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May 20, 2012

Occupy the Seventies!




And then these dudes climbed right up on a semi! Right there on Front Street!
I shit you not, man! It was freeeeeaky, maaaaan!




(Caution: Post larded with jokes that are impossible to decipher for persons not in Mankato in the Seventies. Also, not very funny.)

(Feedback on the video from actual Mankato natives here.)


Some time ago I used this space to publicly mourn the Rathskeller of Mankato, the greatest bar in this universe*, rending my garments over the fact that I had only bothered to take one blurry photo of the place prior to its 1976 demise.

So I pleaded for more and better Rathskeller images, and, courtesy of Chico of Oxford, Mississippi, I have now discovered the Bunuel-esque “Mankato Vietnam Protest on May 9, 1972” uploaded to YouTube by some vandal abusing the name “Mankato Free Press”—thirteen minutes of soundless delight that I thoroughly recommend to anyone who otherwise planned on spending that thirteen minutes slowly sliding an arm down a garbage disposal.

More on the Rathskeller later if there’s time. For now, here’s my running journal of my viewing.

0:10

Disoriented yet? I’m here to tell you that it’s not the Seventies, it’s the editing, man!! What we can learn here is that hippies had truly awful posture—which we already knew—and also light sabers, I guess, which is news.

0:20

Ah yes, remember when someone pointing a video camera at you was a really big deal? No? Born after the Seventies, you say? Well, trust me, this is exactly how your parents used to act when someone filmed them. Sorry I have to be the one to tell you.

0:38
A sequence of shots taken somewhere downtown. I’m primed here for chills of nostalgia at the glimpse of some treasured old landmark or other, except that the damned cameraman won’t stop panning long enough for me to get any bearings. Perhaps some well-meaning soul trying to pass him a bong has inadvertently set his sleeve aflame. Damned Bunuel-esque, I tell you.

1:00

Hey, fellow Mankatoans of the Seventies: ten to one the tubby chap in the tighty-whitey t-shirt is some species of Mocol.

1:35

I would have devoted less footage to the dog and more to its comely owner. But that’s just me. I’m not a cinematic genius along the lines of “Mankato Free Press.” Hmm...wonder how that dog is doing these days...

1:48

I gather the hippies were aiming for some sort of Ur-Occupy moment here, but lacking social media, not to mention neurons, they failed to plan anything in advance, resulting in scattershot results. At this stage, they’ve successfully occupied the top of somebody’s car, a fire escape, and a U.S. mailbox.

1:56

The Rathskeller will make its appearance a few seconds later, but I recommend cueing up here for a glimpse of a rascally, time-traveling Russell Brand.

2:01

There it is!! The Rathskeller! Ahhhhhhh!!! Remember that retro-cool neon martini glass? Remember the garish two-tone paint job on the outside of the ballroom section? Red-Staters and Blue-Staters, you’re all welcome here. Vikings too, evidently.

2:07
Moving along all too soon with our jittery cinematographer, we arrive at the almost equally legendary Rathskeller parking lot, where patrons took a break from consuming brain-damaging substances to consume other brain-damaging substances. Except that asshole Gary. He probably only came out here to get handjobs.

2:30
A precious opportunity to hand posterity further images of the fabled Rat’s in its final half-decade of existence is squandered. Instead we get close-ups of traffic signals and lane dividers. It’s as if Abraham Zapruder had said, “To hell with the President’s motorcade, I’ll just wave my camera around as if I were spelling my name in the snow with my pee.” (And let it be noted that “Abraham Zapruder” would require a God-awful lot of pee.)

3:02

They keep cutting to that plane… The lack of audio, while a blessing in many ways, is starting to frustrate me… Can’t help wanting to stitch together some sort of narrative out of all these random images…

3:33

Okay, so the hippies have fled downtown—if you can call “shambling Sasquatch-like with abominable posture” fleeing—to occupy some random, unidentifiable highway overpass, only to discover a crazed gunman there, randomly shooting at semis.

3:58

Evidently, the “crazed gunman” character didn’t test well and was cut. Now it seems that everyone—shambling hippies, law enforcement, and drivers—is fleeing together in the same direction. Anyone else getting a Walking Dead vibe here?

