It's January. Been January for 31 days now. I'm trying to do things....
I’m not a big believer in nostalgia—I mean, I do like the past, but I see it as kind of place, a setting for my stories, not as some golden cheerful smiling misty-eyed fake memory mess. We all have pasts—we all have stories, and if you follow those stories you can sometimes fall into a wormhole of memory that comes out somewhere else and is quite startling. And so…I was looking at something or other online, and I saw a reference to Mankato, Minnesota, a town where I lived from 1965 to 1976 and did much of my growing up. I went to Google Streets at looked at my old house (I did that a couple of years ago, too, for a blog post) and then I followed the cam around to other places in the town. I haven’t been to Mankato since 1979 or so, and, as you might expect, it’s a very different place now. Interesting, in a dreamlike way, familiar and strange at the same time. But then I saw the water tower on Balcerzak Drive—and, oh—a story came clawing up out of the deeps of time.
We—us kids—we used to climb that tower!
In the days of my youth, those apartments on the left were there—they were brand new—but the building covered by shadows wasn’t there, and softball fields were all cornfields. This was in high school—junior year, senior, 1975, 1976. We’d park at the apartments and sneak across the cornfield and—kick—the door at the base of the tower.
Boom. The door would open, we’d jump in, and shut it behind us.
Inside was a circular stair winding up and up and up.
Then there was a little platform. From the platform on up there was a ladder—inside a tube—running up through the water tank itself.
Then there was another platform at the top of the ladder. Stand on that and you were inside the tank. Shine your flashlight down at the water—and it was always scummy and covered with mats of algae or bacteria or—just scum.
Then there was another ladder up to the top of the tank. This ladder was kind of scary, because it went up at an angle, and you were out over the scummy water.
Whoever was the first up the last ladder would—ease—open this big hatch and lower it gently onto the tank top.
Then you’d go through the hatch and onto the top of the tank.
It was scary! The top of the tank was curved and seemed to slope sharply. No railings.
But! You could see for fucking ever! I told people I could see all the way to Waseca, about thirty miles to the east.
Maybe I could just see the lights of Waseca reflecting up into the clouds. Still—a long way.
My only time as the first up the ladder, I didn’t gently ease the hatch to the surface of the tank—I fucking dropped it and it BANGED and echoed around and my buddies cussed me out. Still we went up through the hatch and stretched out on the tank, looking out at the world.
Then there was someone yelling at us down below.
“Mike Westlund! I know you’re up there!”
It was Mike’s sister, who lived in those apartments. I guess she heard the banging of the hatch.
“You get down from there right now or I’ll tell mom!”
So—we came down off the tower before we even had a chance to engage in youthful bad behavior. I fucked everything up.