Saturday Essay Posts

New Study Indicates Science Wrong about ‘Pretty Much Everything Health-Related’

A recently published study in Scientific Facts Daily has scientists around the world shaking their heads in befuddlement and dismay. Marshaling the combined data from more than 50 years and 73,000 scientific papers summarizing more than 100,000 scientific studies, the work concludes that scientific studies on the efficacy of consuming more or less of certain food types, adding nutrients or nutritional supplements to one’s diet, or using certain medicines to treat disease are all “pretty much wrong.”

“Like, almost completely wrong, every time,” chief researcher Dr. Martina Ferkes-Boothe, an international expert on hypertension, indicated. “Seriously,” Ferkes-Booth continued, “If I wasn’t a scientist myself, I’d think someone was making this shit up. First, we tell everyone not to eat fat or cholesterol, or they’ll have a heart attack and die. People were choking down those cardboard Lean Cuisine low-fat pizzas for like a decade. Totally wrong. Could have been eating real cheese, instead of that weird soy snot, the whole time. And don’t even start in on butter made out of yogurt. So many fucked up mashed potatoes. I feel just awful about it now.”

Saturday Essay and Selective Focus Programming Note

Like a bunch of old timers stuck in some newspaper-era, schedule-oriented, deadline-consumed mindset, the brain trust at Perfect Duluth has been locked for several years in the notion that every Friday we need to publish our Selective Focus feature and every Saturday we need to publish our Saturday Essay. No more. It was fine for a while, but we’re done with that rigid scheduling.

Entering the Devil’s Triangle

In late September 2018 it would have been a challenge to read a newspaper or watch a television news program without encountering the phrase “Devil’s Triangle.” In case anyone has already forgotten, I’ll briefly explain. It was related to Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the United States Supreme Court and Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations against him. With Kavanaugh’s character in question, everything about him became subjected to analysis, including his 1983 high school yearbook, where the phrase “Devil’s Triangle” appeared in a long list of Kavanaugh’s accomplishments meshed with a slew of inside jokes.

This is a pretty typical thing. My own 1991 high school yearbook lists my involvement in luge. My high school didn’t have an official luge team, of course. But the entry isn’t entirely a joke. I organized several sledding events with my peers — just the traditional riding of orange Paris and red Norca plastic sleds down the hills of Duluth. We referred to ourselves as the Denfeld High School Luge Team.

As you can probably guess, the odds are 100 percent in favor of a search for “luge, sex term” on the internet generating an eye-opening result. It turns out that mentioning in my yearbook the simple act of going sledding with my friends could be interpreted as bragging about fellatio skills.

Lost in the Woods

Under cozy plush sheets and a thick comforter, I wait for heat from a newly lit fire to reach me. Chilly mornings in Lakewood Township, and by chilly I mean winter cold, have a different meaning to me than to most. I didn’t realize how accustomed I had become to this way of life until a visitor asked why I get ready for bed with a light winter hat nearby. I show my guests how to start and feed the fire. I tell them the alternative to rising from their warm cocoon is to simply yell through the blanket, “My head is cold,” and I will resolve the situation.

Mornings aren’t tough here. There are no winter boots that get put on to tend to livestock or sled dogs. I do not crawl into a chicken coop to gather breakfast. There is running water, but I don’t drink it. Instead I fetch water from the natural spring off Highway 35 and Midway Road. There is electricity, but no Wi-Fi or television. Life here is a little, alternative, I shall say. Alternative in a slightly archaic fashion, but by no means, difficult. I only notice my gradual slip into this alternativeness when I open the door to the outside world and along with it comes a want for “normalcy” that has become unfamiliar to me.

Ripped at V.F.W. Post 137 in 2009

[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. After the Fox-Sutherland V.F.W. Post 6320 in West Duluth closed, it merged with the Lincoln Park neighborhood post. The town’s infamous drunken scribbler paid a visit in February 2009 to file this report for the weekly Transistor. Historical note: One year later, V.F.W. Post 137 was renamed the McConnell-Modeen Post. It remains open at 2023 W. Michigan St.]

It seems camaraderie among Veterans of Foreign Wars is on the decline. Duluth is down to its last V.F.W. club, the Duprey-Alexander Post 137 in the friendly West End neighborhood. There’s no sign on the front of the building, or any other visible indication the club exists, but the V.F.W. is indeed still there, open every day from 3 p.m. until the volunteer bartender decides to lock up.

Tonight, the clientele consists of a young couple at the bar playing cribbage and a small group meeting in the next room. My arrival does not excite the volunteer bartender at all, and I can’t blame her. Working on tips alone, she must be pulling in $4 an hour. It’s only 8 p.m., but she clearly wants to close up shop right now. I think I’ll try ordering a margarita just to watch her reaction.

