Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hopes and Predictions for 2009...

I got a request from the Duluth News Tribune to offer their readers my hopes and predictions for the new year. Here they are....

Hopes: I hope the city of Duluth can rebound from its economic malaise; I hope the state can rebound from its economic malaise; I hope the country can rebound from its economic malaise; I hope the world can rebound from its economic malaise; I hope Mars can rebound from its economic malaise, and I hope I get over this darn head cold.

Predictions: The city will not rebound from its economic malaise; the state will not rebound from its economic malaise; the country will not rebound from its economic malaise; the world will not rebound from its economic malaise; Mars, ditto, and the head cold will go on and on.

Happy Holidays to all!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The last holiday book signing hurrah…

I'll be doing my last holiday book signings at area booksellers this weekend: 
*  Grandma's Marketplace tomorrow (Saturday–December 20th) from 1-2 pm 
     *  The Bookstore at Fitgers on Sunday–December 21–from noon-2 pm. (Snowstorm make-up session)

Hope to see you there!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Help me Rhonda...

I'm a writer, not a performer, OK? Some who write are so at ease speaking in front of folks. Not me. I guess I'm basically shy. My wife says I'm a shy Swede. Our family all did the Myers Briggs tests and I am, of course, an "I" (Introvert). Two in my family members are "E's" (Extrovert) and two of us are "I's" 

I'm bearing my soul to you today to tell a little known fact about how shy I am.  It's hard for me to "be on" and in the spotlight. I like the kind of spotlight where I can hide behind my writing…sort of in the dark. I've turned down offers to speak before groups or appear regularly on TV because–I just can't do it. This book I have out forces me to be in the spotlight a bit, if I am to do what is expected to sell books. There have been newspaper interviews, of course. But I have had to take a big gulp and be in the spotlight as a guest on a couple of radio and TV programs in order to get the word out about the book.

Today I was on the "Help Me Rhonda" show on KDAL radio–610 AM– from 1-2 PM. Honestly, Rhonda Grussendorf did help me–so the name of her program has credibility with me. She is a pro and made me feel so comfortable that I actually enjoyed the interview, despite the fact that I was in the spotlight and on the air. Hope you were listening today. It was fun and she relaxed me enough to get me to tell about some interesting tales of my work at the DNT and a bit of background about the book. You did "Help me, Rhonda!" And so have the other radio and TV personalities who interviewed me. They are all pros and I don't know how they do it! But that doesn't mean that I've changed my ways. Half of my family understands and the other half knows what it is like. Is there any one else out there who understands?  

So…now it's back to hiding behind my writing once again...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

White out today...

It's a white out and a cozy day to stay inside. Hope you're enjoying your time with family, watching the big game, or just hunkering down with a good book. Hmmm....what new books might be out this season that would make good winter reading? (It's shameless, I know, but there are a lot of books to sell!) Anyway as those of you in our Duluth area might guess, most everything has been canceled, including skiing at Spirit Mountain and my book signing this afternoon at The bookstore At Fitgers. 

Our son was out snowshoeing by his home earlier and told us it was not fit for man nor beast to be out and recommends we all stay inside. He took a picture from his front window (below) to prove white out conditions. You cannot see the street or house across the street. Our front door was blocked by a big snow drift this morning and we can't see the homes down from our hillside perch either. So…if you have a good book to read (hint, hint) this is the time. Enjoy our first big winter storm!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Iron Range tour...

Thanks to all who came to visit and check out my book on Saturday during my Iron Range tour of bookstores.  What a warm and inviting experience it was to meet so many wonderful readers and enjoy the hospitality of gracious Iron Range/Grand Rapids booksellers. Tony Dierckins, my publisher and author of Crossing the Canal,  joined me for this tour. If you have not seen Tony's book, be sure to check it out. The "bridge book" is the definitive book about the aerial lift bridge and filled with history, folk lore and gorgeous pictures. Just a great book!

One of our visitors was Iron Range columnist and author, Aaron Brown. Aaron is a most talented young writer. I've been enjoying reading his new book, Overburden, and would highly recommend it. Aaron and I have some things in common besides our column writing. He is the father of three young boys–two are twins–and I am the grandfather of twin boys. It's lots of work but so much fun–and we all know "it takes a village" to raise twins. Thanks for stopping by, Aaron!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Peace on earth–but when?

by Jim Heffernan

Note: Here's a Christmas column I wrote two years ago. It seems to have continued relevance in today's world. We can only hope....  

This is the 34th Christmas that I have been writing a column in this newspaper. I’ve about run out of my own Christmas memories to share with readers – childhood recollections of celebrations with family members long gone, or memories of Sunday school holiday programs enacting the nativity (always a shepherd, never a wise man).

So today, Christmas Eve 2006, I share this space with an old fellow who knew a little something about Christmas – actually the meaning of Christmas. Most readers recognize his name – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – as one of America’s revered poets of the 19th century, but very much out of fashion today.

