Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Ice Cream Man Cometh In North Minneapolis (Summer Visitation 2009)

Photos By John Hoff

Ice cream trucks do not work the streets in my son's affluent suburb. During our first few days of summer visitation in North Minneapolis, when an ice cream truck cruised past, slowly, my son watched with confusion and just a little bit of trepidation. 

Was this one of those adult predators he'd heard about in health class?

I said to my son, "Oh, it's the ice cream man! Let's get ice cream."

My son informed me that he wasn't in the mood for ice cream and, really, why would I buy something BEING SOLD OUT OF A VAN?

I blinked at my son, confused. I informed him he had been raised by suburban space aliens. THAT'S THE ICE CREAM MAN! I said. Don't you get it? THE ICE CREAM MAN!!! You're supposed to freak out and beg me for a dollar...

I bought an ice cream bar shaped like Batman's head, with two white gum balls for eyes. My son didn't want it, so I ate it, but he did pose for a picture.

A few days later, I was at Peter Teachout's house--chair of the Hawthorne Neighborhood--doing nine hours of pulling out staples from an old stairwell. My son came running up to me.

"THE ICE CREAM MAN IS OUTSIDE!!!!" he said, and he wanted a Push-Up bar, immediately.

Thank god, I thought. My son is normal, after all.

Hawthorne Housing Director On Road To Recovery After Freak Phone Book Dumping Accident...

Photos By John Hoff 

As reported in a previous (parody) blog post, Hawthorne Housing Director Jeff Skrenes is on the road to recovery after being the victim of a freak phone book dumping accident which is all the fault of Dex and their evil "Dumpinator 3000."

Obviously, a lawsuit is being contemplated...

...as soon as the doctors and lawyers can figure out the full extent of the physical and neurological damage, subtracting out that whole"Hawthorne Hawkman" X-man mutant experiment thing which has, arguably, actually INCREASED many of Jeff's abilities in the wake of the accident. But there's still "pain and suffering" to consider and, no, I'm not just talking about all those creatures living in forests destroyed to make phone books thrown away after sitting on a doorstep for an afternoon. CURSE YOU DEX!!!!

So, yeah, it's complicated. Jeff's physical injuries are easy to figure out, but the brain damage is much harder to pin down. After all, Jeff's "normal baseline" already involved making small talk about sub prime mortgages.

Recently, some friends gathered with our dear friend Jeff to watch Game Seven of the Stanley Cup. Jeff showed us some of the physical therapy he's doing under the guidance of the Veterans Administration. How Jeff ended up in a VA hospital is a long story, but suffice to say he's stuck there without enough physical therapy resources to go around. So the VA just told Jeff to go buy a hula hoop, use it, and "get better."

Fortunately, our mutual friend Connie Nompelis (No-buhl-iss, it's Greek) actually makes hula hoops out of irrigation pipe and decorative duct tape.

In the top photo, Connie demonstrates her hula technique and Jeff sort of follows in the bottom photo. Unfortunately, what should have been a fun bit of physical exercise actually revealed how badly damaged Jeff is. Consider: here's me, an army vet rated at 30 percent disability, with one leg almost two inches shorter than the other, jammed up into my hip after a freak accident involving a violent psych patient jacked up on angel dust. (No, that part is NOT parody)

But who can hula longer, me and my wounded army green corpse or Jeff, a strapping young man in the prime of life?

Me, of course.

Which just goes to show you how horribly Jeff was messed up by the Dumpinator 3000 and how badly Dex needs to get the taste sued out of their mouth for their unrelenting evil phone book dumping.

CURSE YOU DEX!!!!!!!!!!

Doing 311 The Hard Way... (Summer Visitation 2009)

Photo By John Hoff

Perhaps a hundred times I've passed this building on the light rail line, and taken note of the growing graffiti collection. But it was a hard 311 report to make, because the building isn't somewhere I can walk to--it's all fenced off and near a highway--and my only way to describe it is by its relation to the light rail line.

But on Friday, I was picking up my son for extended summer visitation and I had my camera with me. On the return route I told myself, damn it, I'm going to get a picture of that building and start the 311 process. It won't be pretty, it won't be tidy, but maybe I can get something going here.

As the train went past, I managed to capture an image with the telephoto function of my sweet new digital camera, a gift from a wonderful reader. This afternoon, while looking through my recently downloaded photos, I saw the images and was prompted to DO SOMETHING. So I did it. I emailed 311.

Usually giving information to 311 is easy. You relate the address and you say what's wrong. But I figure anybody can do that. I love those obscure little pockets of dystopian filth which require me to "do 311 the hard way."

(Do not click "Read More")

Who Will Flowers Bloom For At A Foreclosed House?

Photos By John Hoff

A dear friend of mine...a fine human being, a good neighbor, an excellent cook, a lover of animals...is losing her home to foreclosure. Despite all the talk of various kinds of help available, there is no help for her. All the talk of programs and assistance from the government is pretty much bulls***t, as far as she can tell.

Piece by piece, she deals with her soon-to-be-vacant house. Some candles went to a mutual friend who is crazy about candles. Plants in the yard will be "fostered" by other neighbors, but not all the plants. Some of the plants my friend is leaving, wanting the yard to remain pretty for whoever gets the house next. But who will that be?

"Who will those flowers bloom for?" she asked me, as we sat on the steps, my son inside the house playing on my computer, as he so often does.

I answered that...

...flowers do not bloom for particular individuals, but for God. They bloom because that's what God has flowers do, not because it is the will of the owner of a particular house. The flowers will bloom for God, no matter who owns the house, and we can take comfort in that fact. All is right in heaven. There is purpose and meaning to our tribulations, even if these things are not readily apparent.

In the flower bed are decorative onions. I've informed my friend that (like decorative cabbage) decorative onions are an affront to God, and we should pluck up the onions and grill them to savory perfection. This thought horrifies her, so I let it drop, but the other day the onions were drooping in an advanced state of maturity. My friend pointed out their droopiness. In my mind, I could hear a hot skillet sizzling. Why give up the yard, I thought? EAT THE YARD. If you eat something, it's yours forever. It becomes part of your essence.

Therefore...eat the yard.

As the foreclosure process moves to its ultimate conclusion--yet another vacant house in a neighborhood with too many vacant houses, already--endless arrangements are made for the particular items in the home, and I think how this same painful process is repeated a hundred times, a thousand times, a few thousand times all over North Minneapolis. Some stuff goes here, some goes there, some just gets thrown away. Some stuff gets stored one place, some another, but plenty of it ends up on Craigs List. The other day I helped to carry an entertainment center to a truck. I thought it must be hard to part with it, but my friend told me not really...it had sat in the garage for SEVEN YEARS.

I asked some questions of the man who came to get the entertainment center. Did he have a wife? Children?

Yes, he had children who were grown, he said. Now he had grandchildren. I imagined the grandchildren watching Saturday morning cartoons, arrayed around the entertainment center, as we secured it in place on the truck trailer.

The emotion of these moments of loss and letting go floats over North Minneapolis like a cloud of incense, the raw feelings hang in low grassy spots like a morning fog.

Yes, I see a neighborhood being reborn. I see good coming of all the bad. But up close and personal, when you have to figure out whether to take the precious antique cobblestones with, or leave the stones behind and hope the new owner will appreciate their history...it's hard to have perspective, objectivity, a sunny outlook in the midst of deep personal pain.

Where does all that emotion go? How will it be harnessed, sublimated? My dear friend talks of new life goals, new paths. Without a mortgage to pay, living with a friend, certain doors of opportunity will open wide. And yet...all is unsettled, packed away in boxes, neatly stacked but not entirely orderly on the inside, not by a long shot.

I can't help but think of the Battle of Seattle in 1999 during the World Trade Organization conference, and how black clad anarchists took out their raw feelings on the windows of, for example, banks.

But my friend believes in law and order. She would never do something like that.

I believe in law and order too. Mostly.

But these are the moments when part of me wants to grab a crowbar and smash, smash, smash, smash....

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Son's Birthday Party Turns Into Public Service... (Summer Visitation 2009)

Photo By John Hoff, above, contributed photo, below

Some friends of mine in NoMi threw a little birthday party for my son, Alex, on the first day of our extended summer visitation. We also watched Game Seven of the Stanley Cup. Since we were cheering for the Red Wings, I guess the birthday party was the more successful aspect of the party.

