Anny's Journal

On Oct. 10, 1909, Axel and Anny Lundgren, my great grandparents, began their 14-day journey from Sundsvall, Sweden to Duluth, Minn. Anny kept a journal of the trip that was translated in 1998 from Swedish to English.

Axel and Anny began by train, traveling through Sweden on their way to catch a ship to Grimsby, England, and eventually to America. I've gathered for this column some excerpts of Anny's now-100-year-old account. It begins with a bit of comedy.

Oct. 11
It got real crowded in the Gothenburg wagon [train car]. We were 32 people in the same group going to America. When we came to Storvik, a man who was a bit sour came in. It started to smell worse and worse. He had messed in his pants.

We had to run into the other wagon, where we had to stand. The wagon where the man was became empty. When soldiers came on, they ran into the empty wagon, but they soon ran out of there in different directions.

They crossed the Atlantic on the RMS Lusitania, an ocean liner that was famously sunk by German torpedoes six years later -- an act which led the United States into World War I. Axel and Anny's trip wasn't quite as bad, but it had its moments.

During the first days of ship travel, there were terrible storms and seasickness. During a nighttime storm off the coast of Ireland a fireman died of mysterious causes that Anny is only able to describe by writing, "They say he had a cramp." The next day, she wrote about the fireman's funeral.

Oct. 18
They swept him in a tarpaulin and carried the American flag. There were so many people, we couldn't see or hear the ceremony, other than that they blew in a horn and placed the body in a casket to put in the sea.

We had lunch at noon. It was mutton, green soup, pickles, egg omelet, pudding and oranges.

The transition from a funeral straight to a mutton lunch probably wasn't intended to be comical, but I get a kick out of it. This next excerpt has a similar thing going for it.

Oct. 19
Now begins the most terrible storm. But now in the afternoon it has become totally calm. It's now more beautiful than ever before. It's time for vaccinations now.

I don't really understand this part, but it's my favorite.

Oct. 21
Yesterday they gave a man delirium and a little was buried in the sea. A woman became insane.

The ship finally reached America at New York. Anny noted that "It went good. We didn't have to pay any taxes." The train to Duluth passed through Montreal, Canada. Things didn't go well there.

Oct. 23
We were not allowed inside any station. They want nothing to do with immigrants. When we arrived, a fine gentleman came and showed us to the worst joint there is.

We had to go down into a cellar, which had three big halls. In the first hall there were only Chinese people. In the second, it was Italians and more Chinese, who were as good as naked. It smelt so bad that we were almost poisoned by the air.

In the third hall, to which we were heading, there was commerce going on, but [few people] bought anything.

The Norwegian gentleman treated dinner. It was ham and eggs with coffee, which tasted terrible. The girls said it was root coffee. We left it, because it was horrible. We've never had such a day. We had no choice but to hold our noses.

And, of course, it had to end this way:

Oct. 25
The conductor says that we'll be in Duluth at 10 a.m. It's been snowing here.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His e-mail address is mail @ paullundgren.com.


Only the Paranoid Shall Survive

Here I go, strutting down the street with my earphones pounding some good rock and roll. It's a beautiful day, and I'm feeling fantastic. I might just break into some air guitar and not care if anyone is watching.

Suddenly, I hear shouting. A wild-looking old man is screaming out his kitchen window at me. He looks kind of like a cross between Albert Einstein, Christopher Lloyd and Studs Terkel.

I pull out my earphones to hear what he's yelling. "Come in here and plug in my phone!" he says. "It came out of the wall and I have to make an emergency call! Please help me!"

Of course, it would be my pleasure to help an old man who needs my assistance, but I do live in a world that requires caution in these situations. This guy looks totally insane, and even though any number of neighbors might watch me go into his house, they might not be concerned enough to make sure I come out.

I approach the window seeking repetition of the facts, hoping it will provide me some clarity. "Your phone came unplugged?" I ask.

"Yes, will you plug it in?!?" he shouts. "Please help me. I can't plug it in because I shake too much."

The man lifts up his hand, which trembles wildly, as if he has Parkinson's Disease or some other motor-skill impairment. I'm pretty convinced I should help him, but I ask one more question just to prolong things, hoping someone will come along and give me the confidence of knowing there's a witness to this.

"What is the emergency?" I ask.

"My phone is unplugged!" he yells back.

"You said you have to make an emergency call," I explain. "Who do you need to call?"

"I need to call my son! I want him to come over!" the man says, as if that's a legitimate emergency by itself.

Although I'm not satisfied with his answer, I decide to give in at this point and help. As directed, I enter the fence in the backyard and go in the house through the porch. A dog at the end of a chain barks at me the whole way.