One of his poems, a series of reflections on peace on Earth, has been set to music with at least two melodies familiar to dedicated carolers. Longfellow has been dead as a doornail for 124 years, so he qualifies as a sort of ghost of Christmas past whose verses reflect all too well Christmas present and some hope for Christmases yet to come -- ideas so nobly advanced by one of Longfellow’s English contemporaries, Charles Dickens.

What follows are Longfellow’s rhymed words in italics, and some prose comments from me in regular type after each verse.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day,
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet,
The words repeat
Of peace on Earth good will to men.

Last week I heard a radio interview with a stateside U.S. Army officer of field-grade rank who spent last Christmas in Iraq. He said spending the holiday in a war zone has forever altered his attitude toward Christmas. “Peace on Earth good will toward men” means nothing to him anymore, he said on National Public Radio.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had roll’d along,
Th’unbroken song,
Of peace on Earth good will to men.

“Belfries of all Christendom…” Wow, what a powerful image -- thousands of church steeples, their bells resounding in unison. I grew up in a home midway between two long-gone Duluth Catholic churches – St. Clements and Sts. Peter and Paul -- with belfries and bells that rang out twice a day, noon and evening, throughout the year. What a wonderful, hopeful sound. Broken now. Years after Longfellow’s day, during World War II, a lot of the bells from belfries overseas were melted down to make cannons, which brings us, with trepidation, to the next verse:

And in despair I bow’d my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong
“And mocks the song,
“Of peace on earth good will to men.”

A couple of headlines in the New York Times caught my eye last week. “Attacks in Iraq at record level, Pentagon finds,” read one; “President wants to increase size of armed forces,” read another. It’s the same every day in that and other papers, with no end in sight. The words in that verse are, perhaps, the most prescient of Longfellow’s thoughts. Would that these next were:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail,
The right prevail,
With peace on earth good will to men.”

We can only hope.

origninally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on December 24, 2006

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Book selling...

Thanks everyone for dropping by Barnes and Noble on Saturday. 
It was fun to visit with you...and nice to see the book is selling! 

I have two more book signings coming up in Duluth: 
     * The Bookstore at Fitgers on Saturday, Dec. 14 (noon-2 pm) 
     * Grandma's Marketplace on Sunday, Dec, 20 (1-2 pm)
     * Iron Range and Grand Rapids book sellers on Dec. 13.

Hope you can drop by!

Monday, December 1, 2008

No, it's not me in the court log...

Today I received an e-mail from a friend who told me that another Jim Heffernan (a good 10 years younger with a different middle initial... and probably a bit more of a trouble maker than me) was in the court log in Friday's Duluth News Tribune for an open bottle charge. The friend told me that lots of folks working at the DNT who don't know me well think it's me. I was reminded of a similar circumstance when a number of years ago perhaps the same guy was in the paper for beating his wife or something terrible like that and my wife was (eventually) told by a few of her colleagues at her work that they all thought it was me. She was told that each time they saw her, they felt sorry for what she had to endure at home. She is retired now but worked as a school social worker and it made the whole story more exciting for those folks. When the truth came out, they explained that their whole team of teachers at that one building thought it was me and had a scenario concocted about the social worker who helped others but had to go home to an even more awful situation. They all got some chuckles over it later but, golly.... here I am this "mature" guy who lives a pretty "regular" life and to think I have this aura of  renegade  geezer surrounding me. So– to set the record straight–it's not me in the court log, I promise!

Chuckles from a blogger

Hey–glad to have received a good chuckle from my fellow blogger, Mel Magree, on his Irregular Blog site upon reading my latest satire (below). Be sure to check out his blog as I guarantee you his writings are always erudite and interesting.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Second Coming: The More Things Change, the More They Are the Same...

By Jim Heffernan

I had a strange dream the other night. It involved the second coming – at least the second coming as far as my religious traditions are concerned. I wouldn’t want to offend anybody for whom it would be the first coming, or no coming at all, but the second coming is a pretty big deal for people who have been brought up in the Christian tradition.

Anyway, in my strange dream, Jesus shows up in our midst looking pretty much the way he always has – beige robe, shoulder-length hair parted in the middle, small beard.

Of course his arrival is greeted with great joy by the millions of his followers worldwide. Many television evangelists were in their glory (aren’t they always?), all of them agreeing on one “pool” message: “We told you so.”

The savior wasted no time in getting right down to the business of saving the world, which is his job. But, like the last time he was on Earth, he needed a little help from, well, call them what you will, a group of disciples or, in more modern terminology, a cabinet. This isn’t the year 30 A.D., you know. Disciples is so First Century. Same with apostles.

Good thing, though, that the original disciples, 11 of whom went on to become saints, were still around heaven, ready at the beck and call of their master, when needed.

So the master got right down to work, making a series of announcements concerning whom he would enlist as his “first team” to help him with his mission.

Wasting no time, he immediately announced that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John would return, serving on his cabinet.

The announcement elicited great excitement at first, but it wasn’t long before some of the TV preachers and others, together with leaders of the great Christian religions, began to grouse and complain.

Many said they expected great change from the second coming and wondered in interviews with the New York Times why the savior was bringing back old names from his first, well, for lack of a better term, administration.