Sitting around a bonfire in the backyard, messing around with some of Connie Nompelis' hula hoops (she's obsessed with hula hoops) Connie mentioned how there was a hoop stuck in a tree right in front of her house. How did it get there? Well, it wasn't exactly a long story: in an act of neighborly kindness she'd given some hula hoops to some down-and-out kids in the neighborhood, but in no time at all the hoops were trashed and one hoop was in Connie's own tree right in front of her house, where it had remained for quite a while.

My son asserted he could get the hoop down with a long branch.

"Go do it," I told him, remaining comfortably seated by the bonfire. "Bring me back a war trophy."

My son came back a while later and told me...

...the branch wasn't quite long enough to reach the hoop. So I went outside to help. Well, "not long enough" was an understatement. I stood on top of a trash can to get closer, with my son holding the trash can steady. I switched the branch for a rake. The rake could just barely touch the hoop, but the thin metal tines weren't sturdy enough to pull down the object down.

"Run and get that sharp metal hoe in the back yard," I told my son, and he dashed off to get the implement, completely "mission oriented." I see my own personality in him at moments like this. Given a job, he will do it to death. Even casual suggestions can turn into jobs which must be "done to death."

Taking the sharp hoe in hand, I pointed out to my son that we must be REALLY CAREFUL.

"Doesn't this look like something that would love to accidentally end up in a person's chest?" I said, running my thumb over the sharp edge of the hoe before getting on top of the garbage can, once again.

In a short time, the unsightly broken hoop came down, and Connie posed with my son and the urban revitalization "war trophy."

Where Does North Minneapolis Begin? (Summer Visitation 2009)

Photos By John Hoff

When I picked up my son on Friday for extended summer visitation, we went to Pizza Luce in the Warehouse District. The food there was both good and affordable. The place seemed very popular with bike messengers. One of the messengers was wearing a pair of dress pants, hacked off with a scissor just above the knees to make a pair of shorts. Bike messengers are so cool, I thought.

I avoided directing my impressionable son's attention toward the bike messenger with the hacked off pants. It looks like a fun and addicting lifestyle, but will you become well-to-do like that? I don't think so.

While my son was eating his hot fudge sundae, I noticed the address for Pizza Luce had the word "North" in it. I sat there eating a salad (of course) and thought, "My son and I are in the Warehouse District. We are ALREADY in North Minneapolis. Where does North Minneapolis actually BEGIN?"

A friend tells me Hennepin Avenue is "Avenue Zero." Beyond that is First Avenue North. From downtown, this is where NoMi begins, geographically. However, when people say "North Minneapolis" usually they mean...

...something a lot different than north of Hennepin Avenue. One resident of North Minneapolis tells me Glenwood Avenue is the first place where people think "I have crossed into North Minneapolis." But when the media do their little media framing thing, virtually "marketing" North Minneapolis as an urban dystopia theme park, they appear to be describing a rather narrowly restricted area-within-an-area.

Even that area is, however, turning around by leaps and bounds as the foreclosure crisis presents opportunities to completely remake our neighborhood. NoMi is a wonderful, exciting, rapidly-changing place...and my son will be right in the middle of it for the next five weeks.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Donald Walthall Takes The Stand In Marlon Pratt Mortgage Fraud Trial (Summer Visitation 2009)

Photo By John Hoff

On Friday, I ducked into the Marlon Pratt mortgage fraud trial for about 20 minutes, with my son in tow. I'd heard a rumor that Donald Walthall would be taking the stand, and delivering testimony which would pretty much lock the door of Marlon Pratt's prison cell. At about 4 PM, Donald Walthall was indeed on the stand...

Walthall appeared in an impossibly yellow shirt, singing like a canary about how he'd gone ahead and slapped his signature on loan documents when he had not really been the loan officer on those particular loans. Who was the loan officer? Marlon Pratt. According to the testimony, Pratt had been the LOAN OFFICER on loans where he himself was one of the BORROWERS. Talk about your one-stop banking!

The young female juror I call "Polka Dot Girl" elevated her eyebrows and wrote notes at this revelation. On Friday, she was wearing a gray and black striped outfit and seemed quite focused on the testimony.

Donald Walthall testified looking straight ahead at the prosecutor, in a cooperative tone which was mostly meek, though not servile. Walthall did not look toward Marlon Pratt while I observed. Pratt sat with his hand on his chin, wearing a grim look. He wore a conservative gray suit.

According to my 12-year-old son, Alex, some of Pratt's family appeared "nervous." My son saw "foot tapping" and "thumb twiddling" and one woman appeared to be "reading a Bible."

An individual sitting in the front row with the Pratt family bore an incredible resemblance to State Representative Bobby Joe Champion.

At one point, there was testimony about $23,000 which ended up in the hands of an entity called "Pratt Construction." You really have to wonder if "Pratt Construction" has ever put the business end of a hammer to the head of a nail. At one point, a picture of 4122 Bryant Ave. N. was displayed on the screen. At another point, the prosecutor asked Donald Walthall if he'd ever known Marlon's wife, Donna Pratt, to "live in a house this modest." The utterance was objected to by Larry Reed, and successfully. The judge appears to be very even-handed between defense and prosecution, but there is no doubt the testimony being delivered is damning.

Word around the courthouse is the prosecutor, Tom Fabel, is rather "old school" and doesn't rely much on modern devices to put evidence in front of juries. Indeed, a few days ago I saw Fabel presenting a handwritten diagram which actually had a little doodle of a house, like a stick figure man would live inside. However, it should be noted...the diagram was plenty enough to get the job done and certainly had no distracting flashy elements.

Fabel is ably assisted by Kirstin Kanski, who wore a blue suit jacket. Her hair is brown with blonde highlights, cut in a rather casual way. She is tall, pale, calm, apparently in her late 20s.

At one point during an expert's testimony some days ago, a list was projected of the sub prime lenders who were involved with Walthall's company, Universal Mortgage, and it was actually a roll call of the dead. Not a single one of the lenders was still around, each being out of business or in bankruptcy. Here is that morbid, dreary list:

Accredited Home Lenders, Inc.

BNC Mortgage, Inc.

Entrust Mortgage, Inc.

Decision One Mortgage Co.

1st Choice Mortgage

Argent Mortgage Company, LLC

Testimony a few days ago included a witness, Allison Stoehr of Title Nexus in Minnetonka, described as a "legal assistant." A brunette with nicely-permed hair, she appears to be in her early 30s. Another expert was Curtis D. Loewe, whose professional qualifications were so overwhelmingly impressive you had to wonder why he would be required to testify at all. Really, just have him say Marlon Pratt is guilty and let his resume do the convincing.

Loewe has--among a lot of other things--an extensive past career with the attorney general's office and many years of work in regulation. He eventually went to work for Hometown Mortgage, and has been an expert witness in a handful of other trials. Loewe--who doesn't appear at first glance to be as old as he actually must be--is a short, somewhat rotund man with receding hair and a hearing aid. At one point, he was told DO NOT state the names of the defendants in other trials where he has been a witness but, not understanding the question, Loewe blurted out the name "Walthall."

Notably, Larry Reed allowed this moment to pass without objection. Loewe proceeded to give a "history lesson" on the sub prime mortgage mess. These are the moments when "Polka Dot Girl" runs her pen over her lips and appears to be thinking about something much more interesting.

In response to questioning by Defense Attorney Larry Reed, Loewe answered that he currently works on 2 or 3 mortgages a month.

"Two or three a month?" Larry Reed asked, incredulous.

"Market's not as good this year," Loewe answered, which produced laughter in the spectator section but, notably, no laughter among the jurists.

At another point during a break in the proceedings, Larry Reed began to argue with the prosecutor about the order of witnesses. Fabel said the order of the witnesses would depend on how the witnesses responded to subpoenas, and added "you would know more than I would on that." Reed wanted to know WHY he would know more, and Fabel responded, "Because they're YOUR friends." Reed began to sputter out a response when the judge said, "Come into chambers" and both lawyers made a beeline out of the room.

At another point, Prosecutor Brad Johnson was in the room, sitting in the spectator section, fresh off his crushing defeat of Larry Reed in the Larry "Maximum" Maxwell trial.

