Things She Said

She said, "Hi, my name is Angel. I smell like the Thanksgiving dinner you haven't eaten all summer long." That was a weird way for a stripper to start a conversation.

Perhaps a man might expect to meet a woman at Centerfold's Cabaret who smells like green-bean hotdish, but that wasn't the case with Angel. She had just returned from the alley, where she held the hair of another stripper, Ashley, who was puking into a garbage can.

"Is anyone ready for a lapdance?" she asked.

"You are," my friend Chris said to her.

* * *

Joyce said she's been good friends with Eli for many years. "Back when he was chief of police, he gave me a great piece of advice. He told me if I ever had to shoot an intruder I should aim to kill. That way there would only be one side to the story."

* * *

Connie said every time her family had a party there was a cake, and her grandmother always took a picture of it. "After she died we had to go through all her photographs and divvy them up," Connie said. "No one wanted the cake pictures, but we all thought we'd like to have pictures of Grandma taking pictures of cakes."

When Connie graduated from college the cake at her party came from the grocery store in a box. A sticker with the order printed on it in fuzzy dot matrix read, “full sheet decorated buttercream cake.” Her younger brother took one look at it and called it “shit-decorated buttcream cake” for the rest of the day. Connie said her grandmother didn’t like that.

* * *

Chelsey said the various rocks of the world have different psychological affects on people -- particularly agates, which are an aphrodisiac. "That's why people around Lake Superior are always thinking about sex," she said. "There are all these agates driving us crazy. It makes it hard to think about anything else."

She presented this bit of information as if she read it in a scientific journal. At first I considered searching the Internet or going to the library to see if I could find data to support or refute the claim. Then I decided it didn’t matter either way. Knowing the truth wouldn’t change my life at all.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His book, "The Spowl Ribbon," is available at the Electric Fetus and online at paullundgren.com.



Todd Franik pleaded guilty last week to abducting a West Duluth girl. The incident happened three months ago, within a block of my home. I was working at my desk when Franik grabbed the girl and shoved her into the trunk of his car.

If I had looked out the window at the right moment, I might have witnessed the abduction or perhaps even prevented it. Whenever Franik's case pops up in the news, I think about the extremely peripheral role I've played in his life.

Franik is four years older than me, and we lived less than three miles apart as kids. I have no memories of him, but the odds are pretty good that we crossed paths numerous times. We certainly had some of the same influences.

My fiancé's uncle remembers Franik attempting to steal his cap when they were kids. "I went after him and punched him in the face," he recalls. Uncle Lennie must not have punched Franik hard enough to make the lesson stick.

Franik took more from me than a cap. He abducted one of my neighbors. I never got the chance to punch him in the face for it, but I don't let that bother me much.

What bothers me is that I really don't have any attachment to the kids in my neighborhood. I don't know the names of any of them — not Franik's victim, not any of her friends, not one single kid out of the dozens I see playing outside.

When I was a kid, I knew the names of all the adults on my block, and they knew mine. That didn't protect me from potential abductors, but at least I felt like grownups were moderately interested in my life.

Now, I'm the adult, and one of my neighbors is taken to the edge of town against her will, sexually assaulted, and left bound and gagged in the woods. My reaction is to become temporarily interested in her welfare, then quickly go back to paying no attention.

I doubt any of the neighborhood kids know my name, but I'm sure they're aware of me. I'm the guy with the mean dog. That's not who I want to be, but it's what circumstances turned me into. Who am I to go against circumstances?

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His book, The Spowl Ribbon, is available at the Electric Fetus and online at paullundgren.com.


Suicide Note

If you find me dead, it wasn't suicide. This is the opposite of a suicide note. I'm making a public announcement that I’m basically happy and have no plans of taking my own life any time soon.

Sure, I might seem down at times. Like anyone, I wish I had more in life. I'd like more money, more free time and a garage door that actually closes. But I do have a lot in this world — a steady income, people who love me, my health — so I can't really complain.

If anything tragic should happen to me, the potential of foul play having been involved should be thoroughly investigated. I'm not saying that I have more reason to fear for my safety than anyone else, but one can never be sure about these things.

