On Thin Ice

It was a reluctant winter.

Photo credits: Top, © 2014 Beth Bowman (www.bethbowman.com) Bottom, author in late 1970s by Dan Rogers. Used by permission.

Photo credits: Top, © 2014 Beth Bowman (www.bethbowman.com) Bottom, author in late 1970s by Dan Rogers. Used by permission.

Back in 1979, that is.

On Dec. 10, the temps topped out at 54˚F. A 14-day heat wave followed, making it a very warm year’s end.

Final exams at Lakewood Community College hit our desks the previous week; the quarter officially ended Tuesday, Dec. 11.

Then I packed some things at my Mahtomedi rental and headed home for the Christmas holidays, reuniting with the Family Project. Since I had no car, it was likely a repeat of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend—via city bus, as I wrote about in the journal on Nov. 26:

“…Minnetonka commuters are warm bus companions and the air was charged with a sort of Christmas-like excitement as the businessmen curled up sleepily under their rain hats and let their copies of The Wall Street Journal fall to their laps. The snow outside turned to a freezing rain and the bus windows fogged up and made it difficult for me to eye Lafayette Bay as we cornered past Minnetonka Beach in the steaming cold darkness. By 6:15 I was walking Dunwoody [Avenue] after leaving the bus and soon home to a crackling fire and friendly, festive surroundings.”

Just two entries wrap up the 1979 journal: one on Saturday, Dec. 29 (a recap of the previous day), and one into the new year, on Jan. 22, 1980: “I want to say a few things about 1979 and make some prophecies concerning 1980,” followed by … nothing.

Well, sure. But you failed to do that, dude.

So we gotta dive deeper—into Letter XI, written on Friday, Oct. 27, 1989—ten years later—an attempt to explain the 1980s to myself, mailed in a letter from London, England that November:

“…on New Year’s Eve, 1979, I went to a party. The scene thus far: I had started school (for the second time after high school) at Lakewood Community College in White Bear Lake. I was, at the time, living in an upstairs two bedroom apartment atop a house on Pine Street …owned by Sam Wertheimer, attorney and late-sleeper. …It was interesting to remember the other day that Warren [Dahl] had driven out to Mtka to visit me at the folks—I recall this because he drove a Le Mans or some such car and was very proud of it and did not mind driving miles to see some friend and at the same time show it off. It was probably before Christmas Day that he visited—on New Year’s Eve, I connected with my old friend Skeeze … and he drove us to a New Year’s Eve party on the Island at Tom Cashman’s house. ‘Everyone would be there,’ we heard.

It was not an earthshaking event. There was a keg of beer or two, a few guys with pint bottle of whatever and pot, possibly, at every corner. It was true that nearly EVERYONE was there. Class of ’78, Class of ’79 (just graduated) and the struggling-for-a-good-time Class of ’80. Cashman and friends jammed on rock ‘n’ roll in the basement. Upstairs, Bill Gedney was doing the End-of-1979 Countdown. They were playing on the upstairs stereo a Styx song that had the shouted lyric: ‘Don’t look now but here come the Eighties!’


ThinIce2When I left—my friend Skeeze had decided to leave hours before … I ran into Chad Hamstock who promptly popped me one in the face. I hit him back and after a short skirmish—after which he bolted—I was left dazed, injured and a bit confused. I had no ride home and I also had no wish to rejoin the party and beg a ride or be assaulted again … so I walked the distance home … drunk, beaten, tired, jaded, anxious … I decided a bit drunkenly that the quickest albeit dangerous route home was across the ice of Lake Minnetonka to Casco Point. I remember that walk. It was cold and frightening. It is my metaphor for the last half of the Eighties.”

I’ll never forget that walk—it was brutal.

And interesting that, even though I wasn’t diagnosed with depression until 1987, I was already aware that things were getting scary and—like walking on thin ice—anything could break open and swallow me up at any point.

Letter XI picks it up again:

“Do you know what it is like to be REALLY cold? Do you know what it is like to feel that the ice of a deep lake is about to give-way under you? Have you heard the cracking of ice on a lake in winter? It sounds at first like thunder, then it is like snapping under your feet, like a branch about to crack under your weight. If you fall, there is no one to hear you. …I recall hearing all those things on the night of that walk home. I trudged on. Eventually, I saw the lights of the homes on Casco Point. I saw our house. I shuffled on. I dodged the wind.

You must remember that it was Jan. 1, 1980. …When I approached our rumpled old dock I knew I was home. I walked up the stairs to the house. I walked around the side of the old cottage. I tried the front door. They knew I was not yet home, so the door was open. I went in. It is quite probable that my father, in his bedroom, tossed about and said, ‘Is that you?’ ‘Yes,’ I probably answered. ‘I’ll lock the door. Goodnight.’ Now that I think about it I should have said ‘Happy New Year’ but that would’ve been obvious. It was more important that I was at home, safe. I would have tossed off my boots and went to bed. I may have dreamed. All that is certain is that when I woke up it was unquestionably 1980.”

The letter continues for another five single-spaced, typed pages, recounting the decade’s highlights. I was desperate to take stock of what I’d accomplished and what I hoped the Nineties would be like.Mike_IceSkate

“STEPPING OFF THE ICE. Coming home, surviving, making it out of the cold and the dark, safe—though the dock was frozen and creaking, batting hands together as I ascend the stairs … the snowy front yard … the streetlights humming … the dogs barking in distant yards … the DOOR. Coming in from the cold. Locking the door, going to bed, dreaming…”

How was that prophecy about 1980 fulfilled?

By moving out of the little renovated summer cottage on Casco Point that summer. And by returning to school at Lakewood that autumn, still chasing after an elusive college degree.

And writing. Always writing.

Letter XI concludes:

“If anything, I’ve probably walked away from this operation with a little more distrust in myself in relation to others, but with a little more faith in myself alone.”

~ by completelyinthedark on April 4, 2014.

3 Responses to “On Thin Ice”

  1. Alone. Drunk. Maybe high. Dazed from a fight. Trudging across a frozen lake in the middle of the dark, cold night.

    You can hear the sounds of ice stress cracking under some of your steps.

    Maybe you make it. Maybe you don’t. You just keep walking.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    Today my father would have been 84. I miss you Dad, every day. Happy New Year, my friends! Fill it with love and gratitude. 🙂


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