, so she will drive me around to all of the meetings I have to go to.  I told her that it seems weird that my mom will be driving me to my business meetings and that I don’t really want to walk into all these theaters and companies with my mom, so she says she will just wait in the car.  In the cold.  Reading.  I agree to this, but I am still confused about everything… is this normal in minnesota?

The first stop is seeing my dad at his company, which I have never seen.  My mom drives me there and then waits in the car, reading, as she told me she would do.  The secretary of the company sees her and says:

“What’s your mom doing in the car?”

“Waiting for me.”

“Invite her in!”

“She’s reading.  She’s happy.”

“I’m gonna go get her.”

“No, she’s ok.  She feels eccentric today.  If you invite her in she will feel robbed of that.”

“Well ok.  But we want to watch her!  Well, not watch her, but look at her.  See her.”

“…”

Is this normal in Minnesota?

All the secretaries crowd around me.  They keep asking me about my clown life.  Weird.

Then my dad comes out and there are hugs.  My dad says he will show me around.  The company is impressive.  There are employees and everything, and they treat him like he is the vice president, which I guess he is.  I find out he is retiring in two days, which I didn’t know.  He wants to go on a two-month road trip with his girlfriend with no desitination in mind.  Just to see north America.  I am like my dad in this way.

The visit is over, and I set up a coffee date with my dad, just my dad, that evening, and then head out to see my mom.  My dad sees her in the car.

“Was she waiting there the whole time?”

“Yeah.”

“It must have been cold.”

“She has a book.”

“She should have come in.”

“…I’ll see you tonight.  Bye.”

Then it is off to the theater to see my first ever acting teacher and director.  I am looking forward to seeing her, and a theater is big, so I hope my mom will come in instead of hiding in the car.  She comes in, pees, and goes back outside.  I hope that it is a good book.

They are rehearsing Romeo and Juliet on stage.  I don’t want to interrupt rehearsal, so I wait outside and listen to my teacher direct.  I imagine that she is talking to me, and I remember what it was like as a junior high and high school student, being directed like this…  how weird everything is.  I look through photo albums while I am waiting.  There are a lot of photos of me at different stages of my life.  In a lot of them, I recognize my clothes, but I do not remember the play or the class that I am in.  What did I learn?  What was I doing?  Who am I working with?  We look like such good friends…  I am old now.  A lot of the pictures make it look like I am good at what I am doing.  I wonder if I have let myself down.  It is impossible to ask the kid in the photos what he wanted from me.

I see my teacher after she finishes up rehearsal.  We decide that meeting for brunch tomorrow will not work out.  We are sad.  We talk about art and life and everything is nice.  She is proud of me; shows me off to the kids she was directing.  It is late and my mom drives to the front of the theater.  I guess she got cold.  Or she finished her book.  I say goodbye to my director and head over to my highschool girlfriend’s house where only her parents live.

It is a big house.  Maybe four levels.  I talk with her dad.  He tells me it is not to late to be a doctor.  He can help me get into Mayo Medical School.  I tell him that would be great.  I want to go back to grad school.  He asks me what I want to do and I explain generally.  He advises me to be more specific, and I can not.  He says I will need to be.  He tells me all about science and research now; how things are going downhill, how he is lucky to get funding still.  Other people are suffering.  I know that it is because he is the best at what he does.  Will I ever be able to claim such a thing for myself?  Will any of us?

I talk to his wife about life and her kids.  I feel like I am their age and we are talking about children together.  We open up a bottle of Black Swan red wine from Australia.  It is really, really good.  I drink a lot and get a little drunk.  I tell them how glad I am to have known them.  They tell me about their daughter and her finacee.

I tell them that I hope to see Fiji (her father’s birthplace) if I work in Asia for a while.  I want to see where he came from and learned how to be a doctor for less money than anyone could ever live on, then or today.  He would operate on you for free, and refuse a chicken in payment.  Maybe a couple of eggs at the end of the month.  Now he is the world’s best neurologist.  Fiji can make a man like that.  I want to see it.