“Peter? Sure, he’s got his own basilica in Rome now, but he didn’t exactly cover himself with glory last time with his denials,” one eminent clergyman told the Times. The clergyman was granted anonymity because he is quite aged and does not want to jeopardize his own admittance into heaven when his time comes.

The biblical quartet of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, while acknowledged to be saintly and able writers and evangelists, are “warmed-over saints,” said the bishop of St. Petersburg. “We need fresh faces, fresh ideas around the returned leader if we are going to get the change he promises,” the bishop went on.

Concerns were expressed also that Paul, while not a member of the original 12, (Judas? Forget about him – won’t be back) might be attacked by terrorists if he tried to journey down the road to Damascus.

Still, as each day passed, the master named more of the old guard to his inner circle – including Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, James and James (the lesser but still in the fold) – and his followers on Earth grew increasingly frustrated with his choices. Billy Graham withheld comment.

Finally, Jesus ascended to a mount to defend his choices, saying, “I am change.”

I wanted to hear more, but I woke up. Crazy dream, huh? You wonder where these things come from.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Giving Thanks...

Suddenly it's nearly Thanksgiving. Guess this holiday season has crept up on me. I've been pretty busy this past week nursing a bad cold, preparing for the family feast on Thursday and, yes, more book stuff. 

Thanks to all who stopped by to say hello and buy a book at the X-Communication booth at the Festival of Trees on Saturday and Sunday. It was a festive and busy event. 

I'm doing some more book signings at events this weekend and hope you'll have a chance to stop by and see me. I'll be at Walden Books (Miller Hill Mall) on Black Friday–the Friday following Thanksgiving–from 2 - 4 pm. Then on Saturday, November 29th, I'll be at Northern Lights Book Store in Canal Park from noon to 1 pm. On Sunday, November 30th, you'll find me at The Bookstore At Fitgers (Fitger's Brewery complex) from noon until 2 pm.  And...just for the record, the 30th of November is also my 40th wedding anniversary date. 

In December I'll be at Barnes and Noble (Saturday, December 6th from 3 - 4 pm); The Bookstore at Fitgers one more time (Sunday, December 14th from noon - 2 pm); and Grandma's Marketplace in Canal Park ( Saturday, December 20th from 1 - 2 pm). 

For those of you living in Grand Rapids or the Iron Range communities, you'll find me and Tony Dierckins, my publisher and author of Crossing the Canal, visiting area book sellers throughout the day on Saturday, December 13th. 

Hope to see you at one of these events! In the meantime…please stay tuned as I intend to share more of my musings with you on this blog. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all! 

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lord Love a Lame Duck...

By Jim Heffernan

Here’s the latest news unfit to print…

Groups representing animal rights and the disabled announced yesterday they are launching an all-out effort to end the U.S. government’s insensitive maligning of handicapped American ducks.

The two groups, backed by the duck advocacy organization Ducks Uninhibited, are petitioning Congress and the executive branch to cease and desist in the use of “lame duck” in describing the remainder of the George W. Bush presidency and the final session of the current Congress.

“We’ve had a bellyful of lame duck this and lame duck that ever since the presidential election,” said Millard M. Merganser, executive vice president of the animal rights group Friends of our Fine Feathered Friends (FFFF). “It’s one thing to shoot ducks, but must we insult them, too?

Merganser was joined at a press conference by Rance G. Fowler of Ducks Uninhibited and S. Francis Drake, representing the Center for the Study of Political Incorrectness and Social Injustice at Tufts University, who said the term “lame” is no longer proper, except when describing poorly wrought theatrical performances or un-amusing jokes.

“When the chickens come home to roost, we must eschew lame ducks or our goose will be cooked,” asserted Merganser.

Fowler appealed to fellow Americans, especially current and past Boy Scouts, to remember to “be kind to our web-footed friends, for a duck may be somebody’s mother.” That quote, he said, is from an old Scouting anthem sung to the tune of “Stars and Stripes Forever” “but it’s as true today as it was in Abraham Lincoln’s day.”

Added FFFF’s Merganser, “If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck it can’t be a lame duck.”

Getting their ducks in a row, the groups also announced the appointment of Huey, Louie and Dewey Duck as poster children for the campaign to stamp out lame ducks. They are the nephews of Donald and Daisy Duck of Los Angeles, who reared them. Their cousin, Daffy, is not involved in the effort because he really is lame, and Donald Duck’s wealthy but aged uncle, Scrooge McDuck, while ducking the media, has refused to endorse the effort.

Film at 10.

The "Scroll Down" Addition...

If you haven't already noticed, I've added a new section to the blog. Scroll down to the bottom of the page in this section to find older writings that I'm including– just for the fun of it. These will will vary from time to time, so scroll down as the spirit moves you. I'll try to pick columns (not in my book) that seem timely or interesting. If you have a favorite column and I can easily find it, I'll also try to honor your request. In addition to my usual outrageous nonsense, you'll find Duluth history pieces, life of the rich and famous who came to Duluth, more serious slices of life– and more.  The recent elections seemed like a good time to include the column titled, Politics Too Dirty for Words, in the start-up scroll down.  Stay tuned...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Book Launch Event...

