Gettin’ Ripped in Ashland

Like any good son, I make sure to visit my mother at least twice every decade. She lives in Ashland, Wis., which is about 70 miles from where she raised me and then left me to fend for myself — Duluth’s Central Hillside.

Back in the 1990s, when I was an upwardly mobile high school dropout who actually woke up every morning and worked a shitty job for shitty pay, mom probably didn’t think I’d make much of myself. Since then, however, I’ve done nothing but wonderful things to make her proud of me, such as becoming a connoisseur of local bars and writing about my experiences for tabloids, pamphlets, fly-by-night book publishers and operators of crackpot Web sites.

This column marks 10 years since I wrote my first column. For a full decade strong, I have served as commander-in-chief of the Twin Ports booze scene. When I told my mother the news of my literary anniversary, her face lit up with the kind of pride that only lasts for a matter of seconds in my family. The next words out of my mouth were: “Coincidentally, I’ve been thrown out of my apartment for not paying rent. Can I crash here a while?”

Yes, the recession has caught up to your ol’ pal Slim Goodbuzz. It seems the American Dream itself is dying. I mean, when a guy like me can no longer eek out a living on gambling winnings and false disability claims in order to subsidize his work in the failed industry of journalism, all is lost.

So here I am in Ashland, crashing at my mom’s house a month before my 40th birthday. The good news is that it’s easier to get drunk after donating plasma.

Ed’s Safari

There’s a full house tonight at Ed’s Safari, where a pint of beer is an agreeable two bucks. My favorite feature is the giant pad at the edge of the bar, which allows me to hunch over in maximum comfort, resting my elbows on its black-and-grey duct-taped surface.

A commercial for Marty Stouffer’s Wild America DVDs comes on the television, and everyone at my end of the bar stops what they’re doing to watch various beasts of nature attack each other. When two bears are shown wrestling, a large guy to my left says, “That’s what’s gonna happen when I get home!”

A few minutes later, a middle-aged guy joins the young couple on my left and gives the woman a hug. “I give the best two-handed hugs,” he says over her shoulder, to her husband. When the husband gives a dirty look, the hugger says, “What? You want one? I’ll hug anybody. I ain’t scared.”

Later on, I overhear the hugger offering this wisdom to the young husband: “Don’t quit your day job to go hunting in the first year of marriage. Trust me on that. I got the cold shoulder for about two months.”

O’Brien’s Stagecoach

The Stagecoach is just a few doors down from the Safari, and has the same style of Pabst Blue Ribbon sign hanging above its entrance, but the atmosphere is quite different. While the Safari is a narrow room crammed with people, the Stagecoach is a more open room, with just three customers.

At the far end of the bar is a couple, and they keep pretty quiet. In the corner near the entrance is a guy working on a crossword puzzle who will not utter a single word the entire time I’m here.

Fortunately, there are plenty of words of wisdom to be gleaned from the signs on the wall, such as: “Knock softly but firmly. I like soft knockers.” There’s also: “Virginity is but a bubble. One prick & it’s gone!”

Eventually an old lady comes in and starts yapping about various nonsense. My favorite thing about her is that, when she orders a Coca-cola, she specifies that she’ll “have a 50-cent Coke.” This, of course, leaves me wondering if a Coke actually costs 50 cents, or if this bar is like Priceline.com. Considering my current situation, I could go for a few 18-cent shots of Cutty Sark. Rather than hang around to ask, however, I’m forced out of the place when the sound system plays Nickelback and Kid Rock back to back.

5th Quarter

Working my way up Main Street, I find a medium-sized crowd at a bar called 5th Quarter. On my way in, I notice that the place’s license to serve booze is framed on the wall, bearing the signature of the city clerk, Ray Buckwheat. I have to admit that if I had anything signed by a guy named Ray Buckwheat, I would also frame it and place it prominently. That is, if I wasn’t homeless.

Barbara the Bartender informs me that a tall glass of Leinie’s Fireside Nut Brown is $2.25, which I find agreeable enough. As she’s pouring, a guy comes in behind me and points to the Miller Lite tap, which has a Green Bay Packers logo on its shaft. “I’ll have a tall glass of Green Bay Packers,” he says.

To my left is a group of 20-somethings having a good time, but apparently not as good as a recent experience when one of the girls “cleaned uuuuup at that Yag party.” She clarifies “cleaned uuuuup,” by noting she won “two girl shirts and a guy shirt.”

To my right is a drunken, middle-aged foursome. The ring leader is a gravely voiced woman who declares: “I’m the oldest person in this bar, and I’ll kick anybody’s ass!” I believe her. When a young woman comes in selling roses, ass-kicking woman buys a white one and immediately starts to eat it.

But maybe she’s not so tough after all. A few moments later, when Barbara the Bartender comes over, the ass-kicker asks for French dressing.

Scott & Ar’s

There’s a guy next to me wearing a red sweater and camouflage pants. His cell phone rings and he says, “Hello. What? No, I can’t get him out of jail. I’ve been drinking all day.”

This leads him to have a conversation with the bartender about all the times they’ve been pulled over while drunk. The bartender claims a cop gave her a break once because, even though she was well over the legal limit to drive, she was so much less drunk than her passengers.

Conclusion

My night on the town is leaving me feeling pretty much right at home here in Ashland. I was hoping my stay would be measured in days, but maybe riding this recession out under my old lady’s roof wouldn’t be so bad. Sure, I’d miss Duluth’s smoke-free bars, which allow me to go weeks without doing laundry, but what other difference is there, really?

Gazing off to the back of the room, I see an obese guy — not a day older than me — heading for the back door. Following him out, with a full drink in her hand, is none other than Ma Goodbuzz herself. I have got to get out of this town, ASAP.

Slim Goodbuzz is wondering if Eric Ringsred can hook him up with living space under the NorShor Theater. E-mail Slim at hatemail @ slimgoodbuzz.com, and look for the next edition of “Gettin’ Ripped” in the April 6 issue of Transistor.