Reed turned to Johnson and said, "Don't you have a little baby you could be playing with?" Brad answered he would have a chance to "play with her tonight" and asked, "Don't YOU have a little baby?"

"I have no babies," Reed answered.

"You have a granddaughter," Brad answered.

Reed was willing to concede the existence of a granddaughter.

Returning to Friday's proceedings, my son and I left after 20 minutes of testimony by Donald Walthall and went to Pizza Luce near the end of the light rail line, where he had a hot fudge sundae. My son, who is in advanced math classes, has quite a head for numbers and I know this means that, in his life, he may be presented with temptations involving the juggling of figures. Therefore, I thought it was good for my 12-year-old son to see an accused white collar criminal on trial, the family members virtually in a state of mourning, with one of the co-conspirators dressed in canary yellow, singing his birdie song.


Odds of Marlon Pratt beating the rap: 100 to 1.

Odds of Marlon Pratt's family member finishing reading "Extreme Faith" before this long, tedious trial finishes: much, much better than THAT.

More On The Johnny Northside Movie Project...

After posting a video on YouTube (my parody imitation of the mannerisms of "JACC Old Majority" attorney Jill Clark) I noticed a related video posted by 612 Authentic which featured video footage from the planned Johnny Northside movie. I'd never seen the footage before, even though I shot it.

The footage is not right at the beginning of the clip, but actually starts at 4 minutes, 25 seconds. It features a tired trucker and some intimate moments with a lamprey from Lake Michigan.

That's really all I want to say, so I don't spoil it for the viewer. However...

During his little talk at the Walker Art Center introducing the footage, Gabe says something like, "If you can figure out what THAT was about, I'll give you a prize." The thing he is alluding to involves an assertion I made on videotape (while truck driving) that, "It's not the fuel in the refrigeration unit that's going to get me home."

Well, I should explain more, particularly if I can collect a prize. I hope I'm eligible for the prize because, well, I LOVE WINNING PRIZES.

Here's the deal: suffice to say I was out on the road trucking with ONE COMPANY CHECK LEFT, (due to some extra pickups being added at the last minute) and I was trying to limp back to my home base with limited resources to buy fuel.

Since the all-too-interesting biological cargo I was hauling was not "food grade," and the refrigeration unit is well insulated (we've had to use this gritty little trick before) my seat-of-the-pants plan was to fill up with fuel for driving, not fuel for the refrigeration unit.


I can hardly wait to find out what prize I won. Oh, please let it be a lamprey from Lake Michigan.

Friday, June 12: Justice Demanded For Ahmednur Ali, Age 20 (Summer Visitation 2009)

Photo By John Hoff

Riding with my son, Alex, on the first day of extended summer visitation in fun, affordable NoMi (what I call "Divorced Daddyville") we passed by City Hall on the light rail and spotted a protest on the sidewalk. My son wanted to know what the protest was about, he wanted to go see...

I told my son we'd go to the end of the light rail line first, like we'd planned, (see previous post) then we'd swing back and see what the protest was about. However, when we returned, the protesters had left the sidewalk. Fortunately, I have "protest radar" and I told my son, "That protest didn't break up, it went somewhere. And I bet I can figure out right where they went." 

In an unerring straight line, like a bee gathering raised political consciousness instead of nectar, I went to the office of Mayor R.T. Rybak. Sure enough, the protesters were inside the office, standing quietly as one of the protestors talked about things needed in the Somali community. I heard something about more youth programs. But since nobody was standing around with any fliers to inform passersby of the intent of the protest, my son was like, whatever. Let's go see something else, now.

It was later, from mainstream media coverage, I learned how the protest was to demand justice for murder victim Ahmednur Ali, age 20. I informed my son of the details, since the protest had caught his interest and, well, anything to get him focused on current events instead of video games.

My son said it made sense, what I was saying about the media report of the protest, because he'd seen a sign which said something like, "We demand justice now." My son and I discussed the meaning and application of a scripture from the Koran cited in association with the protest: "Fear no man, fear Allah." It would appear if a Moslem is a witness to a murder, he or she must come forth to the authorities, even if they fear for their life. This is what God expects and demands.

Good rule. I think I could incorporate that into the loose, evolving doctrines of the "Johnny Northside school of aggressively good citizenship."

(Do not click "Read More")

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Taking The Light Rail To The End Of The Line (Summer Visitation 2009)

Photos By John Hoff

The whole point of buying an ultra-affordable home in NoMi was to be near my son, Alex, especially during extended summer visitation.

Well, my first NoMi-based period of extended visitation started on Friday, June 12. I have my son for five weeks here in Divorced Daddyville, where the housing is cheap and the living is easy. We're doing all kinds of North Minneapolis stuff which is very different than my son's life in an affluent southern suburb. For example, we bought ice cream from a van crudely painted in multiple colors, and watched proceedings at the Marlon Pratt mortgage fraud trail. (Coverage to follow soon)

To celebrate the start of visitation, we did something we'd never done before: we rode the light rail all the way from Mall of America to the other end of the line, at the Warehouse District. In the photo, above, my son stands "at the end of the line."

Along the way, we passed Fort Snelling National Cemetery. So often when I pass that cemetery, I think of my father who actually served at Fort Snelling before he served so many other places...like at the attack on Pearl Harbor. He's not buried at Forth Snelling, however, but a little rural cemetery in Douglas County.

I still think of him, though, when I pass by those rows of white headstones.

When my marriage fell apart in Seattle, Washington, in late 1999, it was my father's voice that told me, "Don't make the same mistakes I made. Do whatever you have must to be near your son."

Doing whatever I must--moving heaven and earth, actually--has somehow brought me here to North Minneapolis, where I have dug in. My son's not going anywhere any time soon and I'm not, either. When my son is 18 he might go somewhere. Perhaps he might go to Massachusetts to study at MIT. But that will be his own life, and I won't need to follow him there. I will stay HERE. 

But back to Fort Snelling National Cemetery...

Often when the light rail passes that cemetery, it is a solemn moment for first-time riders. Some will stand at the window and gaze at the cemetery as the train whizzes past, amazed at the sheer number of white headstones. They will ask, "Did all those soldiers die in WAR?"

Usually somebody on the train knows the correct answer: many who are buried in the cemetery died in wars, but not all. Obviously, though, many who are buried in the military cemetery made terrible sacrifices for their country, even if the sacrifice wasn't always DEATH.

Many times I've had an idea about the light rail passing near the cemetery and how "Taps" could be played over the light rail intercom at dusk. This seems like a good moment to publicize that idea.

Wouldn't it be cool if, right at dusk, "Taps" could be played on the light rail intercom as the train passes Fort Snelling National Cemetery? 

(Do not click "Read More")

Hmong Students Formally Thank Hawthorne Neighborhood For Bilingual Teacher...

Photo By John Hoff 

During Thursday's meeting of the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council board, a group of Hmong student soccer players and their mentor, Jay Clark, presented a video to the board. The video formally thanked Hawthorne for supporting efforts to bring a bilingual Hmong teacher into the North Minneapolis School system. Apparently, the Jordan Neighborhood was also involved in the effort, which might be described as a "joint" effort.

The youth played a heart-warming video for the board about how much it meant to have a bilingual teacher. I hear the video will eventually make its way to a U of M website. Once I get word of that, I hope to link it here.

(Do not click "Read More")

Cub Foods Residential Addition Being Contemplated On West Broadway...

Photo By John Hoff of Cub Foods Addition Sketch

Information was disseminated recently about plans to expand Cub Foods on West Broadway, and so here's a little taste of what's being talked about...

The plan involves a new Cub Foods addition with residential units above. This plan would "reinforce" the new YWCA building being planned at 800 West Broadway, along with a parking building and mixed-use development at 800 West Broadway. The picture above is a sketch of the proposal.

The addition to Cub Foods along Broadway frontage includes "pedestrian" retail, (bakery, deli, coffee and bank) for a total of 60,000 square feet. The mixed-use building incorporates 50 units of residential space over Cub Foods. The Cub parking lot will be reconfigured for the building at the Southwest corner of Aldrich and Broadway. There will be 33 units of "infill residential" along Bryant Ave. N. and south of the Cub store.

