Saturday Essay Posts

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.

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.

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?

Race Week Jitters

You can die from running a half-marathon. A quick Google search results in roughly 72 million hits about super-healthy folks dropping dead from the exertion of running. Maybe they weren’t all healthy but many of them were in the best shape of their lives.

Welcome to race week jitters. The race day countdown is at three. My running plan strongly discourages any last-minute attempts at getting just one more training run in. I’ve discarded any last-minute hopes of ditching a few more pounds or somehow improving my time by a few more minutes. The momentum from my eleven-mile run is a distant memory. Instead, I’m full of fear.

Running logic says if you can run eleven miles one weekend, then the next step in training is 13.1 miles. There is absolutely no reason I cannot or will not cross the finish line. Except logic has taken a backseat to fear. All I can picture is getting to mile eleven, only to have my body give out on me. I visualize myself seeing the eleven-mile marker and then collapsing from exhaustion.

Ripped in 2001: Mary’s Place vs. Terry’s Place

[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 visited two Duluth bars — Mary’s Place and Terry’s Place. Both would later change their names. Mary’s Place became Clubhouse Sports Bar in 2005, then closed in 2014. The building at 132 N. 34th Ave. W. is now home to Stadium Pawn. Terry’s Place became Bergey’s in 2006 and remains in operation. Goodbuzz documented his experiences at Mary’s and Terry’s places for the March 7, 2001 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]

“I haven’t had my sled out in a month,” complains the dude across the bar from me. “I worked 60 goddam hours this week.”

I tell him that I also worked 60 hours this week. I don’t mention that drinking is my job.

Then my new friend starts complaining about what a lousy game he just bowled. He seems cheery though. Complaining seems to make him happy; each self-deprecating remark inspiring a grin and a nod in my direction to indicate he knows that my life also sucks. All our lives suck. We’re at Mary’s Place / Stadium Lanes on Wednesday night.

Dreams and Themes

Last week I had a series of interconnected dreams over three nights. I was first introduced to the idea of interconnected dreams by the book A Little Course in Dreams: A Basic Handbook of Jungian Dreamwork by Robert Bosnak. The book is pocket-sized which makes the title a self-referential joke. But the book has had an outsized influence on me. I don’t always agree with its interpretations — dream interpretation is a subjective crapshoot — but it helped.

I am blessed with the ability to easily remember and interpret many of my dreams. The revelatory insight from the book was the idea that dreams can come in clusters over many nights. I began noticing themes and symbols evolving over time. I frequently see this across spans of three or four nights. And some symbols have recurred over my entire life and continue working themselves out. As Bosnak writes, “Dreams often group themselves around specific themes that begin to unfold over time. Images go through a continual process of change, and such a process can sometimes be followed in a series of images that have presented themselves to someone as dreams. The insight that emerges when we study a series of dreams is that dream figures are in a constant state of development. Like any living organism, they come into being and decay.”

Polar Vortex

Early morning winter cold floods in through the gaps between the sheet and mattress. The cold is so powerful, so penetrating, I imagine it to be as fluid as a rushing river with the ability to seep into minute cracks and crevices. In the chaos of adjusting the comforter and pulling the pillow into my impromptu cocoon, my sleep-hat has gone AWOL. An instinctual desire to escape the cold and fortify the barrier makes me abandon any pursuit of the lost headpiece.

A new form of low temperature has erupted in Minnesota, a reverse volcano maybe. Not a temperature so high it melts rock, but one so powerfully low it could probably fracture silk. This kind of cold, the kind that cracks house rafters, and spiderwebs the smallest chip in a windshield, has blown in from the north. Weather enthusiasts call it a Polar Vortex — something about the North Pole, and cold, and pressure. But at five o’clock in the morning in northern Minnesota, those technical, and normally interesting, scientific truths can crawl into a snowbank as far as I am concerned. Whether it’s a vortex, or cyclone, or Voldemort’s Dementors unleashed, the only truth that encapsulates this moment is something I learned years ago: “cold is the absence of heat.”

On the Recent Ice Angler Rescue

I have some comments and observations about the ice angler rescue on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

First off, I watch ice closely because I am nutty for skating the biggest lake in the world. No, not Lake Baikal, that piece of shit lake. I mean Lake Superior, the queen of the unsalted seas. Ice cover has been minimal this year so I have been sad, and nearly desperate in this COVID season for recreation and release.

But as my house has a decent lake view, I watched with some interest as ice plugged the outer harbor. It seemed too much to ask for that it should become safe enough to skate on — keeping in mind that ice is never safe. But whatever.

The sign I watch for is the appearance of ice houses. Once they appear, I grab my skates. My logic is this: those guys know what they’re doing. I figure the ice angler community is right on top of the Department of Natural Resources, and is tracking ice thickness so I don’t have to. If they feel safe, I feel safe.

