Sunday, December 3, 2023

A visit with St. Nicholas a long time ago...

Written By Jim Heffernan for the DuluthNewsTibune/12-2-23

I suppose those wide-eyed kids meeting Santa Claus that long-ago day are in their 50s now. Could be grandparents by now, taking their “young uns” to meet the Jolly Old Elf to express their Christmas wishes. 

 The Santa Claus some of those kids met back then was actually me, all decked out in a red suit, white beard and attempts at jolly demeanor sitting on a festive throne at Duluth’s Miller Hill Mall.


It was in the early days of writing a column for this newspaper. I thought it would be a good idea to experience things in the community and then write about them. I wanted to ride an elephant when a visiting circus paraded units down Superior Street, but somebody else at the paper got the nod (and their photo on the front page).


But at Christmas time I decided I should see what it was like to be a Santa Claus at Miller Hill Mall, still in its early years and attracting big crowds of shoppers who brought their children to tell Santa their Christmas wishes. It would provide plenty of fodder for a holiday column, my thinking went.


Mall management was delighted; we made a date, and I showed up in a preparation area where I climbed into the Santa outfit, beard and all, and suddenly came down with a slight touch of stage fright. Approaching my grand entrance into the mall corridor, I regretted the whole idea, but there I was, dressed in red from head to toe.


A line of excited kids, their parents hovering over them, had already formed, awaiting the appointed time for Santa to arrive. So, I arrived.


Out I went, mounted the throne, and attempted a few ho-ho-hos, realizing right away that I wasn’t that good at ho-ho-hoing. Whatever else might be lurking in my personal makeup, I just am not the ho-ho-ho type. But there I was forcing ho after ho after ho.


Onward. Sitting there, I beckoned the first child, perhaps a four-year-old boy still full of belief and excited to tell St. Nick what he wanted for Christmas. Others followed, boys and girls, sitting on my lap, filled with excitement at meeting the Jolly Old Elf who would be invading their homes on Christmas Eve with a bagful of toys. Yeah, right.


As always happens, some of the younger ones were afraid of me, and I don’t blame them. What they didn’t know was I was just as afraid of them.


It began to occur to me that many of the kids were hoping for gifts their families couldn’t possibly provide, and I wondered what I should say to them. I didn’t want to promise that I would deliver on their wishes, but I didn’t want to disappoint them by saying that I wouldn’t.


I tried to come up with stock answers but I became more and more uncomfortable with the whole scene. It’s hard to be jolly when you’re not, and actually not that good at it in the first place.


But the line grew longer, as did the afternoon. I began to feel warm, even hot and sweaty (except for cold feet), as I welcomed child after child to the open arms and hard knee of a fake fake Santa. I can’t recall how long a Santa session I had committed myself to. I supposed the “real” mall Santa had taken the whole afternoon off, the scoundrel.


I wondered, too, if he had been using the same white beard that I had strapped on and if it might be full of cold germs or dreaded flu. Can you catch pneumonia from a borrowed beard? Could bubonic plague be far behind? What if my nose starts to run? Still, the kids kept lining up.


“Ho-ho-ho, Merry Christmas,” I kept repeating as kid after kid descended from my knee and another mounted it. “What would you like for Christmas?” I’d open with each one, and many of them would tell me some outlandish thing I knew they wouldn’t get and I felt sorry for them.


Finally, the Santa session came to an end and I was able to shed the costume and get the heck out of there. My own children were at the Santa-believing age at that time and, of course, we later took them to see a competing Santa.


He’s great, I determined as I stood and analyzed his Santa style, cheerfully greeting my daughter and son and handling the promises just right. I started believing in him again myself.


It was the only time I attempted such a thing, but it instilled in me a deep admiration for the men (and I think there are some women too) who take on the job of Santa Claus each year. It ain’t easy.


With that, I sign off for 2023. So, I wish everyone a joyful holiday and a happy new year.


Ho-ho-ho, and all that that implies.


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 4, 2023

My first 60 years at this newspaper...

Written By Jim Heffernan for the DuluthNewsTribune/11-04-23

So, they’ve sold the Duluth News Tribune building — an edifice where I spent my entire journalism career. And the deal closed almost 60 years to the day after I started working there in October 1963.

There are so many memorable moments and hours and days of practicing journalism out of that building. It has been a lengthy career followed by free-lancing in retirement. Let me capsule it all in three words: It’s been interesting.

