Friday, December 25, 2009

Small light in the bleak December...

By Jim Heffernan

He’s tall – six-five, maybe even six-six – lanky and taciturn. He wears dark clothes -- often hooded outer garments to protect him from the elements as he plies his trade outdoors in the colder months. He looks to be anywhere from his mid-50s to early 60s.

His trade? Rounding up grocery shopping carts at a large supermarket where I shop. When I encounter him in the parking lot, he usually looks away or over my head as he forms trains of shopping carts and maneuvers them into the store’s vestibule.

Because I’ve seen him so often, some time back I started greeting him with a smile and quick hello whenever I see him at the store. A few times there’s been a slight acknowledgement of my greeting, possibly even a faint smile crossing his face, although he quickly looks away. He never makes a sound, though.

He was working at the store on Christmas Eve when I dashed in to pick up last-minute holiday provisions. He was just inside the door, protected for the moment from a strong snowstorm, his fleece hood intact over his head.

I greeted him, as usual, and, as usual, got no response. Just a moment of eye contact as I swept by and entered the surprisingly busy – for late afternoon on Christmas Eve – supermarket.

I gathered the few items I needed and checked them out, carrying them instead of using a shopping cart. He was still inside near the entryway as I hurriedly walked past, this time not looking at him because I had greeted him on the way in a few minutes earlier.

As I strode past, bracing for the cold and snow a few feet away, I heard a faint voice from over my right shoulder where he was standing.

“Merry Christmas,” he said in an almost inaudible low tone, the first words he’d ever spoken to me in several years of contact there at the store, usually in the parking lot.

“Yeah, thanks, same to you,” I shot back as I headed for my car, stunned that he had finally spoken.

“Merry Christmas.” We hear that wish countless times during the holiday season, and give as good as we get without much thought, but that Christmas greeting I’ll remember for a long, long time.

Through our snowy window on Christmas Day. Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Merry Christmas from Duluth MN...

2009 Bentleyville Holiday magic in Duluth MN...
This amazing shot of Bentleyville is credited to local photographer, Tony Rogers. To see Tony's photo  web site, click HERE. Thanks, Tony!
May you all enjoy the season. 
Good health and happiness in 2010!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wishing everyone a very shiny nose at Christmas...

By Jim Heffernan

The other day I found myself teaching traditional Christmas carols to three-year-old twin grandsons. They are at the late-toddler stage in life when they begin to understand the true meaning of Christmas, which is to say the birth of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Rudolph, with his nose so bright, looms large among this set – no surprise there. But I hasten to sternly remind them -- and you -- that there’s more to Christmas than “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” There’s “Frosty the Snowman,” after all, whose impact on Christendom almost, but not quite, parallels Rudolph’s.

With “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” looming so large in children’s minds at Christmastime it hit me in the impromptu carol-singing session with these youngsters that this disfigured reindeer (remember: all of the other reindeer laughed and called him names) could serve as a teaching vehicle for other songs of the season. Kids really understand Rudolph, and, the thinking went (mine), he could help expand their minds in learning other carols.

It started when we veered from “Rudolph,” the lyrics of which were already well known even to the children, and embarked on “Frosty the Snowman.” Unfortunately, none of us could remember the second line of “Frosty,” so we substituted “had a very shiny nose.” Worked beautifully.

Of course (it goes without saying) in children’s eyes nothing matches “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” himself, whose arrival up on the rooftop, click, click, click, and descent down through the chimney on Dec. 24 or thereabouts is the highlight of the holiday season, eclipsing even Black Friday. “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” had a very shiny nose works pretty well, you’ll find if you try to insert it. After all, he’s been flying around outdoors in winter like the down of a thistle. Of course his nose is shiny and as red as a cherry.

In fact I came to realize that, “had a very shiny nose,” can be adapted to almost any carol, sometimes with a crowbar, but what the heck, it’s Christmas.

Few people know, for example, that “Good King Wencislas” had a very shiny nose. Well, if he didn’t he does now around our place.

“We Three Kings” -- the ones of orient are – now have very shiny noses, it turns out. And why not? They’ve traveled a long way in a very cold season lugging spices and gold.

I hesitate to bring God up in such a secular season, but those “merry gentlemen” He was resting (something I could use) and who had “nothing to dismay” each now has a very shiny nose in our version.

You get the idea. I admit it’s difficult to adapt “Deck the Halls” to include a very shiny nose, but surely as “don we now our gay apparel” we can have very shiny noses all around. Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

Finally, “we wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas, and a very shiny nose.”

Hear Gene Autry sing the original version of "Rudoph the Red-nosed Reindeer" HERE.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Last Holiday book events: Grand Rapids and Barnes and Noble

Saturday from 2-4 I'll be in Grand Rapids at the Village Bookstore signing copies of my book, Cooler Near the Lake. I hope to meet some great folks who live north of Duluth. Hope you can stop by and say hi and check out the book. I've been told that the variety of topics and shorter writings in each column help make this book ideal for bathroom reading. So come on down and do your Holiday gift shopping or buy a book for that special room in your house!

Sunday from 2-3 I'll be doing my final Holiday book signing at Barnes and Noble at Miller Hill Mall in Duluth. Stop on by, Duluth shoppers!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Holiday cheer: "kids say the darnedest things"...

By Jim Heffernan

Drawing laughs to the music of time…
The 3-year-old boy joined a host of other children in the front of the church for the Christmas season children’s sermon, popular in so many congregations these days.

I heard this second-hand, but I understand that somehow the minister was relating a Christian message using timepieces – analog, digital – to illustrate the points. Holding up a digital clock, the children were asked if they knew what it was. The 3-year-old perked right up, and answered that such a clock was used to time his “time outs” at home.

Right he was. The boy is my grandson, and I’m happy to report he garnered his first laugh from an assembled audience, and he told his parents later that he liked it when everyone laughed.

I know how he feels. I had a similar experience at an early age, although I think I was somewhat older – maybe six or seven.

It too was in a church program and I was on stage being interviewed by an adult woman who asked me various questions, one of which was, did I like music? I said I did.

“What kind of music?” asked the interviewer?

“Certainly not Shostakovich,” I recall saying.

Big laugh from the audience. I was the talk of the church.

Why Shostakovich? It was the beginning of the Cold War, and in those days anything Russian was said to be bad. I don’t know where I’d heard about the Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich, but if he was Russian he must be bad, my juvenile mind had determined.

Still, getting a laugh from an audience makes an impression on you.

One of these days, that 3-year-old will know how to tell all kinds of time and take it for granted, but he’ll probably always remember the Sunday he made the congregation laugh.

As for me, I grew to love the music of Shostakovich almost as much as that of Prokofiev – long before the Cold War ended.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sarah Palin and me: A maul and the night visitors

By Jim Heffernan

I’ve been going around signing copies of my book, “Cooler Near the Lake (Fifty-two Favorites From Thirty-Four Years of Deadlines),” that came out last year at this time.

It’s still in the stores, and I have a couple more signing dates next weekend, one in the Village Bookstore at the Mall of Grand Rapids, Minn., (not to be confused with the Mall of America), 2 to 4 p.m. next Saturday, Dec. 12, and a final session at Barnes and Noble in Duluth, 2 to 3 p.m. next Sunday, Dec. 14.

Then I can relax, fly back to the North Pole (not to be confused with the tavern on Raleigh Street in West Duluth) and glide through the rest of the Christmas season as though on a one-horse open sleigh, knowing I have done my duty to the reading public.

