I am sending this message in a bottle to let you know, before your government shuts down all communication with the rest of your fellow human beings, that, despite what you may have gathered about America from VH1’s princess-wreck reality TV show “You’re Cut Off!,” we are not all that bad.
For example, I am writing this from a pub in Northeast Minneapolis on the eve of Groundhog’s Day, the best American holiday of them all: We celebrate sunlight, shadows, rodents, winter, light, darkness, spring, fur, dirt, hibernation, myth, roots, mystery, anticipation. People are coupling and dancing. We have endured a long, cold winter but — the audacity of hope — it is finally yielding. The death grip is loosening. Spring is in the air, I swear.
Now the band is doing “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” a song by the Monkees, a made-for-TV band singing about what it’s like “here in status-symbol land,” and I’m thinking about you and I and how different our worlds are, but more about how alike we are when it comes to universal truths like music. I am thinking about freedom. Again. I am thinking about how free I feel and how caged you must feel.
A young woman just bolted up from the booth in front of me. Her feet stamping across the salt-stained February red tile of the bar sound like a cowgirls’ clacking across Deadwood. She and her friend have been talking passionately about their working lives. I don’t ask. Women of a certain age are scared of men who are too forward here. Does that sound familiar? I bet that happens to Egyptian women all the time.
The two of them storm out before midnight, both sporting serious hipster knit-hats, with bigger fish to fry on the horizon or an early morning in the offing. They look very passionate, very committed.
A woman asks me to dance. She’s friendly and cool, an attorney. She wants to know what I’m writing. She says my blue glasses look like John Lennon’s. When the band launches into a Beatles’ medley, I twirl her around the dance floor once and by the time the band does the Replacements’ “Portland, Or.,” the woman and I are new BFFs.
Three beautiful African-American women walk in, royalty on parade, and park themselves on three bar stools. Their hips swing on the barstools gently, sensuously, slow mimosa kisses after Easter brunch, dreadlocks draping their shoulders a la their grandmothers’ dead fox shawls of the ’40s. They give the lucky-and-getting-luckier married man in the near booth birthday greetings.
Now the band is doing a song about the mystical dialogue that young people around these parts have nurtured with the Northern Lights, and everyone in the joint drifts off to a sky of their own making. Stories about alcohol and beaches and stars and hallucinogens abound in the booths and beyond.
The band lurches into “Walk Like An Egyptian,” which myriads of bands on the planet are undoubtedly dusting off at the moment, which only brings me back to what I wanted to talk about today. I hope you can still hear us. There is a film opening sometime this month, called “I Am,” in which the filmmaker asked the question “What’s wrong with the world and what can we do to fix it?” to such great minds as David Suzuki, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Lynne McTaggart, Ray Anderson, John Francis, Coleman Barks and Marc Ian Barasch.
Of course, it could be a shallow Hollywood ego-repair journey, but from the trailer I’m hopeful. To a person, each interviewee talks about the oneness of humankind, about how it is in our DNA to get along with each other and that the butterfly effect — what happens in, say, South Minneapolis, effects what happens in Haiti and North Minneapolis and Egypt and Afghanistan — is real.
Empathy, in other words, is a fact. A part of the human condition. Which is big news over here, in case you hadn’t been paying attention. We are. Too you, I mean. Like all the photos and stories bleeding out of Egypt, I learned about “I Am” from the Internet. Here’s hoping that you and your grandchildren and great grandchildren get a chance to see the film, and soon, whose tagline is, “The shift hits the fan.”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.