Now I am really tired and drunk.  I go to a barbeque with my mom and we eat fast.  It is only 9:30pm but they are closing.  We eat in like 20 minutes.  Not a very relaxing meal, not what I have come to expect from converstaions over meals, but my mom is very happy.  I am supposed to meet my dad across the street in 40 minutes, so I go into the restaurant.  It is a perkins.  Like Denny’s in Japan, but all Western food.

I fall asleep on the bench waiting to be seated.  The waiters must think I am a weird drunk who wandered in off the street.  They ask if they can help me, but really like I need help.  I say I want a more comfortable place to sit.  And water.  I am waiting for my dad.  They bring me to a booth and bring me water and I sit, drink, and fall asleep.  When I wake up from time to time, I sometimes see a Cambodian waitress with no age who speaks Minnesotan English perfectly.  She has a poise that I admire, and I think that she is pretty.

One of those times I wake up I see my dad.  I can barely keep my eyes open.  I am not drunk any more, that is for sure, but I am tired, tired, tired.  We talk for a long time, about money, my sister, about work…  about my project.  He wants me to know he is proud of me…  I say that proud is not what I am looking for, I want him to be proudER, and I am not sure I can manage that.  My dad is drinking coffee and I am drinking water.  It is late, late, late.

In the end, I drive back to my mom’s house.  I can’t remeber anything about what happens.  I am supposed to meet her the next day for lunch at 12:00 at a greek restaurant where I will meet her new friend who turns out to be a really nice guy.

Before that, though, I wake up and run to all the small town theaters to try and pitch my project to them.  It is weird.  Like they have never thought of bringing an international show to this little town.  They probably haven’t.  I know it and knew it, but it was interesting to try to talk about the possibilities, to help them see the potential.

I feel like my friends in the Refugee Camp and I are all kicking our asses in Japan and feeling beat up because of it, but is important to know that any day we wanted to, we could go back home and be superstars.  Unfortunately, that could all too easily be the beginning of the end.  why keep trying when we can be so satisfied with where we are?

I print up some more little folders and then head across the street to my former high school to see if I can meet any teachers.  Only one of the three I wanted to see was free, and I met with her.  She was my german teacher.  She is from Bavaria.  Now she teaches math, and it is weird speaking to her in English.  I feel like I will lose points for it.  Her daughter is in Taiwan now, doing marketing or some such thing.  I should meet up with her when I am there.  I give her my email address to pass on and we talk about what I am doing, I ask her how she is, how she thinks about the kids in the school today.  How is school treating her.  Is she happy?  All through everything there are students in the class who are doing extra work.  They have lots of questions.  One gets yelled at for not doing her work early enough.  This is Minnesota education.  I never let myself be a part of it, and I see why.  We say our goodbyes, it was nice seeing each other again, and I walk back to my car.

I wonder if she actually remembered who I was.

Dinner with my mom’s friend.  We talk about America and the way America is seen by other countries, how I feel being back here and all that.  Dinner is nice.  Gyro sandwiches and calamari.  I thank him for being a good friend to my mother in what could be a very hard time for her, and later, she tells me that he found that I talk a lot and am passionate.  My breath smells now, and I need to drive to Minneapolis for business meetings.  My mom says her friend wants to adopt my sister and me.  I chew gum, and barely get there on time.

Actaully, I have 10 minutes and need to get coins for the parking meter, so I go into a coffee shop and have a coffee.  I talk with the girl behind the counter…  I ask her what she does.  this must not be her full-time job…  no, it is part time.  So what does she really do then?  What is her art?  She says she has no art, no passion.  But she has a friend who is an actor.  She is friendly and pretty, and nice to talk to.  After 8 minutes I leave to go to my meeting, putting coins in the meter as I go.

Business meeting… what can I say?  It is great.  Everything that doesn’t happen at a Japanese business meeting happens at this one.  He is excited by the project.  wants to know how he can help!  What are the details!  Can he come to Taiwan to see it?  Tell us how much money you need…  let’s make it happen.  I smile as I leave and put his card in my pocket.