Mockingbird

I think I read To Kill A Mockingbird for the first time as a Rochester John Marshall 10th grader sometime during the 1986-87 school year. My most prominent memory of the academic experience is writing five-paragraph essays about the book for three buddies who got higher grades on the assignment (all A-minuses) than I got (solid, respectable B). I also remember watching our teacher, the white, perpetually flustered Ms. Green, have no idea what to do when Scott, the only black kid in that sophomore English section, reacted with outrage after the first time she shakily uttered the word “nigger” while reading an excerpt aloud to us.

The book is seldom far from my conscious thoughts. Partially because it’s culturally omnipresent. It’s tough to have a college degree, love reading, work in education, watch public television, or just be alive and engaged in certain aspects of dominant Baby Boomer and Generation-X zeitgeist without seeing, hearing about, or discussing the book (or the movie version of it) fairly frequently. I’m also sure I would think about it fairly often even if it weren’t ubiquitous. I don’t recall much about my actual experience of reading it that first time. I do know I immediately revered the story and many of its characters. I still do. And I’ve consciously thought about it more than usual for the past year or so, after Duluth Public Schools (Independent School District 709) administrators announced the book would be removed from ninth-graders’ English reading list. A lot of people in Duluth and a lot of other places have had a lot things to say about that decision.

Rules About Monsters

Monsters are, as you doubtlessly already acutely understand, terribly frightening and dangerous. Many films have been made, detailing the paralyzingly ghastly and gory imperatives on which monsters operate, resulting in rooms fairly brimming with ichor and carnage: Soggy glumps of eyeballs, hanging from sticky ropes of optic nerves like morbid tether balls; piles and piles of viscera, settling and emitting gas like teams of farting snakes; ripped and abandoned limbs, arms and legs stacked like macabre log cabins of ruined flesh and protruding bone, still twitching and dripping the last of their darkening blood. Every shadowy corner, every looming closet, every rickety and ramshackle basement staircase adumbrates the uncanny atrocities monsters are hoping to wreak. They are eager to wreak. It’s their whole mission, in fact. (There’s a perfectly empirical reason for the word “monstrosities,” and it’s precisely what you’re thinking.)

One might reflect on this reality with floppy despondency, and in fairness, one would not be mistaken to do so. Flop and despond, if you need to get it out of your system. But as you’re able, kindly recover your wits, and devote your attention to the following introductory tutorial on the rules by which all monsters must abide, lest they be subjected to the same harrowing and disastrous fates to which they are so devoted to imposing on the human population.

How to Change a Flat Tire

I think it’s been something like 10 years since I’ve blown a tire while driving and had to replace it with a spare on the side of the road. What’s weird about that is I remember having to change flat tires fairly often in previous years — like once every 20 months or something.

The most I have ever paid for a motor vehicle is $4,000. My current car cost $3,500. The seven others I’ve gone through over the years each cost about $1,500 or less. Every one of them was a bargain, but involved a bit more maintenance than newer cars. The well-worn tires on some of those clunkers used to give me my share of roadside adventures. I’m not sure why that has stopped in the past decade, but I’m certainly not complaining.

About 15 years ago, as a public service and also as a reminder to my future self, I compiled a list of advice about changing flat tires. I’m assuming all of it still applies to today’s vehicles and might be useful to the general public at some point in the future or me tomorrow. It’s not really technical advice, it’s more for emotional preparation.

Ripped During Swamping Hours in 2009

[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. Ten years ago the Sultan of Sot visited a trio of West Duluth bars and published this report for Duluth’s weekly Transistor.]

To borrow a term from the card game blackjack, I’ve decided to “double down” on my drinking today. What that means is, I’m at the Rustic Bar in West Duluth at 8 a.m. My goal is to get drunk by midday, go home and pass out, then wake up and go to the bars again. If I manage to get drunk twice, well, I’ve doubled my winnings.

On top of that, drinking while the buses are still running means there’s no need to spend valuable beer money on a taxi. In tough economic times, we all need to get thrifty, right?

For some reason it’s boiling hot inside the Rustic, which I didn’t expect on a January morning. There are four other guys at the bar, and two of them have stripped down to their T-shirts. Eventually, one of them asks the bartender why it’s so hot. She looks at the thermostat and tells us it’s set for 80 degrees.

The Name and the Person

Growing up, I disliked my name. It’s a 1970’s-era “J name” — like Jennifer, Jessica, Julie, and Jason. It was partly inspired by the Scream Queen, Jamie Lee Curtis, who starred in Halloween in 1978, the year I was born.

