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Ross Nelson column: Change the only certainty

My family and I traveled to Milwaukee earlier this year to visit our old stomping grounds and re-enjoy our favorite eateries. My wife and I moved there in the mid-1980s when I was accepted at Marquette University after quitting law school in bore...

My family and I traveled to Milwaukee earlier this year to visit our old stomping grounds and re-enjoy our favorite eateries. My wife and I moved there in the mid-1980s when I was accepted at Marquette University after quitting law school in boredom and disgust; years later we practically fled the city to Fargo.

As we drove to Wisconsin this year, I had to laugh when I realized that the van hauling us was relatively older and absolutely higher in miles than the beater we originally drove way back when. Warren Buffett I'll never be.

Not so funny are many of our memories of Milwaukee. Nearly penniless, we lived in crime-ridden neighborhoods that were a real education for us naïve yokels.

We'd barely put our bags down at our first home when I came across a freshly mugged woman a block away. We quickly learned to look over our shoulders routinely, especially when near the back alley where the garage was and where our house owner got mugged only weeks after coming home from a sabbatical. He has since had his house broken into twice and a knife held to his throat.

Our foolish landlord in the fourplex we moved into next got mugged twice inside the building, with me as star witness in court the first time. The houses on both sides of us were broken into, a friend down the street and the neighbor facing us were mugged, there was a crack house two blocks away, and the gunfire at night made Beirut seem all the closer. The basketball court across from our third home is now named after a child killed in a gang fight there.

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We found out that Lucci's Pizza, home of the best and most reasonably priced pizza in the world, was closed sometime after its assistant manager was shot dead. I cringe now to think of all the night trips we took on foot to that hole in the wall with its cigarette-puffing workers to buy that ambrosia.

I particularly looked forward on our trip to quaffing more of the world's (I'm not kidding) best root beer at the Appleton Avenue A&W. I once gathered the courage to ask the owner how he made his root beer so good, and was told that he mixed it his own way despite constant heat from A&W to mix it according to formula. He closed shop not long ago after having a gun stuck in his face one evening. Ne'er again shall I sit there drinking the root beer of the gods out of a frozen liter German crystal mug on a hot, sticky Milwaukee afternoon. I could weep.

There's much more, but our Milwaukee trip had an upside, too. We had a chance to speak with my favorite philosophy professor on a sunny, nearly deserted campus with our kids playing nearby. What a pleasure it was to listen to a reasonable man discuss in a rounded, logical manner his next paper! I'd almost forgotten how pleasurable a proper argument can be.

The old sirens that initially brought me to Marquette again sang their enticing music, but my children's cheerful noise made me realize anew that my professional student days were over. And seeing them play in the hallway where I once tromped up and down as a grad student in a different era was like having two separate lives intersecting at this one point.

You can't step into the same river twice, and you can't really go back either. Sometimes it's just as well.

Nelson is a Fargo postal worker and regular contributor to The Forum's commentary pages. He can be reached at r.cnelson@juno.com

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