I was fresh out of college with no particular career ambition and recently completed Army active duty when I gave the newspaper a shot. An intrepid executive editor hired me, probably on speculation since I hadn’t majored in journalism in college. But I knew how to touch-type. That might have gotten me in.

Oh, and I was willing to accept 75 bucks a week — a princely sum for a pauper.

There wasn’t much touch-typing at all in the newsroom of the morning Duluth News Tribune and evening Duluth Herald in those days. Many of the men — the reporting, sports and editing staff was all male except for a pair of female “society” writers — were veterans of World War II who used the hunt-and-peck system of typing. But they could be fast.

I was assigned to work as a reporter afternoons and evenings on the morning News Tribune. My first night on the job the city editor, my new boss, took me to “lunch” (our lunch break was from 9:30 to 10 p.m.) in a little cafe next to the old Lyceum Theater and asked me if I knew how to type. When I said I did, he said, “You’ll be fine.”

I wasn’t so sure. My start date in October 1963 turned out to be pretty significant. One month later President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and I got to take part in the local coverage.  He had visited Duluth just two months before. My assignment was to telephone town mayors in what we called the Upper Tri-State Region for statements on the Kennedy assassination.

I managed to reach a dozen or so, and they all said essentially the same thing: “This is a terrible tragedy.” Over and over the same response. I did cobble together a story that made it into the paper, though, and I was quite proud to have been a small part of localizing what was one of the most significant news stories of the 20th Century. My first month on the job.

As the years went by, I had many different roles at the papers. They were, and are, called “beats.” I had the education beat for a while, then the city government beat, some crime and courts coverage and even the arts and entertainment beat when I started writing my own column in 1972.

But looking back today I think my favorite beat was my first, called “general assignment.” You’d go to work every day not knowing what you would be covering, you’d be assigned to cover some event or occurrence — it could be anything from a major fire to a boring speech — and when you turned in your story you were done. Well, maybe check with the cops for newsy items or log in the visiting and departing ore boats and pound out a couple of obits on a manual typewriter before going home.

We used to rush, accompanied by a photographer, to the scenes of fatal automobile accidents, which could be heart-rending. One time I dashed to a late-night explosion of a house in the East Hillside that, we learned at the fiery scene, was being rented by several members of the UMD Bulldog hockey team. They weren’t home; the team was playing on the road. The house collapsed on its foundation, damaging two others adjacent to it.

Over my active years I met every Minnesota governor, congressmen and senators, area legislators, local mayors, city, county and state officials, school superintendents, college administrators, police chiefs, sheriffs, local judges, business leaders (including one bonafide local tycoon) and, as they used to say on old radio, the innocent, the vagrant, the thief, the murderer.

Assignments were wide-ranging. I interviewed Walter Mondale in the News Tribune building when he was vice president of the United States (Secret Service lurking all around) and once tried to interview an untalkative groundhog in Northern Wisconsin who refused to say if he’d seen his shadow one chilly Feb. 3. Throw in a lot of ordinary people who were somehow involved in the news, and it all added up to being a newshound, as a cop once called me.

I spent much of one decade — the 1970s — handling the entertainment and arts beat. That involved reviewing all theater productions, college and civic, together with shows by visiting entertainers (Elvis among them), symphony concerts and other musical presentations. Even opera.

Over the years I interviewed many then-well-known actors and entertainers — comedian Jack Benny, musician Louis Armstrong, actors Maurice Chevalier and Gregory Peck, a couple of Metropolitan Opera sopranos and others whose names probably aren’t recognized by Millennials and Generation Z. Some literary readers might find it interesting that I interviewed esteemed writer Vladimir Nabokov’s son, Dmitri, a singer, when he came here to perform with the symphony. We didn’t discuss “Lolita.”

I chatted with Jane Pauley, who at the time co-hosted the Today Show on NBC, when she gave a talk here to the Rotary Club or some other service organization. I got the impression she wasn’t happy to be here and wasn’t that nuts about being interviewed by me either. It happens sometimes.

The newspapers went from two — morning and evening — to just one in the morning in the early 1980s. We went from 13 editions each week — seven with the morning News Tribune and six in the Herald — to just seven. The Herald died.

