Saturday, November 27, 2021

Meet the man who never was...

The Man Who Never Was
Written by Jim Heffernan for The Duluth NewsTribune/Saturday, November 27

 Today I was going to discuss issues of vital concern to Americans, such as the end of Britney Spears’ conservatorship and Taylor Swift’s split with Jake Glyllenhaal, but decided instead to feature The Man Who Never Was — me. Yours truly. Moi.


So let me begin at the beginning. I am born. My parents don’t have a name yet so they put “Baby Boy” on my birth certificate. I, of course, did not know this. My folks always had said I was named after both my paternal grandfather and a recently departed uncle and that was that. I figured it would say my full name on my birth certificate if I ever saw it.


Let’s jump ahead now to something over half a century later when, planning a European trip, I applied for my first passport. I needed to prove that I am who I am, so I got my birth certificate proudly proclaiming the arrival of…“Baby Boy?” Oh for crying out loud! What happened to James?


Not good enough, decree the passport people reviewing my birth certificate; got to have some other proof of your existence. They suggest that old school report cards would be acceptable. Well, I have some of those from my earliest years at Duluth’s old Lincoln Elementary.


So I fished a few early report cards from a family history file and was astonished to see my “marks” and teacher comments. The comments are highly complimentary of my singing ability (soprano at the time) but that I spend too much time dreamily staring out the window and not paying attention to learning such things as reading, writing and arithmetic that you might need later in life. Who knew that?


Of course I’m humiliated to show this to the passport guy but I went ahead with it, chagrined at such revealing (if true) traits attributed to me. It worked. The U.S. State Department, which issues passports, apparently accepts Americans who stared out the window in school.


Onward. Well, actually, backward. Facing the military draft after completing my education in the 1960s (I gazed out the window a lot in college too), I joined the U.S. Army National Guard, which didn’t care what you did in school as long as you could spit-shine boots.


Many of the men I served with recalled being “sworn in” when they enlisted in the Army. Sworn in? Oops! They forgot so swear me in when I joined. I hadn’t promised to uphold the Constitution or defend America from enemies real or imagined or whatever they say when you raise your right hand, but there I was in boot camp conning other recruits into spit-shining my boots in exchange for me ghost-writing love letters to their girlfriends. Several got married right after they got out, I learned.


But what about me?  I’m the man who never was…sworn in.


Oh well. I muddled through it all anyway, Army boot camp, six years of weekend warrior duty and released. So, a couple of years ago, reading about all the benefits veterans qualify for, I checked with the local veterans office to see my status. “You are not a veteran,” I was told, because I hadn’t served enough time on active duty.


Well, well. The soldier who never was.


And now, at long last, let us move to the present. A few weeks ago, to be precise, I was informed by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety that my driver’s license had to be renewed by my birthday. (You remember my birth described above. Name? Baby Boy.)


While I was at it, I decided to apply for one of the new super-duper licenses that can get you through domestic airports to the satisfaction of customs officials who never smile and confiscate pocket penknives from innocent travelers. The licenses are called “REAL ID compliant” and require applicants to submit all kinds of proof that they exist (take that, man who never was) and that you are a real American (take that, non veteran who served six years in the military).


No problem.  I was able to submit certain personal identification documents, the main one being my hard-earned passport.


Weeks pass and then a letter arrives from the Department of Public Safety. In essence, I was informed there was some problem with my passport and they wouldn’t issue my REAL ID driver’s license without other identification.


Whew. The man who never was again. Getting used to it.


So, with trepidation I went to the St. Louis County courthouse to obtain my birth certificate, terrified that it might ID me as “Baby Boy.” I guess I had fixed that back when I applied for a passport, because the certificate was perfect, with my full name and the great seal of St. Louis County. They only cost 26 bucks. Frame not provided.


Now I’ve been informed that I will receive my new super-duper driver’s license in a couple of weeks. We’ll see.


And to think Britney Spears and Taylor Swift think they’ve got problems.


As the man who never was, though, I do want to add briefly that they forgot to include the wedding vows when I got married. You know: “Do you, Baby Boy, take…” and so on and so forth.  But now I’m going to look in a mirror and see if I’m there.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at 

Saturday, November 13, 2021

The lasting legacy of Bela Lugosi as ‘Dracula’...