4:27

Shirtless hippie with toilet paper around neck: Hey, officer! You gonna watch Sonny and Cher tonight and bitch about how unfunny it is again?
Cop in retro-cool glasses: You bet, son. ‘Cause you never know: This might be the week she comes out buck-naked.***

4:31

Off-camera hippie: Hey, Sheriff! Let’s go grab a burger and a frozen Snickers at Hilltop Tavern, eh?
Shades-Sporting Sheriff: Get your fucking hands off me, you freak! I’m heading for Harry’s Hofbrau Haus, where real men dine.

5:15

Eek! Anteater Fuzz from Outer Space! It all makes sense now…

5:45

Surely the mysterious plane delivered the Anteater Fuzz to sow chaos at the overpass. Meanwhile, up at Potato State U., students patiently await extermination, as usual.

6:32

The aliens have been spraying toxic defoliants in an effort to kill all the students with Instant Cancer! How else can you account for bare trees as late as May 9? Oh, right—Minnesota.

7:00

Again with the orderly marching! Again with the shirtlessness! Wake up, hippies! What will you do when the Anteater Fuzz come for you??

7:45

A timeless truth: The people who go shirtless are never the people that ought to go shirtless.

8:29
And so, the hippies march out of Mankato, never to be seen again… BUT!

8:33
But no! They are whisked back to the Potato State campus by tractor beam where....

8:40 – 10:30
Oh, screw it. There is no narrative sense to be made of this mish-mash. Here we get a 100-second tour of previous locations: the random overpass for a while, then back downtown, where our heroes have managed to occupy a semi and a traffic signal, whoop-whoop. At 10:15 the Rat’s reappears in the background, taunting us with a hint of The Movie That Might Have Been.

11:00

How stupid are these hippies? They’re actually marching away from the Rathskeller, not to mention Mettler’s and the Club Royal. And this with Happy Hour just about to begin...

11:14
Can it be? Yes! It’s George McGovern! Dropped into the fray in the nick of time! Only the former fighter pilot can drive away the Anteater Fuzz and lead the hippies back to the Rathskeller! "Help us, Obi-wan-McGovern! You're our only hope!"

11:43

Then again, maybe not. It appears that McGovern and his followers have been shrunk to the size of roaches and forced to hold their rally inside a Rubik’s Cube.

12:15

Yes! McGovern and his followers escape the Rubik’s Cube, drive off the Anteater Fuzz, then head out of town for the annual Vet’s Picnic and Vomitfest to celebrate! Wooooooo!!! The mounted police and the hippies embrace (I'd like to imagine), and all is right with the world of pre-disco Mankato again! And that, my friends, is why the words “McGovern” and “1972” have ever since been synonymous with Stunning Victory in the Face of Overwhelming Odds! The end.


Wrap-up
In a second email, Chico of Oxford confirms that it is indeed George McGovern himself who swoops in at the end. He looks somehow squatter and furrier than I remember him, but this is no doubt a function of the size-changing.

I have sent out feelers seeking input from Mankatoans who were in the city at the time of the events depicted in this film (I myself did not arrive till over a year later), and may update this post with whatever intelligence they can provide.

While grateful for these glimpses, however fleeting, of the Rathskeller, I still thirst for more. Can no one provide any internal images of the Rat’s? The barroom? The “Viking Room”? The “Spiel Room,” whatever that was? (Nielsen believed it a penalty box of sorts to which patrons who “spieled their bier” were banished.) Come on, people! Work with me!





* Ever watch Fringe? I can’t help wondering sometimes if the Rathskeller still exists in that parallel universe where the twin towers yet stand but the Statue of Liberty is all effed up. But then I realize that not even an infinite array of universes could produce a single Al Gruidl who was not a pompous vulgarian destined to open a cheesy disco.**


** You probably didn’t get that, but trust me: Mankato State alums of a certain age are ROTFLMAO right now, even if they don’t know what that means.





*** I plagiarized this exchange from an actual conversation between my friend Durward and his oversexed father circa 1972.





Addenda
(May 25)

Three old Mankato friends were asked to comment on the video, namely Gary, Bill, and Guy Who Still Lives in Mankato And Knows Things. (This is not to imply that Gary and Bill don’t Know Things, but they no longer live in Mankato.)

Gary and Bill responded to my requests for comments at great length while GWSLIMAKT remains eerily silent, due either to his unannounced death or being pissed off at me.

If the latter, I can only assume that such a reaction would stem from my seeming to make light of an event that, by all accounts, is revered as epochal by Mankatoans of all political stripes old enough to remember it. Bill provides this link to a retrospective piece detailing the events and their lasting imprint. It’s all interesting enough for those of us with past or present ties to Mankato, but my post was inspired solely by a giddily chaotic YouTube video and the unfortunate fashion and hairstyle choices of an era that, let us not forget, was my era as well. One reads political commentary into such drivel at one's own peril.

