Boom Town preview

Boom Town: A Lake Wobegon Novel

In Garrison Keillor’s 2022 novel, Boom Town, we return to Lake Wobegon, famous from decades of monologues on the classic radio show A Prairie Home Companion.

**Available in Hardcover, Audiobook, and eReader formats**

Lake Wobegon is having a boom year thanks to millennial entrepreneurship—AuntMildred’s.com Gourmet Meatloaf, for example, or Universal Fire, makers of artisanal firewood seasoned with sea salt. Meanwhile, the author flies in to give eulogies at the funerals of five classmates, including a couple whom he disliked, and he finds a wave of narcissism crashing on the rocks of Lutheran stoicism. He is restored by the humor and grace of his old girlfriend Arlene and a visit from his wife, Giselle, who arrives from New York for a big love scene in an old lake cabin.

Praise for Boom Town:

“Wonderfully over-the-top. Blisteringly funny, acute, and true. Keillor’s speaking to us with encouragement and empathy about the American life. But at the same time, he’s got our number that way he’s always had it. This book is a tonic.” —Richard Ford

 

“You can’t go home again unless you’re Garrison Keillor and home is Lake Wobegon. Then, of course, it is imperative that you do so—and we are fortunate indeed to tag along and share in the final chapter of the most fascinating and compelling characters ever conjured from the most vivid imagination of America’s greatest storyteller!

In Boom Town, we are invited to catch up as Garrison gets caught up with all of those beautifully flawed human beings that populate and promulgate their mythical town where all the women are finally accounted for, all the men are self-realized or died trying, and all the children are still way above average.” —Martin Sheen

 

Chapter 1: A New World

 

I flew back home to Minnesota for my best friend’s funeral last spring over the objections of my wife who was leery of COVID, which was raging in Minnesota thanks to anti-vaxxers, many of them devout Christians like my cousins who put up “Prepare to meet thy God” signs along the road and who believed the virus meant a quicker trip to glory but Norm went down from cardiac arrest in his driveway, an easy death. He wanted to go in his sleep, but anyway it was quick. He was a big person in my life and so was his sister Arlene and to skip the funeral out of fear of infection seemed to me unworthy and a denial of reality even worse than the evangelicals’ resistance to medical science so I boarded Delta at Terminal D at LaGuardia and returned to my origins. He died on May Day and it was a shock but not a surprise: Norm always said, when asked how he was, “Never better,” but in March he switched to “Okay” and a few weeks later to “Not bad,” a rather steep decline.

I rented a car at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and drove north to Lake Wobegon and noticed, nearing town, that the “Prepare to meet thy God” sign was gone. I stopped and got out of the car. It lay in tall weeds by a barbed-wire fence. Someone had shot it with a shotgun and the Pre was gone and the stake was busted. I left it lying there but the phrase “Pare to meet thy God” stuck with me. Cut back on excess, trim the nonessential. A good motto for a man nearing 80. Set aside ego and the craving for widespread approval, ditch your bag of stupid regrets, abandon pleasures no longer pleasurable, love your neighbor, and you will find yourself in God’s presence. My cousin Rose, who was named not for the flower but for the Resurrection, sends me a birthday card every year: God is moving the waters. He is bringing this dispensation to a close. We may not be here tomorrow. I pray you are waiting on Him. It’s sweet. To think of someone waiting decades for Rapturization. I do appreciate her interest in me.

I called Giselle in New York and left a message that I love her and drove into town and noticed the ruins of the EZFreeze. Not much happened in the town of my youth and when something did, my dad would say, “It was the biggest thing since they got the bug zapper at the EZFreeze.” The zapper was a big neon ring under the eave that electro- cuted mosquitos. Now it’s gone, the symbol of progress.

So is the Lake Wobegon Maternity Hospital, the big white house where I was born in the summer of 1942, which caused no stir at the time nor does the fact that I’m still living. I am here as a result of good luck. As a kid, I stood on the front seat of the car, no seat belt, as Dad drove 80 mph on a two-lane road to get to Bible camp in the Badlands of South Dakota, driving at top speed so we wouldn’t need to stop at a motel. I survived it and also the preaching, which was all about imminent death, ships sinking, car crashes, furnaces blowing up, storms with lightning. We fundamentalists were grim, like people living in a coal mine, but if I looked grim, my cheerful mother would say, “What’s the matter? Did the dog pee on your cinnamon toast?” and that made me smile, and it still does, imagining a dog going to the trouble of getting up on the table to do that. Wobegonians were cheerful stoics and if you asked “How are you?” they said “Fine” unless they were lying on the ground and there was external bleeding. Lighten up. Life is good. It could be worse. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Winter is not a personal experience: everybody else is just as cold as you are. Take it one day at a time. Make something of yourself. Don’t be a ten-dollar haircut on a 59-cent head. Find out what you’re good at and do it. That was our way.

Growing up in the coal mine, your people warn you against ascending to the surface, but eventually you do and WOW you see trees, the sky, you feel rain and wind, you get to know Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, you go to movies. I left when I was 18 to make my way in the world and I married a girl from New York who was not a coal miner and we moved there to make her happy and now I go back home mainly for funerals, which these days are for people my age, which gets my attention, an obituary with my number in it. Old rocknrollers, ballplayers, movie stars, cousins, class- mates, I pay attention, I read the story closely and guess at the omissions.

