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Monthly Grovel: May 2021

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Herd immunity could elude us forever, but things are feeling safer and Minnesota’s governor is letting people cautiously cluster. When you are ready to poke your head out, the PDD Calendar remains the faraway leader in listing Duluth area events. Each month we reach out with one beggarly blog post to remind everyone that human beings and not machines are at work editing and publishing calendar events. So if you appreciate it, drop a few bucks in the PayPal account.

Lake Inferior: The Underground Lake Beneath Lake Superior

Exploration Timeline

June 1679

I have lost the reference, but I read somewhere that when the French explorer Sir Duluth heard rumors of an underground lake beneath Lake Superior, he quipped in his native tongue, “Lac d’Enfer” (literally: “Lake of Hell”). This nomenclature was mistranslated by English-speakers, becoming anglicized as “Lake Inferior” — an insidious malapropism that replaced the original meaning.

Sept. 8, 1870

Copper-helmet diver William Bitter found an entrance to Lake Inferior. He was working by the breakwater wall for the city of Duluth, offshore of what is now the Lakewalk. A large storm had damaged the wall, and he was conducting an underwater survey at the end of a 20-foot lifeline.

Working the winch and the air pump, his support team on the wall heard Bitter cry out through the speaking tube, then noticed a whirlpool opening up. They winched Bitter out as loose boulders and timbers were sucked into it.

Your Team!

My aunt Meda died and I felt nothing. I was completely numb. Probably shell shocked, to be honest. I flew to New Jersey to be with her widow — aunt Maren — and my grandma, who lived with them at the time. I tried to help around the house, feeling nothing more than a dull ache that seemed wrong for the situation. I thought I was a sociopath, the pain not substantial enough for the tragedy.

The hurt hit me like a tidal wave when I stood in the TGI Fridays bar where Meda worked. I was helping to prepare the celebration of life when the realization set in that I would never see my fun, erratic, loving aunt again. The woman who welcomed her wife’s weird niece into her home for the summer months. The woman who loved pugs more than anything. The woman who was called “sir” at drive-throughs on multiple occasions when lowering her voice to try to sound cooler.

I cried when I heard Adele’s 21 for the first time after she died, knowing Meda had cultivated my love for the album.

Grief is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad time.

Come on Duluth, pull your socks up!

Looking at Duluth in isolation, it has shrunk by 20 percent since 1960. In real terms, Duluth netted a population loss far greater when viewed in a regional context that accounts for the modest growth rates of Fargo, Rochester and Sioux Falls cited in the article. Had Duluth kept pace with those cities since 1960, Duluth would today have a population of 300,000. A nice sized, comfortable metro city.

Why doesn’t Duluth work?

Flight 3247 to Duluth

In what must be the most trivial Duluth reference ever reported on Perfect Duluth Day, we note that season 6, episode 4 of the animated television show Archer includes a scene at a Chicago airport where the flight information display system shows a scheduled Duluth departure as “on time.”

Monthly Grovel: April 2021

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As pokes in the arm are liberally distributed and people move from six feet apart to four or five, the PDD Calendar continues to catalog local events — some in person, many online. Each month we reach out with one beggarly blog post to remind everyone that human beings and not machines are at work editing and publishing calendar events. So if you appreciate it, drop a few bucks in the PayPal account.

Where in Duluth? #185

The Floating Island of Fremont, Duluth’s Breakaway Township

As documented in the book Duluth: An Illustrated History: “The opening of the Duluth canal proved to have a beneficial effect which its promoters had not anticipated. Currents flowing through the channel carried away a considerable amount of rotting timber and mucky islets which had infested the harbor. In fact, one of Duluth’s original townsites — Fremont — was thus swept out into Lake Superior and lost forever.”

The Zenith City Press website confirms the account: new currents swept several floating bogs in the harbor out to sea. The largest of these islands was 1,200 feet long and 400 feet wide — larger than the largest lake vessel — and it contained the township of Fremont. It began where Rice’s Point is today, and on May 10, 1873, it passed through the canal to the open sea.

I must correct the error, often propagated, that Fremont broke up that night in rough water. The truth is, Fremont is still out there, population 299, comprised of 20 families that each own a business. I know because I have been to Fremont. I have hiked its marshes and shopped its cute, bustling downtown. I have fished off its docks. I have traded stories, dreams, and fears with Fremonters around beach campfires.

Many people have. Lake Superior is dotted with cities that Fremont has visited. I highly recommend, next time Fremont is visible on the horizon, try to get there. The Fremont music scene is a delight. And of course anyone who loves lake culture and the outdoors probably already knows about it.