But having already completed book signings at Northern Lights Books in Duluth’s Canal Park, the Bookstore at Fitger’s in Duluth’s Fitger’s Brewery Complex and at the Blacklock Gallery in Moose Lake, sponsored by the Moose Lake Area Historical Society, I feel I should offer some sound advice to readers planning to attend my two remaining signings.

Be careful. It’s getting cold outside. If you are planning to arrive the previous night to secure a place in line outside the mauls…er…malls, bring warm clothes. Set up tents and include arctic sleeping bags in your gear. We don’t want anyone getting frostbite waiting for a signed copy of a book partially – but only partially – devoted to cold weather. You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Once the multitudes are allowed inside the malls and line up before my signing table, be aware of the protocols associated with such occasions.

Just as fellow author Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska, doesn’t mind if readers at her signings call her governor (people still call Jesse Ventura governor, after all), I don’t mind being addressed as “Mister” or “Sir” or “Your Excellency.” Still, “Jim” is fine. That’s my name, but don’t wear it out.

Perhaps you’ve heard Ms. Palin is traveling around signing copies of her book, “Going Rogue.” Just like me. She was at the Mall of America on Pearl Harbor Day. There might be irony there, I don’t know. The Moose Lake Historical Society was going to invite her to our signing session there, but there’s a big statue of a moose at the edge of town and they were afraid she’d shoot it.

“Cooler Near the Lake” sold pretty well last year for a book issued at the dawn of a period in our history that will forever be known as “The Great Recession,” and described by a fellow writer from England named Wm. Shakespeare as “…the winter of our discontent.” But there are a few left for this year – hence another round of book signings.

I always enjoy meeting members of the general public at these events, and hope to see you at one of them. Remember, though, don’t take chances lining up outdoors in the cold weather, and, oh what the heck, you can call me “wonderful counselor,” although I admit I am one of the few who never went to law school.

If you can’t make it to Grand Rapids or Duluth next weekend, the book’s available online, even if you are exploring the Amazon, if you catch my drift. (Shameless pandering, I know, but a guy’s gotta watch out for his ego.)

And thanks.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

It's official and on facebook...

As the minister noted, "If it's official on facebook, it's official in my book." Click HERE to see this You Tube video. Ah, social networking. I guess our world is a changing....

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Busy weekend....

I've got a busy weekend ahead promoting my book, Cooler Near the Lake, at area book events. Hope you'll have a chance to stop by at one of these holiday book events to say hi and do some Holiday shopping.  And... pass the word to your friends and neighbors!

Saturday, December 5...
I'll be at the Moose lake Historical Society Annual Book Event from 10 am to 1pm. Many area authors (Kathy Wurzer, Tony Dierckins, Chuck Frederick and others) will take part in this fun event. Coffee and holiday treats will be served. Click HERE for more information in the Pine Journal.

Sunday, December 6 ...
I'll be signing books and greeting customers at the festive Fitger's Brewery complex. I'll be at the Bookstore at Fitgers from 1-2 pm.

I'll move downtown later on Sunday afternoon to join another festive event held at the Spiritual Deli located at 3 W. Superior St. Holy Cow Press and X-Communication publishers are hosting a Holiday Book Sale from noon to 4 pm. Ten percent of profits will go to our local CHUM program. I'll be joined by local authors Jim Johnson, Anthony Bukoski, Jim Perlman, Chuck Frederick, Denny Anderson and Tony Dierckins. Refreshments will be served amidst a casual atmosphere where you can meet authors, buy signed books and browse for Holiday gifts. I'll be at this event from 2:30-4 pm on Sunday.

Hope to see you this weekend!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Who are these two?

November 30... a big day for me 41 years ago. It was the era of the Hong Kong Flu.... and so much more!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Saturday after Thanksgiving....

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Tell your friends and neighbors to stop on by Duluth's Canal Park on the Saturday after the big turkey day. As you know, I have these books to sell. So... come on down to buy my book, Cooler Near the Lake, for your self or as a gift. Or... just come on down and say hi.

I'll be signing books...
Saturday, November 28.....Northern Lights Books in Duluth's Canal Park, from 12-1 pm

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

2012: A spaced-out odyssey...

Intimations of mortality on recollections from childhood…
By Jim Heffernan

“I get angry at the way people are being manipulated and frightened to make money. There is no ethical right to frighten children to make a buck.” – A NASA spokesman refuting recent claims that the end of the world will occur on Dec. 21, 2012. (New York Times, Nov. 17.)

Well now, who is not shocked…shocked…to hear that there are people who would try to make a buck by frightening children! Boy, how low can you go?

I only wish Walt Disney were still alive to face the music for all of the bucks he made frightening children. There are numerous examples in Disney movies, but to me the most frightening was the evil queen in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” who tries to do in sweet Snow White.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all,” the evil queen, with a widow’s peak to die for (did I say die?) and an ominous black cloak with a head-framing collar, says and then shrieks when told the fairest is poor, innocent Snow White. What child didn’t have a bad dream after that scene, and the one in which she offers good-hearted Snow White the poison apple? I shudder today.

For shame, Walt.

Speaking of making a buck frightening children, don’t forget that malevolent duo Abbott and Costello, unknown to today’s younger generations but when they showed up in the movie “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” when I was a kid there wasn’t a dry seat in the theater at the matinee. Way to go boys. Frightening children. Where did they get the ethical right to do that? And just to make a buck. A measly buck. My head shakes back and forth with disdain.

Then there were the Mummy, the Wolf Man and Dracula circulating through the movie theaters scaring the pants off of even older girls, and boys too, who heartily approved, but we won’t go there at this time.

I still quake when I see Bela Lugosi, everyone’s favorite vampire, Count Dracula, moving in on the neck of some fetching blonde asleep on a bed of roses, or flying around in the form of a bat, or opening up his casket after the sun goes down to go forth and suck the blood of unsuspecting victims. Yikes. How did the children of that era survive the shock and freight? And what for? To make a buck. Just to make a buck. It’s unconscionable.

I’m getting scared just writing this, but before I run and hide under the bed I must mention “The Thing” (The original “The Thing” of the early ‘1950s). To make a buck, the producers frightened me into regression of my personal development. I had reached the age when I could stay home alone at night when my parents were out, but after seeing “The Thing” – he came from outer space -- I needed babysitters again, if not diapers.

More likely, to avoid staying home alone, I’d accompany a parent to wherever they were going. I went to “Prayer Meeting” at our church with my mother just so I wouldn’t have to stay home alone and be murdered by The Thing for my blood. Like Count Dracula, The Thing thrived on blood; human, dog, any living creature he could get his massive, ugly hands on.

And what for? So some Hollywood studio could make a buck scaring children. For that I had to sit through adult prayer meetings and listen some skinny old bald guy who looked like Ichabod Crane (don’t get me started on the Headless Horseman in the movie “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”) read the Bible’s begats? The begats! Just to make a buck. Not the begats, “The Thing.”

Oh, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m becoming unmoored. These repressed memories have got me on edge. I’d better quit while I’m still behind.

But wait! Is that “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” in the pool? Everybody out of the pool! Pronto.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

City deer hunt: a look back at the plight of the plastic deer...

Plastic Deer Threatened in City Hunt
by Jim Heffernan
(This column originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on Sunday, September 25, 2005 and is also reprinted in my book, Cooler Near the Lake. The column created quite a stir nationally when some took it seriously. (Click HERE) I guess this might be considered some of that "outrageous nonsense" I'm accused of writing every now and again. Enjoy the hunt.    Jim)
Here’s the latest fair and balanced news…

Homeowners who decorate their yards with life-sized plastic deer are complaining the sculptures are being damaged by people stalking real deer during Duluth’s special season for bowhunters.

