Monday, June 29, 2009

One week later...

I'm back from a week of summer vacation spent at a cabin on a beautiful lake an hour away from home. Our whole family–adult kids, grandkids and my wife and I–all vacationed together. We have two adult children, their spouses and five grandchildren ranging in age from four to 9 months. (All are boys, except for the oldest–the lone girl in the family–and two are twin boys. By the way, we'll have grandchild number six ready to join this group in November.) We rented three adjoining cabins built in the 20's. Their vintage and rustic spirit was beautifully preserved and some modern conveniences added to help us all stay sane. We had a great time and couldn't have had better weather. The beach was nice and shallow for little ones and they spent most of each day in the water or else running around in the big cabin and just having a blast. The adults shared the cooking and we all shared tasks. It was nice family time and helped us all to clear the brain and enjoy nature. I recommend it to everyone. A lot has happened since I left this computer...Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and more. Stay tuned....

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Northern Lights Book Signing...

Come on down to Duluth's Canal Park by beautiful Lake Superior on Saturday, July 11. I'll be at Northern Lights Books and Gifts signing books from 2-3 pm. Tell your friends and stop by...and, of course, buy a book! Yes, Northern Lights is the very same bookseller that recently hosted the Duluth stopping point for the David Sedaris National Book Tour.

It's shameless promoting, I know... but I have all these books to sell. My book, Cooler Near the Lake, is for sale in all the area book stores and gift shops and on line through Adventure Publication and Amazon. You can even buy the book by contacting me! (See my web site by clicking on the book cover located on this blog.) The book retails for just $14.95 and is filled with a special selection of 52 of my Duluth News Tribune columns printed over 34 years.

I've divided the book into sections covering life in the northland (The Lake Effect), my own unique perspectives (Outrageous Nonsense), serious thoughts on life (Slices of Life), northern ethnic humor (The Ethnic Editor), famous people visiting Duluth (The Rich and Famous Collide With Duluth) and philosophical and fun perspectives while looking back in time (Through the Rearview Mirror). It's the kind of book you can give as a gift, read yourself or have conveniently situated in a favorite reading room.

I'm taking a bit of vacation time next week... but stay tuned, I'll be back soon!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dear Abby and the Old Maid From Duluth Limerick...

As I was rummaging around in a box of old newspaper columns, I came across a letter from Dear Abby. Are you a follower of Dear Abby? Abby is the name of the syndicated advice columnist appearing in newspapers all over the country. Some of you are old enough to remember the originator of that column–the mother of the current Abby, Pauline Phillips. The senior Phillips penned the name Abigail Van Buren and began writing her very successful column in 1956. After she died, her daughter took over–and the rest is history.

Pauline Phillips, the then Dear Abby, wrote to me in 1992 to thank me for allowing her to reprint part of a column I wrote in response to a spin she had in her column with limericks and the Old Maid From Duluth limerick. She followed up the hype by reprinting part of my writing in her column. Abby shocked my wife one afternoon when she called my home trying to reach me for permission to use my column. Abby did a lot of TV and radio and her voice was very unique and quite well known. She announced herself on the phone by saying, "Hello this is Dear Abby." My wife thought she was someone playing a trick at first...but she was legit.

You can read that old Dear Abby newspaper column printed in newspapers across the nation by clicking HERE and you'll also witness my outrageous claim to fame in the advice world. The current Dear Abby maintains a web site and continues writing her advice column in newspapers everywhere.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy Birthday Enger Tower...

By Jim Heffernan

With some time to kill Monday, June 15, I stopped by Duluth’s Enger Park just to look around. It’s lovely and, of course, dominated by Enger Tower, offering 360-degree vistas of most of Duluth from a commanding height.

I used to play in and around the tower as a child. We lived below it, perhaps a mile away in the West End. It made a wonderful battlement if we were playing “Ivanhoe” or Knights of the Round Table.

It had been years since I climbed the several-story tower (I forget how many), so I decided to trudge up its many steps on this visit. At my age, you never know how much longer you’ll be able to do it.