The old man is sitting at the kitchen table with his back to the entry. I seem to startle him when I walk up, asking where the phone connection is. He points to the wall on the other side of the table, where the cord is indeed unplugged.

I move very cautiously through the kitchen, expecting someone to emerge at any moment to attack me with a rag of ether. In a few hours I'll wake up in the basement to find out I'm starring in the new Saw movie.

Plugging in the phone, I notice the plastic tip that locks the plug into place is broken, which means the plug will easily slide out again soon.

"The little tab jobby is broken on the plug," I say.

"What?!?" he shouts.

"It's plugged in now, check for a dial tone," I say, deciding not to complicate things.

"Yep, it's working now! Thank you very much!"

"You're welcome."

So there was nothing to it. I just helped an old man plug in his phone. It was a simple good deed that I had feared might be a foolish risk to my life.

Part of me feels bad about not trusting this helpless old man, but part of me realizes that paranoia -- perhaps in some situation in the past that I never fully understood -- could be the reason I'm alive today. Perhaps it pays to err on the side of caution.

The thing is, it's generally not screaming lunatics that try to lure you into a trap. They just run up to you on the street and start biting your face apart into chunks. It's the people who go out of their way to be friendly and normal looking who utilize deception. When dealing with crazies, it's probably better to beware of the obvious.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His e-mail address is mail @ paullundgren.com


Liquor Store Math Revisited

A few months ago, I used basic mathematics to answer an important question: Is it worth driving to Superior from Duluth to take advantage of lower sales taxes and save money on off-sale alcohol purchases?

My answer, based on a sample story problem, was that Duluthians only save money shopping in Superior if they buy a lot of booze -- like $45 or more, at least.

Since that column ran, a number of people have suggested I publish an official equation for this problem, so they can simply plug in the appropriate numbers for their circumstances.

Normally I don't take requests, but this is an important subject for which I feel obligated to share my knowledge. The equations below will allow any Duluthian capable of passing high school algebra to calculate the real cost of choosing a neighborhood liquor store vs. crossing a bridge to Superior.

MN equation -- [r + r (0.10375)] + [d (0.24)] + [x (t/60)] = c
WI equation -- [r + r (0.055)] + [d (0.24)] + [x (t/60)] = c

r = retail price of liquor purchase

0.10375 = sum of Minnesota sales tax, Minnesota alcohol sales tax and Duluth sales tax

0.055 = sum of Wisconsin sales tax and Douglas County sales tax

d = roundtrip distance in miles between your house and the liquor store

0.24 = IRS standard deduction rate for miles driven for "medical" purposes

x = hourly compensation for time spent driving (It's up to you to decide what your time is worth, but for reference Minnesota's minimum wage is $6.15.)

t = minutes it takes to make the roundtrip

60 = total minutes in an hour

c = actual total cost of your purchase

Certain variables, of course, cannot be included in an equation but should be considered with the equation results. For example, the economic concept of "opportunity cost," factors in things such as the attractiveness of cashiers. The importance of such things varies from person to person, but the potential effect on the bottom line should also be noted. A person could save a significant amount of money by either obtaining a discount through a relationship with a liquor store cashier, or lose even more money by marrying and divorcing one. Such things are difficult to predict.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His e-mail address is mail @ paullundgren.com.


Liquor Store Math

Is it worth driving to Superior from Duluth to save money on off-sale alcohol purchases? Old-fashioned mathematics has the answer, and the short version of it is this: It's only worth it if you're spending more than $45.

There are a number of variables in the equation used to solve this problem. Gas prices change frequently, some vehicles get better mileage than others, distances between homes and liquor stores vary, and people assign different values to their time. So, the magic number of a $45 purchase is really a low-end estimate.

A closer look at the numbers -- a story problem approach, so to speak -- may be useful for examining the accuracy of this figure pertaining to the unique circumstances of any individual. It's also helpful to math teachers who always say "show your work."

Let's say you live in West Duluth and want to buy a 12-pack of Bud Light. (That's who you are, isn't it?) The base price is generally the same. For example, on Memorial Day weekend Liberty Liquor in Duluth and Keyport Liquor in Superior both priced that 12-pack at $9.99.

Minnesota has a 6.5 percent sales tax and another 2.5 percent tax on alcohol sales. Duluth adds an additional 1 percent to the sales tax, bringing the total tax to 10 percent. So your $9.99 12-pack of Bud Light becomes $10.99 in Duluth.