Gary takes me to the woodshed (as they used to say in the Reagan Administration) over my “some species of Mocol” remark. (See comment at the 1:00 mark above.) He was able not only to identify the non-Mocol party in the white tee, but also to convey that the person’s views on the protest were very much in the pro-freedom-of-speech vein, given that such a demonstration was unthinkable in the country of his birth. I am duly chastened; indeed, I feel as if I have just leapt onstage and told the world that Taylor Swift didn’t really deserve her award.

I could argue in my defense that my comment was based as much on body type as on skin tone (I lived above the Mocol family business for a time, and the mayor’s affable sons, like the fellow in the video, were not about to tread water in a wine flute), but that would be a tepid defense at best. To be sure, the man’s obvious Middle Eastern heritage also prompted the analogy, and that is unacceptable. I apologize for the rude remark.

(I will, nonetheless, leave it intact in the post, as self-flagellation for my writerly sins and errors is sort of a hobby of mine. I suppose this matter will crop up in the “Controversies” section of my Wikipedia page…IF ANYONE EVER GETS AROUND TO MAKING ONE!!!!)

Getting back to the protest, both Bill and Gary remember it as a salient event of their high school days. Both had the option of joining the protest after class. Gary jumped at it while Bill demurred.

Both express doubts about the early minutes of the video, which, as I pointed out, depict a sparsely attended and haphazard downtown protest. Bill recalls that “[T]here were really two days to the protest. The first day was a more or less impromptu ad hoc affair,” a sort of opening act if you will. Ergo the small turnout.

The chronicling of the principle day of the protest, the day that remains so stubbornly etched into the rapidly shrinking frontal lobes of surviving Mankatoans, does not really kick off until the 5:41 mark of the YouTube. Gary notes:

The first signs of the march can be seen at 6:53… At 8:44, you can see how the protest has started to occupy and stretch from downtown Mankato to where Mankato High School is. The highway between the two points is totally shut down and you can see protesters on the highway's railing…You can see outbursts of emotions and frustration at 10:44…

In the end, billy clubs and tear gas were used to break up the protesters, and they more or less scattered. I did see truck drivers rev up their truck engines to threaten to drive over the protesters but the protesters stayed put. As the large group of law enforcement types were clearing out the bridge, other sporadic protests occurred in the city in an effort to block traffic.

It was a war protest, with a mix of sex, drugs and rock and roll blended in. It lasted only a day, but like most honest and sincere forms of protest, it got people on different sides talking to each other.


Bill adds:

The shots of people on a bridge were on the 169 overpass in North Mankato, across the Main Street bridge from Mankato. At one point there is a pan to the front of the liquor store that set next to Karl Kassulke’s bar.

The second day featured the silent march, a much bigger affair, which is why you see students marching up Madison Avenue hill and turning south on Highway 22 in front of Madison East shopping center. I had entirely forgotten that was any part of the protest.


So, yes, this was a really big day in the minds of all true Mankatoans of the era—a group to which I have always sycophantically sought entry, and by whom I am fated to be snubbed forever after, thanks to the above post.

There remains the issue of George McGovern’s appearance at the end. Neither Bill nor Gary believes that the soon-to-be Democratic nominee actually showed up at the protest. Gary believes the occasion to be “Farmfest,” an event of some sort concurrent with and yet unrelated to the antiwar demo, held “a few miles away from the protest scene”—and not, as I averred, the Vet’s Picnic. Presumably, Farmfest featured less beer, gratuitous vomiting, and dry-humping in pup tents than the perennially underrated Vet’s Picnic did, though it no doubt served as a much more dignified venue for a presidential candidate.

Both Bill and Gary join Chico in the assumption that the speaker in the video really is McGovern himself, leaving me all alone in believing the speaker to be a werewolf.*

It is, then, at Farmfest where the film inexplicably ends. And it is also at this point where these addenda end—unless some other reader opts to chime in.







* It never fails to dumbfound me that, of all the major party nominees for President in my lifetime, the two most courageous persons were (with apologies to John Kerry and John McCain) most likely George McGovern and George H.W. Bush.

The latter was dismissed as a “lapdog” by infamous War Wussie George Will, but check this out.

The former remains synonymous with hippie-hugging, peace-drunk passivity and historic Electoral College humiliation, but check this out.