- RADIO -

The Writer’s Almanac for June 17, 2019
It was on this day that the first standardized tests were administered by the College Board to 973 students at 67 locations, plus two in Europe.

- Radio -

A Prairie Home Companion: June 22, 2002
From Fraze Pavilion in Kettering, Ohio, with the Hopeful Gospel Quartet, Mark Thomsen, Sonja Thompson, and Peter Ostroushko (pictured).

- Radio -

Lives of the Cowboys – 7/2/2016
Brought to you by Big Butte Jeans, the full-figure jeans with room in the seat. And by Jim's Used Shoes: if you like pre-faded jeans, you'll love used shoes.

- PRESS -

Steele Talkin’ – with Jearlyn Steele
April 2019. Garrison chats with Jearlyn Steele on her WCCO show! Topics include small talk in New York and that time Michelle Obama gave GK a big hug.

Trying hard to relax and have fun

I’ve been a grind for many years, chained to my oars, and I am in serious need of frivolity, so last Friday my wife and daughter and I boarded the Queen Mary 2 in New York and sailed out of the harbor and under the Verrazano Bridge bound for England with a dance band on board, a casino, deck chairs where one can lounge and doze and do nothing meaningful whatsoever. A big band plays nightly in the enormous ballroom and there is a multitude of serious dancers on the floor who know the jitterbug, the foxtrot, the tango — really know them, don’t just stand and sway rhythmically — and a handsome Irishman belts out “Night and Day” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” There are impenetrable Brit accents everywhere and elaborately polite service — waiters who say “Thank you” at every opportunity. The bottle of English ginger ale says, “Upend before pouring” — when was the last time you saw “upend”? The sign in the toilet says that the plumbing does not operate on a “cistern system” but a pressure system so do not flush while seated. There is the sunny aft deck where I can lie and not read a book. So what do I do? I think about work.

It’s easier for a carpenter. Security personnel will not allow you to bring a power saw aboard a ship. But a writer brings a laptop and a briefcase with him and he is right back where he started.

This is why I write limericks. They’re trivial and nobody will publish them, so writing them is not like actual work with a purpose, it’s more like throwing flat rocks sidearm to make them skip on the surface of a lake or river.

I left my home on the prairie
To sail away on the Queen Mary
In black tie and tux
With big muckety-mucks
Fred Astaire and Cher, maybe Cary
Grant, hiding in the library.
I’m paying big bucks
For six days deluxe
In salt air, enjoying myself
On the Atlantic
Where the Titanic
Sank back in nineteen and twelve.

We are heading for a wedding in a village in Portugal where, after the vows are said, there will be an all-night party, which apparently is traditional there. I can’t remember having been to an all-night party ever in my life. I come from people who, after a wedding, head for the kitchen to help clean up. Even the bride and groom do. I guess this will be different.

Meanwhile, we’re halfway across the Atlantic, and the vibration and slight rocking of the ship make a person drowsy. We sit in a half-stupor staring at the vast flatness of water around us, walking the promenade deck, one-third mile in circumference, burning off the pastries. We sit in a lounge and drink tea and people nearby ask us where we’re from and I overcome my Minnesotaness and join in a conversation. Their name is Sweeney, they’re from Virginia, he was in military intelligence, she teaches freshman composition at a college. We order another pot of tea.

It’s a sedate life on the ocean, no need for sedation. In the fitness center, the young and restless are pushing themselves to exhaustion, and in the lounge, the old and comfortable are savoring the lack of newspapers so there’s nothing to be angry about. (There’s a TV screen in the cabin but I don’t care to figure out how to turn it on.) If I wished, I could go to a salon and hear a lecture about wasps, the kind who sting. Instead I go hear an Irish comedian tell old jokes — the one about the pope driving the limo, the one about the vacuum cleaner salesman visiting the rural cottage, the one about the man walking by the lunatic asylum, and it’s lovely to hear them again, delivered with a lilt.

Meanwhile, I walk around with pen and paper. It gives me a sense of purpose. I come from serious people. Relaxation was not our strong suit. I might be happier in a black tux waiting on customers. So I pretend to be on vacation while pursuing my career as a limericist.