Nearly 200 attended the book launch event on Friday evening, November 14 at CSS. It was a festive evening with ample opportunity for socializing, book signing and a fun program. Tom Wilkowski put to tune all verses of my poem, "Cooler Near the Lake," (hence the title of my book) and I talked about my writing and read a couple of picks from my book: "Call of the Child" and The Game of Hockey is a Lot Like Life–Stupid." Tony Dierckins, author of Crossing the Canal–and my publisher, presented visuals along with a fascinating history about the canal and bridge, including interesting folk lore. It was wonderful that so many of you could come and help me celebrate the launching of my book on a busy Friday evening. I was kept pretty occupied signing books and give my apologies to those of you who missed visiting with me. Thank you to all who came and helped to make this book launch a success. Thanks too to Tony and his professional crew who orchestrated it all.  The book is officially launched and the holiday book signing season begins. Hope to see you at your favorite bookstore in the weeks coming up!  Catch these pictures below of this fine event.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Urban Legend Clouds Obama's Birthplace

By Jim Heffernan

It was a chance coming together. We were seated alone in adjacent booths in a small café. I was eating an egg salad sandwich; he had coffee and something I couldn’t recognize. I found out later it was vitriol.

The election was over, but only by about 36 hours. The stranger, reading a newspaper, asked me if I knew the current inflation rate. “It used to be about 3 percent, but I’m not sure how the financial crisis has affected it,” was my answer.

His query opened the door for casual conversation, initiated by him. It was immediately clear that he was not overjoyed at the election of Barack Obama. I believe he believes that America as we have known and loved it has come to an end with the election of Obama to the presidency.

Taxes, he said, will skyrocket. If you like taxes, you’ve got your man.

I said I have never paid much attention to taxes. I haven’t. Never in my adult life has an income tax increase or tax cut had the slightest effect on my standard of living. Not the slightest.

He seemed disgruntled; bitter about the way the election turned out and was looking for a like-minded person – anyone, even a total stranger – to gripe with.

I am not one to confront strangers (they might punch you in the nose), so I smilingly indicated to him that I was not his man. I cheerfully said I had voted for Obama myself, and, come to think of it, in 48 years of voting, I had always cast my presidential ballot for the Democrat.

He looked at me incredulously, as though he was exchanging conversation with someone from another planet – Pluto or, worse yet, Mars.

Then he introduced an issue that had escaped me throughout the entire campaign, but which apparently has had great currency on the blogosphere, which, in spite of having a blog myself, I am not in the habit of regularly perusing.

The issue is this: Thousands – millions? – of people believe that Obama’s candidacy, and now election, is illegal because he was not born in the United States, but rather in Kenya. Never mind that the campaign, back in June, produced a birth certificate from Hawaii showing that Barack Hussein Obama was born there in 1961 (a year after I cast my first presidential ballot – for John F. Kennedy).

Unfortunately, those disposed to believing the Kenya rumor do not believe the birth certificate is authentic. Never mind that other Hawaiian birth certificates of that era are identical to Obama’s. Never mind anything.

My neighbor in the next booth subscribes -- you could say hook, line and sinker -- to the rumor. He told me that the United States Constitution, which stipulates that presidents must be “native born,” is being violated and that the Republic will now crumble because a non-native born president has been elected. “You’ll see.”

It was time for me to depart, so I laughingly pointed out that John McCain was born in Panama, where his father was serving in the U.S. Navy, something I had picked up along the way during the campaign. He was still deemed eligible to be president.

There was a parting shot, initiated by me. I told him that I had received a call the day before the election from someone claiming that Obama was not only a socialist but a Marxist.

It’s true, he boomed. He is a Marxist.

All the better, as far as I’m concerned. I have always embraced the Groucho wing of Marxism. Groucho, about whom it has been said, “saw to it that no conversation went anywhere, or, if anywhere, that it was of maximum unimportance to the human race.”

That about summed up the conversation I’d just had.

*** Check out this Snopes.com link if you're still a doubter....

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Book Update... My book, Cooler Near the Lake, is now on the shelves of area bookstores. On line book orders are also ready to process on the publisher's web site: www.x-communication.org.

You might notice that I'm a bit distracted today by the book coming out. So stay tuned because my fingers get itchy to write about other stuff... Jim

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


By Jim Heffernan

There once was a Palin named Sarah,
Who fiddled a lot with her hair-ah,
Sometimes she wore bangs,
Above her sharp fangs,
Just like she did as a mayor-ah.

Now the Palin named Sarah is Gov.,
Of a state every hunter can love,
She shot down a moose,
Then cooked her own goose,
Asking for help from above.

Sarah Palin is always dressed nicely
In duds she’ll discuss only icily,
Preferring instead,
To lip-gloss the head,
Of a bulldog, speaking precisely.

Monday, October 27, 2008


By Jim Heffernan

Hey, Joe Sixpack here. You remember me, don’tcha? I usta be the forgotten man but not no more. This presidential election seen to that.