Keep in mind that accidents do happen. Sometimes I like to go for long walks and I usually wind up on the edge of a cliff at some point, which has resulted in a few close calls over the years. It gets slippery on the top of Casket Quarry in winter, for example.

If you said something unkind to me recently, don't feel bad about it. I can honestly say I'm not holding any grudges. It would be a shame if I were to accidentally plunge to my death and leave you thinking you were responsible in some way.

If circumstances change, and I decide to kill myself, I'll be sure to compose another note clearly outlining my rationale. So remember, if there's no note accompanying my remains, I guarantee an accident or homicide has occurred.

I am a writer, after all. How could I just stick my head in a gas oven without saying goodbye to this cruel world in roughly 400 words? Such an assignment would certainly put the "dead" in deadline, that’s for sure.

Of course, I'd probably get writer's block and have to keep living for years and years, agonizing over draft upon draft of my final composition, until I'd finally succumb to that most dreaded of all fates — natural causes.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His book, The Spowl Ribbon, is available at paullundgren.com.


Back to School

This is not your ordinary back-to-school article, boys and girls. This is practical advice from a class clown who went on to graduate from a middle-of-the-road university, almost with honors. So pay attention, my horny little pizza-faced friends.

First and foremost: There is a common misconception that the best time to misbehave is at the end of the school year. The theory, apparently, is that if you follow the rules at the beginning of the year, you can expect some slack if you screw up in the spring. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you behave well at the beginning of the year, you raise the faculty's expectations of you and provide evidence that you know right from wrong. Also, you risk having a whole year of work pulled out from under you by zero-tolerance policies. You don't want to become another horror-story-kid who didn't get to graduate because of indulging in senior skip day or flunked a final.

Clearly, if you confine your most serious rule breaking to the beginning of the school year you'll have much less to lose, particularly if you attend a public school. Remember, the school district gets money from the state based on the number of students enrolled. It is simply not cost-effective to expel you at the beginning of the year.

A few other random bits of advice:

• Your teachers will think twice about busting you for cheating on a test if you go so far as to have the answers tattooed on your forearm.

• Keep in mind that, though it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to buy beer, it is perfectly legal for anyone to buy barley, hops and yeast. Also, the easiest day to get into bars with someone else's I.D. is Halloween. Plan ahead.

• While we're on the subject of alcohol: If your friends are pressuring you into heavy drinking — beer bongs and whatnot — and start calling you a wimp, there is a solid way to fight back. Invite them over for what you promise will be a wild party. Tell them you are making a wopatusi, or "wop," which is a punch made of fruit and vodka. When your friends show up, lead them to the bathroom, and show them that you have prepared the wop in your toilet. When they refuse to drink, tell them they are lightweights who don't know how to party.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His fascinating book, The Spowl Ribbon, is available at the Duluth Electric Fetus and online at paullundgren.com.


Wrong Target

Dear guy who was snooping around outside my house last week,

Are you serious? You're thinking about breaking into my house? Obviously you aren't very far along with your research. For starters, why don't you just look at my house? Don't you think you can do better?

You should be able to determine from across the street in broad daylight that anyone who lives in a house like mine has less than $100 cash on hand and absolutely zero diamonds or precious emeralds.

If you're so poor that my spare money sounds attractive, perhaps I should inform you that I keep it in one of those giant Schmidt beer-bottle coin banks. Have fun making a speedy getaway with that.

Perhaps you haven't noticed the "Beware of dog," sign on my fence. I know, that isn't always a cause for concern, but in this case it is. I guarantee that if you enter my house a 96-pound Doberman will eat your face.

Allow me to offer you some helpful advice, since I have a college education and am not presently under the influence of methamphetamines. Breaking and entering is a dangerous and serious crime. If you're going to take the risk, give yourself a chance for a big score. In other words: Go steal from the rich, you moron.

Those people who live in big castles outside normal neighborhoods like mine have a lot of nice things you can make off with, and there are fewer neighbors nearby to catch you in the act.

Wealthy people go on long vacations, allowing you to take your time and do the job right. Many of their houses have driveways that allow you to pull right up to giant double doors for easy loading.