“My decorative doe, Felicity, had an arrow sticking out of her hind quarter,” Orval Pussywillow of Hunter’s Park complained yesterday. “This has got to stop. We paid good money for our beautiful deer.” Pussywillow said his four plastic pink flamingos and a lawn ornament depicting the posterior of a fat woman bending over were unmolested.

Local police said they have received numerous complaints from throughout the city that plastic deer are being shot with arrows by hunters mistaking them for the real thing. One citizen, who declined to be identified “because I work with a bowhunter,” said she has outfitted her plastic deer with blaze orange vests to protect them from arrows.

Randy Waxwing, spokesman for the Lake Superior Spear, Boomerang & Bowhunters Ltd., said residents with plastic deer in their yards should remove them from now through season’s end December 31st to protect them during the municipal bowhunting season. “You can’t blame our people for shooting plastic deer; they’re so lifelike. Many of our own members have plastic deer themselves as inspiration for hunting season. Hunters love deer; that’s why we kill them.
Waxwing did point out that association members are complaining to him that their hunting arrows are being blunted by hitting plastic deer and not the soft flesh of real deer. “It’s a two-way street,” he said. “Good hunting arrows cost plenty.”

Thelma Twelvetrees of Thelma’s Yard, Garden and Southern Belle Figurine Emporium, which sells ornamental deer, said sales are down since the city bowhunting season was announced. “People don’t want to fork over good money for plastic deer only to have them shot full of arrows,” she said. It was not known how the decline in faux deer sales would affect city sales tax receipts.

Meanwhile, Msgr. Ernest X. Chasuble said religious leaders are concerned that fake donkeys in Christmas nativity scenes will be shot at by hunters when churches erect crèches on their lawns beginning around Thanksgiving. “Also wise men riding camels. What if they hit a wise man? Or the Holy Mother, for that matter?” Chasuble asked.

Concern about safety around Christmas crèches outside local churches was seconded by Worship Duluth, successor organization to the Duluth Church and Sunday School Bureau, in a news release. “The Christmas message of ‘Peace on Earth’ is diluted when you find arrows sticking in outdoor religious displays,” the news release stated. Religious leaders said either the hunt should be suspended during the holidays or characters in the displays should be adorned with blaze orange garments.

Officials also predict that ornamental reindeer in secular home displays will be affected.

Finally, Professor Michael Angelo, head of the Sculpture and Human Sexuality Department at the Arrowhead College of Carnal Knowledge, said plastic ornamental deer are an important part of American art on a par with department store mannequins. “I once saw a fake deer with a nude female mannequin astride it. Priceless,” said Angelo, 43, who is registered with the police.

Film at 10.

Monday, November 9, 2009

My violent weekend...

The opera ain’t over till the advanced interrogation ends
By Jim Heffernan

I’ve had a violent couple of weeks, aside from the violence we’ve all experienced in the news.

Mine has come in a pair of Puccini operas presented live by the Metropolitan Opera in New York and beamed to theaters around the world, including Duluth 10, on the waterfront.

People who have never seen an opera and think they’re, well, kind of snobby and boring, might change their minds watching “Tosca” and “Turandot,” the Puccini pair showing here recently.

While they are love stories, they prove once again that the road to love can be very bumpy indeed. Never bumpier than in some operas – especially these two.

Poor Floria Tosca, the title character in that one, set in Italy a couple-hundred years ago. She must endure untold indignities just to rescue her lover from what the most recent Bush administration called “enhanced interrogation” but what is known in the world of opera as “torture.” Lots of torture in the world of opera.

Tosca’s boyfriend undergoes any number of enhanced interrogation procedures, including a head-binding gadget that draws as much blood as a crown of thorns. This is before he is brought before a firing squad and shot.

“Tosca” is not for the faint-hearted. Nor is “Turandot,” the other in this pair of Metropolitan Opera screened offerings. This one is set in ancient China where nasty Princess Turandot reigns and is known for rebuffing prospective lovers by beheading them.

One of her suitors, the Prince of Persia, is quickly dispatched after failing to live up to her standards, nameless here for brevity’s sake. Wasn’t Iraq’s Saddam Hussein a lowercase prince of Persia? I believe he was before his neck was stretched. His fortunes and ill-tempered practices while he ruled would fit right in in the opera world.

In “Turandot,” adding insult to injury, the victims’ heads are put on poles for all the world to see, the ill-fated Persian prince’s the only body-less head we have seen alive one minute and dead the next. There’s more torture and threatened torture too, inflicted upon the opera’s most sympathetic character, a woman who under the pressure of her circumstances decides it’s better to kill herself with a guard’s dagger than continue. Goodbye to her.

Of course these goings-on in both operas are accompanied by some of the most glorious music in all of opera. It’s Puccini after all. “Turandot” features Luciano Pavarotti’s famous theme song, “Nessun Dorma.”

Still, despite the redeeming quality of the music, all of this torture had a familiar cast to it. Some things never change.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cooler Near the Lake: Holiday book events...

Thanks to "Reading Mom" from Minneapolis for the nice words she said about my book, Cooler Near the Lake, on
     Heffernan's sense of humor and gift with words combine to make this a great read. The book includes columns previously published in the Duluth News-Tribune over the course of this gifted writer's 34 year career. Many of them are universally laugh-out-loud hilarious, while others are touching commentary on life. There are a number of columns that provide very interesting accounts of history, including brushes with famous people and big moments in Northern Minnesota history. Although it's hard to put down once you get started, it is the kind of book you can read a chapter of when you have time, since each chapter is a separate essay. This book would make a great gift for anyone who enjoys commentary/humor type writing or for anyone with a connection to Minnesota -- especially Duluth and the North Shore. Highly recommended!

In case you've just now heard about the book, enjoyed reading it in the past and now want to give it as a Holiday gift, or just want to have an extra copy for certain rooms of your house... you have a chance to buy a specially signed copy by the author (me!) at one of these upcoming book events. Just stop by and say hi even if you're not buying a book. And, please, tell your friends and neighbors about the book and the events!

Saturday, November 28..........Northern Lights Books in Duluth's Canal Park, from 12-1 pm

Saturday, December 5............Moose Lake Area Historical Society,8th Annual Holiday Book Event
(Readings by area authors, coffee and goodies) 10 a.m. - 1 p. m.
Blacklock Gallery, 521 Folz Blvd., Moose Lake MN

Sunday, December 6...............Bookstore at Fitgers in Duluth's Fitgers Brewery Complex, from 1-2 pm

Sunday, December 6...............Spiritual Deli on 3 W Superior St., Duluth (I'll be there after 2:30 pm.) Holy Cow Press and x-Communications will have a book sale with profits going toward our local Chum program.

Saturday, December 12..........Village Bookstore in Grand Rapids, from  2-4 pm

Sunday, December 13............Barnes and Noble bookstore at Miller Hill Mall in Duluth, 2 -3 pm

Monday, November 2, 2009

Consolation prize for Green Bay loss...

By Jim Heffernan

The Green Bay Packers, having lost again to the Minnesota Vikings, led by their former quarterback, Bret Favre, on Sunday (Nov. 1), have nothing to cheer about, but there is a bright side.

Green Bay is the only National Football League (NFL) team to publicly embrace the Green Revolution; the only team to openly label itself “green” among the many teams competing in the league. For that they deserve a great big pat on the back.

