Saturday Essay Posts

Living Your Best Life Without Ever Leaving Your House for Any Reason

My name used to be Anna. Now it’s Mamahoney. You can call me Mama, or Honey, or Mamahoney (but not Honeymama: Honeymama was my mother’s name). Honestly, I’ll probably respond to any combination of these sobriquets because the sooner I do the faster I can get back to this Jim Butcher wizard mystery I’m reading. And I really want to get back to it because it takes place in another city, which is not anywhere in my house. In fact, not one part of this fantastic story about how a handsome, middle-aged wizard solves supernatural crimes whilst single-parenting a daughter and negotiating the perilous political landscape of the supernatural world’s equivalent of the United States Senate (if it were diverse and cared about anyone) — not one single page — takes place in my house. Amazing!

I, like many of you (or a couple of you if you’re college-aged and reading this in Texas or Florida), have not been out much in the past five months. For nigh half a year, I, my partner, and our loin fruit have confined ourselves nearly entirely to our house. Our house, in case you’re curious, is 1,000 square feet of space, with two bedrooms, one bathroom, and very nice original woodwork. It’s decorated just how we want it, and doesn’t resemble an oubliette in any way, save one — the fact that we cannot leave it. This has made us all a little barmy. And not in the cute, eccentrically quirky way, like we’ll take up painting with dark chocolate or bat guano or something. More in a Grey-Gardens-meets-Biosphere kind of way.

Nautical Milestone for the Duluth Autonomous Navy

Announcing the formation of the Duluth Autonomous Navy, with co-Admirals Jim Richardson and performance artist Troy Rogers aka Robot Rickshaw. We want you. Every time you touch water, it becomes a naval engagement…

I would like to use my newfound powers of the co-admiralty to declare Troy a menace for his recent naval actions (see below), and I hereby issue a call to the new city attorney, who is a personal friend of mine, to charge him with sedition and place him under arrest before he causes an international incident. And then where will you be? I’ll tell you where: you’ll be in a room with the mayor and she’ll be saying, “Will you please just start listening to Jim Richardson, he’s Secretary of the Navy around here and in fact I’m giving him your office.” It’s a funny story, involving as it happens, my secret contact on the police force – another personal friend of mine – and what kind of superhero would I be if I wasn’t cultivating levers of law enforcement power from within the machine, a lot like Batman? I am all up in the Deep State of this chooch town.

Like I was saying, the public might recall the former autonomous-watercraft hijinks of this madman Troy and myself, from our iceberg ride, to going solo with my Flamingo Patrols. Then we were going to have a team-up for the Floaty Flotilla, the weather-sensitive non-event recently canceled at the last minute due to winds above 10mph, albeit blowing toward the Lakewalk – you’d be unlikely to blow out to sea, is the best I can say there. I’d had an irrational hope that the winds would dip below 10mph and perhaps be manageable. But there were whitecaps, and a small craft advisory and everything, so: no way. I found out later someone put in on some kinda floaty, and paddled it a short ways using shovels; I feel horrible and I shouldn’t be surprised these brave citizens didn’t get the message about the last-minute cancellation. So right there I’m like: I gotta quit doing this stuff.

Ripped at La Belle in 2000

[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. La Belle was a nightclub operating at 1014 Tower Ave. in Superior until 2013. The Sultan of Sot documented his experience there in the July 26, 2000 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]

After spending two hours drinking monkey wrenches while listening to Minneapolis band Puafua and watching cartoons, I got the urge to be in a cartoon. I got the urge to go to La Belle.

Located on the classiest stretch of Superior’s distinguished Tower Avenue, La Belle is a dive specializing in cheap drinks for undiscriminating tastes. Like anyone else whose clothing wasn’t purchased using Marlboro Miles, I had never been to La Belle. But it had to happen sooner or later.

Before I could even get myself a drink, I met the quintessential group of La Belle patrons. Three or four middleweights stood huddled around a SEGA Out Run video game, attempting to drive a video car around a video racetrack. After some extensive bragging, they decided the one with the highest score would drive home.

Musing on a Home Office

Like many people, I’ve been working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is definitely foreign to me. I am a navigator at Community Action Duluth, which is a job that requires intensive, one-on-one work with people. Skills acquired when sitting next to someone have a new level of complexity via telephone. I definitely had to hone in my listening skills to know if I was hearing my letters correctly (b, d, t, s, and f). It is much easier to relate to someone face to face. I now realize the importance of visual cues in communication, and the ways I watch and listen for understanding and clarity. Navigators are now explaining complex issues without the normal go-to tools.

Health insurance information I normally would be able to visually show and describe requires a deeper level of explanation over the phone. I check frequently if the content I am relaying is being understood as intended. Thankfully I am able to scan printable material and email it to my participants. For those participants without technical devices, I am still using the postal service. My local post office is only a half block from my home. In the future I hope to meet the individuals and families I have assisted remotely, in person. I miss the one-on-one contact.

Robin Washington interviews Jim Richardson about PDD Confederate essay

Robin Washington interviewed me on Wisconsin Public Radio about the essay I wrote for PDD denouncing my white Confederate heritage.

