Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Tech Tuesday: A.I. Is Already Taking White Collar Writing Jobs. Who's Next?

Photo by Yuyeung Lau on Unsplash
In November I was reading an investment update at Zach's when I noticed that the advice regarding a particular stock was not only coherent but straightforward, clear English. Just the facts, but in sentences. In fine print it stated that the paragraph had been written by a machine.

The same kind of thing, converting data into statements, is happening in sports as well. Over 400 articles sent out on the wire services during the last summer olympics were  created by A.I.  

I've been looking at articles and books on Artificial Intelligence lately, many which note how white collar jobs will be vulnerable to these thinking machines. (Assuming that organizing data into sentences is thinking.) On Wall Street no one is looking for poetry. Neither are sports gamblers. It's all about the transmission of information. The words help identify what the numbers refer to, but the machines have few ambitions to dress up their prose in order to obtain a Pulitzer.

Machines have been replacing humans for decades, which is why the subject keeps coming up regarding how we're going to take care of the dispossessed. We're not doing the greatest job now, but what happens when unemployment is 10X what it is today?

According to this article in Fortune the robots are already replacing people in ways we have not yet noticed. Annual report writers, financial analysts, online marketing, programatic advertising, anesthesiologists, diagnosticians and even physicians have already been pushed aside by thinking machines to some extent.

Ten years ago some kid graduated college thinking his internet marketing degree was going to be his ticket to wealth and Caribbean vacations. Little did he know that in fifteen years the skills he learned would be obsolete.

If there's any secret to survival in today's topsy-turvy work environment, it seems we need to teach young people how to think, and to be vigilant about staying current with the changes taking place in their career field. 

* * * 

Meta, formerly Facebook, says it is working on an A.I. computer that will be faster than any in the world. How will it be used? According to this article it will be used to train other A.I. robots. Interesting. Will it teach the machines how to think? Or will it indoctrinate?  Is Meta's A.I. going to train up an army that will serve on behalf of the Haves or Have-Nots? 

Oh well, much more can be said but we'll save that for another space in time.

*This blog post was not written by an A.I. 

Monday, January 24, 2022

Check Out Hubert Phipps' Ascending in the Miami Design District

If you’re in the vicinity of Miami and want to see an unusual art show, check out Hubert Phipps: Ascending at the ARES Modena showroom in the Miami Design District. The showroom features an ARES S1 supercar model surrounded by paintings and sculptures by the artist. 

Cars and art have a long history together. A noteworthy aspect of this show is not the car, but the artist who was himself a racecar driver on the SCCA circuit from 1979 to 1985, the same years Paul Newman won four national championships racing in the Sports Car Club of America. Phipps’ team mates included Danny Sullivan, who won the Indianapolis 500 despite a 360 degree spin-out late in the race, and Michael Andretti of the legendary Andretti family. Considering the caliber of the competition, it is impressive that Phipps had numerous race wins and one year captured the SCCA Formula Atlantic National Championship.

Hubert Phipps comes from a noteworthy family as well. His grandfather Henry Phipps, Jr. grew up with Andrew Carnegie, making a fortune in steel and real estate. Like Cargnegie he devoted his later years to philanthropic pursuits.

As an artist, Phipps became known for his paint pigment drawings and abstract sculptures. The materials he has explored working with include steel, bronze, wood, composites, plaster, glass and marble. 

"Hubert Phipps' racing background and his passion for automobiles shine through in the kinetic energy of his sculptures," said Mo Elarishy of ARES Miami. The artist's monument-sized Rocket was recently slected for an Art in Public Places program spearheaded by the Boca Raton Museum of Art. (For the unfamiliar, Boca Raton is within eyeshot of Cape Kennedy on Florida's east coast.

Aviation is another facet of the Phipps heritage. Hubert Phipps acquired his aviators license at age 16 and has logged more than 4,000 hours of flight time. According to the press release he likes to fly his Airbus Helicopter H-120 to Florida from his art studio in Virginia.  