Even if I had an awesome widescreen digital TV -- which I obviously don't -- getting it through my narrow hallways and doors would require solving the kind of complicated geometric equations that led you to drop out of school and go into thievery in the first place.

So, the next time you put on that hooded sweatshirt of yours and go lurking in the night, use some common sense. Find a nice suburb or lake property to target. Leave your neighbors alone. Pawning compact discs is just not lucrative in today's market.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His e-mail address is paul [at] geekprom.com.


Vulgar Graffiti

The most common word in graffiti is "fuck." It often appears by itself — a single word left for others to ponder for decades or else paint over. It is probably meant to express general dissatisfaction with life. An expanded version of the sentiment might read: "I wish to say 'fuck you' to every random person who passes here. Such is my anger with the state of affairs in this world and the specific circumstances I deal with in my personal life. Though most people are not necessarily responsible for the things that upset me, I nonetheless hold everyone in contempt."

It is also not uncommon to see the word "shit" spray painted as a one-word message, which leads me to believe the act of graffiti is more about exercising the ability to be profane in a public and semi-permanent way than about getting across an idea. At least, I hope so. It seems unlikely that graffiti artists write "fuck" and "shit" as instructions to encourage public fornication and defecation. If they did, they could be much clearer by writing, for example, "shit here."

It's quite common to share ones appreciation for hard rock music through spray paint. Black Sabbath and Slayer seem to be the most popular. Rap and hip-hop are also associated with graffiti, but pop music seems to be virtually unrepresented. One would be hard pressed to find the names Gloria Estefan or Toby Keith spray-painted anywhere.

Although spray paint was around in the 1950s, it seems like honoring musicians through graffiti must have started in the late '60s, since the appropriate music styles were not available before then. It's hard to imagine "Carl Perkins rulez" or "Nat King Cole kicks muthafucking ass" on the side of a warehouse.

Song lyrics also show up in graffiti from time to time, like: "Break on through to the other side." Psychedelic sentiment seems to be the most popular. There are plenty of people who express their love for someone through graffiti, but it usually takes the form of a direct declaration — "Matt loves Cammie" or "M.P. + C.S." — rather than lyric quotations like, "Lady, I'm your knight in shining armor, and I love you."

More often than lyrics, vandals use a direct message to express their appreciation for rebellion, simply painting the words "smoke dope" or "get high." Other times it's just a simple note to let you know that "Brad smoked weed here: 3-21-99." This graffiti would be more useful if it were written in the future tense.

Dates are also used to commemorate sexual acts, usually fellatio. It's common to use the letters "B.J." to denote "blow job." Considering that it must be difficult to negotiate oral sex under bridges or on the sides of cliffs, it is perhaps an event worthy of marking the area with "B.J. 3-14-2010" when it happens, but I tend to think this type of graffiti more often reflects wishful thinking than reality.

Perhaps these people should start painting their bedroom walls with dates, like notches on a bedpost. There would be no fear of being caught by police, so they could be specific, without the need to abbreviate: "Mary Dittburner bent me over the dresser and pegged me with a dually inserted boomerang, Election Day 2008."

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


Should Oberstar bother with debates?

Democratic Congressman James Oberstar is up for reelection again. He's been representing Minnesota's Eighth District since 1974. That's 18 terms, going on 19. In 2008 he won with 78 percent of the vote and declined all invitations to debate his opponent.

Allow me to repeat, in case the part of your brain that processes civic pride missed the key part of that opening paragraph: Oberstar was overwhelmingly reelected to the U.S. Freaking Congress, even though he refused to attend a single debate.

Prior to Election Day 2008, Oberstar appeared on WDSE-TV's Almanac North program and made a statement that should have been jaw-dropping to anyone who tuned in. Julie Zenner, co-host of the show, asked the congressman why he refused to debate Republican Michael Cummins.

"He claims that he's offered to debate a number of times and that your campaign has refused," Zenner said. "Is that a fair characterization?"