I have some time and want to call some more theaters, so I go back to the coffee shop.  I feel like I am important when I make the phone calls.  not because I am, but just because I am a small enough to feel important by starting a phone call like:

“Hello, this is Travelling Acrobat in residence at the national theater of Taiwan calling about the potential for developing our project for a flagship tour in the Minneapolis/St Paul market.”

I am a fake, and I will pay for it someday.

Today I just pay for my juice.

I have 45 minutes to meet my ex for a drink.  She works right across the bridge and around the corner.  We meet and I have a Guiness.  I order nachos, but she eats them all.  We laugh a lot about a lot of things.  She will be married in a week or two, I guess.  She asks if I want to meet her fiancee that night.  I say no.  I said that it was strange talking to our teacher and her parents about her.  She knew it.  We have a history, I say.  That is what he says, she says.  It is time for me to go.

Next meeting is at a Minnesota circus school.  They make a lot of money but rarely leave the state, much less the country.  The owner thinks he could benefit from my project.  He is particularly proud that Cirque du Soleil wants to use his huge school as a training ground for their Cirque du Monde program.  “We are going to be where Cirque trains its coaches,” he beams proudly.  I’m concerned by the number of kids that seem to be taught by volunteer parents and how many are falling.  It is true that if they partner with us we are eligible for a lot more money in educational grants.  It is a sad, sad lie I live, sometimes.

So I head back into Rochester from the cities after the circus school…  it is 70 miles, about 90 minutes of a drive, and this fatigue started hitting me in the head again!  I am supposed to meet a high school friend of mine in the same restaurant where I met my dad the night before.  I get there a half an hour early and curl up in my car to sleep.  This is starting to feel more like a little apartment than a car, but at least I have a blanket in there with me now.

My friend is a high school teacher now, in creative writing.  She has the sweetest face, like a 14 year old’s, and a really dark attitude.  I think I told her that she exhibits an optimistic nihilism or something like that.

She has finished her first novel and is starting work on her second.  I am nervous to read her first one because when she started writing it five years ago she told me that there was a character based on me.  I am scared to find out what that character might be like.  She loves the romantic side of my life.  Somehow, the instability and insecurity of our nomadic lifestyles really appeals to her.

It is stange to have these people who live in houses and who hold steady jobs jealous of my crappy existance!  They love hearing about life in Tokyo with my Lithuanian roommates, about our bathtub with a gas water heater built in…

I guess I’m telling them about a world they have never known…. a parallel world right outside of the borders of their country, and they are transfixed; transported…  not sure they would ever venture out there to see it all for themselves.

What a strange thing to want the things we can have, but not want to go after them ourselves.

I finish late, and barely make it home without falling asleep on the road.  I was supposed to meet my dad and one of his badminton students at a restaurant, but time got away from me and by the end, I was barely concious.

Another night slides by…

And I am awake and heading up to the cities (Minneapolis and St Paul) once again, but this time to see my sister and meet her new girlfriend.

My mom is driving once again, and when we arrive, she says that my sister, her girlfriend, and myself should find a nice cafe and just park my mom at some diner somewhere to read her books and make phone calls for church.

We do that, and the three of us find a nice vegetarian and vegan cafe.  I want something called ‘mock tuna.’  It tastes like tuna but has no meat in it whatsoever.  I really like it.  Then I know from the swelling in my mouth that there must be nuts in it…  a delicious brush with death.  That is how I describe it to the waitress, who applauds my positive attitude towards dying.

My sister works in a bank and takes a lot of time off to fly around the country playing music for corporate events.  Her girlfriend is a 19-year-old college student in gay and lesbian issues and something else like sociology.  She is always smiling and laughing.  And gets excited a lot.  When she is excited, she sort of vibrates and shakes and smiles.

We talk about all the silly normal things like how they met, what she wants to do for a job… I drink vegan coffee with soy milk instead of cream.  Now it is time to take her to class.

We check in with my mom, who is making loud calls to her churchmates in a very leftist cafe.  I wonder if people are annoyed.  I drag my sister into the bathroom to look at us in the mirror.  we look very similar.  Moreso every year, I think.

We leave my mom again and print up some more materials for the meeting that my mom says she scheduled with me for the Guthrie Theater.  I have been using her cell phone, and the guy I wanted to meet called while she had it on her.  She pretended to be my secretary, I guess.  My mom is being my chauffeur and my secretary.