ARES has its headquarters in Modena, Italy where the world's most legendary automakers have been active: Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Pagani, a European equivalent of Silicon Valley except these designers, craftsmen and engineers apply their imaginations and skills to an alternate passion.

The Ascending show will be on display here in Miami through January 31. 
Miami Design District: 151 NE 41 Street

Hubert Phipps (Publicity still)

Photo showing context for Phipps' creations.

Photos: Gary Firstenberg, with the exception of publicity still courtesy the artist.

Tribute to John Prin: Author, Mentor and Friend

Selfie taken during our annual meet in Hinckley, 2020.
We lost another good one. 

In 1982 I met John Prin at a Twin Cities Christian Writers group. An author of national stature came to speak at one of those early meetings we attended and after the meeting we sought each other out because of the questions we each had asked in the Q&A session.
John had been a full-time writer at Control Data, a major corporation during the early days of the digital age. I was a "failed missionary" who was now painting apartments and trying to figure out how I would spend the rest of my life. I felt inwardly drawn to the idea of being a writer and ultimately came to believe it was a calling. To this end John became my mentor. He not only helped me improve my skills as a writer, he taught me how the publishing business worked for freelancers. 

The following summer we attended the weeklong Decision School of Writing and from that time on I began publishing continuously. From the end of 1982 til 1986 I painted apartments by day and devoted myself to developing my writing skills and getting assignments by night. 

In 1986 Susie and I inherited her grandmother's house in Duluth. It was my hope to get a full-time writing job and put painting apartments behind us. To showcase my work while job hunting, John instructed me to buy a $25 binder instead of a three or five dollar binder. The tactic worked. It created a professional impression that led to several freelance assignments before landing a position as a writer the first week of July. This "break" evolved into a successful career in advertising, marketing and PR. 

1988. Top row: John and I. Front row:
John's Susie, my Susie and their Emily.
Over the years John and I continued to meet annually, to share our life adventures and writing successes. I was impressed with his successes as an author, an addictions counsellor and involvement in helping the needy, not only here but also in war torn Kosovo.*

In 2007 I began blogging daily and three years ago added Medium, another blogging platform. John followed my online activities keenly and last year sought my help getting started on Medium himself. He was excited about Koinonia, a publication for Christian writers, as a platform. He was attracted to its capacity for helping others beyond his physical sphere of influence.

Because he was older and had not been involved in social media before, it took a lot of hand holding, and I did all I could to help him with blogging the way he guided my early efforts to become a publishing writer.  

A week ago Friday he called me, seeking help on another article for Koinonia. We agreed to set up a time to work through the issue on Saturday, but when he called Saturday to follow up he was unable to talk. John has been battling pulmonary fibrosis for the past few years, a disease that took his daughter Emily 5 years ago this month, and which his twin brother Dave is also struggling with now. 

The next day he went to the hospital and passed away by mid-week, diagnosed with pneumonia and Covid on top of his primary issue.  

* * *
I wrote this a couple days ago not knowing how to finish. Perhaps it's a way of saying thanks to someone who made a difference in my life. 

If you're a young person reading this with something on your heart you wish to pursue, find a mentor whose values you share and who has travelled the path ahead of you enough to help show you the way.  

*John and his wife Susie made 13 humanitarian trips to Kosovo and twice to Macedonia. Susie also made trips to Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia with other groups.  

Related Links
John's website: www.TrueYouRecovery.com

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: More Than A Horror Story

I don't care much for monster movies as a genre any more. When I was young we used to be enthralled by the genre. In the early Sixties I would use my allowance money to buy Famous Monsters of Filmland, a monthly mag that covered the burgeoning horror film industry.

Some of the most memorable films of that era for me were Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, The Wolf Man, the Creeper and, yes, Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde.

