Saturday Essay Posts

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.

The Lost Coast and the Ghost Choir of Mount Shasta

My one unexplained “paranormal” encounter happened on a trip to the so-called Lost Coast of Northern California. I camped there the summer of 1994 with my girlfriend Mary, in one of our relationship’s great death spasms. Near the end of this expedition, I heard the singing of a ghostly choir in the woods around Mount Shasta. It was singing Mary said she couldn’t hear.

This vacation was important to us. Austin transplants, we’d been cooped up at retail jobs in the Berkeley-Oakland sprawl for a year. We hadn’t explored the wilds of California like it really deserved. So when she caught wind of the Lost Coast, we arranged a matching week off to go find it.

We drove north from the Bay Area in her white Chrysler minivan. We were listening to a mixtape of J.J. Cale, perfect road music with his driving early drum machine sound: “They call me the breeze, I keep blowing down the road.” We also had some Jerry Garcia Band, which we’d been seeing at the Warfield during its unofficial residency. And, we were still coming to terms with Kurt Cobain’s suicide a couple months prior, three days before my 25th birthday. His widow’s album Live Through This was released within days and we were listening to that too. We couldn’t believe she recorded the line “Someday you will ache like I ache” months before he died. Now that line screamed across the radio like live anguish. So those were the vibes.

The Nutcracker Christmases

Christmas gives me the blues. I miss the magic of childhood Christmases spent with my siblings, and I miss the magic of Christmas mornings I spent with my young children. I miss family and friends who have passed away, and the special Christmas traditions we had. Because nothing stays the same, nostalgia can be heart-wrenching.

So, I’m weaving some new traditions into some old ones.

The Nutcracker of the Past

When I was in my twenties, my mother-in-law took me to my first ballet, along with my two sisters-in-law. It was December, so of course, we went to The Nutcracker. I loved it. For two hours enchanting music, graceful dancing, sparkling costumes, and magical sets swept me away to another world. Attending The Nutcracker with my mother-in-law became a tradition for a handful of years.

This year I took my twelve-year-old granddaughter, Clara, to see The Nutcracker, her first ballet. My mother-in-law would be happy to know I’m reviving her tradition. If life were A Christmas Carol, my mother-in-law would have been Fred, the ever-cheerful nephew of Ebenezer Scrooge. She knew how to keep the spirit of Christmas in her heart all year long and how to rise above characters like Scrooge.

The Most Read Saturday Essays of 2023

Saturday Essay logo generic

Season eight of Perfect Duluth Day’s “Saturday Essay” series has drawn to close, and it’s time to look back with the usual popularity contest. For the second year in a row, Jim Richardson authored three out of five works deemed by Google Analytics to be your favorites. In 2021, he swept the whole top five. It makes sense, because he’s Lake Superior Aquaman. Superheroes get all the clicks.

Ripped at Miller Hill Mall in 2003

[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 Miller Hill Mall and composed this article for the Dec. 24, 2003 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper. Historical footnote: This was Slim’s last column for the Ripsaw before it switched from a weekly newspaper to a monthly magazine. Neither were ever the same. Additional footnote: The Great American Bar & Grill closed in 2011; the space is now occupied by Noodles & Company and Chipotle Mexican Grill.]

With all the recent abductions and alleged abductions going on in the region, now is an excellent time to prey on people’s paranoia. That’s why I’m at the Miller Hill Mall, picking out people at random and following them around. It’s just before Christmas, so there are plenty of targets to choose from.

My first victim is Sean Baker. I know his name because he just registered to win a Sea-doo powerboat and 500,000 World Perks miles. I also know now that he is gullible. You don’t have to read the fine print on the entry form to know that the odds of winning are miniscule and the odds of being contacted by annoying telemarketers for the rest of your life because you just signed away your do-not-call list status are equal to the odds of whether or not you have a phone.

