Saturday Essay Posts

Sign of the Times

Democracy has been a tricky thing these days. Used to be I would occasionally post on Facebook about my candidate of choice, proudly display a sign in my yard and make a fuss about donning my sticker on Election Day. Now, it’s fair to say, “it’s complicated.”

Not that I don’t have a candidate of choice — I do. But I’ve rather ghosted off social media where I’d display my virtual heart on my cyber sleeve. These days, I pop in just enough to spin my social plate as it bobbles on the stick of my outward-facing life. After a friend was criticized for being “too happy” in pictures with his young children during these troubled times, I found myself going dark, getting insular. That’s saying something for someone who wrote a memoir. I’m not sure I could write that book today. Actually, I’m sure I couldn’t.

However, there’s been some amazing shifts in my household. While typically forward-leaning me has reclined into quietude, my less demonstrative husband has found his voice. And it’s not an electronic one. Sickened by watching the political battle waged behind screens, he decided to literally “put himself out there,” standing at a popular Duluth intersection holding a political sign. With a small parcel of like-minded friends (which only occasionally includes me), he’s there, every day, for 30 days.

The Musician as Inventor

The recent passing of Eddie Van Halen reminded me of a favorite topic: the musician as inventor. I refer to the invention of objects, techniques, and concepts. It’s invention in the service of an art form. For instance, musical instruments are invented, then shaped with further inventions which make additional modifications possible. Musicians have always been inventors. Here are some of my favorite examples.

Rock and Roll Itself

The invention of rock music, with its pedigree of blues, gospel, and so on, is these days commonly attributed to Chuck Berry in the early 1950s. Berry produced the musical mutant that would conquer the world when he combined rhythm and blues with country and western guitar licks, then packaged it with guitar solos and other showmanship. His signature duck walk may be considered a lasting invention, still in use by Angus Young of AC/DC who credits Berry for, well, everything. Berry was influenced by Sister Loretta Tharpe, whose 1944 song, “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” is sometimes considered the first rock record.

Ripped on Sunday 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 our anti-hero took a Sunday-night tour of drinking establishments in Proctor and nearby townships.]

“Oh yeah, now, Flip’s Bar, I’d stay away from that place,” this inebriated wastoid in a Motorhead T-shirt told me about three months back. “No, Flip’s is the roughest place in Proctor. It’s a real dive. You don’t wanna go there.” Naturally, after hearing this, I did want to go there. So when Sunday boredom started to get the best of me, I decided to stir things up and head to Flip’s.

There were two cars in the parking lot when I arrived, and one of them was for sale. I walked in the door to find no one there except an old guy behind the bar, who I presumed was Flip himself. I didn’t hang around to find out. Before the old dude even knew I had opened the door, I was back in my El Camino, swearing to milk this night for whatever I could get.

Twenty Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: Ely’s Peak Loop

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayThe laziest and slowest record in endurance-sports history has been broken. Again. By me. Again.

As documented in numerous essays, I started hiking the Superior Hiking Trail on Sept. 23, 2000 and finished the 310-mile trek from the Canadian border to Jay Cooke State Park on Nov. 5, 2015. Obviously I took a lot of breaks along the way. Then, in 2016, I hiked new parts of the trail that hadn’t been built yet, breaking the record I already held for the slowest unsustained complete traverse of the Superior Hiking Trail.

Was that an official record? Well, no organizational body really keeps track of such things. But I stand firmly in my declaration that no one who has hiked the entire Superior Hiking Trail has taken longer to do it than me.

And now I’ve taken even longer.

In the summer of 2018 a new loop trail was built at Ely’s Peak in Duluth. It was kind of late in the hiking season when I heard about it, so I planned to do it in 2019. Then I kind of forgot about it and got distracted with other things. I had also started a new quest to hike the North Country Trail through Wisconsin. I’m still barely started on that.

Anyway, this past July I drove out to the Ely’s Peak area with the intention of knocking out the new last bit of trail, but as I started walking it occurred to me that if I waited until Sept. 23 to do this loop my Superior Hiking Trail story would span a perfect 20 years. So I hiked other trials that day and saved the loop for the perfect day.

Melted

The light changes. A cover has opened, slit of sun beaming into the darkness, a ha-ha neiner-neiner taunt transmitted from the world of wind and spit. In the quick second between dandelion shaft blinking back to onyx, a gentle violence occurs, crinkling followed by thump.

A book has been returned.

***

With that thump, the movable floor inside the Returns bin lowers almost imperceptibly; a single book isn’t that heavy, after all. But then the flap clinks, signaling another, another, another, dark to light, light to dark, typeset words in freefall. Absorbing the weight of pages and ideas, springs stretch, and the catching floor gradually sinks.

It’s designed to protect the books, this bin is. When it’s empty, the floor rests near the top, quick purchase for incoming books slithering through the slot. As Returns accumulate, the floor gradually descends, earlier Returns nesting and bolstering newcomers so no volume sustains damage from a traumatic plummet.