As children we enjoyed these horror flicks. They were engaging and generated a sufficient amount of fear and drama to stimulate our emotions. But the philosophical underpinnings of many of these films were lost on us. It wasn't until I read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein that I saw that story in a different light. 

When I was a kid we called the monster Frankenstein. It wasn't clear that this was Dr. Victor Frankenstein's creation. Mary Shelley wrote the novella while in her late teens. It wasn't written to merely be a monster story or an entertainment, but rather it was addressing ethical issues which are still relevant today

Spencer Tracy as Mr. Hyde, on the run.
The original story by Robert Louis Stevenson is called Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The respected Dr. Jekyll, like the author who created him, is interested in understanding the nature of good and evil. Specifically, he believes the capacity for both good and evil resides in each of us. 

This notion seems rather unsurprising to most of us, if we're honest. Nevertheless, we have a tendency to label people as good or bad. Why do we do this? Do we label people in order to write them off?

The story has been translated to film more than a hundred times. The 1941 version I watched starred Spencer Tracy as Dr. Jekyll. Lana Turner is the woman from a high class family whom he is preparing to marry, and Ingrid Bergman is a barmaid. The script for this version was nearly identical to the 1931 version with Frederic March. The earlier version was made before Hollywood got stricter with the Hays Code. In that version the Ingrid Bergman character was a prostitute, not a barmaid. In either version the point is driven home that good and evil are adversaries within each of us.  

In the film, Dr. Jekyll is a professional doctor whose interests lie in the realm of research more than in serving the community. This thought makes me think of a psychology professor I had in college who washed his hands 40 times a day. He said he became interested in psychology because of his phobias. Perhaps a similar motivation was a driving force in Dr. Jekyll's studies.

Jekyll's personality is gentle and not bombastic.  His alter ego Mr. Hyde, however, is an expansive sadistic character. His bad behavior isn't shoplifting. 

Lana Turner and Ingrid Bergman each turn in good performances as the soon-to-be bride of Dr. Jekyll (Turner) and the barmaid Hyde gets obsessed with (Bergman). Bergman does a superb job in a complex role that speaks to the heart of every woman in a relationship with a disturbed and dangerous man. When Mr. Hyde cross-examines her, she fights to hide her fear. This kind of reality is scarier than any horror film. Horror films are over in two hours, but an abusive relationship can cause anguish for years.

As for Dr. Jekyll, is there a warning here about experimenting with mind-altering elixirs? The side effects may be more disturbing than one realizes. He comforts himself with the illusion that he's in control, but in the end it's evident he's set in motion events that are out of his control. This false self-confidence one of our common flaws, is it not?

Friday, January 21, 2022

Eliminating Oil Will Lead to Elimination of Countless Other Everyday Products

Nevada Bob at Woodstock. Love Bugs and other vehicles
are switching to battery power. Photo: Gary Firstenberg.
I've spent much of my adult life hearing news reports that we were going to run out of oil in ten years. Our dependence on oil goes far beyond the fuel we use for our cars, trucks, tractors and toys like snowmobiles, motorcycles and dirt bikes. Let's not forget airplanes, ships and boats, both outboard and inboard.

It's been about fifteen years since I last heard that prediction about running out of oil. Since then we've been told that we must stop using oil to save the planet.

By the time that day comes, one hopes that we will have found not only alternatives for power production but also alternative means of producing the thousands of products that are derivatives of oil. That's what this blog post is about.

* * * 

When crude oil is removed from the earth it gets sent to refineries where it becomes feedstock. This feedstock is used in petrochemical plants where it is turned into plastic to make a multitude of products. Solar panels, car bodies, eyeglasses, DVDs, children's toys, tires and hearts valves is just the start of a very long list.

Today's cars are laden with electronics, sensors, chips
and hoses. Tires and dashboards have crude oil roots.
The photo here is of my wife Susie, and her Soul.
Because they are non-conductive and heat resistant, petroleum-based products are used extensively in electronics. Speakers, smartphones, computers, television sets and flat panel TVs, radios, cameras and CD players are just a few of the items we're all accustomed to.

