What It Feels Like…

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

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.
 

 

…TO PERFORM BRAIN SURGERY

Dr. Kendall Lee is a neurosurgeon at the Mayo Clinic.

On the day of the surgery, the head is shaved just in the area we need to enter, and I drill a small burr hole that’s stereotactically placed—image-guided via an MRI. The brain is encased in bone, but the texture of brain itself is a little like Jell-O. I love working on the brain, but it can be scary. Every time somebody goes to the operating room, there’s a risk of death. If something goes wrong, I could paralyze someone, or they could have a seizure. That’s why I always have to be concentrating intensely. There’s a book on neurology that describes the feeling very well for me: Imagine you’re walking on a foot-wide plank. If the plank is on the ground, you’ll walk along it with no problem. If the plank is 50 stories in the air, you can still walk it, but if there’s any error, it’s a big problem.
 

…TO JUMP INTO A LAKE IN JANUARY

Christy Eckenrode, of St. Louis Park, has plunged into the icy waters of Lake Minnetonka three times as part of a fundraiser for Interfaith Outreach.

a group of us will stand down by the lake with bathrobes on. A television station is sometimes there to videotape us, so we’re getting colder and colder, and my stomach is turning. Then we’ll take our bathrobes off, count to 10, run into the lake holding hands, and dunk our heads underwater. The whole process takes a little more than 30 seconds. It’s hard to describe how cold it is. It’s like being enveloped in an ice cube. Every part of you gets cold. When people try it for the first time, we make sure we’re watching them closely. One year, a woman got in the water and she just locked up. I had to shove her to get her moving again. When you get out, you can feel your skin start to freeze—it stiffens all over your body. It’s a very weird sensation. I don’t feel right again until I have a hot shower, and that can be an hour or more after I finish. If you’re adventurous, doing something like this is really a lot of fun. You can brag about it afterward. Of course, some people just think I’m crazy.
 

…TO SING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM AT THE DOME

Eagan resident Brooke Kilgarriff, Miss Minnesota 2009, sang before the Vikings-Seahawks game on November 22, 2009.

I’ve sung the national anthem more than 100 times for events. Obviously, being in front of 60,000 people is really different. It’s loud—everyone’s cheering, and then the linebackers come out and the ground rumbles. It’s kind of terrifying. On the video, you can see, after the first verse, I get a huge smile on my face, because it finally hit me that I was performing in front of all these people. When I finished, I had tears in my eyes, because it was the biggest crowd I’d ever performed in front of. To hear the crowd go wild was incredible. Overwhelming, but in a really, really good way.
 

…TO PLOW AFTER A SNOWSTORM

Mike Legg of Medina is the road and bridge district supervisor at the Hennepin County Department of Transportation.

Ideally, you get a call at about 1 a.m., and you start your route at 2 a.m. Once you get into the shop, it’s a five-minute job to walk around the truck, making sure the chains are set and that the plow is hooked up. Then the loader operator loads the truck with 20 tons of sand or salt. The trucks are big—if you took a full-size pickup truck and sat on the roof, that’s about the same perspective. They can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. The road has a very gradual grade, from the high point at the center of the road to the curb line. On that first cut, you’re trying to find the center of the road. Most of the time, you’re actually driving over the centerline. At the same time, cars are coming from the other direction. The snow makes the lines of the road disappear, and because drivers can’t tell where their lane is, human nature is to stay near the middle of the road. That’ll give you white knuckles and big eyes. But traffic can be your friend, too. When you put down the salt, the extra tire traffic helps activate it and helps you clear the road. People routinely give us the finger. Us? Well, somehow, we refrain. We just hope people remember that if we weren’t there, they’d really be miserable. There’s an adrenaline rush after a big snow, when you’re alone on the road and you turn around to make a second pass. You see what you’ve done, and the production of your work. It’s instant gratification.
 

…TO FIND THE WINTER CARNIVAL MEDALLION

Jake Ingebrigtson of Minneapolis has participated in the St. Paul Winter Carnival Treasure Hunt for more than 10 years. He has found the medal twice, including in 2010.

People don’t realize how hungry you have to be to find the medallion. I lie awake in July and wonder if I’ll find it. I’ll spend 16 to 18 hours a day digging up snow, looking for it. I found the medallion in three clues in 2007. When I actually found it, it almost felt like it was impossible, like it wasn’t there. I remember thinking: What is this perfectly square block of ice doing with a Ford logo frozen inside of it? It takes you a couple seconds to realize what you’ve got, even when you’re looking for it. I was at the south end of Hidden Falls, and there were a couple cross-country skiers coming through. I was screaming. The lady asked me if I was okay, and I told her I’d just found the medallion. She said, “Yeah, right.” I’m pretty sure that by medical definition, I had gone into shock. I had to keep pulling it out of my pocket. Literally, I’d stop and pull the block of ice out of my pocket and think, Is this real? Is this really happening?
 

 

 

…TO BE ON TOP OF THE STATE

Bruce Aubart, the owner of Design Flags & Flagpoles in Minneapolis, has been climbing flagpoles at the state capitol and other iconic Minnesota sites for 40 years.