Trouble is, I’m actually extinct. Kaput. That Palin woman running for vice president thinks I’m still around but I ain’t. Not by a long shot. Take it from a beer veteran: No self-respectin’, beer drinkin’, football watchin’, pickup truck drivin’, deer huntin’, red-white-and-true-blue hard workin’ guy buys beer by the six pack any more. This ain’t the Depression, you know. Not yet anyways. Maybe next week though.

Oh, the stores stock six packs, but nobody buys ‘em. I’d say the 12-pack is by far the most popular beer package, followed by the case. I’m a case man myself. Heck, any decent Green Bay or Vikings fan can put away 12 beers by halftime, after which he takes the standard trip to the you-know-what room to get ready for the second half.

By the way, even though I’m extinct, I still got feelings, for crying out loud. I got my pride. I mean, Joe Sixpack reigned supreme for decades as the symbol for the average hard-workin’, bread winnin’, blue collar wearin’ Joe.

So who’s this “Joe the Plumber” character they keep bringin’ up lately? Liketa make everybody forget about Joe Sixpack. What a faker. He ain’t even got a plumbing license so he can hug toilets legally. That’d be like my old lady’s beautician not having a cosmology license and still dyin’ hair. It’s un-American, I say.

Well I gotta get goin’ pretty soon here, but before I do I wanna state once and for all that that Governor Palin is one sharp cookie, and not a bad dish, even if she don’t know the difference between a six pack, 12 pack, case or a pony keg. I know alotta hockey moms, but Governor Palin ain’t a bit like the ones I know. For one thing, she don’t dress like a hockey mom, ceptin’ for a few doctors’ wives.

But havin’ a hockey mom in the White House could do wonders for the game. Say President McCain (if he gets elected) goes into sudden-death overtime, there she’d be right down the hall ready to step into the big job, already knowing when the skater is off side, what icing is, the difference between the red line and the blue lines, what forechecking is, when high-sticking is going on – just like in her campaign. Granted, she’s a little weak in the neutral zone.

She can catch up on the other stuff like foreign crap and the economy OJT. Stands for “on the job training,” sorta like Joe the Un-Plumber plumbing. Worked for President Bush, didn’t it?

Friday, October 17, 2008


By Jim Heffernan
Looks like the Northland won’t be visited by either of the major party candidates for president this time around. Too bad. It’s always fun when they include Duluth-Superior in their campaigns.

Most of us remember that four years ago both President George W. Bush and John Kerry touched down here or close by. Bush, recall, put on a rally at the DECC; Kerry held one in Cloquet.

Not quite so many of us remember other campaign visits by presidents or would-be presidents, especially looking back more than a half-century, but I do.

President Harry S. Truman campaigned in Duluth and Superior in 1948, arriving in Superior by train, and then motoring to Duluth for a parade along Superior Street downtown. I was there, quite young, but the occasion remains a vivid memory for me because it was the first president I’d ever seen in person.

I was in fourth grade at Duluth’s Lincoln Elementary that election year. The Truman visit in 1948 illustrates some stark differences between that era of presidential politicking and today (other than getting around by train).

The arrival of the president was so eagerly anticipated that it was announced in schools across the city that any student who wanted to see the president would be excused for a half day if parents sent a note. If memory serves (and it isn’t always precise), all of the kids in my fourth grade class brought notes. One girl’s parents insisted she be released earlier than the set time, bringing out the wrath of our teacher.

We were Democrats around our house – my father being a strong union man. And while my folks weren’t politically active, they knew they were for Truman in his race against Republican New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey, whom everybody believed was going to win.

With my mother, I stood on the corner of First Avenue East and Superior Street, in front of the Hayes Block, on that exciting afternoon. My father worked in that building. Large crowds lined Superior Street for blocks and some people even positioned themselves on rooftops of buildings for a better view of the president.

It was a beautiful autumn afternoon, as I recall it, and right on schedule we could see the Truman motorcade approaching from west to east. Truman sat alone on the lowered top of a big dark-colored convertible, his feet on the back seat. He wore a light suit and smiled and waved as he was slowly driven through the city’s main business district. A group of teenage boys on the roof of a building across the street from us yelled “Phooey on Dewey,” which is about as rough as the campaign got in those pre-TV (at least here) days.

In what used to be called a nonce, the grey-haired president had passed us, as his motorcade (I don’t actually recall other vehicles, but I suppose there were some) completed its slow procession through downtown Duluth.

The logistics for the day called for him to speak from the back of his train in Superior before being driven to Duluth for the Superior Street promenade.

As a 9-year-old Democrat (because my father was), I was thrilled to see this Democratic president. Not so thrilled were my closest friends at the time, the children of a strongly Republican family.

One of the kids in the family, curious to see Truman in spite of everything, walked from their West End home to the intersection of Garfield Avenue and Superior Street in hopes of catching a glimpse of Truman as he was driven from Superior to Duluth for the parade. It turns out the family’s dog was Republican, too. A notorious car-chaser in those pre-leash law days, the dog had followed the boy to Garfield, and, true to form, went after the car containing the president, viciously biting at its tires.

Unfortunately for our Republican friends, though, the president survived their dog’s attack and went on to defeat Dewey in the election.

So there is justice, after all.