At the base of the stairs, I recognized a brass dedication plaque I hadn’t read in a long time, a tribute to Duluth “merchant prince” Bert Enger, who donated the land atop the hill, including the golf course named for him, and the tower and nearby park.

The plaque’s message ends with the words: “Dedicated by Crown Prince Olav V of Norway, June 15, 1939.”

I was there on the 70th anniversary of the tower’s dedication.

I know a little something about that dedication, having read old newspaper accounts of it (I was born three months later), and, with the help of Wikipedia as a refresher, here are some facts about the occasion.

When he came to Duluth in 1939, Crown Prince Olav V was heir to the Norwegian throne. He was accompanied by his wife, Princess Martha. The couple were the parents of Harald, then 2 years old, the current king of Norway known as King Harald V. Harald’s father and Duluth’s guest on that day in 1939 ascended to the throne in 1957 and ruled until his death at age 87 in 1991, after which Harald assumed the crown.

Just two-and-a-half months after the royal couple dedicated Enger Tower, World War II broke out in Europe when Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1. The German occupation of Norway was soon to follow and the royal family had to flee. Crown Prince Olav joined the government in exile in England, but his wife, Princess Martha, and her children -- Harold, the heir apparent, and two daughters -- came to America and for a time resided at the White House as guests of President Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin gives a full a account of this in her book, “No Ordinary Time.” There were those who believed that President Roosevelt was enamored of Princess Martha, and all that that implies. Princess Martha died in 1954.

Anyway, Wikipedia bore out what I thought I knew about the dedicators of Enger Tower. The stone tower has withstood a lot of Noreasters in 70 years, and silently presided over much local and national history.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cheney and blood in the water...

By Jim Heffernan

When blood ran in Lake Superior’s water...
CIA Director Leon Panetta is saying in an upcoming New Yorker article that he thinks former Vice President Dick Cheney’s criticism of the Obama administration’s approach to terrorism almost suggests “he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point,” wire services reported over the weekend.

Panetta told the New Yorker that Cheney “smells some blood in the water” on the issue of national security.

It reminded me of another time somebody from Washington smelled blood in the water – right here in Duluth.

It was during Paul Wellstone’s first run for the U.S. Senate, facing incumbent Republican Rudy Boschwitz, a race Wellstone won. During the campaign, the Duluth newspaper’s editorial board, of which I was part, had scheduled an interview with Boschwitz as part of the endorsement process.

About an hour before the Boschwitz interview was to begin, conservative Washington pundit Roland Evans showed up in my office unannounced and asked if he could sit in on the interview. Evans, who has since died, was part of the Evans and (Robert) Novak team on CNN, and also wrote a syndicated column.

I asked Evans what he was doing in Duluth, and why he wanted to sit in on the Boschwitz interview. His answer: “Blood in the water.”

It doesn’t take those Washington sharks long to sense blood in the water.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

More on the David Sedaris small city tour

Northern Lights Books in Canal Park and Duluth received national play in the follow-up of the David Sedaris small city tour stop here to promote his new book. Click HERE to read more about it in the June 11th Publishers Weekly (Sedaris Small City Tour Playing Big). Kind of fun to see our town and one of our own local booksellers in the spotlight.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

David Sedaris in Duluth

Hi Everyone...this is Jim's wife, Voula, posting something of interest today on Jim's blog.

As many of you know, David Sedaris came to town on Monday night. He did a book signing at Northern Lights Books at Canal Park. To read all about the event in yesterday's Duluth News Tribune, CLICK HERE. Northern lights is an Indie book store, smallish and wonderful. BTW...they sell Jim's book, Cooler Near the Lake there too :-)

Why did David Sedaris want to do his book promotion here in Duluth and at this small, independent Bookstore? Anita Zager, Northern Lights owner, and her crew didn't know why either. It turns out Sedaris is making a big national tour, going to middle sized towns and hitting only Independent Bookstores to give them the spotlight. Anita and her staff were kept busy trying to figure out how to handle all of this and they did a great job. The deal was that you had to purchase a David Sedaris book at their book store first. Then, beginning on June 1, you had to come in and show your receipt and get a ticket with a number to get in line for the signing on Monday evening. The bookstore was too small to accommodate everyone who wanted to come so they devised a fun event out in the parking lot with music and festivities and an outside loud speaker piping his in-store readings before the signings took place. They planned to call in groups by number as the store could only handle so many readers. Sedaris planned to stay "as long as it takes" to sign everyone's books and I understand he went 'till all hours.