Since Jamie is often a boy’s name, I got Boys’ Life magazine ads and Boy Scout fliers in the mail. On the first day of 7th grade, my homeroom teacher met me with an “oh!,” and said he was surprised I was a girl. These things greatly offended younger me.

My mother chose a cute, trendy name for a critical, contrarian child. I could only see the contradictions in Jamie the name: an androgynous name for a feminine girl; a plain name that has four or more different spellings; a common name that people misread as Janice and mishear as Janie.

My middle name was no better in my opinion. It is my mother’s maiden name, a last name. I would have liked a “real” middle name like Jamie Lynn or Jamie Lee, like Ms. Curtis.

Minnesota Winter Evenings

I.
Some winter evenings I stand on a lake’s edge under bright-black Iron Range sky wondering about walking across that ice, over the train tracks along the far shore, into those woods, and away. What if I wandered until weary, laid down under a pine tree, then breathed easy until one by one my atoms drifted off into moonlight and air? Could I become birch smoke? Would a resting black bear or hunting fox know me among everything else it inhales? Most often on those nights I just look at the outside from inside, through my mother-in-law’s living room window after everyone else has gone to bed. When the TV and lights are off I can see down her back yard and past the dock we pulled out of Colby Lake in October and will push back into it come late May or early June. Snow on lake ice glows blue-gray under black pine silhouettes. Sky glows black. Abashed by comfort and warmth, I tell myself to get dressed and ski out the eastern end of Colby into the Partridge River. Or ride fat tires across Whitewater Lake or along the Bird Lake Trail or up and down the Moose Line Road. Then I admit my lack of will. Then I stand there for a couple more minutes, trying to make sure I can remember what that outside looks and feels like so my brain can reproduce the sensation long after the last time I’ve seen it. Then I go to bed and struggle to sleep.

A Little Green

It’s a perfect day outside — not too hot, not too cold. He doesn’t look when he hears my voice, like he has forgotten that he can turn his head to see who’s entered the room. I’ve gotten into the habit of coming up behind his chair, placing my hand on his shoulder, and lowering my body to a half-crouch before him. I meet his eyes, and wait to watch as recognition transforms him. It’s a silly thing, but it delights me to see the love on his face grow like the sunrise, changing the angle of his shoulders as he leans forward in pleasure and relief. It’s me. He doesn’t know my name, but he knows me. I have spent a not inconsiderable amount of time wondering if my father loves me. How my father loves me. Why my father loves me. But this, this is simple: my father loves me. It is one of the few gifts this fucking miserable disease has given me. But if I’m being honest, it’s a good one.

Today I brought fresh raspberries from the neighbor’s yard. They will taste like sunshine and outside, and I know he’ll love them. I attempt to broker a handoff, but the berries are so ripe we both end up with our hands covered in juice. His motor skills are dyssynchronous and irregular, now. He can pinch and grasp, but it’s like he’s playing one of those camp games, where some other guy puts his arms through your sleeves and gestures for you; he smooshes the berry, he pinches it, he grabs my hand and pulls it to his cheek. I laugh, because it’s better if it’s funny, and it kind of is. It can be, anyway.

Saturday Essay: Select gems from 2018

Saturday Essay logo genericLast week we highlighted the five most-read pieces from the third 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 three years PDD has published 150 essays showcasing the work of 27 different writers; we hope to expand that roster in 2019. 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 three …

The Most Read Saturday Essays of 2018

Saturday Essay logo genericPerfect Duluth Day’s “Saturday Essay” series has reached the end of its third season. As has become tradition, we now take a look back at some of the favorites of the past year. This week is part one, highlighting the essays that were read the most times according to Google Analytics. Because statistics should always be used to organize creativity, right?

El Camino del Tiempo

We are migrants, one and all, on el Camino del Tiempo, where even the housebound and hunkered-down awaken each morning somewhere they were not yesterday. We’ve emerged from the mists of history and the dreamtime of an infant’s amnesia, and set forth by wildly disparate means of conveyance toward the receding horizon. Signs signal a tomorrow around the bend, but tomorrow is a ghost-town appearing only on the maps, and you can’t get there from here.

So here we are, and there we go, by bullet train or afoot across the trackless wastes, but always on el Camino. Always schlepping our blood on its way down the generations. Always the short skirts and tight pants of the baby-making dance, and the will to carry on.

I marvel at the elaborate ruses concocted to transport one’s genes down el Camino. Marvel at the termite tenacity of these roadside encampments we call cities. Marvel at the hive-life of our super-organism, striving for a meal and a place to sleep and a place to dance the baby-making dance. I shudder at the nighttime photos from space of our settlements glowing golden. Earth burning like the oil lamp it’s become. And between the cities lies the darkened land, yet to trade stars for streetlights.