Saturday Essay Posts

The Duluth Psychedelic Sermon – UPDATE with Video

Sentient Duluth awakens! Praise it!

When did I come to consciousness? Its bars and venues the wombs I gestated in, the booths and stages framed my embryogenesis. Birthing me to myself, I walk between trees. Light and water conspire mysteriously. My shadow stretches to the lake and covers it in the setting sun. Praise it!

I am bridges staring down into darkness and depth. I am mirrored streams carving the hillside like molten silver from a furnace pour, the lake a great ingot. More than anything, I am the lake. Gleaming as if the sun has transferred its powers to Lake Superior in guardianship, Lucifer abandoning hell to an angel of water. The lake is a tectonic plate of fire subducting at the shoreline, trapping the light in water like amber, a bowl of liquid light. Golden honeyed light, silver light like photographic emulsion, sepia light. Ore boats sailing the surface of white stars, red giants, blue neutron stars. Ore boats sailing out of faded, flaking photographs. The lake like Io, blinding bright, sea planet of perpetual ice cover, Jupiter blots out the sky rising over Superior. The lake a reflecting mirror like a planetary laser defense system, peering into every south-facing window on the hillside, light pouring into every home as the lake searches them with its blazing eye. Praise it!

Social Connection in a Time of Social Distancing

As we’re facing social distancing for the next little while, it’s looking more and more like social media will be important to many of us for remaining socially connected. As a technology ethicist focusing on social technology and interpersonal relationships, this falls under my area of research. What follows isn’t everything that could be said about relationships and social media, of course, but might be of use as we strive to maintain connection in spite of physical distance. And in case you’re interested in following this up with some of your own research, I’ve included plenty of links to further work on this subject.

First, while it might not be everyone’s first choice as a way to connect with others, reject the narrative that interactions mediated by social technologies aren’t “real.” You can really talk and share and tell jokes and play games together remotely as well as in person. Yes, some things about these interactions will be different, but context is going to color any of your interactions. And don’t think of this as just substituting for “real” interaction: comparing, say, Skype to having lunch with a friend might be frustrating, but there are things you can do in computer-mediated communication that have no in-person equivalent: playing with filters and goofy overlays, daily “roll call” with a bunch of friends all sharing pictures of their pets, Your imagination is the limit. These can be enjoyed on their own merits.

Ripped at the Kom-on-Inn 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 he visited the Kom-on-Inn in West Duluth and published this report for the April 5, 2000 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]

Granted, it does not take much to amaze me, but when I entered the Kom-on-Inn my spine just about shot out of the top of my head. I had always been under the impression that the Kom-on-Inn was a boring bar that was empty most of the time. But nothing could be further from the truth. It was … I don’t even know where to begin, so let me just walk you through the place.

First of all, it is important to know that everyone—every last person in the bar—was smoking a cigarette. I am not exaggerating when I say it was difficult to see across the room. At the very back of the bar, where I came in, a bunch of Tommy Boys talked on cellular telephones and shot pool with heavily hair-sprayed and lip-linered girls drinking bottles of Mountain Dew. Apparently they were stationed there to give newcomers like me the wrong impression of the place, for just past them, everything became drastically different.

My Partner is Starting a Cult

There’s a church revival going on in Lincoln Park, but it’s inspired by art, not God. My partner of nearly 25 years is one of the instigators of a self-proclaimed “cult.”

I guess you could say I drank the Kool-Aid a long time ago because I can’t say I was shocked when he announced his plans.

Life with Troy Rogers, aka Robot Rickshaw, is never dull. He builds musical robots so that he can cart them around Canal Park and the Lakewalk for pop-up performances while wearing a hazmat suit and gas mask with a teddy bear strapped to his chest.

“What have you been up to lately?” Troy’s aunt asked recently, trying to make conversation at a family event. “I’m starting a cult,” he deadpanned.

There were no follow up questions or small talk. Just a perplexed expression from the pious Catholic and an uncharacteristically quick end to the conversation as she escaped to the next room.

Painting Moments with Words

I’m driving north on Interstate 35 after a day spent in Columbia Heights, Minnesota. The sun is gone. Winter clouds have parted, exposing a well-missed speckled dome. White lights from vehicles traveling south dart passed on my left. Amber tail lights and yellow blinkers dot the lanes in front of me. The rear-view mirror reflects what is behind. From above the treeline north of the Finlayson/Askov exit, radio antenna towers flash red warning lights while others remain constant. My direction is a meandering north-by-northeast heading, but my aim is home, my aim is to return the woods.

I look to the sky, and poised stoically in the Northern hemisphere is the Big Dipper. The constellation is tipped so perfectly I can’t help but send a smile back. A small smile with a slight nod that says, “Yes, I agree.” I lean forward in the seat, wrap my arms around the top of the steering wheel, and lay one hand over the other, the common driving pose one assumes for meditative and ponderous thought. My eyes trace the stars that make up the handle of the constellation, and maybe I’m projecting, or want a physical message from the grand galaxy, but the handle, low and clear arched toward the earth, points directly at home.