I sit on a ship on the sea
And experience infinity
With nothing to do
Except look up at you
While you sit staring at me.

It’s a profound limerick, what Sartre and Camus and Kierkegaard were going for, and I did it in five lines. I’m happy.

The graduation speech I didn’t get to give

It was graduation weekend at my daughter’s school and so I hung out with emotional dads for a couple of days and at the graduation dance I got a little teary-eyed myself. It was the Father-Daughter dance and we shimmied and shook to “I Saw Her Standing There” and then a slow waltz to “Wonderful World” and I sang the words to her, “I hear babies cry, I watch them grow; they’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know.” And I meant them.

The school is a boarding school for kids with learning differences and the day we left her there years ago was an agonizing day, walking away from a weeping child in the arms of a teacher, and driving down the road telling each other we were doing the right thing and not believing it. We did it because it was clear to us that, sitting in the middle of a class of thirty, she was learning nothing, and also because she was getting picked on, which I found unbearable. But it was terribly hard.  She didn’t change her clothes for four days because her mother had hugged her in those clothes and she wanted to remember.

What I love about this school is a spirit of acceptance instilled by the teachers: it’s the most non-judgmental community I know because everybody is an oddball in some way and knows it and yet is respected and one’s achievements are celebrated. Mutual respect is taught here, by rote if necessary. From my 1950s schooldays, I remember oddballs like my daughter’s friends and I remember how we shunned them, as if oddity were contagious. They persisted in school into 7th or 8th grade and then they disappeared. I never knew what happened to them. On the highway to her school stands an enormous deserted state mental hospital where, back in the day, some young men and women like those classmates might’ve been committed at one time, a gloomy fleet of big brick warehouses where, whatever the living conditions, nobody ever expected to learn and mature and gain a good life. It’s a chilling sight.

We danced in the gym, and on “I Saw Her Standing There,” when the band sang “I’ll never dance with another,” all of us dads sang that high “Oooooo,” holding our daughters in our arms. That was a moment you can’t capture with an iPhone. Twenty men from the era when men could sing falsetto, starting with Little Richard on “Lucille” and Pete Seeger on “Wimoweh,” and Brian Wilson and then the Beatles. Ever since my girl was little, when we walk hand in hand, we start singing “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and we do the “Oooooo” together, it’s a bond of affection.

And then it was Sunday and the bagpiper led the Class of 2019 out of the gym and they stood on the green grass and on the count of three, they flung their mortarboards in the air. I took a picture and it shows my daughter’s cap flying higher than anyone else’s.

Fathers of daughters at graduation are stunned by the rush of memories, the transformation of child into woman in high heels, the urge of patriarchy to lock the child in a tower, and the sheer pride at observing her freewheeling independence and acuity. I recall the night I first held her in my hands, in the dim hospital delivery room, a naked six-pounder, arms and legs waving, bright dark eyes. I remember her as a joyful toddler visiting my dad as he lay in bed, dying, and he played with her by wiggling his toe under the blanket and when she grabbed for it, he moved it away. She was delighted. Making her laugh was a last great pleasure for him.  I remember her tonsillectomy when it was my duty to gently but forcefully put the mask over her face so she could be anesthetized, and afterward, as she was wheeled down the hall, in a half-stupor, she saw me and stuck out her tongue with real conviction.

I’d do anything for this girl and it occurred to me that day that I can now accept the injustice done to me by the #MeToo phenomenon two years ago. I paid a big price for an innocent mutual flirtation. But whacking prominent men is how young women can get attention for their cause. And if getting whacked helps to insure that my girl has a better life, I’m all for it. I’m a happy man and not easily bruised.

A fine day on which I did nothing at all

Memorial Day and my love and I walked out in the park to observe the young and restless, the old and rickety, soaking up the sunshine. The laziest day of the year, meant to remember the insane fury of war. Contented families, families making an effort to ignore each other, kids teetering along on bikes or skateboards, dozens of runners each with his or her signature stride (lope, lunge, trot, traipse, scoot, sprint, stagger), picnickers lounging in the shade and dogs sniffing other dogs and toddlers acquainting themselves with the wonders of grass.