Ripped at JT’s Bar in 2000

[Editor’s note: Set your Gayback Machine to the last few months of the Clinton administration. For this week’s essay we’ve once again pulled out a relic from the archive of Slim Goodbuzz, who visited JT’s Bar at 1506 N. Third St. in Superior and penned this report for the June 28, 2000 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper. Additional historical notes: JT’s closed in the summer of 2011 and was replaced by Shenanigan’s Bar. In late 2012 it became the Whiskey Ward, which closed in 2013. Izzy’s BBQ Lounge & Grill opened in August 2014 and remains there today.]

The first time I went to JT’s, I was young and foolish. I didn’t know it was a gay bar. “This place looks like a gay bar,” I exclaimed to the room, provoking a barrage of turned heads and strange looks. But despite embarrassing myself in public, I actually ended up having a pretty good time that night.

Then, a few weeks ago, a press release from the White House showed up at the RipSaw office reading, “I, William J. Clinton, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2000 as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. I encourage all Americans to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that celebrate our diversity and recognize the gay and lesbian Americans whose many and varied contributions have enriched our national life.” So, I decided to get drunk at JT’s. I simply could not pass up an invitation like that.

For Father’s Day I Denounce My White Confederate Heritage

I am disgusted by the Confederate flag, and by those white people who defend its display as “honoring their heritage.” I say this as a white native of the South, with deep Southern roots. I was born in Texas (slave state) to a mother from North Carolina (slave state) and a father from Georgia (slave state). I was raised below the Mason-Dixon line in Maryland (slave state).

The year I was born (1969), my father taught at an all-white private high school in Houston. The Civil Rights era raged. When the headmaster refused to desegregate the school, my father was part of a faculty exodus. My folks found a Maryland school that did not discriminate, and went to teach there. They raised me to believe in equality. But looking back through the history of the country, the full story of my family and race is a terrible thing: the Richardsons owned slaves for generations, and I can document it.

My dad was a Civil War buff. When I was a child, he told me many things about it, including: 1) there were Richardsons on both sides of the war, and 2) the Southern, slave-owning Richardsons were angry when their slaves were freed.

J. K. Rowling

Dear J. K. Rowling,

I was so surprised to see you take such a regressive and dangerous position on the trans community in your recent tweets about the definition of “women.”

Like a lot of people, I’ve spent the past twenty or so years adoring the universe of creatures and characters you’ve created. I read your books to my son, until the day, around book four, that he was able to insist upon reading it aloud to me at bedtime. I tried to read them to my daughters, but having watched the movies during an especially virulent bout of stomach virus, wherein Dumbledore’s implacable steadfastness and McGonigal’s stern austerity were precisely what we needed as we heaved the contents of our addled bellies into buckets and ugly bowls, we couldn’t go back to the books. We’ve lived with these people you created as genuinely as if our fondness for them made them manifest: no mere line drawings or ephemeral caricatures meant to amuse and depart. We grew with them over the years, and return to them still, like visiting a distant relative’s weird and wonderful estate. I’m telling you all of this because it isn’t just the arc of each character’s story that makes them dear to us — it’s the way we’ve assimilated their stories into our own, and the ways those characters have informed our own experiences. For example, everyone in my house knows what house they’d likely be sorted into (I wish I was Gryffindor, but I’m Ravenclaw), and the ways we’d use magic, were we to develop it in the manner described in your books.

When Airbags Attack

Five months before COVID-19 was labeled a pandemic, on a Saturday night back when people gathered together in public places to goof off, I drove from Duluth to Superior to attend an event called “Soup ’n’ Slides” at a place called “The Barbershop.” It might be helpful for me to explain both of the quotation-marked things.

The principal purpose of the event was for a fellow named Nik Nerburn to artistically project a bunch of 35mm slides he had found onto two screens while musicians Alan Sparhawk and Allen Killian-Moore sat nearby, collaborating to provide a live soundtrack to the slideshow. Three pots of soup simmered in the next room for anyone seeking nourishment. Put those elements together and we have “Soup ’n’ Slides.”

The event was held in an old barbershop on Belknap Avenue that was being used as a music and arts venue at the time simply because no one had been using the space to cut hair for profit. One room had about 20 folding chairs in it, assembled facing the performers who were set up against the back wall. The next room was about the same size, but acted as sort of a lobby. A considerable collection of phonograph records surrounded the small huddles of soup eaters engaged in casual discussion, so that they might at any moment flip through the assortment of albums and change the subject of conversation to the 1983 film D.C. Cab after gazing at the sneering Mr. T on the original motion picture soundtrack cover. And that’s what “The Barbershop” was all about.

Living History on Empty Streets

“Duluth is a bit off-center, both literally and figuratively—something most Duluthians don’t seem to mind at all. After all, this is the city whose skyway system runs partially underground, where the West End is located in the city’s geographic center, and whose annual Christmas City of the North parade is held a week before Thanksgiving. Duluth may be a little bit off-center, but part of what makes Duluth Duluth is that here, true north isn’t always where you’d expect it to be.”