Bela Lugosi as Dracula
Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/November 13, 2021 

Let’s go on a voyage today…

By the time I got to Budapest it was raining. No, maybe that was Vienna on a Danube River trip a few years ago. Who cares what the weather was when visiting the homeland of notorious actor Bela Lugosi.


Why Bela “Call Me Dracula” Lugosi now? Fully two weeks after Halloween 2021, the year almost everybody wore masks if they had an ounce of sense? But enough politics. Around Halloween I re-watched Bela on TV as Dracula in his first movie playing that blood-sucking vampire and this is my first chance to express some inspiring thoughts on it in print.


I was shocked, shocked in Budapest (cognoscenti like me actually pronounce it Budapescht to demonstrate our erudition) to find how big Lugosi still is in the Hungarian capital. After all, the guy left there before 1920 and died in Hollywood more than 30 years later.


It’d be like Duluth worshiping Bob Dylan in 2087, or thereabouts. They probably will.


But everywhere you go in Budapest (remember, if you read this aloud to your children, pronounce it Budapescht to get them off to a good start in life) there’s some remembrance of Bela Lugosi — statues, museums (well, just one); there’s the Bela Lugosi Day Care Center, the Bela Lugosi Laundromat, the Bela Lugosi Blood Bank (hmmmm), Saint Bela Lugosi Cathedral. Well, maybe I dreamed a few of those up, but Lugosi is big in Budapest. Take my word for it.


Who remembers the famous Austro-Hungarian emperor (I forget his name, but James Mason played him in the movies with huge sideburns)? Hardly anybody remembers who was emperor when all the trouble started over there leading to World War I, but you can’t round a corner in downtown Budapest without running into Bela Lugosi.


Sometimes I worry in writing these columns that as a registered geezer my musings will not be of interest to members of those generations with letters like X, Y and Z and so forth. All of my progeny falls into one of those categories. My generation falls somewhere between “Greatest” and “Boomer,” so we got no credit at all for ending the Great Depression and discovering Elvis.


But we remember Bela Lugosi, by cracky. He scared the living daylights out of me when they re-relased his 1931 classic “Dracula” and it showed up at Duluth’s Lyric Theater on a dark and stormy night when I was about 10 years old. At least I think it was dark and stormy; dark for sure, Daylight Saving Time having lapsed. I’m pretty sure. I like to be decisive.



You couldn’t view that movie at that age without being petrified, and being instilled with a lifelong fear of vampire bats, which are now accused of starting pandemics. Sometimes in the film, Dracula shows up as a bat casing the boudoirs of fair-haired young women before turning back into the black-caped-white-tie-and-tails monster about to suck her blood via her neck. That sort of thing gets your attention as a pre-adolescent.


Sleeping in a coffin placed in a dank catacomb during the day, he’d rise only after dark (you wonder what he thought about Daylight Saving Time) to work his hypnotic magic on his comely victims and also crazed males who have difficulty speaking without seeming to scream in a monotone, eyes wide with terror.


Whew, I’m getting scared just recalling his stuff. Thank heaven (heaven is not actually involved here but thank it anyway) for Dr. Van Helsing, who’s got the goods on the caped, widow’s peaked, slick raven-headed, vampire.


Van Helsing carries a good-sized crucifix in his suit coat breast pocket because he knows that is the one thing Dracula fears and shrinks back from. (Well, I guess heaven IS involved here a bit. What a relief.) Oh, Dracula recoils from garlic too — just like the rest of us.


“You know too much, Van Helsing,” says the Count (oh yes, I forgot to note that Dracula was a tangential royal in his Transylvania homeland — not to be confused with Pennsylvania). Back home in Transylvania he was known as “Vlad the Impaler.” This was several generations before the Hollywood years, although it’s the same guy. Vampires never die as long as they sleep all day. They don’t even fade away, even when a stake is driven through their hearts.


Oh, I can’t go on. I’m getting the shivers just writing about this.


I recall taking the bus home from the Dracula movie that night and my buddy and I ran as fast as we could in the dark from the bus stop to the safety of our homes and hearths.


Meanwhile, back in Budapest, I have a photo of me posing in touristy attire standing in front of the Bela Lugosi Museum, inexplicably painted a cheerful yellow. I didn’t go inside, though. Scared? Maybe. Also cheap.


Finally, remember: If you want to impress your friends, pronounce it Budapesht.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at