In the realm of textiles, we've nearly all become accustomed to acrylic, rayon, polyester, nylon and spandex as well as vegan leather. 

You'll find petroleum is used for making all sorts of sports equipment that we've grown accustomed to. I'm not sure what we will use in the future to replace petroleum as a resource to make basketballs, golf ball, football helmets, surfboards, skis, tennis rackets or fishing rods. (OK, we can use cane poles and come up with an alternative to the current form of fishing line.)

Personal care products is another big business today that will undergo change. I was unaware of how extensively oil was used in products like perfume, hair dye, hand lotion, toothpaste, soap, shaving cream, deodorant, toothbrushes, panty hose, combs, shampoo and contact lenses. Cosmetics like lipstick, makeup, foundation, eyeshadow, mascara and eyeliner are also in this category.

When it comes to modern medicine, there are hoards of medical devices that rely on petroleum. Likewise in the realm of pharmaceuticals. Hospital equipment like IV bags, aspirin, artificial limbs, dentures, hearing aids, and heart valves will need alternatives if we shut off the oil supply. 

A few years ago an older man came out to replace our well pump. As we talked I learned that he was on his second artificial heart. He said that his first was metal, and the splashing of the blood thru the heart was noisy and distracting. He was much relieved when the new heart was installed, undoubtedly with some plastic parts. (I did hear recently that a pig's heart was successfully transplanted into a human and not rejected, so maybe there will be an alternative in this area.)

Household products is another area where petroleum has been used extensively. Roofing materials, insulation, linoleum flooring, furniture, appliances, pillows, curtains, rugs are some larger items. Dishes, cups, non-stick pans and dish detergents frequently use oil in their creation.

* * * 

THE POINT IN ALL THIS is that the auto industry has been working on doing their part for more than 25 years. I saw a number of EVs in 1998 at an Environmental Expo in Anaheim. I'm just curious about all these other products derived from oil. If were to shut down oil altogether, would hypodermic needs have to be made of glass again? Will we have enough cotton and wool to clothe ourselves? Will there be no more PVC plumbing? What will we replace it with since lead is not safe?

We want to have wind turbines to generate electricity, but what are those enormous blades made out of? 

I think we need to manage our expectations regarding what is possible and what is necessary. 

Just sowing seeds. Something to think about.

* * * 


Thursday, January 20, 2022

Throwback Thursday: A Zappa Quotebook, Revisited


While blog surfing I came across a collection of quotes attributed to Frank Zappa. Many are quite poignant. Others reflect his wit and somewhat amusing ways of turning a phrase.

In many ways he stood alone, dedicated to the craft of his art and inner vision. Over a three decade period he produced as many as sixty albums, with few becoming commercially successful. Not surprisingly, Zappa’s creative commitments made him uncompromising. He would not be a sell out for fame, and was reputedly an exceedingly demanding taskmaster in the studio. Sloppiness was not acceptable in an artist.

Zappa’s canvas was anything, no holds barred. Thus he stood against religion which he believed set arbitrary boundaries on where an artist could explore. He likewise opposed recreational drug use, which was permeated the music scene at the time his star was rising.

It takes little effort with Google to find more than your money can buy in terms of Zappa data. So, if you want more, you know where to go. Here’s a collection of quotes purportedly originating with da man.

"Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny."

"Stupidity is the basic building block of the universe."

"Tobacco is my favorite vegetable."

"There is no hell. There is only France."

"Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid."

"It is always advisable to be a loser if you cannot become a winner."

"A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it’s not open."

"If we can’t be free at least we can be cheap."

"Sometimes you’ve got to get sick before you can feel better."

"There will never be a nuclear war; there’s too much real estate involved."

"Why do you necessarily have to be wrong just because a few million people think you are?"