Friday, October 10, 2008


by Jim Heffernan

When Sen. John McCain referred to Sen. Barack Obama as “that one” during their presidential debate on Oct. 7, it jolted me back to a time years ago when I shared a restaurant dinner table with a newlywed couple still experiencing the glow of early marital bliss.

Yes, bliss, but they’d been married long enough so that the minor stresses and strains of getting used to each other living under the same roof -- sharing the same breakfast table, sharing the same clothes hamper, sharing the same sinks and other plumbing fixtures -- were starting to show, ever so slightly.

These niggling little frustrations appeared to be affecting the Bride (we’ll call her the Bride and her new hubby the Groom to keep them straight) more than the happy Groom, who affected a benign smile throughout, not saying much, nodding quite a bit.

But the Bride, ah, she was ebullient and eager to tell the one other woman at the table all about her new husband’s odd … well, if not odd, different, if not different, strange, if not strange, bizarre, if not bizarre, perhaps unconventional, ways and habits.

In relating these homey details of the couple’s first months of marriage, the Bride continually referred to the Groom as “this one.” Sound familiar?

This one squeezes the toothpaste funny. This one doesn’t hang up his clothes. This one turns the stereo way up with boring classical music. This one leaves his shoes on when he comes in from outside, soiling the carpet. This one holds his silverware European peasant style. This one eats soft-boiled eggs out of a shot glass. This one snores like a walrus.

“This one” (aka the Groom) continued to smile benignly as his Bride prattled on listing what she regarded as his peculiar characteristics and habits, many of which I recognized in the guy who looks back at me in mirrors. Still single at the time, it made me wonder if I would ever qualify as a hubby myself; if I could pass the muster of a bride someday.

I never forgot the conversation – actually the Bride’s monologue -- as she went on and on describing her husband’s traits to the other woman, as the Groom and I affably listened, guilty-as-charged looks on our faces, sipping adult beverages. Somehow, though, the Bride repeatedly referring to her new husband as “this one” so early in the marriage, or at any time for that matter, struck me as a little impersonal, even strange, and I never forgot it.

It all came back during the McCain-Obama debate when McCain looked at the audience and referred to his opponent as “that one.” Of course, they’re not a happy couple of newlyweds, so what’s the diff?

And what of the happy couple? They’re no longer married, so what’s the diff?

Thursday, October 2, 2008


By Jim Heffernan

When Minnesota Public Radio contacted Sen. Amy Klobuchar this week to ask which way she’d vote on the bailout bill, she said she’d vote “yes,” but implied great reluctance.


“Because I’m (rhymes with kissed, but involves a different part of the human anatomy) off and the people are (same rhyme) off,” is a pretty fair quote drawn from memory. MPR broadcast the brief interview on Wednesday, Oct. 1, on “All Things Considered.”

Seldom do we hear politicians invoke vulgar phrases in public, much less for broadcast. I’m so accustomed to writing for a “family newspaper” (most newspapers consider themselves family newspapers, like restaurants that don’t allow dancing are family eateries) I feel I must write around or insert rhyming words or euphemisms for harmless vulgarities even here on the Internet.

A brief history of the phrase she used: As a youngster, I thought we made it up -- we being my peer group at the time. When I got into the wider world, I realized that the term, meaning “very angry”, was universal in English. I’m not sure what they say in France -- don’t know much about the French I took.

But the words were filed in our young brains along with other, mostly scatological, terms like bull (what the farmer hauled another load of) and son of a (rhymes with ditch), harmless enough but not qualified for use around adults without risking the threat of soap in the mouth.

Who’d have thought a United States senator would someday utter this vulgar term for “very angry” on the radio, for heaven’s sake. Well, maybe not heaven’s sake, but it least it doesn’t take anybody’s name in vain.

There are also sexism implications here. In my experience, going way, way back, women were not expected to “swear” as much as men, and I think that still is the case to some extent, although it’s fading fast in the 21st century. When I was a child, my family knew a widow woman who smoked and “swore like a trooper,” and she was a subject of great dinner table controversy. She was the only woman anybody knew who could swear and smoke at the same time.

Moving on once again to the 21st century, on the same day that Sen. Klobuchar so frankly described her anger at the need to bail out Wall Street in alley-above-Main Street language, the New York Times reported on a similar somewhat vulgar utterance from the lip-glossed mouth of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, the Republican choice for vice president.

Oh, I know some might say, “yeah, that’s the liberal New York Times again,” but the quote was pretty well authenticated after the reporter viewed a video recording of a Palin debate when she was running for governor of Alaska against two men (a Democrat and an Independent).

Having survived a primary in her own party, Palin responded to a charge from a general election opponent that she hadn’t attended enough debates by pointing out that she’d been running for more than a year, and adding: “You know, you’ve got to have the (English for cojones) to take it on in the early part of a campaign, and not just go right to the big show.”

An avowedly religious candidate, Palin must have been referring to the Biblical great cojones of fire, don’t you think? Of course, I don’t know much about the Spanish I took either.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


By Jim Heffernan
September 27, 2008

In their brief analysis following Friday night’s McCain-Obama debate, ABC-TV’s assembled commentators laughed incredulously when anchor Charlie Gibson remarked that he had seen every presidential debate since they began.

