Quantcast

Saturday Essay Posts

Rules About Monsters

Monsters are, as you doubtlessly already acutely understand, terribly frightening and dangerous. Many films have been made, detailing the paralyzingly ghastly and gory imperatives on which monsters operate, resulting in rooms fairly brimming with ichor and carnage: Soggy glumps of eyeballs, hanging from sticky ropes of optic nerves like morbid tether balls; piles and piles of viscera, settling and emitting gas like teams of farting snakes; ripped and abandoned limbs, arms and legs stacked like macabre log cabins of ruined flesh and protruding bone, still twitching and dripping the last of their darkening blood. Every shadowy corner, every looming closet, every rickety and ramshackle basement staircase adumbrates the uncanny atrocities monsters are hoping to wreak. They are eager to wreak. It’s their whole mission, in fact. (There’s a perfectly empirical reason for the word “monstrosities,” and it’s precisely what you’re thinking.)

One might reflect on this reality with floppy despondency, and in fairness, one would not be mistaken to do so. Flop and despond, if you need to get it out of your system. But as you’re able, kindly recover your wits, and devote your attention to the following introductory tutorial on the rules by which all monsters must abide, lest they be subjected to the same harrowing and disastrous fates to which they are so devoted to imposing on the human population.

How to Change a Flat Tire

I think it’s been something like 10 years since I’ve blown a tire while driving and had to replace it with a spare on the side of the road. What’s weird about that is I remember having to change flat tires fairly often in previous years — like once every 20 months or something.

The most I have ever paid for a motor vehicle is $4,000. My current car cost $3,500. The seven others I’ve gone through over the years each cost about $1,500 or less. Every one of them was a bargain, but involved a bit more maintenance than newer cars. The well-worn tires on some of those clunkers used to give me my share of roadside adventures. I’m not sure why that has stopped in the past decade, but I’m certainly not complaining.

About 15 years ago, as a public service and also as a reminder to my future self, I compiled a list of advice about changing flat tires. I’m assuming all of it still applies to today’s vehicles and might be useful to the general public at some point in the future or me tomorrow. It’s not really technical advice, it’s more for emotional preparation.

Ripped During Swamping Hours in 2009

[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. Ten years ago the Sultan of Sot visited a trio of West Duluth bars and published this report for Duluth’s weekly Transistor.]

To borrow a term from the card game blackjack, I’ve decided to “double down” on my drinking today. What that means is, I’m at the Rustic Bar in West Duluth at 8 a.m. My goal is to get drunk by midday, go home and pass out, then wake up and go to the bars again. If I manage to get drunk twice, well, I’ve doubled my winnings.

On top of that, drinking while the buses are still running means there’s no need to spend valuable beer money on a taxi. In tough economic times, we all need to get thrifty, right?

For some reason it’s boiling hot inside the Rustic, which I didn’t expect on a January morning. There are four other guys at the bar, and two of them have stripped down to their T-shirts. Eventually, one of them asks the bartender why it’s so hot. She looks at the thermostat and tells us it’s set for 80 degrees.

The Name and the Person

Growing up, I disliked my name. It’s a 1970’s-era “J name” — like Jennifer, Jessica, Julie, and Jason. It was partly inspired by the Scream Queen, Jamie Lee Curtis, who starred in Halloween in 1978, the year I was born.

Since Jamie is often a boy’s name, I got Boys’ Life magazine ads and Boy Scout fliers in the mail. On the first day of 7th grade, my homeroom teacher met me with an “oh!,” and said he was surprised I was a girl. These things greatly offended younger me.

My mother chose a cute, trendy name for a critical, contrarian child. I could only see the contradictions in Jamie the name: an androgynous name for a feminine girl; a plain name that has four or more different spellings; a common name that people misread as Janice and mishear as Janie.

My middle name was no better in my opinion. It is my mother’s maiden name, a last name. I would have liked a “real” middle name like Jamie Lynn or Jamie Lee, like Ms. Curtis.

Minnesota Winter Evenings

I.
Some winter evenings I stand on a lake’s edge under bright-black Iron Range sky wondering about walking across that ice, over the train tracks along the far shore, into those woods, and away. What if I wandered until weary, laid down under a pine tree, then breathed easy until one by one my atoms drifted off into moonlight and air? Could I become birch smoke? Would a resting black bear or hunting fox know me among everything else it inhales? Most often on those nights I just look at the outside from inside, through my mother-in-law’s living room window after everyone else has gone to bed. When the TV and lights are off I can see down her back yard and past the dock we pulled out of Colby Lake in October and will push back into it come late May or early June. Snow on lake ice glows blue-gray under black pine silhouettes. Sky glows black. Abashed by comfort and warmth, I tell myself to get dressed and ski out the eastern end of Colby into the Partridge River. Or ride fat tires across Whitewater Lake or along the Bird Lake Trail or up and down the Moose Line Road. Then I admit my lack of will. Then I stand there for a couple more minutes, trying to make sure I can remember what that outside looks and feels like so my brain can reproduce the sensation long after the last time I’ve seen it. Then I go to bed and struggle to sleep.