"Outdoors for me is walking from the car to the ticket desk at the airport."

"You drank beer, you played golf, you watched football -- WE EVOLVED!"

Interviewer: "So Frank, you have long hair. Does that make you a woman?"
Zappa: "You have a wooden leg. Does that make you a table?"

"Without deviation from the norm, ’progress’ is not possible."

"Hey, you know something people? I’m not black, but there’s a whole lots a times I wish I could say I’m not white."

"Most people wouldn’t know good music if it came up and bit them in the ass."

"Politics is the entertainment branch of industry."

"There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life."

"Let’s not be too rough on our own ignorance, it’s what makes America great."

"Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST."

"The creation and destruction of harmonic and ’statistical’ tensions is essential to the maintenance of compositional drama. Any composition (or improvisation) which remains consonant and ’regular’ throughout is, for me, equivalent to watching a movie with only ’good guys’ in it, or eating cottage cheese."

Fade to black.
Frank Zappa: 1940-1993

Most of the images of Zappa on this page were created over a period of two nights for the purpose of embellishing this collection of quotes which were assembled for a blog post here in 2008.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Almost Wordless Wednesday: First Visit to Lizzard's Gallery in 2022

Lizzard's Art Gallery & Framing is one of many galleries in Duluth featuring regional artists. The gallery is located at 11 West Superior Street in the heart of downtown. Here are just a few of the pieces that caught my eye when I checked in last week.

"Grasping Light" -- Matt Klooster, Acrylic on Canvas, 24 x 36
"Her Wild Life is Coming Back I"--Sarah Brokke, Oil on Canvas 20 x 30
"Fifth Avenue West"--Scott Murphy; Print on Canvas
"Walk Across the Lake, look"--Adam Swanson; Acrylic on Board, 14 x 18
"The Aquarium"--Scott Murphy, Oil on Canvas, 48 x 24
"Antler Swing"--Naomi Christianson, Acrylic on Canvas, 16 x 20

A nice piece by the late Terry Millikan
Due to reflections this is a poor photo of Danielle Thralow's very cool 
photo of a lightning strike on Lake Superior. She has been doing a series
of striking images from her porch on the West Central Hillside.

Despite two years of Covid, Northland artists have been active. The art scene is still alive and well here in Duluth. Thursday evening there will be an artists reception in the Zeitgeist Atrium featuring work by the Lake Superior Abstract Group.
5:00 p.m. @ 222 East Superior Street. Join us! (Masks required.)

Monday, January 17, 2022

A Few Comments on Bob Dylan's Malibu by Martin Newman

Anyone half paying attention will have noticed a lot of new Dylan books have been appearing in recent years. What's interesting is how each one has its own angle. The history of the Never Ending Tour, the stories behind specific albums, or even specific songs... One of my favorites--as far as an unusual angle for a Dylan volume--was the Mary Lee Kortes book Dreaming of Dylan in which she shares 115 dreams people have had in which Dylan showed up. 

Then there are the contributions from people close to Bob at various sections of his life. I just recently started Suze Rotolo's A Freelwheelin' Time, for example. Peter McKenzie's account of Bob's first months in New York--Bob Dylan: On a Couch and Fifty Cents a Day--similarly adds insights that you won't find in other books because Bob crashed on his family's couch for several months after first arriving at the Big Apple and was like the older brother that he never had. In Dylan & Me (by Herzl Camp friend Louis Kemp during Bob's teen years) I finally learned who Bob was with the night he went to see Buddy Holly and his Winter Dance Party Tour.

All of those books were personal, because they were written by people with a personal relationship to Dylan for a period of time. Which brings us to Bob Dylan's Malibu by Martin Newman. For the record I am not related to Martin Newman. (Neither am I related to Paul Newman, Randy Newman or, to my knowledge, any of the other Newmans associated with Hollywood. 