I came to Northern Lights on June 2nd with my book receipt and got number 163. Jim and I both love Sedaris' crazy humor and writings and we were to meet friends in the parking lot and take in the scene before I could get in to have my book signed by Sedaris. Well... the weather was really dour... downpours all day. We decided to dump our plans, with regret. I didn't know they'd have buses to house the crowds (a creative last minute idea) and I couldn't envision standing in the rain. The true believers came anyway and it sounded like a fun event and I missed it, darn!

Sedaris has the same background as our children, half Greek. He mentions his Greek father and the Greek culture in his books often. I'm 100 percent Greek and get a real kick out of that...and so do our children who enjoy his books and writings as well. The book I'm reading now is Me Talk Pretty One Day. Sedaris refers to his childhood speech issues and his run in with speech therapy in school. Having worked in schools and special education as a school social worker, I giggled throughout that section. Sedaris takes a unique spin on everything in life and speech therapy through his eyes proved hilarious. He's just a funny, zany guy. Pretty outrageous too... and it all works. Hooray for David Sedaris for coming to Duluth, supporting the independent booksellers and giving his local fans a thrill!

Just some more lore about the local hype... The day I got my ticket at Northern Lights, I brought into the store a full page ad in the NY Times of Sedaris' tour and the mention of Duluth. Jim spotted it and the crew at the bookstore had not seen it. It was exciting for all of us to see that ad and the mention of Duluth.

Christa Lawler of the Duluth New Tribune covered the event and additionally wrote a piece in her blog on Area Voices on the Duluth News Tribune web site. Check it out to get more of the flavor of a night in Duluth with David Sedaris.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Duluth Denfeld High School Graduation Speech...

Some of you have asked about my graduation speech given to Duluth Denfeld class of 2009. Because of it's length, I've eliminated some of my introductory comments but have included the bulk of the speech below. I thank all of you who gave me ideas to share with the graduates. Some were included in the written speech (below) and the values you suggested (honesty, integrity and others) were highlighted throughout the speech.

Hope and Glory: A Speech given to the graduates of Duluth Denfeld High School on June 4, 2009 by Jim Heffernan

Before we get down to business here, let me point out that there have been reports that perhaps with all of the changes planned for Duluth public schools, they might also seek to change the name of Denfeld to something else – what, I don’t know. Centfeld? Dentral?

Should the school's name be changed? What do you think? (There was a rousing "no" from the audience.) Change the name of Denfeld? I don’t think so.

This western Duluth high school has traditions going back100 years, most of that time in this building called Denfeld, and I believe it’ll be just fine for another 100 years with the proud Denfeld name.

Now to our business. Commencement speakers are notorious for saying things nobody remembers, and I expect that’ll be the case again tonight. But we all try to say something that might make an impression on the graduates, maybe one little gem of a thought that a few students will remember for years to come. Not that I remember anything said at my high school or college commencement exercises.

But still we try. I have a blog, and in preparation for this evening, I asked people who visit my blog for suggestions on what to say to the Denfeld class of 2009 before we send you out into the so-called REAL world.

Here is one of the responses: A woman who graduated 40 years ago from another Duluth high school recalled that her class’ speaker told the grads that “in life there’s no free lunch.” So I pass it on here, not as the main theme of these remarks, but because it’s true, and a good thing to be aware of. One way or another, you can plan on paying for everything you get, and you’ll have to work to get it.

Serious stuff. All of the members of this graduating class together with assembled family members and other well-wishers know that you will walk out of here tonight into a troubled and uncertain world, with some of the issues directly affecting your future. What is now being called the Great Recession greets any job hunting you are planning. Then there are wars on two fronts that would have an impact on young people planning to join the military. Uncertain times.