There are indications that a few other teams are as environmentally conscious as the Green Bay Packers, but are hesitant to go public with it, taking more or less a “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance about how green they really are.

The Green Bay Packers have no such concerns, having labeled themselves green years and years ago, even before the Jolly Green Giant came out of the closet.

So they might lose a game or two, or more, and get beat by their arch-rivals the (Purple) Minnesota Vikings, but when they call the roll up yonder, and when global climate change finally drowns us all, history will record that Green Bay led the way to environmental consciousness in the National Football League.

Way to go guys. Compared to that distinction, winning is nothing. Let history be the judge, and your conscience be your guide.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Obama salute style said salutary...

By Jim Heffernan

The military takes its salutes seriously. True military men (and presumably women, too, but I didn’t serve directly with any) go to great lengths to perfect the salute so that it looks just right: the correct angle of the arm from the elbow to the brow, the perfect flat hand position with thumb and fingers tight and straight.

The Sunday New York Times (Nov. 1) ran a commentary by guest writer Carey Winfrey (“A Final Verdict on the Presidential Salute”) in which the writer, an ex-Marine, passed on President Obama’s salute, calling it “impeccable in every way.”

I’m glad for Obama. This might seem like a trivial thing, but people who know a little something about saluting – that’d be everyone serving or who has served in the military – notice things like the way the commander in chief’s salutes.

It’s surprising how difficult it can be to get it right. President Bill Clinton was never able to pull off snappy, admirable salutes as he alighted from his helicopter on the South Lawn, or anywhere else, for that matter.

So what? A lot of military types resented it. It helped to dilute his implied authority as commander in chief. On top of which he was a Democrat, and true military men (and presumably women, too) often are suspicious of Democrat presidents. I had voted for Clinton, but I winced every time I saw him salute knowing how our warriors would react.

I think George W. Bush’s greatest achievement as president was his salute. Like me, he’d done time in the National Guard, so there was that military background. I am a moderately good saluter. Saluting doesn’t come naturally to me but I can put on a good show. On active duty you had to salute to get paid, so you catch on fast.

But President Clinton, and now Obama, never served in the military, so saluting is bound to be more of a challenge. I’m glad Obama’s salute passes the muster of the New York Times, but we’ll have to see about the Wall Street Journal. Fox News? I don’t think so.

Here’s something I didn’t know until I read The Times commentary: President Ronald Reagan started all of this presidential saluting. Presidents before Reagan didn’t salute, just like they don’t ordinarily wear uniforms even though they are in charge of he armed forces. Bush (W.) did wear one to announce “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq in 2002. You wonder if that flight suit will find its way to the Smithsonian. Maybe after the war is over.

Reagan, if memory serves, was a pretty snappy saluter. Of course he’d served in the military during World War II – on the 20th Century Fox lot in Hollywood making training films. If you’re going to star in military training films, you’d better know how toss off an effective salute. It’s not that important for a commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States.

Friday, October 30, 2009

IKEA assembly cure: Lock dowels

I received a message on the blog a while ago from Bryan who has discovered the cure for IKEA assembly frustrations. (Refer to my previous posts about my frustrations: I Kan't Envision Assembly. As you might recall, I brought back the IKEA item–in its original box–and immediately went upstairs to enjoy some good IKEA Swedish meatballs. A much better experience.

Bryan writes that most people purchasing flat box furniture have frustrating moments. That was reassuring to me as I really did lose it, my wife tells me. Bryan has an answer to this common dilemma: "I've been working on a way to provide the easiest way to assemble furniture, and have succeeded. They're called lock dowels. All you have to do is push the pieces of wood together and your assembly is done. No tools required for assembly. Best of all, once snapped together, the hardware is invisible. Structural strength is also better because lock dowels can never come loose. To get a true visual go to No tools needed, no more complicated instructions. Let me know what you think."

Thanks, Bryan, it's a great idea. I did check out that site and it is amazing. I've got to give it a bit more analysis though to determine if drilling the holes and setting up the lock dowels and mechanisms will pass my skill and stress level thermometer. Of course, if IKEA decides to use Lock Dowels for assembly of their products, I'm returning there to give it one more try.  I hate to keep a good thing to myself so check out and let us all know what you think. Great ideas need to be shared. In the meantime, it's Swedish meatballs for me.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Einstein, Mozart, Shakespeare and I...

By Jim Heffernan

I’m no Einstein, but it doesn’t take one to figure out that those “Baby Einstein” videos weren’t going to turn all of the babies and toddlers who watched them into Albert Einsteins.

And a good thing, too. Have you seen his hair?

The Walt Disney Company has announced it is offering refunds to people who purchased the Baby Einstein videos designed to turn small children into geniuses, admitting that the videos did not increase infant intellect. All this (except the part about Einstein’s hair) was reported in the Saturday, Oct. 24, New York Times.

Disney has also marketed DVDs such as “Baby Mozart,” “Baby Shakespeare” and “Baby Galileo,” the Times reported. No mention was made of a “Baby Michael Jackson.” I suppose it’s a little soon. Even to show up on a postage stamp you have to be dead a number of years, sometimes referred to as “gone postal.”

I don’t know about Baby Mozart, though. Have you seen “Amadeus”? And Baby Shakespeare? I love Shakespeare, although I’m not sure I’d want him toddling around the house “mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.”

Galileo, of course, noticed that the sun almost always rises in the east, except in Fargo.

I am happy to say that my life overlaps that of Albert Einstein, the great genius who discovered the atomic bomb in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico, not far from the first landing of aliens from outer space, naming it “Fat Boy” after the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Or something like that.

When I was a child, I used to see Einstein in movie newsreels (this was before TV ruined everything). He looked so much like my Aunt Ida from Superior that I thought she’d finally made it in Hollywood, where she went every winter on a widow’s free railroad pass.

Vaguely aware of the Baby Einstein videos in recent years, I had been wondering if I missed out on something because they weren’t around when I was a baby, or even when my own children were babies and toddlers.

My kids are doing fine, but to tell you the truth, I could have used his hair.

Footnote: The Disney Company will refund the purchase price of up to four Baby Einstein videos. To take advantage of this offer, consumers are instructed to call Walt c/o Cryogenics Unlimited, Tarzana, Calif. (ask for Mickey M.).

Friday, October 23, 2009

Lazy boy DWI and sleepy pilots prove truth is stranger than fiction

Read about the "Lazy Boy" DWI in Proctor in today's Duluth New Tribune and while you're at it, check out the story about the airline pilots who slept through their Minneapolis destination on the DNT site as well. The latest news certainly proves that "truth is stranger than fiction." How could a column I write ever duplicate the outrageous nonsense that actually happens right in our own backyard. It's got me thinking....

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Duluth Minnesota, the Movie....

The "leaf people" who saturated our area are heading back down the highways and all the other fall visitors have noticed that it snowed today in Duluth. But.... keep Duluth as your travel destination. We have mystery, adventure... and, yes, romance. Watch this video to find out why Duluth is everyone's dream destination.  Visit Duluth, the Movie (circa 2007)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Need diapers? It Depends...

The young, female worker stocking shelves at Target could tell I had a question as I approached her along a wide aisle. She could also see she would be dealing with someone of mature years, perhaps the kindest euphemism for geezer.

I was searching for diapers for my grandchildren. Make note of that: grandchildren. Some people in the last stages of the “Seven Ages of Man” find themselves in need of such products themselves when they are “sans everything,” as Shakespeare put it.

