Saturday Essay Posts

Ripped at the Keyboard Lounge 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. Twenty years ago the Sultan of Sot stumbled into the Keyboard Lounge in Proctor and wrote the article below for the Sept. 18, 2002 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]

So I walk into the Keyboard Lounge and, although there’s a fistfight going on in the middle of the floor, I’m distracted. The violence, the hollering, even the gang of people on the karaoke stage providing the obligatory a cappella version of “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” can’t compete with … uh … well … you should sit down for this.

I don’t normally have hallucinations when I’m drinking, so I will gladly swear upon a kitchen cupboard full of barley, hops and yeast that everyone in this joint is wearing nightgowns and underwear. The female bartender is wearing pasties. The male bartender is wearing a bulletproof vest and silk boxers. There’s a guy who looks like Sonny Bono and he’s wearing assless jeans. There’s a woman wearing a black fishnet number that’s getting everyone bothered. Everywhere I look is flesh and panties and frilly stuff. A sign on the wall finally explains. It’s “Naughty Nightie Night!” Well, that’s just typical for the Keyboard Lounge. Ask for an explanation, get an exclamation.

Lean into Your Fear: Whitewater Rafting on the St. Louis River

This story is from my personal blog, “Marie’s Meanderings.” When I write a travel post, because my blog’s name has the word “meander” in it, I usually open by saying I “meandered” here and there.

Well, I can’t use that term this time. It’s more accurate to say I reluctantly agreed to go on a whitewater rafting trip down the St. Louis River and promised to scream all the way!

It all started when my friend Russ, who is an experienced kayaker, won a silent auction item at a fundraiser for the St. Louis River Alliance in 2018. He won two tickets for whitewater rafting through Minnesota Whitewater Rafting, a local company that operates out of Scanlon.

Upon my insistence, we agreed to wait for the trip until the water was warm, to make it a more comfortable experience. Now it was August, month of warm weather and water, and I was out of excuses not to go. We gathered everything the company’s information sheet instructed rafters to bring: a dry change of clothes, snug-fitting footwear, windbreaker, towel, etc. And off we went.

Alternate Duluths

Co-written with Allen Richardson

Dr. Mallard McPurdy disappeared in 2005 while surveying regional probability for the University of Minnesota Duluth’s short-lived Anomalies Department. A team led by Dr. Leon Oswald recovered McPurdy’s yellow pressure suit on Skyline Boulevard, but McPurdy remains at large. His suit contained video files from which the following transcriptions were made; we obtained these with a Freedom of Information Act request.

Duluth 1. Air analysis complete: Bacteria Spore, Origin Unknown. I hope these cheap-ass containment suits actually contain.

The dim, overcast light coming through my smeared faceplate told me little about season or time of day. “Dr. Oswald!” I screamed, weeping as the dread and isolation overwhelmed me. I put on a brave face, clenching my fists, unimpressed by the amount of courage I could muster.

My Psychic Powers

Keeping in mind that I have no credibility, this is the true story of my psychic powers, which I don’t believe in. The reader may decide if I have psychic powers or not. I’ve already told you I don’t believe in them. I used to but not anymore. However, even though I quit believing, psychic things keep happening, which is profoundly irritating.

In chronological order:

Porky Pig Clairvoyance, 1st-2nd Grade (?)

Family Florida trip. A full-page ad in the back of a comic book transfixed me. I read it on my hotel room bed in a block of sunlight, sounds of the ocean in the distance. The ad was for a book about developing psychic and magic powers. It had fine print about the powers, psychic ways to make money, etc. I read every word, thinking it was real or could be.

Then I remember Dad driving and I was in the front seat with him. It was the just the two of us. Florida seemed particularly packed with road signage. A random thought flitted through my head as stores and restaurants flowed by: a line of Porky Pig dialog. No surprise there. It was fleeting and I paid it no mind. Within a couple minutes we drove past a barbecue place with a Porky Pig knock-off on its signage. I said, “Hey, I just thought about Porky Pig and here we are driving past this sign! That’s psychic!”

“Do you think so?” Dad asked, humoring me.

I did think so. Now I knew: I had psychic powers.

Late on the Water

I arrive at the paddleboard shop on Barker’s Island in Superior just before noon. Because I learned to paddleboard last spring, and because winters are long, I need a refresher on how to attach the folding seat and ankle strap to the board. (I don’t need a crash course on how to tie my shoes—they have Velcro straps.) Last year after I connected the seat and strap to my board, they stayed put until I deflated it in the fall. Heather, co-owner of North Shore SUP, helps me. (She’s friendly and supportive and would show me how to tie my shoes, if needed. It took me a long time to learn to tie them when I was a kid.)

It’s July 16, and I will paddleboard for the first time this summer. I’ve lost a month because a long, cold spring latched onto the heels of a long, cold winter. Toss in stormy weather plus the three days a week I provide daycare for my grandkids, and getting out on my board slid to the bottom of my list.