It seemed incredible even to his colleagues that someone active in journalism today could have seen the Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960, when the modern era of presidential candidate debating on television began. I’m not that active in journalism anymore, but I, too, remember the 1960 debate as though it were, well, 48 years ago.

Of course there was the Lincoln-Douglas debate some 100 years before that. Gibson missed that one, and so did I, but only by a century.

He didn’t say so, but it’s safe to assume Gibson watched the Kennedy-Nixon debate on television. I listened to it on radio.

I was out with a few of my hot-rodding buddies (I was 20, but would turn 21 soon enough to vote for Kennedy) on the night of the debate. We were hanging around a West Duluth gas station, kicking tires and debating Chevys vs. Fords (or maybe Oldsmobiles vs. Pontiacs), not tuned into the election at all. But somebody in the group remembered the debate and, in the drive of the closed filling station, turned it on a car radio, opened the car’s doors and we all gathered around and listened, cracking wise at every opportunity.

I remember the salient issue of that debate: Whether the United States should defend Quemoy and Matsu. Yes, Quemoy and Matsu, a couple of small Islands off the coast of “Red” China controlled by Taiwan, where Chiang Kai-shek had sequestered his nationalist followers after Mao’s communist hordes drove them from the mainland.

Back and forth Kennedy and Nixon went over Quemoy and Matsu (Nixon taking the hard line for defending them), and none of us assembled at that filling station had ever heard of them. Neither had most Americans, but the communist threat was a big political issue in the 1960s and eventually led to U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Since I was listening on the radio, I didn’t see the demeanor of the two candidates, and only learned later that Nixon needed a shave and appeared to be sweating while Kennedy looked calm, cool and clean-shaven, As everyone knows, Nixon lost the election by a whisker. And the rest is history.

Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) after the election and in the 48 years since, nobody has mentioned Quemoy and Matsu and Americans are as clueless today as they were then about where they are and what their significance might be, or was, or something.

I bring this up now because I suppose that, like ABC’s Charlie Gibson, by hook or crook I have seen just about every televised presidential debate, and I can state without equivocation that no candidate in need of a shave (since Nixon) has ever participated. There has been some sweating.

But I’ve learned over all these years that most of the big issues discussed on the debates don’t amount to a hill of beans (thank you, Rick Blaine) once the election has been held and a new president takes over the following January.

Who remembers what Al Gore and George W. Bush went back and forth about eight years ago, but everyone recalls an event a short time later that changed the course of our history. That would be Sept. 11, 2001.

Using “tactical” nuclear weapons (whatever they are) in Vietnam was a big issue when Barry Goldwater faced Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Goldwater’s advocacy for nuking the Viet Cong even scared many of his fellow Republicans.

Will anything “debated” between John McCain and Barack Obama this election season have an effect on future American policy or an impact on history? Perish the thought.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


by Jim Heffernan

So, a Duluth man has been accused of impersonating a lawyer. A lawyer! Oh, the horror!

Can anyone imagine how this upsets the legal/judicial system? How dare he. And right here in squeaky-clean Duluth. It’s like a whole bunch of Wall Street investment banks going bankrupt, upsetting the financial system as we have known it.

Still, it did remind me of my life as an impersonator, and, frankly, I’m not proud of it. But if confession is good for the soul, I might as well fess up right now during this local impersonation crisis in the legal community.

I started my career as an impersonator early when, as a teenager, I took a job in a drug store (pharmacy) as a clerk. I was given a gray smock on the first day and sent out into the store to wait on customers. I didn’t know a thing about drug stores or drugs or Desert Flower cosmetics for women, but I bluffed my way through it. I did get tripped up when I couldn’t remember where the store kept the Alka Seltzer, but all in all I carried it off pretty well.

Later, during that same period of my life, I took a similar position in a music store, impersonating someone who knew something about recordings and also record players. I just plunked myself down behind the counter and took on all comers, ringing up sales of Elvis albums. I even sold a portable stereo once to a guy who was so drunk he couldn’t tell I was impersonating a hi-fi expert. (“Sir, the sound comes out of both sides at once, you see.”)

Throughout all this, I impersonated a college student. Oh, I was enrolled, but I didn’t know the first thing about what a college student was actually supposed to do, particularly study. I walked around the campus in cardigan sweaters carrying books and smoking cigarettes looking like a college student, but little did anyone suspect that my head was in the clouds, not in the classroom. Later on they gave me a bachelor’s degree but I got married anyway.

My other impersonations, in chronological order, were as a clerk on a railroad, a soldier and finally a journalist. My main occupation – “lifetime occupation” – was “newspaperman” which became known as “journalist” after the press finally got rid of President Nixon.

I suppose I became a “journeyman” journalist after a while, but early on I spent months impersonating a journalist, calling people up late at night and asking them if a house on their block was on fire. That’s how we journalists used to cover fires. I’m sure the people we called thought they were talking to a real journalist but at the time I was an impersonator. There were several of us and we wore neckties to disguise our total ignorance of serious journalistic practice (it used to be serious, honest). Never underestimate the power of a necktie.

