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The Vanishing

When the state shut down on July 1, there were many stories in the media about the specific services that wouldn’t be provided during what one legislator called “The Great Ugliness.” One might be tempted to call it “The Great Lameness” or “The Utterly Predictable Game of Chicken” or “Snarl Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Snits”—but I digress. During the Gargantuan Gopher Gloom, you couldn’t take a driver’s license exam, use the facilities at most highway rest areas, or get a routine workplace safety inspection. State funding for adult education, early childhood programs, local public health agencies, and libraries was suspended. If you stopped by the Physical Therapy Board, the Disability Council, or the office of the Ombudsperson for Families, you were greeted by silence and padlocks, dust bunnies and tumbleweeds.

These shutdown effects posed genuine hardships for many people, and the press did a genuine service in reporting them. However, when an entire state closes up shop, its very stateness is affected, sometimes in ways that can’t be anticipated or easily quantified. And so it was during the Nasty Northland Numbness. Ramifications multiplied, and few made headlines. For instance: pristine glacial lakes took on a distinct bayou funk, and walleye suddenly tasted like an entirely different fish (bullhead, maybe?). The Paul Bunyan statue in Bemidji acquired a creepy leer. Women weakened; men lost their looks; children became average at best. Overnight, it seemed, everything “Minnesota” had meant to its citizens was gone, and if the governor or any legislators noticed, they kept it to themselves. But here, for the record, are just a handful of the areas in which Minnesota culture lost its moorings.

Our unique accent. That legendary Scandinavian-based cadence? The big ahs and ohs? History. Nobody said “Yah, sure” or “Ya wanna go with, then?” All you heard was “Indeed” and “Do join us.” I walked into a bar in northeast Minneapolis and the guy asked me if I would “fancy a pint.” On the way home, I rented Fargo. It sounded like a Merchant-Ivory film.

Our precious celebrities. Prince started spelling out all the words in his lyrics, 4 no good reason, 2 my way of thinking. Loni Anderson went brunette. Winona Ryder changed her name to Decorah. Paul Douglas stopped making up cutesy weather words such as “snizzle” and “snirt.” Paul Magers came back to town, and even C.J. didn’t care. Bob Dylan enunciated.

Our very sustenance. Hotdish left the building. Cans of mushroom soup transmogrified on cupboard shelves into low-salt lobster bisque, while elbow macaroni turned to dust in its oblong green boxes. People started showing up at church basement suppers bearing miso-glazed sea bass and quail croquettes and vegan soy/mint clusters. With bean feeds and booyas lost to posterity, Hubert Humphrey and Elmer Andersen spun quietly in their graves, and politics as we once knew it ceased to exist. Which may turn out to be a good thing.

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