Sunday, July 30, 2017

Washington clichés, fake news and ‘poiticianese’

By Jim Heffernan
The other day I heard our president, Donald J. Trump, refer once again to "hard-working Americans." He isn't the only politician to describe all Americans all the time as hard-working. They all do, both Democrats and Republicans. Even independents.

This is nothing new. The expression spills out of politicians' mouths in practically every speech, and always has. It's as though all Americans are hard-working, which, of course, cannot be assumed. I am not a hard-working American--I'm retired--and I have to admit, when I stop to think about it, I never was particularly hard-working. In fact, when I was young it was feared, and occasionally charged, that I might be "lazy."

But once I entered the work force, I'd work hard enough when it was expected of me, but if I could get out of hard work, I'd do it, even when I had "odd" (really odd) jobs. In my principal career I was a newspaper writer, which I never regarded as hard work. How hard can it be to write fake news?

Fake news was one of my favorite things to write. Not in the actual news columns of the paper, where fidelity to the truth and accuracy were stressed, but I wrote a lot of fake news in a personal column under my name, and had fun doing it.

Once I wrote a fake news column claiming that local archers allowed to hunt deer in the city were shooting their arrows into those plastic (fake) deer you see in some people's yards. Totally made up. Fake news. 

But the column got picked up on the Internet, went germ, if not viral, and some people around the country believed it was true. I got a call from a radio station in Illinois asking for an interview. The caller was crestfallen to learn it was fake news, although the term wasn't used back in pre-Trump hard-working America.

You could say my phone "rang off the hook" in response to that fake news column, just as politicians always use that phrase in describing constituents' responses to this or that issue. "My phone rang off the hook," they'll say, especially when describing constituent reaction to measures the opposing party has advanced.

I'm old now, so I know very well what they mean by "off the hook," but how many Millennials can conjure up the image of an old crank telephone attached to a wall with the receiver holding down a hook? A sizable portion of hard-working Americans don't even know what a traditional receiver looks like, what with such widespread i-phone use. I go all the way back to the "number please" era of call-initiating. 

OK, let's move on to the rolling up of the sleeves. Most of the politicians who are serving hard-working Americans, and whose telephones are ringing off the hook, "roll up their sleeves" every time they vow to actually do something. "We've got to roll up our sleeves and get to work" on this or that, they say. 

Now I realize these are metaphors seasoned with a large dose of cliche, but harmless enough as figures of speech. Same for all of the "brave heroes" serving in the military, or veterans who have left it.

It cannot be assumed that everyone who signs up for a stint in the military is either brave or heroic. I was once in the U.S. Army, and I was not a brave hero, and, come to think of it, I don't think anybody I was serving with demonstrably was. Sen. John McCain is a brave hero, of course, everyone except President Trump agrees.

Yet to politicians all service members are brave and heroic, even if they sit in offices before keyboards, as I did in my military days, with an occasional foray into the mess hall for KP (kitchen police). There were times when that required a certain amount of bravery, I have to admit, depending on the dispositions of the mess sergeants.

There! I've been going to get this off my chest for a long time. Not that there was anything actually on top of my chest, mind you. It's just an expression, a harmless metaphor with a dose of cliche tossed in.

Want to read the plastic deer column, originally posted in the Duluth News Tribune in 2005 and reprinted on this blog in 2009?  Read it HERE. And a reference to someone wondering if the plastic deer column was a hoax :-) read HERE.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Where East Was East and West Was West, in Duluth...

What follows is one of several columns I wrote for the on-line magazine Zenith City Online, started and edited by Duluth publisher Tony Dierckins. ZCO is still active as an area history blog but no longer uses regular posts in a magazine format so Tony graciously allowed me to repost here on my blog. I was its "western neighborhoods correspondent" (also labeled "Denfeld Boy") on ZCO and wrote monthly about growing up in Duluth. Thus, virtually all of my monthly columns for Zenith City had some connection to Duluth's West End and West Duluth, back before they were called Lincoln Park and Spirit Valley. I've decided to put a few of them on my blog from time to time.             Jim Heffernan 
Where East Was East and West was West
By Jim Heffernan

For decades atop the Point of Rocks, the commanding rock outcropping just west of downtown Duluth at the foot of Mesaba Avenue, a huge sign advertising Master Bread dominated the skyline.

