I Know Something about a Lot of Things: Story and Background from Ben Effinger



Ben: You know what my mother told me my name
was when I asked her?

She said my name was Benedictus Paul ease

I was born right here in Duluth Observation
hill was where I lived as a child.

In what was known then as little Italy.

Well I have 9 brothers and sisters.

Corey: Are you the oldest?

Ben: I’m the middle-est I’m the 6th of ten.

I went to Saint Peter’s school which was a
very small four room school.

With two grades in each room 1st grade through
8th grade.

7th grade I went back to Saint Peter’s and
8th grade I went to Sacred Heart because there

was only five eighth graders at Saint Peter’s
(Laughs) so they sent us to Sacred Heart.

Question (Graphic): What do you remember about
growing up in the 1950’s?

Ben: You’re living in a neighborhood that
is very tight.

I mean we used to joke that you could pass
a cup of sugar from house to house just through

the window.

I mean they were that close.

You pretty much lived outside and you had
a circuit like of buddies’ houses you’d go

from one to the other and the next and back

And I remember a lot of commodities food because
back in those days the government would buy

up surplus food mostly grains and dairy.

And so if you fit the bill you could get things
like 5 pound blocks of American cheese.

Jeans were rolled up maybe and inch and a
quarter inch and a half and they had to be

exactly that very crisp.

I’m sure a lot of people and I think some
of my brothers included would actually roll

their jeans up and press them.

Press the roll so it was that tight crisp.

And almost everyone smoked even at 17 years
old I mean it was just everybody was a smoker.

So guys would roll their cigarettes up one
roll up of their short sleeve t-shirt and

that is how they carried their smokes around.

And everyone had a Zippo lighter.

The early 60’s started the social revolutions
of people saying everybody has to have rights,

everybody should be equal there shouldn’t
be discrimination, there shouldn’t be bigotry,

and then the civil rights thing came around.

With Dr. Martin Luther King who I thought
even as a young person was a very eloquent

speaker you know he was amazing to hear speak.

So it was…

I think it was a very interesting time to
live in and develop in because there was so

much happening.

Question (Graphic) Where were you when JFK
was assassinated?

Ben: I was in 6th grade when President Kennedy
was assassinated and it was the first time

I ever was in school where someone walked
in the room and made the announcement that

we were all to go home.

For one thing in 6th grade it took a while
for the students to understand what was happening.

The president has been assassinated.

It is like assassinated?

But we were all told to go just go home and
I lived right behind the school so there is

no problem with that.

And back in those days I don’t ever recall
seeing a school bus.

Schools were a neighborhood thing, you walked
to school and you walked home and it was just


But I remember that happening and going home
and then of course you turn on the T.V and

during that time I think there were two channels
in Duluth.

And of course both of them had assassination
on the T.V and there it was and you are watching

this and they are rerunning this motorcade
thing and the banging sounds of gunshots and

you know the whole bit and it is just… as
a little kid I mean you are in 6th grade and

kind of thinking something is really important
about this and it is also bad.

Just by the response of the adults you know
people coming and the teachers saying you

know okay gather up your things and just go

There was no what is your homework assignment?

It was just go home.

And then to see that all that stuff going
on in real time where you know this just happened

in Dallas, TX which is on the same time zone
as live in, but it is down at the other end

of the country.

I had already gotten the idea that Kennedy
was a phenomenon kind of a thing.

He was unlike Eisenhower he was a very charismatic

His family was adored.

Question (Graphic) what were some of the jobs
you had?

I had paper routes.

You had paper routes as soon as you could
carry papers around because having ten kids

you don’t get money for nothing unless you
are working for it.

There is none of this allowance business but
you had paper routes.

Then I started going to high school and I
worked as a…

I worked for the United States Army Corps
of Engineers right down there in Canal Park

in that building, as a custodian it was the
first time in my life where they asked if

would accept $5 an hour as pay, which at the
time was like why are you even asking me that? Of course I will. Sister Christopher was assembling the mosaic
that is at the entrance of Frijol auditorium. I don’t know if you have ever been up there,
but there is a mosaic depicting knowledge and all this stuff with images of things you
will see in Duluth like the lake and ships and what not. So for three months I worked with her on that
thing. Laying on the floor with hundreds of thousands
of pieces of ceramic and glass that were 1/2 by 1 inch each to make a picture 14 feet tall and 25 feet wide. Those were my summer jobs when I was in high school

