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Last Place On Earth

I grew up in Northern Wisconsin, about as far north as you could go and still be in Wisconsin. Picture Lake Superior. See where it looks like a pointing finger? We were the very tip of that finger, where Wisconsin meets Minnesota. In fact, for all intents and purposes we were Minnesota. OK. That’s just a lie I tell to make myself feel better about being from Superior, Wisconsin

I come from Superior, Wisconsin but I lie and say Duluth, Minnesota. On a map it’s not really a huge difference. Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota are commonly referred to as the Twin Ports, the largest inland port in the world, 2300 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. They are in two separate states, split by Superior Bay and connected by two bridges, the High Bridge and the Bong Bridge. (High Bridge and Bong Bridge. Really? Yes, really.) The lines blur so distinctly that the term “Minnesconsin.” was invented. There was reciprocity for taxes and university tuition but not on sports teams. The deduction lines on your paycheck were blurred but the Packer versus Viking distinction was not.

Now you may be wondering, if the two city/states are so conjoined why would you feel compelled to lie and say you are from Duluth?

The differences between Superior and Duluth are like the differences between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. While located on the same geographic plane they are distinctly different in wealth, scenery and population. Superior is flat. The only way to see Lake Superior is to drive directly to it and stand on the shore. Duluth is built on a hill and the lake view is inescapable and breath taking. Superior’s waterfront is home to rusting grain elevators, ship yards and is infested with rats and seagulls. Duluth’s waterfront is home to long lake walks, charming hotels and is infested with tourists (mostly wealthy folks from Minneapolis/St. Paul). It’s like the San Francisco of the Midwest. Duluth girls lose their virginity to hot college guys from one of the many universities. Superior girls lose their virginity to Canadian businessmen in the bathroom of the Park Inn International Hotel (sure it was in Duluth but it’s still a bathroom and a Canadian businessman, eh). Duluth is a jewel on Lake Superior. Superior is what you have to drive through to get to Duluth.

Growing up in Superior meant always knowing that something better was just across the bridge. Just a small expanse of water away but it might as well have been an ocean. Before the Bong Bridge was built in 1985 the only way to Duluth was the High Bridge and it had no pedestrian walk way. Public transportation was limited to the Duluth Transit Authority, a bus that ran limited hours. There were a few taxicabs but they were on a call basis, not something you could just flag down on the street. The frustration of being able to see the lights of Duluth but not walk there was a deadly temptation in the winter when the bay was frozen over. Every few years someone would attempt to walk across and fall through the ice. Their fate just speculations until the spring thaw in May, or in some years, June.

Yes, Duluth was so close yet so far to us Superior kids. Then one November day in 1983, my friends, Chris, Tim and I decided that we needed to go to Last Place On Earth.

I don’t remember how we knew about the store but somehow it beckoned to our eleven-year-old hearts like a rock-n-roll lighthouse. Sure, Superior’s pathetic Mariner Mall had a music store but it was small, well lit and was only good for posters of Samantha Fox in a bikini or Poison in too much make up. We needed a real music store. We needed Last Place On Earth. Last Place On Earth was a seedy head shop on Superior Street in Duluth. It was a small storefront that sold cassette tapes, vinyl albums, T-shirts, and posters. What made them unique to the mall store was their specialty items-tobacco smoking accessories (bongs, one hitters and pipes) adult toys (condoms, vibrators and nipple clamps) and weapons (knives and throwing stars). It was totally awesome and totally not an appropriate destination for three 6th graders. It was the last place on earth our parents would allow us to be.

So we gathered up our spare change and waited for the bus on Belknap Street, conveniently located in front of my house, but out of the view of the living room windows. It was cold and windy but the excitement of the day kept us warm until we boarded the bus.

It only took us twenty minutes to arrive at Last Place on Earth. We opened the heavy wooden door and were greeted by the sound of a bell and hit with the heavy smell of incense, a thick, foreign smoky smell. The walls were covered in t-shirts, almost all black, and all stapled to cardboard squares and numbered for easy purchase. There was a display case for the “tobacco” smoking accessories. Psychedelic pipes like something from “Alice in Wonderland,” brightly colored glass vases and intricate wooden boxes that held gold metal objects. We did not know what they were used for but they sure looked cool. The vibrators and dildos were also kept behind the glass. We didn’t know what they were for either but we knew enough to find them kind of disturbing. We moved on to the selection of cassette tapes, T-shirts and posters.

