Saturday Essay Posts

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.

Freediving the Edmund Fitzgerald

It would be possible to dive to the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on the strength of a single breath. Even at the wreck’s depth of 530 feet, it might actually be safer to dive unsupported by scuba tanks than to scuba dive to it. This essay is intended to hypothetically explore the intersection of different types of diving, the wreck itself, and the lake in general. At a minimum, I am suggesting that the freediving possibilities of Lake Superior have not been fully explored.

My interest is provoked because I utilize some freediving breath-hold techniques in my underwater videography as Lake Superior Aquaman. I have never scuba dived, and so I think of the lake in freediving terms. I do not intend to offend the families of the deceased by invoking the Fitzgerald tragedy. However, its iconic stature as a deep wreck in Lake Superior makes it ideal for these illustrative purposes.

I am not suggesting any actual dives to the Fitzgerald. For one thing, both freediving and scuba diving present significant risks, especially beyond 100 feet deep. Also, it has been illegal to dive to the wreck since 2006, unless approved by the Canadian government in whose waters it lies. This is because of successful lobbying by the victims’ families to keep the wreck sacrosanct.

Breaking the Law

All names in this story have been changed. You know, just in case.

In my hometown of Petersburg, Alaska, there is one road that stretches from one end of town to the other, traversing but not circumnavigating the island on which my hometown is located. I think generally people tend to think of islands as little round circles of land in the ocean, which one might conceivably drive around and around forever, like a brass ball in a roulette wheel. But that’s not how things are, and islands are often shaped inconveniently, or pockmarked with gigantic mountains or bodies of water or even volcanoes, which can make logical traffic accommodations wacky. Anyway. In Petersburg, the road goes from one end of the long, arrow-shaped island to the other. This straight-line trajectory has even led locals to refer to driving toward the rural end of the island as “going out the road.” Interestingly, the city limits do not extend to the end of the road, but rather, end some several miles earlier. This means that the city police cannot legally enforce the law beyond those city limits, creating a kind of rogue, lawless wilderness on one end of the island.

This is, as you can likely imagine, terrific news for teenagers.

Ripped at the Boogieman Project in 1999

[Editor’s note: Before the NorShor Theatre became a spiffed up Duluth Playhouse venue it hosted a variety of concerts and parties, such as the annual Boogieman Project at Halloween time. 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 paid a visit to the NorShor and filed the report below, originally published in the Ripsaw newspaper.]

I was completely ripped. To the north of me stood a minotaur. To the south was Ernie from Sesame Street. To the east was a person dressed in about four hundred flashing colored lights. To the west was Kool-Aid Man. No, it wasn’t a bad case of delirium tremens, it was the NorShor Theatre’s fourth annual Halloween party, otherwise known as “The Boogieman Project.”

The NorShor was all decked out for a party of massive proportions. Live bands rocked the house in the main downstairs theater while all manner of freaks and weirdos got funky on the dance floor — a space in front of the stage where the seating was long ago removed. There was a bar setup in the theater to complement the usual one in the balcony mezzanine lounge, where even more bloody surgeons and Star Wars characters drank it up and raised hell to even more live music. God, I love Halloween.

I Made You Say Underwear

I still own all the underwear I’ve ever bought, probably. Like, 85 percent of it. But why? you might legitimately ask yourself. The answer is simple. Underwear is inexplicably expensive. And it takes a long time to wear out, since I don’t do very many things that would cause excessive wear-and-tear, like, say, a lot of butt-scooting on the carpet or skivvy-only horseback riding. I know I’m not alone in this, because over the years I’ve shared this fact and discovered that pretty much everyone is stockpiling ancient underwear.

As a result, I own underwear that is so old that it’s vintage — essentially archaeological artifacts. I’ve got garden-variety skivvies, of course, but I also have floppy and faded high-cut bikinis from 9th grade, lady boxers whose elastic waistbands announce their brand affiliation, and transparent lacy stretch briefs that make my ass look like a low-rent bank-robber. What I don’t have is g-strings. Not anymore.

Ahhh, the g-string. The g-string came to popularity in the late 1990s, first on strippers, then on twenty-somethings, and then, finally, on Donna, the 60-year-old cashier at ShopKo who is suprisingly racy and not interested in what you think about her undergarment selection, thank you very much and have yourself a lovely day minding your own fucking business.

My Parachute

On the day before Thanksgiving 2018, the small airplane I was piloting experienced an engine failure.

It didn’t quit, exactly, though I wish it had. Rather, the engine’s power oscillated uncontrollably every three seconds between idle and nearly full. This is not an easy way to fly an airplane.

The arc of the oscillations slowly moved to the idle side of the curve. Eventually, as the airplane and I approached Earth without the privilege of an airport below, the engine finally gave up altogether.

Fortunately for me, the airplane was equipped with a device engineered to lower the entire aircraft to the ground in an emergency, while providing a measure of survivability for the occupants: a parachute, which is deployed by the occupants via a rocket so they may live to tell their story.

After my rendezvous with the ground, I left the disabled aircraft in a frozen field, broken and askew on a large center-point irrigator, and went home and wrote down my experience. I then posted it on the internet. A few days later, Paul Lundgren, a proprietor of Perfect Duluth Day, asked if I would share my story here. I replied, “I will. But not yet. Maybe not for awhile.”