— Tony Dierckins, Duluth: An Urban Biography

Sheltering in place gives a devotee to a city even more time to learn it intimately. I read Tony Dierckins’ new biography of Duluth, which fits the bill of a pre-founding-to-present history that I pined for on my blog some while back. The biography really only left me hungry for more: it clocks in at just under 170 pages and could easily have been double that length if it were to thoroughly explore structural forces and the lives of prominent figures beyond a series of mayors and those who crossed their paths. Still, it was a welcome step beyond Tony’s previous fun vignettes and collections, most of which peter out somewhere in the middle of the 20th century. Granted, Duluth’s history becomes somewhat less romantic in that stretch; the great turn-of-the-century wealth faded, the growth stalled, and the architecture wandered away from an eclectic opulence to something much more mundane. Still, the book is a reminder that this city’s history has always been one of awkward lurches, of rises and falls, and a quest for some sort of stability in the aftermath.

Little Free Library Movement Still Growing

Eight years ago the concept of neighborhood book exchanges made its way to Duluth. The original Little Free Library was built in Hudson, Wis., in 2009. Duluth had its first in 2012, and by 2013 there were about 20 in the city. Today there are roughly 40.

It’s a global movement. The nonprofit Little Free Library organization estimates there are now more than 100,000 registered book exchanges in more than 100 countries worldwide.

If you’re unfamiliar with these little libraries, their appearance consists of a bird-house looking box, around 20 inches by 15 inches by 18 inches, typically with a Plexiglas door. Inside is an array of books assembled for the purpose of sharing. Anyone is welcome to take a book or leave a book.

There are 38 book exchanges in Duluth cataloged on littlefreelibrary.org, and several more are in surrounding communities. If you’re interested in where to find them, visit the Little Free Library website and search “Duluth,” “Superior” or the area of your choice. The locations will pop up and you can find the one closest to you.

Nurses and COVID-19

“The world breaks everyone and afterward
many are strong at the broken places.”

~ Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell To Arms

Donna Heil is a registered nurse working in Duluth during the Covid-19 pandemic. Every morning or night, depending on the shift, she wakes up and goes to work. Earlier in her career she took care of children in an intensive care unit, and would fly in helicopters when needed to help pediatric patients. Now she works in radiology, helping people who are sometimes very sick.

She became a nurse after living through a horrific automobile crash in which her husband died. That is why I turned to Hemingway and his words, “many are strong at the broken places.” He wrote those words in his novel about the first world war and the time he spent in Italy recovering from a wound he suffered as an ambulance driver and the nurse who took care of him while he was convalescing. Donna is a tremendously strong, loving, caring woman which is why she is a great nurse filled with compassion and empathy.

To the Women Who Raised Me

I was raised by immigrants from a big Turkish-Armenian family. It’s an old family, sprawling across Istanbul, across Turkey, across the globe. If I mention reading a study from New Zealand or Brazil or Lithuania or Poland or wherever, the response is inevitably, “Oh, we have cousins there!”

It takes a village to raise a child, and while most of our village was overseas I still felt their presence. I was singularly blessed to have a veritable metropolis of strong role models supporting me. Despite having been born and raised in America, my roots grew too deep in foreign soil to be pulled free.

Now I have a daughter of my own. A wide-eyed, strawberry-haired little gummy bear. She already loves dolma and a lengthy duduk solo. She is being raised not just by her Mama and Papa, but by a rambling expanse of extended family. In raising her, I have a new appreciation for the love and devotion of my grandmother, my aunt, and my mother.

Convivial Memories of an Epicurean Hedonist Con Mucho Gusto

My whole life was organized around going out for drinks. The party’s over.

The Duluth art and music scene seems preserved in amber. I can see it in my mind’s eye from every angle, but I can’t touch it.

Has the virus infected time?

I was days away from participating in a group art show in Duluth Coffee Company and its Roasteria taproom. The Facebook event page was hours from launching. All the art is on the walls. I left a hammer there I was going to go back for, just before the stay-at-home orders unfolded. It’s probably right where I left it, timelessly suspended as if let go by an astronaut in orbit.

The Embassy art-church had just opened, promising untold events, unseen sights, and unheard sounds. It reached as if for the hand of God in the Sistine Chapel — a frozen gesture.

Ripped at a Wet T-shirt Contest in 2000

[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 3rd Rock Bar at 1201 Tower Ave. held weekly wet T-shirt contests. The Sultan of Sot was there to document the action for an article that appeared in the April 19, 2000 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]

The 3rd Rock Bar is Superior’s newest nightclub. It is a hard-rock venue, similar to the old Pacific Club, where Metallica cover bands and easily deceived women gather to negotiate unwanted pregnancies. Connected to 3rd Rock is the Bourbon Street Blues Saloon, which was completely patronless when I peeked in the window.

Every Wednesday night, 3rd Rock hosts a wet T-shirt contest. This is an excellent marketing choice because the type of person who really enjoys a wet T-shirt contest is also the kind of person who really enjoys doing the same thing every Wednesday night.