Punk Icee naps July 4, 2013, on a bench along the Riverwalk near Great Falls Plaza in Auburn during the Liberty Festival. The mysterious wanderer died last week in an Auburn group home. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

In the early part of the afternoon last Friday, it was just a rumor — a rumor that seemed too outlandish to be believed. 

Mark LaFlamme

Punk Icee? Dead? It couldn’t be so. Punk Icee was a fellow who had attained mythical status in and around the Twin Cities and mythical characters are supposed to live forever. 

But it was true, all right. Our mysterious wanderer with the enigmatic name died last week in an Auburn group home. He was 64 and I’m just learning that, myself. If you’d have told me he was 34, I would have believed you. I would have believed you also if you’d revealed that he was 84 — with those hard and haunted eyes set so deep within the worn and weathered face, Punk Icee seemed truly ageless, a man whose years upon the earth were as inscrutable as everything else about him. 

And yet there are things that we DO know. 

Punk Icee is the legal name of a local man who was brought up a foster child in Canton. His original name was Clarence. He didn’t like that name, apparently, because for years he went by Larry. But Larry didn’t suit him, either, so at some point along the way, he changed his name to Maka Van Damme. 

Nobody seems to know what the name meant or why he chose it. 


A short time later — nobody really seems to know much about this one, either — he would make a final name change and become forever known as Punk Icee, a name that came to epitomize a special band of characters who dwell within the shadows of the community.

“When he first hit town,” a former cop tells me, “he had all the legal paperwork in his denim jacket. We didn’t believe him when he gave the name ‘Punk Icee.'” 

The name was legit, all right, and odd as it is — why Punk went with the unusual spelling of “ice” is another one of those mysteries. It’s pronounced “ice,” after all, so why the additional E? — it seemed to suit the man behind the moniker.

“You don’t go through the legal process to change your name without considerable effort and a firm grasp of the optics,” said Travis Ritchie, a local musician who performed on a song written about this local street phantom. “A man named Punk Icee had demons, was scrappy and wound up in a cruiser on the regular. It would be strange if he didn’t.”

Punk got up to mischief now and then, but mostly he just roamed.

A good-sized segment of the local population has always been weirdly obsessed with the comings and goings of the wandering man with the rapper name. At least one Facebook page is dedicated to the matter of where Punk Icee might be on any given day, and my friends, predicting where Punk would show up next was no easy feat. Punk didn’t talk very much. He just walked and when he did so, he did it with grim and silent determination. There may have been some method to his meanderings, but if so, Punk felt no need to explain it.


“A man of few words for sure,” said one local man, “but he embodied the image of a man on a mission.”

It is for all these reasons and more that I have been fascinated by Mr. Icee since I first clapped eyes on him on one street or another nearly 30 years back.

To me, the man was a pirate, forever trawling the streets of Lewiston-Auburn in search of a plunder of nickel bottles and cans. He spoke mainly in grunts and growls and nothing seemed to distract him from that mission. If Punk was aware of his local celebrity, it never showed.

Punk had places to be.

In a column I wrote in 2003 I deemed him the Magic Man, an appellation borne of the fact that I fancied I’d seen him, inexplicably, in two places at once — I’d drive down Park Street in Lewiston and there was Punk Icee, stomping down the sidewalk with a hard growl upon his face and the well-worn bandanna atop his head.  

Five minutes later, I’d be driving outer Center Street in Auburn and, what do you know? There’s Punk Icee again with his tattered bag full of dented returnables and just how did he manage such a distance in battered sneakers alone? 


This happened over and over. The man seemed to defy the laws of space and time. He’d be out there rain or shine and he always seemed to be dressed the same way, no matter what the weather. Punk Icee was tough, no doubt about it. He and the elements seem to have reached some kind of understanding.

“What an icon of strength and survival he was,” one man said upon learning of Punk’s passing. “A legend, for sure.”

His following was very real. In addition to the songs written about him and the social media pages that paid him tribute, there were many in Lewiston and Auburn who considered him something of a Twin Cities mascot. Over time, these people became protective of ‘ol Punk Icee. When you spoke of him, you spoke with respect, and if you didn’t, a dozen others would quickly descend to correct your action.  

In 2009, Punk was out on his eternal quest for bottles and cans on Birch Street in Lewiston when he was attacked by another man. He was punched at least once and knocked to the ground. When police found him, Punk was unconscious, his bounty of bottles and cans scattered around him. 

Police investigated, sure, but it was Punk’s from-a-distance admirers who really stepped up to help.  

