Danno is never, ever a passenger on the 4F morning commuter bus into downtown Minneapolis, but he is one of our citizens just the same. For a couple of years now, we've see him three or four times a month walking along the west-side sidewalk of Lyndale Avenue between 26th St. and Franklin Avenue at 6:30 or 7:00 am. He’s a young man somewhere between 25 and 30 years of age, short in height and quite thin. His ethnic background seems rooted in the south Pacific—you see traces of Polynesia, Samoa or maybe the Philippines in his features.
This stretch of Minneapolis is a transition zone between well-kept turn-of-the-century single family homes of south Minneapolis and the downtown proper. It’s a stretch of mostly apartment buildings, some of them run-down enough to bring the term “tenement” to mind. This is a relative term, though. People in real cities like Chicago or St. Louis would be amused that we see this stretch of Minneapolis as a gritty segment of inner city. It is by no means a slum. The people who live here are a mixed group. Some are young adults who like living between the action of downtown and the trendiness of the Uptown district. Some are students commuting to the downtown community vocational college or the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. A few, though, are folks living more on the fringe of the mainstream, young men and women who have dropped out by choice or by circumstance.
Most mornings, a quick glance at Danno suggests that he lives more on the fringe. Usually he’s weary, unshaven, irritable in demeanor. His beard brings to mind early Bruce Springsteen, but unintentionally so. You get the sense most days that 7:00 am is the end of his evening, not the start of his day, and “disheveled” is the term that usually comes to mind when you spot Danno in the early morning. He stands out because he's unusual in that regard.
Not always, though, because Danno is a mercurial character. I’ve also seen him on mornings where he carries books under his arm while striding purposefully along the early morning pavement. One day, he was carrying a gleaming steel coffee mug in one hand and a copy of the New York Times tucked under the other elbow, and could have been a young professional enjoying the early morning before showering and heading to a downtown office.
Today, though, Danno was in a borderline state, and he was in trouble. Heading north along Lyndale Avenue, he could not walk straight, and his manner suggested more than mere alcohol inebriation. He was wearing black Converse tennis shoes, green camouflage military trousers rolled up to mid calf, and a dark grey tank top T-shirt not at all appropriate for the 40-degree morning. While walking, he looked into the sky in confusion a couple of times, weaved once onto the lawn of an apartment building, compensated and stumbled onto the grassy boulevard between sidewalk and street. It’s very hard to say what was happening with him, though he looked to me like people I've seen under heavy, dangerous doses of major-league hallucinogens.
Then one of those sensory portraits presented itself that I knew was going to stick in my mind for a while. As the bus passed by, Danno stumbled along the sidewalk, and fell hard headfirst into the trunk of a flowering crab apple tree that had blanketed the sidewalk and boulevard with a thick quilt of its flower petals, a layer of blossoms so bright in the morning sun that the colors hurt your eyes.
Danno seemed not to be seriously hurt, and too confused to even be embarrassed. He momentarily tried to get back to his feet, but then surrendered to whatever alien force was surging through his veins and brain synapses, and curled up in a partial fetal pose on the ground His right arm, bent at the elbow, supported his head and neck, a posture of sleep. The young man's legs and hip were on the sidewalk, his torso and upper body sprawled onto the grassy boulevard, and his dark skin and clothes were in striking contrast to the bed of pale magenta flowers on which he lay. Passersby sidestepped him while pretending not to see the anomaly.
As we passed by, the signature to this portrait came as a whiff of flowering apple perfume cascaded through the open window of the bus.
It was all disturbingly, ironically, beautiful.