North Country Trail in Wisconsin: Town of Summit

One nice thing about hiking on county roads is that if a deer fly is pestering you and you happen to walk by a freshly killed skunk, the fly will transfer to the skunk and leave you to hike in peace.

There are also fewer ticks on roads than on trails, and you are less likely to get lost. But the benefits of a trail instead of a highway are obvious and substantial. In particular: the natural beauty of the land is a bit less interfered with on a trail, there are no motorized vehicles to watch out for, and on hot days there is usually some protection from the blistering sun.

Those are the basic pros and cons as I hike through the town of Summit in my quest to follow the North Country Trail through Wisconsin. As I’ve explained in previous essays, the trail isn’t built yet in the area near the Minnesota border, with the exception of the Nemadji River Valley, so there is a road route connecting sections of the trail.

Last summer I hiked county roads W and B to Pattison State Park. So far in 2020 I’ve hiked from Pattison to the border between the towns of Summit and Gordon. All of this has happened without any overnight camping or serious day of dedicated hiking. It’s just casual car trips to walk the road in there-and-back stretches.

A Day in Duluth Can be a Lifetime

My wife and I were eager to spend the afternoon alone together as we ambled through the Leif Erickson Rose Garden. Four pre-teen girls stood across the way giggling together as we concentrated on the bushes and trees aflush with blooms in the mid-July sunshine. The scent of flowers was already adrift as we approached one tree, and we drew closer. We love the smell of flowers. Often, we pick up a bouquet at the grocers on the way to the milk, bread, and eggs. On this day, we inhaled the soft scents before they were cut.

Back on the sidewalk, we turned toward the Lake and, from this higher vantage point, we saw the Aerial Life Bridge in the distance. The Lake is calm, for the most part — there are no white caps to indicate a brewing storm. An easy breeze cools our skin and clothing, even from an eighth of a mile away. A footbridge crosses well above the interstate highway. For about 45 seconds as we walk across, we hear the thrum of rubber tires against the tarmac below. Three-fourths the way across, we hear a group of teens with their two chaperones palavering behind us. Excited about an adventure on the Lakewalk, they quickly approached from behind us to the ramp in front of us that slanted from the footbridge to the lakefront. We hastened to move to one side of the bridge so the teens could run at their pace, and we could stroll at ours.

Sharkgate: The Lake Superior Bull Shark Conspiracy

I confess to creating and posting the “Lake Superior Bull Shark Encounter” video which has rocked this community, even though, as is widely known, I have no credibility. This essay offers a full accounting of the affair, which caused a four-day firestorm as the video propagated online, through the media, and into the hallowed halls of academia.  I will debunk my own video to demonstrate it is, in fact, a poorly-made fake. In addition, I will carefully document my utter and total lack of credibility. Hopefully this will be enough to assuage an alleged army of enraged Redditors devoted to my destruction, the undead army I accidentally raised when I strapped on a toy shark fin.

My confession begins with my purchase of the toy. On Aug. 8, I posted a picture of myself wearing it on my personal public Facebook page and my public “Lake Superior Aquaman” Instagram account. The text of those posts reads, “It’s unclear where these rumors of sharks in Lake Superior originate. But I will be swimming up and down the beaches until I get to the bottom of it.” It was an open joke, a lark, an entrant to a well-established Duluth tradition of joking about sharks. You see variants on local bumper stickers such as “Shark-Free” on a map of Lake Superior. Keeping Lake Superior shark-free has even become a running joke among the mayoralty.

Smellscape/Hellscape: The Life of the Nose in Urban Close Quarters During a Pandemic

“The concept of smellscapes suggests that, like visual impressions, smells may be spatially ordered or place-related. It is clear, however, that any conceptualization of smellscape must recognize that the perceived smellscape will be non-continuous, fragmentary in space and episodic in time, and limited by the height of our noses from the ground, where smells tend to linger.”
—Douglas Porteous, “Smellscape,”
The Smell Culture Reader, edited by Jim Drobnick

 

My neighbor’s yard is a source of olfactory joy for a short time each summer, and a source of olfactory misery for most of the rest of the year.

In early summer, when lilacs explode in this Lake Superior latitude, for a few weeks the bush just across the property boundary serves as the star of the local smellscape. I sit on the small patio I built and bathe in the glory of the perfumery. Then, all too soon, the flowers give way to small, hard green seeds, and the smell goes where all smells go, into memory.

Advice Regarding Watermelon

On an early-August day at the grocery store, you might notice a sale on watermelon and think you should buy some. That would be a mistake. A sale on watermelon means the store wants to get rid of surplus garbage fruit.

If you buy some anyway, you might get home and decide to carry a bag of your other groceries in one hand and the melon in the other while attempting to operate the door handle and greet your happy, beautiful dog jumping up at you. That would be a mistake. Your watermelon will roll out of your hand and split in half on the floor.

You might think the logical response to the splattering of your melon should be to exclaim as loud as possible the most vile words you can imagine. That would be a mistake. Although it is indeed the logical response in that moment, you should realize your spouse is one door away on an important work-related phone call.

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.

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