Clearly, development along West Broadway is starting to take off. Every week appears to bring more news of big plans or ground actually being broken.

"Old Majority" Attorney Jill Clark Seeks Protective Order Against "Salivating" Johnny Northside...

Photo By John Hoff

Above, my 12-year-old son, Alex, with somebody's dog. The dog has a tendency to SALIVATE all over stuff, but let's just say there's plenty of THAT going around.

Alex is home with me for 5 weeks of summer visitation, so readers will probably see plenty o' pictures of Alex, and hear about him more frequently. Having an affordable home where I can spend quality time with my son was the whole point of buying a house in NoMi in the first place. Neighborhood revitalization is something of an afterthought. But speaking of neighborhood issues...

There has been a fun new twist in the "True JACC" lawsuit in the Jordan Neighborhood, as the "Old Majority" and "New Majority" neighborhood council factions wait for a ruling from Judge Porter about which group is the legitimate leadership of the Jordan Area Community Council. It seems plaintiff attorney Jill Clark is really worried this blog will obtain a copy of the Ben Myers deposition video and put it on what she calls "U-Tube."

(The correct spelling is, of course, "YouTube")

An exchange of emails fell into my hands recently--as so many things have a tendency to fall into my hands in the Jordan Neighborhood--and here's what that little back and forth revealed...

The first email was sent Monday, June 8, 2009 3:26 PM, from "Old Majority" Plaintiff Attorney Jill Clark to Defense Attorney David Schooler, beginning with her customary petulent tone and then moving swiftly to seething legalistic anger, as follows:

"You are ignoring me, so you need to recall that for the May 5 hearing, Plaintiffs filed a motion for protective order re that video deposition of Ben Myers. Your refusal to even address this with me (after repeated attempts) will result in unnecessary court time, which my clients reserve the right to seek sanctions for.

"No one should disclose that video to anyone while the motion is pending.

"If you do not get back to me by Wednesday of this week, we will pursue a telephonic conference and/or hearing to address the issue."

Jill Clark, Esquire.

At 3:58 PM, mere minutes after the first email was sent, David Schooler replied as follows:

"Ms. Clark, I am not ignoring you. We addressed this issue befor the Mr. Ben Myers deposition on May 3 and I refused your demand to conduct the deposition pursuant to a protective order. If you look at p. 14-15 you will see my refusal and our agreement that the video was for attorney's eyes only until Tuesday May 5 when we each had motions scheduled.

(Paragraph break not in orginal)

For whatever reason, you chose not to seek a protective order on May 5 and our one day confidentiality agreement expired. You revisited this issue on the second to last day of the hearing, May 27. I indicated that I would again ask my client to see if anything has changed. Nothing has changed.

(Paragraph break not in original)

"There is no confidentiality agreement or protective order with regard to the videos of any of the witnesses nor should there be. This is a public lawsuit involving a neighborhood non-profit organization that involves matters of public record. I would think Mr. Myers would want his explanations available to the public.

(Paragraph break not in orginal)

"The only thing that was embarassing in that deposition was Mr. Myers insistance that he play with his Blackberry throughout much of the deposition. I doubt that is the kind of embarassment contemplated by Rule 26.03.

"Your motion became moot on May 5."


David A. Schooler

At 4:00 PM, Jill Clark responded as follows:

"You stated in the deposition that you would consider the issue before the May 5 motion hearing.

"Johnny Northside is already 'salivating' to put the video on U-Tube. If you don't agree I'll approach the Court. You know as well as I do that protective orders are routine in all types of litigation.

"Plaintiffs reserve the right to seek attorney fees for having to approach the court on this."

Jill Clark.

(End of email exchange)

Well, it seems sensible that I would add some kind of comment at this point. Yes, indeed, protective orders sealing videotape depositions may be routine in many types of litigation, but this particular litigation involves the self-proclaimed leadership of a neighborhood, and not just ANY neighborhood but one of the most high-profile neighborhoods in the entire state. Jordan is a hotbed of urban issues which constantly occupy the time and energy of public policy makers. This case is very much in the public eye and not just by virtue of this blog. Other media entities have covered aspects of this lawsuit.

The individuals involved are public figures by virtue of their past and current actions. The issues involved in the videotapes are not tawdry, juicy personal matters like the matters involved in (for example) a divorce, nor will proprietary business information be revealed. No, rather, this is a political matter--quite dry, really, to most individuals not personally involved--and, by virtue of being political, all evidence should be public and not private. A democracy decides things in sunlight, not in darkness. This case is rather like the Coleman/Franken recount. Keeping anything sealed in this case is an affront to democracy.

Those who have a stake in the Jordan Neighborhood--current and future residents, public policy makers, others who reside in Minneapolis and take an interest in current affairs--have a right to view the video deposition in question and take their own mental measure of Ben Myers and others involved.

Yes, this blog has been known to report things in a colorful and expressive way, but when it comes right down to it North Minneapolis (NoMi) is underserved by media, and I have assumed the role of being part of the media 'round these parts. My blog coverage is quite in keeping with the rapidly evolving and developing standards of the blogosphere, which is something of the "Wild West of Journalism."

In summary, Miss Clark, that videotape virtually has my name on it. It is my fate, my destiny to link that videotape from YouTube, and the twitchy likes of you will not stand in my way, by god. (Parody elements ahead) Yes, since me and Ben shared the same conflict-ridden womb and came out fighting, drunk on orginal formula Nyquil, our chubby little hands tight around each other's throats, I have waited for this ultimate moment of fiery revelation.

If it is said "Let justice be done, though the heavens fall," what on earth will fall HERE? NOTHING!!! A reputation which is already in the gutter will merely drop to a lower level of the sewer system.

Your Honor, let the deposition of this public figure become a public record, that the public may more fully know and judge the character of Ben Myers, self-described Vice Chair of the Jordan Neighborhood.

Safety Plan For Taste Of Chicago At The Former Jug Liquor...

Stock Photo, John Hoff

Though a gigantic dumpster has appeared in front of the former Jug Liquor, it appears the entire building is not going into the dumpster. No, rather the interior is being gutted but the building itself--which kind of looks like a mutant, overgrown phone booth--is being renovated into a "Chicago-style" food joint.

At the June meeting of the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council Board, "Taste of Chicago" owner Nidal Mustafa distributed copies of his "safety plan" for Taste of Chicago at the former Jug Liquor location. As a public service, I'm just printing the information so residents and other interested parties can have it easily available. Here it is...

Points of Interest and Discussion Items.

#Parking Lot. The current parking lot can accommodate up to 6 cars and there are 1 Hour parking spaces on the street in front of the building as well.

# Accessing the restaurant--traffic will turn from Broadway Avenue, park in designated spots, and exit around the back of the building onto Washington Avenue. No public alleyway will be used to accommodate traffic.

# Foot traffic. The restaurant will be a walk-up style business where orders are placed through a window. The building is larger than it appears and customers will actually walk in and order. There will be 12 window seats for waiting (similar to the set up in any Chipotle-style restaurant) No bathroom is required for a restaurant that has 12 or fewer seats, which will also contribute to the safety of the facility as patrons will not be able to use restrooms to use or exchange drugs, etc.

THere will be a newly-constructed porch outside the front of the building where people can eat or wait. This structure will be attractive to passersby and will contribute to the vision of the "New Broadway."

# Security--Staff at the Taste of Chicago will work with Lt. Jeff Rugel of the Minneapolis Police Department and Officer Richard Walker. These officers will provide advice and guidance as well as recommending off duty police officers which will be hired to work at least 4 nights per week. Nidal Mustafa will also serve as the primary security liaison for the property since he is always there and obviously has a vested interest in maintaining the order in and around his business.

# Partnerships--The Taste of Chicago has initiated conversations with Mike and Val Levey--who plan on opening the former Johnny A's restaurant and Bar as Good Sports Bar and Grill, Ron from Absolute Tire and Swami Palanisma (owner of most of the block) to form a Block Club of sorts where each property will provide a security officer to patrol the businesses on the block and/or will contribute financially to hiring a full-time security officer to complement other security measures in place for each respective business.