***

So I came back to pay my respects to my old pal Norm who’d stayed a good friend though I was a writer and he took over his dad’s trash route, and we confided in each other, he was the only one I told about my cruelty and disloyalty, my vanity, my miserable sins, dumb things I did, dumber than you’d think a grown man capable of, dumber than a boxful of hammers, and I walked into Lundberg’s Mortuary and there he was, freshly laundered lying in a box with floral arrangements around him, and I felt a sort of relief. The man knew all my sins, which would now go to the grave with him. I hated to think it but it felt like I’d been given a fresh start in life.

A woman spoke to me and I jumped. She was looking over my shoulder at the corpse. “They got the wrong tie on him,” she said. It was Pastor Liz from the Lutheran church. “Nancy gave them a blue tie. Norm never wore a red tie in his life. Lundberg is such a fuckup.” She laughed: “Did I just say ‘fuckup’?”

As it happened, I was wearing a blue tie so I took it off and got Norm’s red tie off and looped mine around his neck, which was rather wooden, and stood up at the head of the casket so I could figure out how to tie it, and it came out pretty good.

“It’s good of you to come all this way,” she said. “Hnnhh,” I said.

I’ve come back for the funerals of teachers, Mr. Faust, Mr. Bradley, Miss Story, LaVona Person. I meant to come back in 2020 for the funeral of Julie Christensen who was a year older than I, a seventh-grader, who watched me walk by her yard on my way to shoot baskets and she said, “Do you want to wrestle?” and I stopped. She was a long-legged girl in green shorts and a white T-shirt. I walked over to talk to her and she grabbed me and threw me down on the grass and sat on me, her hot mint-scented breath in my face, her legs scissored around me. She said, “Try to get up” but I didn’t want to. She was strong. She said, “Have you ever been kissed?” and then she kissed me and stuck her tongue in my mouth. I’d never seen that done before, never imagined it. She said, “I’ll bet you want to see my tits, don’t you.” I shook my head no, and she lifted her shirt, and I closed my eyes. It was a big moment. I shook my head because a Brethren boy should, but I did want to see, and I didn’t close my eyes, I squinted, and it was very interesting. She said, “If you tell anybody, I’ll beat the crap out of you. I mean it.” When she died at 79 from myeloma, the funeral was on a Saturday and I had to do a show in New York, but I grieved for her, my liberator. So was Norm’s sister Arlene but that’s a whole other story.

Norm and I each grew up in homes where pennies were pinched, our mothers darned socks and mended clothes until they wore out and then cut them into strips and wove them into rag rugs. We were brought up to use bars of soap until they were thin slivers in our hands and then wash with the slivers. We each experienced shame early: his dad was a terrible speller and liked to write letters to the editor, which the printers at the paper, both of them drunks, never corrected and so his dad was often in print with hideous errors that our fellow third-graders were highly amused by such as “hangkerchiff” and “judgmint” and “without acception.” In addition to my Brethrenness, I was the first boy in the class to get glasses, which made me a lousy ballplayer in grade school and got me the nickname “Perfessor.” So Norm knew where I came from and I confessed most of my sins to him except the sin of feeling superior to him, which anyway faded out after 65. There is not much superiority in old age, just good luck. He and I grew old together and became relics, the last in our circle of pals to have driven a Model T Ford, the very last to have participated in the prank of privy tipping, which we did at the age of twelve, along with older boys, all of them dead now, at the lake cabin of Harold Starr the publisher of the town paper, sitting in his outhouse one evening, on the throne with his trousers around his ankles, as we crept through the underbrush and heaved the privy over onto its door as the gentleman cursed us, trapped within, left with only one exit. We were the last ones to have used the Sons of Knute’s Big Boy fiberglass duck decoys, eighteen feet long: the hunter lay on his back inside the duck and pedaled the driveshaft that turned the propeller as he looked out through a periscope in the duck’s neck, scanning the skies for incoming ducks. The Knutes had six of them and they were too tippy and four decoys sank and Norm and I found the two survivors and paddled them around, with concrete blocks for ballast. Nobody else remembers this.

In recent years, I’m sure, we looked at each other and wondered which of us would be standing and looking down at the other one in the box. So it’s me, and I miss him. There is nobody left for me to talk about Julie Christensen with or our teachers LaVona Person or Helen Story or reminisce about the county fair back when it had a dirt racetrack and the older brothers of boys we knew went tearing around it in souped-up cars and dared death in order to impress girls. And now here was Norm waiting for the right moment to spring up from the coffin and say, “It was only a joke!” but death has disabled him, there’s no spring left in him, he’s become ornamental. The line has gone dead.

He stayed in Lake Wobegon and I went out into the world and had a career, and he remained my trusty friend and faithful informant. He told me a few years ago, “It’s a whole different town. You wouldn’t recognize it. The guys you and I grew up with are old coots sitting in the corner and grousing. We used to play hockey on rinks we flooded ourselves and we built goals out of packing crates and we used magazines for shin guards, now they drive the kids into Willmar to an indoor rink. Now they close the schools if more than two inches of snow is forecast because falling snow can trigger anxiety for some kids who may need counseling or medication.” (Back in our day, school was never canceled unless the building was no longer visible. There was no windchill index or misery index, we didn’t think in those terms. In a blizzard, your dad tied a clothesline to your belt so he could reel you in if he had to and the clothesline was a hundred feet long, the distance from the house out to the county road, and when the line went taut you knew you were there and you waited for the headlights to appear in the whiteness and if it was windy, you might have to dig a cave in the snow and if the bus didn’t come for a couple hours, you reeled yourself back home. Snow was not a mental health issue.)

