Quantcast

Saturday Essay Posts

Cabin Fever: Reconciling with -2

I’ve spent the past few weeks obsessively feeding the fire, clearing out ashes, hauling more wood in, and worrying the dogs might have cabin fever. I know they crave the chase of scents that waft over tracks in the snow. They crave the adrenaline rush during the run, the explosion of speed after paws dig into resistance, and the freedom of the wilds. Fifteen acres of land in Lakewood, just north of Duluth, awaits them, they know this. Two fenced in acres seems like a prison in comparison. But they don’t think about frozen paws and hidden sticks looming under the snowline.

I however, with extreme abnormality, do not desire my usual trek amongst the trees where I walk into peace, clarity, and the calmness that mingles between the earth and stars. My feet are solid on the hardwood floor that covers a cold cement slab over frozen ground. It’s been cold for too long. A cold not worthy of dressing in layers: wicking socks, Smartwool socks, fleece leggings … only to capture a fractional moment of meditative silence amongst the freeze.

I admit it, I’m tired. I’m tired of putting on my left glove, tucking it into the jacket cuff, then attempting to do the same to the right with a thick awkward moving gloved hand. Only to unglove when I figure out I forgot to start the zip of the jacket and can’t achieve the initial detailed alignment of zippered teeth. Try and try again, the glove inevitably will be poutingly removed, zipper aligned, and the uncoordinated procedure of glove replacement aggressively completed, again.

Poo, of the Non-Winnie Variety

I’ve really grown a lot, since turning 40. Particularly in relationship to my willingness to talk about poop.

Let me back up. (Have you noticed how, when you lead with poo, everything that follows becomes a double-entendre?) Anyway. Up until my late 30s, it was a well-known and oft-ridiculed fact that all things concerning defecation made me wildly, morbidly uncomfortable. I knew it was a natural, essential, healthy bodily function. I also realized that everyone (including me, heaven forgive me) did it. But it was so disgusting, so private and feral and ghastly, that I could not acknowledge it in anyone else’s company.

I did a lot of very silly things to avoid mutual recognition of poop situations.

I famously repaired a toilet while pregnant to avoid calling anyone else into the vestibule, lest they deduce what might have caused the trouble in the first place. For five full years, I used a restroom in a gas station next door to the building in which I worked because the bathroom at my job was right next to the lunchroom, and that was monstrous. I have had entire business trips in which my body mysteriously began apparently absorbing my waste, rather than eliminating it, until I returned home, lest I be forced to do any pooping on an airplane, or, for the love of all that remains holy, in a stall next to a client. I have left a lover’s house and driven home and back again, under the ruse of requiring medicine I did not need, take or have in my possession to avoid any implication of my defecatory habits.

The Heroin-Ivy Itch, Revisited

I have no heroes. I’m not mad at people who do. I’ve just always, since I was a little kid, considered the concept silly. Maybe by elementary school I’d already known too many athletes whose mistreatment of fellow human beings seems more significant than any cool thing they can do in a cute sports outfit. Maybe I really am more insightful and honest than folks who fawn over politicians. Maybe I’m not smart enough to understand why writers and artists and academics deserve worship.

Don’t misunderstand: I’ve been at least as hero-silly as I claim to have distaste for being. I sometimes clumsily try to connect with musicians and other artists whose work moves me enough to believe I get it more accurately than anyone else possibly can. I’ve sent awkward messages to folks whose ways of going about life I admire and feel connection with. I generally struggle to feel like I connect with people, and that gets pretty lonesome. Then I mostly withdraw from interactions I assume will feel superficial or frustrating or embarrassing. There are folks I really like and know fairly well and dread spending time with because of how inadequate I feel around them and how hung up I get on my self-perceived inability to be exactly who and how I want to be in their presence. Then sometimes, when it seems like a connection might be possible or present, I lumber and barge beyond reticence with great gushes of wordy emotiveness in attempts to share vulnerable parts of myself. I always regret those overtures. I’m blushing right now thinking about a few. They probably come across as really weird and maybe kind of sad to the folks who have to endure them. It might also be true that a lot of what experience tells me is true about any of that exists only inside my own head.