# Nidal Mustafa also owns the Slice of Chicago and has extensive experience cleaning up a problem area/parking lot. Nidal took note of the loitering and drug dealing being done around his business and took immediate steps to eliminate these problems. He hired off-duty police officers to patrol his grounds and personally would go outside and ask dealers and others idling around his business to leave.

Nidal realizes this is an ongoing effort. In the event that any individual or group chooses to cause problems at the Taste of Chicago location, trespassing orders may be issued by law enforcement and staff at the restaurant will ensure that these people do not continue to frequent the premises.

(End of Document)

I'd like to add that I have spoken to at least one well-informed resident of the Jordan Neighborhood who seriously questions Mustafa's sincerity about trying to clean up the 1600 West Broadway location of "Slice of Chicago." Now that I've figured out where that location is in relationship to the Jordan Area Community Council headquarters, I have become more aware there is A LOT OF DRUG DEALING on the corner of that lot at 1600 West Broadway.

So I have my own reservations about Mustafa's plan, but overall I see a modest food establishment as being integral to the "destination block" and "security coalition" being formed by all the various parties.

And, notably, the official plan is "Taste of Chicago" wouldn't remain there forever at the former Jug Liquor location. In three to five years, the plan is to tear stuff down and build a bigger retail establishment. Plans have a way of being seriously delayed and modified, but even if this plan isn't perfect...it looks very good compared to what we had before.

JNS BLOG EXCLUSIVE: Donny Dirk's Zombie Den Planned For The Den Of Iniquity Formerly Known As Stand Up Franks, And Much More...

Photo By John Hoff 

xciting plans are being made for the bar formerly known as "Stand Up Frank's," which used to be a dark hole filled with sad, chronic inebriates until--mercifully--it was closed down several weeks ago. Now plans are being made to give the location new life as "Donny Dirk's Zombie Den." Already, a new green coat of paint has hit the exterior, which just happens to be that same eerie radioactive shade of avocado which--when you see it gathering in the shadows, hovering over the swamp--announces the zombies are coming, the zombies are coming.

Here are some details which were aired during the Hawthorne Public Safety Committee Meeting and then the Executive Board meeting regarding plans for the transition to Donnie Dirk's.

First of all, the atrocious lighting situation at the building formerly known as Stand Up Frank's was improved rather easily: it turns out light bulbs on the exterior hadn't been changed for years, maybe decades. So the new owner--the same woman who owns Psycho Suzie's Motor Lounge--sprang for some new bulbs. It's amazing, sometimes, how little effort it really takes to improve the neighborhood, and how some people don't bother to put that effort forward. But, thankfully, other people do, and so far the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council appears very pleased with the plans being made for Donny Dirk's...

Here are some, but not all of the details, because I was told some of this is PROPRIETARY INFO and nobody wants a good business idea ripped off before it can be implemented. However, based on the name there will obviously be something of a zombie theme. Since there's no kitchen in this small building, the new owners will keep the pizza menu but food will be delivered from Psycho Suzi's.

(At the Hawthorne Board meeting, I urged the owners to consider the "greenest" vehicles possible for this kind of delivery, and that's all I'll say about THAT)

Security will be emphasized at this new business, including 3 exterior cameras and two security personnel on duty in the evening. Guests will be greeted by security at the door, and carded before entering. The price of the drinks will range from about $3.50 for a domestic beer, to as much as $12 for quality Scotch. Instead of "Stand Up Frank's," this will be "Sit Down Dirk's." There will be no "amusement devices or vending machines" on the inside, just a jukebox. However, there are plans to have a two piece band from time to time. This depends on the liquor license being upgraded to C2.

At the meeting of the Public Safety Committee, Lt. Rugel of the Fourth Precinct said he "ran calls for service" at the Psycho Suzi's location, to get an idea how well Psycho Suzi's was managed regarding public safety issues. Rugel said there were only 11 calls to 911 over the last couple years, and most of these involved auto crashes out in the street, a fantastic record for any business. Rugel said one of the new improvements planned for Donny Dirk's Zombie Den is a fence around the parking lot so people "can't just cut through." It's a simple improvement, Rugel said, but it will really help.

Some discussion took place about a petition which had circulated opposing re-opening of this location. Supporters of the new Donny Dirk's emphasized this petition came out before the new plans were aired. Leaning heavily on a pun, one Donny Dirk's supporter said "FRANKLY there wasn't enough management oversight at Stand Up Frank's."

At these same meetings, other business plans were aired for the area. The owner of Slice of Chicago discussed his plans to turn the former Jug Liquor location into a take out food place, which will be named TASTE of Chicago. Apparently, the "Slice of Chicago" name confuses plenty of people since the establishment doesn't serve pizza so much as Chicago style hot dogs and gyro sandwiches. The new establishment's name will correct this confusion.

At first, some of the leaders of Hawthorne were less-than-excited about the idea of more fast food on Broadway, however, the plans aired by Nidal Mustafa, owner of Slice/Taste of Chicago were persuasive. First and foremost, business owners in this area are pulling together a kind of "security coalition," what might be called a "business block club" to make sure a criminal element has no opportunity to gain a foothold.

In response to questions, Nidal Mustafa indicated he was willing to TURN AWAY CUSTOMERS if the customers were unsavory hang-arounds who would drag down the area. He wants this area of Hawthorne to get a fresh start and become prosperous. And, actually, one thing to keep in mind is the plans for a Taste of Chicago at the old Jug Liquor are temporary: within five years or so, when the economy turns around, there are plans to put in a large retail complex in this area.

Mustafa stated he had "cleaned up" the area at 1600 West Broadway, the sight of his current "Slice of Chicago" business. Readers are free to comment on this assertion, which I am still trying to confirm.

Taking into account plans at the new Donny Dirk's, plus the fact Halek's has new ownership, and all these businesspeople are involved in a security coalition--including the owners of the tire establishment in that same area--the Hawthorne Neigbhorhood's leadership was persuaded by Nidal Mustafa's plans, though reservation was expressed on the record, hopes that these dreams and promises will indeed come to fruition.

The new owner of Halek's was also present at the meetings, and promised big changes were coming, though his plans were not as ready-to-present as the "Zombie Bar" plans. He promised the bar's name would change, and if an upgraded liquor license could be obtained there would be, periodically, bands with five pieces and under.

It's fair to say these plans for development have people in the Hawthorne Neighborhood very excited. The idea of a trendy nightclub replacing the grit and grime and crime....well, it's the kind of thing we work for every day, and dream about in our sleep.

Ever since these plans have been aired, I think it's fair to say Hawthorne's dreams are filled with zombies.

Living The Good Life In NoMi, Creating The Trend...

Photos By John Hoff

Here's a couple pictures I snapped in the home of Collier White, the guy who came up with "Huggable North" as a branding idea. Collier asserts NoMi is going to be a hot trend over the next couple years, but right now there are people who are creating the trend for others to follow.

Well, speaking of trends...I sure love what Collier has done with his spectacular antique buffet. Buffets like this can be found in MOST of the fairly good-sized houses of North Minneapolis. And, as I've noticed in the past few months, "revitalizers" tend to drink high-quality booze instead of cheap crap like "Steel Reserve."

(Do not click "Read More")

Vacant, Condemned, Boarded, Bound For Demolition, And Unsecured...

Photos By John Hoff

While walking around with our neighborhood Housing Director, Jeff Skrenes, I noticed something bad at 2130 6th St. N., a condemned house. Glass block windows at the basement level had been smashed OUTWARD, apparently to facilitate the theft of components from the house like copper pipes.

One might think there's not much point in calling 311 about an unsecured house that's awaiting demolition, but a building can be waiting for demolition for months, even YEARS. So of course I called 311. Besides, a day without 311 is like a day without sunshine.

It should be noted that part of 6th Street North is really turning around. This house is just a short distance from the South Hawthorne Community Garden.

(Do not click "Read More")

NoMi, Land Of A Thousand Catalpa Trees...

Photo By John Hoff

Catalpa trees have spectacular, almost orchid-like flowers in the spring. They have long, inedible, bean-like pods when make them quite a messy tree, but I would assert the flowers are so incredible that it's worth putting up with the mess.