It troubled Norm that the Christmas program at the high school was now called the Happy Holiday program, and the word “Savior” was changed to “Teacher” and Vacation Bible School was now called Spiritual Awareness and was about showing respect for others and not about the rough stuff, Noah and the Flood, Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac. And the old songbooks have been banned with old faves like “Frankie and Johnny” (“The first time she shot him, he staggered. The second time she shot him he fell. The third time there was a southwest wind from the northeast corner of hell.”) and “The E-ri-e was a-rising and the gin was getting low and I scarcely think we’ll get a drink till we come to Buffalo.”—songs that we sang in the third grade, they’ve been replaced by songs about brotherhood, meanwhile, thanks to the internet, words considered obscene by truckers are being used freely by small children.

“Me and you were the end of an era, mister,” he said. “The last of the free and the brave. Our neighbor lady has three kids and has an app so she can track them around town by their cellphones. Turn on the computer and there’s a blue and a red and a yellow dot to show where Mason, Logan, and Salem are. Surveillance of children. It wouldn’t surprise me if she taps their phones too.

“You and me were lucky to live when we did. It wasn’t all Zoom and Facebook. People got together in person to chew the fat. The men sat in the living room and watched football and talked about crops and hunting and the women in the kitchen talked about births and surgeries and now they just post pictures on Instagram and no secrets are told for fear of who might be reading. It’s a damn shame.”

Liz left to go looking for Norm’s wife, Nancy, and the moment she left, Lundberg came in, not George Lundberg, whom I knew, but his son George Jr., who took over the business when the old man developed dementia from inhaling preservatives and one day he dumped Mrs. Soderberg’s ashes into the toilet. She had wanted them to be scattered on the river and the old man figured flushing them amounted to the same thing, so he had to go to the loony bin and the son, who wanted to be a painter, not an undertaker, stepped in, a sour man with a woofy voice who never developed the warm avuncular unctuosity of a funeral director. He glared at me and said, “Huh. So you came after all. They said you were coming but I figured a big shot like you’s got better things to do with his time. Guess I was wrong. Anyways, two more of your classmates died over the weekend, Ronnie Hansen from a car crash and Peter Flanagan from what he thought was cancer but it was COVID. So I guess your timing is perfect. How’re you doing? I don’t suppose you’ll have your funeral back here. Have it in some big cathedral in New York City so all your famous pals can attend. Right? Well, good luck with that. The problem with being famous is that when you die they can’t wait to say bad things about you. Any scandal, no matter how small, it goes into the second paragraph of your obituary. All your so-called admirers, they love to dish out the gossip. But I’m sure you know that.”

I didn’t bother correcting him. What I love about New York isn’t famous friends but Giselle, eating lunch with her down on Grove Street in the Village, oysters on the half shell, meatballs, an iceberg wedge, driving up to our summerhouse on the Connecticut River, and Giselle has my permission to put my ashes in her flower bed by the garage where they likely won’t bother whatever man takes my place in her life, and meanwhile I’m glad to return home in honor of my ghosts.

***

I got out of Lundberg’s and headed down the street and there, fifty feet away where there used to be a driveway next to Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery, was a little sidewalk café called Laura’s Lunch and there, sitting around a table under an umbrella, were my old classmates Clint and Dave and Billy and Daryl, and Clint looked at me and said, “Well, look what the wind blew in,” which was exactly the sort of thing I’d expect to hear and Dave pulled in an extra chair and said, “Good of you to get out of the fast lane and come join us common folks” and I sat down and suddenly it wasn’t 2021 anymore, it was a moment of timelessness.

Billy: “You look a little lost. Can we help you find something?”

Dave: “You look a lot like someone I used to know. The class oddball.”

Daryl: “Sit down and take a load off. We just ordered lunch.”

And I sat down and I was back home.

Clint: “So do we call you Garrison or can we call you Gary?”

I said that my name is Gary and that Garrison was only to make it sound like I went to an Ivy League school instead of a land-grant university.

Clint: My wife went to New York last year.

Me: Is that right?

Clint: I don’t know if it was right but she did it anyway. Said she had a wonderful time.

Me: What did she do?

Clint: I don’t know and I don’t want to know.

They were all dressed like retired guys, which they are, and I was in a suit and tie, but it didn’t matter. A kid came out with a menu and Daryl said, “The egg salad sandwich is really good,” so I ordered that.

Daryl: “Good of you to come all this way but I knew you would. The class of 1960 is fading away fast. Pretty soon there won’t be any of us left.”

Dave: “So you finally figured that out, huh?”

Daryl: “What?”

Dave: “Death. It’s a definite trend. I read today that more than a billion people who lived on this planet are now dead. Including our parents, all gone.”

