Peter Himmelman

Get a leg up with the acclaimed singer-songwriter. Guarantee: no PETA employees were consumed in the making of this article.



 Several years back I had a gig as a blues singer on a paddleboat called the Josiah Snelling that used to steam up and down the Mississippi carrying tourists mostly, but also some gamblers, fur traders, assorted Indians and a dozen or so guards from Stillwater state prison. It had an enormous paddle wheel in back and as far as I knew, it was the last of its kind on the entire length of the river.

 It was on this boat that I first met Karla Weinstein (I learned her real name later from an article in the Saint Paul Pioneer Press.) There was nothing particularly memorable about the way she looked when she first stepped into the tiny bar area where I’d been doing my set. She was on the south side of pretty, short, about 5’2” and change with closely clipped black hair, wire-rim glasses, and a too-small turquoise turtleneck that showed off a bit of flat stomach. She was sitting on a bar stool drinking a gin and tonic when she motioned me over. I’ll never forget the first words she said to me—and bear in mind that when she said them, she wasn’t trying to be funny or seductive. At least it didn’t seem so at the time.

 “Hey Peter,” she said, “have you ever had a hankering for some really good-tasting meat?”

 “Yeah, I s’pose I have,” I said. “What do you have in mind?”

 That’s when the trouble started. Or maybe I should say that’s when the beginning of the trouble started, because there was a whole lot of fun and good cheer that went on before the trouble. I finished up my set and by the end of the night, everyone except for Karla had got up and left.

 So the two of us went down to Karla’s stateroom and drank a bit more, talked some and listened to some old 45s she’d spun on a portable record player she’d brought on board. Great stuff, too: The Archies’ hit “Sugar Sugar,” “Black Snake Moan” by Blind Lemon Jefferson and one of my favorite songs of all time, “Piano Man” by Billy Joel. The version she had was in Portuguese, very haunting, very seductive, but also very sad in some odd way. Before the song ended Karla and I were both in tears. I’d gotten sad because I’d been thinking about my Grandma Rose who had died recently and because the Portuguese sounded vaguely Yiddish, which is what my Grandma Fose often spoke, and Karla… well, I didn’t have a clue as to what she might have been crying about.

 After the tears, we slow danced in her room, having a really good time when suddenly, she flings the record player off the table and starts laughing this horrible, witchy laugh that I can remember perfectly today. I should add that almost exactly when the laughter began, a storm picked up and you could hear a bone-crunching thunder and see these tremendous bolts of lightning which flashed through the little port holes in her stateroom, making it look as though we were both illuminated by some kind of intense strobe light. When the last record ended all you could hear was the sound of our breathing and the thunder from outside. That’s when Karla kneeled down and took a hot-plate and some kitchen utensils out from underneath her small bed.

 “Who’s hungry?” she asked.

 When the oil in the pan got hot enough she added some garlic and cilantro and then some ground beef that she’d kept on ice in a large Coleman cooler. When it was ready she served us both a big helping with some white rice on paper plates. Karla was strange but damn, she could cook. And I was hungry too, on account of all the dancing and whatnot.

 When I woke up the next morning Karla was gone and I could hear all kinds of commotion outside. The Josiah Snelling was flooded with FBI and the entire upper deck was cordoned off with yellow police tape. There was a body under a bloody sheet and police photographers were taking pictures. When I looked out onto shore, I saw Karla in handcuffs, laughing as she was being pushed into the back seat of a squad car.

 Later that day, I learned that the body under that sheet was missing a leg.

Peter Himmelman is one-half of Minnesota, a band featuring director/screenwriter David Hollander. Their debut album Are You There? was released last year on Hymn and Holler. Read our interview with Himmelman elsewhere on the BLURT site.

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