Columns

From the New York Times, Time magazine, and the complete Chicago Tribune syndicated columns

Hors d’oeuvres! Hors d’oeuvres in the House!

The beauty of Brexit for an American is that it gives us a glance at the debate in the House of Commons, an actual spirited debate, something unknown in our Congress, Conservative and Labor facing each other, two sword lengths apart, speaking in bursts of argument and rebuttal, no lengthy droning allowed, members free to jeer and laugh, the Honorable Speaker of the House John Bercow crying out, “Order!” which to an American sounds like he is referring to ordure or ordering hors d’oeuvres.Nancy Pelosi never shouts “Order” in our House because hardly anyone is present. They’re all in their offices, on the phone, raising money. As for the Senate, it is a hospice. And this is why journalists focus on White House twittering. If the Chief Twit tweets, “Boogers on you, dum-dum. Talk to the hand,” it will be front-page for at least half an hour, and we’ll learn that no president in history ever used the “boogers on you” insult. How interesting. This is the current state of our democracy.

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Listen to your uncle, for crying out loud

Each life is a work of art but these days I live a very small life, more an etching than a mural. My friends are thinking large thoughts about the EU and Hong Kong and the future of American democracy, and I am thinking about these organic blueberries I bought to put on my bran flakes— why am I putting them in a colander to wash them? They’re from Bayfield, Wisconsin. Why wash Bayfield off them with Minneapolis tap water? Once you start worrying about the cleanliness of Wisconsin blueberries, you’re on the way to distrusting the Pure Food and Drug Act and believing that liberals in the FDA are spraying blueberries with scopolamine to undermine free will, and soon you have purchased an assault rifle for when chaos sweeps the land, and your neighbors look uneasy when you step outdoors. So I don’t wash the blueberries. My big decision of the morning.

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Looking forward to my Reykjavík years

Here in Minneapolis we are dealing with the issue of slavery, long after everyone thought the Civil War answered the question. The city is changing the name of one of our beautiful lakes from Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, on the grounds that John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was a wretched man and owned slaves. Bde Maka Ska is the name the Dakotah called it until 1817 when Secretary of War Calhoun sent Army surveyors to look over the territory and, voilà, they named it for their boss.It’s a lovely name, Bde Maka Ska, and over time, as old people die off and young people grow up, it will come into common usage, but these things take time. The Triborough Bridge in New York was renamed the RFK bridge ten years ago but nobody calls it that. To Minneapolitans, Calhoun is a lake, not a man, and if you asked us about John C., we’d have to Google him.

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Soon September, and then sanity returns

A few more days and then summer is over and done, and good riddance, we can put away the humorous T-shirts and resume intelligent life on earth. I felt a hint of September in the air last Wednesday and it made me happy, like walking up the street and hearing the neighbor girl playing a Chopin étude instead of that dang Bach minuet. Finally, we’re getting somewhere.

Summer is nice for about a month and then it raises hopes of euphoria that cannot be met and it’s time to return to reality. Euphoria is available in pharmaceutical form but it’s nothing to base a life on. It tends to lead to stupidity.

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Ignore the noise, sing for the ones in back

Moral choices face us every day. Standing in Whole Foods at the array of olive oils, I pass over the French and Italian for political reasons and choose the Portuguese because I met olive growers in Portugal last summer, village people, and liked them, and I assume California olives come from groves owned by Silicon Valley tycoons as a tax write-off and may contain silicon and the Spanish may come from old Franco sympathizers, and then I choose a raw, unfiltered, organic kosher vinegar — how can you argue with organic kosher? — and then on to the butter. I buy the local small-town creamery butter over the major corporate: I seem to recall a hefty political donation by Big Butter in exchange for relaxed regulation. And this is why shopping takes me longer than it otherwise might. Righteousness.

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Someday you’ll understand what I’m telling you

My birthday is this week, which I mention by way of saying, “Please. No gifts.” My love and I went through major downsizing in January and we are pretty much done with Things now, even a picture of a wilderness lake taken by you or an inspirational book that could change our lives. My life is good enough. Every day is incredibly precious. When you reach 77, you’ll feel the same way. It’s a shame that a con man is in the White House as the Arctic is melting and white nationalists are shooting up our cities, but we’ll be okay, we just need a Trexit vote next year.

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What you learn from losing a ballgame

I sat up high over third base watching my pitcher get pounded by the New York Yankees a few nights ago, looking out on what used to be the printing and warehouse district of Minneapolis, which is now the condo/espresso/IT district. Where ink-stained gents used to trundle giant rolls of paper into the big presses, now you find highly caffeinated people staring at screens and conceptualizing. I know few people who work with their hands, just their fingers.

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Can’t get across the river but we’ll try again

We’ve had monster thunderstorms in Minnesota this summer, which gave me the chance to be manly and reassuring and tell my wife not to worry as we drove through the dark of midday, bolts of lightning like bombs bursting in air. And indeed, we arrived safely at our destination, a luncheon honoring an old pal of mine whom I’ve known since we were in first grade together.

About thunderstorms I know less than the average medieval peasant. I majored in English and stayed away from the sciences lest I appear to be stupid, as a result of which I became stupider. As a would-be poet in college, I wrote poems in which weather was a device to indicate the poet’s own mood — weather as narcissism! — so there were gloomy moonless nights and sometimes rain but never thunderstorms — too dramatic for a Minnesotan.

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The pleasure of running into Stan on Sunday

I stopped in a cafe on Sunday after church to get awakened from a feeling of blessedness and who should I run into but my Anoka High School gym teacher Stan Nelson, who is 99 years old and still talking and making sense. He looked at me and said, “Are you still having trouble with chin-ups and the rope climb?” I was 17 at the time and now I’m 76, and I told him that I’ve managed to stay out of situations that might require me to climb a rope or lift myself up by a horizontal bar, so the answer is, No, it’s no trouble at all.

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When I consider how my time is spent

A mockingbird couple has set up housekeeping in a tree in our backyard and the male goes crazy whenever we set foot in his territory, which I guess means that their children have hatched and are at that perilous point in life when you’re about to fly. When we slip out back for supper, he shrieks at us from the corner of the yard, far from the nest, and flies from branch to branch to fence, cursing us, threatening to peck our eyes out. He’s a good father. The mother stays on the nest and he exercises his toxic mockingbird masculinity and yells bloody murder.

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