Saturday Essay: Select gems from 2017

Saturday Essay logo genericLast week we highlighted the five most-read pieces from the second year of Perfect Duluth Day’s “Saturday Essay” series. This week’s focus is on five essays of similar quality that might have been missed by readers who didn’t catch links in their social media feeds and/or were busy doing non-internet things.

In the past two years PDD has published 100 essays showcasing the work of 22 different writers; we hope to expand that roster in 2018. Anyone who has an original piece of literary excellence that seems to fit (or appropriately defy) the established format should email paul @ perfectduluthday.com to get involved.

And now, links to a few select gems from season two, in random order …

The Most Read Saturday Essays of 2017

Saturday Essay logo genericPerfect Duluth Day’s “Saturday Essay” series concluded its second season last week. At the end of each year we take a look back at some of the favorites — like the literary version of a 1980’s-era TV sitcom flashback episode. This week is part one, highlighting the essays that were read the most times in the past year according to the folks at Google Analytics.

Before digging into the 2017 countdown, here’s a brief paragraph to spell out for the uninitiated how the “Saturday Essay” feature works:

PDD publishes an essay every Saturday. Yours truly, Paul Lundgren, is the editor. A small group of writers are featured somewhat regularly, but anyone is welcome and encouraged to submit a piece for consideration. Shoot an email to paul @ perfectduluthday.com to inquire.

And now, the champions of Duluth literature …

Ripped at the NorShor Experience in 2007

[Editor’s note: Duluth’s NorShor Theatre has been closed for more than seven years. It will reopen in February when the new operator, the Duluth Playhouse, launches its production of “Mama Mia.”

The NorShor, of course, has a long and storied history, including a stretch from 2006 to 2010 when it operated as a strip club called the NorShor Experience.

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. Ten years ago he paid a visit to the NorShor and published this bawdy report for Duluth’s weekly Transistor.]

Big Lips has the method down.

Every 10 minutes or so, he rises from where he’s been sitting alone at a table in the corner. Then, with his hands casually in the pockets of his camouflage jacket, he simply takes a little stroll, puckering his big fat lips and whistling as he looks to the left and to the right and behind him, making sure that no one is videotaping him or that his wife isn’t standing behind him ready to clobber him with a frying pan. Eventually, he makes it the 10 or 15 feet to the stage where some naked chick is grinding her life away. “Well,” he appears to suggest, “as long as I’m on my stroll, I might as well tip this stripper.”

Locker Room Talk

I have never worked a fine-dining kitchen but was a short-order fry cook for many years and absolutely loved the work. It’s the closest I have ever been to becoming a star athlete: the physical challenge, mental focus, and team effort of the average brunch service was a rush no matter how many times I got through it. I would sit eagerly after the line was clean, watching the waitress tally her tickets so I could go home with my head full of fresh stats: 200 covers, 8 hours, no walk-outs, no comps = perfect game.

And I was good. I have no idea why. I walked into the diner of my future as a 21-year-old anthropology student and applied for a part-time job I (falsely) assumed would be as low-accountability as my former pizza kitchen work, where as the only woman in the back of the house I was treated with all the novelty I deserved and none of the (usual) hostility. Like a kitten in a nursing home, my male co-workers gave me just enough to play with in that kitchen so I didn’t run away, all the while relieved to have a distraction from their own tired dynamics.

X-mas FAQ

The Christmas holiday is a joyous celebration commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed through gift giving, wreath hanging, carol singing, tree decorating, card exchanging, egg nog drinking, fruitcake chewing, chestnut roasting and other questionable behavior. Not everyone believes in Jesus Christ, or fruitcake for that matter, but all decent human beings are expected to be just a little nicer than usual in December and tolerate all the crackpots.

For those who are unsure how to comply with society’s expectations, I’ve put together a few quick answers to some frequently asked Christmas questions.

Should my family put together a holiday photo card or just do the general Hallmark greeting card thing?

No matter how crappy a photo card is, a majority of recipients will save it their entire lives. Hallmark cards are completely pointless and will be in the recycling bin on Dec. 26 by noon.