Showing the press to interns, circa 1972
At the peak there were probably 200 people working in various departments of the papers. Hundreds of “paper boys” delivered the papers house to house in Duluth-Superior, the Iron Range and Northern Wisconsin. Yes, they were called paper boys, but there were some girls too, and the newspaper referred to them as carrier salesmen. I covered the tragic murder of one of them as he delivered our Sunday edition in Superior, his wagon stacked with undelivered papers left on the sidewalk.

My final 20 or so active years were spent working on the opinion pages, writing editorials and selecting columns, cartoons and letters from readers for publication. That’s when I met many of the politicians; leaders like Sen. Paul Wellstone (who missed a scheduled interview with us when he was killed that day in an airplane crash) and Gov. Jesse Ventura. Wellstone was always affable and Ventura was always gruff. Former Gov. Arne Carlson was cheerful and his predecessor Rudy Perpich, sometimes called Governor Goofy, was not goofy at all, but incisive and brilliant. Very supportive of Duluth and the Iron Range, as was long-serving congressman Jim Oberstar.

Now the building where all of that was based has been sold to the Duluth School District for educational purposes. As far as I’m concerned, it’s been used for educational purposes for a long time. I learned a lot there helping to write a sizable chunk of the first draft of our history.

And it’s been interesting.

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, October 7, 2023

Witches in Duluth? The Devil you say...

Written By Jim Heffernan for the DuluthNewsTribune/10-7-23

You hear a lot about witch hunts these days. Yikes! Scary!


Haven’t we got enough to worry about without adding witches to our daily concerns like famine, war, conquest and death (see Bible)? But there they are. Even in politics. Especially in politics.


Witches have been around for a long time. I remember a few who were teaching school when I was a young pupil, but they didn’t have pointy noses or wear wide-brimmed black hats or fly around on brooms. Well, one of them might have.


It seems strange to be hearing about witch hunts in the 21st century. Back in the late 17th century it was not at all healthy for a woman to be suspected of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, as history buffs will tell you. (Side note: One of the great perils of writing for publication is spelling Massachusetts.)


But if there are going to be witch hunts today, shouldn’t there be some governmental rules regulating them? You shouldn’t be able to just go out and hunt them without a license. And should there be a season, like deer season or duck season or partridge season (a.k.a. ruffled grouse)? You’d think so. Would buck-feverish archers in Duluth and Superior want to hunt witches with bows and arrows? Put that thought in your quiver, Cupid.


But hold it right there!


A quick check of Google will tell you there are still hard-working loyal Americans (aren’t we all?), both women and men, practicing actual witchcraft. These are followers of the various pagan religions, perfectly harmless believers in the occult and black magic and stuff like that.


The devil you say? I know it is hard for believers in traditional religions to also believe that others in our midst might actually embrace such things.



What I’ve been wondering is, are there followers of witchcraft right here in Duluth?


Duluth has at least one of everything, I wrote in a column years ago, citing the city’s then only tattoo parlor, a little shop at the time on First Street downtown. Now there must be a dozen, tattoos no longer principally being the result of drunken forays into towns near military installations by armed services personnel in the lower ranks.


But I digress. We weren’t discussing tattoos, but rather witch hunts and witches. Still, how the devil are you supposed to identify any witches in our midst? Well, maybe the devil himself knows.


Satan and witchcraft seem to go hand in glove. So I called him up on a special “hot” line.


“Hey Satan,” I said when he answered from a fiery place called “hell.”


“Call me Mephistopheles,” he asserted.


“Cripes, that’s harder to spell than Massachusetts,” I complained.


“So it is.”


“Listen, Beelzebub, I’d sell my soul to the devil to find a witch or two in Duluth to see if they’re scared with all the witch hunts we keep hearing about on television these days,” I asserted rather forcefully.


The devil was not pleased at being called by one of his other names, but he let it pass because it’s pretty hard to spell too. Still, he was ill-inclined to accept my Faustian bargain. (Note: Faustian bargains, in which certain individuals offer to sell their souls to the devil in exchange for various things, like a date with Helen of Troy, have fallen out of style in recent years, replaced by other temptations like legal marijuana.)


In declining to accept my Faustian bargain, he said, “I don’t want your measly soul, pal, and I don’t keep track of witches in towns. I have other fish to fry, which is pretty easy to do down here.”


“Like what?” I inquired.


