Monday, February 28, 2011

Remembering Albert Woolson in Duluth...

Interesting link in the Duluth News Tribune Attic today, recalling the life and death of Albert Woolson, the last Union Army Civil War survivor, in Duluth some 55 years ago. The posting was prompted by the death of the last American soldier who served during World War I. My comment about Woolson is appended to the Attic posting and below. Check it out HERE.

Jim Heffernan says:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lazy? Don't cry for me, Alabama...

By Jim Heffernan
I’m in Florida, but only about two miles from the Alabama line. Too bad I’m not on the other side of that line. Alabama this week was named the laziest state in the union. Yes, the union, not just the confederacy!

Of course I’m from Minnesota, spending a few weeks away from our harsh winter, so I am up on the news down here. And all over the 10 o’clock news the other night was a report that Alabama has been declared the laziest state.

How lazy are the Alabamans? They won’t even lift banjos from their knees. Oh, Susanna! How indolent can you get?

Polls often compare various rankings of states – most or least taxed, best educated, wettest, coldest, dumbest – and Minnesota usually does pretty well, but it’s clear from this poll that Minnesota has fallen down on the job in instilling laziness in its citizens, not to mention aliens, both domestic and space.

We can, and will, do better. We will do a little better as soon as I get back up there if I can muster the energy to pack my suitcase and load the car. These are not fun chores for the truly lazy, among whom I count myself as a card-carrying charter member. I’d put myself up against any Alabaman in the lazy category. Also any Alabawoman.

The fact of the matter is I’ve always been lazy. When I was a child everybody used to tell my parents, “James is lazy.” Well, not everybody. School teachers and neighbors though. Who else cares?

As a child at home, I was told they hoped I wasn’t as lazy as a feckless older cousin on my father’s side. He was portrayed in my family as our laziest relative, hands down. Why? Just because he wouldn’t work. Go figure that.

Chastened, I assured my parents I wouldn’t be as lazy as this cousin, and I don’t think I was quite as lazy, but still plenty lazy. When I was a teenager, other kids had summer jobs, but I didn’t. Too lazy. I did have a year-around job my father pushed me into, working one night a week in the mailing room at the newspaper, a job so physically demanding that it knocked the ambition right out of me, not that I had any in the first place. You had to lift piles of those big, fat Sunday papers and carry them around.

The rest of the time (in summer) I’d just lie around, not doing much, watching old movies on black-and-white TV, riding around in my car, smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo.

I was even too lazy to go fishing, which is what many closeted lazy males do to hide their laziness. Fishing is our laziest sport, but there’s always the danger that you’ll catch something and have to deal with it. Why go at all?

In school, the teachers would complain that I wasn’t working up to my capacity. The key word here is “working.” Of course I wasn’t. I was too lazy.

When I had to work (“if ya wanna eat, ya gotta work”) after I loafed through my education, I got a job as a newspaper reporter. This is a good job for a lazy person because it largely involves sitting down and typing stuff up, like I’m doing right now, a lazy Minnesotan in Florida, not far from Alabama.

Now I guess I’ll saunter out to the beach and relax beneath the sun. As the song goes, “That lucky old sun’s got nuthin’ to do but roll around heaven all day.” Sounds good to me. Yawn.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Seaside sun....

OK.. I'm not rubbing it in or anything. But... this is why I'm here in February!  It's really nice to find out that we're not having the same temps as Minnesota today! Stay tuned....

Friday, February 18, 2011

The last (and only) time I saw Paris...

By Jim Heffernan

I watched the movie “Casablanca” on TV for the umpteenth time the other night. If you have never seen it, or don’t know anything about it, you probably won’t “get” some of the things in this column. So many people have seen it, there’s no point in explaining the allusions to the movie here.

That said, the other day the New York Times ran a review of a book called “Paris Was Ours – Thirty-Two Writers Reflect on the City of Light.” Turns out everybody loves Paris in the springtime, in the fall, in the summer, or any time at all.

