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Mason illustration

Illustration of Poppin' Fresh peeking out of a house. Drawn by Mason Dockter.

I come from a small village called Corona, in northeastern South Dakota -- population 70 or so, by my reckoning. Wikipedia will peg that number a bit higher, at 109 as of 2010, but Wikipedia wasn't around for the last eight years of our neighbors dying and moving away.

It probably goes without saying that weird stuff doesn't happen much in my hometown, since there's nobody around to do any weird stuff. In fact, if anybody was doing weird stuff in Corona when I lived there, it was probably me.

As a youth, I only knew of Sioux City as the place on my friends' sarsaparilla bottles, and also as the place named on some iron manhole covers. So I could only guess what Sioux City was like -- based on my limited knowledge, I figured it was a cross between an old west town (from the bottles' imagery) and a place where they make manhole covers.

When I planted myself in Sioux City in May 2017, the pace at which weird stuff happened to me threw me for a loop. The number of unaccountable things happening to me has continued to climb, which is why I now think of the weirdest occurrences as the "Sioux City-est." The more inexplicable, the more "Sioux City" something is.

In that spirit, here are a few of the Sioux City-est things that have happened to me in the past year and change.

1. Our cans got stolen!

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Aluminum cans

It's tough when somebody steals the recyclable cans you were saving for retirement. 

My roommate and companion Pablo and I are avid collectors and recyclers of soda cans, beer cans, malt liquor cans and so forth, because of Iowa's nickel refund on beverage containers. We don't make much money at it, but we also don't make much in our professional lives, so it's an auxiliary income source.

In fact, recyclable beverage containers are a primary store of wealth for me -- my savings account is basically empty cans of Hurricane High Gravity and Olde English that we found on the ground.

So it came as a real shock to the system when several months' of work gathering cans and bottles was taken from us a few months ago.

As we were departing for someplace one morning, our downstairs neighbor came out urgently to tell us the news: some guys had stolen all our five cents.

We stored all our cans on our second-floor balcony that isn't really accessible from the outside, so one would've thought the cans were safe.

The neighbor had a baffling wake-up call for us: Around 5:30 that morning a few guys climbed onto her car and thence to our porch, and took the bags filled with aluminum and plastic (evidently the glass was too heavy, as that bag remained up there.)

When she went out to ask them what they were doing, they responded that they are buddies of ours and drink with us. When she expressed a degree of skepticism, she said they ran away down the alley, and our cans were gone.

Pablo thought we should report this to the police, or tell the landlord. I torpedoed this idea, saying there was nothing the authorities or the landlord could do to ameliorate this problem.

"Can you describe the stolen goods?"

"Well, they're cans and bottles."

"What kind?"

"A lot of tallboys of malt liquor that we picked up off the sidewalks. A few seltzer cans of mine. Pretty much every type of cans and bottles. Maybe 1,000 of them. "

"We'll get right on that."

2. A squirrel got in my apartment

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Squirrel Eats Sunflower Seeds

A squirrel visits your windowsill and eats the seeds and corn you left for it, and all is well. When the squirrel claws through your window screen and makes a mess on your bed, all is not well. 

I used to live in an old tenement on Pierce Street. I won't name names, but it has an elegant -- if deteriorating -- Art Deco exterior, and a hideous, unsanitary, terrifying interior.

When I was living in the fourth floor of that dump, I noticed some squirrels were able to climb the outside walls freely. So I put some sunflower seeds outside for them, in hopes they would come visit my windowsill.

Before long, I had some new friends. I put corn, pieces of apples, more corn, seeds, et cetera, at my window for them. A nearby neighbor once fed a squirrel a small burrito of some sort, which the animal gleefully took away in its mouth.

This apartment also had a temperature-control issue. There was no thermostat, so I've always assumed the temperature was controlled centrally by the building manager.

Those 1920 radiators worked overtime in the fall, and the place was like a sauna in Death Valley. To prevent a heat stroke, it was absolutely necessary to keep the windows open at all times.

It was a perfect storm. The squirrels knew where the food came from, and on a chilly November day they could feel the radiated warmth through the open window screen.

I came home one afternoon and there was a chattering squirrel on my bed.

The window wasn't completely open; the squirrel had slid in through a narrow opening it chewed in the screen. The animal couldn't find an escape, and we had a standoff on our hands.

I grabbed a chair, either as a shield or as a quasi-weapon, and advanced on the panicked squirrel.

"G'wan! Get out of here!"

(Loud, defensive squirrel noises)

"Get out I said!"

Finally, the hysterical squirrel slipped out of the hole in the screen, and he was gone. If you're wondering, yes, he did leave a mess on my bed.

I dumped all the corn I had for the squirrels on the ground outside. I didn't want to deprive them, but I definitely didn't want them back.

3. Poppin' Fresh has fallen on hard times

(Writer's note: I live in a West Side four-plex that was built when McKinley was president. So if the following strikes a reader as classist or unkind, please note that I too live in squalor.)

While walking the dog on the West Side one evening, Pablo called my attention from my phone to a familiar face.

"Look! Isn't that the Pillsbury guy? What's his name?"

By God, it was him. Poppin' Fresh, known more commonly now as the Pillsbury Doughby, living on the West Side of Sioux City.

There the plastic Doughboy stood, unmoving, in his doorway, gazing blankly at the neighborhood. Dressed in his little chef's hat and apron, as though he was cooked something.

It was eerie. Even in the failing evening light and with him partially recessed into the entryway, the presence of this sad advertising figure was blinding.

The place he's living in, while not a shack, is definitely not where I imagined the iconic Doughboy residing. The paint is peeling. The grass was tall and the fence askew. The air conditioner hangs limply out the window. There's plastic stapled to the windows, presumably to keep last winter's warmth in.

I conferred with several friends and family, and we came to the unanimous conclusion that this is a depressing state of affairs for the Doughboy. Times must be tough at Pillsbury.

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