Question: What was your experience like in the military?
Ben: I was already in the Navy when I graduated high school. And I had to report for active duty…I think that August after I graduated from high school. Then I went to electronics and electricity school and some physics in Great Lakes, Illinois, which was north of Chicago. And then from there I went to weapons school in Orlando, Florida at that time Disney World was being built there. So I got to know a gal whose father was a functionary of some sort in the building of Disney World so we got to go there and see these things as they were being developed and built and all that business. My first job out of high school was I went into the Navy and learned how to blow shit up… with torpedoes. And I was in the Navy from 69′ to 75′, but I left active duty in 72′ I was called a two by six back in them days, so two years active and four years inactive so it was more like almost three active because of all the schooling and shit and having started when I was still in high school.
Question (Graphic): Did you see a nuclear explosion?
I saw tests of… detonations equivalent to the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which was about three kilo tones. Tonnes not pounds. And these were being detonated in part as training films and part as experiments to see what the results would be. So ships were stationed all around these atolls and then a bomb would be detonated and they could record, for as long as it took the pressure wave to get there, what’s going on. Then of course when the pressure wave hit, everything was obliterated even if you are seven miles away it is still going to obliterate everything. Just blow it all to kingdom come.
Corey: And that is just the shock wave?
Ben: Yeah, it’s called a pressure wave it is the increase of pressure created by the vastly expanding energy of the detonation and then there is heat that comes and then after the pressure wave breaks everything to hell the heat burns everything to hell. Then the radio activity keeps everything poisoned for a long time. Now we have a guy that is going to be in charge of all those nuclear weapons who has a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Husbandry. It is Rick Perry under Mr. Trump. The last two guys who were in charge of them; one was… both of them were nuclear physicists one of them was a Nobel Prize winner. They get replaced by Rick Perry who has got a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Husbandry. He didn’t even know what the Department of Energy was….now he is in charge of it. Aren’t we in good shape?
Question (Graphic): What did you do after you got out of the navy?
Ben: Well, I spent a year going to Saint Scholastica the first year I was back home after that I went to two years at Duluth Area Vocational Technical Institute which is now Lake Superior College. Then after that I went to four years of University. (Laughs) II didn’t get any degrees from anybody. I am sure there is some kind of certificate from the vocational school, but I don’t… Building Technology or some such thing and I probably in hindsight should have taken getting a degree more seriously because I just didn’t have any idea how many doors are opened by the fact that you have a piece of paper. My major in college was Fine Art visual art and I took classes in Chemistry and we convinced the professor to teach us how to make pigment. What chemicals do I have to put together in what way in order to actually make a color that you can paint with? Because they are made that way, you just buy them in a tube, but somebody puts those chemicals together in whatever the process is and you end up with paint. So we did things like that. How do you weld glass? I learned that in chemistry not in art class. So anyway, you took classes in all things, Biology… I had 270 some odd credits when I was done with college and I had way more than I needed, but they weren’t in the right place. Because I never was interested in the paper. Years later I realized boy I should have got the paper. Things would be easier, but it is alright. I can still appreciate the fact that I can appreciate so many thing you know? I think that for a lot of people if you are lacking that you are always searching for some kind of stimulus and it is like well there are so many things all around you that if you paid attention to them and knew something about them. You know you could spend your time enjoying that thing instead of you know. I’m bored. I need to go somewhere and get un-bored or buy something or you know distract myself from the fact that I’m bored instead of wow isn’t that amazing that the sun is coming up and look at the beautiful colors and the birds are moving around. Wow, the wind is beginning to blow. You know often at sunrise and sunset there is a little bit more of a breeze just because of that transitioning from. If you imagine the earth and the way that the light and dark work with the earth that is a change of temperature and so there might be a bit of a breeze more prevalent at sunrise and sunset. It is just all this marvelous stuff that you can learn, by going to school and it is not necessarily training you for any work but it certainly is training you for the work of life of existence and being able to appreciate. You can’t appreciate something you don’t know about. You need to something about something or else it does not exist for you. I know something about a lot of things and the more things you know the more you appreciate everything. And it is all for free you don’t have to go out and put a dime in the meter for the sunrise or it was a marvelous snow storm. Oh that will be a quarter, of what? It is free.



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