[Editor’s note: For this week’s essay we’ve once again pulled out a relic from the archive of Slim Goodbuzz, who served as Duluth’s “booze connoisseur” from 1999 to 2009. Ten years ago the Sultan of Sot visited a trio of West Duluth bars and published this report for Duluth’s weekly Transistor.]
To borrow a term from the card game blackjack, I’ve decided to “double down” on my drinking today. What that means is, I’m at the Rustic Bar in West Duluth at 8 a.m. My goal is to get drunk by midday, go home and pass out, then wake up and go to the bars again. If I manage to get drunk twice, well, I’ve doubled my winnings.
On top of that, drinking while the buses are still running means there’s no need to spend valuable beer money on a taxi. In tough economic times, we all need to get thrifty, right?
For some reason it’s boiling hot inside the Rustic, which I didn’t expect on a January morning. There are four other guys at the bar, and two of them have stripped down to their T-shirts. Eventually, one of them asks the bartender why it’s so hot. She looks at the thermostat and tells us it’s set for 80 degrees.
“The swamper must like it hot,” she says, turning it down.
Wanting to fit in with the morning crowd and appear knowledgeable, I resist the urge to beg her pardon and ask, “What the fuck did you say? Swamper? Who or what is a swamper?”
Upon reflection, I figure she must have said “swabber” and was referring to the person who comes in before the place opens and mops the floor. You know, like “swabbing the deck,” in the Navy — not to be confused with “swabbing the deck” in a porno, which is, of course, a completely different thing.
Anyway, I can’t help but notice that, although it’s 80 degrees in the bar, there are still two guys here who haven’t taken off their winter jackets. I have to look away because the mere thought of a coat is making me sweat.
By the time I drain my second 34-ounce mug, the bar is rimmed with middle-aged men, half of whom sit quietly and sip booze while the other half drink coffee and watch the TV news. When the sole woman in the bar stands and drunkenly announces that it’s time to go across the street to the Gopher Lounge, I have to agree.
Over at the Gopher, one of the winter-jacket guys from the Rustic is mopping. He must be the Gopher’s swabber, or whatever. Could it really be “swamper”? And do all swampers like it hot? These are the questions to contemplate when you’re halfway to wasted before the first Showcase Showdown.
There are only two customers at the Gopher: the aforementioned drunkette, and a man who may or may not have also come from the Rustic. It’s hard to tell because he, like everyone else I’ve seen drinking this morning, is middle-aged and wearing a baseball cap. Drunkette apparently has recognized him by scent, because she’s pretty much sitting in his lap and attempting to lick his face off.
Things calm down a bit by 10 a.m., however. Drunkette is settled into her day and ready to make some phone calls. Her first one starts like this:
“Hi, I’m calling about the job in the paper. … Is that a live-in position?”
Now, you might make fun of someone who enquires about employment opportunities from a stool at the Gopher, but considering who I am and how I conduct myself every day — and today in particular — I just wonder if I’m related to her.
As the day goes on, it gets more difficult to move from bar to bar. Although the skies are overcast, it’s still 800 percent brighter outside than in the bars. So, every moment I spend walking from one place to the next feels … oh, how can I explain it in a way that other night-owl drunkards would understand? It’s like one of those unwanted conversations with a cop who is madly in love with his 10,000-lumin flashlight.
At the Kom-on-Inn, I find my best deal of the morning. Thirty-four-ounce mugs of Schmidt are going for $3. This isn’t a regular feature, though. It’s advertised on a handwritten sign and poured from a Michelob Golden tap.
When I go to empty my Slim Goodbuzz Golden tap, I notice a closet in the men’s room with a sign on it warning people not to enter unless they are the “swamper.” There it is in print: “swamper.” I’ve got to look that word up.
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