Friday, February 04, 2011

A Macalester Story

I attended college in the aftermath of Kent State, just after the anti war movement peaked.  Of course, we couldn't see it at the time, but...  Macalester College was a small urban college in St. Paul, MN that was very liberal for its time.  The dorms, in 1970, were all coed, and there were no hours, so you pretty much could do as you wanted.  The drinking age in Minnesota was still 21, which meant you either had to get an older friend,  had to get a fake id, or buy your liquor at George's on Snelling Avenue--or you could find other methods of getting high.  I remember graffiti on the wall between Dayton (which is no more) and Kirk Halls that read, "Why are you stoned, when you could be tripping?"    Macalester was a very, as we used to say, laid back place. We promoted and tolerated what was termed 'marvelous diversity,' but it usually meant most folks had long hair regardless of their sex and everyone wore jeans.  In this mix, Michael stood out like a sore thumb.

Michael was part of a group that I became friends with  during the 1972-1973 school year, a wonderful collection of funny, smart, iconoclastic individuals who were always interesting to be around because they weren't trying to be cool.  I mentioned these folks last September, when I reminisced about making the fur lined jock straps.

Michael was the only student at Macalester who drove a silver Lincoln Continental Mark IV.  I would venture to guess that he was the only college student in the Twin Cities at the time who drove a big fancy car like that.  And he was proud of that car.  He used to drive it from his dorm at the Stadium up Snelling Avenue 2 blocks north to the SAGA cafeteria for his meals.  He was well dressed, never in jeans, and his hair was quite short for the time.  It was our understanding, always spoken of sotto voce, that his father was  no. 2  in the Chicago mob. Michael had a long, Italian last name (ending in a vowel), and several things had occurred in his first two years at Macalester that seemed to prove out the rumor. 

The first story I heard was that the year before there had been a serious falling out that turned into a small war within the Chicago mafia. As a result, Michael had received a hurried call late at night telling him to 'hit the mattresses.'  Mind you, this was before I had read or even heard of The Godfather by Mario Puzo, so that was the first time I had heard that phrase.  Michael disappeared from school for a week or so and no one at the college knew where he was.  But he resurfaced just like nothing had happened, and things went back to normal at college and in Chicago.  The other story I was told, was that during spring break, 1972, Michael drove down to Florida with some other Macalester students.  He was under strict instructions to phone in regularly to his parents.  In northern Florida, they stopped at a 7-11 to take a  break (this was back in the days before cell phones, mind you) and Michael went to a pay phone and called home.  His mother answered and said to him, "I know where you are--you are on the corner of .......... and .........."  And  proceeded to name the intersection and the town he was phoning from. 

Now these seem like tall stories and I might not have believed them, except I was party to two events in the spring of 1973 that involved Michael.  And they banished any doubts that I might have had at the time.

The first occurrence was when the group of us decided one fine spring afternoon, to bail from college and drive over to Minnehaha Falls for a picnic.  Goodies were gathered and they included not only food but beer and weed.  None of us were 21 as I recall.  We had a great time.  In particular, I remember this game where a circle was formed and one person went in the center of the circle and would fall outward and those in the circle would catch the one in the middle and push the person back up and over to another part of the circle.  It can be done nicely if you are very relaxed.  And we were.  No one was dropped and folks were very mellow.  Except Michael.  He didn't smoke and I don't think he drank but he was there enjoying himself with the rest of us:

Steve and Mary




Lonnie and Holly 1


Holly 2

Holly 1 and Steve


I was taking the pictures so I was not in any of them and there are some folks who were there, who were inexplicably left out.  Lucky for them, eh?

We spent several hours cavorting and eating and drinking and enjoying ourselves. But all good things must come to an end, so we packed up and got into the various vehicles that had ferried us to the park.  A couple of guys were clowning in the parking lot and it must have caught the attention of a police cruiser because he started following us and put his lights on.  Our gooses appeared to be collectively cooked because of the contraband in the trunks of the cars.  It was at this point that Michael sprang into action.  He got out of the Lincoln Continental and began to talk with the police officer who had emerged from the cruiser.  He was extremely polite and extremely charming--for the life of me I can't remember what he said but he knew exactly how to talk to the police officer and the cop eventually was eating out of Michael's hand.  The rest of us were hunkered down in our cars, waiting for the axe to fall, when all of a sudden the police officer gave a wave to Michael, who got back into his silver tank and that was all she wrote.  We had escaped detention and possible searches through the heretofore unknown talents of Michael.  When we cornered him back at college and asked him about it, he shrugged his shoulders and said he knew all kinds of cops in Chicago.  It was second nature to him.  Watching him, it was magic.