Avant-Garde Women: The Hundred-Jointed Dancer and the Laban Ladies

Art history is weighted toward objects like paintings and sculptures, and so the performing arts have gotten less attention. Dadaism, which began in Zurich in 1916, was an art movement that generated objects — but it was also a highly performance-based phenomenon. The origin and center of Dada activity was in fact a rollicking cabaret. What happened on stage was every bit as important as the paintings on display; this also held true in the later Galerie Dada, which centered around performance-based “soirees.”

A great number of Dada stage performers were women, but art history emphasized the artworks of the Dada men instead. This is slowly being corrected. The female dancers on Dada stages have been characterized as being “associated with” Dada; they have also been called “fringe” members. But the more I look into it, the more they seem like central players. These women were from the nearby dance school of Rudolph von Laban (pronounced like “Le Bon”); Dadaist Hugo Ball called them the “Laban Ladies.” Their star dancer was founding Dadaist Sophie Taeuber, who Ball called the “hundred-jointed dancer.” She was the only person with full membership in both groups, and it was through her that Laban Ladies filled Dada’s stages. Looking at connections between the Dadaists and these avant-garde women reveals: the Laban Ladies were Dada’s secret weapon.

Avant-Garde Women: Sophie Taeuber, Founding Dadaist

The multitalented Swiss artist Sophie Taeuber was one of the original Dadaists in 1916. Working in many media at the cutting edge of modern art, she went on to Surrealism and more. She remained lesser-known for sexist reasons even while many art historians considered her a crucial and pioneering figure. Her work was overshadowed by male contemporaries, and even though art history tended to minimize her, if anything the situation has all but reversed itself now: her star has brightened while others have dimmed. Decades after her death in 1943, Taeuber continues to emerge from the shadows of the avant-garde.

A note on spellings etc.

Different sources below refer to Dada either as “dada,” “Dada,” “DADA,” “Zurich Dada,” or “Zurich-dada.” All are synonymous for our purposes. The Zurich branch of Dadaism that Sophie Taeuber helped create in 1916 was the founding branch of the movement, propagating to other cities after she moved on. Indifference to standardized capitalization was a Dada hallmark.

Ripped at Goodsports Bar & Grill 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 visited Goodsports Bar & Grill at 2827 Oakes Ave. in Superior and penned this report for the Feb. 7, 2001 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper. The former Goodsports location became home to Ace’s on 29th in 2009.]

I’ve discovered something. I was afraid to mention it over the past month because I didn’t want you sorry sheep following me around. But now that the 2000–2001 Superior Boot Hockey League season is over, I think it’s safe to let you know: Goodsports Bar & Grill rocks.

You probably don’t believe me, and you shouldn’t. Goodsports? What can be good about another sports bar with a bazillion televisions and the same old burger menu and Viking/Packer décor?

Well, let me explain: While hockey players are definitely some of the most annoying people in the world, the sport of hockey is sweet. It’s fast, it’s violent and it involves incredible skill. Best of all, there’s no marching band at halftime and no seventh-inning sing-along. Between periods, some goober drives a big tank in circles.

Making a Statement

Everyone is expected to make a statement from time to time. The obvious high-level example is when there’s a natural disaster or some kind of manmade violence and we await official remarks from the President of the United States. But it extends all the way to the dinner table, where someone might ask, “Beatrice, what do you think about copper-nickel sulfide mining?”

Some would say it’s rude to bring something like that up over supper. Beatrice might choke on the green-bean casserole in panic, fearing a faction of the family could cut ties with her if she speaks her mind.

In America we like to profess that Beatrice is just as important as Donald Trump or Joe Biden, but we are also quick to acknowledge that opinions are amplified by status and reputation.

Donald Trump has a posse. Joe Biden has a posse. It doesn’t matter if Beatrice is more intelligent, more articulate or could kickbox both of their teeth in. She is just Beatrice. They are Presidents.

Saturday Essay: Select Gems from 2020

Saturday Essay logo genericLast week we highlighted the five most-read pieces from the fifth year of Perfect Duluth Day’s “Saturday Essay” series. This week we ignore the numbers and look back at a few select essays of similar quality that might have been missed by non-compulsive followers.

In the past five years PDD has published 224 essays showcasing the work of 38 different writers, and we’re always looking to expand that roster. 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 five …

The Most Read Saturday Essays of 2020

Saturday Essay logo genericWe thought we were so artsy and sophisticated with our little essay series on Perfect Duluth Day. But we all know sensationalism sells. Which essays were the most read in 2020 according to Google Analytics? Well, the topics included a wet T-shirt contest, reckless behavior involving musical watercraft, flat-out fake news, a cult taking over a Lincoln Park church and a murderous dog. Readers, we hope you’re proud of yourselves.

PDD’s annual tradition of wrapping up each year of the “Saturday Essay” series with lazy top-five lists instead of arduously prepared compositions continues next week when the samplings will be less of a popularity contest and more about one person’s snobby opinion of what you should have been reading if you weren’t all heathens.

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