[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. Twenty years ago the Sultan of Sot wrote the article below for the March 19, 2003 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]
One reason to be nice to your bartender is that she will likely throw a party some day, and you will want to be invited. See, bartenders are good at throwing parties because … well, they’re bartenders. They have connections to all the good drinkers, and they know who the big-time assholes are. This allows them to “cast” their parties.
The party I’m going to tonight is called “Frozen Man.” I won’t provide too many details, like the name of the host, the date or the location, because I want to be invited back next year. I will tell you that Frozen Man is held in the Duluth Township, just outside of Howdy-Dotyville, where a good bonfire/campout/drinkfest can go down without someone creating an ordinance to stop it.
The concept of Frozen Man is to drink alcohol around a fire when it’s really cold out. There are various activities and rituals and surprises throughout the night, but the main purpose is to see how much cold your body can endure before you either die, go home crying or prove you are more powerful than nature itself.
Driving me to tonight’s festivities is none other than Paul Lundgren, a former Ripsaw editor and columnist. It’s a nice afternoon, around 30 degrees, so Frozen Man seems easily survivable this year. Still, Paul is wheeling a stolen shopping cart out of his apartment building and onto the sidewalk, and unloading from it a massive amount of supplies — food, clothing, survival utilities — as if we’re going camping in Antarctica for a month.
I have prepared for Frozen Man by wearing both pairs of jeans that I own and putting on a Green Bay Packers Starter jacket I found at C’s Liquor Lounge in 1996 (which I knew would someday come in handy). Sure enough, the radio announcer informs us during our drive that the temperature will drop to about 20 degrees below zero in a few hours.
Upon arriving at the party, Paul takes 45 minutes to set up the tent he spent more money on than his car while I look around and notice that we are among a small minority of people here that are not bartenders. It makes me wonder if bartenders have a national association and an annual convention. Maybe this is it.
One bartender, “Lefty,” is putting everyone else to shame tonight with his level of preparedness. His entire van is crammed with enough spare clothing to close down the Salvation Army, as well as more supplies, more food and more booze. He has even taken things a step further by packing along a girlfriend, something no one else has.
Despite the fact that the Frozen Man party is hosted by a woman, it is a very male-oriented event. A grand total of four females are present among the approximately two-dozen people who have chosen to brave the elements tonight in order to appease the Frozen Man.
The Frozen Man, by the way, is apparently some kind of god that gets pissed off if you use modern technology to stay warm. At the party, no one really talks about the details of who Frozen Man is, but whenever someone threatens to go home or get into their vehicle and warm up, someone else warns that doing so will anger Frozen Man.
By midnight, the temperature starts to drop, as predicted, and I find myself stealing layers of clothing from every vehicle in sight, stacking them on until I can barely move. Then, of course, I hit the whiskey, which will keep me warm, unless I listen to the little dweeb who keeps explaining how drinking alcohol actually lowers your body temperature while also lowering your ability to notice. I wonder who invited this guy, and when we should toss him into the fire.
Speaking of the fire, the wind is blowing the smoke in all directions, so standing within 20 feet of it will choke you to death, unless you are a regular patron of smoky bars, in which case you’ve been training for this.
As the elements and depressants take hold, one guy emerges from the woods with a big hollow stump and puts it on top of the fire, creating a weird effect where the fire swirls up and out the top of the makeshift smokestack. One guy stares in awe at this for several minutes, then says, “Wow, the fire is swirling in the opposite direction that we are.” Of course, everyone is standing still.
Suddenly, someone announces that it’s time for sports, and we all head down a trail through the woods to a frozen creek for sledding. Large rocks are sticking out of the ice everywhere, but that doesn’t stop several people from competing for the title of MVP by sliding headfirst. Eventually, every conceivable form of launching a human being down a frozen crick is experimented with, with multi-sled pileups, spinning saucers and finally snowboard-style sled-skiing. One guy actually strips down for a bare-flesh run. He knows the way to be MVP at Frozen Man is to inflict as much punishment on yourself as possible.
Back at the fire, Paul returns from his car after having applied an additional 600,000 layers of clothing. “I’m actually pretty warm now,” he says. “But if I have to shit, I’m going home.”
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