Nantucket Sleigh Ride Via Loon

When I was young, my family went fishing on a lake south of Duluth. While casting our lines, we noticed a loon swimming nearby, calling in an unusual manner. As outdoorsy types, we had heard many loons before, but this one sounded more plaintive than normal, like it was in distress.

The loon kept circling near us, which was also odd for this rather standoffish species. My dad thought it needed help, so we canoed toward it.

We soon saw the problem. A homemade fishing pole crafted from a large branch trailed about fifteen feet behind the bird. My dad grabbed the pole, thinking he could just pull the loon toward us and find where the fishing hook was lodged.

Ha! He underestimated the power of the loon. Upon feeling the tug of the line, the loon took off and dove underwater. My dad kept his grip on the pole, and the loon proceeded to pull our canoe — and the three or four of us in it — through the water at a good clip.

Escape From Wisconsin

If you’re wondering where I’ve been, three years ago I survived an assassination attempt on the Blatnik Bridge. Locally called “the High Bridge,” it is in fact 120 feet high over the St. Louis Bay. It is co-owned by Minnesota and Wisconsin, and when you cross the state line, you have a bird’s eye view of the bay, Park Point, and Lake Superior. For a moment, I thought it would be my final view.

Earlier that morning, I swam through the ruins off of Washburn, the tiny Wisconsin town with big secrets. On the way back to Minnesota in my blue 1976 Lotus Esprit S1 — the Aquamobile — I stopped at the Anchor Bar in Superior. Time: 11 a.m. The streets were quiet, church was still in session. I parked across the avenue and went inside. Joining my confidential informant for a burger in a booth, he slipped me a list of every crooked cop in Wisconsin. I put it in my shark-themed backpack, returned to the Aquamobile, and put the backpack in the passenger seat next to the speargun. I got in and rolled my window down. Now for a little drive to the U.S. Marshals office in the Federal Building at the Duluth Civic Center.

Duluth: Bird City

Raptors: The sight of a bald eagle stirs a person. I used to live in more southerly climes where they were less common, so it has been a treat to see one every now and then up here. I saw them a lot after my divorce, when I had to drive halfway through Minnesota every two weeks to exchange my daughter like a prisoner. I pointed out bald eagles to my child on these drives, barely able to contain my excitement, while she did that kid act of being bored with everything. Later I visited her at her mom’s house in a rural Winona valley. There was a field of tilled earth on the dirt road to their home, and it was positively overrun with bald eagles. As I drove past, I saw fifty of them together walking around in the mud with their dirty talons. I said to my daughter, “Now I understand why you’re never excited to see a bald eagle — you see so many of them every day, they’re like rats here.” She said, “Yup.”

Hawk Ridge overruns with bird nerds. Hawks soar over the city alone or in twos and threes, or by the dozen during migration. Cold air off the lake hits the warm hillside, a clash of airmasses creating lift — they love that. Unimaginably high with laser vision watching for unwary pigeons or rabbits, eating them on the roofs on people’s houses. I saw feathers raining past my window one day. By the time I figured out a hawk was eating a pigeon on my roof, it was gone.

Ripped at Burn’s Bar 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 drove out to Rice Lake Township for this article, which appeared in the June 26, 2002 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper. Burn’s Bar, by the way, closed in 2013.]

Throughout my long history of drunken escapades, I’ve seen quite a bit. I’ve seen prostitutes working their trade right out in the open. I’ve seen barroom floors covered with blood. I’ve had white-trash women sic their mongoloid husbands on me. I’ve never seen a gunfight, but I have sipped suds right next to fresh bullet holes. One time, a guy seriously tried to sell me on the idea of pimping out young girls. “You don’t have any ambition,” he told me. “Where are you going to be in five years?”

But at no point during any of this have I seen anything like what I see when I pull into the parking lot at Burn’s Bar. Burn’s Bar is awesome.

If you need simple evidence, then judge the place by its patrons’ appreciation of great poetry, which is scribbled on the men’s room wall.

Avant-Garde Women: Emmy Hennings, “Shining Star of the Voltaire”

The Greatest Cabaret in the History of the World

It is criminal that Emmy Hennings’s books have not been translated from German to English after more than 100 years. She was arguably the founder of Dadaism in 1916, the most important art movement of the 20th century. To the press, she was unquestionably Dada’s tentpole performer. Dada — anarchic, nihilistic, and self-consciously weird — continues to inspire. All Hennings’s male contemporaries have translated books available, so what is the holdup? I’ll buy a German-English dictionary and do it myself if I have to. Her books run hundreds of pages so it will take me the rest of my life. But it’s not fair that German readers hog her work to themselves, especially with modern interest in the female Dadaists. The delay is perhaps explained by continual critical confusion over her true role.

Hennings was a political radical and anti-war activist. She faced prison, morphine addiction, mental health issues, and homelessness. Before Dada, “grinding poverty” drove her into sex work to feed herself. Among the literally starving artists in Europe circa World War I, Dada’s mama had to eat. Then, as artillery shells fell in the distance, she started the greatest cabaret in the history of the world.

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?”

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