“Don’t you know there’s another American election coming up next year? I had a great time in the last election,” said the devil before abruptly hanging up, declaring he had to get back into “the details,” where he spends much of his time


Heavens to Lucifer, too bad he ended the call. I was going to compliment him on his excellent chocolate cake — that’d be devil’s food — and scrumptious “deviled” hard-boiled eggs, and also wish him a happy Halloween. The poor demon hasn’t got that many holidays he can celebrate.


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, September 2, 2023

Oppenheimer film brings back A-bomb memories...

Bombing of Nagasaki, Japan/8-6-1945/Wikipedia
Written by By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/Saturday, 9-2-23

I was five years old that summer when the Atomic Age was unleashed upon our world — the world I would grow up in.

It seemed exciting. Big bomb. I was used to hearing about bombs and bombing. The first five years of my life were a time history recalls as “World War II.” I came into consciousness during that very period.

But the atomic bomb was different. I had no grasp of the human tragedy when two of those bombs were dropped on Japan. I recall the jubilation here in America, in my family and in my home town Duluth, that the war was over, thanks to the atomic bomb.

No more rationing of sugar (jam was hard to come by) or gasoline for our car, or tires. Peace and prosperity had arrived (although at that age I wouldn’t have been able to put it that way), and we’d all live happily ever after, just like the characters in my storybooks.

Didn’t happen, did it.

These ruminations were prompted by the popular movie “Oppenheimer.” I recall my parents looking at the stark headlines in the Duluth newspapers and talking about this atomic bomb when it was first detonated (the subject of the movie) and then a couple of weeks later dropped to end the war. It seemed exciting to my five-year-old mind, but also scary.

Not to worry though. Of course it could never happen to America, to Duluth, to our neighborhood, to us. We would always be safe here. Of that I was confident. But maybe not as confident as I seemed.

Later that summer (the bombs were dropped in August 1945) I was playing on the front porch of our family home in what was then known as the West End neighborhood. I suppose I was pushing toy cars around, or something of that sort. My mother was inside the house, keeping an eye on me from time to time through the screen door. It was a beautiful late summer day.

But my contented play was abruptly interrupted by a horrifying sight. Glancing skyward toward the ridge of the western Duluth hillside, there suddenly appeared what was, to my young mind, an atomic bomb. An atomic bomb right here in Duluth.

It was huge (atomic bombs had to be huge, right?) and shaped like a giant bullet but pointy on both ends like a humongous football. And it moved slowly over the Duluth hilltop skyline right toward our house. The Atomic Age had materialized before my young eyes.

I cried out and ran into the house and the safety of my mother, who didn’t immediately understand what had alarmed me so. I must have said the atomic bomb is coming. The atomic bomb is coming.

She darted to the porch with me in tow, looked skyward and saw my atomic bomb. It was a blimp, or dirigible, or Zeppelin as they are sometimes called. It slowly glided overhead and continued southeastward out of our sight.

Safe.  She consoled me by explaining it was just a friendly aircraft shaped like an elongated balloon. On with my happy childhood.

But I never forgot it (to wit this column). And it was the first realization that maybe our world isn’t as safe as one thinks in early childhood. There have been quite a few wars since, and our main adversaries — sometimes enemies — all got the bomb before I fully grew up, but no nuclear bombs have been used. Yet.

I didn’t know then what was in store as the years went on, of course. I had to get through first grade…and the Atomic Age.

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, August 5, 2023

What’s all this about artificial intelligence?


Ahead of his time on hairstyles
Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth NewsTribune/8-5-23   

The following screed blew into my lap while sitting in a park one day in the merry-merry month of May. Or it might have been in June by the light of the silvery moon. Then again, maybe it was a night in July, beneath the starlit sky.

 Whatever. I looked the blown-in-by-the-wind mini-manifesto over and decided to share it.


It begins: “What’s all this talk about artificial intelligence? I’m one of the smartest people I know, and it’s the real McCoy, Buster.  Not artificial.


“Describing it they just use the initials A.I. thinking everybody knows what it means. Well, there ain’t nuttin' artificial about my intelligence. Everybody whom knows me knows that. I don’t believe in it. My great uncle once removed (from the hoosegow) had a wooden leg that we all admired. Took it off every night to sleep. That’s artificial leg intelligence on display right there at home.


“At first I thought A.I. stood for Albert Instine (ain’t sure I spelt it rite), the smartest man on Earth when he was alive. He came up with the theory of relativity which led to people understanding about their relatives, like how they were related to their third cousin. We were a little confused about my great uncle with the wooden leg until Albert Instine cleared it all up with his theory of relativity.