I Demand a Lakewalk

I demand a Lakewalk.

Retired engineer and geologist David Hoag wrote in a Jan. 22 Duluth News Tribune op-ed piece that he feels, “It would be much better to retreat,” than to “shore up, harden, and improve the lakeshore in areas near the Lakewalk and Brighton Beach that were battered by recent storms.”

Retreat to where? Are we going to let the lake have the rail line, and Fitger’s? Are we going to cede Canal Park to the lake? Are we going to abandon all infrastructure because it needs fixing? Are we going to tear down the bridge and the canal and move them to higher ground? Set fire to the ports? Should we flood the highway and designate it “boats only”? Is Leif Erikson Park to be abandoned to the waves, and we’ll just watch as it crumbles? Should we watch as Lake Superior undermines and claims the Rose Garden? Are our Park Point citizens to be forgotten?

Mud

The mud in Southeast Alaska is everywhere. From Vancouver to Skagway a lush, near-ostentatiously green forest covers every conceivable surface with a teeming, tumbling, vulgarity of foliage. The Tongass National Forest is like a skunky Eden, ancient pine and spruce trees standing clustered tight as hair on a head, their verdance made that much more outstanding by the complement of thick, gray sky. It’s a North American rainforest. It rains 300 days a year, in one fashion or another, in my hometown. If the Inuit people have more than 200 words for the various elegant permutations of snow, the fishermen in Southeast Alaska have half again as many swear words for rain.

There is the putative rain that everyone knows, a tumbling shower from amassed clouds, a mixed blessing of ruined hairstyles and refreshed lawns. Then, there is the torrential downpour, bending fat blossoms under the combined weight of nectar and water, cracking peony stems and laying ferns flat against the ground like splayed bodies clinging to the surface of the earth. Drizzle — the most onomatopoeic word for a weather phenomenon, that half-hearted report from the heaven that everything, everywhere is gray and dull — is the meteorological equivalent of “meh,” spelled in water. But there is another type of rain, a sort of surreptitious precipitation that starts as gentle and refreshing as the misty spray from a waterfall, tiny cool droplets tickling the skin and seemingly innocuously disappearing. But there, along your eyebrows, a heavy bead of water leans ominously toward your eye, the ponderous descent changing its trajectory to head it straight along your nasal fold into your mouth. And there, along your temple, droplets as sure and regular as cold, portly beads of sweat begin to accumulate and race down your face into the neckline of your inadequate sweater. And your sweater! Wool and practical, has suddenly gone from misted with tiny, fruit-fly-sized droplets to saturated, impregnated on the very molecular level with water. Water fills your boots this way. Water drips from your nose like a dysfunctional faucet. Water drips between your teenaged breasts and makes the underwire of your bra cold and wretched. By the time you get to school, just a 30-minute walk — you are as wet as a newborn calf, and every bit as disoriented and gangly.

Vomit Detective

When partially digested nourishment is involuntarily ejected through the mouth, one of the first reactions is to wonder what caused it to happen. Was rancid meat recently consumed? Is there a norovirus going around?

Sometimes excessive alcohol is to blame and there isn’t a lot of detective work necessary. When that isn’t the case, however, the cause of a sudden retching can be difficult to track.

I have some recent experience as a vomit detective, following an incident that preceded the Christmas holiday. After a full month on the case, I can confidently state that the evidence points toward the culprit being either a cookie, a bowl of chili, or really just about anything else I encountered around that time.

That’s right, I’m getting ready to wrap up my investigation and file it as a cold case.

What’s worse is that information gathered in my latest probe has called into question a case from 2015. I might have wrongfully convicted a local fast-food chain restaurant of food poisoning.

Saturday Essay: Select gems from 2019

Saturday Essay logo genericLast week we highlighted the five most-read pieces from the fourth 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 four years PDD has published 185 essays showcasing the work of 29 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 four …

The Most Read Saturday Essays of 2019

Saturday Essay logo genericIt’s an annual tradition at Perfect Duluth Day to wrap up each year of the “Saturday Essay” series with lazy top-five lists instead of arduously prepared compositions. Here we go again.

This week is part one, highlighting the essays that were read the most times according to Google Analytics. Next week is less of a popularity contest; we’ll showcase five underappreciated gems.

Acceptance Speech, Mayor of Snow-Fort City

Thank you, distinguished citizens, for conferring upon me this office of Snow-Fort City Mayor. It is no small honor to assume my half-imaginary duties in this pop-up, collaborative, city-planning art fantasy at the edge of Lake Superior. “City” is an aspirational term for this arrangement of snow walls and monuments in Duluth’s Leif Erickson Park. Snow-Fort City’s true location lies somewhere within our skulls — like all cities. My Facebook post initiating construction was shared more than a hundred times in just a few hours, and it attracted the Duluth News-Tribune and KBJR-6/CBS-3, which tells me the vision of the snow-fort city is the real object. Almost none of the post-sharers, newspaper readers, or TV viewers made it down to the actual Snow-Fort City. They are content to view it with their eyes closed, in its most pure form: the Platonic one.

