Saturday Essay Posts

Ripped at Ray’s Bar in 2004

[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 paid a visit to Ray’s Bar in the Town of Superior and composed this article for the June 2004 issue of the Ripsaw magazine. The establishment was more recently known as the Shortstop Bar, but is presently not in operation.]

About a year ago, I took a little tour of South Superior where, after wiping his piss on my neck, the drunken bartender at the Rusty Nail advised me to head down the road to Ray’s Bar. “Ray will shit on you for sure,” he said, inadvertently describing South Superior hospitality to a tee.

Now I didn’t exactly just fall off the turnip truck. I know some people are into that sort of thing, and I’m sure a lot of them haunt the thickets of South Superior. But as for me, I’m not much for excrement. Nonetheless, when faced with the choice of dealing with the Paris Hilton wannabes and renegade security guards at the latest version of the NorShor Theatre or wrestling with a psychotic South Superiorite wielding his own crap, I’ll head out on the highway every time.

Garbage, Dog Turds and Polyethylene Owls

When I’m out walking and I see a plastic bag stuck in a tree, I always point it out to anyone who might be around and say, “Hey look, a West Duluth owl.” It’s a stupid joke that doesn’t get much of a reaction, but hey, so am I.

Making cheesy remarks might be the best action in that situation. There’s a clump of ugly garbage stuck in a beautiful tree, and my options for how to deal with it are to climb the tree or use a long device of some kind to somehow remove the bag, ignore the situation altogether, or pretend like I wanted that bag to be there all along to support the comedy of life.

I have similar statements I repeat all the time. If my childhood friend is telling me about her cancer diagnosis, for example, I’ll say, “I told you not to go swimming downstream of the steel plant.”

The tragedy behind the comedy boils down to something pretty simple: I want a clean environment, but I know that’s unrealistic. It’s also confusing, because a clean environment contains a lot of dirt. And seriously, a clean planet and a polluted planet are made up of the same things; the difference is how those things are arranged.

Build a Goddamn Bob Dylan Statue Already

For real, I think there needs to be more serious discussion about a Duluth Bob Dylan statue. He’s the (checks notes) greatest songwriter in the world (the Nobel Prize people compared him to Homer and Blake), and Duluth is his (checks notes again) literal birthplace. Where did I read — perhaps buried in the epic comments of this PDD Facebook post — that local/regional Dylan relatives disfavor statues, as opposed to a nice plaque or something? An MPR article cites “a Dylan family member” who states a preference for educational work instead. I get it. But Dylan must have dozens of relatives, did we ask them all? Do we have to ask any of them, since Dylan belongs to the world?

I also get that statues are falling out of favor and may become problematic. The meaning of a statue can change. Maybe it would be better to just name a street, or a music center, or erect a plaque — something you can quietly change up or take down in a hurry if history reverses on you. But respectfully, I worry that plaques and manhole covers are simply too boring to honor the greatest songwriter in the world besides Taylor Swift.

You think Taylor Swift will only get some nice manhole covers? You think they won’t build a statue in her hometown by the time she’s Dylan’s current age of 82?

Jesus Christ Meets Bob Dylan in a Hotel Room in Tucson, 1978

Bob: I’m ready to accept you, Lord.

Jesus: Not so fast there Bob. I need you to do something first.

Bob: Name it Lord.

Jesus: I need you to rub out Jimmy Gravante.

Bob (stunned): The hitman?

Jesus: Your successor in the Duluth family, after you got out and became — this (gestures around). You know Jimmy — the sniper who blew you off your motorcycle in 1966 in Woodstock.

Bob: He hit the bike, man, not me. Sniper my ass.

Jesus: I’m going to need you to check your tone.

Bob: I’m sorry Lord. It’s just that he wasn’t even at 200 yards. He’s more like a potshot expert than a sniper. And my divorce is killing me. I just got off a world tour and my adrenal glands feel squeezed dry like little raisins. Think I’m coming down with something (sniffles).

Bob Dylan on Duluth and Minnesota

Some Duluthians think Bob Dylan hates Duluth and Minnesota. What has Bob Dylan actually said?

I’d heard rumors Dylan was a Duluth hater, but then I read the liner notes to his 1974 album Planet Waves, where he wrote: “Duluth! Duluth — where Baudelaire Lived/& Goya cashed in his Chips, where Joshua brought/the house down!” These are not the words of someone who hates Duluth. These words lionize the city in terms of literature and mythology. A song on the album mentions Duluth too. From “Something There is About You“: “Thought I’d shaken the wonder/And the phantoms of my youth/Rainy days on the great lakes/Walkin’ the hills of old Duluth.” Duluth as a city of wonder and phantoms: who among us cannot relate?

Growing up in Hibbing, Dylan had family in Duluth and Superior. As a teen he went to Minneapolis more and more, and that became his jumping-off point to the world. But the Northland never left him. From his autobiography Chronicles, Volume One (2004 edition), one reads many references to Duluth, Hibbing, Minneapolis, and Minnesota as a whole.