“I don’t see no need for artificial intelligence when we — I’m talkin’ men like me who think deep alot — can figure everything out all by ourselves without using no computers. Can’t help it; we just know stuff. How? I learnt my education out behind the barn. That’s all you need. Put your jeans on before your boots. Hello?


“But back to A.I. (Albert Instine). He liked to look up at the stars at night when it wasn’t too cloudy. You could tell he was really smart by the way he wore his hair. He was decades ahead of his time on men’s hairstyle, which involved strict avoidance of barbers. That was one of his greatest accomplishments. Saves money too. He was so admired I read where a farmer named one of his chickens after him.


“But enough about Albert Instine.


“So now we hear that the writers and actors in Hollywood are on strike because they fear they could be replaced by artificial intelligence. If you ask me, it’s about time. I don’t see TV much (the wife likes “Price is Right”) but every time I turn it on, I doze off. I say they need artificial intelligence.


“Then I read somewheres that AI might someday surpass human intelligence. Well, they better not try to surpass me, that’s for sure. When I was in school the teacher told my parents I might be the smartest kid in the class if I ever showed up. This was before I quit school after eighth grade to get started on my chosen field, to become a circus clown (don’t laugh, it’s a serious business), but that never worked out when the circuses sold the elephants, leaving the clowns with nothing to shovel.


“In the meantime I traveled around the county alot stopping here and there at one of our lakes to fish. I got damn good at it too, pulling them in head over tail until some game warden came along claiming you needed a license from the state to fish. What? The state owns the fish? All the walleyes? All the bass? Both small mouth and big mouth?


“That was when I decided to enter politics, and you know where that can lead. I never went to jail, though. Politics is a pretty good deal.


“I better cut it off right here. Just give me three squares a day, a nice recliner for watchin’ the Twins on the tube, a six pack of brew, a friendly mutt and a loyal wifey to bring home the bacon and take care of the domicile (fancy word — told you I was smarter than most) and I’ll get along just fine. 


“No artificial intelligence needed, nohow. I got the real thing.


“Finis. (Yup, I know my Latin too. Then there’s Sempis Fideler. Go tell THAT to the Marines!)”


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, July 1, 2023

Kwik Trip shortage concerns city leaders...

A typical KwickTrip (Wikipedia)
Written by By Jim Heffernan for The Duluth NewsTribune/6-1-23

DULUTH — City officials yesterday expressed “deep concern” that Duluth is falling behind other Midwestern cities of similar size in the number of Kwik Trip gas/convenience outlets located here.


“Some neighborhoods are totally unserved by Kwik Trips,” said Randolph “Randy” Ramshackle, Duluth’s director of Urban Planning, Housing, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. “Even Superior and Hermantown are catching up,” he lamented.


“Accordingly, the city will appoint a Kwik Trip Task Force (KTTF) to seek out sites for more Kwik Trip convenience outlets to supplement the existing seven or eight… or nine, or 10. Whatever.  Who knows?” Ramshackle declared.


One site under consideration is in the Duluth Civic Center, the cluster of government buildings — City Hall, the St. Louis County Court House, the Heaney Federal Building and also the new Jailhouse Flats. This downtown Kwik Trip would replace the Priley Fountain in the Civic Center with an attractive Kiwk Trip complete with a car wash, Ramshackle said. “What good is a fountain anyway?” he said. “We’re not exactly Rome, Italy.”


The task force will also look into other areas of the city where there is no Kwik Trip serving residents. “Look at Fond du Lac in far western Duluth,” Ramshackle went on. “What are residents there supposed to do, drive all the way to West Duluth to go to a Kwik Trip?”


At the same time, Parks, Recreation and Horseshoe Pitching Director Patricia “Pickle” Ball announced the city will consider converting lightly used Chambers Grove Park in Fond du Lac to a site for a Kwik Trip.  “It’s perfect,” she said, “right off Highway 23 for travelers and handy for Fond du Lac residents, who have been convenience store deprived since the village’s founding in 1679 by Daniel Greysolon Sieur Dulhut and Father Hennepin.”


Dulhut, who also went by the name “Jean” was a smart French explorer but he never learned to spell his last name correctly, historians have observed. Father Hennepin, Dulhut’s spiritual leader and cook (specialty: Eggs Benedictine) later moved on to Minneapolis to foster an avenue.