The Trouble with Al Franken

I’m sad about Al Franken. I’ve been reading some heartfelt responses to the situation, varying in timbre from sad and resolute to forgiving and freshly devoted to the new and improved Al Franken, the one who will likely emerge from a self-imposed ethics investigation much the way he entered it: somewhat marred, but essentially a good man in the eyes of those who always thought he was a good man, and a liberal blowhard to those who always thought he was a liberal blowhard. His reputation in the court of public opinion is bent, but not really broken. He can still look most of America in the eye. Compared to Louis C.K. and the rest of them — Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore — those roiling pots of sexual dysfunction and predation, Franken is a tepid pool.

I’ll be honest — I was sadder and more surprised by the allegations against the men in my own camp: the liberals and artists, the progressive advocates who had been using their bully pulpits and mordant wits to shame and denounce the current administration and all of its gorked trappings as archaic and hateful, relics of a time before we knew that all people are people, and that other religions are equally inexplicable and sacred to the people who they are inexplicable and sacred to. So shame on me for believing that my men would be different.

Against Wise Advice

When I let the brown-leather Wilson basketball fly — when I ended a slow three-or-four-step run-up more elegantly than you might expect from an oafish 6’2”, 210-lb., 21-year-old boy-man by lightly springing off my left foot, driving my right knee up and out, and launching the ball into its arc with two hands — I wasn’t sure it was going to go in.

I’d taken a lot of half-court shots since my teens: before and after 10th-grade practice at Rochester John Marshall High; while skipping class to play noon ball in Romano Gym with my UMD football buddies; alone, ill-equipped for identifying anything better to do, just shooting around on various playground or gym courts. Sometimes you know, from the moment it leaves your hand, what’s going to happen. Muscle and brain memory and senses I don’t know how to name tell you everything from how you planted your foot to how your fingertips were in relationship with the ball’s seams to which snippet of which song was looping through your head add up to a swish, brick, or something else.

But in that moment in November 1993, in the College of St. Scholastica gym at halftime of a Saints’ women’s game against an opponent I can’t remember, when I sprung off my left foot from just behind the royal-blue half-court stripe laid on blonde hardwood, I didn’t know what the ball was going to do. At least I don’t think I knew. Honestly, I never know what I know or knew. I’ve been admonished a few times recently (with both warmth and contempt) for wantonly admitting what and when I don’t know. For expressing uncertainty and self-doubt and regret instead of [long pause] whatever other state of mind it would be more attractive and credible — and more comfortable to other people — for me to claim. For asking annoying questions about obvious and hypocritical contradictions.

The Slide

“Are you the announcer or something?”

Corey was standing a few feet from the sled run when she spoke; one hand on her hip, her other mittened hand trying to wisp away the strands of hair run renegade from under her cap.

Corey was 8. She often cut to the heart of matters with me, her nattering uncle — curt queries snapping her into adult demeanor, leaving me bemused and suddenly self-conscious.

“I’m just trying to make this more exciting, like we did when I was a kid.”

Corey only half-listened and then belly-flopped onto her plastic glider, tucking the tow rope under her purple parka. “Push me far this time,” she gasped. One-two-three and she zoomed off.

Her cousin was trouncing up the hill, excited for another run.

“Did I get the world record? Is that the farthest anybody got ever?”

“Ever. Now get snug to the front. Josh, you’ll never beat Corey with your rope hanging out like that. You gotta be smart. It’s the intangibles that get you to the top.”

He only winced. Another three-count and Josh grinned as he slid away. Corey was still at the bottom of the hill, eating snow while flat on her back, feet kicking in the air. I was happy to see her once again acting her age.

We Just Left Her There to Die Alone

When I was a little idiot West Duluth kid in the early 1980s there were many constructive things for juvenile brats to do. Fighting or just generally acting tough was probably the number one pastime, followed by hanging out on the railroad tracks and throwing taconite pellets at each other. When that got boring there were always guns and wrist rockets to load with those pellets.

We also enjoyed riding our bikes to the market, stealing things and breaking them, listening to satanic heavy-metal music and verbally assaulting each other with complete insensitivity. You know, normal kid stuff.

There were also a few wholesome American activities weaved into the fabric of our youth. My friends and I liked to play sports and various chasing games like “Capture the Flag” and “Tin-can Alley.”

