Last night I rode the 21A for an hour and 15 minutes to attend the book launch for the 2015 Saint Paul Almanac. Despite being a stranger in a strange town, I found the Black Dog Cafe and ventured inside, eventually finding my free copy, a $50 check and getting a rose pinned to my lapel—all for having a story in their wonderful book. They had speakers and readers, all singing the praises of their home city of Saint Paul. There were childhood memories, reflections on buildings and attractions long since gone; a five-year-old even danced to the spirits of indigenous peoples who inhabited the area thousands of years ago. I felt guilty for crashing their party.
I stole out of town the same way I came in, on the 21. Now I had the Almanac to read. I read about old chocolate factories, Red Owl groceries, kids playing hide-and-seek amid coffins. I read true stories of generations growing up and growing old in Saint Paul. Why was I in this book? I've spent most of my adult life in Minneapolis. I'd written a fictional tale of a fictional doctor taking a bullet out of John Dillinger's shoulder. I'd taken their money and space in their book on false pretenses. I opened the Almanac to my bio: sure enough, I hadn't even bothered to fess up to being from Minneapolis. Fraud!
Was I any better than Dillinger himself? He took advantage of the hospitality Saint Paul had to offer, then blew town with his ill-gotten gains. As the 21 pulled into the Uptown Station, I checked my coat pocket for that check—my own filthy lucre—and vowed...nothing. Who was I kidding? I'd never change. I slunk back to my Minneapolis apartment. I'm not proud of the path my life has taken. Once a writer always a writer. Guilty as charged.
(Look, I even lifted that picture of the dancing kid from the Almanac FB page! Have I no shame?)