No soldiers in sight. I wore a tan linen suit and black T-shirt, Madame wore a blue sleeveless dress. We passed a table where a man sat at a typewriter, next to a sign that said “Free Poetry.” A man sat opposite him, a little boy on his lap, waiting for their poem to be written.

I thought of the American war dead but only briefly when a helicopter passed overhead, which made me think of Vietnam, the war I evaded. We honor the dead of that war, but with remorse, same as the Confederate dead, the farm boys who fought for the plantation owners. I didn’t care to go to Vietnam; I preferred to forget about loyalty, reverence, bravery, obedience and the rest of the Boy Scout Law and devote myself to dreaminess and books and long conversations with interesting women. So shoot me.

I visited the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery years ago and watched the Army sentry pace his course and then the Changing of the Guard, an elaborate ceremonial with many moving parts, carried out quietly, routinely, night and day, since 1937. Impressive but mystifying. If only the discipline and dedication that go into it could be transferred to Congress and the White House, some wars would not need to be fought.

My goal is to live long enough so that nobody who comes to my funeral remembers me. It’ll take place at a mega-mortuary called WalMort, where a recorded choir sings “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and the eulogy is by my last cleaning lady who talks about how good my aim at the toilet was, right up to the end.

It’s my memory I care about, not posterity’s. I remember most of Sir Walter Scott’s lines, “Breathes there the man with soul so dead who never to himself hath said, ‘This is my own, my native land.’ Whose heart has ne’er within him burned as home his footsteps he hath turned from wandering on a foreign strand.” I remember seeing Albert Woolson, the last surviving member of the Union Army, riding in a parade in Minnesota in 1954 and I looked into the eyes of a man who’d seen Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession in 1865. I remember Grandma’s farm, the workhorses pulling the hayrack, the chickens running free, the outhouse. I remember standing in the midst of six thousand people in the old Methodist tabernacle in Ocean Grove, N.J., as they stood and sang “Glory, glory, hallelujah, His truth is marching on” and I looked to my left and there was Bruce Springsteen singing with them.

Rich people pay millions to put their names on buildings but usually the names are carved up over the entrance and nobody looks up there — we look down at the steps we’re climbing — meanwhile, people campaign to expunge the names of historic figures guilty of the wrong isms, perhaps change the name of the national capital from Washington, who was a slave owner, to Piscataway, the tribe that the land was snatched from, and rename the state Kathlamet and the river Columbia Walla Walla, which means “many waters.” Christopher Columbus was a perfectly dreadful person.

Good luck with that. Meanwhile my memory of Memorial Day is the pleasure of holding hands while walking and how my wife adjusts her quicker pace to mine. I remember the stranger we sat down next to in the coffee shop and how quickly and easily a conversation was struck up with her, about childhood and violin lessons and architecture and the attention-deficit president and the steady advance of technology and how nobody really knows where it is going. Three Americans with an amazing good deal in common choose to be sociable on a perfect summer day. Spacious skies, fruited plains, land where my fathers died and so will I, but not quite yet, thank you.

A Prairie Home Companion An Evening of Story and Song Love & Comedy Tour Old Friends Solo The Gratitude Tour
Schedule

October 11, 2019

Friday

9:00 p.m.

New York, New York

New York, New York

BIRDLAND JAZZ CLUB
October 11, 2019

Where Brooklyn Meets Minnesota: Stories, Duets, Bickering, and a few Bad Jokes.

October 12, 2019

Saturday

9:00 p.m.

New York, New York

New York, New York

BIRDLAND JAZZ CLUB
October 12, 2019

Where Brooklyn Meets Minnesota: Stories, Duets, Bickering, and a few Bad Jokes.

Radio

A Prairie Home Companion: June 22, 2002

A Prairie Home Companion: June 22, 2002

From Fraze Pavilion in Kettering, Ohio, with the Hopeful Gospel Quartet, Mark Thomsen, Sonja Thompson, and Peter Ostroushko (pictured).

