Ever see a murdered polar bear on a slab? It’s something let me tell you. Even the veterinarians who practice cutting into stray dogs and old horses wept. I don’t know what got to them; the bear’s size, its rarity, or just the flagrant randomness of the crime. Ursicide was the word the papers used. Overused really. “How’d they know it was punks on dope and not the male partner?”, my friend Lucas asked, “A crime of passion, or suicide?” “Cause the kids confessed”, I said. “Open and shut.”

     I was working nights cleaning rooms at the university veterinary school in St.Paul. During the day I taught at an alternative school in Loring-Nicolette; history and English, a little art. It was a small place, five teachers and thirty odd students, so everyone did pretty much everything. The school was founded by two aging hippies and enrolled teenagers expelled from other high schools in town. In the year and a half I taught we had three pregnancies, half a dozen overdoses, two arrests, and a suicide. The kid who killed himself was a sweet, soft-spoken boy named Tremaine who was a drummer and sometimes hung out with Prince before he broke out of Minneapolis. He was seventeen and he stepped off the Hennepin Avenue Bridge into the Mississippi. Several teachers cried because they thought they’d saved him from his rotten life. “No such luck”, said Martin, one of the hippies, “this is just a numbers game and we’re gonna lose some and that’s it.”  After that he went to the Drop Inn, drank himself into a stupor, and was brought home by the cops.  The suicide’s sometimes girlfriend, Sami, grieved by sleeping with every boy she could persuade, including Jonny, the other founder. That’s the kind of place it was; one part humanist, one part nihilist. 

     In my English class, some of the kids tried to write about death. One boy compared Minneapolis to a firebombed Dresden and claimed he was a victim of our militaristic efforts to create meaning. It wasn’t very good, but I was happy he remembered my lesson on WWII. When I mentioned I was pleased he looked at me like I was a wild animal. Another boy was a fan of Judge Roy Bean and said if we wanted fair we should have been born into a different world. He wrote about the hell to come and compared and contrasted it to the hell already here. His was the best of the lot and when I told him so he said he detested writing because anything set down in words was a lie, including what he had just written. I didn’t have a good answer for that. One of the girls in my class vomited every time I gave a writing assignment. A boy who never wrote anything said, “That’s the best metaphor for writing I ever saw.” I was happy he knew what a metaphor was. Old kids left and new ones arrived. Six months after Tremaine jumped, most of the students didn’t know or couldn’t remember him. Sami held him in contempt and made fun of his end. “What kind of sick fuck thinks he’s going to a better place by jumping off a bridge? There ain’t no better world that this nightmare right here, he just didn’t have the balls to stay.” 

     About a month before I left I gave a new writing assignment. Describe the best five minutes of your life. Most of them wrote about sex. I got one back from a new kid that talked about getting high on mescaline, running through a zoo at night, and dropping cinderblocks on bears to hear them growl. I didn’t have the energy to ask him if he was the killer, because in that place, it was always just one thing after another.  

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