I was there once on a too-brief visit about 10 years ago, but I have lasting memories of it. I wasn’t there long enough to fall in love with the city of light, but as I frequently say to my wife, “We’ll always have Paris” (see “Casablanca”), often at wildly inappropriate times, like:

She – The garbage needs to go out.

He – We’ll always have Paris.

See what I mean? But I have vivid memories of Paris nevertheless, not that I could say “Paris Was Ours,” the way Hemingway or Sartre could, together with the 32 contributors to this book. Also Brigitte Bardot.

On our big night in downtown Paris (I’ll wager nobody has ever called it that before), we took the underground (it’s a subway, not a crime organization) from our hotel in an outlying area, and when we got off we ran smack dab into a large demonstration against something or for something, we couldn’t tell which. It could’ve been Madison, Wisconsin.

It happened to be at the Place de la Concorde where they beheaded everyone in “A Tale of Two Cities,” and also the French Revolution. Of course we were somewhat alarmed to climb out of the underground into the heart of potentially angry demonstrators. But hold it. They were demonstrating for Amnesty International. These were sweet, peaceful French men and women. No danger whatsoever. Smiles all around. Not all French men and women are this sweet, you learn.

We’re all for peace, but we high-tailed it out of there anyway, hoping to pick up on some of Paris’ fabled nightlife. Not knowing the town and without a map we headed for what we thought was the Champs Elysees, perhaps the most famous boulevard on the planet (Earth), but the traffic seemed awfully light for such a busy thoroughfare. Soon we realized that we were not on the Champs Elysees at all, but a block down on a parallel street. This was tantamount to walking along Michigan Street in Duluth thinking you were on Superior Street.

So we quickly headed a block over in some direction and there it was, the Champs Elysees, the Arch de Triumph looming at one end. Exciting. Very exciting. Right in the middle of the promenade there’s an underground station named after President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which makes you feel at home and pretty good, depending on where you are on Social Security.

By then we were hungry. So we found a kind of indoor-outdoor restaurant and sat down. Menus were proffered, and we studied them knowledgeably, not having the knowledge of the prevailing language to read them. I saw a word that looked like “pizza” though (I’m better in Italian) and one of our American companions and I decided to share one. There is no Sammy’s in Paris, but you make do.

The pizza was fine. Very different. This one had a poached egg right in the middle, kind of like a hubcap on a large wheel. Sharing the pizza with another person presented the problem of who gets the poached egg, but we worked it out. I got the poached egg, he got the last wedge.

After eating – should I say dining? – we tromped around the Arch de Triumph and sauntered along the boulevard soaking in the nighttime atmosphere of the City of Light before catching the underground back to our hotel.

The next day we found ourselves lunching on a baguette near the Paris Opera, next to a building that, a plaque on the exterior wall said, once contained the apartment of Jacques Offenbach. If Jacques Offenbach doesn’t ring a bell with you, he wrote that Folies Bergere music the showgirls dance to as they lift their skirts and kick their legs, or is it kick their legs and lift their skirts? As you can see, I don’t know much about the French I took. The Folies Bergere is still there, although Offenbach isn’t.

But now, as the sun sets gaily in the west, it is time to leave Paris. We vow to return, “maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday, and for the rest of our lives.” Well, not the rest of our lives, certainly, but it sounds so good when Bogart says it in “Casablanca.”

So here’s looking at you, kid. And remember, we’ll always have Paris. (Oh, is that my heart pounding or is it German howitzers along the Maginot Line?)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Remembering UMD's Old Main....

Today's Duluth News Tribune Attic (Area Voices blog) features a great history piece about the Old Main Building on UMD's former lower campus. Check it out HERE to see all the old pictures and stories about the weathered old building (1980) and of the Feb 23, 1993 fire that demolished it. Of course all that's left now are those famous arches used to enter the vintage college building. In honor of 18th year anniversary of the famous Old Main fire, I took this opportunity to reminisce on the DNT site about my experiences as a college student attending classes at Old Main (also see below). I know that many of the readers of this blog have connections to Duluth and UMD and I welcome your comments and memories here on the blog as well. What do you remember?

