“Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an identity that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness’s domain.” Jose Munoz, Cruising Utopia
I think what is secretly seductive about fictional apocalyptic scenarios, especially ones that involve few survivors, is the allure of fantasizing about the ideal circumstances necessary for all of the horseshit that causes all of our anxiety to be completely erased. I think many start this kind of avoidance therapy early in life. It’s a little like praying for a snowstorm or a minor car accident when you fail to finish your book report the night before it is due. As we mature and our anxiety becomes more complex, so does the fantasy. In the increasingly elaborate best case situation (the one that is obsessively recreated in your mind) all of your friends would survive and your most beloved family members, though because of the state of crisis, all of their disappointment and failed expectations connected to you become meaningless. Debt, financial and emotional, is irrelevant. Your only New Year’s resolution is survival. Dominant regulatory norms for privileged attributes disintegrate. The complex, evolved global systems of oppressive power are reset. Your mother would finally understand your moral priorities and see your true leadership potential.
And, of course, you know you’ll be among the survivors. Because you’re good at surviving. And you think you already understand loneliness and deprivation. And maybe, all the dickheads die. Maybe the aggregate, dark forces of demonic global injustice are scorched and reabsorbed into cosmic dust. Wouldn’t that be dreamy?
Besides just incidentally roughing-out the origins of the Christian faith, I am merely trying to conjure a common state of mind that often accompanies the timeless suffering of just being human, tethered to social and cultural networks and relationships that sustain us and crush us. I think this perverted little end-of-times delusion is a gift of evolution to the human brain meant to temporarily relieve the burden of consciousness. Coming down from a particularly vivid round of daydreaming about a utopic apocalyptic outcome, or your off-the-grid, eat-pray-love Airstream fort can be harsh. Familiar interpersonal cramping sets in, the fit of your shirt reminds you that you haven’t been to the gym in two weeks, while your laundry, bills, and achievement deficiencies line up around your bed in blitz formation. Is it really just another Tuesday? Stupid apocalypse never shows up.
Another, more tangibly destructive way to try to escape your own existence, and one that I chose as a lifestyle, is torching the life you’re in, alienating people who could have cared about you, and hurling yourself at a new potential life, imagining that this time, you’ll be able to stay, and somehow, your own skin will cease being completely uncomfortable. Please keep in mind, anyone caught quoting Confucius (“no matter where you go, there you are”) at this juncture, shall be excluded from surviving the apocalypse in my head.
At the end of the 90’s, the end of my twenties, San Francisco had become uncomfortable. I was exhausted. The city that had been my refuge and my enlightenment, seemed equally exhausted by the 90’s. People were moving away. Some didn’t make it through the decade. The scene was changing, dissolving. Speed-fueled, dirty girl punk shows were morphing into straight-edge, academically-informed riot grrrl shows.
A subtle, but important transition. Heroin was the pace at which the city was now limping into the new century, subduing the exquisite anger that had been its hailing beacon. And, of course, I had sufficiently pissed off most of the people I knew and it was time to go.
I thought it was time to grow up. Certainly my parents were wearied by my lack of maturity. I thought I knew what adulthood should look like and that I should go there. I had lucked into a relationship with a woman who actually seemed to be a perfect match for me. Patricia is one of the smartest people I had met. She was unfailingly caring and supportive. She has lots of rad tattoos and cool fashion, and she actually loved me. I’m sure one may be able to anticipate in this story that I screwed this up as well, but for now, we had been together for almost two years when I had somehow talked her into moving to Minneapolis, where grown-ups have back yards and play board games.
I’m sure Patricia would have happily stayed in San Francisco. She’s one of those people who everyone likes and she can stay at the same job for years and years. Nevertheless, at the end of 1999, we packed all of our stuff onto a moving truck, put our two cats, some clothes, and anything of value (not much) into my 1966 Chrysler 300 and started driving out of San Francisco in the middle of a warm night, at the end of August. We had a difficult time finding a hotel that night because of a beanie-baby convention in Sacramento. We had no jobs, no place to stay, and we knew no one in Minneapolis. Minneapolis had no idea that we were on our way.
I wanted to buy a house and have a grown-up job. Actually, I, more accurately, “envisioned” those things more than I’d say I “wanted” them. It’s what my new life looked like in my head. I usually have no idea what I want, or even what that word means. It is important to note that my visions usually come true and there is often unforeseen collateral damage. Yes, I am magic. No, I do not completely understand my powers, but four days after arriving in Minneapolis, we had an apartment and jobs.
We both got jobs working for the Wedge Co-op in their new produce distribution warehouse, Co-op Partners. Patricia still has that job. She does their books. I split my time working in the warehouse, driving a truck for them, and working in the produce department at the Wedge. We had both worked for the same woman-owned, woman-operated, organic produce distributor in San Francisco, so our expertise had extra-fancy liberal credentials. We had the usual, palatable urban and queer confluence of affinities. We were good-tipping, transgressive politics-oriented vegetarians, with tattoos, who liked to drink and smoke. We were the new butch/femme power couple in town.