I acquired Newman's book in the spring of 2021 and read it in a single sitting shortly after our 2021 Duluth Dylan Fest was a wrap. My copy is a large format paperback on what appears to be a Mountie Matte paper, ideal for printing photographs, which is what this book essentially is, a picture book accompanied by anecdotes and related stories. The accompanying subtitle reads, "My time with him in the 1970's."

The author is an obviously multi-faceted man who through a "simple twist of fate" ended up becoming intertwined with Bob Dylan as the famous songwriter/performer took up residence in Malibu. The occasion for this book was Bob's 80th birthday. In it he shares stories and photos of a variety of interesting project he worked with Bob on, including clothing (the jacket Dylan is wearing on the cover of the Basement Tapes album), gifts they shared with one another, and numerous acquisitions for Bob's new digs like fun house mirrors, a 1947 Wurlitzer, special gifts for Sara, etc.

This is the kind of book that would be of interest to fans looking to get a few more rare, intimate glimpses of a more private side of Bob Dylan. You learn a lot more about a person by visiting their home than by having them as a guest at yours. 

The structure seems a bit like that of an old man reflecting on his youth while going through a photo album. The author points to a photo and says a little about the story behind it, then turns to another page of photos, singles out another and tells another story. 

It seems evident that Marty became part of Dylan's life because he could be trusted. He respected Bob's privacy and thereby became an asset in helping make a magnificent piece of property into an even more splendid residence. 

I remember from other reading that the house took three years to prepare for moving in, and seem to recall there was a lot of conflict generated by the delays, possibly contributing to Sara's departure. Because of that memory I look at these photos with a bittersweet sensation. The book, published by EDLIS Cafe Press, does offer fresh insights into a part of Dylan's life history that are only hinted at in other books. 

* * * 

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Insights and Observations from Napoleon Bonaparte: A Baker's Dozen

The Emperor in His Study.
Jacques-Louis David
I once read that Napoleon Bonaparte was the most written about man of the 19th century. More than 100,000 books were penned. This alone should signal that he was more than just a famous general. He began his life as the second son of a minor provincial family in Corsica. Circumstances and ambition helped him rise to become Emperor of France. With a firm hand he ended the insanity of the French Revolution and its beheading of aristocrats. Once France had been stabilized he set about to establish an education system, improve the infrastructure and set in place the Napoleonic Code.

What I found striking was how much of an original thinker he was. According to military historians, of the top 20 most brilliant battles in world history (based on strategy) Napoleon was the general who conceived and executed 12 of these. That's a pretty impressive statement. 

Anyways, all I wished to accomplish here was to share a dozen quotes from this historic figure. (EdNote: I am not attempting to hold him on a pedestal in every respect, for I am conscious of his shortcomings. Most of these quotes still have relevance today, for individuals and for nations.)

* * * 

The reason most people fail instead of succeed is they trade what they want most for what they want at the moment.

EdNote: An early example of the principle of deferred gratification.

                                                * * * 

All great events hang by a hair. The man of ability takes advantage of everything and neglects nothing that can give him a chance of success; whilst the less able man sometimes loses everything by neglecting a single one of those chances.
                                                 * * * 

The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know.

EdNote: So why were we still waterboarding in the 21st century?

                                  * * * 

A form of government that is not the result of a long sequence of shared experiences, efforts, and endeavors can never take root.

EdNote: How did we think we could somehow turn Afghanistan into a modern democracy?

                                   * * * 

From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.

EdNote: Do we not see this born out daily on social media?

                                       * * *  

The word impossible is not French.

EdNote: Is this the origin of Possibility Thinking?

Corollary: Perhaps this is why the French generals kept sending waves of infantry with only rifles and bayonets to assault German machine guns in WWI. 

                                                 * * * 

As a rule it is circumstances that make men.

EdNote: As I look back on my career, it is apparent that my greatest successes were as much due to circumstances that gave me the opportunity to thrive. 

Corollary: Good leaders understand that they can get the best from their team by creating a culture where their employees have the opportunity to really achieve something.