Daryl: “Well, when it’s your time, it’s your time. Makes no difference. My brother’s brother-in-law was a marathoner, cross-country skier, lifted weights, worked out, one morning he had a stroke, died the next day. My uncle Danny had two shots of bourbon for breakfast and maintained his alcohol level all day and lived to be ninety-five and was killed by somebody throwing a sofa out of a sixth-floor window. You just can’t tell.”

Billy: “Marilyn just texted me that Bob Anderson died.”

Clint looked at me and said, “You and I need to find us some younger friends so we don’t sit around on a beautiful day and talk about death.” Darlene passed by and he said, “Who do I have to sleep with to get my coffee warmed up?” She said, “Coffee is supposed to keep you from sleeping.”

Daryl said, “He’s Norwegian, sweetheart. They only think about sex when they’re too drunk to go fishing. A Norwegian likes to go to bed with two women so when he falls asleep right away they can keep each other company. If he wants sex, he goes downtown with a pocketful of cash and goes looking for a warehouse. They’re not only lousy lovers, they’re bad spellers.”

I was the only one who laughed at these old jokes; the others just smiled.

The front of Ralph’s was now a yoga studio and the back half where Ralph did his butchering and baking was the Laura’s Lunch kitchen. On the table was a brochure advertising a solar plunger that fits over your solar plexus, creating harmonic vibrations in the pelvic enclosure that cause the body’s own meridian powers to drive invasive toxins from the lymph system to create positive energy and expectations. I thought about asking, “Whose is this?” but didn’t. If it belonged to one of my pals, I didn’t want to know.

Next to the outdoor café, in what had been Halvorson Hardware, was a grocery, The Common Good. Up the street I could see the signs of the Sidetrack Tap and the Chatterbox Café but across the street where Bunsen Motors, the Ford dealership, had been was a carved wooden sign, AuntMildred’s.com. There was Clint Bunsen sitting next to me and I wanted to ask, “Why?” but it’s as obvious as the nose on your face. He’s 78, almost 79, just like me, and his brother Clarence is 81. You get to be 78, maybe you don’t feel like sticking your head under the hood and working on the carburetor. And maybe the carburetor isn’t a carburetor anymore but an app and the old mechanic has to reprogram himself to deal with it.

Dave was talking about Ronnie Hansen. “Died in a car crash chasing ass down in Florida. And Pete Flanagan had colon cancer he was treating with Clorox.”

Billy: “I heard it was Lysol.”

Dave: “Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Either way, death by stupidity. Doesn’t speak well for our class, I must say.”

Lunch arrived and my egg salad sandwich. Which, according to the menu, was made from eggs laid by local free-range chickens raised on wholesome grains, no GMO or GOP or SUV. Anyway, it was a perfectly good sandwich.

Norm had told me about the start-up companies that had taken over the town, like Universal Fire, which made artisanal twenty-year-old white oak and ash firewood, non-GMC, upper-altitude, seasoned with sea salt. It was getting into the field of artisanal ice as well, made from Lake Superior water, and was bottling virgin oxygen from the northern wilderness. The founder, Rob McCarter, had an MFA in creative writing and the artisanal firewood business was right up his alley. He was the one who wrote the fan mail from customers: “Our petty troubles disappear in the twilight when we light Universal in our fireplace. And now your bottled Boundary Waters air has cleansed our spirits.”

A woman named Willow owned a dozen horses and started a manure works to make an organic sun-dried ethical/sustainable manure, Wholly Shit, $15/lb., nicely wrapped (Each creature is full of beauty. Spread it around.), a crisp well-balanced manure with a warm nose, smooth texture, and a complex structure. She said, “It’s all about continuity, waste is a nutrient, the end is the beginning. Manure is universal, it’s part of who we are.”

Norm said, “I’ve come across crappy products but I never knew you could sell absolute shit. Not at that price.” The old men groused about it but the stock kept going up, up, up.

A company, Tomorrow Tomato, made an inclusive tomato sauce from diverse varieties raised on family farms in a variety of eco-societies. Norm and Nancy’s granddaughter Normandy invented a very soft facial tissue with 8 percent lamb’s wool and 5 percent spiderweb woven into the paper. Her husband, Max, created a nameless ginger ale aged in oak barrels: very successful. People asked him, “Why no name? You need a name.” And he said, “Whatever,” and so that became the name and he put out a Whatever mug, an earthy clay mug that became a Thing and went viral for a while, like Totality Tote Bags, which became wildly popular after the price was doubled. “These kids understand the New Economy,” said Norm. “Plenty of people have way too much money and that’s your market. Don’t bother selling stuff to paupers.” Normandy married Max when they were eighteen. He had hair down to his shoulders and it was an alternative ceremony, with an epic Walt Whitman poem (“O comrade and aficionado, come, take my hand, you are comely and possessed of secret longings, come travel the open road under a banner of affection, shameless, glistening with wordless desires.”) and the soloist sang “Purple Rain,” which is odd for a wedding—“I never wanted to be your lover, I only wanted to be your friend” and Nancy’s mouth was bleeding from biting her tongue. Norm said, “We thought it’d last six months but it’s been a year and a half.” He admired their enterprise. Normandy was 20 and drove a green Jaguar and had Zoom meetings with executives at Chanel and Dior and Pankake. Elon Musk called her once. She knew Sandy Frazier. She was hot stuff.