Beforehand, I go to another cafe, this time, just with my sister.  we look at women together.  It is interesting that I find ordinary Minnesota women exotic looking now after being away for six years.  My sister finds them boring.  We talk about us, about each other, about our relationship.  About our parents and their friends.  She tells me that she has always been envious of me; that I can do everything and never fail.  That I will take a chance, that I am never afraid to look foolish.  That people believe me when I say things, that I am so sure of myself.  I tell her that I am not sure that everything she is saying about me is true.  I explain that the trick is to be the best at something and the worst at something at every step of your life.  That is what increases your comfort level.  I tell her that she should assert herself more, that she has real creative potential, but that she is locked inside.  She sort of agrees.

She drives me to my meeting and then goes to pick up my mom.  This meeting is in one of the world’s newest theater buildings, and quite possibly one of the largest.  It is not open yet, won’t be until June, but I get the full tour from a guy named James Morrison.  This is a beautiful theater.  I want to play here.  I want to live here.  At least, get really drunk here.

Perfectly designed for the director, performer, technician, and audience member alike.  It is a pleasure to see such a temple to the performing arts.

James loves this project; wants to make it a priority for himself this fall.  Wants to see it travel across the USA.  We meet for an hour, and by the end I am smiling.

My mom and sister pick me up; they have bought me a bubble tea.  My mom tells me that the woman behind her in line lived in Japan.  When my mom said that her son lives in Japan, the lady’s first guess was that I was teaching English.  My mom is so proud to say “No.  He is a show producer!”  Oh the shame of a successful lie.  When the woman finds out that I do circus and that I had been to the Minnesota circus school the day before, she tells my mom that her kids studied at that school, but that she didn’t like it.  My mom told her that I had visited and that I wasn’t sure myself.

I blew up at my mom.  I am very mad.  She is sorry.  I tell her not to tell people anything about what I say.  OK, fine, she can say what I do, but don’t mention the names of any organizations or what they told me.

Silence.

I say I’m sorry.

Maybe I was a little too dramatic.

But she needs to be careful!  She says she will be.

I know she won’t.

But it’s OK.  She’s my mom.

We get my sister some new glasses and then we go to my Aunt and Uncle’s house.  She is a teacher too.  My uncle is recovering from recent surgery.

I run by all the things I talked about with my friend heather about teaching the new generation of American students; kids who have lived their whole lives in the era of the internet.  It is truly a different world, and the kids are far more difficult to teach, I guess.  At least by the old methods, so they are trying to find new methods to teach that resemble the pace and colorfulness of television and the internet.

My aunt seems to have a very global view of the United States as seen be the rest of the world.

Now, it is off to a Mongolian barbecue where the whole family eats.  It is uneventful, but I sit next to my sister and look at her proudly throughout the whole night.  I wish I could help her with her dream to get away from this city and state.  We pose for pictures at the end of the meal.  At the end, my family tries to recreate a photo that we had taken 16 years ago.  We do a pretty good job, I think.

Before driving back home to go to bed for my last time in Minnesota for a while, I hang out with my sister at her apartment.  We see her band, I look at pictures of her, talk to her and her girlfriend and play with her cats.  I take pictures of them, and say I am glad to have made a new friend.  This makes her vibrate and shake with happiness.  I download some music onto my ipod from my sister’s computer, have my picture taken with her, and head back to my mom’s house one last time.

The next morning, my mom let’s me log in to her computer to write to my friends in Boston to tell them that I am coming.  The Political Scientist logs on from Tokyo, and I get to chat with her.  It is nice.  I have been missing that girl so much, but I feel like I will see her so soon, everything seems unreal. I am fatigued and jet lagged and depressed and excited, all at once!

Finally, I am off.  It makes me sad to see the colored paper signs that my mom has hung up on her garage door that spell out “Welcome home, Travelling Acrobat!”  I have only been home two and a half days.  I don’t deserve to make people that happy just by showing up.  I pull out of the driveway and start the long trek to Boston.

 

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