[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. The Sultan of Sot drove out to Rice Lake Township for this article, which appeared in the June 26, 2002 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper. Burn’s Bar, by the way, closed in 2013.]
Throughout my long history of drunken escapades, I’ve seen quite a bit. I’ve seen prostitutes working their trade right out in the open. I’ve seen barroom floors covered with blood. I’ve had white-trash women sic their mongoloid husbands on me. I’ve never seen a gunfight, but I have sipped suds right next to fresh bullet holes. One time, a guy seriously tried to sell me on the idea of pimping out young girls. “You don’t have any ambition,” he told me. “Where are you going to be in five years?”
But at no point during any of this have I seen anything like what I see when I pull into the parking lot at Burn’s Bar. Burn’s Bar is awesome.
If you need simple evidence, then judge the place by its patrons’ appreciation of great poetry, which is scribbled on the men’s room wall.
I love you in my heart,
I love you in my liver.
If I had you in my ass,
I’d shit you down the river.
Guessing conservatively, I’d say that the guy who comes dancing (yes, dancing) out of the bar when I pull into the parking lot has approximately eight teeth. My car is the only vehicle here, except for his truck, another car that I assume to be the bartender’s and a weird-looking beat-up van that I assume belongs to the men who will be stuffing my severed limbs into Hefty garbage sacks tonight. And, luckily, this place is stuck way out on West Tischer and Howard Gnesen Road, so no one will be around to hear me scream. This whole place has the same appearance as the bars in Every Which Way But Loose, the movie where Clint Eastwood beats the living shit out of everyone on the West Coast, helped by his orangutan and his 100-year-old ma.
Sure enough, when I get inside, there are three people here — the female bartender, and two guys who seem pretty much ready for a bare-knuckle brawl. As if to prove my point, the guys are watching a documentary about Lionel Richie on TV, just itching for me to make a smart-ass remark. As the bartender takes my order, one of the guys goes and stands by the door while the other — showing surprising speed and agility — runs around to the other side of the bar and uses the telephone. Yep, here we go. As inconspicuously as possible, I turn my cap around backward.
It’s at this point that I start to wonder why I never developed the boxing skills of Philo Beddoe. And why, for that matter, I’ve never befriended an orangutan. Because both would come in handy tonight. Still, I am tall, skinny, wear a filthy T-shirt and have been seeing a woman who looks like Sondra Locke. But none of that will help me at Burn’s Bar. I’ll have to resort to my usual tactics of either going straight for the crotch or throwing salt in my opponent’s eyes like Mr. Fuji.
But hour after hour slips by, and to my surprise, no one decides to ask me if I have a problem. It’s almost disappointing, because I always have a problem, and can’t wait to tell people about it. Which gets me to thinking, why is it that no one ever approaches me with a friendly demeanor and sincerely asks if I have a problem? That would be nice.
“Hey Slim, ol’ pal, got a problem?” I imagine the question coming from a bearded guy in his late 40s, like maybe Steven Keaton, the father character on TV’s Family Ties. Or, better yet, one of those nice hippies at Positively Third Street Bakery.
“Why, yes I do, good sir. Yes I do have a problem,” I would warmly reply. “My beer money is running low, I’ve got army worm guts all over my boots and I have a hemorrhoid the size of a Concord grape. Not to mention that my lack of an orangutan is about to be my downfall once again.”
“That’s too bad,” my new friend would say. “Here, have a Thunder Cookie.”
There are no Thunder Cookies at Burn’s Bar, however. But there are still a lot of sundries on shelves behind the bar to choose from. So I sit there sucking on a Long Island iced tea, fantasizing about what would happen if I ordered a peanut butter and Marlboro sandwich. I end up wimping out and ordering a big messy burger instead, which I find tastes good enough to convince me I’m not eating the remains of the last smartass stranger to hang out here. Still, the idea that I’m a few hours away from being found floating tits-up in Antoinette Lake is present enough to convince me that I should be leaving soon.
My hope is that the burger has provided me with the energy I need to walk home. I’ve tried to walk home from bars out this way in the past, and it’s never really worked out that well. One time, I wandered through a Girl Scout camp along Amity Creek, and, to my complete astonishment, learned that I was not welcome there at all.
It’s a mighty long walk to the Duluth Hillside, and there’s not a lot of places for a drunk to lay himself down out here. The woods are pretty thick, interrupted only by roads, houses and a few scattered cemeteries and orphanages. Which reminds me, last summer I woke up in the middle of the Polish cemetery on Calvary Road. Let me tell you, that place has more skis than Spirit Mountain.
Thank you everybody! Goodnight! There will be no encore.
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