Other sites for Kwik Trips are also being considered. Two of the most prominent are Bayfront Festival Park on Duluth’s waterfront and Brighton Beach Park along Lake Superior in the city’s easternmost environs.


“Brighton Beach is a natural locale for a Kwik Trip, relieving motorists of the concern for having to drive all the way to Two Harbors to go to a Kwik Trip. Plus, nearby Lake Superior would serve as a handy catch basin for soapy car wash overflow,” parks chief Pickle Ball said. “And Canal Park area is completely Kwik Trip-less” she pointed out, adding, “Bayfront Festival Park sits idle 80 percent of the time while a Kwik Trip there would be used 24-7 —every day all day and night. It would be very handy to Canal Park.”


Skyline Drive is also unserved by a Kwik Trip. City engineers are looking into the possibility of installing a Kwik Trip near Enger Tower, although steep hills there would be a challenge. “The view would be stupendous for drivers filling their tanks,” city engineering associate Ariel V. Bridges said. “We’re going to make that happen come heck or high water.” Bridges reportedly is very devout and is loath to utter bad words.


Also under consideration is the area of Park Point beyond the ship canal. The seldom used Lafayette Square playground would be a perfect fit for a Kwik Trip, urban planning director Ramshackle said, and also the vast parking and volleyball area near the Park Point beach house. “Ideally, we would put Kwik Trips at both sites,” he said, obviating the need for residents to drive too far on the point.


A spokeswoman for the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, Abby Westminster, said, “The chamber welcomes any additions to the city’s tax base and business activity and will cooperate in every way with much-needed expansions of Kwik Trips in our community.”


An opposition group, Grandmothers and Pump Jockeys for Gas Choice (GPJGC), vowed to organize an anti-Kwik Trip rally, complete with concerned-appearing sign carriers in appropriately inscribed T-shirts.


Film at 10.

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 

Friday, June 2, 2023

When it’s time to bid farewell to ladders...

Written by By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth NewsTribune/6-3-23                            A newspaper ad for those gizmos that promise to keep the falling autumn leaves out of your roof gutters proclaims, “Say goodbye to your ladder.” The ad features a portly man with very little hair hugging his ladder, apparently trying to say goodbye and feeling mighty bad about it.

Is this really the message the gutter cover people want to convey? I would feel terrible saying goodbye to my current ladder (a seven-foot folding step jobby) but, of course, at my age I have parted with several ladders. I had a big aluminum extension ladder back when I had a two-story house but I think I failed to actually say goodbye when we parted.


Goodbyes are always hard. I said goodbye to my youth several years ago, I’m afraid. Can’t recall exactly what the words were or if there were words at all. You wake up one morning and it’s gone, along with more hair than you’d care to part with. (No pun there.)


I have said goodbye to a couple of revered cars, especially my first little pre-war (that’d be World War II) coupe, but the memory of it will always be in my heart.


If you are thinking about getting a Gutter Helmet (that’s the actual brand name of the product in the farewell to my ladder ad, but there are others too), you should be prepared to properly say goodbye to your ladder.


You can come up with your own words, of course, as you stand in the yard hugging your ladder goodbye, but there are many heartfelt goodbyes in the world of literature and pop culture, even in the Good Book, that might come in handy and make both you and the ladder feel better about parting.


Perhaps the most famous parting comes from Shakespeare that I think would make your ladder feel better about being shunned. It’s from “Romeo and Juliet” when Juliet says in parting from her lover, “Goodbye, goodbye, parting is such sweet sorrow.” How could a ladder resist such an endearing farewell?


There are others too, just as poignant. Like in “A Tale of Two Cities” when Sydney Carton is about to say goodbye to his head on the guillotine: “It is a far better thing that I do than I have ever done.” That might be a little heavy for your ladder but it’s sincere.


Then there’s the famous film “Casablanca” when Rick talks to Ilsa at the end as they are parting and she resists. He says she won’t regret leaving, “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.” I wonder if my old extension ladder got over our parting. I have and will for the rest of my life.


But enough of this nonsense. Well, not quite. What if you are glad to get rid of your old ladder, rungs and all? When it comes time to say goodbye, there’s the penultimate scene in “Gone With the Wind” when Scarlett pleads with Rhett not to leave, and he says, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”


Be careful, though. There’s that most famous ladder in the Holy Bible, called Jacob’s Ladder, that shows up in a dream Jacob of Genesis had. That ladder goes all the way up to heaven. Pretty tough to say goodbye to that one.