Oberstar responded: "I don't recall. That's a standard gimmick by challengers. (They say) 'I want to have a debate every day.' There's not much to debate with him, frankly. He's a nice fellow. I've met him. I met him up at the Chisholm Fire Days parade. We had a picture taken together with him and his daughters, and he's a very nice fellow. But I don't think there's anything of substance to debate."

Now let's review. First, Oberstar claimed to not remember if Cummins wanted to debate at all. Then, he suggested that Cummins wanted to "have a debate every day."

After declining to participate in any debate, Oberstar actually referred to his opponent's desire to debate as "a gimmick." The public exchange of ideas between political candidates is apparently not something a high-ranking member of the United States Congress should feel obligated to respect in the interest of informing voters, it's just a scheme his opponent used to get attention.

Oberstar also said he didn't think there was "anything of substance to debate," as if there were no issues in contemporary American politics that citizens should have been concerned about.

Has anything changed since then? Will Oberstar give his opponents the time of day in 2010? Will voters even care? Probably not.

Still, a handful of candidates have entered the race. Democrat W.D. Hamm will face Oberstar in the primary election August 10. The winner will go up against Independence Party candidate Timothy Olson, Republican Chip Cravaack and the Constitution Party's Richard Burton in the general election Nov. 2.

Maybe one of those guys will come up with the right gimmick.

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



Honey, something bad happened last night while you were asleep. Calm down, it's nothing major, but I feel like you should know about it. If it happened once, it could happen again, and it could be worse next time.

I had a dream that we were outside on the porch having a barbecue. You were sitting on one of those plastic chairs at the table, and I decided to walk over and put my arm around you. Everything was perfectly normal.

At the same time that I put my arm around you in the dream, however, I also put my arm around you in bed, while we were sleeping. I didn't get my arm up high enough though, so I elbowed you in the forehead.

You slept right through it, so obviously I didn't elbow you very hard. I woke up right away and felt really weird about what happened. I asked you if you were awake and you didn't say anything, so I guess it's no big deal.

I saw a TV news report a long time ago about sleepwalkers that I'll never forget. One old guy put his wife in a chokehold. He was dreaming that he was wrestling a deer. He said in an interview, "I could've broken her neck."

Another guy had a dream he was playing football. He got out of bed and tackled his dresser. I think there was another guy who woke up standing on his dresser, ready to jump off, not quite knowing why.

That's some creepy stuff, honey. I've never done anything like that before, except last night with the elbow. I don't think it will happen again, but maybe you shouldn't sleep so close to me at night.

Have you ever heard of that syndrome where people sleep for days and days at a time? If I have to have a sleeping disorder, that's the one I want. I mean, I'm tired and could use the rest, and it sounds like no one would get hurt.

One time I was camping in Montana and this guy wigged out and started flopping around in his sleeping bag and screaming in the middle of the night. When we told him about it in the morning, he said he was having a dream that he was flopping around in his sleeping bag and screaming on purpose in order to scare us. It worked.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His book, The Spowl Ribbon, is available at the Duluth Electric Fetus and online at paullundgren.com.


Never Learn

There are some lessons in life that we'll just never learn. Over and over, we make the same mistakes, wondering all the while how we manage to repeatedly be so stupid.

Even when we recognize our own poor judgment in time to prevent potential mistakes, we often find a way to rationalize going ahead with foolish behavior, as if we have no self control.

Some mistakes are big mistakes, like driving drunk, having unprotected sex or getting into a knife fight. Although we sometimes get away with those mistakes, there are long-term consequences when we don’t, so there is greater incentive to correct those types of behavior.

The damage caused by small mistakes, however, can exist only briefly -- maybe a matter of minutes or hours. Even though we regret what we’ve done, it's easy to do it again and again, because there is no lasting scar.

Take, for example, burning your mouth. How many times have you done that? Anyone with even a shred of intelligence should have figured out by the age of six that hot soup scorches the human tongue.

Yes, there is immediate gratification in not waiting an extra two minutes for your pizza sauce to cool. But that gratification is quickly lost, along with layers of skin from the roof of your mouth, if you don’t have patience. We all know that. We've all made that mistake before, probably hundreds of times. When are we going to learn?