Catalpa trees are everywhere in North Minneapolis, and it kind of makes me wonder how THAT happened. They are an unusual tree and, as far as I can tell, they don't just spring up on their own but require a deliberate effort to plant. So how did NoMi come to have so many large, mature catalpa trees? Was there a "Johnny Catalpa" who (like Johnny Appleseed) went around planting catalwa seedlings, and learning the culture of the Native Americans?

When there is some kind of odd pattern of trees, I always want to know the how and the why. For example, I'm still trying to figure out why Dinkytown near the U of M has so many gingko trees. I wrote an opinion column about it, once, but I didn't really manage to solve THAT mystery.


This photo of a catalpa tree was taken in the yard of Collier White, during his "Huggable North Minneapolis" event.

(Do not click "Read More")

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Little Pre-Tour NoMi Home Tour...

Photos By John Hoff

A couple of times I've asked Hawthorne resident Mike Klick when I will have a chance to see the house he shares with his boyfriend, Brian Cheese. Klick tells me he prefers to wait until the garden is in its full glory, and THEN he will see about giving me a tour for blogging purposes. Maybe. 

However, a couple days ago I arrived at the Cheese/Klick residence along with Hawthorne Housing Director Jeff Skrenes, and the two Hmong organizers. (Subject of a previous post) I managed to get a little "pre-tour home tour" and snap a few photos. I'm told Cheese and Klick redecorated the interior quite a bit, picking out colors they found more pleasing.

The energy and activism of this couple is at the heart of ongoing revitalization in their particular corner of Hawthorne. I hope to celebrate their lovely house in a more extensive future post and, well, everybody knows Johnny Northside is always up for a good dinner.

(Do not click "Read More")

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Spotting Classic House Features In North Minneapolis...

Photo By John Hoff

To me, an old house is just an old house, though I certainly LIKE old houses and vastly prefer them to new houses, especially when accompanied by mature shade trees and, I don't know, maybe some complex layers of history in the house, too, which doesn't always need to be POSITIVE.

I'm convinced future generations will give historical tours of NoMi houses and will talk breathlessly about the colorful "Mortgage Fraud Era." Future NoMi home owners will want to keep up with the Joneses, lusting over houses coming on the market which bear the stigma-turned-patina of Universal Mortgage, T.J. Waconia, or even Larry "Maximum" Maxwell.

Anyway, while I was at the "Huggable North" event sponsored by Collier White and others (see previous post) historic house buff Connie Nompelis (No-buhl-iss, it's Greek) began pointing out some features of the home next door. While I saw just a cool old house, here is the stuff SHE saw:

# Palladian window with dentil molding

# Leaded glass in the "bump out."

# Orginal clapboard siding.

I must confess, I barely noticed this stuff. Why? Because houses like that are a pennies on the dollar in NoMi, and as common as mushrooms on the boulevard after a summer rain.

(Do not click "Read More")

Hmong Organizers Working In NoMi...

Photos By John Hoff

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet Nu Lor, (top photo, left) and Yia Yang (top photo, right) who are organizers in the North Minneapolis Hmong community.

Nu is a student at MCTC on work study, and is working for the Hawthorne Neighborhood for a couple months. It appears there will be more organizers like Nu, who will be Hmong high school students. Yia Yang, on the other hand, is...

...affiliated with the University of Minnesota, and often works with soccer teams, which are very popular in the Hmong community.

Yesterday, Yia and Nu talked to some Hmong community members about playing a role in the South Hawthorne Community Garden, accompanied by Jeff Skrenes (in the purple shirt) and Mike Klick. (middle photo, in dark hooded sweatshirt)

The South Hawthorne Community Garden continues to be a powerful tool of outreach and unification in our neighborhood, thanks to the incredibly hard work of all involved.

"Huggable North" Ad Hoc Branding Effort Launched...

Photo By John Hoff

Collier White, a resident of Hawthorne, has launched a little North Minneapolis "branding effort" on Facebook, dubbing our neighborhood "Huggable North." His "Huggable North" logo features a snarling pit bull, which Collier explained he sees as a "lighting rod" of discussion about social issues in North Minneapolis.

"Up here," he said. "Your choice of what breed of dog to own can be a political statement."

And I was all, like, "Just the dog? Oh, my word. What kind of booze you drink--high quality stuff or Steel Reserve swill. That's political. Whether you walk on the sidewalk or down the middle of the street. Whether you take care of your yard or let it go to hell. All these things are very political, and there is a major class struggle taking place about which ways of living will dominate."

Notably, Collier's dog "Frederic" is NOT a pit bull, despite the image on his "Huggable North" logo. Collier is pictured with his dog, above.

Collier recently had an informal meet-and-greet at his house to publicize "Huggable North," and I attended this event, where I had a substantive, friendly back-and-forth about Collier's branding idea....

Here is what Collier says about "Huggable North."

"It's official. North's Huggability is on the rise. In five years, many North newcomers will want to claim North cred, saying, "I was in North before it was cool." They will not want us to know that they followed the trend rather than helping to create it. But we don't mind. We are Huggable North, and one thing is that you don't have to be cool."

I have to admit that, at first, I didn't care for Collier's idea. For one thing, I saw it as just a minor Facebook joke, not really a "branding effort." A branding effort requires some "oomph," cranking out internet content, stickers, M & Ms emblazoned with the words "GET TO NOMI." That's a branding effort, yet it's still small, ad hoc, not quite enough to make the kind of dent we need to make in the media's framework of "North Minneapolis as an urban dystopian theme park."

Also, a snarling pit bull on the "Huggable North" logo? Why on earth would I want a picture of a snarling pit bull and the words "Huggable North?" Why don't I just promulgate a logo of a chronic inebriate sitting on the Merwin's Butt Fence and under the phrase "Laid Back North?" I have my own well-publicized theory of Northside marketing called "Market And Romanaticize The Struggle," and it can be found, discussed in detail, on this blog.

However, in talking to Collier, I began to see how some aspect of marketing may be missing from my theory of "Market and Romanticize The Struggle." And that aspect might be described as "Celebrate The Eclectic Funk." Sure, I've already been DOING THAT with posts like the one about the guy and his Ford Fairlane woody, but I hadn't formally incorporated "funk celebration" into my marketing theory. And I care about the theoretical. A professor of mine used to say, "Sometimes the most practical thing you can have is a good theory to operate under."

Besides, until the Northside Marketing Task Force begins to, oh gee, what is the word? MARKET?! Until the Northside Marketing Task Force begins to MARKET Northside, you're going to have folks like Collier White just leaping into the fray and saying nobody is marketing North Minneapolis, so hey, we'll just do it on our own!

But, yes, I could agree with Collier, to a degree. We live in a neighborhood full of artsy, interesting people who are unafraid to be themselves. That can be MARKETED. During this period of time while we push out crime and decay, we have an exciting little edge of danger, and some adventurous folks are attracted to that, especially combined with the factor of classic 100-year-old houses available for pennies on the dollar. These are the kind of people who CREATE rather than FOLLOW trends.

Let us keep appealing to such personalities. Just hearing Collier articulate that "trend thing" is very encouraging.

So, to a mix that is already eclectic, one can add yet more funk:


Which, I would assert, is a minor moment on Facebook and doesn't really have meaningful existance unless it has some "oomph" behind it. But will I write about it? Oh, yeah, it's in North Minneapolis and so it's something I'll write about, especially when I went to somebody's lovely social gathering and accepted free booze.

418 23rd Ave. N. Goes Down...

Photos By John Hoff

The decrepit house at 418 23rd Ave. N. was demolished yesterday, to the joy of Brian Cheese and his boyfriend, Mike Klick, who share a home next door. The Housing Director of Hawthorne, Jeff Skrenes, poses above. 

(Cheese is on the Hawthorne Board, Klick sits on the Housing Committee)

Notably, the bulldozer managed to pull off the demolition without even getting dust on irises planted a few feet away, which is a lot more than certain big-hole-to-China-digging slumlords manage to accomplish 'round these parts. Jeff, posing above, is standing near the boundary of the two properties to emphasize, for the photo, how skillful the demolition was.

Brian and Mike managed to keep the fence between the two properties, simply turning the fence the other way to make it THEIR fence.

Oh, yeah, they had permission to do that. I should probably point that out.

I also have a report that porch pillars were salvaged from the property which EXACTLY MATCH the pillars on Connie Nompelis' $7,900 house, which I have blogged about frequently. Hopefully more on that later.