It literally came to me in a vision, like the origin of so many great cities. In a way, like Duluth itself. I remember the words of George Nettleton’s wife from 1856, when her husband’s mind swam with dreams of Duluth-as-future-city: “I thought he had a pretty long head to see that there was going to be a city here sometime when there was then nothing” (Duluth: An Illustrated History of the Zenith City by Glenn N. Sandvik).

New Kid

I have moved a lot of times. Like, a witness-protection number of times. By the end of my freshman year of high school I had moved across the country eight times — twice in that one school year alone. I whipsawed between various small communities in Maine and Alaska, spending the preponderance of my time in Alaska.

But 1988, my sophomore year, was a real cake-taker. I lived in three different cities, and attended two separate high schools in two states. I moved from Juneau, Alaska to Kennelwick, Maine in early November. Kennelwick is not a real place, by the way — just in case I inadvertently reanimate anyone else’s decades-old trauma.

Changing schools in November is like showing up for a surprise birthday party at the same time as the birthday girl. It doesn’t matter why you’re there, or how awesome you are, you’ve arrived with such impossibly shit timing that literally no one is happy to see you. To whit: The school year was well underway and the brutality of the initial social sorting process was fading, but the blood was still drying. The cliques had already galvanized, defensively, prepared for the inevitable breakups and infighting bloodshed typical of a closed, captive society. High school is like the Thunderdome, only with less clothes made out of human skin.

Ripped at the Laundromat in 1999

[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. In this essay the ol’ Sultan of Sot went out for a “soak and spin” at the Chalet Lounge, 4833 Miller Trunk Highway. The article originally appeared in the December 1999 issue of Duluth’s then-monthly Ripsaw newspaper.]

I hate doing laundry. It’s just one of those exceedingly practical things that isn’t any fun in the least and does nothing but stand in the way of gettin’ ripped and having a good time. Luckily, I found the Chalet Lounge — Duluth’s only Laundromat that is attached to a bar.

Actually, the place isn’t in Duluth, but Hermantown. “Laundromat Hermantown, MN” the sign outside boldly states. On the sidewalk beneath it lay two battered and broken washing machines.

I hauled my basket of dirty clothes inside, eager to get the wash going so I could start drinking. A big guy in a leather jacket leaned against a dryer reading a copy of Real Estate Viewer magazine. I tried really hard not to let him see my Snuggle fabric softener. The thought entered my mind that it might actually be more fun to have a few drinks and then do the wash, but I quickly dismissed this idea, imagining dire consequences.

Million-dollar Wound

This is a small town. So, we’ll probably meet and shake hands. You’re going to come away from it thinking, What the hell was that?

I’ll see it on your face. So, I’ll say, “It’s Dupuytren’s contractures.”

And you’ll say, “Doopa what?”

“My hand is screwed up. I’m not some perv going ‘deedle-deedle’ into your palm with my middle-finger. It’s an ailment.”

“Oh, I see. Sure, man,” you’ll say as you slowly back away. “Sure.”

So, I’m sorry for that. This is an open letter of apology.

It’s a real thing, though. Dupuytren’s contractures. Collagen collects in the fascia of my hands. It forms ropes and cords that slowly pull my fingers inward toward my palm. It started twenty years ago with the middle finger of my right hand. Then my left thumb got in the game. Not wanting to be left out, the ring finger of my left hand joined in. Somewhere along the line, hands weren’t enough so it started up along the bottom of my feet behind each of my big toes. Most recently, my right ring finger curled up next to my right middle finger. I guess he missed his neighbor. Now, I’ve got a fresh rope pulling my left middle finger inward. The good (maybe bad?) news is I can’t flip anybody the bird anymore.

Hillside Grievers

This is an epilogue to a previous Saturday Essay, published in 2018.

Poppy the Mini-Rex rabbit doe never had babies. She pulled out her fur and made nests for nothing. It wasn’t her fault: the buck we tried to breed her with was past his prime. His owner called to apologize.

“I am sorry I didn’t notice that Frodo’s man-parts shriveled up. But good news: he has a son!”

Whenever I thought about calling the number on the sticky note labeled “Buck,” I remembered we had something to do in thirty days when the kits would be born. Then came winter and another summer. Now it’s too late.

In the middle months, that time people in other places call “Spring,” we adopted a puppy.

Lola showed us that the rabbits were just a warm-up. So were our own babies, for that matter. Once again, Jeremy and I took turns waking through the night and keeping track of bowel movements. Soon we found ourselves having those ridiculous, sleep-deprived “I’m doing all I can!” arguments of yore.