Putting my question oddly by pure happenstance, instead of asking, “where’s the diapers?” I said, “Am I anywhere near diapers?”

She looked me over for a moment, and then sent me to another part of the store where baby items are located. As I walked away, I was thinking of her missed opportunity. Surely the answer to an older man asking, “Am I anywhere near diapers?” should have been, “That Depends.”

The "should have said" journal of Jim Heffernan

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Red Gold Tomato Billboard on I-494

Here's a fun You Tube video that uses a time lapse over a period of three weeks to portray the construction of the huge Red Gold Tomato billboard in the Twin Cities area on I- 494 near the Mall of America. We saw the billboard last week and it's pretty amazing. You can watch the video by clicking HERE. As an aside, we harvested all our tomatoes (grown on a patio tomato plant) before the big freeze and they're ripening nicely inside.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Joan sweet the life

Hope you caught the PBS documentary about Joan Baez tonight.  Minnesota's own Bob Dylan collides with this woman of pure heart and darn good music. She's the genuine article. Check it out HERE.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Paul Shaffer book: Who's Britney Spears?

Britney Spears? Don't ask Sinatra...
By Jim Heffernan

Paul Shaffer, the bullet-headed music director on David Letterman’s show, has come a long way from his hometown in the Canadian Lakehead, Thunder Bay, just a short jaunt up the North Shore of Lake Superior from Duluth.

Shaffer has written a memoir, “We’ll Be Here For the Rest of Our Lives,” that has just come out and the other night he was Letterman’s main guest on the couch to talk about the book.

He told a story from the book that offers great insight into fleeting fame as well as the mind-set of pop diva Britney Spears. Shaffer said one time Spears was scheduled to be a “surprise” unbilled guest on Letterman – one of those guests who just walks onto the set unannounced, causing great surprise to the audience.

Talking with Spears about the upcoming appearance before the show’s taping, Shaffer said he suggested to her that since she was just going to walk on – barge in – like Bob Hope used to do on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show,” Shaffer thought he’d have the band play Hope’s old theme song, “Thanks for the Memories.”

Asked Spears: “Who’s Bob Hope?” After which, said Shaffer describing the scene, she suddenly realized who she was talking to. “Oh, you’re David’s D.J.”

Not a good night for Bob Hope or Shaffer himself. But a worse night for Britney.

Shaffer fared better in the New York Times Book Review on Oct. 4. The review of his memoir was generally favorable, and said the book describes his parents as “an outwardly conventional middle-class Canadian couple who strove to live their lives ‘as they imagined Sinatra lived his’”…

Most Duluthians have visited Thunder Bay at one time or another. While it’s a nice place, it’s hard to imagine duplicating Frank Sinatra’s lifestyle there. Of course, Bob Hope and Sinatra are now sleeping giants.

Who’s Frank Sinatra? Don’t ask Britney Spears.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Denfeld opine...

I wrote this "letter to the editor" that appeared in today's Duluth News Tribune.
Denfeld High School should retain its name:
I see Duluth school officials, incumbent School Board members and candidates for contested board seats are discussing what Duluth’s two remaining high schools should be named after Central closes, the former Ordean Middle School becomes the eastern high school, and a refurbished Denfeld remains the western high school (“Most say residents should name new schools,” Oct. 8).

Recently, while exploring Duluth’s Forest Hill Cemetery, I came across a modest gravestone with the name “Denfeld” carved on its surface. It was the grave of Robert E. Denfeld, the long-ago superintendent of Duluth public schools after whom Denfeld High School was and is named. Superintendent Denfeld guided Duluth schools in the early decades of the 20th century when the city was burgeoning and most of its schools were built. He was a revered educator, so respected his name lives on a century after he served our city.

It’s one thing for a school to be named “Central” because it’s near the center of a city, or “East” or “West,” points on a map, or in honor of presidents like Lincoln and Grant, but quite another when the school honors a distinguished local educator.

Denfeld should remain Denfeld, not Central-Denfeld, which was suggested at a candidate forum but makes no sense, and not “West” or some variation of that, but Denfeld.

For purposes of full disclosure, I should reveal that I am a graduate of Denfeld, so therefore I’m biased.
And why not?

Jim Heffernan

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Palace Theatre in Superior, Brian Olson style...

The other day I checked out the new mural of the Palace Theatre, located on the outside back wall of Douglas County Historical Society in Superior, Wisconsin. The painting, created by Brian Olson, is an in depth image appearing to cut inside the building. It's utterly amazing and a 'must see.'

Friday, October 2, 2009

IKEA Purge...

Yet even more on IKEA...
Mel Magree did some serious research about IKEA following the account on this blog of my harrowing experience while attempting to put together an IKEA item. Realizing that I Kan't Envision Assembly might not be the correct acronym for IKEA–if indeed one exists– Mel unearthed the real story. You can read all about the real IKEA HERE on his blog. And... he also reports he still has some furniture purchased while in Sweden years ago. But I ask, did you have to put it together, Mel?

I did return the item to IKEA on Tuesday. It was nicely put together, back in its original box that is. I'm afraid I embarrassed my wife who gave me the dirtiest look as I tried to be funny with the clerk at the return desk and quipped that we were going upstairs to have some Swedish meatballs and if I threw up, I'd be back down to deal with her. We did enjoy delicious meatballs with Lingonberry preserves for lunch... without any complaints.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

IKEA acronym solved....

IKEA.... I finally realized what those initials mean. (See previous e-mail)
I Kan't Envision Assembly
By George, I've got it!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Furniture assembly: Swedish rocket science reverts to Irishman's shanty...

By Jim Heffernan

I don’t want to cast aspersions into the wind, or among the swine, or wherever you cast them, but something needs to be said about a revolting experience I recently had. Revolting in the sense of being disgusted, not in the sense of finding green scum on the Swiss cheese.

But for this tale of woe we are not going to Switzerland, but to that other “S” country across the pond, Sweden, home of the Swedes, homeland of half of my forebears’ pride, or something like that.

We recently purchased an item from a famous furniture (and other various and sundry items like umbrellas and cork screws) outlet in suburban Minneapolis, a chain that was founded in Sweden called ABBA. Oops. No, that was that other Swedish outfit. This one is called IKEA.

Don’t let anybody ever tell you they don’t serve great – stupendous – Swedish meatballs at IKEA. None better, and I grew up in a home with a Swedish mother who knew her meatballs. Also her lutefisk, but we won’t go there.

But to our point: Strolling through the giant store (you follow arrows painted on the floor) we took a fancy to a small table-like item on display – four legs and a butcher-block top. Perfect for our kitchen. Perfect for chopping onions.

But as all IKEA cognoscenti know, everything substantial at IKEA comes in a box (except umbrellas and cork screws and a few hundred thousand other small items). Translation: You put it together. Put another way, you assemble it. People assemble entire kitchens from IKEA boxes. Also beds.

I’ve never been big on assembling, but you say to yourself, “heck, this can’t be rocket science, if I put my mind to it, I can probably do it. All you have to do is follow the instructions, dude.”

So we paid up and hauled it home to Duluth, laid the (heavier than heck) box on the floor, pulled out the four legs, as instructed, connected some braces and brackets and set about putting the puzzle together.

Four hours and 17 minutes later, I tore my reading glasses from my face and threw them across the room, uttered a couple of curses I thought I’d forgotten from my days of hanging around filling stations, declared failure and began searching for the receipt, which we’ll need to return it.

Life is far too short for this kind of thing. I won’t go into great detail about how many times the table fell apart while following the instructions to the letter, but many. Oh, did I say letter? The instructions don’t have any letters; they consist of drawings of the various parts. No written instructions.