All of it really just falls into the category of fighting, though. Strength, speed, agility or physical force-of-will would generally determine the victor in any contest, and if it didn’t there would be an argument about it so the tougher kid could still come out on top. Since the element of strategy was always loosely involved, however, the winner could claim both physical and intellectual dominance. It was a pretty good way to establish and constantly reinforce a pecking order among the boys, but more than that it was an excellent way for the boys to prove how much better they were than the girls. Or so it seemed.

Not Bluegrass

Old-time music is better than it sounds. Old-time, not bluegrass. Of course it’s futile to argue tastes in music. Foolish to judge the listening choices of another. Folly to debate ones’s aesthetic preferences. But having said that, may I add: bluegrass sucks.

Ha! Just kidding, bluegrass. You know we only tease you out of envy for your fancy shirts, and amazing chops, displayed in those talent attacks had most every solo. And you’ve got as many virtuosos per capita as any genre out there, though they be virtuosos with the souls of bean counters. Ha! Did I say that? Just kidding, bluegrass.

Of course there’s some overlap between the styles, bluegrass having “evolved” out of old-time, around WW II. It’s not like there’s a tidy trench between the two, over which we lob our slurs and brickbats. But for the most part bluegrass emerged around 1945 as Earl Scruggs (forgive him Lord) invented his 3-finger style of banjo picking that, along with fairly specific instrumentation, defines the style. Still, the term “bluegrass” is often misused to label anyone playing that assortment of stringed instruments. There’s a local pop band most always labeled “bluegrass” because of the instruments they play, but it ain’t so. How do I know? They don’t suck.

Sorry. I really should see a shrink about this hot-lick envy. Treat these deep-seated fears of Stetsons and bolo ties. Having spent so much of my life high and lonesome you’d think I’d better appreciate those mountain harmonies.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

I will do almost anything to avoid ironing. It’s the truth — I will. I don’t know what it is about ironing that is so abhorrent to me, but I will consider almost any other method of getting wrinkles out of my clothes.

Maybe it’s the ironing board. It’s all big and squeaky, and inexplicably hard to operate. Mine has not one, but two security features — you have to compress this metal … thing … while applying downward pressure on the legs to get it to close. Then, it catches on the second security contraption, which requires that you, maintaining aforementioned downward pressure, and compressing the first metal thing, also compress a second metal thing. It’s next to impossible. It’s actually easier to remove a Volvo 850 engine or a human heart. I know irons are hot and dangerous. But a double lock? There are nuclear silos with less integrity.

As an added feature, or possibly as evidence of the degradation of the ironing board over time, this security feature also activates while you are opening the ironing board, locking the board halfway open, approximately three feet off the ground. Three feet off the ground is too far below my natural waist for me to comfortably iron there, and slightly too high for me to iron at from a kneeling position (ask me how I know) so I must begin a reverse version of the closing the board/security catch deactivation process: I clench both metal doobobbies like I am falling off a cliff, and vigorously shake the whole thing up and down until the legs finally release, like a huge metal crane, and snap into ironing board, full-height position.

Don’t Worry About It

I played football at UMD for two years.

No I didn’t.

I was on the UMD football team for two years. I had a locker and got equipment that wasn’t as nice as what important players got. I received most of the on-and-off-campus benefits that came with being in the football fold. I made it onto the lower tier of the second-string roster for a few practices by the end of my sophomore season in 1990. I was a legit but inconsequential member of the team. I never really played. I haven’t actually played football since November 1989, when my senior season as a Rochester John Marshall Rocket ended with a loss to the Winona Winhawks.

Some fellow seniors cried on the sideline of Winona’s stadium as our high-school football identities ticked away. I felt bad about not being able to muster that emotion. I couldn’t have said it this way then, but now I know I just didn’t much care. I mean . . . I suppose I would have preferred to win. It’s just that losing didn’t really bother me and I wasn’t bereft about that season ending.

No part of football for me had to do with feeling driven to win or averse to losing. Somewhere in my dudebro teenage brain I already knew that many aspects of football are stupid and creepy and “winning” and “losing” are illusory stories we tell ourselves to create meaning we can understand in an existence we can’t.