Remember Watson

Goob, Fozz, and I hiked down around another switchback in the trail. We saw a family that passed us higher up on the mountain. A dad, his three kids, and a dog. I saw the dad standing there, blocking the trail. His son sat on a rock with his two sisters standing beside him.

As we got closer Dad said, “He’s not doing so good.” I assumed he meant his son.

I walked up and then saw the dog. Their golden retriever was lying on its side in the trail and panting. I thought: We’re part of this now.

Dad said, “His stomach is super hard, too.” I reached down and felt the dog’s stomach which had swollen up bigger than his ribcage. It was firm.

The Dad explained that the dog chased something and got all riled up. I can’t remember if he said it was a squirrel or another dog. But it was after the dog’s frantic chase and barking that he started to swell up.

“I think his stomach has flipped over,” I said.

Connection

There is no space up here. Ian needs some room to move, but he’s pulled his drums around him as close as he can. John’s bass tilts up a bit. Looks awkward, but he’ll make it work. Jim’s keyboard takes up a lot of real estate, but it is what it is: he doesn’t own a keytar and I’m not sure he’d use it even if he did. The horns, Dale, Jess and I, are in a line, backs to the side wall, which is a bummer because I love jumping around with my saxophone while we play. Leon’s in the middle of the nest, and though he’s in his fifties, he somehow also brings the energy of the newly hatched, his baby blue Gretsch 2127 an appendage. He taps one of the guitar pedals with the toe of his checkered shoe. His pedal board is a skateboard.

“I dunno,” he says to us, swinging his body around, back to the crowd. “Should we get going?”

“Not much else to do,” I volunteer, and though it’s a bad rejoinder, Leon crows.

“Okay then! ‘Go if You Wanna Go’?” It’s not a question, really. Ian counts us in, and we’re off again, a bunch of middle-aged friends making the people dance.

North Country Trail in Wisconsin: Backtracking

Seven years ago I began a quest to hike the North Country Trail across Wisconsin. Similar to my 20-year process of completing the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota, things are going slowly on the Sconnie side as well. In 2022 I completed just nine miles.

Despite my established reputation for tortoise-like hiking, I was determined to have a big year in 2023. Then I got busy with other things and ended up with exactly zero miles of NCT hiked that year.

I’ve already got one 2024 trek under my boots, but it kind of doesn’t count in terms of mileage. Which is why this chapter is titled “Backtracking.”

My only hike in 2022 began off Highway 53 on Holly Lucius Road, just south of Solon Springs. The previous chapter of my essay series concluded with a mistaken stroll on Highway 53, so I started my next hike by covering the path I should have taken at the end of my hike the year before. It wasn’t really backtracking, because I hadn’t walked this route yet, but it was a pause in my progression since it meant I would be arriving at Lucius Woods County Park for the second time.

Ripped at C.W. Chips Bar & Grill in 2004

[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 paid a visit to C.W. Chips Bar & Grill and composed this article for the April 2004 issue of the Ripsaw magazine. At the time, there was a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of Duluth City Hall, which was moved to Canal Park later that year. C.W. Chips closed in early 2005 when the building was purchased by the Whole Foods Co-op.]

Because I’ve spent the past several years trolling the suckholes and boozehalls of this wreck of a city, because I’m cheaper than a Mexican proctology exam and because I like to control my own drunken experience, I like to drink at home. Preferably alone.

Tonight, however, my sometimes pal Ricky Flours is in town and we’ve pissed away enough time together in my cramped, dingy apartment to know that we need to remove ourselves from the sticky, bottle-filled dungeon I call Chez Goodbuzz. I’ve become a hermit, and Ricky is little more than a purring cat lying around on my floor. We don’t have to go to C.W. Chips, but we can’t stay here.

Attention Billionaires: Get Bent

“And, for an instant, she stared directly into those soft blue eyes and knew, with an instinctive mammalian certainty, that the exceedingly rich were no longer even remotely human.”

― William Gibson, Count Zero

Attention billionaires: get bent. As the recent “Cheerios” kerfuffle illustrates, Minnesota billionaire Karen Kathy Cargill is acting like a terrible neighbor in Duluth. Google her name to see the universally bad press she has unleashed upon herself. Basically, Mayor Roger Reinert had the temerity to point out that Cargill was not actually being helpful, and she ran crying to the Wall Street Journal, like ya do. It was there Cargill laid bare her toxic billionaire’s view of the world: “The good plans that I have down there […] forget it […] I think an expression that we all know — don’t pee in your Cheerios — well, [Reinert] kind of peed in his Cheerios right there, and definitely I’m not going to do anything to benefit that community.” Imperious much? Get bent.

Duluth Island

The discovery of a scale model of Duluth, carved from black coral on a desert island in the South Pacific, sent shockwaves through the scientific community. The miniature cityscape lay in a hand-excavated chamber under the sand, on an uninhabited, unnamed island only half the size of a city block. The flat, round expanse of sand, if noticed at all by distant ships, seems featureless. At twenty feet above sea level, it fully submerges in some storm surges, and might not survive climate change’s rising seas. First appearing on maps in 1941 with a numerical designation, it was not explored until 2015. That’s when a team of American biologists, following a tagged sea turtle, navigated a black reef and set foot on what is now known as Duluth Island.