Lake Wobegon had been a farm town of two thousand, an exporter of its young people, and now it was booming. Two brothers, Jake and John, created Woke alarm clocks that sound like crickets and a woman says, “Rise and shine, renew your spirit, resume the struggle, resist the system” and a carillon plays “We Are Strong Together” and you hear marching feet, a bass drum, and a gong. They were made in a factory in Mumbai for $1.75 apiece and retailed for $68. Jake’s girlfriend Ashley came up with a dance video that teaches math, Let’s All Go Rithm. Nobody learned from it but the concept was fantastic. Her business partner, Hailey, created a detoxifying spread made from honey and locusts and then developed an app called Constant Companion that traces your daily routine and if you forget why you’ve walked into the kitchen, a voice in your earpiece says, “You probably came to warm up your coffee.” Then it lists other options.

Clearly, this was no longer the town I told stories about on my award-nominated radio show, A Prairie Home Companion. Nothing like that town. I walked around and saw notices on bulletin boards for personal trainers, dog walkers, yoga instructors, a veterinary aromatherapist, jobs that never existed here before. The Central Building, now renamed Main Street Lofts, has two social media consultants, an accountability coach, two content writers, an ergonomicist, a data analyst, a fitness advisor, and three massage therapists, shiatsu, hydroponic, and audiovibratory. Snazzy new cars are parked up and down Main Street. A woman named Nona Loso runs a lucrative business leading grief seminars and an annual grief cruise to Greece. She does a podcast for pet-loss grief, “Puff & Spot Are Gone,” and a monthlong summer camp—Norm called it a “death camp”—at which people divide up into grief pods and are assigned hugging partners. He said, “Promise me you won’t let Nancy organize a grief pod for me,” and I promised and she didn’t, probably because she wasn’t all that grief-stricken.

Norm lived in Lake Wobegon his whole life. He was in the trash- hauling business but was very spruce and well-informed and instead of a trashman, he might’ve been taken for an envelope salesman or an economist. He was astonished when Death caught up with him. He’d been to a doctor only twice, once for a bum hip that he managed to hobble along with and once for random appendicitis but it went away. He got too old to lift trash barrels so he sold the business to a young guy, Tom Paradise, who turned it into Paradise Recycling, which, thanks to the righteous name, he built into a multimillion-dollar business. Norm hated retirement. I was busy doing my show and offered him a job driving the tour bus, and he said he couldn’t leave Nancy alone for weeks at a time, she being a major worrier, and also (he added) he wasn’t that fond of the show personally, being more of a jazz guy, not so interested in people playing dulcimers and singing about the death of small children. We were close so he could be honest with me.

***

The last time I talked to him was in February. He called me, ecstatic that he’d tried to kill himself and had failed to. A month before, he said, he was in a bad way, had a pain in his side, couldn’t stand up straight, saw double, felt dizzy and nauseated, hung onto walls as he walked through the house. The doctor said it might be cancer and wanted to send Norm down to the Cities for tests. “They might need to poke a hole in your side and put in a tube,” the doctor said. It sounded to Norm like a bad idea and he kept putting it off because if it was bad he preferred not to postpone death with radiation or chemo because he was already deeply depressed about losing his girlfriend Elaine.

“Elaine who was married to Steve?” I said. He said, “After Steve died, she and I jumped into the sack—we got together twice a month out at my cabin. Every other Friday. She was a teacher, she liked having a schedule. You remember that cabin. You spent a summer there after high school. Nancy knew about me and Elaine, and she wasn’t thrilled about it, but she’d lost interest in sex years ago so it was no skin off her nose. Nancy’s life was all about gardening, grandkids, Jeopardy, and jigsaw puzzles. For her, mutual nakedness was as alien as pole vaulting. I had two years with Elaine and it was a happy two years and then one day she called and said she couldn’t see me anymore. She said, ‘I don’t want to be the object of gossip and walk into the hair salon and see people stop talking and I know they were talking about me.’ I pleaded with her and remembered the great times we’d had, but she had made up her mind and that was that. Well, if she was embarrassed to be my lover, shacking up with the trashman, it depressed the hell out of me. I went in the hospital for an X-ray or MRI or something and I was in pain from an umbilical hernia, my belly button was the size of a golf ball, and Nan was down in the Cities and the ER was full of COVID people and the dying and demented, people wailing and weeping, screaming, ‘Somebody come and help me! Please!’ and I freaked out and left the ER and came back to town and drove out to the lake cabin and decided to pull the plug. I’m an old fart who gets in everybody’s way, no use to anybody and I didn’t want to put Nan through all the trouble, and I’ve lived long enough. So I downed half a pint of bourbon and took a couple tranquilizers and sat in the car with the motor off and waited to freeze to death. It was twenty below. An easy exit. No sickness, no long decline hobbling around the Good Shepherd Home looking spooky and cadaverous and dribbling coffee down myself, peeing my pants, rocking back and forth like a caged animal in the zoo, my mind turned to sawdust, one hip shooting with pain at every step. To hell with that. A person has only so much time and that’s all the time there is. A quick exit, like Elvis after a concert. Norm Gunderson has left the building. I had made a list of several jerks I didn’t want invited to my funeral and some instructions to Nan: No eulogies, nothing, just the 23rd Psalm and one hymn, ‘Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,’ And I cut my son out of the will, the little prick, because he refused to say hello to Elaine at a Whippets game. I wrote a note to Nan saying thank you and I sat there thinking about Elaine and the good times we’d had com- mitting adultery and then I remembered the picture of Elaine naked in her bathtub, her phone in hand, and it was in the drawer of the bedside table, and I don’t want Nan to have to see that picture. Jesus. I could see the story in the paper: he died of hypothermia outside the cabin where he canoodled with his tootsie. Well, I had no feeling in my arms or legs but I managed to open the car door and fall out into the snow and my legs were like two wooden logs but I crawled fifty feet to the cabin and somehow I got inside and I crawled into bed and woke up on the morning, and looked in the drawer and there was no naked picture of Elaine and I remembered, I had burned it a week before at her request. Memory loss saved my life. I tell you, when you almost die and then you don’t, life is incredibly beautiful. Just dazzling. I looked and I felt like a new man. I cried, I was so happy. I have never been so happy as that day of my death and resurrection. I felt like the luckiest man on God’s green earth. I went ice fishing a day later and caught a two-pound walleye and roasted him on an open fire: best meal I ever ate. There’s nothing like almost dying and then coming back to the world. Take my word for it.”