Readers who access this blog from outside North Minneapolis may not understand why we get so excited about individual demolitions. The way it works is this: most times in North Minneapolis, there are a small number of "problem properties" which drag down an entire block which is otherwise occupied by decent folks or, at least, by vacant houses that are secure, not open to trespass.

So getting rid of that single problem property produces a wave of positive changes. Crime literally wanders down the street, looking for a new place to hang out, and we will be driving it out of THOSE places, too. In the wake of foreclosure and mortgage fraud, our neighborhood is remaking itself for the better every day.

(Do not click "Read More")

JNS BLOG EXCLUSIVE: Marlon Pratt Mortgage Fraud Trial Features The Customary JURY COMPOSITION OF DOOOOOOM!!!!!

Photo By John Hoff

Yesterday, I attended a day's worth of hearings at the Marlon Pratt mortgage fraud trial, the Honorable Judge Steven Lange presiding. One day was enough to figure out Pratt is probably just as doomed as Larry "Maximum" Maxwell, who was also represented by Attorney Larry Reed.

Once again, the jury looks like a PTA meeting in Apple Valley, though with a quality sprinkling of young total knockouts. (Where does Hennepin County keep finding such beautiful jury pool members? Clearly, registering to vote and keeping your drivers license current is HOT)

In the Pratt case, there are 17 properties at issue, most of which are in North Minneapolis. (See the post before the previous post for a PDF copy of the criminal complaint) Yesterday's hearing mostly involved experts presenting their expert qualifications, and coming off as oh-so-expert. One can't help but make stark mental comparisons to some of the witnesses presented by the defense in the (unrelated) Larry Maxwell case, where one so-called expert claimed to have graduated "MAGNUM cum laude."

Four and then, later, five individuals sat in the spectator section of the defense ("bride") section, looking very much like family members, dressed in conservative clothing that wouldn't be out of place at a funeral. There were four black women, who appeared to be a mother, grandmother, and possibly a sister or girlfriend, though the relationship was not clear and I refrained from making inquiries after getting at least one muted hostile glare.

One woman sat and read a copy of "Extreme Faith." Later, a male appeared who looked like he could be Marlon Pratt's brother. He wore a suit coat, but had blue jeans frayed at the cuff. He was portly. He took notes, using a clipboard.

Pratt himself wore a stylish tan suit with a loose cut, and dark glasses with square frames. He struck me as "the good son," who could never quite be good enough, could never break free of an attraction to life on the streets. The criminal indictment states Pratt skimmed off exactly $693,045.28 in kickbacks on mortgage loans. Certainly enough to have a few nice suits hanging in a closet.

Criminal Defense Attorney Larry Reed (who seems to be developing something of a lucrative mortgage fraud specialty) was looking like a GQ fashion model as usual. Really, Marlon Pratt might (through counsel) plead and argue and fight the criminal indictment all he likes, but what will be the end result? Pratt will NOT have nice suits to wear in prison, and Reed will have a few more to wear in court. Pratt might save everybody a lot of time, go into a court restroom with Larry Reed and peel off the nice suit, hand it to Reed and say, "Here, I am done with this. Just plead me out." It would save everybody time and effort, and produce the same end result: Marlon Pratt goes down for a long time and Reed is in possession of more nice clothing.

Swift. Elegant. Frugal. I'm putting it forward as a suggestion.

The composition of the jury and alternates is as follows...

There are five white males, seven white females on the jury. It has been pointed out by a source familiar with the proceedings that this is a rather YOUNG jury.

The seating arrangement appears to reveal which individuals are jurists, and which are alternates, though this assumption may be in error. It is, however, my assumption at this point the alternates consist of one white male, one white female, and one female who looks white but strikes me as possibly of some Hispanic heritage. I am unclear if one of the individuals is actually an alternate at all, or associated with the bailiffs and merely seated NEAR the jury. There are, however, two alternates for sure.

They do not appear very sympathetic to Marlon Pratt, as evidenced by the fact I saw one of the jurists suppress a laugh as Larry Reed verbally stumbled in a colorful way, and shake her head in a motion of slight disdain. And that was one of the jurists I had previously pegged as FRIENDLY toward Marlon Pratt.

Here are the descriptions and colorful nicknames JNS Blog readers have come to expect:

# He Who Brings Home The Bacon. In his mid-50s, with a Caesar-like coif of brunette hair, his bald head so shiny it appears to be WAXED. He has glasses and a slight mustache, carefully trimmed, rather similar to the mustache of the judge. His involvement with the case is intense, hanging on every word, following closely. He wears a gray shirt which bears the name of some entity, possibly his work but perhaps his hobby. There is a picture on the shirt of an antique plane, perhaps World War Two vintage.

He strikes me a worker, a provider, somebody who takes pride in his ability to make things run well and take care of others. During a break, he held the door of the court for his fellow jurors, and then also held it for some of the defendant's family, though he joked, "That will be five dollars." It was a lame joke, but tension hung in the air, and he needed to say SOMETHING at that moment. One can't help but think, however, he has decided Marlon Pratt's corner has plenty of money laying around loose, from MORTGAGE FRAUD, and, gee, wouldn't it be nice for DECENT PEOPLE to get a taste of THAT?

Voted most likely to accept money from a criminal defendant in a brown paper sack while trial is in session. Also voted most likely to hand the sack over to authorities within an hour, blowing the bribery scheme wide open. He comes off as jovial, even a bit comical, but something tells me "Don't mess with that guy." A likely candidate for foreman. He chews on his pen intensely, and the pen chewing habit seems to have spread to the rest of the jury, like a virus, but this guy is the Typhoid Mary Patient Zero of the pen chewing outbreak.

# Bazooka Joe. White male, late 20s, brunette, a bit of premature male hair loss which gives him a slight widow's peak. Red shirt with an abstract logo that would be difficult to discern even at close range, though I saw a "music note" made up part of the logo. He chews gum far to the front of his mouth, and sometimes his lips purse as though he'd like to blow a bubble but...oh, gee, no blowing bubbles in court.

# The Worried Woman. Early 30s, willowy body and a lime green blouse. Short hair with a curly perm. Her eyes are sad, worried, and frequently drift toward the defense table. A look on her face seems to say, "Oh, god, I'm going to have to send that nice-looking young man to prison. That mother in the spectator section will MOURN. I don't want to be here. I don't like this."

# The Note Checker. Mid-30s, a brunette woman with natural, wavy hair, wearing white. She checked here notes intensely at one point and actually appeared to turn to check something with another female jurist, who was also seen flipping through her notes. Count on this one to scrutinize the documents intensely.

# Red Riding Hood. A thin young woman in her early 20s, with a Shirley Temple perm. Her hooded jacket is so scarlet it seems to visually leap from the jury box. The jacket has a fuzzy, comfortable-looking faux-fleece lining. Wearing tight jeans, at times she curls up her legs in her chair like she's watching television late at night on her couch. She is pretty, but looks like she doesn't get enough iron.

Voted most likely to talk to her fellow jurists about vegetarianism.

Given her youth, and a sort of distant expression on her face as the prosecution asked questions, I thought she might be more inclined to sympathize with the defense. But there came a moment when Defense Attorney Larry Reed was verbally stumbling in his expressive baritone, like a tuba player falling down a flight of stairs, and Red Riding Hood put her hand to her mouth, to conceal a laugh, and shook her head, slightly.

"My, Larry, what big LIES you have," her sparkling eyes seemed to say.

# She Who Wants To Stab. A woman in her early 50s, with honey-blonde hair. She kept her hand on her chin and stroked it thoughtfully, holding her pen in her hand LIKE A KNIFE. I noticed a ring on her left hand, which seemed to have some kind of dark green or black stone in the middle. It was not on her ring finger, but on her middle finger. There is some unconventionality here, and also some anger.

# Polka Dot Girl. Early 20s, wearing a long-sleeved white shirt with multi-colored polka dots, tall and thin. The white shirt doesn't quite go with her dark mascara, and you have to wonder if she's picking her clothes in a very deliberate way, conveying an impression which isn't, in the truest sense, the real her.

She leans back and doesn't chew her pen so much as she...runs it over her thin, perfect lips, gently rocking in her chair.

