Columns

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

What I might be doing when this is over

Interesting times we’re living in and I wonder what name we’ll give it when it’s over. Corona Spring is too pretty. Maybe it’ll be The Darkness of the Don. Maybe we’ll call it Twenty-19. It’s not like a hurricane or blizzard, nobody will have great stories to tell, just memories of claustrophobia and social aversion and being thrilled because we didn’t have to go on a ventilator.

I grew up among taciturn loners, adherents of a separatist Christian cult that believed in silence — “Be still and know that I am God” was their favorite verse — so quarantine is nothing to me. My uncle Lonnie toured the country in a freak show as the World’s Most Silent Man, appearing with the Fat Lady, the Penguin Boy, the Alligator Woman, the Human Pincushion, and a sword-swallower and fire-eater named Vince the Invincible. Lonnie sat on a stool in his green plaid suit and the barker said, “And now I direct your attention to a man who holds the world record for silence. Lonnie has not spoken a word for 47 years. Why? We do not know. Feel free to talk to him, as you wish. I have in my hand a ten-dollar bill and I will give it to whoever can get Lonnie to respond.” Ten bucks was serious money back then. People yelled insults, trying to arouse a response, and Lonnie sat and took it all in, and if someone yelled, “The man is deaf!” Lonnie shook his head.

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A note to my peers: Let us disappear

After a week in Corona Prison with my loved ones, I must say — if I were to croak tomorrow, I’d look back on the week as a beautiful blessing. Feeling closer than ever to friends, the complete loss of a sense of time, the intense gratitude for the wife and daughter. We should make it an annual event. A week of isolation. Call it Thanksgiving. The one in November we can rename Day of Obligation.

The news from Washington is astonishing, each day worse than the day before. The con man at the lectern, the trillion-dollar re-election bailout. Satire is helpless in the face of it. Nothing to be done until November.

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Post from the Host

We have been getting some questions about life in Lake Wobegon under social distancing. Here, Garrison answers a few from Tony & Toni in South Rockwood, Michigan.

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What we talked about at dinner Monday

Days of social isolation have told us things about ourselves that we don’t want to know. Instead of using the time to read Tolstoy or listen to Beethoven, we watched a video of a cat sitting on a whoopee cushion.

It’s an extraordinary moment in history when the American family is brought together by the threat of contagion and I, the eldest of my family, sit in the chimney corner and wait for my offspring to say, “Tell us about your life when you were young, Papa,” in which case I’d tell about Uncle Jim’s farm and his horses Prince and Ned and the haymow and the cistern where we lowered the milk cans to cool, but nobody asks, which is okay by me. In the 21st century, a city boy’s experiences on a farm in 1946 are not so riveting and it hurts to tell a story and see your audience look around for a route of escape.

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The need to replace bad tenants with better

A day of spring appeared out of nowhere Monday, trees blooming in the park, a troop of tiny kiddos roped together with teachers fore and aft, sociable dogs, and yellow daffodils in bloom, though I’m not a botanist, and maybe they were begonias but to me they’re daffodils because begonias sound like pneumonia and so Wordsworth and Herrick wrote poems about daffodils. Let’s just assume that’s true.

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The only column you need to read about COVID-19

The beauty of COVID-19 is how shiny clean everybody looks since the panic set in. I’m in New York City this week and the stores are completely sold out of hand sanitizer, Hi-Lex, alcohol, antibacterial wipes, every kind of cleaner, and when you get on the subway at rush hour and stand within six inches of four different people, they smell nice, like a doctor’s office. They try not to talk or even exhale. They avoid eye contact lest the virus be spread visually. Some people wear face masks, which are useful for preventing them from picking their noses, which, once you’ve touched a deadly railing, could implant the virus in your body and in a week or two you’d be in a TB sanitarium on a desert island, tended by nurses in hazmat suits. If someone on the train coughs, everyone disembarks at the next stop and wipes their face and, as an extra precaution, swigs a little mouthwash or maybe vodka. Eighty-proof vodka is a proven sanitizer. The incidence of COVID-19 among bums at the Union Gospel Mission is extremely low. Gin does not work as well, so ad agency execs are surely at risk. As for Corona beer, sales are way down because, as your mother probably said, You Never Know.

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In one word, what America desperately needs

America desperately needs a woman president. I thought that in church Sunday as we sang, “Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you,” a gorgeous hymn with a chorus of Alleluias, and the altos around me sounded like my old aunts, and the teenage acolytes, both girls, stood up so straight and solemn, holding candles, as a woman priest read the Gospel.

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Sitting in a boat on the Niagara River

I was brought up by evangelicals so I can understand the fervent campaign to elect a revolutionary socialist to the White House. My people believed that we alone knew the mind of God and that He loved us more than the ignorant pagans around us. So when I see the old revolutionary shake his fists and shout against injustice, I relive the righteousness of my childhood. Happy times. I haven’t felt half so superior since.

It’s more satisfying to be part of a militant righteous minority than to be in the anxiety-ridden confused majority — to be a nightrider rather than a passenger in the long wagon train. The problem with righteousness is that it isolates you from those who are less righteous, which is okay if you’re self-sufficient and living in the woods but if you depend on others, you need to cut corners. When I was 20, I looked down on people who hadn’t read the right books, but then one day you need to call a plumber and your world starts to broaden.

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An old man’s Sunday morning annotated

“Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet!” said the prophet Isaiah, which we read in church on Sunday, but nobody shouted. We are flatlanders, brought up to be still and behave ourselves and listen to instructions, but if the instruction is to shout out and raise your voice, wait to see if other people do it and then, depending on which ones do, maybe do it yourself but quietly. And we are Episcopalian so what would we shout? A poem by Mary Oliver? A recipe for bouillabaisse?

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The light bulb is out and needs changing

I flew into New York last week, descending over the East River onto LaGuardia, and outside Baggage Claim I was surprised to find men and women in official yellow vests guiding us tourists toward the taxi stand, helping with luggage, saying, “Welcome to New York” and “Thanks for using LaGuardia” and “Enjoy the city.” This is not the New York that we Minnesotans expect to find, but thank goodness the cabdrivers are still genuine New York cabdrivers, surly, scrappy, contemptuous of the stupidity all around them.

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