Saturday Essay Posts

Johnny Depp – Amber Heard Trial vs. Ukraine War: A Mashup

Judge Azcarate agrees to a last-minute venue change and the Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard defamation trial moves to Ukraine. Johnny Depp and Amber Heard get in Russian T-90 tanks spray-painted with “Z”s to fight each other. One is in a Russian tank, and the other one is in a Russian tank appropriated by Ukraine. No one knows which is which. The celebrities pursue each other shooting high explosive rounds from the 125 mm smooth-bore tank guns. Their “cope cages” and reactive armor spectacularly fail. The roads clog with burned-out tanks as the battle takes longer than legal analysts expected.

Bogged down in the countryside by the infamous Ukrainian mud, the venue changes again. Johnny Depp and Amber Heard pursue each other through the bowels of the sprawling steel plant complex at Mariupol, on the north coast of the Sea of Azov. Miles of tunnels under the plant conceal what really happened in the fog of war. All we know is they are both actors on the destabilizing world stage, cogs in a grinding apocalypse.

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard level each other’s cities in a great humanitarian crisis. Threats of a Johnny Depp chemical weapons attack haunt Amber Heard who puts on an aging gas mask and thinks, “This might be it” as she rushes into the fight. But the threats were a bluff: Johnny Depp has snorted all the nerve gas.

Ripped in Superior’s East End in 2002

[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 visited drinking establishments in the East End of Superior for this article, which appeared in the May 1, 2002 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper. A few updates: The Office went out of business in 2015. East End Tavern and Hudy’s Bar remain in business. Mr. B’s later became Pudge’s]

I set out looking for Eddie’s Ribs in Superior’s Itasca neighborhood, following the left-handed, pencil-scrawled directions of some coffin-dodger I met at the Pioneer Bar in Duluth. At some point, I take a turn that I’m pretty sure is incorrect, driving into an area that common logic would demand turn into either a suburb or a swamp, when suddenly — whoa! — a bunch of bars. Needless to say, it’s at this point that the whole big-plate-of-ribs idea is immediately jettisoned to make way for the get-hammered-right-here-and-now idea. It’s a common occurrence in my life.

A Weird Experience Writing About Great Lakes Shipwrecks

I got spooked by a coincidence while researching Great Lakes shipwrecks for a story. The coincidence involved a shipwreck so terrifying I decided not to write my story at all.

I had planned to write about each category of maritime disaster: shipwrecks, ghost ships, and disappearances. With a proper shipwreck, the fact of the sinking is undisputed, but the wreck itself may or may not ever be found. A ghost ship has been abandoned but doesn’t immediately sink, sometimes not for years, resulting in haunting sighting reports. I had written a story about a ghost ship already. Now I wanted to write about a ship disappearing. With such missing ships, a sinking is often assumed, but the ship is simply gone; it may as well have sailed into a black hole.

My disappearance tale remains unwritten. The story I was going to write was of a ship vanishing in plain sight as it sailed under the Aerial Lift Bridge. The mystery would be where did it go, and how — was it all an illusion/what is reality anyway, etc. The ship’s possible fates would include “what if the lift bridge acted like a teleporter.” The end would reveal a document recording an encounter with the ship in the distant past, describing the crew as phased half into the deck — a nod to the Philadelphia Experiment. The story would end with this horror image of the still-alive crew, instead of with an explanation. Dude this story was going to rock. All I needed was the name of this doomed hell ship and I could start writing.

Zeppelins Over Duluth

From the book The First Time Germany Invaded Duluth, Minnesota by Peter S. Svenson:

“July 1, 1917: The Weltanshauung, a German hydrogen war-zeppelin, lost power over Bavaria. Captured by the wind, for the next two weeks it blew north across Europe and then the Arctic Circle. The furious crew tried fixing the engines but never succeeded. Technically, they set the World Record for the first arctic crossing by air, a feat later repeated by Shackleton.”