I was born into a very uncertain time – the end of the Great Depression and the start of World War II. But some 17 years later, when I sat on this stage in a cap and gown thinking about what fun I was going to have celebrating later that night, the United States had recovered from depression and war, and the peaceful, prosperous world of the late 1950s awaited us.

Practically everything you bought – including cars with huge tail fins – was stamped “Made in the U.S.A.” and we never doubted that we would go out with our diplomas in hand and make all of those things people in America wanted.

It’s different today. Jobs are scarce, and young people who worked hard, or sometimes not so hard, for that high school diploma are finding the real world is real difficult to operate in, and that they’ll need something more. I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to stress the importance of your getting further education – whether at a university or a more jobs-oriented institution. I don’t think there’s been a time in recent history that this is more important.

I realized sometime after I stumbled – and I mean stumbled -- into a journalism career after drifting through four years of college without any real plan for what I would do after I got out -- that in order to get along in this world you’ve got to BECOME something -- something specific: The best auto body worker you can be, the best cosmetologist, the best accountant, the best nurse or physician, the best rocket scientist or teacher, the best musician or actor: something specific.

As someone put it colloquially, “If ya wanna eat, ya gotta work.”

And as I’m putting it tonight: You might as well work at something you enjoy and are good at. That doesn’t mean you can’t follow your dreams. You should.

Recently in traffic I found myself behind a pickup truck with a bumper sticker that read: “I used to have a life, but my job ate it.” You don’t have to accept that fate.

I’m sure these words only echo what your teachers and counselors have been telling you for four years here at Denfeld, but it bears repeating on this, your last day of high school obligations.

Twenty-one years ago this week, I sat in the Duluth Arena as the East class of 1988 went through these exercises, my daughter among them.

(As an aside, you’ll note that none of the other Duluth high schools has an auditorium like this beautiful one that can handle a full commencement. It’s one of the things that makes Denfeld special.)

Anyway, on that long-ago evening, just as we experienced it tonight, the class marched in to what most people simply think of as the graduation song. My daughter is the eldest of my two children, and someday most of you will understand better than you do tonight the thoughts racing through your parents’ minds as they see their children (sorry, they still think of you as children) finish high school.

As a columnist for the Duluth newspaper at the time, I tried to put my thoughts as my daughter graduated with the class of 1988 into words to share with readers – largely inspired by the so-called graduation song.

My daughter’s name is Kate, or Katie, so I wrote a piece I called “One From the Heart For Katie ‘88” that I recently included in a book I put out, and will share with you this evening in hopes that some of the thoughts expressed are universal.

Here’s one from the heart for all of you.

The column begins…

When Sir Edward Elgar’s now familiar “Pomp and Circumstance” march was given its debut performance in London in 1901, it achieved such instant popularity with the audience that the conductor had to repeat the work three times before the crowd would leave the auditorium.

We know the main theme from the work as the tune we march down the aisle to when we graduate from high school. Virtually everyone in America, whether or not they appreciate orchestral music, can hum the “graduation song.”

I was thinking about that first performance of “Pomp and Circumstance” the other night when I attended a high school commencement. The orchestra had to repeat the theme 17 or 18 times before all of the students were in their places.

Back in 1901, after its very first performance, the work became enormously popular with the English people and someone penned words to the familiar march. The title and opening line became “Land of Hope and Glory” and it remains a patriotic anthem in Britain.

So the march that accompanied English soldiers into battle, and stirred the patriotic impulses of Britons, accompanies American youth out to battle the world, as they complete their formal schooling.

The composer probably would have liked the way America uses his march, I sat thinking as the school orchestra repeated the theme over and over while an endless stream of capped-and-gowned graduates marched into the hall. My daughter was among them – the first of my children to graduate.

And the words “Land of hope and glory” kept running through my mind. I always taught my children that they lived in a land of hope and glory, even if I didn’t use those exact words.