Still, there’s a goodbye in an old song that sums this all up quite well, I think, with the correct sentiment in saying goodbye to your ladder because you won’t need it to climb up and scoop the leaves out of your gutter. Just tell the ladder, “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again, some rainy day.”


And finally, the classic song “Autumn Leaves” has a line that couldn’t fail to capture the moment of saying goodbye to your ladder: “…I’ll miss you most of all, my darling, when autumn leaves start to fall.”


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, May 6, 2023

Republicans, Democrats differ on everything...

Written By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth NewsTribune on 5-6-23

Dire warning: This column is about politics. (Yikes!)

I spent my last 25 years of active journalism working on the opinion pages of this newspaper. In that role, I met and interviewed just about every politician and political aspirant from this region as well as statewide office seekers and incumbents — including a couple of vice presidents of the United States. You know the names of those two Minnesotans.


This is not to boast about all the important people I’ve met — governors, U.S. senators, congress members, legislative leaders, city leaders, dog catchers — but rather to illustrate that I’ve spent a considerable amount of time around politicians from both major parties (and a few from minor parties, including one who shares a given name with Jesse James).


You pick up on certain traits in people who seek public office, some of whom succeed. After the successful ones have been in office for awhile, they all, regardless of party, seem to have read the same playbook about how to be a politician.


For example, when speaking publicly, they never refer to this country simply as the United States; they always thunder “United States of America” in case there is any confusion about which United States they mean. And they say the people they serve are always “hard working” Americans who “roll up their sleeves” a lot. I have known many Americans I wouldn’t consider hard working, not excluding myself. I roll up my sleeves for a COVID-19 shot. They are also very quick with “thoughts and prayers” when the occasion suggests it.


Incumbents above a certain level never appear on TV or before a gathering of constituents without American flags (a.k.a. Old Glory) behind them, preferably several, in case there was any doubt about their patriotism.


Some things have changed, though, in recent years since I left active journalism — mainly the widening gap between the two major parties. Once opponents were referred to as “worthy” when referenced, and their party “the loyal opposition.” No more.



Thus, I have compiled a list of ways I see how Democrats and Republicans differ these days on major, and some minor, issues. I am not favoring one side over another here, although I obviously have a political ideology. These are just things I notice as I observe the political divisions play themselves out today, especially in Washington. Here goes:


— Republicans think Democrats are socialists or communists. Democrats think Republicans are autocrats or fascists.


— Democrats are for abortion and against guns. Republicans are against abortion and for guns.


— Sticking with guns, Republicans like AK-47 assault weapons with high capacity magazines. Democrats like squirt guns and read high capacity magazines such as Time, Newsweek and Mad. (What, ME worry?)


— Democrats are concerned about climate change. Republicans are concerned about diaper change.


— Republicans like Fox News. Democrats like Wolf…Blitzer. (Never allow either one in the hen house.)


— Republicans say Democrats are soft on crime. Democrats say Republicans are hard on the poor.


— Democrats like electric cars. Republicans like electric chairs.


— Republicans oppose all forms of taxation and are against government spending. Democrats are quick to support taxation and expand government spending.


— Traditional Republicans like creme brûlée. Democrats like peanut butter. (Serious caveat: There are indications that this has been reversed in recent elections.)


— Democrats embrace critical race theory. Republicans defend the Indianapolis 500.


— Republicans are wary of the federal bureaucracy, calling it the “deep state.” Democrats are less concerned about the deep state than the deep throat.


—Democrats want to raise the debt ceiling. Republicans want to raise the roof.


— Republicans embrace “replacement theory” promulgated by Fox News. Democrats don’t care if they go bald.


— Errant Republicans get in trouble over sex. Misbehaving Democrats get in trouble over money.


— Republicans claim the Jan. 6 march on Washington was as innocent as a Sunday school picnic. Democrats say the attack on the Capitol was an insurrection threatening our democracy.


— (Here’s one that won’t surprise you.) Republicans hate President Biden and want to see him impeached. Democrats despise ex-President Trump and want to see him jailed.


So here we are.— a country divided against itself. How long can it stand?


Finally, I suppose there are committed politicians who will resent some of these observations of the differences between the two parties. That’s fine. I believe more politicians should be committed. Pick your asylum. 


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