So back it goes – every piece and screw and bracket retrieved, bagged up and put back in the box. Send it back to Sweden for all I care.

From now on I’m forsaking the land of half of my ancestors, and embracing the other half, largely Irish. My father used to sing, “I wish I was back in my Irishman’s shanty, where money was scarce and whiskey was plenty, a three-legged stool and a table to match, and a door in the middle without any latch.

So do I – as long as you don’t have to assemble the three-legged stool and matching table.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Anatomy of a class reunion...

By Jim Heffernan

For starters, I couldn’t figure out why there were so many old people at the class reunion. That would be my wife’s high school class reunion in another city.

I hate to give away her age, but when she graduated from high school Fidel Castro had just taken control of Cuba, Elvis had gone into the army, Gen. Eisenhower was still known as President Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth did not smoke, but Princess Margaret did.

So you know it’s a few years ago. In fact, reaching back into U.S. history, if, say for discussion purposes only, she had graduated from high school in 1900 (keeping numbers round here), this reunion would have been held in 1950, with the country having engaged in two world wars, a great depression, advent of television and the dawn of the electric guitar, not to mention flight itself.

Of course if she actually had graduated in 1900 the reunion would have been held in heaven. I’m sure of it.

But lots of changes are wrought in 50 years. I should know – I graduated from high school two years before her.

Still, I’m accustomed to seeing my classmates grow older because we have had many reunions over the years here in Duluth. When I go to my reunions, my classmates look pretty much the way I look when I gaze into the mirror each morning whether I need to or not, come hell or high water, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, and all that.

Not so with her class. I’ve been hearing about her friends from back then for years, and always picture them as high school kids. So we get to the reunion and they are not high school kids at all – they are all what are often referred to as “senior citizens” and not seniors in high school. They look almost as old as me.

It is a bit of a culture shock. As an outsider, I do not share in the memories of their high school years – the New Year’s Eve they did the town, the day they tore the goal post down -- so my role at her reunion was to stand off to the side looking stupid. Her classmates, recognizing me as a member of their own generation but not their class, gaze over at me and I can tell they are saying to themselves: “Now who’s that guy…did he graduate with us or is he a terrorist penetrating our reunion? And what is that spot on his tie?”

I don’t think I look like a terrorist, but the guards at airports do. The government warned us this week to be watchful at public gatherings.

Truth is, I enjoyed her reunion, met some nice people, ate some good food and drank some, well, you know. When you are an outsider, there’s no social pressure for you to behave, so you do.

At least I think I did. Oh, there was my little break-dancing demonstration, but I was treated and released at the Mayo Clinic, resplendent in a new hip brace. Did I mention the reunion was in Rochester?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More trash talk...

Ever since my winter vacation in Florida where I notice there is no recycling, I seem to be thinking a lot about trash. Well, not really... but my trash interest was again piqued when I read today in the NY Times about a project tagging trash to follow its journey. They've noticing that trash is "on the move," traveling through the Lincoln Tunnel to–who knows where. It makes me wonder... where is my trash heading in its life journey?

"Her trash is now on its journey to the place where it goes to die or be reborn." Read more in today's NY Times HERE.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Duluth Superior Magazine web site: Pretty snazzy

New DECC arena on schedule
Check out the new look of the Duluth~Superior Magazine web site. It's smart and classy and seems to be set up to reach the needs of the community in a reader-friendly style. I think it will be giving some other well-know web sites a run for the money.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Johnny Cash remembered...

Today (September 12) marks the sixth anniversary of the death of Johnny Cash. (More information and Cash links may be found at Wikipedia by clicking HERE.) 
Over the years, Cash performed in Duluth often. He appeared in the Duluth Denfeld High School Auditorium, Duluth National Guard Armory (site of so many other stars passing through town–including famed Buddy Holly in his last days) and at the DECC. I had the pleasure of reviewing Cash in concert along with his wife, June Carter Cash, and members of her singing family during a performance at the DECC in the 70's. It was a magical evening and I'll never forget it. 
The following is a reprint of my Duluth News Tribune column just following his death and recounting my experiences as a reviewer of this concert. This writing is also included in my book, Cooler Near the Lake, in a chapter that includes a few of the famous personalities I came in contact with during my newspaper career.

Johnny Cash: Johnny Cash on the Barrelhead...
by Jim Heffernan 
     I am not a big fan of “country” music in general, although Cash, who died September 12 at age 71, seemed to be broader than just country or country-rock. Really, he was mostly Johnny Cash, and nobody else was like him.
     Fairly early in adult life, I became a classical music snob. After detours into Elvis (he arrived on the scene when I was in high school) and a brief fondness for folk music during college years, I settled into insufferable musical snobbery with almost exclusive interest in classical music.
     So while many of my peers were buying records featuring the popular performers of the day, I collected Beethoven symphonies and the works of other classical composers. Couldn't help it; I loved their sound. Still do.
     I totally misjudged the Beatles–they're way better than I thought they were when I first ignored them. Bob Dylan? With that voice? I don't think so. Luciano Pavarotti–now that was a voice.
     My musical tastes were–and generally are–what most people regard as stuffy. But there's a saying–attributed to several people–that goes, “There are just two kinds of music: good music and bad music.” It took me a long time to realize that, and Johnny Cash helped.
     Circa 1970 I was city editor of the News Tribune, and Cash 's show was booked into the Duluth Arena (it wasn't called the DECC in those days) on a Sunday night. My boss, Managing Editor Jack Fein, approached me a few days before the concert and begged me to review it.
     I told Fein I was strictly classical, but he pleaded. He had nobody else (who wouldn't demand overtime pay). So I took the two reviewer ducats and that Sunday night my wife and I went to the Johnny Cash show, somewhat reluctantly.
     It was a revelation. Of course I'd heard Cash 's big hits over the years on TV or radio. You couldn't be alive in America without being aware of gravelly voiced Cash and his music.
     On stage with him were his wife, June Carter, her sisters and their mother, Maybelle, legends themselves as The Carter Family, together with a host of backup musicians, including Carl Perkins–a legendary performer in his own right. And topping off the bill was the Statler Brothers quartet (“Flowers on the Wall,” “Class of ‘57,” “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?”).
     It was all wonderful, captivating, at times moving. You couldn't help but get caught up in it. The genial Cash, clad in his trademark black outfit (which the New York Times described as “cowboy undertaker”) was generous with himself and the other performers.
     Cash had appeared in Duluth many times before, including at the Duluth armory in his early days. Maybe he's been back since–I don't know. But that night 30-some years ago, when he was in his prime and he had what seemed like the whole pantheon of country music royalty with him, was pure magic.
     It helped to alter my attitudes toward music–broaden them. Surely this man, who reached so many people, was as much an artist as the composers and performers I had embraced.
     There are only two kinds of music. Johnny Cash, who couldn't read notes, made good music. So did Luciano Pavarotti, who also is reputed to be fuzzy about note reading.

Originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on Sunday, September 21, 2003
Subsequently appeared in Cooler Near the Lake: Fifty-two Favorites from Thirty-four Years of Deadlines (November, 2008) by Jim Heffernan

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How now, Ma Bell...

Just had to say more to several comments on my recent piece regarding pay phones (they’re history) and cell phones (they’re an abomination.) – JH
Well, it appears there are diverse opinions on cell phones. TBT (truth be told) I don't like ANY (any as in any) phones. I hate talking on all phones.