I’ve got webbing that I make “climbers” with—one for each leg. I’ve got special stirrups that I use, so when I stand on one, it cinches around the pole. Then I move up one step at a time. I’ve climbed up 125 feet, 300 feet if you include flagpoles on the top of buildings. I was scared to death at first, but it’s pretty routine now. There are dangers, though. Sometimes a pole is rusted from the inside out, and, although it will look okay, there will be a patch that’s like an old tin can. It also bothers me when I’m at the top, and I get a good gust of wind. When I was younger and braver, I used to take my straps off at the top of the pole and slide down like a fireman. But one time I got caught on a cleat—the thing you tie the rope off to—and it went right through my pants. I got hung up on it, so I don’t do that anymore. You can see a lot from the top of a pole. When I was at the top of the old Sears building on Lake Street, I could see all the way from downtown Minneapolis to Burnsville. I take time to enjoy the view.
 

…TO SHOOT AN ICONIC PHOTOGRAPH

Jim Mone is an Associated Press photographer.

It was the ’91 world series, with the game tied, and it just seemed like everything was going the Twins’ way. So when Kirby Puckett stepped in, I figured something could really happen. Sometimes you can almost tell from the sound of the bat if it’s a home run, and after all the years of doing this, I knew he’d hit the winning home run to send the series into overtime. I didn’t even fire that many images. I just started following him around the bases from my fixed position at third base and when he made the turn toward me he went into jubilation—he had his hand up and his mouth open—and I knew I had a dramatic picture. After the game, the film editor who’d processed my shots told me, “You’re going to like what you’re gonna see.” It went all over the world. The Star Tribune made posters and a T-shirt of it, and it’s been reprinted a lot. I don’t know if the Twins ever used it for marketing. All I know is, I had to buy my own T-shirt.
 

…TO STICK YOUR TONGUE TO A FROZEN POLE

Anonymous schoolteacher in Minneapolis.

Okay, so, it was in kindergarten, and the entrance to school had these three little steps you had to walk down, and then there was a metal railing. I don’t remember what possessed me to put my tongue on that railing, but I did. And you instantly know it’s wrong because the second your tongue touches it, your tongue instantly wants to move away and it can’t. Then you rip it off. I mean, what else are you going to do? You can’t hang out there all day. You can almost hear the skin tearing, feel it ripping off, and then all you can taste is blood. It wasn’t like a dare or anything, just complete stupidity on my part—a bad move. And there’s fear because you don’t know if you will ever be released from that metal post. All I remember is the taste of blood in my mouth.
 

…TO RUN FOR 24 HOURS STRAIGHT

Sue Olsen, who lives in Burnsville, has been running ultramarathons since 1990. Every year, she runs the FANS 24-Hour Run, where she routinely completes more than 100 miles.

I used to get nervous before the start of the 24-hour run, but I don’t anymore. You’ll see a lot of other runners pace around or even warming up and jogging. I just sit. It’s not like you have to get off to a good start. I usually start off at about a 9-minute-mile pace. Sometimes you can go for 10 hours without feeling really tired or nauseous. But every 24-hour race is going to have bad patches. I get sore everywhere, even in places you wouldn’t expect. Sometimes my forearms will hurt because I’ve been holding drinks. My feet are another thing. I used to have huge blister problems. My nickname was Hamburger Feet, because they looked like they’d gone through a grinder. But now I tape each toe, and I’ve got toe socks. It’s mostly a mental game. I hallucinated during a 48-hour race on a 300-meter track. On the second morning, as the sun was coming up, I thought: How did I get on this track? I’m on a different track. When I get done, the first thing I do is find a chair.
 

…TO BE A STATE FAIR ICON

Martha Rossini Olson of St. Paul is co-founder of Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar.

During the busy times, like weekends, we have at least 75 people, up to 100 at times, working in the Grandstand booth—bakers, managers, milkers, servers. It’s a well-oiled machine. We have 10 ovens, and that gives us the capacity to bake 20,000 cookies every 12 minutes. But it’s not enough, so we’ll be adding another oven to each stand this year. We want to shorten those lines. It’s a very physical, almost athletic event. You’re lifting 30-pound bags of dry ingredients and 50-pound cases of chips and shortening. Sure, it’s not too bad to do that once, but we’re making 300 batches a day. When you go on break, you just sit. If it’s 90 degrees outside, and you’ve got 10 ovens at 350 degrees opening up and blowing out air, well, it can get pretty hot. And by the time you’re done with a shift, you’ve got hat hair, chocolate under your fingernails, and cookie dough on your shoes. I used to work longer hours at the Fair when I was younger, but these days I usually work from 6:30 in the morning until 7 at night. My co-founders take the night shift. The Fair is just 12 days, and we have to make hay while the sun shines. Sometimes I go out and see the crowds waiting in line and think, Oh, my goodness, they really want these cookies. It’s stressful. But it’s exhilarating.
 

…TO PLAY AT FIRST AVENUE

Erik Williams is a singer and rhythm guitarist for Zetus Deamos. The band played at First Avenue nightclub on November 3, 2007.

Our band entered a contest to open for Hellyeah, a super-group that includes the singer from Mudvayne and the drummer from Pantera. As the online voting contest wound down, we knew we were going to be the band. We were really, really pumped. It started to get more real when we got there and were unloading our gear. We’ve played at venues with 5,000 people, but First Avenue is much more intimate. That night, it was a really packed club. There were people on the second floor and on the stairs. When you’re playing, the crowd is right there in front of you—we could see the people banging their heads. That’s always fun to see the crowd like that—it makes musicians more animated. There are so many great bands that go through there, including some of our biggest influences, Alice in Chains and Papa Roach. To play on the same stage and get a sold-out crowd pumped up is inspiring. We haven’t yet reached the heights they have, but we’re on the same trail. Would I do it again? I would do it right now if I could.

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