Fear and loathing in Dinkytown

Big Guy recognized “Jimmy,” and took this as an invitation to enter a fraternity and stagger upstairs, dripping blood all the way.

John Hoff

If I go into Dinkytown on a Friday or Saturday night, I will witness drunken madness. Perhaps I will even get caught up, involved in the craziness.

Someone will need first aid. Someone will commit random acts of property damage. There will be a need to call 911. There will be flashing lights from police cars. Maybe there will be ambulances, blood, fire trucks. For all these reasons, I shouldn’t go there, not on the weekend. I have textbooks to read, including the intriguing “Globalization and Its Discontents.”

Knowing there is madness in Dinkytown, I went there anyway. It was the weekend before last. I was just a block or two from the Dinky Dome when I heard a voice roar, “Get out of my way!” Instinctively, I jumped off the crowded sidewalk. A massive, athletic guy surged past, with a nasty bleeding wound on his neck. He kept shouting “Get out of my way!” A little guy ran along beside, trying to calm the big guy down, but there was no calming him.

I ran up behind and explained I used to be an Army medic, maybe I could help. It would be best if he calmed down, stopped, and put direct pressure on the injury. Little Guy said he knew that, but there was no stopping Big Guy, who had been jumped at a party, and was now on a single-minded, drunken, crazed mission to walk all the way home, which was near Augsburg College.

As we spoke, Big Guy continued to part the human waves of the sidewalk like a drunken, collegiate Moses, roaring, “Get out of my way!” Little Guy said he needed some help, that Big Guy was too much to handle in his current state of mind.

I ran ahead of Big Guy, to prevent him from crashing into people. The pattern that would mark the whole night quickly fell into place: warnings ahead and apologies behind. Please, I would plead, my friend behind is injured and upset. Please, just get out of his way. At one point, Big Guy recognized someone named “Jimmy,” and took this as an invitation to enter a fraternity and stagger up three flights of stairs into a bathroom, dripping blood all the way.

I looked for medical supplies (bandages, Neosporin, hydrogen peroxide) but Big Guy just grabbed a used towel, soaked it in water, and tried to clean his own wound without help. A big, nasty rug burn on his elbow was the least of his problems.

In the harsh fluorescent light, I could see the neck wound required stitches. Somebody said Big Guy could keep the towel, as he plunged down the stairs, then back to the sidewalk, now shouting insults at strangers. All the way to the Washington Avenue Bridge he walked, angry at the world. Me and Little Guy ran ahead, ran behind, preventing confrontations.

I could sense a wake of 911 calls behind us, like a boat leaving frothy bubbles, but I was focused on a moral duty to make sure Big Guy received medical attention. Like a swollen river, Big Guy could not be contained, but he could be channeled in the least harmful direction.

At this point, Big Guy began to agree he should go to University Medical Center, Fairview, on Riverside instead of straight home. He wondered aloud how he would eat again, how he would drink with this hole in his neck. He thought that if he stopped, if he sat down to wait for help, he would lose consciousness and die.

Little Guy tried to explain he wasn’t hurt badly. He just needed stitches, maybe a tetanus shot. On the Washington Avenue Bridge, campus security guards wanted Big Guy to stop, but he was like a wounded buffalo, charging straight ahead.

Within sight of Augsburg College, a police car pulled up in front of us. I sensed events had the potential to go terribly wrong, quite quickly.

“Calm down,” I said, putting both my hands on Big Guy’s massive shoulders. “They have guns, just do whatever they say.”

All three of us were ordered to get up against the squad car. We were frisked, we were questioned. Stern men in uniform took away my new and interesting buddies, but just let me go. One of the police officers tapped the cell phone fastened to the neck of my shirt and told me, next time, just call 911.

At some point, I was informed one of the officers had pulled out a Taser. In the darkness, in the pulsing madness of the colored lights, I never saw the weapon pointed at us.

The next morning, my body ached from physical exertion, especially the leg I injured at Fort Bliss when I was an Army medic, trying to restrain a violent psychiatric patient. Why, I wondered, hadn’t I avoided Dinkytown, and put all that time and effort into homework?

Knowing weekends in the campus neighborhoods are filled with drunken madness, and now with random assaults, would it not be better to choose, of our own free will, to avoid such insanity, and turn, instead, to our studies?

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]