Goes back to my early days as a newspaper reporter. We used to cover fires by checking the city directory, finding the telephone number of a house across the street from the reported address of the fire on the police radio and call the neighbor to ask of they see any flames.

Flames are the key to sending a photographer. You'd call the neighbor and say: "This is the newspaper calling. A fire has been reported on your block, do you see any flames?"

They'd say, confusedly, "Who's calling? "Brubaker? Brubaker who?"

So you'd repeat and ask them to look out the window. ISP (Ivory Soap percentage) of the time there would be only smoke but no fire, but the stress of calling strangers cured me of telephoning.

Of course there was always disappointment, too, since at the paper we would be hoping an orphanage was burning and a giant ape was on the roof rescuing children (see movie, "Mighty Joe Young"). Never happened.

Incidentally, I go all the way back with phones to the days when an operator responded when you picked up the receiver to make a call, asking, "Number please." Scared me as a child because I was never any good at arithmetic. Made me a lifelong mathaphobe.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pay phones headed for history's dustbin...

By Jim Heffernan

I don’t carry a cell phone, don’t want one and that’s that. (Amazing how final that can be, but never mind that.)

Still, I admit there are times when a cell phone would be handy, but those moments are rare. Truth is, I could have used one recently when I found myself needing to call home from a remote outpost.

Oh well, there are always public pay phones, you say to yourself. The remote outpost where I found myself was in the heart of the University of Minnesota Duluth campus. And what to my wandering eyes should appear just as I was thinking about calling home but a pay phone. Just outside a main door.

Wonderful. I admit I haven’t used a pay phone in a long time; nobody does. That was clear when I had to wipe away spider webs covering the box surrounding the phone. Spider webs. What does that say to whoever owns the pay phone? And what’s an arachnophobe supposed to do?

Anyway, I cleared the spider webs, popped a quarter into the slot, and dialed up. Two rings and funny noises followed by a recording pointing out that this is a pay phone and money must be deposited. But money WAS deposited, you want to say to the recording, but no point. One quarter down the drain, you figure.

So I slid another quarter into the slot, tried again, same reaction. Then I read the fine print on the surface of the phone: local calls 50 cents. You know you are getting along in years when you remember when they cost a nickel, but never mind that either.

I look back at the era of pay phones with some small nostalgia. I recall witnessing a pay phone call right there at UMD when I was a student there several centuries ago. A kid I knew wanted to break a date with a girl for some dance because he wanted to go with someone else. He recruited a few of his friends to stand near him at a student center pay phone and make noises intended to resemble airplanes taking off and landing as he telephoned to break the date.

The boy making the call was in Air Force ROTC and his fabricated reason for breaking the date was that he had suddenly been called to duty and was telephoning from the airport where he was waiting to take off. So there they were, the caller on the pay phone and several of his buddies surrounding him making airplane sounds. Ah, college.

It is not known if the girl believed him. She probably didn’t realize at the time she was better off not getting involved with someone who would do a thing like that. (The Air Force didn’t realize it wasn’t going to get this guy either. He ended up with a career in the Navy.)

But I stray from the subject of pay phones. I’m afraid they’re going the way of the typewriter, and that’s that. How do I know? A spider told me.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bring your sweater; it's 'cooler near the lake'....

Everyone who lives in Duluth knows that you have to bring a sweatshirt or sweater if you're heading to the lake. No Lake Walk walker of any merit comes unprepared to walk by the lake. That "lake effect" is the secret of the charm for our fair city. And it means that those of us who live here know the secret for enjoying the charm or our lake... just bring a sweater! It's been pretty nice here the past few days, but a few days have been quite chilly by the lake while up on the hill or by the mall Duluthians are sweating

Many of you have asked me to reprint my poem, "Cooler Near the Lake," originally printed in the Duluth News Tribune a number of years ago and reprinted again in my book with the same name. I reply to all, "buy the book!" I guess you don't have to buy the book afterall because I've reprinted it here at the bottom of this page. Every now and again I'll notify you to "scroll down" to check out something I've added on the page in a somewhat permanent spot so you'll know when I've made a change.  So... scroll on down to see the poem, "Cooler Near the Lake."  But I hope you'll still buy the book, of course!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Enger Tower: The saga of our 70 year-old landmark

Today's Duluth News Tribune reported that Enger Tower is due for repairs and may need to be closed for as long as one year during repairs. Click HERE to read that story. And... the project may require all of us who cherish this Duluth landmark to pitch in and help. The Duluth Heritage Preservation Commission is supporting this challenge to support the repairs and we all may be called upon to help save this hillside beacon. As you may remember, I wrote about my latest visit to Enger tower on the very day in June of it's dedication by the Prince of Norway 70 years ago. You can click HERE to read about my visit and that history.

Monday, August 24, 2009

So Favre, so good...

By Jim Heffernan

To begin with, I am not a Vikings fan. I am not a Green Bay Packers fan. I am not a sports fan. Not that you should care.

But this business about Brett Favre (pronounced FARve, for reasons unknown to mortal man or, of course, woman) has got my attention. How could it not? It’s all over everything in the media. In the upper Midwest it threatens to eclipse the passion of Michael Jackson.

So yeah, as a non sports-page-reading, non TV-game-watching person, I am very well aware of the controversy surrounding Favre’s decision to quarterback the Minnesota Vikings this season, wearing No. 4, his fabled number when he was the idol of the Dairy State, playing for the Green Bay Packers for quite a few years (I wouldn’t know how many, not being a fan).

This switch to the Vikings, by way of the New York Jets, after “retiring” from the Packers, really seems to matter to many people on both sides of the St. Louis, St. Croix and Mississippi rivers. It’s like Jesus deciding to go with Satan.

Even some Vikings fans are upset about it. They seem to resent the fact that Favre held off in announcing he was coming back out of retirement in the state of Mississippi, where he lives, in order to avoid the dusty, hot playing fields of Mankato (Minnesota) where the Vikings gear up for the season.

Hailing from Mississippi (if not Mary), one might think Favre well knows what hot weather is like, but training camps must not be fun, what with a lineman’s actual death during a stifling drill at a Vikings Mankato camp a few years ago.

But I go on, when I probably shouldn’t, insulting Jesus, Satan and Mary along with Michael Jackson and that poor Viking who was stricken at training camp, not to mention the intelligence, where it can be found, of rabid Vikings fans to whom the team’s fortunes are the be all-end all, the alpha and omega, of human existence in the United States of America, as the politicians always put it, apparently assuming their listeners do not know, when they utter the words “United States,” that they mean those ones in America. You know, there are 50 of them.

So to my point: I subscribe to the Jerry Seinfeld theory of professional sports. He noted on Leno or Letterman (can’t recall which, but I was watching) a few years ago that those rooting for pro sports teams root for laundry. Some player fans worship changes jerseys and they hate him.
I guess that is being borne out in spades by Favre.

As for me (and why should you care?), I’m rooting for Favre to do well as a Viking, not that I’m likely to be watching if there’s a good old movie on TCM. I like it when old guys keep trying to do what they did when they were young, being one.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mixing it up with book signings and opera....

Had a fun Saturday...Barnes and Noble in the afternoon and the opera in the evening. Thanks to all who stopped by to buy a book or chat on Saturday afternoon at Barnes and Noble. There was a nice turnout for the big Duluth Public Library fund raiser event there.... and I sold lots of books too! The evening was spent at a wonderful performance of La Boheme at the DECC. The Duluth Festival Opera singers brought the house to tears with their beautifully performed music combined with their sensitive acting of the saddest story in history. All in all, it was a very nice day.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Are movie stars a thing of the past?

