Eric Wolfram's Writing, Praries


By Eric Wolfram

I'm speeding down that arrow straight perspective, right back into my memories, into the prairy heartland from Minnesota to Grand Forks. I've driven this road before. And there's something about the way the sky just opens up, it is an endless half of everything, and the earth takes up exactly the other half of everything; it reminds me of how simple life can be. Only people from the Prairie understand. I'm on my way to Winnipeg. I went to ballet School up yonder--a lifetime away.

I make the mistake of telling the Canadian Boarder Patrol that I'm going to the Winnipeg Folk Festival. I should have known better. So they're making me park and go inside. It's humiliating the way they make me wait. They're ignoring me--trying to make me break a sweat--so I'm writing. I bet they think I have drugs. How could they know that I berried what I take eat in Pembina. They must think I'm strange, writing here like a mad man.

The guard in the room is a woman, smart in her uniform and billy club. I wonder if she's going to strip search me. Exciting potential -- a back room, her shirt unbuttoned, hand cuffs. Then I have to stop thinking because a sleeping dragons stirs.

In walks a burly customs guy, "Mr. Wolfram"--Yikes--but then I relax. I can tell he doesn't have the guts to look directly into my brown eye. "So, you worked in Canada before?" He says.


"Where are you from?"

"San Francisco"

"Uh ha, what brings you here"

"The Folk Festival"

"Can you step over here, no wait, empty your pockets."

While I'm emptying my pockets he asks, "So, do they have good sea food in San Francisco?"

"I don't know!" I say. Once again, a customs guy tries to get me talking--I hate that. It never fails, they ask stupid questions while they boss you around--to get you to start to cry or crack or sweat. They want to see if you talk too much--the sure sign of nervousness. So my policy, as always, is to say as little as possible. "I don't know," I repeat.

"So, who's playing at the folk festival?"

"I don't know, maybe someone at the American Boarder Crossing has a festival program," I say with heightened cool, and breaking my rule. After all, I've got nothing to loose but a few hours and my virginity.

But he only pokes around my car and suit case and lap top. He looks at my ThinkPad, and cell phone, and palm pilot, and rio. He starts asking me what M3P files are, but I want to make him feel inadequate for being a bully, so I say my company grossed 4 million last year, in a bold faced lie.

And it works. His 32K of power is ambushed. His ego deflated. He sends me back to the customs girl to get my visa stamped. She is the right type of tough and sexy, and my mind takes off again. She lets me go and sends me on my way, but she doesn't really release me until drive about two miles down the freeway, take a left turn onto a gravel road, and masturbate alone there in the car next to an endless field of golden flax. Thank God for Canadian Customs Ladies!

After my cigerette, the radio makes me giggle because someone says Smokey -- meaning a type of hot dog -- the type of hot dog that you can still taste after 24 hours and a good burp. It's been a while since I heard someone talk about a Smokey.

Back on the freeway, a guy passes in a truck, and he has one of those hockey hair cuts -- short bangs, clipped around the ears, but long in back -- a mullet. It's been a while since I've seen one of those too! I'm definetly heading home, the land of mullets, that's for sure, at least I'm headed in that direction.

And it's the little things like that which choke me up, the smokies and hockey hair cuts. and having Tim Hortons instead of Dunken Donuts, and Chicken Delight instead of Kentucky Fried. But it's everything. The sky and the way the sun hangs there until 10 pm. The way it smells. The way the people drive. There is not much traffic into Winnipeg. Pembina Highway -- the only way into Winnipeg from the south -- it's a two lane undivided highway which gets less traffic in one day then Fell street handles in an hour -- I'm sure.

As I arrive into the city limits the memories start flooding in. That's where I taught Alison to drive my old truck. That's where Jannet's abusive father lived. That's where Sabina shared her treasure. That's where Jeff Byokowski and I -- what ever happened to Jeff -- we used to take the bus THIS far in the freezing cold to go to THAT pizza restaurant?!? The things we'd do for a coupon.

And it all seams so much smaller now. I remembered downtown more spread out, but it's like walking from South Park to the Powell Street turn around. The people are friendly here. I meet a stranger who knows more then a few of my old friends. It's an isolated city -- people know each other as if it were a small town. They think it's a city, but it's not.

I walk by the high walls of my old ballet school and hear Balletrina laughter from beyond -- a familiar tone. That's the window from which we escaped, to sneek onto the girls hall. Peter got expelled for just that, and he even denyed that I had helped him. They caught me that night with Karry in Alison's room. Wendy and Jannet were there. We used to call them lumpy and bumpy, to their horror.

This is no ordinary school. It is run on a tradition founded in Russia, based on the military, when the Tsars wanted St. Petersburg to rival Paris, and when they wanted a ballet corps. Some students are eagerly let go. Some of us were prisoners.

I never graduated. I told the mistro that I auditioned for Ballet We--That's as far as I got. "You're not ready to audition, you're not good enough to audition, why would you leave? You're not ready to leave..." he yelled. He marched me to the Artistic Office and gave me a job company. He didn't even let me tell them that Ballet West had offered me one too--he just knew.

Today, the studios still smell of hard work, of sweat and hope. The pianos still pound out the Mazurkas and Ragtime, the never ending sounds of my youth. AND three AND four, I hear the master bellow. It's the same master, only an older man, with a tear in his eye as I hug him and thank him for what he taught me years ago; that perfection is unattainable, and that nothing significant is done in a single day.

The senior dancers file by, I can't believe I was one of them, right here. "That one," the master says proudly, pointing to a young man, "nine pirouettes, ending on demi-pointe." When the young man senses that he's being talked about, he looks at us. The mistro says, "I'm putting you back in level six because you're not ready to take only the master training -- you need to work harder, little one."

Nothing is good enough for the master. The more you expand, the more he expects. No one can ever make him happy. He forgets about you when you leave. His love for each student is kept secret. Secret until later. "Make yourself at home -- you're part of the family," he says to me walking away.

I'm one that came home, he thinks. That's got to make him happy. He taught me so much. I can't help it. I was young and impressionable. We spent countless hours facing the demons of dance together. Daily work on the basics. This is what mattered -- that's what he taught me. Persisant passion. Dedicated diligence. Neverending gumption. The show must go on. We learned to be ready whenever the audience was waiting.

Wandering Winnipeg, each corner has it's ghosts. That's where Larry threw the football over the Red River Bridge. That's where Kirk jumped in to help me when a motorist got out of a car to fight. That's where I first marveled over the beauty of Alexandria. That's where we almost froze to death walking home.

Interestingly, most of the respectable business have since changed to other shops -- it's the dives that still exist in the same form. Like VJ's where you can get a footlong and fries for under $4 Canadian. And like Cousins Deli's tasty barley soup and The Wagon Wheel -- home of the club house sandwich. I've been jonesing for one of them since I left.

The Folk Festival is, well, folky -- just like I remembered. Thousands of people on the Prairie, under northern lights, listening to acoustic guitar. But there is only so much Folk music one can listen too. I'm flying west tomorrow. I have not found what I am looking, and whatever it is, it's not here anymore.

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