Another food-related mistake is overeating. Just because there's a lot of food on our plates, and it's delicious, doesn't mean we have to hurt ourselves and ruin the experience. But, for some reason, we do it over and over again. We even look forward to special days like Thanksgiving, when we can gorge ourselves sick.

Maybe there's something deep in our animal mind that remembers hunting and gathering and how food can be scarce, so we stock up whenever possible and cram it down quickly.

That's obviously irrational, though. We've all had a few French fries swiped from our plates, but when was the last time someone came sprinting by and stole your burrito while you waited for it to cool?

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. Getting sunburned every spring is his favorite little mistake. Buy his book, “The Spowl Ribbon” at the Electric Fetus or online at paullundgren.com.


The Greatest Inventions of All Time

It's difficult to pick one invention to stand out as the greatest of all time. There are so many man-made wonders that enrich our lives every day and make us question how we ever lived without them. For example: the wheel, the flushable toilet, the bikini, beer, Velcro, eyeglasses, the atomic bomb and plastic storage containers.

The printing press and the Internet are certainly great inventions, but they make it just as easy to spread lies as the truth, so I can't rate them high on my list. They certainly don't rate above plastic storage containers, which have brought society nothing but positive outcomes.

It wasn't long ago that people had to go to grocery stores and beg for flimsy cardboard boxes whenever they needed to package their belongings. It was difficult to get a good grip on those boxes and you never knew when the bottom would fall out and all your Smurf glasses would smash at your feet. But plastic storage containers are lightweight, sturdy and stackable, with easy-to-grip handles on the sides. They are one of the greatest inventions of all time.

I think there are only maybe a dozen inventions I would list ahead of plastic storage containers, and all of them are forms of contraception. I'd even put the withdrawal method near the top of the list. I know it's not very effective, but it was a good start.

Computers might rank high on many people's list, but not mine. I know computers often make our lives easier, but they also drive us nuts.

There is a computer-related invention, however, that I think has potential to become the greatest of all time. It's the keyboard command "Control + Z." That is the magic key combination which allows you to undo your previous action. Say, for example, you are composing your master's thesis and accidentally delete the entire text. All you have to do is simultaneously press the Control key and the letter Z to restore it.

The most impressive thing about Control + Z is that it is still in its infancy. There are countless other real-life uses for this technology that haven't been perfected yet. We're only a few years away from being able to take back the stupid things we say out loud with Control + Z.

When that spurned ex-lover of yours cries out, "I thought you said you loved me," you'll soon be able to reply, "Sorry baby, Control Z" and wipe the slate clean. You could undo a whole relationship -- so it never existed.

It's along those lines that Control Z will one day become the greatest invention of all time. It will put any other form of contraception to shame.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His book "The Spowl Ribbon" is available online at paullundgren.com.


Sympathy for the Ball Slasher

One of the most bizarre news stories of 2009 involved a guy who broke into a health clinic and slashed exercise balls with a sharp knife to fulfill a sexual urge. The story landed on the front page of the Duluth News Tribune, and the guy soon became well-known around town as the "Ball Slasher."

Something about the story has bothered me for months. No one, not the media and not the various people talking about this in barrooms and barber shops or anywhere I've been, have been able to explain exactly what could go on in the process of slashing an exercise ball that would produce sexual gratification.

How does an exercise ball fetish work? Does he penetrate the ball? Does it pop and snap back, so it's like a whips and chains thing? Does it deflate like a farting whoopie cushion, giving off a little tingling sensation to the ol' genitals?

Where is the media when the people have questions they want answered?

I am perhaps bothered more by this than most people, because I have an exercise ball. It belongs to my fiancee, but she keeps it in our home, in my office. So there I am, working alone each day with this sweet voluptuous exercise ball -- this big, glowing fluorescent blue bulb calling to me from across the room ... all ... day ... long.

Of course, I'm not really tempted at all by that seductive orb in the corner because I don't even understand what I would do to act on my impulse. Would I slash it slowly or with a violent stabbing motion?

Of course, while I'm sitting in my office thinking about this, I'm constantly aware that just down the hall is a wide array of kitchen knives. If I'm going to write about this, certainly I should do some research and slash a ball, right?