Nancy asked me to say a few words at the service, and it was hard to think of what to say about a man who died happy, but I wrote a poem on the plane and stood up to read it. I’d never written a love poem about another man. I wrote a formal sonnet, as a way to avoid gush, and it was okay.

Time passing and the old man with the scythe
Is mowing. He hasn’t been merciful, has he.
My best friend, a good and generous guy,
Is gone, leaving the world less jazzy,
He awoke one fine day, felt ill,
Lay down for a nap and never arose
And now we carry him up the hill

Seventy-nine years old, in his Sunday clothes.
But Norm wouldn’t want us to be sorry a
Long time. Weep, say your prayers and your
Eulogies and then resume the beautiful aria
Of life in all its generous grandeur.
Each day is borrowed but let us own it
And find beauty in our coffee and doughnut

And love this world before we have flown it
And find what we would’ve wished for, had we only known it.

Nancy smiled and whispered, “Thank you,” and Norm’s grand- daughter Normandy came to the piano, wiping away tears, and sat down and played a few rolling chords and sang:

May you have eternal happiness
In the land you’re going to,
May everyone be loving
And always kind to you.

May you play a round of golf each day
And have a perfect score
May you live forevermore.
May you have a double cheeseburger

Along with double fries
May you play Bingo every night
And always win the prize
And be reunited with your dog

And walk the golden shore.

There was more. I looked at Pastor Liz who managed to keep a solemn face though I could see twitches at the corners of her mouth.

Her funeral homily was based on the passage in 2nd Corinthians, about we mortals being jars of clay containing the light of God. We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not forsaken, cast down but not destroyed. Norm was no more perplexed than most and certainly not persecuted. He survived his suicide attempt and the colon cancer turned out to be a Grade A case of consti- pation and a nurse gave him a nuclear enema that cleaned him out and he got five bonus months of life. He told me he never felt so happy as the day he went home twenty pounds lighter and told Nancy he loved her and meant it. He was able to enter the Sons of Knute Guess The Ice Melt contest and guess the Pontiac would go through the ice on March 8th (the 14th was the winner) and he got to witness the first week of April, which was springlike and buds emerged and a week later came a snowfall of elegant crystalline grandeur, every twig of every bush and tree glazed with frost, every photographer in town out snapping pictures, and the next day it melted, and then there was fall in the air and the next day a high of 72, four seasons in one month, and he put out tomato plants and sweet corn and he sat with Nancy in the backyard and drank half a bottle of Pinot Noir I had sent him two years before, which he postponed drinking because he didn’t think he knew enough about wine to appreciate it, but he loved it, Nancy said, and he sang her a song, “Till There Was You,” which she’d never heard him sing, and the very next day he died.

The heart attack struck on May 1 at two in the afternoon at home and he took a couple Alka-Seltzers, while Nancy called 911 over his objec- tions and the EMTs loaded him, protesting, on the cart and headed out the door and he died in his own driveway. The shock of being rescued was probably what killed him, the man had never asked for help in his entire life, being carried bodily on a gurney to a van with flashing red lights made him think, “I’m dying,” so he died. The EMTs got out the paddles but he was gone, no struggle, he simply ceased to exist.

***

Clarence Bunsen gave a eulogy, Norm being his brother-in-law, and it was about Norm being such a good listener and a friend to all, from the working stiff to the well-to-do, and he glanced at me and for a moment I was stricken with the thought that my secrets were about to spill, and when he sat down I noticed Arlene in a wheelchair beside him. I’d heard from Clint that she was ill and that Clarence had shut down Bunsen Motors on account of it but the wheelchair was hard to look at. I looked away as Norm’s neighbor Bud gave a talk about Norm encouraging him (Bud) to pursue his hobby of painting and how this changed Bud’s life and then the Four Norskmen stood up and sang:

Life is not land we own.
O no, it is only lent.
In the end we are left alone

When the last light is spent.
So live that you may say,
Lord, I have no regret.
Thank you for these sunny days

And for the last sunset.

As they sang, Bud set out several of his paintings—for sale, the proceeds to go to a Norm Gunderson scholarship fund—and what this showed all too clearly was (1) abstract painting is not easy but requires talent and technique, and (2) tastelessness has arrived in my hometown and people are helpless to ward it off.

