The latter would be Surfside (at left and below, courtesy of Mr. Tom Rockvam)—which overlooked Cooks Bay on Lake Minnetonka, near the intersection of Commerce and Bartlett Boulevards in Mound, Minnesota. It was torn down in the spring of 1985 to make way for luxury condominiums.
Saturday, Feb. 10, 1979, the journal reads: “I drove out to Surfside and talked to Geoff for a second…” Geoff Morrison worked in the kitchen there after we graduated high school in 1978. We’d become buddies while attending the University of Minnesota that winter.
At the time, Surfside was owned by Butch Essig, brother-in-law to Geoff’s girlfriend Dannette, a lovely, whip-smart older blonde. Surfside always hosted our high school’s Homecoming pizza parties, since they could contain all the underage drinkers upstairs, away from the bar downstairs.
Early that Saturday afternoon my brother and I went to Ridgedale for haircuts. “Everybody was there,” the journal states. “Brian and I ran into Sara Beck and she told me that Darla just had her baby yesterday and it was a boy. That was the kind of news that stunned me—” You see, Darla and I had dated when I was a senior, so she was still in high school. And having children out of wedlock was not a common occurrence, at least at our school. Brian and I ran into a lot of other kids, and I even introduced him to Steph Pinsky, my love interest from the U, who was shopping “at the Shirt Shack.”
Once home again, I was back to writing The Crowded Room and knocking back some vodka. No mention in the journal of where the rest of the Family Project was at the time, but the folks may’ve been out of town. “I got tired of rotting around the house pretty loose, so I got in the car and went up to the Burger Chef, went by, [but] there was absolutely no one there.”
It was then I decided to check in with Geoff at Surfside. He finished his shift at 11:00 p.m., and was planning to hit a party. Did I want to stop back and join him? Surfside had a back piano bar that only regulars knew about—I’m certain I got the initial scoop on it from Geoff. The piano bar was just past the restrooms, the doors of which were labelled “Inboards” and “Outboards.”
But that night I wasn’t sure I wanted to party. “I drove around some more, felt real nice going nowhere. I drove past ‘the empty field,’ stopped in by the hockey rink and watched two guys passing around a puck.”
I loved those meditative drives around town, or out on back farm roads, where I fantasized about story scenes and characters. With the radio or cassette player blasting, I was completely in the zone.
When I returned to Surfside, Geoff had already left. “I was about to call it a night when I decided to stop by the 7-Eleven one last time.”
The Spring Park 7-Eleven was the hub of high school activity any given Saturday night—the place to go when ideas were running low. “When I pulled up, Michelle was walking out after paying for some gas. I ran up and we grabbed each other, arm in arm, laughed, ‘Michelle!’ ‘Michael!’ It was really great. I put the gas in her Monza … she said, ‘I wanna read your book when it’s done!’” She had to go, since she was meeting up with her friend Julie Bialon for a midnight movie.
So, here in late October 2013, I imagine being in that space again—outside the 7-Eleven before midnight on a wintry Saturday night in 1979, energy flowing between me and Michelle—but it’s like a scene in a Michel Gondry film—no past, no future, just a present quickly dissolving even as it’s happening.
Then, the following Monday, Feb. 12, I awoke from a dream. The journal records it in full:
“…Michelle and I were lying together on her bed, on the verge of making love. It seemed that she was seducing me. Well, in the dream, her Mom walked in on us (I don’t remember her reaction—it wasn’t big). Anyway, Michelle’s ‘stepfather’ (she hasn’t one) came in on us and he was really mad, bitched us both out and I argued that Michelle’s true father, who I knew, wouldn’t have minded if we were together. The dream, the story, isn’t what’s important—it’s the idea of Michelle, how she secretly has me captivated and can play upon my emotions as she pleases.
“The dream was telling me what I already knew.”