By Zach Hanson
“Yo, you got any change?”
The man looks down at my friend and me as we stand against the columns at the train stop. We have two minutes left until the train arrives, so it’s not like we can just walk away and pretend we didn’t hear.
“I said, you got anything for me?”
I look at my friend for guidance and see him pull out his wallet, hands shaking. I can feel my face heating up because I immediately feel bad that I didn’t offer anything.
The man looks like he hasn’t slept inside for at least a week. The hand he holds out to collect whatever my friend offers is grubby, dirt crusted around the nails. The other is in a closed fist at his side, like he’s holding something.
One dollar goes into the dry palm.
“Come on, you got any more?” the man asks abruptly. “I see your wallet there. That ain’t no poor wallet. Just gimme all your money.”
Another three dollars go into the man’s hand.
“You sure you don’t have anything else?” he asks, his voice raising. “Come on, I can see you’ve got more in there. Just give it all to me, right now.”
I can tell my friend is upset. His breathing has gotten faster and he’s moved closer to me.
“Sorry,” he says. “I can’t give you anything else.”
The man shakes his head. “Selfish, man. Plain selfish.” His stare switches to me, eyes twitching, like he’s scanning my face for something. “How ‘bout you? Got anything for me?”
I shake my head in response, but don’t even say anything. He harrumphs, then walks past me to a few feet away, where out of the corner of my eye I watch him pull out a bundle of money from his pocket. I try to avert my gaze, but I can’t help but watch as he counts out the money he’s gotten. Dollar after dollar flips between his grimy fingers. Forty-three dollars is what I count from where I’m standing.
Another man approaches from the other side of my friend and leans in. “You know, man, you shouldn’t have given him anything. He’s just gonna go blow it all on booze anyway.” He doesn’t bother to lower his voice, and I see the man who was begging from us look up at him with anger in his eyes.
“I couldn’t just say no. He needs help,” my friend says shakily. I can feel his helpless shrug. His shoulder actually bumps mine as he does so, he’s backed so far away from everyone else on the train platform. I look back to see the other man, shaking his head and shrugging back at us. He takes a few steps back.
The homeless man walks past us again, just as the train pulls into the station, and my friend and I board as quickly as we can, unsure if we feel guilty for doing too much or or for not doing nearly enough.
By Nyssa Beech
The razor-blade thin impossibly impeccable snowshoe-hare-white mustache bobs up in down in front of my face as my eyes begin to slowly glaze over.
Damn you, Minnesota Nice.
I am one-hour-to-go at work with a cheese-glue mess to manhandle out of a soup tureen waiting for me in the sink, but here I am hopelessly entangled in a decidedly inappropriate lecture about sex, drugs, and life from a man old enough to be my grandpa.
There is no polite dismount from this conversation.
As I dutifully fill in “Mmm’s” and “Sure’s” during the expectant pauses of his ever-growing monologue, my mind begins to drift to other occasions where I had found myself similarly entrapped in situations where I was either naïve, too darned “Minnesota Nice,” or a combination of both.
The old man in Scotland who tried to make out with my face after I obliged to shake his hand because I was “such a kind, sweet-seeming lass.”
The old man in Berlin who told me “little girls like you need to watch out for men that look like me” after a polite conversation about the train system…
The old man in Fargo I smiled nicely at and laughed-it-off instead of telling him where he could stick it after he told me, “Little ladies like you shouldn’t be swearing because it’s unladylike and unbecoming. No man likes that!”
Jolting out of my haze I become conscious of Mustache being distracted by a waved “Hello” from another customer. I quickly bolt into the kitchen and begin furiously scrubbing the soup pot, making a racket so it is clear that I am busy. I hear snippets of conversation from Mustache and then the audible, “Well, she must have just run away while I was talking to her!”
Apparently I’m so rude—running away from a half-hour conversation about your personal life I didn’t ask for.
I fear rudeness. I was raised to be polite. The Midwestern motto that governs our state dictates that I allow myself to be harassed, allow myself to be stepped on, to be talked down to. “Minnesota Nice” has stifled my personality. It has stunted the growth of the essential “tough girl” that lies dormant somewhere, allowed only to peak out in sarcastic remarks amongst friends.
“Just ran off while I was talking to her…”
I don’t feel bad. There’s a limit, a necessary limit, to even my Minnesota Nice.
By Brad Tramel
Let’s say we have this student.
He attends a state college in Minnesota and, out of necessity, serves at a chain restaurant. After five years of college, he can recite from memory Shakespearean Sonnets 17 and 29, and on his forearm a tattoo of Gatsby’s green light reminds him to always run faster and reach farther.