Arlene slipped up behind me, wheeled by her niece Normandy who’d sung the awful song, and said, “Hey, stranger,” and I turned as she stood up. “Hello, stranger. I hope you don’t mind if I give you a hug.” And she put her arms around me from behind. I know you don’t come from hugging people,” she said. “I hope I’m not embarrassing you.” She turned to her niece: “Am I making a scene here? Actually, I don’t mind if I do. The world could do with more scenes.”

“I heard you were in the hospital,” I said.

“Ehhh. Pffft. In and out. It was a lot of nothing.”

“So what’s the wheelchair about?”

She let go of me. “Laziness. Got tired of walking. And it’s a great way of getting attention. You get in a wheelchair and suddenly people are twice as nice as they ever used to be. But you’re looking pretty good for a guy almost my age. She turned to her niece: “Believe it or not, I used to go skinny-dipping with this guy. Don’t tell my husband. We were teenagers. Children. Stripped naked and jumped in the lake.”

Normandy was impressed. Very. “She was your girlfriend? Really? What happened?“

Arlene said, “Go ahead, tell her. She’s twenty, she’s been around, she knows what’s what.”

“Norm was my best friend and she was his sister. We were like family,” I said.

“So it was incest then?” Arlene said, a little too loudly. People around us stopped talking. Heads turned. I heard whispers: What’d she say? Incest?

Arlene was delighted. “Look! I made his face turn red. A big-shot writer from New York and I’ve made him blush. Wow. This is the high point of my week. I’ve embarrassed a New Yorker.”

Normandy said, “Did you go all the way?”

Arlene laughed. “Honey, we went around the block and came back and went around again. But don’t take my word for it, ask him.”

I was walking away to look at the paintings, which seemed like the polite thing to do and I managed to avoid eye contact with Bud and then smelled geraniums and a woman threw her arms around me; it was Ronnie Hansen’s wife, Shirlee. “Oh my god,” she said. “That was the most beautiful poem and you read it so perfectly. Oh my god, I can’t believe you’re here. We loved your radio show so much. I suppose you heard”—and she wept—“we lost Ronnie. Friday. In Florida.” She seemed to be about to collapse and I put an arm around her—she said, “Could you read a poem for my husband? It would mean so much. Or say a few words. You were so important to him. He was so proud of your friendship. It’d mean so much.”

And I heard myself say, “Of course.” I may have said, “It’s my pleasure,” I’m not sure. And she was so grateful, it was hard to remove myself from her grasp. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you. You’re the greatest. I love everything you’ve written. Oh my god.”

So I agreed to eulogize a shithead. The problem was distraction.

During the service I had discovered a small hard protuberance on the roof of my mouth that I couldn’t remember having felt there before. I felt it with my finger and my tongue, and though it didn’t hurt, it bothered me, what with death on my mind and Norm in the box and people around me who might well attend my funeral, given the opportunity. God has a plan and maybe it’s that, after the trashman’s demise, his friend the radio show host will be struck by mouth cancer, the mellifluous baritone silenced, the democracy of death demonstrated for all to see. And then, walking to the cemetery, I heard a shout and a bicycle whizzed past, inches away, I smelled pizza, he yelled Sorry! And I realized I was in a bike lane. We never had bike lanes in Lake Wobegon back in the day or pizza delivery but here it was. The obituary would say, “He was struck by a pizza deliveryman only two blocks from the house where he was born. Police said he died instantly. According to onlookers, it was a sausage pizza, extra large, which may have obstructed the deliveryman’s view.” It won’t mention my classy memoir, my radio monologues, no link to a video of me singing “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” with Heather Masse. In people’s minds, I will be forever linked to sausage pizza.

I got to the cemetery and phoned Giselle in New York and mentioned the protuberance to her and she told me to send a picture. I hid behind a tree while they got Norm set up among the Gundersons and I opened my mouth as wide as I could and took some cellphone pictures and texted them to Giselle and she said, “Oh my god, that is horrible, you have to see a doctor. Today.” She grew up in Greenwich Village and her dad was a doctor who took care of E.E. Cummings, Dylan Thomas, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and a lot of dedicated carousers and scapegraces, so she knows a thing or two about human foolishness and I obey her in all medical matters.

I walked around the cemetery, over by my parents’ graves and they looked up and said, “What is he doing here and what’s wrong with his mouth?” The protuberance felt larger. Life is all about brevity and how easily the world can get along without us: nobody fills our shoes, they’re simply thrown into the old shoe bin and all the books we wrote are made into roadbed, you drive the interstate, you’re driving on literature, I read that somewhere. People were busy conversing and I didn’t see anyone of a doctoral demeanor present. I saw the former Diane Magendanz, now Mrs. Dan Durand, whom ages ago I danced with at the SnoBall and experienced carnal desire as the band played “Vaya con Dios” and pulled her close to me as we bumped around trying to cha-cha-cha and my hand was on the zipper of her dress and she sneezed directly into my face and apologized and I drove her home. I remember it clearly, lust followed by nasal precipitation. I felt no desire for her now. None. My mind was on death.

