Saturday Essay Posts

Suicide Peaks with the Tulips and Lilacs


The drive back from the VFW Hall in central Minnesota was cold, and the snow falling in the dark January night covered the road. I couldn’t tell whether I was drifting too far across the median or too close to the shoulder until I crossed the rumble strips. I probably should have left earlier, but to be honest, it’s dark after 4 p.m. when you are so far north in winter.

Drinks were cheap and not very strong. The bartender didn’t know how to make a Manhattan. I needed to drive home, so I alternated each drink with a glass of water. My friend’s apartment was just blocks away, so she could walk, even if I didn’t offer her a ride. And if I offered, she’d never take it.

We’d met at 9:30, when the jazz trio took the stage (the stage was a wooden platform four inches higher off the ground than the rest of the bar). She and I weren’t particularly close. If we had been, I might not have made the trip. My wife had moved out that morning. It’d been a separation a long time coming, but it still wasn’t something I was ready to talk about. I needed a friend who was not so close that she knew the reason my life was changing. I needed a friend I could talk to about nearly anything except the separation. I wanted someone to drink with, without sharing why I needed a drink.

One Man, One River, Many Stories

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayMike Simonson had a project planned for his retirement. That was the type of guy he was. I’d never heard him talk about retiring, and then the first time he mentions it he’s laying out a plan to produce an epic radio documentary about the St. Louis River … for fun.

I wasn’t surprised Mike had no intention of slowing down after four decades in journalism — a journey he started at the Denfeld Criterion in the mid-1970s, continued at various commercial radio stations during the 1980s, and concluded with a 24-year stint as Wisconsin Public Radio’s northwestern region correspondent at KUWS-FM in Superior. And maybe the topic of the St. Louis River shouldn’t have surprised me either. Mike lived on the river for most of his life, and routinely swam across Stryker Bay for fitness and pleasure.

Still, I was blown away by the idea. Mike had chosen documentary topics in the past that seemed broad, but by comparison were quite specific — Forever Ace: The Richard Bong Story (2012) and We Are Holding Our Own: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald (1995).

Now the St. Louis River? That’s basically the entire history of Duluth, Superior and all the communities that line the 192-mile waterway. It would take an episode to cover the geology alone. The early Anishinaabe-Ojibwe history could be a multi-part documentary by itself. The fur trade, shipping and shipbuilding, the formation of Duluth’s western neighborhoods, industries too numerous to mention, environmental degradation, cleanup efforts, revitalization, wild-rice restoration, fishing and recreation and on and on — there’s just too much story. I was in awe of the idea while flabbergasted at the notion of even Mike Simonson attempting to pull it off.

The Professor

Chris Godsey Saturday Essay“You should be very careful about who else you discuss this with, Chris,” The Professor said. “You should let anyone you’ve told know they can expect to hear from my lawyer.

“You’ve made a very righteous decision that’s putting my job at risk, and you’re using a challenging time for my family as entertainment. I don’t appreciate either of those things.

“How dare you.”

That was early spring almost three years ago. I’m sure those aren’t the exact words he used, but it’s precisely what he said.

A few weeks earlier, The Professor had been arrested for obstructing his wife’s airway. During a school-night discussion, a while after they’d put their four kids to bed, she wouldn’t shut up when he wanted her to and he pinned her body — with his much bigger, stronger one — to their living-room couch and covered her mouth and nose with his hand until he felt like letting her go. Once free, she grabbed a phone while running to the basement, locked herself in a bathroom, and called 911.

Soon after spending two or three days in county jail, he visited me at my then-job, at the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (DAIP). “I put my hands on [her],” he said, eyes watery-red, voice quavering.

He used her name; later, affectation dropped, he wouldn’t.

The Inheritance

Anna Tennis Saturday EssayMy grandmother Irene was a pitiful, crazy person. Not all the time, unfortunately, or she’d have been packed into some coarse New England institution for experiments with electrons and lithium derivatives much earlier. As it was, because she alternated her violent and impulsive behavior with periods of serenity and excellent baking, she was allowed to quietly produce one, two, three, four and finally five wards of the state, one right after the other, before she was wrangled by the authorities and medicated to death.

Her youngest boy, Fred, who she kept along with three more kids, believed that shock therapy, medication, and age had actually healed Irene just enough that she could think rationally about what she’d done. So she overdosed herself on lithium.

We met her once, about a year before she died. She looked like a watercolor version of our mother, all smeared and indistinct in comparison. We had no idea she was our grandmother. Our mother introduced her as “Irene,” no more information.

Saturday Essay: New PDD feature starts in 2016

Saturday Essay logo genericOver the past 12.5 years of Perfect Duluth Day’s existence, there haven’t been many posts that would be considered “essays.” The term is a little vague, but it’s probably understood by most that an essay is something more artistically crafted and of more substantial length than the average PDD post. Examples that come to mind from the past that would be considered essays are Laurie Viets’ “Last Place on Earth — 1983” and my own “Trespassing at UMD’s Old Main in 1992.” There are probably a dozen other examples eluding my memory, but the point in general is that there have been some essays on PDD, but not enough.

To encourage more, we’re launching a new feature called the “Saturday Essay” next week. In each installment, a local writer will share an anecdote, go on a political rant, dissect some event in popular culture or for whatever other purpose string together a healthy amount of words on some subject. Basically the hope is to do for essay writing what “Selective Focus” has done in the past year for photography on PDD.