Sea turtles and sea birds liked the island well enough. It had no trees or flora visible from off its tiny shores, but up close it was seen to support beach grass and some shrubs. The thought of human habitation was so impossible it didn’t cross anyone’s mind until one of the team noticed a square slab of black coral in the island’s dead center. It measured thirty inches by thirty inches and was at least a few inches thick, set into the sand. It was either subsuming into the sand or emerging from it. The object, obviously the product of human labor, remained unexplained as the biologists departed.

Ripped at the Incline Station in 2004

[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 paid a visit to the Incline Station and composed this article for the March 2004 issue of the Ripsaw magazine.]

Bowling is a game that was devised for drinkers. You get up, you roll a ball, you sit down, you pound some beers and watch other people do the same. Then you do it again, and all the time you’re wearing stupid shoes and knocking stuff down. It’s like alcoholic heaven.

In some sports, drinking is detrimental to one’s performance. Those are the sports that I like to call “watchin’ sports.” There are precious few games where alcohol is a performance-enhancing drug. Bowling, billiards and curling are about it.

Tonight I’m bowling at the Incline Station in Downtown Duluth. This dude who used to bartend at the NorShor Theatre is showing me his bowling technique, which is totally screwed up. He uses the last two fingers of his hand instead of the middle two, because, as he puts it, “If I bowled the normal way, my middle finger would come right off my hand and stay in the ball.” True enough, the first two fingers of his hand have obviously been reconstructed by a surgeon. “I got ‘em caught in an industrial grater,” he says. “I had to climb across the machine to shut it off, then I dug my fingers out of the machine and wrapped them up in a napkin.”

Wings as a Fashion Accessory

Back in 2019 I was invited to speak at an arts-centered retreat called “Life is a Verb Camp” in North Carolina. My speech happened to fall on Halloween, so this camp organizer (author Patti Digh) had set a bunch of costume pieces out on a long table and told folks they could wear them.

I approached the table and there they were, shimmering: a large, green, sparkly pair of butterfly wings with two little arm straps. I fell in love instantly, and asked my husband Paul if he could hang them on the back of my chair. They slipped over the handlebars easily and suddenly my wheelchair was transformed into a fantastical thing of beauty. It’s like it had been waiting for the wings forever.

I wore them all weekend, long after my speech had ended, and the wings not only filled me with delight, but they brought cheer wherever they went. People would grin whenever I’d turn to the side, revealing the wings behind me. I realized, for the first time in my life, my wheelchair was finally a true visual expression of my internal aesthetic. If you could see the color palette of my soul you’d know it has a lot of sparkles, rainbows, flowers, and jewel tones.

R.I.P. Burly Burlesque

Rest in peace Burly Burlesque, aka Ben Larson, one of Duluth’s best vocalists, lyricists and performers. According to the comments on the Facebook post which broke the news, he died in his sleep. He was newly a father, and a Go Fund Me has been set up to help support his family during this terrible time.

Burly and I weren’t friends but there was a time when we were friendly and familiar in the arts and music scene. I remember seeing him perform for the first time circa 2003. He comprised one-third of the band Crew Jones, and when they hopped up on stage at Pizza Lucé I was like, “Who are these weirdos?” But then they showed me and everybody. Their album Who’s Beach dropped around then; everyone I know from those days speaks of it in reverent tones as a work of genius. A firehose of creativity, the band (Burly, Ray the Wolf, and Mic Trout) all brought their A-game. Their live performances did no less. The album became a must-have and their shows were a must-see. No one could believe these white dudes rapping about life in northern Minnesota could be so legit but there you have it. Like all of the band’s lyrics, Burly’s writing was something great; he was also a master freestyler with an outsized stage presence.

The Northland Sportsmen’s Club Wild Game Dinner

Review by Max Grace, former professor of molecular gastronomy at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Northland Sportsmen’s Club Wild Game Dinner
40th Annual All You Can Eat
Saturday, Sept. 28, 2023. Dinner at 6 p.m., drawing at 7.
Duluth Farmers Market, Duluth MN — as fine a farmers market as you could find in the U.S.!
$15 adult, $5 children under 10

~Silent Auction~
All proceeds to charity

Serving venison, bear, beaver, pheasant, duck, goose, salmon and other fish, along with wild rice and many other exotic dishes.

Thank you for your support!

Raffle: Ticket price $5. Tickets available from club members and at the dinner.
– 1st Prize: Henry Golden Boy brass-framed 45-70 lever action rifle
– 2nd Prize: Deep-fryer kit ($800 value)
– 3rd Prize: $200 cash
Many other prizes will be drawn at the Wild Game Dinner

The long rustic-red Farmers Market shack stood on bare dirt. A sunken glade of lower Chester Creek gurgled down below the treeline at the edge of the lot. The trees, conflicted about turning, flirted with the idea. Under a Jovian umber and orange cloudscape, I bought ticket #452 at a gate of day-glo-pink plastic web fencing.