He dreams of a divisive contingent future: one wins the fiction Pulitzer, one wins Employee of the Week for, let’s say, outstanding ad copy.
It’s safe to assume he’s reading a book—Orwell’s 1984, let’s just say. Now let’s sandwich it in his backpack between a stack of short story revisions and his Principles of Advertising textbook.
Let’s say he transitions that night from a serious, studious writer to a jovial socialite. No, let’s amend that: he has to transition. With a smile he brings old ladies bruschetta and dirty martinis, then feigns interest in their lakefront homes and grandkids. He keeps the spotlight on them—the better their time, the better the tip.
Just remember that 1984 is there, at least, at the bottom of his backpack in the break room. The intention to read it idles in his mind next to many others, like learning piano and French.
At the end of the night, say eleven or so, he folds a stack of cash once and slides it into his back pocket. He drives home quick—no, he walks. Let’s say he walks twenty minutes home. His mind works through a lot in that time.
He can’t recall the faces of tonight’s customers. They’re lost, buried deep under their food and drink orders. He can’t help but wonder if this job stifles those ambitions—if, perhaps, those idle intentions will get buried, run out of breath, and die.
So he’s walking home, but three friends invite him to drink beer, where they will collectively complain about their day. He knows he deserves to relax, to socialize, to do what he facilitated for others all night. He wants to, badly.
But he doesn’t, fighting what feels like instinct.
Instead, let’s say he performs a feat of will. He passes Brigid’s Pub, forgoing beer and a break for a book—and starting with 1984, he eschews one future for another.
by Melissa Mathies
I sit at the table, drinking my Caramel Appletini, trying to figure out why the bartender would put a cherry in it. This is my second drink. My sister, Jessica, is sitting across from me, sipping her water. She is trying to get her friend Adam to come hang out with us. An older man comes and sits down with us, asking what we were doing out on a Friday night by ourselves.
“Well, I turned 21 in June and this is my first time at a bar,” I explain. As soon as the words leave my mouth, he calls for the waiter and orders us all shots of Grape Ape.
The waiter, Eric, returns a couple minutes later with a purple colored drink. He is cute.
“Thanks,” I say. He smiles, and I notice his eyes. They are a deep brown, so beautiful.
I take a sip of Grape Ape, ignoring the older man as he chatters on with my sister. I take turns drinking from the Grape Ape and my Caramel Appletini. They don’t go together, but before I know it, they are both gone. I look over at my sister’s Grape Ape, still full, and interrupt the conversation to ask if I can have it.
I can. I drink it.
A few minutes later Adam walks into the bar. I walk over to him.
“HEY, ADAM!” I say and throw my arms around him, hoping his presence will get rid of the old man; instead the old man just buys me another Grape Ape. I haven’t seen Adam in years. He hugs me and sits down across from Jessica. Another Grape Ape is set down in front of me. I sigh, but start drinking it anyway.
“Waiter,” Adam calls. Eric comes over instantly; I am barely paying attention. “Can we get a shot for the belated birthday girl?”
“Yeah, of course.”
I look over at him and shake my head no. The shot never comes.
We sit and talk for a while as we eat bar food and drink our assortment of drinks. I am not feeling good or bad. I feel indifferent to what is going on around me. I stare straight ahead or down at my drink. I don’t drink often, but I get this way when I do.
“Adam, one more drink. What should we order her?” Jessica asks and shows him the menu.
“I’m not sure, how about this?” he asks. I am oblivious to the choices being made.
Eric appears just then. He gets my attention as he starts picking on me, at least until Adam shows him the menu. They start whispering about the drink. Once it is decided, Eric walks away.
He comes back a few minutes later with a pink colored drink.
“What is this?” I ask.
“A Captain’s Booty.” Adam responds.
“Do you want some booty?” Eric asks and smirks at me.
I look at him through my hair. “I thought you’d never ask,” I reply.
After I finish my last drink, we leave Boondox Bar and Grill. My arm is hooked with Eric’s as he walks me to my sister’s car. I feel warm inside as he looks at me, or maybe it’s the alcohol in my system. I am not sure.
“Buckle up,” he says and stands there waiting until I do. Once I do, he shuts the door and walks away. My eyes follow him until a wave of nausea hits me. I close my eyes and lean my head against the seat.
I am never drinking again, I tell myself.
Zach Hanson would like to be more comfortable in the real world, but until this happens, he is content simply writing about it. Brad Tramel writes short fiction, nonfiction, and, time permitting, freelance video game criticism. Nyssa Beech is finishing up several degrees in English this spring to help assure herself that she’s qualified for the real world. Melissa Mathies is a senior at BSU majoring in creative and professional writing.