There's really only one thing stopping me: What if I really enjoyed it? I have seen this story play out in the media, and it is not an outcome I would choose for myself. Clearly there is a lot at stake.

Some people react to this subject with disgust, but I'm not sure why. As weird as the fetish is, and as much as I don't understand it, I have sympathy for the ball slasher. He has a history of mental illness that influenced his exploits, for starters, but what people should also realize is that his kink couldn't have been easy to keep private.

Most people have weird sexual desires of some kind, and it's generally preferred that we not get into those details in newspapers. It should be noted, however, that ball slashing is a difficult hobby to sustain. Exercise balls cost about $10 each on the low end. Even if you can afford them, you'll look kind of suspicious going into Kmart every day buying the same thing.

Once you break into a fitness center, you kind of have to do the slashing on site, because you can't really steal a dozen exercise balls. What are you going to do, juggle them on the way out? You can't take them out the door one at a time; they'd probably roll down the avenue. You can't drag them out in a giant mesh bag; there's no way you'd get that through the door.

The main reason I have sympathy for the ball slasher is that he tends to get lumped in with another bizarre sex-related crime story. I'm referring, of course, to the guy in Superior who had sex with a dead deer he found on the side of the road.

Yes, Duluth has the exercise ball slasher and Superior has the deer carcass molester. These are our people. This is our heritage.

Superior and Duluth have had a long standing rivalry, spending the past 150 years trying to one up the other. This time, Superior has finally won.

Mental illness was involved in both cases, as I guess it would have to be, but I still think it's fun to imagine the ball slasher and the deer carcass molester in prison together.

"Hey buddy, what are you in for?"

Although the deer carcass molestation wins in terms of being icky, I have to say that all points for sheer innovation have to go to the ball slasher. Most people were familiar with the concepts of bestiality and necrophilia before hearing about what happened in Superior. But I doubt many considered they could get their jollies slashing exercise balls.

Again, though, I should emphasize that it is wrong to lump these two crimes together. The ball slasher turned himself in and faced charges of first-degree damage to property. We think his fetish is weird, but we wouldn't lock him up for that alone. On the other hand, someone who humps a dead animal needs to be carefully monitored.

One thing I wonder about the ball slasher, though, is whether he could have patched balls for reuse rather than seeking out new ones. Then he could have been considered a nice, normal person who happens to have an exercise ball covered with duct tape and shoe glue.

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


Still Seeing Ghosts

Dr. Joseph Goebbels, propaganda minister of the Third Reich, is reported to have said or wrote at some point in his miserable life: “Repeat a lie a thousand times and it becomes the truth.” That quote and attribution have been repeated well over a thousand times.

Another version of the quote goes like this: “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it.” There are at least another dozen versions of Goebbels’ quote floating around. I like to believe that he never said or wrote any such thing. That would make for good irony.

It has always been interesting to me how easy it is to spread a rumor and build or destroy someone’s reputation. It’s as easy as opening your mouth or moving your fingers.

The truth should be enough to destroy anyone’s reputation, but the truth is generally hard to come by. It’s much easier to lie, exaggerate or guess than to search for the truth. What’s the difference anyway?

One day the world is flat, the next day it’s round. One day the universe is contracting, the next day it’s expanding. One day there isn’t a god, the next day there is. If we can’t figure out the big questions, good luck proving your spouse is cheating on you or that it even matters.

I wrote two stories in 2001 about how I see ghosts. The stories were complete and utter baloney. I made them up. I wouldn’t recognize a ghost if it jumped out of my cereal bowl and stole my nose. I mean, what is a ghost anyway?

Years later, a woman approached me and asked if I was the guy who sees ghosts. She had read my stories and really enjoyed them. I told her that I don’t actually see ghosts, but she refused to believe me. As if she knew better than I did!

Well, the truth is, it doesn’t matter whether I’ve seen a ghost or not. I can easily lie about it either way and no one will ever prove the truth. If you want me to see ghosts, then I see ghosts.

A special note to that woman: Thanks for continuing to read my column. By the way, not only do I see ghosts, I a ghost. I’ve been watching you for a long time now, and I think you have some atoning to do.

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