Category Archives: ancient history

One of My Encounters with a Giant

I’ve been meaning to start Horizontal Ambition up again, and although there’s been plenty of things going on in my life to write about, but I guess I’ve been blocked. By who knows what. So, in hopes of having a laxative effect on my writing, I’m going to tell you a story from way back in the past. 1975 to be exact. Or fairly exact, the time blends together. I spent the early years of my adult life supporting my self with a wide variety of jobs, seasonal and part time, in order to have blocks of time to work on my art. They way that worked out is another story. I have lot’s of stories, this one’s a bartending story.

The bar was the Black Forest Inn, a German Restaurant that’s still going on 26th and Nicollet in Minneapolis. I’m going to say it was the spring of 1975 when he first started showing up at the bar. Some of you may remember Ben Davidson who played defensive end for the Oakland Raiders in the late sixties and early seventies. A huge man, 6’8″ tall and 275 pounds, with a fu-manchu mustache and a mean look that got him a few movie parts after he retired. This guy was a dead ringer. Just as big and a little bit meaner looking. This was a man on a downward spiral, drinking heavily and getting mean when he was drunk. Not a good combination, huge, drunk and mean. One morning after spending the night playing after hours backgammon I came blinking out to the parking lot and found him sleeping in his beat up black Linc0ln Continental. He was obviously living in his car.

In those days we had an amazingly diverse clientele. Swells from Kenwood and mumblers from the halfway houses along Blaisdale. The Children’s Theater, Art Institute crowd and people from the neighborhood. We were pretty tolerant of our patrons and you had to really mess up to get thrown out. So even though Big Ben had caused some trouble, he hadn’t gotten the permanent 86 yet, but he was walking a fine line. He was one of those guys who would come in early and drink until they were almost falling down, leave for a few hours to sober up and then come back to drink until closing. Like I said, downhill spiral.

Finally one night he was acting threatening, yelling incoherent, obscenity filled blather— not really good for business. I’d kicked him out before and given him the last chance ultimatum. I read him the riot act and told him he was permanently eighty-sixed. Something like, “Get the hell out of here, and don’t EVER come back.” He objected to that. Seemed to be of the opinion the “No one eighty-sixes me.”

“Sir, I just did. Now leave.”

We didn’t have bouncers. The bartenders were pretty much it. Sometimes if Stubby the cook caught wind of trouble he’d come out and stand by the kitchen door holding a giant chef’s knife and crossing his arms to display a very impressive set of biceps.

Some have you may know that I have what is known as the Keller temper. I share it with my siblings and my father, my mother was much more effective with her passive aggressive anger, but the four of us all have been known to completely blow up. It’s a little bit like an out of body experience. I seem to hover above the situation and watch this wild eyed, red faced person cursing a blue streak, sending spittle flying through clenched teeth. One of my triggers is when someone doesn’t seem to take me seriously.  Apparently I didn’t think he was taking me seriously. I’m really not much of a fighter, but when the bolt pops, I lose all sense and fear. So when he told me he was going out to his car and get his gun and come back and shoot me, I only got more aggressive and sent him out of the door behind a string of colorful language that I’d picked up in my youth hanging around the stockyards with my dad.

The adrenalin was just starting to settle down when I saw him coming through the outside door with his hand tucked in his trench coat as if reaching for a gun.  I was standing there exposed, nothing between me and him but 20 feet of smokey air. A smart guy would have run through the kitchen and out of the back door at that point. Or maybe tried to crawl under the dishwasher. But as I said, the Keller rage blocks all fear and good sense. I looked him in they eye. I pointed my finger at him. I advanced toward him yelling, “I said get the fuck out of here. Now get the fuck out of here!”

He got a beaten look on his face, slumped and skulked out the door, never to come back. Luckily for me he was bluffing, I think he just wanted to see me shit in my pants. But that’s another story.

Truth.

My brief career as a runner.

Not quite sure why I’m writing about this now, except for the fact that it somehow came to mind while I was showering this morning. I get a lot of blog ideas in the shower, but please don’t assume that the dearth of posts lately correlates to a dearth of showers. I’m still maintaining a respectable level of personal hygiene.

This all happened in the distant past, Junior High, so the events may not be quite as dramatic as I remember them, but what fun are memories if you can’t embellish them. In the spring of the yea, still hanging on to hopes of having an athletic career of some kind I was out for the track team. The summer before I had discovered I had a smooth easy stride and since I didn’t have much weight to carry, I could run pretty much forever. Because I was ridiculously skinny and had absolutely no appetite for contact, my last venture into football had been very unpleasant that fall. The words “Keller, what the hell was that?” coming from the coach after a particularly half hearted tackle attempt in practice, are burned deeply in my memory. I tried out for basketball. They didn’t cut many people in ninth grade, but I was one of them. I remember during one scrimmage there was a turnover in my offensive end and the other team got out on a one on none fast break. I ran the guy down and blocked his shot from behind. I thought surely that would put me on the team. But when I looked over at the coaches they were in deep conversation and hadn’t seen it. I made a lot of excuses for getting cut, I thought I was better than some of the players kept, but that they’re families were more prominent in the community. But looking back on it now, given my well deserved reputation as a disruptive influence in the classroom and inveterate goof off (today I think the call it ADHD), if I were the coach I wouldn’t have wanted me on the team either. So I pinned all my hopes for athletic glory (and a cool black and orange jacket with an “M” on it) on becoming a middle distance runner.

