A Minnesota Calling Card

My first professional engagement as a musician was with the 1950's rock and roll band, Spiff Cool and the Keen-o-Jets. Back in 1974, we commenced a short ballroom tour in Minnesota. Opening night was at the Lake Henry Ballroom, I believe. I sort of remember the venue, for this was where we gave away a toilet as a grand prize in the dance contest. I recollect the winner proudly sitting on it, prominently positioned in the middle of the hardwood dance floor, to the hoots and hollers of the audience. BM gags always went over well in those days.

During the breaks that night, Spiff was on the horn several times, and somehow managed to book us in the following night at the Sauk Center Ballroom. Since that's a fairly long haul from our home base (Minnesota is big, latitudinally), we decided to set out immediately after the first gig, taking a hotel room in Sauk Center rather than heading back, just  to turn around again.

I don't know how the others felt about this, but I was delighted to have the extra time to sight-see. For Sauk Center is the birthplace of one of my heroes, Sinclair Lewis. In fact, at the time this story takes place, Lewis was my
biggest influence. As I've mentioned elsewhere, his Babbitt has been and still is in the top six list of books to have shaped my outlook on life.

So, we had all day Sunday to kill before the performance. I don't really recall how Spiff, Howie and Sticks spent their free time in Sauk Center, but Riff and I decided to walk from the hotel to the Lewis boyhood home and museum.


If you ever saw us on stage in those days, we dressed as greasers. Tons and tons of Brylcreem plastered our hair down, spit curl up front, duck tail in back.  But this might surprise you. Both Riff and I had shoulder length hair then. When getting ready for a performance back in the dressing room, we'd simply queue up the hair, then wind it into a knot behind, stuffing it under the top layer. A couple pounds of Brylcreem cemented everything in place. A little dab'll do ya?


But, here, that day in mufti, we had cleaned up from the performance of the previous night, our curly locks hanging down in all their glory. We looked like two hippie bums from Hollywood Boulevard and really stood out, promenading on Lewis' Main Street.


As Riff and I approached the Lewis home, I noticed three elderly chaps sitting on the front porch, chatting. It looked for all the world like a scene straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. So, visualize if you can, a pair of hippies padding the pavement, the three geezers eyeballing us with undisguised disdain. I detected a bit of muttering, some "phewing" from their lips. They were clearly disgusted with our aspect, prepared to make any manner of derogatory comments halfway under their breath. It was very obvious how they felt about long-hairs invading their ag-country turf.


Just as we arrived at the stoop, I stopped, pulled out a tin of Copenhagen snuff (snüs, we call it in Minnesota) from my trouser pocket, uncorked it and dipped a wad.

Instantly, the three chaps opened up to us, friendly as could be. They initiated all manner of conversation ("Where you boys from?", etc.), as they each withdrew their own snüs cans. We were all part of a brotherhood now, sort of like knowing the secret Masonic handshake.

I later mentioned to Riff, that Copenhagen is indeed the Minnesota calling card.

Next vignette: To Buy a Calculator

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