"A" list movie stars like Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, Eddie Murphy, John Travolta, Russell Crowe, Tom Hanks and Adam Sandler have failed to deliver at the box office this spring and summer, according to the NY Times. (Click HERE for a link to the story by Brooks Barnes, "Starring in Summer's Big Hits, Virtually Nobody" in today's NY Times.) Big movie stars have always in the past saved the movies, even the not very good movies. Everyone has a theory for the recent changes in this trend from faulty scripts and timing of movie releases to the increase of social networking (Twitter and Facebook) where moviegoers can tell their friends right away if a movie is worth their time or not. But if the movie is a good one, they don't have to worry, right? And then.... what about the big sports stars? Will this trend follow for them as well? What do you think.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

An obituary for American daily newspapers?

Is it time to write the obituary for the American daily newspapers? What do you think?

I wrote this column below for the Duluth News Tribune in May 2008. Since then talk of the demise of newspapers has not abated at all -- it's increased. Most of the time the commentary about the future of newspapers is pretty serious, so I thought I'd post this somewhat light-hearted take on it. About a month after this column was published, the Duluth daily newspaper discontinued my column, so my concerns about my writings showing up in the bottom of bird cages have ceased. -- J.H.

Don’t count newspapers out quite yet...
By Jim Heffernan

Is it time to write the obituary for American daily newspapers? Hearing all the talk about the way newspapers are struggling, it sounds for all the world like they’re finished. Kaput.

As we used to say in the West End (now known as Lincoln Park), “Who’d a thunk it?”

Well, I thunk it years and years ago. At least 20 years ago, as a full-time journalist on the very paper you’re holding at this moment (unless you’re reading it on line), I said: “Twenty years from now they won’t be cutting down trees to deliver this rag to people’s porches.”

But I was wrong. Here it is 20 years later and newspapers are still being delivered every day to willing subscribers. So what will it take, another 20 years to kill off newspapers as we have known and hated them for, what, some 300 years?

Hated them? What kind of talk is that, especially from someone who has spent more than 40 years as a “print” journalist; someone who has never eaten a scrap of food that wasn’t bought with the ill-gotten gains of newspaper publication? (Well, there was that short period as a railroad clerk, but the newspaper rescued me from that.)

I say “hated” because it’s been my experience that many, many people think they hate the newspaper but still read it and even subscribe just to see what those dummies are putting out today. That is until one of their children or grandchildren ends up in a picture in the paper for some great achievement, or the paper does a nice feature on their church or club. Then, for the time being, they love the paper until they see something in it they don’t like, and the circle is complete.

And many of those people let the paper know in no uncertain terms what they think of it. Disgruntled readers who have contacted me are often practitioners of the “fish wrapper” and “bird cage liner” schools of journalistic criticism. “All it’s good for, you know, is wrapping fish, you know,” is an example of a typical quote.

Well that’s something, isn’t it? Especially with Minnesota’s fishing opener this weekend with 5.1 million anglers expected to participate. Wait a minute, that’s the entire population of the state. Surely someone will stay home to honor mom on this important Hallmark holiday.

If the ice is out and fishing is good on the opener (ever hear that happening?), think of the thousands upon thousands of newspapers that will be needed in the cleaning and wrapping process. I can’t see the demise of newspapers anytime soon as long as there is a fishing season.

They’re not quite as useful as birdcage liners, but useful nevertheless. I once saw a birdcage lined with the very page this column runs on, with my mug staring up at the underside of a parakeet. Humbling.

Newspapers are trying like mad to transfer their product over to the Worldwide Web, but I don’t think it’s ever going to catch on. What are you supposed to do if there’s a pesky fly buzzing around the room, fold up your computer and swat it?

I predict that newspapers will be around for a long time. After all, what else is black and white and red all over?

(originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on Sunday, May 11, 2008)

Monday, August 17, 2009

"La Boheme": An opera for people who don't think they like opera

By Jim Heffernan

Ah “La Boheme.” Such a tragic tale of unfulfilled love. Such pathos. All to the accompaniment of some of the most romantic and stirring music in all of opera.

Bring a hankie to the Duluth Festival Opera’s concert production of Puccini’s grandest opera Thursday (Aug. 20) or Saturday (Aug. 22) in Duluth’s DECC auditorium (both performances at 7:30 p.m.).

But forget the hankie during my favorite part of “La Boheme,” when cast, chorus and orchestra (Duluth-Superior Symphony) all join in one of the most festive parties in all of grand opera.

Bohemians might be huddled in a chilly Paris loft for much of “La Boheme” but there are few more joyous acts in all of grand opera (“all of grand opera” comes up a lot in discussing “La Boheme”) when the young lovers Rudolfo and Mimi join their friends, especially the lovely Musetta, in a street café to toast … well … toast life, and maybe bum a scrap of food from some unwitting benefactor. After all, it’s Christmas eve.

That’s exactly what happens, but as the group toasts and celebrates, out steps the lovely Musetta singing the glorious aria best known as “Musetta’s Waltz.” Even in a concert presentation, it will be hard not to smile from… Well, there’s no other way to say it: Smile from ear to ear.

Smiles are not usually associated with “La Boheme,” but the party scene has always been my favorite because it involves everybody – chorus members, a children’s chorus, the leading singers and an up-volume orchestra. It can’t miss.

I’m a member of the Duluth Festival Opera’s board, so maybe I’m prejudiced, but I don’t think “La Boheme” loses much in a concert performance. It’s the music that wins the day. Besides, half of this opera is set in a drab garret, except for the great party scene and one other.

“La Boheme” is hands down the best opera for people who think they don’t like opera to find out they like it better than they thought. Musetta and her waltz – together with her flirty, devious ways – helps a lot. Go see for yourself. You won’t be sorry, except at the end, when you’ll FEEL sorry for these doomed lovers. That’s where a hanky will be handy.

Plenty of tickets remain for both performances through the DECC or Ticketmaster.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Keeping a news source balance....

Here's a letter to the editor I wrote in today's (Aug. 15) Duluth News Tribune. The writer of the letter it refers to warned his readers against getting their information on health care reform from single sources, mentioning a couple of liberal commentators. He appears to have forgotten about conservative commentators.

Click HERE to see my "letter to the editor" in today's Duluth News Tribune. The letter appears in full below.

Duluth News Tribune (8-15-09):
"Reader's view: 'Different' doesn't mean O'Reilly, Limabaugh

The writer of the Aug. 13 letter, “Serious concerns underlie health-care heckling,” wrote that people should get their information on the health-care issue from different sources and further stated that “different” didn’t “mean Rachel Maddow and again from Keith Olbermann.”

The writer must have forgotten about the comparable perils of only getting information from a few other opinionated sources — and I do mean Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

Jim Heffernan"

Friday, August 14, 2009

Heffernan and the War of 1812

My wife caught some reviews of my book by readers on the Barnes and Noble and Amazon sites and called them to my attention. I thought this one below from a reader was complimentary and really fun. I feel quite distinguished to have written my musings since the War of 1812! Thanks to that anonymous reader and to the others who wrote nice reviews!

A great regional columnist
"If you have a relationship to the Duluth, Minnesota area, you'll enjoy this book. Jim Heffernan wrote for the Duluth News Tribune from the War of 1812 to a couple of years ago when they gave him the boot because they wanted a more puerile writer in the spot. His love for and intimate familiarity with the region comes through in every column."
by Anonymous

Reader rating
Posted on August 8, 2009 on