Jimi Hendrix, LSD and My Grandmother

Jimi Hendrix appeared to me in a vision while I was getting my wisdom teeth out. This was Thanksgiving break 1986, in Houston, Texas. The next day I took LSD. It was a trip full of signs and portents, heralded by Hendrix’s visitation to me at the dentist’s office. At first I thought Jimi was protecting me, but now I think he may have been trying to warn me about that acid trip.

I’d heard Hendrix on LSD the previous summer, as “Are You Experienced?” transformed my boom box. That’s the song where he says he’s experienced, and then he says “Let me prove it to you” and plays a backward guitar solo. Everybody knows that song, but on psychedelics I heard the solo, man. It did prove Jimi was experienced, just like he said he was. I trusted him, an ersatz father figure dispensing psychedelic wisdom.

Why did I get into LSD, you may ask. Well, in 1983 after our father died, my family lived with our Houston grandmother for a summer of grieving. And while we were there, my little brother Allen and I watched the William Hurt movie Altered States on cable like 5,000 times. It’s about a psychedelic scientist testing the limits of meaning and sanity. We adopted it as a roadmap for how to live.

Boner Problems

Boner problems are my least-favorite sex problem. Here is my best story about boner problems.

The story begins after my divorce, when I was stoked to start up with someone else. I did so immediately. The way these things happen, my marriage-desiccated sex life went from zero to a hundred overnight. My new girlfriend and I were pleasure-seeking missiles indulging every vice. We drank champagne, stayed up late, and screwed loudly. Until I got boner problems.

Alarmed, I began a Manhattan Project to get to the bottom of it, which became a journey through the underworld. Would you believe I finally cleared it up with a naked psychedelic mushroom trip on Amnicon Beach?

A Brief History of Boner Problems

I was in my early 30s with no history of chronic boner problems. I’d had three or four misfires over a decade-and-a-half of an otherwise bangin’ sex-life. That is standard. For instance one night in high school in Texas, I was making out with a girlfriend on the back lawn of the campus chapel, and when she tried going down on me, I was looking around thinking how exposed we were. So that was a fail, but there was no mystery and nothing to worry about. Another time with that same woman, after high school in her Austin shack, we were trying to make it in the shower as people were coming over and letting themselves in and waiting for us. Another fail. It didn’t make me feel great, but it was transitory.

Cub Cadet

Ma’iingan came by to look at the snowblower, a 2001 Cub Cadet 926 SWE 8-horse, at noon on an early November Saturday a year ago. The last backyard maple, birch, and popple leaves had fallen overnight. Around 11:45 I brushed a few from the engine with my hardware-store work gloves before starting the machine and testing the controls. After he got there we crunched around in an ankle-deep layer of leaves while discussing the blower’s features and flaws.

I was selling the Cub Cadet for Frasier’s Mom. She and he (a nifty brindle pit-bull-mix with sweet chocolate eyes) lived next-door to us for about five years. They moved to southern Wisconsin last October after an unexpected decision by her landlord. Frasier’s Mom had bought the snowblower new. While showing me how it worked she recalled how the rural sales guy had treated her better — just talked to her like an actual equal human being — than she had been treated by any other man while buying power equipment. She also told a couple stories about hard work she and the machine had done during winters in small cities and tiny towns and out in the sticks. I don’t think she wanted to sell it or leave Duluth. I do know she and Frasier seemed to be having a blast every time they left for and returned from Chester Bowl trail walks.

Ripped at Keyport Lounge in 2003

[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 Keyport Lounge in Superior and composed this article for the Nov. 12, 2003 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]

It’s Vikings vs. Packers, and the place where I want to be is the Keyport Lounge. It’s right at the foot of the Bong Bridge, so you know it’s where all the cheapskate Viking fans are gonna be, swilling Wisconsin-priced booze and risking life and limb among the inbred Packer Backers.

Sure enough, when I walk in, the amount of purple and green in the room is enough to violate some kind of health code. At least it should.