A Little Green

It’s a perfect day outside — not too hot, not too cold. He doesn’t look when he hears my voice, like he has forgotten that he can turn his head to see who’s entered the room. I’ve gotten into the habit of coming up behind his chair, placing my hand on his shoulder, and lowering my body to a half-crouch before him. I meet his eyes, and wait to watch as recognition transforms him. It’s a silly thing, but it delights me to see the love on his face grow like the sunrise, changing the angle of his shoulders as he leans forward in pleasure and relief. It’s me. He doesn’t know my name, but he knows me. I have spent a not inconsiderable amount of time wondering if my father loves me. How my father loves me. Why my father loves me. But this, this is simple: my father loves me. It is one of the few gifts this fucking miserable disease has given me. But if I’m being honest, it’s a good one.

Today I brought fresh raspberries from the neighbor’s yard. They will taste like sunshine and outside, and I know he’ll love them. I attempt to broker a handoff, but the berries are so ripe we both end up with our hands covered in juice. His motor skills are dyssynchronous and irregular, now. He can pinch and grasp, but it’s like he’s playing one of those camp games, where some other guy puts his arms through your sleeves and gestures for you; he smooshes the berry, he pinches it, he grabs my hand and pulls it to his cheek. I laugh, because it’s better if it’s funny, and it kind of is. It can be, anyway.

Saturday Essay: Select gems from 2018

Saturday Essay logo genericLast week we highlighted the five most-read pieces from the third 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 three years PDD has published 150 essays showcasing the work of 27 different writers; we hope to expand that roster in 2019. 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 three …

The Most Read Saturday Essays of 2018

Saturday Essay logo genericPerfect Duluth Day’s “Saturday Essay” series has reached the end of its third season. As has become tradition, we now take a look back at some of the favorites of the past year. This week is part one, highlighting the essays that were read the most times according to Google Analytics. Because statistics should always be used to organize creativity, right?

El Camino del Tiempo

We are migrants, one and all, on el Camino del Tiempo, where even the housebound and hunkered-down awaken each morning somewhere they were not yesterday. We’ve emerged from the mists of history and the dreamtime of an infant’s amnesia, and set forth by wildly disparate means of conveyance toward the receding horizon. Signs signal a tomorrow around the bend, but tomorrow is a ghost-town appearing only on the maps, and you can’t get there from here.

So here we are, and there we go, by bullet train or afoot across the trackless wastes, but always on el Camino. Always schlepping our blood on its way down the generations. Always the short skirts and tight pants of the baby-making dance, and the will to carry on.

I marvel at the elaborate ruses concocted to transport one’s genes down el Camino. Marvel at the termite tenacity of these roadside encampments we call cities. Marvel at the hive-life of our super-organism, striving for a meal and a place to sleep and a place to dance the baby-making dance. I shudder at the nighttime photos from space of our settlements glowing golden. Earth burning like the oil lamp it’s become. And between the cities lies the darkened land, yet to trade stars for streetlights.

Thoughts on Anchorage: Community makes self-reliance possible

In the late 1990s, before it reorganized in bankruptcy, Sun Country Airlines flew out of the Humphrey Terminal at Minneapolis/St. Paul. It ran specials on undersold planes, and I received an email alert, I think, about round-trip tickets to Alaska for $300. It seemed so far away for so little money. I was a graduate student in the College of Agriculture on the Twin Cities campus; I was making $12,000 a year. This was cheap, it was an extravagance, an adventure, a story to tell.

I boarded the plane in Bloomington and disembarked in Anchorage. (It was the first time I had been to an airport with signage instructing passengers how to check and reclaim your gun.) The bus took me downtown, and I looked for a hotel. In the years before travel websites and mobile phones, this was hard — I had to walk toward hotel signs and hope for vacancies. There were few; the flight was cheap, but the hotels were booked; I spent twice what I spent on my ticket on my hotel, at what felt like a dive for the price.

I was young and weighed less than half what I weigh now, so I started walking. I walked to Cook’s Inlet, which was muddy. “Captain Cook” was not a real person to me, and so his inlet meant little. So, too, did Mt. McKinley mean little to me — Mt. McKinley, also called Dinale or Denali or Bolshaya Gora/Большая Гора, Densmore’s Mountain. The history of its naming means more to me than the mountain. I was more interested in a business dedicated solely to pull tabs.

Ripped at the Blue Crab Bar in 2008

[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. Before OMC Smokehouse took over the building at 1909 W. Superior St., it was home to the Blue Crab Bar, which closed due to foreclosure in 2009. But in 2008 the ol’ Sultan of Sot visited the Blue Crab and published this report for Duluth’s weekly Transistor.]