I impersonated a soldier (“American fighting man”) for six years, most of it on the home front as a “weekend warrior.” Some weekend warrior. Oh, I wore the uniform and looked like a soldier, but I wasn’t really into it because at the same time I was busy impersonating a licensed journalist. (Being a licensed journalist meant you had a driver’s license.)

Lately I’ve been impersonating a senior citizen. Hey, big discounts for McDonald’s coffee. Never underestimate the power of thinning gray hair.

Oh, the horror.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Pickpockets Thwarted as GOP Pares Down...

By Jim Heffernan

Here’s some of the news unfit to print….

ST. PAUL -- Republican Party leaders were not the only ones scrambling Monday as Hurricane Gustav blew their national convention’s schedule apart. Pickpockets from throughout the United States had converged on St. Paul and Minneapolis hoping to ply their trade among eager convention-goers, only to be thwarted by a hurricane 1,000 miles away.
Willy “Stickyfingers” Sutton, spokesman for the National Federation of Pickpockets, Cutpurses, Swindlers and Con Persons (NFPCSCP), expressed frustration that members were unlikely to garner anywhere near the “take” with convention activity drastically curtailed.
“We were all set to go. We had our people stationed both inside and outside the Excel Energy Center and in the lobbies of every major hotel in St. Paul and Minneapolis, even those Frenchy-sounding ones,” said Sutton. “Now they’ll be standing around convention venues twiddling their thumbs with no targets with fat wallets. It’s disgusting.”
Sutton did express concern for people in the path of Hurricane Gustav. “We’ve got some of our best pickpockets in New Orleans where they serve the tourists,” he said, adding, “it’s been tough enough since Hurricane Katrina, and now this.”
Meanwhile, both Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, declined specific comment on the plight of NFPCSCP members. “I’m reaching out to all Americans at this time, but right now our concern is with all of our friends along the Gulf Coast of the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave, like me,” McCain asserted.
Asked by reporters if her concern extended to NFPCSCP members, Gov. Palin said she is concerned for all Americans, “all human life whether it be an embryonic stem cell or a pickpocket in a jail cell.”
For his part, Sutton, criticized President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney for canceling Monday appearances at the St. Paul gathering of their party. “We can double our take at a presidential appearance,” he said. “Three years ago the president ignored Katrina, and now he ignores us. We’re entrepreneurs operating in a market economy. He should remember that.”
Asked how his organization did at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Sutton said, “Not well. The Democrats are all pickpockets.”
Film at 10.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Song of Minnehaha

News item: Duluth council decides to sell Minnehaha Tiffany window.

By the shores of Gitchee Gumee,
By the shining big-sea waters,
Stands the city on a hillside,
Struggling under crushing debt.
At the place they called the Depot,
In glass cases for protection,
Reined the maiden Minnehaha,
Rendered life-like as a window,
Stained glass window of the maiden,
Known to all as Minnehaha,

But she was no laughing matter,
Not to those who knew her value.
"It could be two million dollars,"
Said the experts from big cities.
Caught the gaze of city leaders,
Brightened eyes of city fathers,
Seeking ways to reconcile debt.
"Sell the maiden Minnehaha,
Pay the pipers at our doorstep,
Save the city from the poorhouse,
Balance out our empty checkbook."

"Keep our little Minnehaha,"
Cried the artists and their brethren,
Artists having good credentials,
Knowing what is good from awful.
"Never mind the artists' input,"
Say the City Council members,
"Sell the maiden Minnehaha
For big bucks to save our city."

Cry the children of the future,
Never see historic window,
Lose our heritage and history,
Leave us nothing but blank walls,
Walls bereft of stained-glass window,
Of the maiden Minnehaha.

Jim Heffernan

Friday, August 8, 2008

Cooler Near the Lake…

Well, I'm making progress... 
The book, a collection of my favorite Duluth News Tribune and Duluth Herald columns, is coming together. If all goes well, this book will be out in November in time for the Holidays. A local publishing house, X-Communication, will publish the book, Cooler Near the Lake.
The column, Cooler Near the Lake, originally ran on June 3, 1979. It's been re-printed and copies sent across the nation to friends and relatives originally from our area, according to readers of the column who continue to ask me for copies. Of course, all of us living near Lake Superior tune in to the weather forecasters' "cooler near the lake" disclaimer when they give our local forecast. It seemed appropriate for the book title as most of my writing centers on slices of life here in the Northland.
    I am going through years of columns to pare down those columns to be used in the book.  If you have a favorite column, you can post here or e-mail me to cast your vote.  It's a daunting job and your help would be appreciated!
   In the meantime, keep a lookout for my new column to appear monthly in the classy new Duluth Superior Magazine (www.duluthsuperiormagazine.com).  My first DSM column will appear in the September edition.  
Stay tuned....

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Under Construction

Jim Heffernan's Blog is under construction!  Please stay tuned....  

In the meantime....
Watch for my new monthly column to appear in the September issue of Duluth Superior Magazine and a book of favorite columns to be published in November.  

Jim Heffernan