                                    * * *  

Napoleon before the Sphinx. Photo: G. Firstenberg
The only way to lead people is to show them a future: a leader is a dealer in hope.

EdNote: "Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope."--Helen Keller

                                 * * * 

Conscience is the most sacred thing among men. Every man has within him a still small voice, which tells him that nothing on earth can oblige him to believe that which he does not believe. 

                                     * * *  

Man loves the marvelous. It has an irresistible charm for him. He is always ready to leave that with which he is familiar to pursue vain inventions. He lends himself to his own deception.

Today we call this the "Shiny New Toy" syndrome

                                      * * *  

A man who has no consideration for the needs of his men ought never to be given command.

EdNote: Amen.

                                       * * *  

What then is, generally speaking, the truth of history? A fable agreed upon.

                                        * * *  

My most splendid campaign was that of March 20; not a single shot was fired.

                                         * * *  

EdNote: The painting of Napoleon gazing on the Sphinx is by Jean-Leon Gerome, 1886. It is not a photo by Gary Firstenberg.

For more quotes from Napoleon Bonaparte, visit:

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Story Idea: The Party and Its Aftermath

This idea for a novel or film is based on an incident from the life of Cary Grant. (I'm currently listening to a Cary Grant biography while commuting here and there, running errands, etc.)

I've not settled on a title yet, but the story concept is set. As in real life, situations lead to decisions which create new situations. As a working title we'll call it ...

The Party and Its Aftermath

On a gorgeous summer evening in Duluth several dozen prominent people have gathered for a private dinner party at the Great Lakes Aquarium. Tables have been rolled in and set up to seat 52, six tables set for 8 and an additional table for the band. The invitation implied that anyone who is anyone will be present, along with some special surprise guests. 

The hosts of the party are newly minted Twin Cities billionaire Brent Chance and his wife Bev. The event was preceded by a News Tribune story about how Chance, who grew up in Edina but made his fortune in California real estate, was considering a serious investment in Duluth. The article cited Duluth's reputation as a growing arts mecca along with its well-known quality of life benefits. 

The gathered guests came from a variety of backgrounds. There were local political figures, lawyers, contractors, and people in the local hospitality industry. Two or three ad agencies were represented as well as business owners, a few local media personalities, the head of the Duluth Playhouse, a few professors, the new LISC director, a couple from the Duluth NAACP, and descendants of several prominent "old money" families. A few weren't really sure why they'd been selected, and several were a little insecure as to the purpose of the party.

It was a curious event. There had been an dance floor assembled with a jazz ensemble that entertained throughout the evening. At a certain point in time Brent Chance stood and went to the podium in the far corner of the room. The scenery behind him was glorious, the water shimmering on the bay creating an aura that made him appear to shimmer as well.

Chance introduced his wife, thanked everyone for coming, and made note of two or three individuals who had made him feel especially welcome when visiting the city during the past couple years. He also thanked The Boat House for catering the meal and Tom Hanson for the hors d'oeuvres beforehand and desserts after. He briefly shared how growing up in Minnesota made him the man he had become, then talked about his business ventures that had grown under the umbrella of Fast Pivot Enterprises.

"Be sure to tour the Aquarium and enjoy the new exhibits," he added. "There's also a rather nice display of new paintings by Adam Swanson down the hall from where you came in. Stay as long as you like. The bar will remain open till the band packs up." 

Shortly after returning to his seat the mayor's husband leaned over and asked, "The invitation implied a couple V.I.P.s might be present."

Chance gave a laugh. "Really, we're all V.I.P.s. But if you look at the musicians, over on the right is Billy Peterson on stand-up bass. He comes from three generations of jazz musicians in the Twin Cities. He recorded with Dylan on Blood on the Tracks. He'd planned to bring his friend Steven Tyler from Hawaii, but something came up." 

Everyone at the table craned their necks at this.