From “Zeppelins Over Duluth!” Duluth Herald, July 16, 1917:

“The Weltanshauung contained an internal airplane hangar with six black tri-planes that emerged from the nose of the craft like hornets. A Canadian fighter squadron looked for the zeppelin over Lake Erie and almost collided with it in the dark. It was a cliff face hanging in the sky, dwarfing them with the black-cross-on-white symbol of the German Air Force. But the Canadians lost it in confusion and fear. Soon a lake steamer spotted it drifting within sight of the North Shore of Lake Superior, toward Duluth. The authorities mobilized the American helium zeppelin, the Federalist, from its floating hangar in the Duluth harbor.

Ripped at Shooter’s Saloon in 2002

[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 visited Shooter’s Saloon, 624 Tower Ave. in Superior, and composed this article for the April 3, 2002 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper. Shooter’s went out of business circa 2009.]

Shooter’s Saloon is a really nice place. The people who work there are efficient and friendly. The drinks are reasonably priced. The room is large and there are pool tables and a video hunting game with a big orange shotgun. Every time I go to Shooter’s, a live band is performing for no cover charge. Yet, it’s still the kind of a scene a judgmental guy like me looks at and says to himself, “How can I wreck this by weaponizing my prejudice?”

See, Shooter’s is a country-western line-dancing bar, and country-western line-dancing people love to go there. This is the one, only and perfectly acceptable reason why I’m bothered by Shooter’s and want to wreck it. I want to go up to any of the ridiculous posers there and say, “Howdy pardner. Nice belt buckle. You look like Nick Bockwinkel. Is that the AWA belt or World Class? Say, I have a question for you. I was just thinking about how Halloween was five months ago, yet you are still dressed up like you’re in a gay bar in Nashville, which got me to wondering, have you ever once milked, roped or gutted anything? Have you even shot a BB gun at a beer can? I mean, come on Hoss, we’re on the boozebelt of Superior, Wis. Who are you kidding?”

Bury Me in Hot Sauce

There is a Medieval legend of the honey mummy: holy men consuming nothing but honey until their excreta and fluids turn to honey, whereupon they die and are sealed in honey-filled stone caskets for a hundred years. Bites of their candied flesh are said to have curative powers, mystically evading definitions of cannibalism.

When I am 75, I will stop eating and drinking anything except hot sauce. After a month, my bodily fluids will become hot sauce. I will poop fiery chili paste like a sambal. The endorphins released with every bowel movement will keep me high as a kite. I will pee siracha sauce squirting like a squeeze bottle. My seminal fluid will be an organic salsa verde. My salivary glands will secrete tabasco. Weeping serrano tears from cayenne eyes, everything I see will have an apocalyptic tint. The interstitial fluid between my cells will run with fermented habanero. Since an all-out hot sauce diet is unsustainable, I will die. Fill a stone coffin with artisan ghost peppers, pureed scotch bonnets, Trinidad scorpions, jalapenos aged in wooden casks, vinegar, salt, lime, onions, and garlic. Place my body inside. Then seal it for 100 years.

The Return of the Handshake

There was a brief minute at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when I thought I might never shake another person’s hand again. And I was fine with that. If we could take just one positive thing out of the widespread death, illness and cultural disturbance that began in 2020, it might be ridding ourselves once and for all of the compulsion to rub our palms together.

But even when I was in the middle of a long no-handshake stretch, full of wishful thinking about the future, I knew deep down that the germ clutch would soon return. And of course it did.

My prejudicial prediction was that most people wouldn’t want to return to handshaking, but a bunch of insistent jackasses would refuse to let it die. Then it would slowly become normal again and we’d all live with it. I was wrong. Pretty much everyone started extending their hands the moment lockdowns and mandates were eased. There was no resistance.

Stock Lake Superior with Seals and Orca Whales: A Modest Proposal

To the Mayor of Duluth and the City Council: I propose that the city stock Lake Superior with seals, and a community of orcas to keep the seals in check. This plan increases annual tourist revenue by $300,000,000. I outline my proposal below with expenditures.

Seals can live in freshwater. The only population of exclusively-freshwater seals is native to the ratchet Lake Baikal in Russia, the Baikal seals. But geopolitical issues preclude obtaining breeding pairs. Therefore we need to look closer to home: Quebec has harbor seals in a couple lakes, a subspecies of the common seal called the Ungava seal. But, the Ungava is endangered so if we import them, we should establish a breeding program, increasing expenses.

