The Study and Analysis of Heartache

The recent post about the 1917 Ripsaw article regarding booze and filth in Superior, Wisconsin got me thinking about this quote from one of Anthony Bukoski’s short stories. I posted it here on PDD back in August of 2003, but I think enough time has passed for us to revisit it.

“The entire city of Superior, my neighborhood included, is a classroom for the study of failure. The curriculum for the Study and Analysis of Heartache comes from our citizenry’s heavy drinking. We’re Scandinavians, Slavs, and Indians of all makes and models. The curriculum is also tied to our living on the shore of the largest freshwater lake in the world. Lake Superior alters our weather for the worst, makes us ugly. Step out the door, see old newspapers blow down the streets in a lake wind, wipe dust from your eyes, go to the Palace Bar, Isle of Capri, Captain Cliff’s Night Club, Lost in the ’50s, Al’s Waterfront Tavern. Find the locals lined up for an eye-opener at eight in the morning, and that, to a sensitive former academic like me, is Hard Knocks. When you can’t find work and need to get yourself more depressed, listen in the hallway of your run-down flat for the neighbor guy to strike his wife or she him. Add gray skies. Add fog, and in winter and into late spring, throw in bitter cold, and that’s how it is in Superior, Wisconsin, at the Head of the Lakes. Every day I take a refresher course in how to be a loser.”

— Anthony Bukoski, “A Philosophy of Dust”



about 10 years ago

Aaah...the darkness is the same whether you are asleep or dead.

Tony D.

about 10 years ago

Thanks, Barrett!

Tony Bukoski's writes excellent short stories, many of them fascinating ethnic microstudies of Superiorites, esp. Poles like Bukoski himself. Highly recommended!


about 10 years ago

There's a lot of truth in that quote, I'm sure. However, the sentiment could be applied to the whole upper Midwest. At least the author actually lived in Superior. Whenever I tell anybody that I'm from Superior, I get comments about how the place is a dump. There might be some truth in that too. But currently I'm living in Sherburne County, MN. I'll tell you what, I think the majority of the population here is a bunch of drunken redneck hicks that somehow think they are better than people living "outstate." The truth is that the whole region here is a bunch of "white-flighters" from the Cities that have built an exurban hell. I can't wait till the day I can move back to the beautiful twin ports. I would take even Superior over the exurbs any day! Appreciate what you have people!


about 10 years ago

Tony Bukoski is one of the great contemporary  authors writing about the American ethnic experience. He totally nails it about Superior, I love his work.


about 10 years ago

I agree that he's certainly among the best contemporary writers.  I also agree that he tends to hit Superior & the region pretty dead on.  But I would say that his entire works nail Superior.  Especially the immigrant experience.  This is a great character statement about Superior taken from a larger story and a tremendous body of work.  It would be unfortunate for someone to read this and think that Bukoski holds disdain for the town where he's spent so much of his life and dedicated so much of his teaching talents for at the college.
So - read as much Bukoski as you can and don't fall for any simplistic reductions of any of the Twin Ports greater area.  Except for Hermantown.

Barrett Chase

about 10 years ago

Building on what jmcc said, there's another caveat to keep in mind while enjoying this quote. This is from a work of fiction. Though Bukoski wrote those words, they don't necessarily reflect his true opinion of Superior. They reflect the experience of a character in one of his short stories.

Bukoski is from Superior and still lives there. Therefore, any criticism that comes through his work is in the same vein as talking about how moronic your brother is. When you do it, it's fine, but if someone else were to do it, you'd punch him in the face.

That said, it brings to mind a quote from another great writer with Twin Ports connections, Sinclair Lewis, who wrote the following in his essay "The Needful Knocker."

"The booster's enthusiasm is the motive force which builds up our American cities. Granted. But the hated knocker's jibes are the check necessary to guide that force. In summary then, we do not wish to knock the booster, but we certainly do wish to boost the knocker."


about 10 years ago

Bars open in Superior open at six not eight. Also, the majority of early morning drinkers are third shift workers, out for an after work beer, not an "eye opener."


about 10 years ago

When I worked overnights in Brooklyn Park, I went to a bar in Crystal a couple times that offered 3-for-1s from 7-11AM. Shenanigans.


about 10 years ago

Hmmm, loaded with pessimism and angst.  Quality writing, sure; "right on," I don't think so.

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