"Swanny Swanson, the drummer, is a friend of Billy's. The fellow on keyboards is an A-team player from California, Mario Landolfi. He's a personal friend and now one of the biggest names in both L.A. and San Diego. And if you check out the fellow standing over by the window, he's with the Vikings. He already asked if I have any connections to get him traded to a West Coast team. He doesn't like our weather." Chance laughed again. "I don't have any pull with the 49ers, and even if I did the report card on him is that he's lost a step since his injury in 2020. But he's smart, and who knows. He might make be an asset for one of my Fast Pivot companies in Malibu."

The food was remarkable, the desserts equally so. Most of the guests at one point or toured the Aquarium exhibits their tax dollars helped design and maintain.

As the crowd began thinning the jazz trio got into a swinging improv set so that as the guests made their exits it created an upbeat end to the evening. 

* * *

A week after this grand affair at the Aquarium everyone who had attended received a thank you card and an invitation to a follow up party. It will be full of surprises, the invitation read. "Nothing like you have ever experienced before," it promised. "It is very important you be there. You won't want to miss it." 

The follow up event indeed lived up to its promise.


Friday, January 14, 2022

A Few Comments on the Food Shortages

In June 1992 a Burlington Northern railroad derailed while crossing the Nemadji River. 14 cars jumped the track. One of these, a chemical car, fell into the water and began spilling benzene. A toxic cloud of benzene began to form, slowly growing only to be carried by winds in what appeared to be the direction of Duluth and the North Shore. Local authorities quickly went into action and began urging people to evacuate the city.

Our family was living on the Central Hillside at the time. Susie called me at work to make a plan. It so happened that we had booked a cabin up near Gooseberry Falls for the weekend but cancelled. Because we could not get our deposit back I had planned to turn it into a one day writing retreat. 

Everyone had their radios on, following the breaking story. I was working at Chromaline in West Duluth at the time and it was decided that we would all leave by noon. The slow moving toxic cloud would not reach the city for a couple hours. The radio station I was listening to had callers calling in to ask which roads were best to take in order to get out of town. Purportedly all traffic heading toward Duluth from the north was stopped in Two Harbors, as were other roads coming from the west and south.

When I left the office and headed to my house at the top of First Avenue East, there was an eerie sensation that I was living in a horror film. There were no cars moving, and with the exception of one man who was standing in the middle of his front yard with his arms folded I saw no people at all anywhere. I went into my house, changed clothes, grabbed a few items for the evening and left. 

While I was in my car, people were calling the radio station asking what roads were open to get out of town, and one of them said that traffic heading toward Two Harbors was backed up all the way to London Road. Well, that was the direction I needed to go. Looking out over the lake I could see the benzene cloud but it was moving slow and going more north than west, so I decided to take my chances.

SO HERE'S THE SHOCKER. When I drove down London Road, which was supposedly bumper to bumper traffic going north, there was nary a car. I mean, I did not see a single vehicle. I figured that if I keep going I'll reach the tail end of the traffic at some point further on, but as I drove along -- I took the scenic route so I could watch the white cloud on the lake -- I went totally unimpeded. Even while driving on this empty road one of the radio announcers repeated that this was not a good way to leave town because of the traffic which was stopped dead for 20 miles. 

My car was the only vehicle on the road, the entire way to Two Harbors.

OK, here's the point of my story. Wednesday on one of the radio stations I heard someone say how the grocery store shelves are all empty, that  it was like living in 1981 Soviet Union. 

The photos above were taken at the Mount Royal grocery store here in Duluth. The photos below were taken at a Super One in Hermantown or Pike Lake. 

OK, so we had a couple places where they were missing items. Last year we went three to four weeks without "Tostitos with a Hint of Lime."

But it's hardly the Soviet Union 1981. At least not here.

If your experience is different, feel free to leave a comment and say where you're from. I'd like a clearer picture of what is really happening.

Popular Posts