With our exotic San Francisco mystique, and our charming demeanor, we made friends easily. In March of 2000, we closed on our house. It was a boarded-up, abandoned, 100-year-old mess in a South Minneapolis neighborhood that our new friends cautioned us not to buy in. (The same one that is, fifteen years later, to be the home of the new Seward Co-op, which is likely our fault.) To be fair, neither Patricia nor our realtor wanted us to buy this house either, mostly because of its condition, and maybe the smell, but my visions will not be denied. Patricia made the best of it, as she always did, while I set about acquiring new butch skills, pretending I knew how to fix-up our house.
My intention of becoming a grown-up seemed to be fleshing itself out. The house was becoming functional, though still very much in the style of a 90’s apartment in San Francisco. We had people over. We went out a lot. I became the warehouse manager at Co-op Partners which could be perceived as a real job. Our friends admired the stability of our relationship. We got a dog.
It’s hard to say whether I could have sustained that life, had my brain allowed me to enjoy it. I think lots of people fashion lives by assembling psychologically pleasing bits and baubles of expectations and accessorizing with personal cultural affiliations. Bargains on identities can be found at your local Home Depot, thrift stores, and antique architectural doo-dad establishments. I assume many are content with the identity that occupies their space, how it looks, how it is reflected by their community, their family. Some may even be happy. Some experience ennui. I just always felt like my brain was on fire and my face was melting.
Don’t get me wrong, I truly loved Patricia. I loved our house and our pets and our friends. I wish I trusted psychology more to enlighten me on the demon jamboree that has been banging out maniacal banjo duels in my head for as long as I can remember. I think the destruction began in 2003.
I was fat. That has always been a thing. I hadn’t ever been this big. Since I stopped doing speed in ’98 and started drinking nice beer, I had steadily packed it on. My job was less than satisfying. My boss was the most repugnant, vile person I had ever met. Edward, seriously, you are disgusting. Working for him gave me irritable bowel syndrome. The fact that I had never finished college actually caused me nausea every time I remembered it. I had also started wearing sweaters.
I hated being a grown-up. Patricia hated it too, but I think she was just trying to be supportive. One morning, we were having breakfast at The French Meadow on Lyndale. I had ordered a dish that normally came with poached eggs. I don’t like poached eggs, so I asked that they come scrambled or something. They gave me poached eggs. I spent the next three hours, outside, in my truck sobbing uncontrollably. I think I quit my job the next day.
I applied to the University of Minnesota soon after. Because of the many F’s I had collected from dropping out of school twice, I had to go into an individualized degree program through the College of Continuing Education. This actually meant I could take any classes I wanted. I loved it so much. I had it in my head that maybe I wanted to go to grad school, too, so I took a language, Ancient Greek. My heart was actually touched by the beauty of something for the maybe the first time. I ended up with twice as many credits necessary for a degree, with a 3.94 GPA. I don’t know how people finish school in their twenties.
I had also started working out. I rode my bike everywhere. I even started taking yoga at the U. I lost all the weight and was probably in the best shape of my life. I eventually completed a real triathlon.
Patricia and I threw away our sweaters and remembered that we were cool in the 90’s. And even if we were actually nerds by SF standards, Minneapolis didn’t need to know that.
Our social circle also started expanding. We made friends with all the South Minneapolis hipster queers. We started throwing fabulous parties at our house that everybody came to.
Meanwhile, on the other side of my brain…I started spending more and more time at the gym or the coffeshop writing papers, or even sitting by myself on the porch, anywhere but in the house. My familiar, amiable daily suicidal thoughts were showing their more sinister sides. I wanted to run again. I didn’t know why.
That’s the part that torments and mocks your intellect. Compulsive, self-destructive behavior has never been sufficiently explained to me. Psychology can try to carve it up and name a disorder or disease specific to your behavior that is socially unproductive. Religion can talk about attachment as suffering or the seven deadly sins, which are just severe attachments that create hell in your brain. But those explanations are egocentric and diagnostically unsatisfying. We evolve on a much larger scale. Human culture, with its homogenizing nature, is arguably beneficial to tribes with more cohesive cultures, but I think the force of assimilation is also an elegant and cruel metaphysical test of evolution. If you fit in and thrive, it is likely your genes will be passed on, renewing an assimilating model of human. If you are shunned and alienated at a young age, you are given a second and much harder test. Your own brain will start to weed you out of the pack and no one ever suggests it’s a test. Depression may paralyze you and cause your own destruction. You start to believe that you are of no value to your own pack. Your compulsion to escape leads to all sorts of unsavory and dangerous behavior. You may start to have completely obsessive visions propelling you away from anything that makes you happy because you were not meant to be happy. Happy is for those stupid cake-eaters that fit in.