Her mind appears somewhere else at that moment. Indeed, after one of the breaks she entered the room after all the other jurors, with a look of chagrin as she took her seat late. Maybe she was busy calling somebody. If you could look at that whole jury and say to yourself, "Which one just fell in love?" you'd know, in a split second, it was probably Polka Dot girl.

How does that play for Marlon Pratt? Is it easier to send somebody to Purgatory when you yourself are in paradise?

We shall see.

# The Total Hottie. In her early 20s, athletic, with blonde straight hair in a perfect ponytail. She showed up earlier than all the other jurors, virtually camped out in the hall. So she's pretty AND a high achiever. She knows you get things in life by working hard and showing up where you're supposed to be. In my opinion, she will send Pratt to prison without blinking and then, later, put her jury experiences in some kind of academic essay turned in for extra credit when she already had enough points to get an A.

# Good Time Charlie. Portly, mid-30s, with a casual beard below chin level, like he dabbled in growing a beard but, really, it's a lot of work, you know? He has a blue smock-like shirt and a bored expression, resting his hands on his ample beer belly. He has managed to sit between (arguably) the two hottest women on the jury. Coincidence or conspiracy? Sometimes he holds the cap of his pen in his mouth like a cigarette while taking notes.

# The Angel. A slightly-built hot blonde in her early 20s, her face has a beatific expression. Her eyes are often down in her notes, and sometimes I think she is asleep, but then it seems like she is listening with her eyes closed. I think how this pure, innocent spirit should not look upon this (allegedly) bloody, sinful mess of self-interested criminal behavior. She should be rocking a baby and singing a lullaby, I think.

Later, when the jurists are moving around, her face seems more impish for a moment and I imagine her saying, "I've got you all fooled with my angel face. I'm not so innocent at all."

# Suit Guy. A white male in his mid-40s, earing a suit without a tie, his hair is immaculate. His face is intense, frowning, disapproving. He rocks in his seat more than the others. This looks like a person used to being in charge, a man who might have much to say in other contexts but here is forced to be silent. The long, boring testimony seems to grate on him. At a point when Larry Reed goes silent, conferring with Pratt and digging through some paperwork, Suit Guy leans his head back and takes a small mental break. He exhales, and the exhalation sounds PISSED.

# The Haircut. A white male in his mid-20s, with a neat and complimentary haircut. I noticed right away how that good haircut didn't match his dark, casual sweatshirt with an unreadable word on the front, in jagged letters like a heavy metal band.

One gets the feeling he works somewhere with high grooming standards, but in court he is taking an opportunity to be quite casual. You can, however, never escape the aura cast by your haircut just by a change of clothing.

Sitting outside the 12 seats of the jury box, the Presumed And Assumed Alternates are as follows.

# Corner Pocket. Ensconced so deeply at the end of the jury box in his own chair, a thin white man in his early 30s actually had to stand at one point to look at an exhibit, and the judge had to double check at the beginning of proceedings to make sure he was present. Yeah, well, it's Polka Dot Girl you need to keep track of, Your Honor.

# Bailiff Box Woman. There is a small railed-in area near the jury box I have dubbed "the bailiff box," and a woman in her late 40s, early 50s sits there wearing a robins egg blue jacket, drinking juice. She has her own little desk, but doesn't seem to be watching the proceedings too closely as she takes notes.

It's not clear to me whether she actually IS a jury member, or somehow associated with the court officials. Life would be so much easier to figure out if people wore distinctive uniforms, like Marlot Pratt will (I predict) be forced to wear in prison.

# The Hairdo. A brunette woman, whose age may range from mid-30s to mid-40s, she has big hoop earrings and lush brunette hair in a perfect hairdo, where every strand seems to sweep into its proper place like the hair of a statue or a perfect ocean wave.

Something about her general appearance and manner of dress gives me flashbacks to Fort Bliss, Texas, and makes me think she may have some Hispanic heritage. Her manner of dress is pretty but not flashy, mostly black in color and conservative. Yet another established and productive member of society. If she's an alternate, Pratt is lucky, though I'm not seeing a lot of sympathy on that jury, even from college-aged jurists like Red Riding Hood.

No, let's face it, you could mix and match jurists and alternates, and Pratt would still be pretty much screwed. Honestly, you have to wonder, why would ANYBODY go in front of a jury in Hennepin County? Something about the demographics of the Twin Cities consistently produces these "PTA Meeting" compositions, quite bad for defendants.

More on court proceedings in this matter in a subsequent post.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Trying To Make NoMi Converts At The Jordan Community Garden...

Photo By John Hoff

Yesterday, Jeff and I were on the way to dinner with delightful female friends, and as we drove past the Jordan Community Garden on 26th Ave. N., we saw a couple young guys in suits and ties, walking around with paperwork in their hand and taking pictures. Right away I told Jeff, "Pull over. Let's see who they are." I added, "Yeah, I know we're in Jordan, but we look out for Jordan, too, right?"

This is what "Pro City" people do. When we see what look to be public officials we ask their business, we find out what is up, information is conveyed, business cards exchanged...

So we approached. I saw slight nervousness on the face of one of the young men, so I waved with my hand, in the age-old custom: "See, I come with an empty hand and intend no harm."

As we got close, I saw the name tags and it told me all I needed to know: Elder This And Elder That. They were Mormon missionaries.

I explained that Jeff and I are neighborhood activists, and it is our custom to walk up when we see people who seem to be involved in city business. I explained we were not in our own neighborhood at the moment--which is Hawthorne--but rather we were in the Jordan Neighborhood literally wearing our Hawthorne affiliation.

After telling the Mormon missionaries a bit about neighborhood history and housing issues, we went into The Pitch: all of North Minneapolis (NoMi) is dramatically turning around, and home prices could not be lower. Jeff went into some whole thing about the precise amounts of money needed to buy a home and finance some fixes.

The Mormon missionaries could not get a word in edgewise. They had no opportunity to make converts, because we were too busy making NoMi converts out of THEM.

JNS BLOG EXCLUSIVE: Marlon Pratt Mortgage Fraud Trial, Criminal Complaint In PDF Form

Stock Photo By John Hoff

Marlon Pratt is on trial right now, charged with numerous crimes revolving around a mortgage fraud scheme perpetrated by Donald Walthall of Universal Mortgage. More details to follow on the jury composition and proceedings, but for now here is the criminal complaint in PDF form, click here:


The houses involved are listed by address. Neighborhood activists who are into this kind of thing had access to this document as of a few hours ago, and we've calculated there are two houses in Jordan, one in Hawthorne, two in Near North, One in Folwell, and then there are a few we haven't figured out in these past few minutes.

(Do not click "Read More")

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

An "Acknowledgement Of Power" At 3020 6th St. N.

Me At 3020 6th St. N., Photo By Peter Teachout, Chair, Hawthorne Neighborhood

Peter Teachout, Chair of the Hawthorne Neighborhood, related an interesting anecdote today about 3020 6th St. N., the infamous druggie house den of iniquity now vacant and boarded in the middle of the "Eco Village" cluster project.

Today, the guy known as "Tony" or "The Sentry" who was a constant presence at the front door of the house, letting (apparent) drug traffic in and out, la-dee-da walked up to Peter Teachout's front door and rang the bell...

The Sentry--who has a surprisingly gentle and high voice--told Peter he was getting some stuff out of the porch, and requested that Peter PLEASE NOT CALL THE POLICE. Peter agreed not to call the police.

Peter--who was constantly told nothing would ever change in the neighborhood, and people are going to smoke crack SOMEWHERE--saw this interaction as "an acknowledgement of power."

"Did he call you SIR?" was what I wanted to know.

Peter reported no, he did not.

"He should have called you 'sir,' Peter," was all I had to say about it.

2700 Morgan Ave. N. Search Warrant TODAY...

Stock Photo By John Hoff

Word comes from Lt. Rugel of the 4th Precinct that 2700 Morgan Ave. N. was raided today on a search warrant. The information came up during tonight's meeting of the Hawthorne Public Safety Committee.

No further details available at this time, but obviously this will come as good news to the "Pond People" in the Jordan Neighborhood whose quality of life is constantly hurt by the "Salmon House" where, truly, there is always something fishy going on.

(Do not click "