Remembering Old Main...
(Comments made by Jim Heffernan on the Duluth News Tribune's Attic on February 14, 2011)
When I started UMD in the fall of 1957, all of my classes were in Old Main. The “upper” campus was being developed, but it was pretty sparse. The “new” library (which has now been replaced) opened about a year before, and Kirby Student Center was quite new, maybe two years old. Otherwise, just a Science Building and the Phy-Ed Building (now Romano gym) were all that I recall up there at the time. Old Main had a decent-sized auditorium with a full stage where most of the college’s theatrical productions were staged. A memorable production of the musical “Guys and Dolls” in 1958 or ’59 starred students Jerry Music and Myrna Johnson, who later became his wife. Jerry went to Hollywood, changed his first name to Lorenzo, and had a good career before dying a few years ago. He was the voice of Carleton the Doorman on the “Rhoda” sitcom and also the voice of Garfield the Cat in that animated series.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

It's cooler near the Gulf...

It might be a bit cooler near the Gulf, but it's beautiful. We have arrived and nested in for our winter vacation break, thanks to the new love of my life, Ms. GPS.  Here I am on a high balcony on the Florida Panhandle with sand and sun all around me.  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On the road again...

By Jim Heffernan
On the road again,
goin’ places that I’ve never been,
with my loyal G.P.S. by my side

With all due respect to my loyal and longstanding wife, I recently discovered I might be falling for someone else. Sorry, honey, you can blame modern technology.

I’ve never actually seen this “other” woman – I’ve only heard her speak -- and I wouldn’t want to embarrass her by revealing her name. Let’s go with her initials – G.P.S. But, wow, she is one smart cookie.

She invaded our lives on a recent motor trip down the midsection of the country, from Minnesota to Florida, some 1,400 miles of pretty good road. We beat the recent blizzard of the millennium, traveling across the storm’s track a few days ahead of the crippling monster.

For the first time, we used this little box about the size of a wallet (only thinner, although mine will be thinner in a few weeks too) with a small screen and inside female voice telling you where to go -- in no uncertain terms. And what a voice. It is the voice of reason and assurance. “Turn right at Highway Z 500 feet,”  or “Take exit 73 and turn right 1,000 feet, turn right again in 300 feet on McDonald’s drive.”

She even knows where all the McDonald’s fast food restaurants are, or anywhere you might want to stop. “Turn right 500 feet, then another right for Museum of Interesting Things.”  That’s just an example – there is no museum called Museum of Interesting Things. All museums are supposed to contain interesting things, although not all of them do. But back to the road.

The more G.P.S. talked, the more impressed I became. It got so that I was depending on her to get us to our destination. Best of all, no more stopping at filling stations to ask directions.

Like many other men, I resist stopping at filling stations to ask directions. I can never understand what the attendant is saying once you get south of a line extending from Des Moines to Chicago to Indianapolis and beyond in both directions. No trouble understanding G.P.S., though, and the more she talks the more you appreciate her. What a memory, what an intellect.

G.P.S knows the back roads, too. “Turn right one quarter mile for Pecan Emporium.”  She even knows how to pronounce pecan – peCON, not PEcon. “Can” in pecan is pronounced, “con” in either case, nut experts point out. Personnel at The Museum of Interesting Pecans say it can be pronounced either way, but I think they’re nuts. I go with G.P.S.

I’ve always admired women who know a lot about geography anyway. They know where they’re going and also where Bahrain is.

There is one problem with G.P.S., however. I think she might be a Republican. She’s always saying “turn right,” “turn right,” and almost never says “go left.” Not that there’s anything wrong with Republicans that voting them all out of office wouldn’t take care of.

I think I’ll stick with my loyal and longstanding wife after all.

Afterword: I suppose it’s possible that somebody, somewhere doesn’t know that GPS stands for Global Positioning System. They’re amazing.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Let the sunshine begin...

Metropolis, Illinois
Yes, we've arrived at our winter vacation destination in the Florida Panhandle! It's been in the upper 60's with periodic rain. But it feels warm out there. Instead of snow, we're looking at swirling surfs, white sand and palm trees. We're not in Kansas anymore! Hope you'll stay tuned for the next round of blog writings.  Jim
On the Road