You can be anything you want to be, we tell our kids, if you work hard and use your talents. That’s hope. What about the glory? It’s out there, and it’s worth striving for, we tell them.

The dictionary says glory is “great honor and admiration won by doing something important or valuable… What parent hasn’t dreamed that his or her child might achieve that kind of glory in some way? Then we all jog ourselves out of our dream, and hope the child will achieve the greater glory of a happy life, regardless of great honor and widespread admiration.

As our daughter moved through the grades in school, there came the day when we counted the years ahead to when she would graduate, and realized she would be in the class of 1988.

Her nickname is Katie, and we began calling her Katie Eighty-eight. It has a ring to it– Katie Eighty-eight.

All this took place when 1988 seemed as far into the future as the year 2025 seems now. But suddenly there it was, the class of ’88 marching into the hall, Katie Eighty-eight among them as the orchestra played on. “Land of hope and glory…”

And when the program was over, the class of ’88 marched out, with all of us in the audience straining to see “our” graduate file into the real world that lay in the mists somewhere beyond the back of the arena. As she disappeared, I found myself thinking…

Here comes Katie Eighty-eight, world, she’s full of hope.
And here comes the world, Katie-Eighty-eight, it’s full of glory.

((end of column))

It’s the same for all of you tonight. (Here comes the class of '09, world, they're full of hope. And here comes the world, class of '09, it's full of glory.)

Congratulations, and good luck to all of you.

Thank you.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Night in Duluth With Another Carradine...

By Jim Heffernan

The death of actor David “Kung Fu” Carradine (he would be better remembered as David “Woody Guthrie” Carradine) brings to mind an encounter I had in Duluth with his father, the late actor John Carradine.

It was about 1970, and the elder Carradine was on a lecture tour of college campuses that included an appearance at UMD. Working nights at the News Tribune at the time, a friend and I stopped at the old Black Bear Lounge in then Hotel Duluth (now Greysolon Plaza) for a drink after work.

There sitting at the bar alone after his lecture, trenchcoat over tails, was John Carradine, instantly recognizable from his many film roles, including the preacher in “The Grapes of Wrath,” and one of the passengers in the classic western “Stagecoach,” that vehicle also containing John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell and Claire Trevor.

Carradine (heretofore that reference will mean the father, not the son, and certainly not the Holy Spirit) even did a stint or two as Count Dracula and appeared in hundreds of other movies. He is reputed to have acted in more movies than any other actor in history.

Pencil thin, with a black mane and high cheekbones forming a skeletal face, Carradine had a deep, commanding voice that also served him well in portraying Shakespearian roles on stage. “Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I…” I don’t recall if he quoted that line from Hamlet at the Hotel Duluth bar, but he spouted plenty of Shakespeare, and parlayed a good deal of Hollywood lore in the two hours my friend and I spent with him, each taking a turn buying a round (beer).

He seemed glad to have our company, and we were thrilled to chat with him -- in ever-louder tones on his part. A few others in the lounge began to notice him, and one or two recognized him, associating him with the 1939 movie “Jesse James” in which he played Bob Ford, “the dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard (James’ alias) and laid poor Jesse in his grave.” Tyrone Power played Jesse, and Henry Fonda starred as Jesse’s brother Frank.

“Hey, you killed Jesse James,” another customer hollered from across the bar, seemingly not sure what the old actor’s name was, but recalling him in that role.

To my friend and I, sitting alongside him, Carradine hit his stride regaling us with tales of old Hollywood, revealing “secrets” about many well-known stars’ private lives. It was an altogether memorable evening for us.

And one of his stories might have involved son David, who at the time had not yet made his own name as an actor, but soon would. I can’t be sure if old Carradine was referring to young David or another of his four sons when he told the story of how the son, uh, entered manhood in the sense that he was no longer a virgin.

Carradine said he was hosting a poker gathering at his home one night when the son (David? Keith? One of the others? I don’t know) burst through the door and announced that he was now a man, boasting that he had been with a woman.

“Does she know it?” old Carradine said he responded. One can only imagine how loudly he bellowed it. Probably as loudly as he bellowed it in the Hotel Duluth bar. Laughing all around.

