THE TERP BALLROOM
This is a story based in the state of Minnesota, and it's about the most unlucky person ever born in that state. Let's call him Hank.
Before I begin about Hank though we have to first take a quick look at the town where it all happened to set up the tale.
Named after a Confederate Army Colonel and famous for a 1959 109-day long meat packing strike where the Minnesota National Guard had to be called in after violence, fistfights, and general anarchy spilled out into the streets, this shithole in 1975 was the home for about 20,000 people. It was nestled in between two heavily fertilizer run-off polluted lakes that spawned carp and bullheads as big a small sharks and it was a town that revolved around the local packing plant that slaughtered sheep, hogs, and cattle and turkeys. It paid top dollar wages to the high school dropouts it employed and would foster generations of Kennedy-like alcoholics who suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome until the union was eventually broken in the 80s and the company imported non-documented help from south of the border who would do the same jobs for six bucks an hour until the plant mysteriously and "accidentally" burned down in the late 90s. The plant put out a twenty-four a day funk that made the whole town smell like someone was taking a shit while smoking a Swisher Sweet cigar.
But in the 70s you had several choices in your life after graduating from the local high school: work at the plant, go to the local vocational school to study mobile home management, join the military (not a real popular choice back then since Viet Nam was still fresh in every one's memories), or you just said the hell with it and moved to Minneapolis where they had drive through fast food, quality flush toilets, and the strippers weren't forced to wear pasties.
To say that this environment would crap out numerous losers, dropouts, criminals, boozers, drug addicts, and general overall dipshits is an understatement. But on the other hand, to be proclaimed the the town that had produced the most unlucky person in all of the state is quite an achievement!
It all started going downhill for Hank over at the Terp Ballroom. It was a Saturday night, the drinking age at that time in Minnesota was only eighteen, so the stage is set, that's all it would take. The Raspberries who were fresh off their huge hit - Go All The Way - were making an appearance and the place was packed to the ceiling with insanely drunk and stoned high schoolers. The Terp was a joint that served beer and also provided Coke and 7up to help cut the horseshit taste of the rotgut booze that was smuggled in by the mostly underage crowd and the management was well know for their "don't give a crap" attitude anyway about drinking age enforcement. The joint stunk of cheap booze, Hai Karate and Brut cologne on the boys - perfume from Woolworth's on the girls, ditchweed Mexican marijuana, and vomit. The Terp was ancient and wired for shit and when The Raspberries hit the stage, rock star fashionably late, they blew every fuse in the fucking joint out! It didn't matter to the partying crowd - everyone kept pounding down Grain Belt beer and no-name whiskey 7s and rum and Cokes during the several hour delay.
But Hank was out of control! He had come stag, of course. Hank couldn't get laid in a whorehouse with a fistful of fifties but compensated this character flaw with hot cars, obsessively hunting pheasants and ducks, and epic bouts of drinking and dope smoking - and tonight he was pulling out all the stops. He was going from table to table and grabbing whatever bottle was available and taking long pulls off of it - not giving a shit what anyone was saying. Sloe gin, flavored vodkas, beer, whiskey, whatever - it didn't matter, and he supplemented this with by chugging from his own bottle of MD 20/20. When The Raspberries came back on stage, Hank rushed the dance floor and danced maniacally by himself with everyone giving him a wide berth. His shirt was covered in vomit, his fly was wide open and for some reason he was wearing no underwear. By the time Eric Carmen belted out the third song of the set - I Wanna Be With You - Hank was face down on the floor in a pool of his own puke. He couldn't have been more out of it if he was the victim of a Joe Frazier beatdown. Hank had to be rushed to the emergency room where his stomach was pumped. He remained in the hospital for several days, didn't show back up at school until Thursday and still looked hungover.
That week had been opening of duck season and not one to let a little alcohol poisoning bother him, Hank hit the duck blinds early Friday morning and quickly bagged himself three Canadian geese. Quite a hunting feat in those days. The problem was that the geese weren't actually dead - only stunned and for reasons known only to himself, Hank hadn't put the geese in the trunk, he had put them in the backseat of his 1973 Ford Mustang Mach I with the lily white leather interior when he headed off to school. By ten that morning the geese had revived themselves and had crawled over the interior of the car while they smeared their shit and blood from the dashboard to the back window.
The next few months would pass quietly and uneventfully for Hank and then out of the blue in this quiet time he met a girl. Just like that! She was a junior in high school and was kind of a chunky gal but she was sweet and liked to bang in the now heavily detailed and shampooed back seat of his Mustang after a few Old Style beers and bong hits. Winter passed by into spring and the romance bloomed and by the time the warm summer months brought the county fair to town, Hank was in hopelessly in love and his thoughts turned long term to marriage.
But as high school romances always do, this would all turn and go to hell. Hank's girl worked the evening shift at the local Maid-Rite (Home of the loose meat sandwich) and the couple made plans to meet on the midway at the fair on a Friday night so they could enjoy a corn dog or two and take a spin on the Tilt-A-Whirl (which were made just down the road in Faribault - the only business in that town except for the state hospital). Details get sketchy here but the basics are this: Hank had smoked a few joints and had pounded down several cold ones at the beer garden. He had wandered out on to the midway to wait for his gal and had wound up with the crowd in front of the stage of the Chez Paree burlesque show where the girls had come out to pimp their ten o'clock show - it was common knowledge that these same girls would often turn tricks with the farmers and packing plant workers after the last show of the night. At that precisely wrong time Hank's girl decided to show up and caught Hank ogling the overly-made-up, over-the-hill, and long-in-the-tooth strippers. She accused him not only of infidelities but of having an erection and broke up with him. Just like that the big love affair was over!
Rather than sobering up and waiting until the next day to maybe send some flowers, candy, or some other romantic make up bullshit, Hank went home and barricaded himself in the house with a loaded shotgun. The cops showed up, words were exchanged, and Hank shot himself! Only somehow the gun slipped down when he pulled the trigger and he blew his shoulder off, not his head. He didn't die but did spend an extensive amount of time in the hospital.
It would be years before I would hear about or think about Hank again, such is the nature of growing up in a town like that. Then I got a phone call extremely late one night from an high school buddy who was going through a nasty divorce and who had had a few too many and was drunk dialing old friends trying to relive old times.
"Hey, did you hear what happened up at the high school?"
"Not a clue," I muttered as I fired up a Marlboro. I really didn't give a shit what went on at the high school or in my hometown for that matter and just wanted to get some sleep.
"Remember Hank? The guy that got shitfaced at The Terp and had to get his stomach pumped? They found him dead at the foot of the stairs."
That got my attention. "Dead! What the hell was he doing at the high school. What the shit happened?"
"He was the fucking janitor. He had that gimpy arm from that time he tried to cap himself so that was about all he could do. I guess he went out at lunch to celebrate his birthday with some of the locals and got a bit stiff. He took a wrong step on those long marble stairs while he was carrying a bucket and a mop and went down them ass over end. When the class bell rang the students found him laying there stone cold dead."
Now if that isn't a string of bad luck then I don't know what the hell is.