It was more than an ordinary billboard. It appeared to have been fashioned to fit the surroundings, long and narrow at the peak of the outcropping, and it was animated, showing a loaf of bread with slices pouring out of one end. Done with sequentially lighted neon tubes, it was attention grabbing and impressive for its day. 
Its day, hard to pinpoint exactly, did encompass the years from my childhood in the 1940s until sometime in the 1970s. [editor’s note: Photo borrowed from Andrew Kreuger’s wonderful News-Tribune Attic.]

And it had greater significance than the bread wars between Master and Taystee, both baked in Duluth’s West End neighborhood (now referred to as Lincoln Park). The Master Bread sign came to symbolize the western end of “East End” (including downtown) and the beginning of “West End” including West Duluth. Only on the map did Lake Avenue divide Duluth’s east from its west. In Duluthians’ minds, the Point of Rocks, with its Master Bread sign, did. 

The prevailing perception in Duluth was that the rich people lived in the East End, the working classes lived in the western precincts, and never the twain shall meet, except when their high school sports teams vied to prove, once and for all, which section of the city was best.

It was a fallacy, of course, to believe everyone in East End was rich. Far from it. But all of the mansions in town were there; the mining and lumber tycoons lived there, cheek by jowl with bankers and most doctors and the powers that were in Duluth. Never mind that the Central Hillside, a bit east of the Master Bread sign, was for decades considered Duluth’s poorest neighborhood. 

Image from ZCO, originally in UMD Library Archives
In the 1970s, a colorful priest, Father F. X. Shea, was engaged as president of the College of St. Scholastica. In one of his many pronouncements about civic life, Shea called for the Master Bread sign to be torn down. He wasn’t expressing a preference for bread or disgust with advertising’s often intrusion on natural beauty; as a recent arrival here he had come to realize that the sign was a line of demarcation between east and west in Duluth that stifled the city’s social, business and cultural life. (The Master Bread billboard can be seen at the top of photo on right.)

I grew up on the “poor” side of the Master Bread sign that so brightly lit the Point of Rocks after the sun went down. Not that we were actually poor, nor were most of the others in the western neighborhoods. Far western Duluth had a steel plant, after all, together with other substantial industries, and the thousands of jobs they provided allowed workers—including immigrants and many who hadn’t completed high school—entry into what most people regarded as the middle class. Being middle class roughly meant owning a home, having a car and providing for your family.

My role here at Zenith City will be to write about the western Duluth neighborhoods as I recall them in the decades after World War II. My precise neighborhood was the West End, right in the heart of it, about half way between the Point of Rocks and the ore docks at 35th Avenue West. Informally, the ore docks have always represented the dividing line between West End and West Duluth.

There was competition between those two neighborhoods too, but socio-economically they were similar. Each had a thriving business district, providing residents with everything they might need from groceries to hardware to banking to household and personal needs, not to mention a stiff drink. J.C. Penney operated department stores in each neighborhood, as did Bridgeman’s ice cream parlors. The West End had more furniture stores; West Duluth more movie theaters (two) while each had two funeral homes for most of the years my memory encompasses.

Each neighborhood had numerous churches representing most of the mainline Christian faiths, but no synagogues. West Duluth had a small hospital, long-since dissolved, but people from the western precincts who needed hospital care depended, as did the entire city, on St. Mary’s (Catholic) and St. Luke’s (Protestant), both on the eastern edges of downtown.

Commandingly, West Duluth had Denfeld High School, for generations bringing together students from both neighborhoods whose earlier education had been provided at Lincoln Junior High (West End) and West Junior High. Until 1950, the West End educated its younger pupils at elementary schools scattered throughout the neighborhood—Adams, Monroe, Bryant, Ensign and Lincoln. West Duluth had Longfellow and Irving and others farther west, but short of Morgan Park and Gary New-Duluth, with their own schools, including a high school.

In future columns I’ll try to extract from these neighborhoods glimpses of their colorful past life —a life I knew as a youngster and much younger adult, when Master Bread meant more than the staff of life in this small corner of our world at the head of the largest freshwater lake in that world.

Previously published on Zenith City Online on January 15, 2016 and 2012.