We should toss our hats and scoff at stiff licorice.
What, you want an explanation for that? Fine. It started when I heard our Mary might be in trouble, so I had to go downtown to investigate. Journalism and all that.
Gloves: check. Mask, left over from a box I bought for the 2009 Swine Flu fun-fest: check. Bottle of sanitizer, which I now regard as both vaccine and holy water: check. Tape measure for ensuring 6-foot distancing: check. Flare gun, dried food, extra water, check. Press credentials to assert that I am somehow essential, which is stretching the term to the point of meaninglessness: check.
OK. Let’s go.
Imagine how I would have suited up if I’d planned to get out of my car.
The streets appeared normal, if a bit scant on perambulating citizens. It’s not the empty streets that seemed strange — I’ve been to downtown St. Paul at 3 p.m., so it doesn’t seem all that odd. (Kidding! Sort of.)
What seemed odd was the tall towers with 50 empty stories. Elevators on the ground floor like dogs waiting for their owners to come home. The click and hum and whoosh of a heating system automatically turning on to adjust the comfort for a room of unoccupied chairs. All the screen savers rolling through vacation photos. The occasional blurble of a phone, unanswered; the trickle of bickering from a TV news station on a set someone left on.
When I left the office — two years ago now, I think — I took my bag of licorice from the drawer because I didn’t think I’d be back for a while, and that stuff goes hard. If I could sum up the downtown business district right now, I’d say: “It’s a lot of stiff licorice.”
That’s what we’re dealing with. Stiff licorice. But at least the sun was out, and ... Omigod, what is that?
It was the first Wednesday of the month, and the tornado sirens had gone off. For a moment, it makes you wonder if a tornado could whirl away all the virus. How about we seed the clouds with bleach and try to make some tornadoes? Anyone thought of that? Perhaps we could turn all our warm-weather scourges into assets. Deliver a vaccine by mosquito! Think outside of the box, people!
The siren died down, and then, after a quiet interval, spun up again to tell you “Everything’s OK” with the exact same sound it used to say “Hell and destruction are en route.” Would it kill them to make the all-clear sound not as terrifying as the run-and-hide portion?
And then you think: Will there be an all-clear for the pandemic? Will the bells ring, the Foshay light up, fireworks boom and a sailor kiss a nurse on Nicollet and 7th?
As it happens, that’s the corner where the Mary Tyler Moore statue abides. I heard that it had been tampered with, and needed to investigate.
“The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” for you kids, was a sitcom about a woman who was not really from here, did not really live here, did not really work here and pretended to do all sorts of Minneapolis things in a TV studio in California. Naturally, we adopted her as one of us.
If this seems odd, well — unlike Mary — you had to be there. Minneapolis was not on the national radar when the show began in 1970; the rest of the country probably thought the town was full of voyageurs in canoes who lived in igloos. (People probably thought Hubert Humphrey was some genetically altered penguin.)
During the opening credits, Mary threw her hat in the air because she was so happy to be in Minneapolis. And ever since then, that freeze-frame image has come to define us — partly because half of us identify with the woman in the background of the shot, looking at her with mild disapproval: “Little missy’s feeling her oats today, throwing away perfectly good headgear in winter.”
There’s a statue of the tam-o’-shanter flinging outside what used to be and is again Dayton’s. Sure enough, someone had pulled one over on Our Mar — to be specific, they’d pulled a mask over her face, and somehow fit a glove on the hand that threw the hat.
It was an amusing sight, for all its grim reflection of the times, and heartening: How did the theme song end? You’re going to make it after all! Yes!
Granted, the show ended with a mass firing and everyone hugging in a way that totally flouted social-distancing conventions, but let’s not dwell on that. Go outside, bask in the sun, toss your hat and say: “Take that, stiff licorice.” Repeat until we can leave the house and shake hands again.
Not that we would, because, ewww.