There are two ways to get on my list of favorite bars: 1) Cater to a bunch of weirdo regulars who are constantly shitfaced and causing a scene, or 2) Sell 34-ounce beers for $3.50 or less. You’d think the latter would automatically produce the former, but for some reason the freak vibe has failed to catch on at the Blue Crab Bar, in spite of the cheap swill. Still, it’s one of my favorite places, and there are rare moments of crazy if you are patient enough to wait for them.

Tonight, as usual, about eight people are spread out in the room. They are mostly keeping to themselves, either staring at the TV or engaging in soft chatter. The bartender disappears on a smoke break for about 10 minutes of every hour.

New to Duluth

There’s much to love about our enchanting city — the breathtaking views, the closeness we feel as community members, the intimate connection we have with Lake Superior and its surrounding environment. Those reasons are exactly why, back in 2013, my then-fiancé and I chose to move to Duluth from Fargo, N.D. We wanted to live somewhere with an entirely different aesthetic from the Red River Valley yet be close enough to visit family and friends on weekends. The North Shore of Lake Superior was, and still is, a perfect fit.

As a newcomer, it took me an unexpectedly long time to feel bound to our community — more so than other cities I’ve lived in. Most of my initial connections were with coworkers and members of the Rotary Club of Duluth, which I joined through work. These individuals took my husband and I under their wings, providing advice and recommendations for what neighborhood to live in, what doctors to see and what companies to call for air conditioning repairs or garbage service. I trusted these men and women, and to this day, they haven’t let me down.

Goose Chase: An Interview with Duluth’s Goosinator

In 2016 the city of Duluth purchased a remote-controlled glider designed to humanely chase away geese. “The Goosinator” was acquired from an eponymous company in Denver, Colo. at a cost of about $3,000 plus shipping and handling. The city made this purchase with the express goal of ridding Bayfront Festival Park of an increasing abundance of goose feces, a consequence of the recovering Canada goose population. In large amounts, goose feces diminish the park’s appeal and utility, and can cause illness in people and pollute the lake.

Two years on, the Goosinator agreed to meet with me for an exclusive, first-ever interview.

No one in the newly-opened Dovetail Cafe & Marketplace recognizes the Duluth park maintenance worker hustling in from the cold for an interview, but he draws notice all the same. The Goosinator stands about 20 inches tall and, at almost four feet long, has to sit sideways as I help him into a chair at a table made of reclaimed birdseye maple. He wears an outsize, toothy permagrin. He’s bright orange. And he seems perfectly at ease with the sideways glances, thanking me with a wry smirk as I pass him the Cascara Tea I took the liberty of ordering him. After all, he’s used to being the focus of attention, as it’s a prerequisite for his unusual line of work.

North Country Trail in Wisconsin: Nemadji River Valley

If you’ve ever hiked Minnesota’s Superior Hiking Trail to the Wisconsin border you know the trail ends there, but doesn’t really end there. Despite a sign on a tree that reads “Southern Terminus of SHT” and a separate post sticking out of the ground that reads “Not a trail,” there is clearly a trail there leading into Wisconsin. But it doesn’t go far.

The rest of the text on the terminus sign explains: “Spur trail from here to be built by North Country Trail to a parking lot in WI. Trail now dead-ends ahead.”

I explained all that 17 months ago in a Saturday Essay titled: “North Country Trail: Wood Tick Flats,” which was the first report on my quest to hike the North Country Trail across Wisconsin. That summer I covered exactly zero miles on the trail, which is not a great start to a 200-mile journey. If you read that first North Country Trail essay from June 2017 you know I didn’t hike on the trail that day because the grass was long and loaded with ticks. So I waited and saved the hike for a day with more favorable conditions … 17 months later.

What I lack in ambition I make up for with tenacity, right? My motto is: “Never quit. Take a nap and try again later when you feel more up to it.”

Boys

I’m done. In a little more than a month I’m going to stop hanging out with men who mistreat women. Kind of.

Let me try to speak more precisely: after the next few weeks are up I will still be spending a lot of online and IRL time — pretty much every day — among boys and men who, most often without realizing it, expect girls’ and women’s deference, use whatever level of force is necessary to ensure it, and punish girls and women who defy those normative expectations. When I say “normative expectations” I mean that the dominant social and cultural expectation for girls and women to please boys and men is so normal that it seldom gets questioned because it rarely really even gets noticed. It just is. It’s always there, whether we’re conscious of it or not, like oxygen. It permeates. It’s definitive. It defines our culture to such an inherent degree that folks who dare to name it look crazy to everyone but each other. Folks who publicly question or defy it on the regular court repercussions along a continuum more broad and real than you might realize.

None of that stuff is going to change in a few weeks.