Fortunately, Iliamna Lake in Alaska has a population of common seals trapped there. I suggest we capture and import specimens from that population to get ours started. Technically saltwater seals, the common seals’ adaptability to freshwater has been proven which will give them a head start in Lake Superior. I’ll throw in a couple Ungavas on the house to increase genetic diversity. Estimated cost of capturing and importing 100 breeding pairs of seals from Lake Iliamna: $3,500,000.

Chaotic Good

All names have been changed in this essay, not for each person’s privacy — just for fun.

I’m under the impression, based on the stunning aggregate of books, songs, poems, movies, and even body sprays about the subject, that I’m not the only person who truly was at a crossroads at age 17. By way of possible explanation, for many more years of my life than I’d like to admit, I labored under the very firm and very erroneous impression that I needed to be perfect in order to deserve love. What is even more absurd is the fact that, to preserve this external façade of imperturbable perfection, I believed I had to hide, disguise, or elaborately lie about most of who I was.

But by 17 years old, this had reached something of a fever pitch, the world having grown so much more complex and rife with nefarious but terribly desirable options. For example, I was a newly-minted cigarette smoker, having discovered that cigarettes were the missing piece in my anxiety repertoire. They created a self-reinforcing feedback loop in my neuronal network in which I smoked to relieve anxiety, and then smoking made me more anxious — a glorious oscillation that kept me jangly and on the edge of my seat, but also hiding episodically in the Harbormaster’s bathroom during school lunch to smoke, so no one would know I was a smoker.

Ripped at Sanitary Harry’s in 2002

[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 penned this article for the March 6, 2002 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper. Sanitary Harry’s went out of business not long after.]

St. Louis County Highway 7 is a long, thirsty road. I started tonight’s quest in Twig, figuring there would be some combination bait, liquor and grocery store there, and the proprietor would offer me a stool, creating a bar-enough atmosphere. No such luck. If there is any booze in Twig, I can’t find it. It’s enough of a task for me just to find Twig. Any attempt to retune the radio or pay attention to traffic is enough distraction to completely miss the tiny township so feebly, yet aptly, named.

If I am anything, however, I am determined. True, quite often I am not anything, but tonight I am indeed determined; “determined” being a synonym for “thirsty.” So I keep motoring down Highway 7, and, after mile upon mile of driving through more and more nothing, I start hoping for space aliens or Sasquatch to please abduct and abuse me before I die alone of sobriety. Finally, I find a small shack in Kelsey with a bunch of Arctic Cat jackets mulling around outside it, marking the spot. Aliens, Sasquatch … the Snowmobile Monkeys of Kelsey will be close enough for me. The name of their headquarters is Sanitary Harry’s.

Safe Passage

For as long as I’ve been writing, and that’s been for about twenty years or so, reader, I’ve made my contact information available for people to reach out to me with questions and comments about what I write.

A couple of months ago someone sent me a message through Instagram saying that I have privilege because I can pass as a cisgender woman and also asked why I haven’t used that privilege by being more visible in the trans community. I take every question seriously—well, all the serious ones, at least, so I’ll take my time here to answer.

Passing is complicated. Even the word is complicated. I don’t use it. I blend. And there was, of course, a time when I didn’t. Being misgendered hurts. And there are trans women who are routinely misgendered throughout their transition and I’m acutely aware of that because of my own experiences early in my own transition. Is there privilege in blending? I suppose there is. Does it make my life easier? Undeniably. When I’m out in public, my identity as a woman is not questioned or rebutted at a restaurant or at a grocery store, at the clinic or anywhere I go. It gives me access. It gives me peace of mind.

Lake Superior Eats Lesser Bodies of Water for Breakfast

Lake Superior is the biggest lake on Earth. And it’s the best. Want to fight about it?