Wisconsin has a 5 percent sales tax, with no extra tax on alcohol. Douglas County adds another 0.5 percent to the sales tax, bringing the total tax to 5.5 percent. So the same $9.99 12-pack of Bud Light becomes $10.54 in Superior.

By crossing the bridge, you saved 45 cents. But if gas is $2.25 per gallon and your car gets 20 miles per gallon -- and your proximity to a Superior liquor store amounts to an extra 8-mile round trip -- the gas amounts to 90 cents. So instead of saving 45 cents, you've lost 45 cents.

Also, an 8-mile round trip to Superior takes about 10 driving minutes. Minnesota's minimum wage is $6.15, so you should make sure you save at least $1 on your alcohol purchase in Superior, on top of the gas cost, before it's worthwhile.

Therefore, the trip to Superior starts to be worthwhile when the purchase reaches a savings of roughly $2 or more. This is achievable with a $45 purchase, which totals $49.50 in Duluth or $47.48 in Superior.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His e-mail address is mail @ paullundgren.com.



I'm a neat freak, but I'm not a clean freak. The difference is, while I spend time each day keeping things generally tidy around the house, I have no interest in how thick the exploded food goop is on the inside of the microwave.

My girlfriend is not a neat freak, but she is a sporadic clean freak. What I mean by "sporadic" is that she's just as likely to ignore the mildew on the bathtub as I am ... until there's company coming over. That's when the clean freak comes out.

In some ways, this is a good thing. It means the dog waste in the yard gets picked up. It means the stinky bag of soda and beer cans in the back hall gets moved to the garage. It means the green olives floating in a jar of bacteria finally makes it out of the refrigerator.

When my girlfriend is in clean freak mode, I am inevitably drafted into duty and told to help out. This is not something I willingly enlist for. It's not that I'm lazy or totally indifferent to filth, it's just that I disagree with the philosophy behind these missions.

I believe that when a group of people are coming to my home, the dumbest thing I could possibly do is clean it before they arrive. I mean, if I'm only going to vacuum once a month, why would I do it right before 15 people track dirt on it?

Does it make any sense at all to scrub a toilet until it's sparkling clean if it will be caked in stray urine and gonorrhea drippings a few hours later? I say no. Save the cleaning until after the party.

The worst part about the sporadic clean freak mentality is that it undermines my general tidiness. For some reason, things that are consistently useful around the house seem to get moved to the most inconvenient places.

A few hours before any guests arrive at our home, a conversation like this is inevitable:

Me: "Honey, have you seen my wallet and keys?"

Girlfriend: "Well, where did you leave them?"

Me: "On the table by the door like I always do."

Girlfriend: "Oh, I needed to get that stuff out of the way for the party so I put it in a storage unit I rented in Hermantown. Can you go get it on Monday?"

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His e-mail address is mail @ paullundgren.com.


Winter Whiners

It happens ever year, usually just after Christmas, sometimes sooner, but always when you most expect it. And it becomes increasingly formidable with every drop in temperature, until finally it becomes intolerable.

It is the incessant complaining of people not hardy enough to live in Minnesota. "Oh my goodness, it's sooooooooo cold out!" they moan. "I'm freeeeezing! Why do I live here? I'm moving to Florida."

"Please do," I like to tell them. "Move to Florida or shut your pansy pie hole. We all know it's cold. Put on some long johns and deal with it. If you need help getting dressed, ask me. I'll be happy to wrap a wool scarf firmly around your skinny neck and stuff the slack down your throat."

Winter lasts a long time, and being a sniveling crybaby about it doesn't help anyone. Violence toward whiners, on the other hand, can be incredibly satisfying, warming both body and spirit.

The next time you hear, "For crying out loud, I could freeze to death just going out to get the morning paper," show that bellyacher how much colder the experience could be. Drag him outside and administer an old-fashioned whitewashing.

Keep in mind that, although winter whiners are afraid of cold weather, they are more terrified of messing up their pretty hairstyles with a good hat. Make sure all whitewashings include a thorough monkey scrubbing.

There is simply no reason to put up with chicken hearts, who (need I remind you?) also complain all summer that it's too hot, and usually never go outside anyway except to walk from their houses to their cars, then to their offices and back.

Essential chores force them outside from time to time, however, which allows them to not only complain about the cold, but how sore their backs are from shoveling snow. It's a wonder they recovered from raking leaves.

You won't find these people out in the open air enjoying life, that's for sure. When you do find them outside -- perhaps on the side of an outdoor hockey rink complaining about how obligated they feel to attend their child's game -- you have an opportunity to set things right with nature and plug their whining mouths with a fluffy ball of the white stuff.

They have it coming, after all.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His e-mail address is mail @ paullundgren.com.