They organized fundraisers for whatever the wounded wanderer might need. They began keeping closer eye on the wayward fellow even though trying to keep up with even a hobbled Punk Icee was a fool’s errand.  


Not that Punk needed much help, really. Seemingly unperturbed by the violence that had been visited upon him, he was back on the streets soon after, and his appearance was such a marvel to so many that fresh Facebook posts would announce sightings of the man, some accompanied by discreet photos. 

I’ve written many columns and news stories about the phantoms of our local streets — people like Punk Icee who are at once intimately familiar and infinitely unknowable. Who among us isn’t familiar with Gordon, the frail and skittish man in the dusty windbreaker who travels the same roads as Punk and in search of the same bottles and cans?

Who doesn’t remember the cheerful deaf man who used to travel by bicycle with his iconic flag waving from the handlebars? 

Whatever happened to the twirling lady, who would pause at random spots on the sidewalk to spin in a complete circle before going on? 

Who has seen our friend Jesse lately and what dazzling outfit was he wearing? 

Part of me wants to know every single thing there is to know about these people. Yet a part of me also wishes to maintain the mystery about them because mystery is what makes them notable. When you saw Punk or Gordon or the Twirling Lady out there next to Kennedy Park, you half wondered later if what you’d seen was an apparition. 


“Every town and city has their own unique individuals who roam around the streets on a daily basis,” said Jimi Cutting, who works with the local homeless. “We get used to them and they tend to fade into the background at times, but it is always noticeable when they go missing for any length of time. Folks like Punk, Gordon and Jesse are ridiculed by many but are unique and often nice individuals in and of themselves just wanting to live life by their own terms.” 

And yet before we find ourselves tempted to lionize these people, we must also remember that they are human. Punk Icee was no saint. While many of us delighted at the sight of him on his daily rounds, for police in particular, it was often preferable that Punk stay out of sight. 

“I remember him bending the seat in my favorite cruiser and kicking out a window after we arrested him one day,” another former policeman tells me. “He may have been a local legend but he was still a piece of work — he had beat up Gordy the bottle man that day over some returnables he dug out of the trash at Wendy’s.” 

“He was a troubled soul,” said another cop. “He was always up for a fight when being arrested. … He was likable from a distance.” 

Once in the early ’90s, while he was living in Portland under one of his earlier names, Punk became a suspect in an arson that resulted in the death of a man. It was soon after, police said, that he changed his name and moved to the Lewiston area, where he would find himself a suspect in some minor fires in an alley off Canal Street. 

Punk had his troubles, no doubt. Most of us are aware of those troubles, but we remained transfixed by the comings and goings of this hard-living puzzle of a man, nonetheless. 


“If we can’t appreciate people like Punk,” Ritchie said, “if we’re only allowed to celebrate people with socially acceptable pasts, we’d be celebrating a world that doesn’t exist.” 

Punk lived a lifestyle that would seem almost Sisyphean to the rest of us: walk the streets from dawn until dusk, find enough empty bottles and cans to get by another day, and then when that day is done, get up and do it all over again. The result was that Punk seemed to be everywhere all at once, and everyone who has ever laid eyes upon the man seems to have a Punk Icee anecdote to tell.

“He barked at my dog once,” said one Auburn man, “and she liked that and wagged her tail.”

Communication between man and dog complete, Punk just smiled and went on his way.

Thomas “Bummah” Gurney, a local singer and songwriter who often looks to the shabby side of Lewiston as inspiration for his art, has written one song about Punk Icee and is at work on another.

That and some other things. As far as Gurney and many others are concerned, Punk Icee deserves a bust made in his likeness somewhere in Lewiston, where he made such a distinct mark. And not just any old garden variety bust, either.


“Instead of a bronze statue maybe we could crush a bunch of beer cans together and pay somebody to sculpt a new statue,” Gurney said. 

Ritchie, one of Gurney’s band mates, has also been hard at work making plans such as these. To this end, his Punk Icee Memorial Project page has already appeared on Facebook. 

“Punk Icee was gritty to the core, imperfect, human and a local legend,” according to the page. “His passing will reverberate through our community. This page is an attempt to organize a memorial dedicated to the man and myth.” 

It’s an odd thing, really. Most people become local heroes through hard work, public service and philanthropy. Punk Icee made his mark by walking, saying little and then walking some more. 

Now he’s gone and if we can’t get a life-size bust of him made out of crushed beer cans, it seems at the very least his bandanna should be preserved. It should be cleaned, pressed and cast onto the downtown streets so that it may travel wherever the wind takes it, much like the man itself.

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