If you’re like me, sometimes you mention Lake Superior in conversation, and you find yourself saying, “Lake Superior is the biggest lake in the world — by surface area! But if you’re judging by volume, the biggest lake is Lake Baikal!” But screw that. It’s time to take a stand. Now I say, “Lake Superior is the biggest lake in the world and those other janky lakes can suck it.”

What is a Lake?

The issue is nuanced, which triggers me. The definitions we use for lakes are arbitrary. I looked it up on Wikipedia and it just made me angry: “Lakes lie on land and are not part of the ocean.” Is it not obvious that oceans also lie on land? What is an ocean on, if not land? The ocean is not bottomless. The bottom of the ocean is land — they checked. Another irritating part of the definition is that lakes are “surrounded by land.” Now, don’t tell me oceans are not surrounded by land. There is no difference between oceans and lakes. The definition of a lake as “laying on/surrounded by the land” means oceans are, in fact, lakes.

A Duluth Area Cross-Country Skiing Decision Tree

What follows is an incredibly scientific and very carefully curated guide to Duluth area cross-country ski trails.

1. Do you want something unavoidably intense?

If yes, proceed to #2

If no, proceed to #5

2. Do you have a lot of time?

If yes, proceed to #3

If no, proceed to #4

3. Do you prefer constant climbing followed by constant descent, or insidious but varying slopes?

Up then down: Korkki

Beat me up: Mangey-Snively


The Korkki trail, located off Homestead Road between Duluth and Two Harbors, is a single loop out and back with cutoffs at various kilometer points. Like Lester Park, it features a steady rise on the outward ski and a steady coast downward on the inbound trail, only it is more intense in this trajectory, and reaches its climax at the far end of the loop, where there are a bunch of aggressive hills. (map)

The Public Complicity Trick

One of the means of control my father used in his abuse (of my mother, my sisters, and me) was what I have come to think of as the “Public Complicity Trick.”

I’m going to describe this trick from my childhood, though I am a man now and it happened decades ago, because I need to speak about how I’ve seen what seems to be a similar effort recently from a man who I once thought of as a friend. This person chose to call into the podcast of a prominent national celebrity to enter the public sphere of discussion about cancel culture. I won’t repeat the details of his call; Allison Morse has outlined that story.

When I was young, my family would sometimes be out somewhere in the community, and my father would launch into one of his Big Lies. He would tell a friend about some great thing he had accomplished in his younger days—being a champion boxer in the military; or he would tell the head of the small-town Nebraska volunteer fire department that he had saved three people from a fire while serving as a volunteer during one of our cyclic moves between Texas (where he was from) and Nebraska (where my mother was from); or he would tell some new acquaintance from the evangelical church about a vision he claimed had helped him kick drugs and booze. (That brings back my memory of finding his jar of black capsules of some drug—not a prescription—in the kitchen cabinet when I was about 10. I carefully opened each capsule, dumped the powder down the drain, and closed the empty capsules to return them to the jar.)

A Saturday Night in Winter 1987

“Keep it high, like this!” Michelle said, transmitting party wisdom over her shoulder with a cheerleader smile, holding a Marb red and a Schmidt can in one hand up near brunette Aqua Net bangs as she inched us through someone’s mom’s apartment packed with mostly white teenagers. I followed close in the crush, trying to protect my beer and not bump into her. She was a tiny junior glowing with charisma and cool. I was a six-foot sophomore with a spiked mullet and a forehead full of zits. So skinny. Still 15. Only 15. Not good at parties but wanting to be. It was a Saturday night in January 1987. Maybe early February.

In October a couple cops had taken me to detox after busting an outdoor party. The guys I was with ditched me because I was unconscious and ill and Steve, who I barely knew, thought I might mess up his immaculate brown Camaro. At the party, juniors and seniors I looked up to had laughed at me and pissed on me and tied my Reeboks to my Levi’s 501 belt loops while I laid in weeds on the edge of woods next to a nature center parking lot. I don’t know what else they did. They could have done much worse. I don’t know if anyone tried to help me. I’m not mad at anyone who didn’t. I wish more people would help, but I understand why they don’t. I can still smell the combination of vomit and Adidas cologne on my black and purple shaker-knit Oak Tree sweater.

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