The last time I slept in my basement was a stifling July night a few weeks after my Mom died. I had spent a lingering day in western Hennepin County helping out at the county fair showing voters their new voting equipment. That evening I had a lone ticket to the Twins game and I went and just the events of the recent past made me start crying uncontrollably. I glanced to my right and seated in the next section was Vikings receiver Cris Carter who looked at me with a comforting kindness in his sad eyes. I actually thought he was going to come over to talk to me but he didn't and he really didn't need to. There was something in our eye contact that reassured me that it was OK to be feeling SO much.
I went home that night and decided the air was too heavy and I would try sleeping in the bed in my naturally cool basement. Early in the morning (some do say the darkest hour is just before the dawn) I woke up suddenly unable to catch my breath. I tore at my chest gasping for air. At first I thought a certain furry bowling ball sized friend was asleep on me and was restricting air flow but he was nowhere in sight. I started to panic wondering why I couldn't breath while trying to calm my nerves and slow down my gulps for air.
This past week as the temperature maintained an uncomfortable level at night and the humidity was unforgiving I decided to once again retreat to my basement. I set up a clock radio I borrowed from my Mom's office so I wouldn't oversleep (yeah right) and miss my morning routine. I woke up before the alarm had a chance to buzz and I turned on the radio to hear the announcers interviewing the football coach from Blaine High School about what he does to monitor his players in the unhealthy weather. A familiar sense of dread immediately hit me. I knew from the previous night's news that Vikings' tackle Korey Stringer had been taken to the hospital with a life threatening condition caused by the oppressive heat. I could tell from the sound of the voices and the tone of the conversation that Stringer hadn't made it through the night.
I went to work in a bit of a daze and we turned on the news conference at which Randy Moss broke down wondering how he could ever get over the loss of his teammate and friend. I saw Mr. Carter, eyes hidden by dark sunglasses, trying to remain his ever composed self but at a loss of not only words but of faith because of the sad sad events that had unfolded. I really wished I could somehow convey the same look, the same feeling that Carter had conveyed to me a couple summers back.
The music that played throughout the period surrounding the loss of my breath (and other things) was from a local group that I had stumbled upon. Tubby Esquire's music is a mixture of sarcasm and joy; it is as witty as it is authentic. Yet there really isn't a noticeable clamor for polka music among the youth with purchasing and bar going power.
But there was something really special about the CD, The Return of the Last Castrato, that caught my unexpected attention and held my ear with reassuring aplomb. When I met the band and they played their songs for me around a campfire with a frisbee chasing dog, I was completely won over. These were down to earth guys with something to say, and a unique style of music to say it with.
The group's last appearance Friday night was a bittersweet sendoff. The Viking Bar's clientele, a mixture of young college students and hardened drinking regulars paid enough attention to enjoy a sense of what might have been: songs from an unreleased follow-up to Castrato that included the perceptive question of what came first, polka or beer? And a heartbreaking ditty about a guy wondering why his significant other doesn't seem to care enough anymore to be bothered by an affair. Two stellar highlights from the evening: a joyous rendition of one of the first songs I ever learned to sing, the irresistible "Happy Wanderer" with its made for sing-along chorus; and a song the band played for me all those years ago as the embers of the campfire were dying and the dog had tired out from chasing the flinging plastic disc- Subtlety. That terrific song confirms that a woman with a four button blouse who only buttons three demonstrates the very meaning of subtlety and likewise a guy who swigs a mouthful of milk that makes him stutter, learns a lesson or two because that milk came straight from the udder.
Bassist John Schech told me before the show that one of the reasons the band was breaking up was because it just wasn't any fun anymore. That was hard to detect from the joyous last appearance of the winner of the Minnesota Music Awards' best polka band. Lord hopes it isn't too early to speculate about a reunion concert...