Sixth to ninth grade were my “rock chick” years. I loved metal, glam rock and hair bands. I would use my allowance money to walk to The Milk House, a gas station on the corner that sold music magazines along side pop and the cigarettes it sold to minors. I would tear the four-page centerfold posters and glossy color photos out of “Circus” and “Metal Edge” and scotch tape them to my bedroom wall. Much to my mothers horror I chose Motley Crue, KISS, Ozzy Osbourne , Def Leppard and Quiet Riot. She hated Ozzy Osbourne the most. Maybe it was because I once listened to Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” non-stop on a family trip to Minneapolis, rewinding my cassette walkman over and over to hear it again and again, all while silently nodding, my torso pumping and thumping to the guitar and bass lines. Maybe it was because I threw a tantrum and wouldn’t speak to her for a week when she wouldn’t allow ten-year-old me to see Ozzy’s “Diary of a Madman” tour live at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. (Two shows after that date was the infamous “bites head off bat” show.) Maybe it was just because the thought of her ten-year-old daughter rocking out to a blood soaked, demon worshiper was just too much for her Midwestern mom heart to take”

As I looked through the poster selection in their heavy plastic display frames that made a loud “wack” sound when we flipped through them, my breath caught in my throat. While Ozzy was high on my list of loves there was still room for one more British band on my walls and in my heart-Duran Duran. I loved those pretty boys with their matching jumpsuits and perfectly styled hair. I considered my self a serious fan, a Duranie, but the only way to get photos of them was to purchase girlie teen magazines like “Tiger Beat” and “Teen”, something I had no interest in. So when the time came to make our purchases and commemorate our trip to the big city I chose a giant Duran Duran poster. It was five feet long and three feet high and would put my magazine pullouts with their creases and staple holes to shame. I clutched the perfectly wrapped tube in my hand like a scepter and we left the store.

We decided we still had time before we had to be home for supper so we walked back down Superior Street to the Holiday Center, a small shopping mall attached to the Holiday Inn. We walked around the sky walk-a series of sky tunnels that allow Duluthians to travel downtown without braving the sub zero temperatures that take over the Northland Eight months of the year. We ate cheese ball samples at the Hickory Farms store and stopped to play Pac Man at the arcade.

At 6:05pm it was getting dark and we decided we better catch our bus ride back to the dreariness of Superior. We took the escalator down to the main entrance and checked to see what time the next bus was.

Tomorrow. The next bus was Monday morning. The last bus to Superior left at 6 pm. Years of trying to get out of Superior and now all we wanted to do was go back. The Holiday Center was closing, forcing us out into the cold Minnesota night. None of us wanted to call our parents and a taxi was financially impossible. Our only hope was Tim’s older brother, Don, who was 16 and had a driver’s license. Maybe he would come to our rescue. Our first calls were unanswered and we continued walking down the street, getting as close to Superior as we could. By the time we reached Don and he agreed to come get us it was past 7 pm and we were all the way to Garfield Avenue and late enough that we had to call our parents and let them know where we were.

I remember sitting on the cold Garfield Avenue viaduct waiting for Don. The three of us huddled together against the wind, silent, watching the lights of Superior flicker, so close yet so far. The excitement of the day now eclipsed by the trouble waiting for us back home.

For me it was my mother yelling and a lecture about how we could have been kidnapped, murdered and left for dead under the bridge. She confiscated my Duran Duran poster and put it on the shelf in her closet.