My race became the quarter mile (the sixties equivalent of 400 meters) and all though today it’s a sprint, in those days for a ninth grader it kind of qualified as middle distance. I was the third best runner in the event and had some good races where I used my long stride to float the backstretch and then sprint around the last turn, finishing strong and leaving nothing on the track. The coaches took notice. During a pep talk the coach who cut me from basketball deemed me the “most improved athlete” on the team. I was feeling pretty high about myself, even if I hadn’t cracked the top slots on the team.

The final meet of the season was the Fargo-Moorhead Junior High championships, held at the Moorhead State stadium. I don’t know how much the college, now university, has grown up around there now, but in those days the stadium was on the eastern edge of the town, exposed to the viscous prairie weather. I was slotted to run the anchor leg of the sprint medley, a relay consisting of a 110, then a 220 and then another 110 followed by the 440, the last event of the meet. The meet was in the evening, under the lights and the weather just kept getting nastier and nastier. By the time they started calling the medley, the wind had picked up and freezing rain had turned to sleet blowing horizontally down the backstretch. We needed to finish at least second in order to win the championship. There shouldn’t have been much pressure because we were a team loaded with speed and I figured to have a lead going into the anchor lap. But I think most runners will tell you that pre-race jitters well up to the point of nausea, and then disappear as soon as the gun goes off. I was almost double over with stomach cramps by the time the race started. Not to mention that, clad in nothing but my track uniform, I was in danger of frostbite.

The race started and true to form, we opened up a huge lead, smooth handoffs and our superior speed opened up about a 20 yard gap by the time the third runner came around to me. I was thinking, piece of cake, even though Jim Henry, by far the best quarter miler in the area was running the anchor for North Jr. High, our arch rivals. He’d beaten me by twenty yards and more several times already that year, but I knew I only had to finish second to win the meet, and beating them would just be frosting on the cake. Then, disaster. I can’t remember the details of how it happened but I either started too soon or too late as by teammate approached for the handoff. We completely botched it, I think I may have actually dropped it and had to come to a full stop instead of the running start you’re supposed to get in a relay. Henry had passed me, but two other runners had as well. Adrenalin took over.

I realized that there would be no floating down the backstretch, no conserving energy to blow by people coming out of the turn, I had to run like hell just to get back in the race. I started out at a full sprint and passed one runner in the turn, but Henry had opened up a big lead and the second place runner was half way between us, ten yards ahead. Coming out of the turn I hit the wind, and sleet. I put my head down and tried to push through it, the frozen rain was stinging every exposed inch of skin, but I was gaining on both of them. Over the length of the backstretch I reeled them in, catching the number two runner at the head of the turn, passing him as we went around. We came out of the turn and I thought I had a chance to catch Henry. The wind was at my back and I tried to start my kick. But I had nothing. I broke form, started to stagger. Henry had just been playing, he turned on his far greater speed an was pulling away. And the third place runner was catching me. I was at the point where I wasn’t even sure I was going to finish, I wanted to collapse into the infield. I wanted to be home if front of the fireplace with milk and cookies. I wanted to go back to being the know it all nerd that was the laughing stock of the football team. And then I  heard the cheering from the crowd. I bore down, I forced my feet to plant themselves one in front of the other and tried to maintain balance and I made it to the finish line, taking second place. We won the meet. I collapsed on the side of the track. I was spent and puking unable to do anything but sit with my head between my knees as the sweat froze on my body. Then I heard that we’d been disqualified for going out of the hand off box. I remember vividly that I started sobbing, right there in front of everyone. After a short delay we found out that the officials ruled that it was a legal exchange and the meet was ours. I don’t remember much else.

The following summer, I came down with Guillain-Barre Syndrome spent a couple weeks in the hospital and came out with very weakened legs. I went out for cross country in the fall, but I couldn’t get my easy stride back and couldn’t psychologically overcome that first little pain you get before you’re really running. I had a very bad relationship with the coach on a lot of levels, I’m surprised he didn’t just kick me off the team. He was a fundamentalist Christian and a survivalist, he had a fallout shelter and was training his kids to survive the nuclear attack that was always hanging over our heads in those days, so they could continue the fight against the godless commies.  Surprisingly we didn’t see eye to eye and we argued a lot. I continued to go out for track and cross country, but I didn’t make much of an effort and I may have been the only person ever to go out for a sport all three years and not get a letter. I never got to wear that cool black jacket with the orange “M”.