[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. After the Fox-Sutherland V.F.W. Post 6320 in West Duluth closed, it merged with the Lincoln Park neighborhood post. The town’s infamous drunken scribbler paid a visit in February 2009 to file this report for the weekly Transistor. Historical note: One year later, V.F.W. Post 137 was renamed the McConnell-Modeen Post. It remains open at 2023 W. Michigan St.]
It seems camaraderie among Veterans of Foreign Wars is on the decline. Duluth is down to its last V.F.W. club, the Duprey-Alexander Post 137 in the friendly West End neighborhood. There’s no sign on the front of the building, or any other visible indication the club exists, but the V.F.W. is indeed still there, open every day from 3 p.m. until the volunteer bartender decides to lock up.
Tonight, the clientele consists of a young couple at the bar playing cribbage and a small group meeting in the next room. My arrival does not excite the volunteer bartender at all, and I can’t blame her. Working on tips alone, she must be pulling in $4 an hour. It’s only 8 p.m., but she clearly wants to close up shop right now. I think I’ll try ordering a margarita just to watch her reaction.
Of course, margaritas aren’t on the menu at the V.F.W., but I’ll tell you what is: Egg and Sausage Hot Pockets. For two bucks, Miss Cheery Pants will chuck one of those in the microwave for you.
Resisting the urge to be a smartass, I order a simple beer and quietly take my seat. Soon, the meeting in the next room breaks up, and the bar area is graced with two more customers. One is the president of the auxiliary. The other is a drunken old man who keeps saying things everyone laughs at even though none of it seems to make sense.
For example, when the cribbage-playing couple decides to leave, the old man says to the young man, “Nice hat!” The young man says, “Yeah, it keeps me pretty warm.” The old man then puts on his own hat and says, “The kitchen dampens acrylics,” or something like that, and the young couple laughs and says, “Yeah.” Then they look at each other, shrug their shoulders, and move along.
There is, however, one thing the old man says that I understand. When the auxiliary president mentions paying $48 per month for electricity, the old man counters that he only pays $18 per month. She asks if the old man waits for the sun to come up every morning before he reads the paper, so he doesn’t have to turn on a light. He says he does. “At night I go to the bar and use their electricity,” he adds. “Suckers.”
I was here a few months ago when someone asked a different volunteer bartender why there wasn’t a sign in front of the building or at least a neon “open” light. She gave a pretty good answer: “Because there are too many goddamn thieves around.” Still, a guy at the bar who was on his way to a meeting in the basement promised he would bring up the lack of signage. He was made fun of the moment he left the room.
“There goes the next commander of the V.F.W.,” a guy at the bar joked. “We’ll be smoking pot and banging whores in the basement in no time.”
“I can’t smoke that stuff,” the bartender interjected. “It makes me giggle too much.”
The guy went on to tell me that the fellow he joked would be the next commander has already been “deputized” by the city of Duluth, and is responsible for closing city parks. “They gave him a gun,” he said. “They must be nuts. If someone deputized me, there’d be a lot of dead people, I’ll tell you that.”
That was a good night. Tonight is a slow one. After I order my second beer, at 9 p.m., I’m told it’s last call. I see the auxiliary president and the old man have empty glasses in front of them. That means they’re just staying around until I leave, to make sure I don’t strangulate the bartender and steal the big-screen TV.
Finishing my beer, I decide to head to the back of the place and use the men’s room. On a bulletin board in the hall there’s a poster of some men in uniform holding up the flag and marching in a parade. Some of the spectators are standing and saluting. Some of them are sitting in folding chairs. There is a text box on the page that reads: “Have you noticed lately only seniors & veterans stand and honor our flag?” Someone took a marker and drew an arrow to the people sitting in chairs and labeled them, “Losers.”
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