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.