Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Homecoming: An Overdue Visit to the Minnesota Hall of Athlete Aggression (MelAnChoLy in Minnesota Part III)

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Daily.

(Click HERE for Part I: Ligaments)

(Click HERE for Part II: Concussions)

Waseca, Minnesota, used to be the home of a two-year agriculture-heavy university, a branch of the University of Minnesota system. The school's mascot was the Ram, and one of my best friend's dads used to be the starting center on their basketball team. I was a graduate of the complex's preschool in 1990, two years before it was shut down. It's sort of embarrassing to have the most prestigious institution of higher learning in your hometown be turned into a prison to save $6 million out of what was a $1.6 billion university system budget. As a die-hard Minnesota sports fan, it's just as embarrassing to also have a wing of that former school/current prison in your hometown house the Minnesota Hall of Athlete Aggression, commissioned in 2009 and opened just a few months ago.

Why does such an institution exist? What purpose could the recollection and reflection upon the egregious acts of the talented and privileged few serve for this largely nondescript city?

Well, maybe you'd think about becoming the home for such an institution, too, if your already un-massive population was slowly declining, if one of your claims to fame was that your City Council proclaimed you the Hosta Capital of the World, or if one of your most famous citizens was Jeff Skilling For A Couple Years. If the state is willing to throw a little money your way in a decades-late "Sorry about that whole school shut-down thing" gesture to open up a potential moneymaking exhibit and an attraction that can surely take up a page of your local tourism bureau's yearly brochure, you'd have less reservation about building it, too, said our mayor. Waseca: For an Hour, For a Lifetime.

Jeff Skilling: Former Enron CEO and Waseca resident, billions-swindler.

"Hey, we were a media hotspot here for maybe a week after that Skilling guy came to town!" says the museum's security guard, Al--who I'm pretty sure was my elementary school P.E. teacher--as Silky and I entered the newly renovated North Annex of the prison. We could see a couple inmates leering our way from the outdoor recreational area on the east side of the facility, but it's OK, said Al, as the prisoners don't have access to the North Annex--that's why they built the separate entrance and parking lot, to keep the riff-raff away from the fine tourists, you see.

The faux-marble columned entrance with the stately museum title etching seemed overcooked, as it was essentially tacked on to a prison vendor-delivery entrance door on the side of a burnt sienna-colored brick building. It seemed even more out of place after we entered the building and bought our tickets; one left turn later and I realized the museum was actually constructed in my (renovated and expanded) pre-school romper room. Nothing kicks your remaining shred of innocence in the pants quite like seeing a Vikings Love Boat of 2005 Memorial Fountain in the same room where you used to finger-paint and take five minutes to tie your shoes. Though the eighth-scale model charter cruise boat motoring around the fountain, complete with a hand-painted "Al and Alma's" on the side, was a nice touch.

I shook my head and turned to Silky, gesturing at the fountain. "I can't believe this used to be a pre-school. And right away, having this thing smack you in the face is like a double violation."

"That's what Fred Smoot said," Silky replied, not missing a beat.

We decided to circle the museum, which was about the size of one of those mansions that are kept up by your local historical society, in a counter-clockwise circle. This plan of attack brought us next to the Wall of Automobile Aberrations, sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Over the Limit, Under Arrest, I guess. Ensconced in an oaken cabinet with a glass facade were the mug shots of several prominent athletes, and under each picture were listed the particulars of their arrest. Al Jefferson: March 1, 2010, fourth-degree DWI. Cedric Griffin: August 30, 2009, fourth-degree DWI. Michael Beasley: June 26, 2011, marijuana possession and speeding. Rhett Bomar and Jerome Felton also featured in the installation, but Silk noticed one prominent auto-related event was missing from the cabinet.

"Oh! You're probably looking for the Mbakwing," said Al, who had become our de facto tour guide despite his badge and dark gray uniform. "That's in the East Expansion. After that 'dewey' this summer, the board decided he deserved his own area." He pointed to a portion of knocked-out wall in the back corner opposite the entrance that was currently covered by a taped-down blue tarp that flapped like a loose headsail.

On the same weekend of the museum's grand opening, it was learned that Gophers power forward Trevor Mbakwe had been arrested for driving while intoxicated back in July, flabbergasting the Hall's Board of Trustees and kicking off a furious fundraising drive to immediately renovate the museum to consolidate Mbakwe's commemorative items into its own mini-wing. At last check, the drive had stalled about 94 percent short of its fundraising goal.

"Sounds like they really got Mbak'd into a corner on that one," Silky said. It wasn't one of his better efforts.

Isaiah Rider in the 1994 Slam Dunk Contest.