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for June 17, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for June 17, 2019

It was on this day that the first standardized tests were administered by the College Board to 973 students at 67 locations, plus two in Europe.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for June 16, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for June 16, 2019

It’s the birthday of writer Ilene Beckerman (1935), whose memoir “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” was turned into a play by sisters Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for June 15, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for June 15, 2019

It’s the birthday of writer Ilene Beckerman (1935), whose memoir “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” was turned into a play by sisters Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for June 14, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for June 14, 2019

Today is the birthday of writer Diablo Cody (1978), who wrote the screenplay for the breakout hit “Juno” (2007) in the Starbucks of a Target store in Minneapolis.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for June 13, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for June 13, 2019

It’s the birthday of poet, Irish Nationalist, and mystical enthusiast William Butler Yeats (1895), who said, “We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.”

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for June 12, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for June 12, 2019

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals…I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death.” –Anne Frank, born this day in 1929

Read More
A Prairie Home Companion: June 15, 2002

A Prairie Home Companion: June 15, 2002

From the Starlight Theater in Kansas City, Missouri, with Iris DeMent (pictured), the Hopeful Gospel Quartet, and the Memphis Horns.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for June 11, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for June 11, 2019

“I may not be a first-rate composer, but I am a first-class second-rate composer.”
–Richard Strauss, born this day in 1864

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for June 10, 2019

The Writer’s Almanac for June 10, 2019

On this day in 1881, Leo Tolstoy set off on a spiritual pilgrimage to the Optina-Pustyn monastery, wearing homemade bark shoes that left his feet covered in blisters.

Read More
Writing

Trying hard to relax and have fun

I’ve been a grind for many years, chained to my oars, and I am in serious need of frivolity, so last Friday my wife and daughter and I boarded the Queen Mary 2 in New York and sailed out of the harbor and under the Verrazano Bridge bound for England with a dance band on board, a casino, deck chairs where one can lounge and doze and do nothing meaningful whatsoever. A big band plays nightly in the enormous ballroom and there is a multitude of serious dancers on the floor who know the jitterbug, the foxtrot, the tango — really know them, don’t just stand and sway rhythmically — and a handsome Irishman belts out “Night and Day” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” There are impenetrable Brit accents everywhere and elaborately polite service — waiters who say “Thank you” at every opportunity. The bottle of English ginger ale says, “Upend before pouring” — when was the last time you saw “upend”? The sign in the toilet says that the plumbing does not operate on a “cistern system” but a pressure system so do not flush while seated. There is the sunny aft deck where I can lie and not read a book. So what do I do? I think about work.

Read More

The graduation speech I didn’t get to give

It was graduation weekend at my daughter’s school and so I hung out with emotional dads for a couple of days and at the graduation dance I got a little teary-eyed myself. It was the Father-Daughter dance and we shimmied and shook to “I Saw Her Standing There” and then a slow waltz to “Wonderful World” and I sang the words to her, “I hear babies cry, I watch them grow; they’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know.” And I meant them.

Read More

A fine day on which I did nothing at all

Memorial Day and my love and I walked out in the park to observe the young and restless, the old and rickety, soaking up the sunshine. The laziest day of the year, meant to remember the insane fury of war. Contented families, families making an effort to ignore each other, kids teetering along on bikes or skateboards, dozens of runners each with his or her signature stride (lope, lunge, trot, traipse, scoot, sprint, stagger), picnickers lounging in the shade and dogs sniffing other dogs and toddlers acquainting themselves with the wonders of grass.

Read More

Life is so interesting, it’s hard to stop

It’s a privilege to have a doctor of medicine in the family and my family has two, one American, one Swedish. We dreamers and ideologues need to come into contact with science now and then. The Swedish doctor told us yesterday she is skeptical of the American practice of routine colonoscopies, that the profit margin on the procedure is very high and the rationale is modest at best. I’d never heard skepticism about colonoscopies before; it was like someone bad-mouthing mouthwash. I’ve been pro-colonoscopy because it feels good to get cleaned out and the muscle relaxant is so luxurious and pleasurable, and health insurance paid the freight so I didn’t give it a thought. Interesting.

