Review: The Entire State of Minnesota

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. Except when I am jet lagged or reeling from getting the reading-center of my brain blended with a Q-tip, and start babbling about random nonsense. New posts every Tuesday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

This one’s a little different. Normally I review books on this book review blog, but I’m in the middle of an airplane relay race across the world, so today we’re going to be taking a look at the Gopher State, the land of ten thousand lakes, the land that seasoning forgot, Minnesota. That’s right, stick around and you will get to hear many, perhaps even most, of my opinions on the North Star State.

Minnesota is famous for being a very progressive place, in local quirky ways. Sure, you can have gay sex in church and slavery in all the history textbooks, but try to buy a bottle of red wine at the grocery store and people will look at you like you’ve come to a playground to score Fentanyl. It’s an open society, but only to an extent. The fact is that anyone who doesn’t look like Bill Fagerbakke from Coach is a guest in Minnesota. That’s the strength and the weakness of their tolerance. Guests don’t have to ask for the good towels, or affordable healthcare. They get it as a matter of course. But by the same token, guests don’t ever belong, no matter how long they stay or how many legal gun permits they have in their glove compartment. It’s truly a land of contrasts. Let’s take a look around, shall we?

“I will always live in Minnesota. It’s so cold it keeps all the bad people away.” – Prince

Minnesota as we know it was founded by Scandinavians seeking greater hardships than could be provided in Europe. They must have been thrilled to find the place full of loons with their terrifying red eyes (fun fact: loons are the only state bird to feature in my nightmares). Ultimately they went on to invent the toaster, the shopping mall, and Prince, twice. Before Prince, their main recreational activity was Lutheranism. Studying the history of Lutheranism is very difficult, mostly because of the names. Let’s say you’re a Lutheran, but you have serious misgivings about the way other Lutherans Lutheran, because of course you do; you’re Lutheran. So you take down the old sign in front of your church and put up a new one with a new name. That’s the best part, picking a new name. But you have to follow certain arbitrary rules, because of course you do; you’re Lutheran. Besides “church” and “Lutheran” there are five permissible words: Evangelical, Synod, Joint, General, and Norwegian. You can use all five, in any order, but they cannot be repeated. This means there are five factorial possible names (don’t check my math). There are many more than five factorial Lutheran churches, so many of them have to have the name of a state thrown in for clarification. Not the state they’re actually in, of course, that would be confusing. If you’ve ever been to Concordia University, you know that it’s a whole series of universities associated with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, scattered all over the country, from coast to coast. Guess which state does not have a Concordia University. Go on, write down your top three guesses. Did you pick Missouri? Correct! Minnesota is famously full of liberal Lutherans, except the Minnesota Synod thought that mainstream Lutherans were too liberal, so they joined a more conservative group named after Wisconsin that was at the time based mostly in Missouri, not to be confused with the above-mentioned Missouri Synod, which is today based mostly in Nebraska, despite the fact that the Nebraska Synod is part of the main liberal Lutheran super-group that includes most Minnesotan Lutherans.

“Afterwards they would stroll home through the balmy air of August night, dreaming along Hennepin and Nicolett Avenues, through the gay crowd.” – Minneapolis native F. Scott Fitzgerald

The beating, mayonnaise-clogged heart of the state is the twin cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul. Minneapolis has a singular mission: to be obnoxiously perfect. This is where you take the effortlessly functional public transportation down to the artisanal ice cream shop, secure in the knowledge that your corroded arteries will be reconstructed at a world-class hospital by a handsome surgeon who escaped the Syrian Civil War. Cute brick condos full of working class Communists line the maple-shaded boulevards. Everyone’s smiling and waving at nothing. It’s awful. Then there’s St. Paul. Good Ole St. Paul, where every street looks like an establishing shot on Roseanne. Every few years the people of Minnesota come together and try to find the one person among them who is not nice. They name this person “Governor,” and quarantine them to St. Paul. One time the flour mills in Minneapolis dumped thousands of tons of flour into the river and it made a raft of rotten wheat paste that floated down stream a little ways and then settled along the shores of St. Paul. I’ve always felt like the gelatinized glob of mold and dead rats made the right choice.

“If you’re smart enough to go to college, you should be smart and creative enough to pay for it.” – Jesse Ventura, former Governor of Minnesota

The North Woods, Minnesota’s Minnesota, where your best source of vitamin D is a 60-watt bulb, is another distinct region. At some point this must have been the least desirable part of the state, because it has a large concentration of Native Americans. Parallel to the tradition of displacing Natives is the tradition of losing track of where you put them, resulting in the hilarious Northwest Angle, in which a cartographic error has cut off the Red Lake Indian Reservation from the rest of the United States. I’m sure the locals are very broken up about it, super for real you guys. They really wanted to go to your problematic holiday booze-up, but oops, cartographic error. Next time, for suresies. The Dakota and Ojibwe, among other groups, are not as enthusiastic about some of the cultural practices of their Settler neighbors to the south, such as genocide or potato chip-based salads, and maintain their own cultural traditions. Chief among these is the elaborate prank they have been pulling on the rest of the country for years, in which they pretend that wild rice is a food, and sell it to credulous Waabishkiiwed as a healthy alternative to edible rice. Their ability to keep a straight face while White people put this stuff in their mouths and bounce it around a few times is nothing short of astonishing. The main city of this region, Duloot, is currently in the middle of a Hail Mary play to attract tourism, having lost its industrial base, fishing rights, shipping, football team, Bob Dylan, and self respect. You can only trick a person into visiting Duloot once, so this places a cap on the number of tourists the city can attract. Nevertheless, they have built numerous shops and restaurants along their post-industrial waterfront, where you can buy leftover iron ore and wild rice. Presumably neither goes bad, so no hurry.

Above: current Minnesota state flag. Below: my favorite version of the popular alternative.

Minnesota to English Translation Guide

“hotdish” – shepherd’s pie, but with tater tots

“oofda” – expression of surprise, not a sex maneuver

“duck, duck, gray duck” – game for children with limited vocabulary

“Camp Snoopy” – surprisingly also not a sex maneuver

“crane” – stick of colorful wax used for drawing

“Juicy Lucy” – still, STILL, not a sex maneuver

“salad” – corn flakes in aspic

“meat raffle” – definitely a sex maneuver

While it is sometimes frustrating trying to convince people that the tropical rainforest does not begin at Iowa, and that slavery does not persist in the South (we cut it up into its constituent pieces and sprinkled it across the whole country years ago), the earnestness of Minnesotans is infectious. They deserve their reputation for kindness, and I am constantly amazed at their completely unanalyzed assumption that people generally do good things. It feels like being a supporting character in Come From Away every time I visit. For an inveterate hater like myself it’s kryptonite, draining my powers of cynicism until there’s very little left. Everyone should experience that at least once in their life. You should go. But bring gloves. I’ll catch you up on what I’ve been reading just as soon as I can figure out what day it is and what country I’m in.

I am now a certified expert on Minnesota, and I’m not sure how to feel about that.

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