The other event, happened the day we all left Macalester at the end of the school year.  My friend Jay was driving down to his family in Florida and he had agreed to take me to Lexington on his way.  Michael invited us to his family's home in Chicago for dinner on the way.  Here is the group, in the courtyard of Kirk Hall, all perched on the hood of Michael's Mark IV, that day, before we all scattered to the four winds:

Michael is in the black turtleneck.  I am behind and to his right and Jay is behind me. 

It took us a number of hours to drive to Michael's home.  It was in Chicago Heights, one of the non descript suburbs south of Chicago, and the house itself was an unremarkable 50's split level.  Once inside, we went to the basement, where the kitchen and dining room were located.  There was a mirrored bar on one wall that held more liquor bottles than I had ever seen in my life.  And some of them were highly unusual bottles with bright blue or other similarly colored liquids in them.  Michael's parents were very warm, and very welcoming and I think he had a younger sister who was present as well.  We sat down to dinner which, I thought, consisted of a wonderful spaghetti dish.  But that was only the first course.  They served us steak for the next course and there may have been courses following that.  All I know is that I was bursting at the seams trying to eat all that was set before me. 

Mr. P, Michael's dad, had a booming voice and regaled us with a number of stories throughout dinner.  The only one that I remember was when Mr. P got some sort of semi-serious citation and decided to contest it.  He went in to the court and the judge said to him, "Mr. P, I see from the report here that you are in the vending machine business.  That must be a lucrative business."   "No your honor," said Mr. P dismissively, " it is a VERY lucrative business."  The citation was thereafter quickly dismissed, according to  Mr. P.  An amazing dinner.  We left several hours later and drove most of the night to make it to Lexington.  Coffee and cigarettes kept us going.

I spoke with Michael 6 months later whien I was on Christmas break from first year law school and visiting in the Twin Cities.  And then some time after that Michael's father  died unexpectedly of a heart attack.   Michael assumed that he would take over for  his father because his older brother was a wastrel, and also because his father had promised it to Michael.  But for the authority to truly shift to Michael, there was some sort of  face to face rite of passage where Mr. P, Michael and Mr. P's underlings had to be present.   At the time of his father's death, this had not taken place.  As a result, the power went to someone else in the organization and Michael's family was out entirely.   Michael mentioned that  things were pretty tight for a while and he ended up working for a police department outside Chicago in some capacity.  He likened it to Yasser Arafat working for the Israelis. I laughed and commiserated with him.  Several years later, I invited him to my wedding, and he sent a very nice present but did not attend.  And, alas, since then we have dropped out of touch. 

I hope he is doing well.  He certainly has some unusual talents.

Post script:  Although I have several girlfriends from college who I count as dear, dear friends and we've stayed in touch over 37 years, I actually lost contact with most of the members of this group until our joint 2009 Macalester College reunion.  It was great to see everyone.  We simply picked up where we left off, and none of them have aged one bit!

Chicka is framed between two cool kids from Kirk Hall: Doc and Chris.  Fred (who used to have a big orange afro and wore a top hat and a cape sometimes)  is to her left.  I can't resist, here is Chris back in the day:


the other Chicka said...


I was with you at the party at Minnehaha falls, and didn't remember the incident with the police at all. I think I was in a different car, and that we got out of there before the excitement. The story has a familiar ring, however, we must have talked about it a bit at SAGA. But I don't think a big deal was made of it. I was so naive back then.
I hear from Michael at Christmas. After sending Christmas cards to him, unanswered for about 15 years, he started sending me cards about 5 years ago.

moe99 said...


Maybe I wasn't as fully aware of the potential fallout from being arrested and the cars being searched until I was in law school for a while. That being said, I do remember the feeling of dread turning into amazement as Michael transformed into this glib, conversationalist who charmed the heck out of the cop.

moe99 said...

Chicka! Found your photo from the picnic and added it. As well as in the addendum.

crissy said...

nice place and nice bonding .

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