Google reports that he died in 1988, and one site lists a few John Carradine quotations. Here are two:

“I’ve made some of the greatest films ever made – and a lot of crap, too.”

“Never do anything you wouldn’t want to be caught dead doing.”

There’s some irony in that last quote, if reports on how his son, David, died this week in Thailand are accurate.

To read more about the death of David Carradine, click here for a link to today's New York Times report.

Denfeld graduation

June 4, 2009... the 82nd graduation ceremony of Duluth Denfeld High School in its present building. Denfeld High School links back to the first high school in the western area of Duluth and this is the 100th anniversary of that graduation. 

Below are some pictures to commemorate this event. Apologies for the quality of the pictures–we had to keep the flash on cameras off and it didn't work very well. That's me on stage giving my speech in the first picture. The second picture is of staff, speakers and officiating school board members while the first graduate marches down the aisle. The last picture was of the stage before the event began. The recent remodeling preserved the vintage quality and beauty of this wonderful auditorium. With yesterday's report on public radio about the out-of-control graduation at St. Cloud Apollo High School, Denfeld's ceremony stood out as a model of decorum. What a school! And... I have to say, it was quite an honor for me to be a speaker at my alma mater. I was a bit nervous thinking about speaking before this huge group but all went well. It was fun to be a part of this event and exciting to witness the emotions and thrill of parents, teachers and 2009 graduates. I won't bore you with writing my whole graduation address here, but later I'll include some highlights of what I shared with the graduates. So stay tuned... 

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Denfeld here I come...

Tomorrow evening I speak to the graduates in the class of '09 at my high school alma mater, Duluth Denfeld High School. It's quite a responsibility to send off these young people into our big world with my words to shepherd them. In attempting to calm down my jitters in speaking before a crowd like this for such an important event, my wife and her friends tell me to remember that it's not about me, it's about them–the graduates and their family members. They are right. No one will notice that I never mastered public speaking or that I lose my voice when speaking publicly. They are focused on their own lives and the meaning behind the journey ahead. I'm simply the catalyst for it all to happen. I wrote a newspaper column about my daughter's graduation from high school in 1988 that appears in my book, Cooler Near the Lake. Those thoughts and many more have been spinning in my head as I prepared for this commencement address. I also gleaned some insights from all of you readers to pass on to the graduates.  I want to thank all of you who e-mailed, written on this blog or on my Facebook fan page (my wife's deed, not mine!) to share your thoughts about what those graduates need to know. I thank all of you and, believe it or not, I am including threads of all of those ideas in my speech. I'll keep you all posted here on this blog to let you know how it goes tomorrow evening. In the meantime, stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Thoughts on Pawlenty's announcement...

Check out this link to the Duluth Journal to read my public comment and those of other locals on Gov. Tim Pawlenty's announcement today that he will not run for a third term as Minnesota's governor. I guess my comment says it all so here it is...

“The first time I met him (Pawlenty) was at a News Tribune editorial board endorsement interview when he made his first bid for the governorship. Agree or disagree with him, we were struck by how articulate he was, and how he could smoothly discuss the issues and his goals with no sign of the nervousness most politicians display under those circumstances. So he’s smooth. And he’s smart. And he’s conservative — really conservative, a veteran of the ill-fated Jon Grunseth gubernatorial campaign in the 1990s. He took his early signing of a pledge to not raise taxes — not ever — way too seriously. He shouldn’t have signed it in the first place, not knowing what the state’s needs would be and because it forced him to raise many taxes anyway and calling them ‘fees.’ It’s duplicitous. He clearly has national ambitions, and he’d be an effective candidate for the Republicans, with some of the same campaigning talents that President Barack Obama has, along with a similar humble early background. The last time I spoke with him was a few weeks ago in the entry area of BlackWoods restaurant on London Road where he, his wife and daughter just showed up in casual attire and signed up for a table. Since Minnesota governors don’t go anywhere without security, I asked him where the highway patrol guy was. He pointed to the door.”