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What I learned from window replacement

I am drinking coffee this morning from a cup that says “Verum Bonum Pulchrum” — truth, goodness, beauty — an impossible ideal, but it’s my sister-in-law’s cup, not mine. Our apartment is undergoing window replacement so my love and I are being harbored by relatives. She sleeps in a handsome mahogany bed that belonged to her grandmother Hilda and I sleep on a hard single bed in the basement. Separation is good for a happy marriage like ours. We say good night and I trudge downstairs and lie in the dark on a skinny bed that is like the one I slept in when I was 17. So I close my eyes and it’s 1959 and I’m considering my prospects in life.  

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Just looking out a window, thinking

That was the week when Uncle Joe referred to Individual #1 as a clown. It was at a campaign stop in South Carolina and it was just a little fundraiser, not a big show in an arena with thousands in their blue MAIA caps (Make America Intelligent Again), and Uncle Joe was careful to say he didn’t intend to get into a mud wrestling match, but nonetheless there it was — Clown — and it opened up a window.

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A few thoughts before heading off to dinner

I’m a man of considerable loyalty. I stick with a pair of shoes for years, and I still use Ipana toothpaste because it sponsored Fred Allen on the radio, though sometimes I buy Colgate in support of higher education. But I’m all done with the friend who invited me to dinner last month. He is off my list for good.

It was one of those wretched dinner parties where you wish you could say, “I’ve got to go home and take the dog out for a walk” but the hosts know you don’t have one so you try to think of something else — a plumbing problem, a plant that needs watering — it was my idea of Hell. Eight perfectly nice strangers around a table trying to manufacture conversation by saying, “I’ve been reading a very interesting book lately about” — prison reform, children with learning disabilities, global warming, income inequality, gender bias, the antibiotic crisis, you name it — a dinner party of book reports and I wish there were just one flaming Republican there to lend some interest, but no, this is a Democratic Hell.

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What happened in church on Sunday, I think

Church was packed on Easter morning, brass players up in the choir loft, ladies with big hats, girls in spring dresses, and when the choir and clergy processed up the aisle, the woman swinging the censer looked like a drum major leading the team to victory, which is what Easter is about, the triumph over death. Resurrection is not something we Christians talk about in the same way we talk about our plans for summer vacation or retirement, but it is proclaimed on Easter and the hymns are quite confident (with added brass) and the rector seemed to believe in it herself and so an old writer sitting halfway back and surrounded by good singers has to think along those lines. It’s right there in the Nicene Creed and in Luke’s Gospel — the women come to the tomb and find the stone rolled away and the mysterious strangers say, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?”

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Old man cautions against faith in probability

I flew back to Minneapolis for the mid-April snowstorm, as a true Minnesotan would do. Eight inches of snow instead of palms for Palm Sunday, God speaking to us: not to be missed. What caused it, of course, was over-enthusiasm at a 70-degree day, people setting out petunias, putting away snow shovels.

Do not assume. This was drilled into us as little kiddoes. At Anoka High School in 1958, we had a great basketball team headed for State and in the first round of district tournaments it got beaten by a gaggle of farmboys from tiny St. Francis. Unlikelihood lends disaster a sort of inevitability: thus, as I board a plane, I think, “This is the end of my life. Goodbye, my darlings.” This acceptance of disaster is what keeps the plane aloft.

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So much can happen in an ordinary afternoon

I have been struggling this week, looking deep within myself, questioning my own values, asking myself: should I go public with the incident in 2009 when Michelle Obama put her arm around me at a luncheon in Washington? She was posing for photographs with the attendees and I had been the guest speaker and I was told to stand next to her and I did and she put her left arm around my back and pulled me toward her and squeezed. It was a perceptible squeeze. I didn’t say anything at the time but I remember feeling that this was her idea, not mine, that I probably would’ve preferred to shake her hand, but what are you going to say to the First Lady? “Get your arm off me”?

She didn’t place her forehead against mine or kiss the back of my head, nothing like that, but the squeeze was unmistakable and intimated familiarity.

Read More

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