What It Feels Like...
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Yes, you’re a Minnesotan. You know what it feels like to take a dip in one of the state’s 10,000 lakes, to scrape that thin layer of ice off your windshield with a credit card, and to tilt back the waxy bag of State Fair mini doughnuts to catch those last crumbs of cinnamon sugary goodness in your mouth. But there are a few quintessential Minnesota activities that simply are not possible for everyone to experience. You probably don’t know what it feels like to wake up at 2 a.m. to plow the roads after a two-foot snowfall, or what it’s like to perform in front of 60,000 purple-and-gold clad fans at the Metrodome. You definitely don’t know what it’s like to win a lutefisk-eating contest. Not until now, that is. We asked a few exceptional Minnesotans to share their stories about carving butter sculptures, performing in a Coen brothers film, and holding the Winter Carnival Medallion in their hands. You may never do any of those things, but you’ll finally know exactly what it feels like...
... TO ACT IN A COEN BROTHERS MOVIE
Ari Hoptman is an actor/comedian/German professor in Minneapolis.
I auditioned for A Serious Man in a small, abandoned-looking room in downtown Minneapolis, like the one in Goodfellas where Joe Pesci gets shot. The casting director asked me to read for Arlen Finkle, a professor who desperately wants to say something to help the protagonist and for various reasons cannot. And the whole time I’m thinking, This is too big. There’s not a chance in heck. But I couldn’t believe it: I was in and they got a trailer for me that said, “Arlen Finkle” on it. Not my name—they were ready to replace me if necessary. The Coens were very nice. There’s no ad-libbing, though—the script was completely unchanged from start to finish. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to make suggestions so I made a couple, and they said, “Well, that’s interesting,” and everyone forgot about it. I think my part is about four-minutes total with no bloopers, nothing for the gag reel. I’ve now seen two premieres of the movie, and then saw it once more, and it still hasn’t sunk in.
Photo by Todd Buchanan... TO WIN A LUTEFISK-EATING CONTEST
Photo by Todd Buchanan
Jerry Osteraas of Madison, Minnesota, has been winning lutefisk-eating contests for more than 40 years.
i grew up eating lutefisk, and I like it, so when the Madison Chamber of Commerce decided to have a lutefisk-eating contest at Norsefest, I thought, I’ll go in on it. That first time, I ate almost seven pounds in an hour. I’ve lost three times to my brother-in-law, but he can’t be in it anymore because he’s got a pacemaker. Lutefisk has a texture a little like Jell-O, so it goes down pretty easy, but I think it’s a lot easier to eat with butter, myself. I have gotten sick. It’s come up on me three times since 1968. About four years ago, I put away 8.25 pounds. It doesn’t feel too bad. I’ve gone out to have pie and coffee afterward.
…TO CARVE A BUTTER SCULPTURE
Linda Christensen lives in Oceanside, California, but has been carving butter sculptures at the State Fair since 1972.
I start with a 90-pound block of butter, and then I use a wire—almost like a piano wire—to get the general shape. I round it up, get under the chin. Then I start using smaller knives and little clay tools that are like loops on the ends so I can pull out little pieces and chunks. All of my tools are basically clay tools, except for a butter knife. Since the booth is refrigerated to 38 degrees, the butter is harder than clay. But I can still work with it—if I make a mistake, I can squish some butter up, warm it up a little bit, and slap it back on. But it does get cold, and I have to take breaks at least every two hours. The toughest part is getting the features right in relation to each other. It’s crucial to get right, but sometimes I just miss. You can’t go back and redo it, because that way lies madness. I get better over the course of the Fair—I’d say I hit my peak about halfway through. I’m in the booth from 9:30 to 5, so I get to talk a lot to the girls. They’re all from dairy farms, and we talk a lot. I think I have at least a master’s degree in dairy, just from listening to them over the years.
…TO HAVE BRAIN SURGERY
Tim Skogland, who has Parkinson’s disease, received deep brain stimulation on February 1, 2008.
After five years of parkinson’s and increasing the number and dosages of my medicines, my doctor told me to consider surgery. Originally, I was fearful. But I got used to the idea, and, because I’m an engineer, I became more curious about participating in it. On the day of the surgery, they used Novocain on my skull, and then they drilled two holes in my skull, each about the size of a pencil eraser. You don’t feel anything at all, because you have no nerve endings in your brain, but it sounds like someone’s drilling a hole in a concrete block. When they put the lead in where they wanted it, they turned on the temporary power supply. Then they felt the muscle tone in my legs, which told them if it was effective or not. At one point, they turned up the power level just to see what it would do, and my leg moved in a fairly large motion. I could feel it moving, but I wasn’t controlling it. I went into the MRI several times during the procedure so they could do tests. It’s a tight squeeze in there, but if you keep your eyes closed, you don’t get claustrophobic. The surgery started at 8 a.m. and ended at about 4 p.m., and I did end up taking a nap in the middle. When it was over, I was pretty elated. My family was there, and I wanted to talk to them, but the neurology nurses told me I had to go to sleep.