Sam Ali’s “artistic interpretation” of UMD hockey highlights

The UMD Bulldogs hockey season came to an end last night with a 3-2 loss in overtime to the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Before it was over, Sam Ali had to report on the game without using ESPN footage. He figured it out.

Ripped at Le Grand Supper Club in 2001

[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 he took a ride to Grand Lake Township for a night of imbibing at La Grand Supper Club. The establishment closed in 2010 and was replaced in 2016 by the Cast Iron Bar and Grill. Goodbuzz documented his experience for the March 21, 2001 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]

So, Sean the locksmith shows up at my door and tells me that he’s “in the mood to drive.” How fortunate: I’m in the mood to drink. I suggest we head up the Old Miller Trunk Highway to Le Grand Supper Club and see what kind of mischief we can find.

Le Grand is a nice, big place, and tonight it’s all but empty except for a group of disgruntled pool players and about six or seven inebriated regulars at the bar. If I did my drinking on the weekends like any normal person, I might be able to see this place packed as a cover band such as Sh-boom attempts to rock the house. But weekends are made for pleasure drinking; I’m here for business drinking.

A Lament for Liquor Lyle’s

I asked my friend to describe the strangely named bar that he said was our destination for the night. He paused, frowned, and sought out the right analogy.

“Well,” he said, “It’s as if a 1950s diner met a hunting shack.”

So began my first visit to Liquor Lyle’s, an establishment just south of Hennepin Avenue’s corner with Franklin Avenue in the Wedge neighborhood of Minneapolis. A year later I moved into an apartment next door, and for my two years in the Twin Cities, Lyle’s became the hub of my social life, the one place that could summon a crowd with a simple text: “Lyle’s?”

It hosted grad-school study sessions and end-of-semester blowouts and many a nightcap after a long night on the town. A handful of young alumni turned it into a Georgetown bar when the Hoyas made the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in 2015. Whenever one of us left the city, Lyle’s was the home to the last party, and after I went on my way, no return to Minneapolis was complete without at least one night in that dark, lovable hole. In town for a professional conference in Minneapolis some years ago, I dragged a group to the bar and blended a few of my worlds. After another day of state hockey, we would decamp there to relax, maybe lure in a few friends who weren’t into hockey to catch up with them, too. My last bar experience before the COVID-19 outbreak took me to Lyle’s after the last night of the 2020 tourney. At least I know I was one of the last people to enjoy it.

Calling Observation Hill and Central Hillside Residents

People who live in Duluth’s Observation Hill neighborhood: please take 5-10 minutes and fill out a survey for my class. I am exploring the relationships between Central Hillside and Observation Hill, and Mesaba Avenue’s affect on the two neighborhoods.

People who live in Central Hillside: same deal, different survey. It would mean a lot. Thank you!

I Don’t Want to See Another Naked Woman as Long as I Live

“All you sweet girls with all of your sweet talk, you can all go take a walk” – The Velvet Underground, “Heroin”

I am not on heroin, I’m expressing freedom from love and sex. I’m celibate as a monk from here on out. Retire my jersey, I’m out of the game. You can leave your hat on — and all the rest of it too. Quoth the bard, “Love stinks.” If you ever wonder if I want to get in your pants: I don’t.

The title of this piece is an actual quote. I heard someone say it while they were having really remarkable romantic troubles. You can switch the genders up in this essay to suit your tastes. The sentiment works any which way. I am not advocating a lifestyle. This is not an aspirational document. It’s just that I’ve been thinking: I’ve approached love like the depraved addict in “Heroin.”

Love and sex have always been indistinguishable to me. I loved everyone I ever made it with, or I wanted to love them, or I tried to love them. Whatever it takes to pick up strangers and have casual sex, I never had it. My game was serial monogamy. I was good at that for many years, traipsing from relationship to relationship. But I started living like I needed a partner to make me whole. I am not a sex addict, but I behaved like a love addict. And isn’t that what addicts are supposed to do: quit?

Frosted Flakes in Duluth

Duluth gets a quick and silly mention in the March 13 episode of Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!, a weekly radio show produced by WBEZ in Chicago and National Public Radio. At the tail end of the clip embedded above, the panel talks about the virtues of pizza for breakfast instead cereal and jokes that people never argue about which city has the best cereal, resulting in the crack, “You haven’t had Frosted Flakes until you’ve had Frosted Flakes in Duluth.”

PDD Quiz: Irish Twin Ports

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this week’s quiz will focus on Irish (and Irish-adjacent) things in the Twin Ports.

The next PDD quiz, which will review this month’s headlines, will be published on March 28. Submit question suggestions to Alison Moffat at [email protected] by March 21.

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