I didn’t see it again until two months later when I hung a particularly bloody pullout of Ozzy up on my bedroom wall. While my mother didn’t believe in censorship she did believe in bargaining. So out came the Duran Duran poster from it’s spot in the closet in exchange for my crappy Ozzy pull out. My mother thought she had done a good thing, that those clean-cut British boys were definitely better idols. It would be another year or two before she would discover that my VHS tape of Duran Duran videos, the one I watched constantly, included the original video for “Girls on Film”. One of the first X-rated music videos, it featured semi naked girls dancing in a boxing ring, sliding on whip cream covered poles, wrestling in mud and making out with each other. But by then it was too late to trade back…

It was just a few more years and I was old enough to have friends who could drive and whenever possible we spent our free time in Duluth. After graduation from Superior Senior High School I rejected the University of Wisconsin-Superior for what else, The University of Minnesota-Duluth. But I was twenty-one before I made the official move across the bridge to become a Duluth resident. Of course I was still driving across the Bong Bridge and the High Bridge on a regular basis for the one thing that Superior has over Duluth. Liquor.

Minnesota bars close at 1am and there is no alcohol sold on Sundays. So most nights the drive was made (drunkenly) across the bridge at 12:30am-after the last call for Minnesota but just in time for a round or two in Superior. The scariest time to drive on the bridge was between the hours of 12:30am and 2:30am-we called it the Drunk Migration.

Now that I am in my late 30’s I try to find the humor in my hometown and embrace my roots. When I was 12 the city launched a new ad campaign-“I’m a Superior Lover.” You have to love a city that makes sweatshirts that say, “I’m a Superior Lover” in kid’s sizes, right? Right?


So I Left The House…

Poor Lilo. It had been over two weeks since she had a decent run at the park. We are usually such outdoors people but a combination of bad weather, bad health and bad timing has kept us indoors. Sure she has had the occasional ride in the car but driving John to work is not the same as getting to chase the ball. She’s been patient, but everytime she would see me put on socks she would get this hopeful look on her face. Yesterday I couldn’t take another day of disappointing her, no matter how bad I felt physically. So I decided to take my fever out for a stroll and bring Lilo to the park. A sunny, 28 degree day but the windchill dropped it to 16-still manageable!

I put on my new long underwear. Hot pink and shiny it makes me look like I am entering the Fat Girl Olympics in the Luge competition. I just want to wear them and my Emu boots and dance around in snow to some Edwin Star (“Twenty-FIve Miles” in case you were wondering what song.) Instead I covered them up with jeans and turtle neck, put on my parka and hit drove over to the park. Lilo whined with excitement and anticipation the entire way.

It started off OK. For a few minutes I actually thought that the fresh air might be doing me good.

By the time we were half way around the park I was ready to pass out. It felt like a hundred happy homicidal little razor blades were dancing around my throat like those crazy mops in Fantasia. By the time we made it back to the car it took all my willpower to not just recline the seat and take a nap in the sun. Instead I drove to Walgreens and bought another $16 worth of cold and flu meds in the vain hope of feeling better.

But at least Lilo was happy! When we got home we had rotisserie chicken for lunch (her favorite) and a nice nap. Then I surprised her with a fresh butcher bone.

It was a good day to be a doggie.


Things I am Not Thankful For…Viruses.

October 5 was our first virus of the season and we have been under almost constant siege since. Everytime we think we have beat one and have a few days of health another one comes barging in. Colds, stomach bugs, more colds, another stomach bug and now a cold(flu?) that is just destroying us. Canyon has a serious cough and a runny nose and John has a sore throat but I got it all-sore throat, ear pain, congestion, cough and fever.

I have always had a weird obsession with fevers. In high school I was always asking my mom and boyfriend, “Do I have a fever?” I said it so often that it is one of the little inside jokes in the paragraph under my photo in the senior yearbook. Actually, the yearbook was messed up that year so all of our little inside jokes were printed in a separate insert but you get the point.

So last night I really did have a fever-101.9 degrees. I felt like I was roasting from the inside. My body ached. I was sweaty, yet chilled. I decided that I had spinal meningitis. Consulted internet. I decided that I did not have spinal meningitis. I read something about fevers were your body’s way of attacking the virus. I decided to start cheering on my fever. “Come on, you can do it! Kick that virus’s ass!”

