Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
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.
He came to the Minnesota State Fair Midway every year and I went to see him. We sat in his trailer between shows and he talked a little. I told him I wanted to be a storyteller. He said, “Why?” I said, “We need stories to be able to understand ourselves.” He said, “Oh, really?”
He became the World’s Most Silent Man when he was 30 and still living on his father’s farm and one day he took ten dozen eggs to town to sell and the buggy hit a bump and the eggs broke so Lonnie stopped and made a fire and fried the eggs on a shovel and a hobo came along and shared the eggs with him, a hobo who worked in a carnival every summer as a geek in a freak show, and he offered to get Lonnie a job and Lonnie, who hated farming and had been ready to leave home for years, joined the show. He loved the show people and that became his life.
It was easy work, being the WMSM, sitting politely while people cursed and abused him, and he fell in love with Leila the Tattooed Girl and they traveled the country in their own trailer, leading a secluded life like the one we have now with the virus. The virus Lonnie feared was stability. He spent his life on the road, died with his boots on while onstage and they did six more shows with him and he became the World’s First Posthumous Performer.
I went into the storytelling trade, working solo, but now the virus has brought an end to that, and I think about joining the WMSM’s old freak show. The Penguin Boy and Fat Lady are gone, replaced by the Abusive Nanny, the Cat Strangler, the World’s Most Drunk Driver, and a genuine Klansman. I would be the Corona Man. The barker would yell, “I direct your attention now to the tall dog-faced man who is an asymptomatic bearer of the deadly COVID-19 virus and who will now be passing through the crowd selling vials of souvenir sanitizer.” I’ll jump off the stage, howling, and the crowd will disperse, the tent will empty, and the crowd waiting in line will come in for the next show.
Life is good and we are so lucky. You need a sad dog-faced Corona Man to jump out and throw a scare into you and you go home feeling achy and feverish and people put you to bed and fuss over you and time passes and one morning you realize that you are okay. Dread and fear are what make a great story; the awareness of death is the prerequisite for all our pleasures; when I jump out at you with the bag of Purells, you will be thrilled even if I am more than six feet away, and your family will be more precious to you and your cheeseburger and fries will feel like a king’s feast.