There is a benefit to humanity that you give by running this gauntlet, however. If you make it through, it means you possess magic mutant rainbow unicorn genes and you really are the only hope for any further human evolution. It’s taken me a long time to realize that my torment was just a dare from Mother Nature. You think you’re acting out of desire, but really you’re just picking yourself off, or at least making yourself more vulnerable to predators.
There are many flavors of compulsion. Mine usually took the form of obsessive crushes on pretty straight girls. C’mon butches, back me up. This may seem benign until you start to recognize that the onset of these epic infatuations always seem to coincide with times in your life when you are closest to potential intimacy and stability. The objects of my preoccupation have never been meant to lead to a successful relationship (and never have). I think I have just wanted to win, like any masculine animal brutishly overpowering rivals, while also overcoming the obstacles of my own anatomy, and achieving some bullshit identity whose entitlements I will never really possess. Maybe I subconsciously believe it’s a way to earn my spot in the pack. As an added benefit, these episodes also completely destroy whatever life situation you’re in that was providing some measure of that completely foreign and unwelcome feeling of actual security and accomplishment.
The first crush I had while I was still with Patricia was on my African History professor, which caused me to fail my final. The second was on my yoga instructor at the U, which resulted in me never being able to return to the athletic center. The third was ultimately fatal to my relationship with Patricia. Patricia was even smart enough to know that I was destroying something that I actually didn’t want to destroy and she wondered what the fuck I was doing. I felt like I was possessed. I felt helpless. I felt like a monster. It took over a year to exhaust Patricia enough to leave. I didn’t realize that I could disappoint myself that much or that I could be that sad, but I could not stop myself from wrecking everything and isolating myself.
The only helpful thing I had done, subconsciously, is back myself into a corner. I couldn’t run. I had a dog and cats. I had a house that was basically a psychic projection of myself. And there were a couple of people I couldn’t live without. One, in particular, I have known in all of my previous lives, and once I recognized him, I couldn’t just leave.
I met Benny Benson within a few months of my arrival in Minneapolis. I was pulling a pallet through the Wedge at 6am. As I passed aisle 4, I saw a new person stocking shelves. I thought to myself, “Shit, that’s cute. Look at that new baby butch who works here.” I introduced myself and asked if I could buy her a coffee. She said no and looked at me like I had poop on my face. Over the next few weeks, I saw little sporty spice roll into the Wedge with a super hot femme girl a few times, which delighted me more than it probably should have. We chatted occasionally at work and we were definitely drawn to one another, but there seemed to an odd barrier to our friendship. Then one night, I was playing in a Euchre tournament at Bar Abeline in Uptown. I saw Benny there with that same pretty girl, but the girl seemed to be on a date with some bio-boy and Benny was wearing blue eye-shadow.
The next day I approached Benny at work, confused, and asked, perhaps a bit too aggressively, “Are you a dyke, or what?” Benny started to kind of choke up and finally said, “I don’t know.” Instantly, I felt all of their pain flood into my own chest and knew it. I knew him. In my teens, I was sent a protector. In my twenties, I was sent a mentor. In my thirties, I was given a brother.
I took him to Cafe Wyrd and we talked about butch stuff and that pretty femme girl he’d had a crush on for years, but never kissed. I got him laid by sending an older woman after him. He still likes to bitch about that. Then over the next few years, Benny started going to gay bars and getting himself laid. He played softball with the lesbians who shave their legs. We didn’t actually hang out that much, except that we were the part of each others lives that remained constant no matter what other dumb shit was going on.
In Early April of 2006, I was in my last semester of coursework at the U. I was in a class called Dissident Sexualities in U.S. History which cast new light on my own history and provided new perspective on the communities I had known in San Francisco. I realized that the queers, in the 90’s, in SF, were special, and that it wasn’t just me that had gotten boring in my ridiculous quest to grow up. Across the nation, the gays were treating fabulous like herpes and liberally applying gay marriage ointment to stop the oozing of awesome. Rich old homos were publicly bitching about drag queens and leather daddies in the Pride Parade because we couldn’t scare the hets anymore if we hoped to be just like them. The Townhouse in St. Paul put a security guard outside the men’s room to check ID’s lest a transman tried to pee in there.
So that’s when the fire started. My marriage was ending. Unbelievable sadness worked with my socially reprehensible behavior to effectively burn all ties to the identity I had been crafting. I couldn’t run away, but I couldn’t find safety. The gays were now crusading for assimilation and vying for membership in the dominant paradigm by burning the heretic queers. Where would the misfits go? Where would I go?
Sanctuary. Apocalypse. Creating the circumstances under which the brutality of cultural norms could be suspended for a time, and not just in my head. In order to find the island of misfit toys, I had to build it. I really could see no other alternative for my life or my tribe.
The next morning, I went into work at Linden Hills Co-op, to stock shelves with Benny Benson. I told him I was opening a bar and I wanted him to be my bar manager. Without hesitation or question, he simply said yes. That was in April of 2006, we were open in February of 2007.
It’s finally time to tell you how Pi Bar happened now that you know why.