Walking along the back wall next brought us under a door frame--into a space that used to house the preschoolers' storage cubbies, if I remember right--to a large golden ball trophy and a few blandly official-looking papers in a glass case. The trophy read "ISAIAH RIDER 1994 SLAM DUNK CHAMPION." The papers detailed Rider's many legal troubles in his years as a Minnesota Timberwolf, including his 1995 probation violation for an earlier assault conviction and his 1996 arrest for marijuana possession and possession of an illegal cellular telephone. Al said it actually cost more to get a copy of the papers from the Hennepin County government than the board paid to win the trophy in an online auction.

Also among the items in the northwest corner included a pair of stonewashed 38-34 jeans nailed to the drywall. Under the jeans hung a small gold-plated plaque that read "Former Gophers basketball player Royce White tried to shoplift a pair of jeans like these from the Mall of America in 2009." The actual pair of pants White tried to swipe were actually purchased by a construction worker later that day and could not be donated to the exhibit, as the man still enjoys wearing the jeans.

The final item in the old coat room was a piece that looked like it would have been more at home in a modern art show. Boxed in clear plastic was an oscillating stand-up fan on full blast, sweeping about a dozen blank pieces of letter-sized paper along with one letter on University of Minnesota letterhead. I was able to catch snippets of the letter's body as it swirled around the cube: "Mr. Barker," "pleased to offer," "scholarship is renewable," and "2012-2013 academic year." Al described it as a re-creation of what was going through former Gophers receiver A.J. Barker's head as he typed his 4,000-word manifesto blasting coach Jerry Kill and his staff and announcing his departure from the school.

I'm told this is A.J. Barker.
We departed the old cubby crawlspace and entered the Vikings-centric portion of the Hall, adorned in purple wallpaper and sporting a large broken gjallarhorn hanging from ceiling wires. The highlight of this part of the museum was the bronze statue of Adrian Peterson in full game-day gear, determined look on face, in mid-stride and dragging an off-duty Houston police officer on each leg--and one on his back as well. The sculpture symbolized Peterson's struggle to clear his name from resisting arrest charges stemming from a nightclub incident in July. Rumor has it that his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, waived his normal fee to take on Peterson's case and instead asked for the money to go toward the crafting of the sculpture that now sits in the Hall.

Silk and I thought the gilded bar-entrance guard pole and the Taser gun resting on an end table that flanked the Peterson sculpture were a deterrent toward touching the piece of art, but Al set us straight. The guard pole was the exact item former Viking Bryant McKinnie was accused of using to assault a man outside a Miami nightclub in 2008, and the stun gun was donated by the Los Angeles Police Department to commemorate Everson Griffen's bad week in 2011 when he was arrested twice and Tasered for fleeing police and attempting to assault a pursuing officer.

We had circled back to the Love Boat fountain at this point and observed the Hall's final item. It was the box for Onterrio Smith's Whizzinator, the prosthetic nether-region simulator designed to help degenerates obtain negative drug tests. I started to wonder how someone could even smuggle that into their pants and even try to make it look natural, and then realized I was pondering how the instructions of a Whizzinator might read and immediately started walking for the exit.

Courtesy of Deadspin.
But Silk had one more question for Al: "Hey Al, I don't see any Chris Cook stuff in here. Is that on purpose?"

Al got serious with us for a second. "You can probably tell, most of these items were gathered with a kind of tongue-in-cheek attitude in mind for the place," he said. "The Board that put all this together...they're all big sports fans, but enough is enough sometimes, you know? That stuff he was accused of doing, domestic abuse, sticking a gun in a guy's face...that's some pretty dark stuff. I still kind of find it hard to root for the guy."

Silk and I thanked Al for his pseudo-tour of the place and left the prison grounds shaking our heads. So many promising seasons derailed, sullied, or otherwise obscured by the incidents detailed at the museum. We were again left with the question floating through our heads: Why would anyone take the time to put this kind of installation together, or the ligament graveyard, or the concussion memorial? Who in their right mind would want to actively revisit all these old, deflating, infuriating memories of failed quests for glory?

We came to the conclusion that we essentially had two options. We could either acknowledge and try to laugh at our misfortune of growing up Minnesota sports fans and investing so much time and energy in rooting for a bunch of blockheads with blown-up knees and a propensity to experience blackouts due to big hits.

Or we could also say enough is enough and realize that it might be beneficial for us to find a more constructive hobby, perhaps divest the attention that we had so fervently and dutifully paid for decades with no cathartic payoff and no prospects for such a release on the immediate horizon. I suggested Matchitecture. Silk was about to mention French cooking, I think, but he happened to look at his phone as we entered my Bonneville for the return trip to Silk's place in Bloomington.

"Whoa, it's almost six. Wolves tip off in like 5 minutes," Silky said.

"There's a bar a couple blocks from here. I could go for some food," I said. "Are you hungry? Or are you STARVING?"

Silk chuckled, but then his face went immediately stony. "That was Tim Brewster. You just quoted Tim Brewster, and I laughed," he said. "We are beyond hope."

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