Canyon woke up at 7:30am and since I was awake anyway I thought I would be nice and let John sleep in. After carrying Canyon down the stairs to the playroom I went to make him a bottle and me some tea. I almost fainted. So I laid down on the kitchen floor and waited for water to boil. Happily, John came down. Then it was off to the couch where I tried to watch the Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade. The performances were lame. I went back to bed.

This would be the pattern for the day. Sleep a little, play with Canyon, watch TIVO, sleep a little, play with Canyon while watching TIVO etc. I drank enough tea, water and Emergen-c to hydrate a small nation.

Now we didn’t really have anything special planned for Thanksgiving but I was still looking forward to the meal. I still am. The turkey and all the fixings are there in the kitchen, waiting for me to have the strength to pull it all together in time to enjoy it before John goes off to work. I have a fresh turkey so I don’t really want to wait until Sunday to make it. (The sell by date is Dec 4 but I am still a little sketchy about food left in the fridge too long.) So tonight I kept looking at everyone’s Facebook posts and photos of feasts while we ate ramen noodles, ibuprofen and Sudafed.

So I was feeling a little sorry for myself but then I read my blog post from last Thanksgiving and got all teary. Still so thankful. Still so blessed.


What I Did With My Saturday

On Saturday we went to a rummage sale (big surprise, I know) and on our way back to the car we found all of these giant leaves. GIANT, DINOSAUR LEAVES! It was like being in Jurassic Park, minus the T-Rex and Jeff Goldblum.

Here’s my foot to give some size perspective. Note-I have big feet.

I gathered up a big stack to take home. They smelled AMAZING. Like if Yankee Candle was going to make a Fall Leaves candle this would be the smell. Like Cinnamon and Sweet and Woods. Speaking of perfect fall candles-I bought this crazy Illume Cozy Cabin candle on clearance at Target and it is the closest thing I have ever found to Minnesota in a jar. I went around to other stores trying to find more, but alas, all gone. I bought “Falling Leaves” which is good but not as great. I digress…

So now I had a big pile of leaves sitting on my printer. And I had a spool of fishing line on my desk (doesn’t everyone?). Hmmmmm. So I spent the afternoon listening to Bruce Springsteen and stringing the leaves up in my office window and Canyon’s.

Why yes that is Split Rock Lighthouse stained glass, thanks for asking!

It was one of those silly, sweet moments where I really liked being me. I liked that I took time out of the day to just enjoy the moment of creativity. I loved how the light shone through the leaves and the way they made the room smell and feel. Now, three days later, I like seeing how they curl and twist themselves into new shapes as the moisture leaves their bodies. Yes, they are still here. They still smell good. They still make me happy.


Everyone’s Happy In Wilmette

I have always liked to view my life as a montage. Here’s what my life looks like in my head!

John had Wednesday off and we went to one of our favorite places-Gillson Park in Wilmette. Another perfect fall day.

It’s a little long, but there was a lot of happy to fit in.



Oh Lilo, how I love you.

And to all those people who said I wouldn’t love Lilo as much once I had a “real baby”..suck it.


Thanks Writer’s Almanac…

I love it when The Writer’s Almanac is so right on with what I am feeling…

It’s Sunday Morning in Early November
by Philip Schultz

and there are a lot of leaves already.
I could rake and get a head start.
The boy’s summer toys need to be put
in the basement. I could clean it out
or fix the broken storm window.
When Eli gets home from Sunday school,
I could take him fishing. I don’t fish
but I could learn to. I could show him
how much fun it is. We don’t do as much
as we used to do. And my wife, there’s
so much I haven’t told her lately,
about how quickly my soul is aging,
how it feels like a basement I keep filling
with everything I’m tired of surviving.
I could take a walk with my wife and try
to explain the ghosts I can’t stop speaking to.
Or I could read all those books piling up
about the beginning of the end of understanding…
Meanwhile, it’s such a beautiful morning,
the changing colors, the hypnotic light.
I could sit by the window watching the leaves,
which seem to know exactly how to fall
from one moment to the next. Or I could lose
everything and have to begin over again.


“A few days ago I walked along the edge of the lake and was treated to the crunch and rustle of leaves with each step I made. The acoustics of this season are different and all sounds, no matter how hushed, are as crisp as autumn air.” – Eric Sloane