Anyway, this is a big night for me, because I like watching Viking and Packer fans interact. Personally, I don’t care who wins the game. Drink specials and free food at halftime make us all winners (at least in a loser sort of way). See, I’m a natural-born border straddler. My mother is a Viking fan who lives in Wisconsin. My stepfather is a Packer fan who actually worked as a meat packer years ago. My real father didn’t watch football at all, but he acted a lot like a Viking. You can see how it’s hard for me to develop a clear allegiance.

I Was Left for Dead at Nopeming Sanatorium in the 1918 Fire

(Excerpts from Scions of Cloquet by Jean-Michel Cloquet, 1946, out of print)

I was left for dead at Nopeming sanatorium in 1918, as the Cloquet-Duluth-Moose Lake fire combined with World War I, tuberculosis, and the influenza pandemic just hitting the northland. I’d brought my tuberculosis home with me from the filthy trenches of the Somme. There wouldn’t be an armistice for a month. Reaching Duluth, I was trucked on the dirt road to Nopeming with other infected veterans, fresh off the hospital ship. There we met citizens suffering from the homegrown TB outbreak traced to sewage in Lake Superior. That’s the Duluth I returned to. I’d barely survived overseas, evading German flamethrowers. Some of my trench-mates weren’t so lucky. Now I was barely surviving even though I was stateside, too sick to be properly shell-shocked from the omnipresent global crisis. So they tucked us away 10 miles outside of town in the forest sanatorium. Its name is Ojibwe for “in the woods.” The woods that burned.

The History of Cloquet, Pierre the Pantsless Voyageur and Duluth’s Missing Vermeer

Excerpts from Scions of Cloquet by Jean-Michel Cloquet (1946, out of print)

“In 1820, when he was 17 years old, the Frenchman Pierre Cloquet boarded a packet ship in Le Havre and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. He was trying to escape his father, like many of us try to do, perhaps all of us. He just wanted a little peace and quiet. By a certain measure, he found it in the territory eventually known as Minnesota. Pierre (or Grandpère Cloquet as my brother and I refer to him) became a legendary voyageur and fur trader 20 miles southwest of Duluth, trapping, hunting, and occasionally bear-wrestling. Over two decades of working for the American Fur Company, he built his own trading post where metal tools shipped in and beaver pelts shipped out. He gradually adopted native dress, and he married into a Black-Ojibwe family out of Michigan, sought-after guides and translators. And, right around the collapse of the beaver pelt industry in 1843, he inadvertently founded the town of Cloquet.

Ripped at Jimmy’s Saloon in 2003

[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 Jimmy’s Saloon, which still operates at 1812 Iowa Ave. in Superior’s Billings Park Business District. Although patios at drinking establishments have become commonplace in recent years, they were somewhat rare when this article was published in the Oct. 1, 2003 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]

I’m a sucker for good conversation. So, by all means, tell me how bad your husband is in bed. The more details the better. Tell me about the spit bubbles that foam up on the edges of his mouth as he nears climax. No, seriously. I like that stuff.

Sports and rock ’n’ roll are good too. Just please do me the favor of saving the politics for your Chamber of Commerce meetings and lame-ass Wicca bonfires.

Tonight at Jimmy’s Saloon in Superior’s Billings Park business district, the conversation is just right, so far. Sure, I could probably hear the same talk of music, sports and fucking at any other bar in town, but it’s better at Jimmy’s because the drinks are cheap and there’s a nice courtyard.

Duluth’s Lost Township on Chester Creek

Co-written with Allen Richardson

The Duluth Inside Duluth

In 1963, on 14th Avenue East overlooking Chester Creek, seven houses installed their own sewer rather than hook up to the city system. To do so, they took advantage of the experimentation sweeping the nation regarding public services. New forms of neighborhood government had emerged as housing associations. These seven houses applied for a federal grant as an independent municipal corporation. Technically they seceded from Duluth and became an autonomous township inside the city limits.

A democratic sub-society, the citizen-residents named the township “Duluth” by unanimous vote. After all, they felt they should not have to change the name of where they lived; in fact they were the real Duluth. Their right to name themselves was blessed by an appellate court ruling in 1968, hence “the Duluth inside Duluth.”

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