Then I saw Elaine, standing alone at the back of the crowd, Norm’s great love. She taught health in high school, and I figured, “Why not ask?” So I walked over while Liz was sprinkling holy water and consecrating the grave, and I whispered hello to Elaine. She was weeping. I said, “I’m sorry for your loss, I know he loved you a great deal.” She said, “It’s not that. It’s my son Bailey, the one who lives with me. He’s forty-two and ever since he had that traffic accident he’s been obsessed with sweet corn and craves it, but he’s also allergic to it, except for white corn, which is okay, but he prefers yellow even though when he eats it, he hears voices that tell him to jump off the roof or run naked around the yard, and I do what I can for him, I got him a therapist who got him on an anti-obsession medication but it also dulls his taste buds so he loses his appetite and now he’s down to a hundred and forty pounds, he’s a scarecrow, and it’s all I can do to help keep him halfway sane and not in a loony bin, so I have no time for myself, I haven’t read a book in ten or twelve years, and now I got a call from a neighbor saying that my son is knocking on their door, he’s naked, and he’s singing ‘Unchained Melody’ and I’m sorry to throw this all on you and babble on about my problems when I’m sure you’ve got plenty of your own, but honestly I don’t know what to do.”

I tried to think of something encouraging to say, and then she said, “How are you?” so I opened my mouth wide and pointed to the protuberance and said, “Do you know what that is?”

She said, “I can’t understand you with your finger in your mouth.” I asked again. She looked. “I have no idea,” she said. She asked if Giselle and I still live in New York. I said, “Yes, we do.” The gravedigger was lowering Norm into the ground. Then, walking away from the grave, I saw Dorothy who owns the Chatterbox Café and I asked her if there is a doctor in town and she said, “No, Dr. DeHaven died, and all we have now is a holistic healer and an aromatherapist. What’s wrong?” I said, “It’s some sort of swelling on the roof of my mouth.”

She said, “Open wide.” We were walking back to the church for the coffee hour, we were on Main Street, across from Mark’s Meats and what used to be Dr. Nordquist’s office, the dentist who hated to give novocaine, feeling that suffering would motivate better dental hygiene, which now was the This N That Shop run by a lady in a green suit and big golden specs that made her look like an angry grasshopper, across the street from Krebsbach Chev, which was gone, disappeared. “It’s a long story,” she said, “open your mouth.” I did. “Wider,” she said. She stuck her finger in and felt the protuberance. She said, “It’s nothing, I have one of those too. It’s called a torus palatinus. It’s just part of your hard palate. Nothing to worry about.” I noticed a young woman in what used to be Bunsen Motors, now AuntMildred’s.com, staring at us as if she’d never seen a palate exam in public before. I smiled and waved. She ducked down.

***

After coffee hour, I called Giselle and lied and told her I’d seen an otolaryngologist and he’d said it was an ordinary torus palatinus and nothing to worry about. She said, “I still think you should have someone look at it when you’re back in New York.” As if a Minnesota otolaryngologist might only have a two-year degree from a vo-tech and not be fully aware of bony growths. “I’m fine,” I said. I told her that I’d decided to stick around town for a few days and help Nancy get rid of stuff and also talk to people and fill in some gaps in my past, and she said okay. “There’s so much I still want to know and there aren’t many people left to ask,” I said. “Fine,” she said, “you do that. Just don’t put yourself in the path of old girlfriends.”

“My old girlfriends have other things on their minds. They’re not interested in me,” I said.

“I was joking,” she explained. “I know,” I said.

“I’ll miss you,” she said. She and her cousins Russ and Kerry had been talking about hiking a stretch of the Appalachian Trail in Vermont, she said. She’d bought a great pair of hiking boots. “You’d be welcome to come, but I know you’d hate it, being with hikers. You’re a stroller,” she said. “So I’ll see you when I see you.”

So there it was: I was sort of hoping she’d rush out to Minnesota to see to me after my protuberance experience but she is an independent New York woman and makes her own plans and she loves to hike, not sit and reminisce.

Twenty-five years we’ve been married—no, twenty-six—and I adore Giselle but we’re quite different people. She grew up in the narrow streets of the Village among brilliant screwed-up people who keep walking into lampposts, and urban canyons make her restless and she needs brisk walks and broad vistas of mountains and seashore. A day of hiking clears her head of confusion. I’m from the prairie, where, if it’s not the end of the world, you can see it from there, and I love narrowness, it comforts me, which is the appeal of narrative prose so I am a writer and par- odist, not a big thinker, I don’t want to stand on the summit, I need to wend my way into the arroyos of subordinate clauses, through groves of metaphor, following the streambed of anecdote toward the river of genre that leads to the ocean of literature, but I don’t expect to get to literature, I’m content to be an imitator. She accepts our differences. She plays a variation of Scrabble in which sounds are permissible like feh and ta and pssst so we argue over meow and miaow, argh or arrgh, and she is crazy about Broadway shows so long as they have a big dance number with arms in the air and high kicks. Like the Act One finale of Gravy Boat! with the chorus singing You’ve got stature/You’re on the dais/ With Margaret Thatcher/And General Petraeus./You’re an apple pie with a satisfying belch./You’re David Bowie, Gabby Pahinui, you’re Gillian Welch. And she stood up and sang with them: You’re Neil Young and I love you heartily/As an aria sung by Cecilia Bartoli./I’m a fraud, a fake, a big mistake, a creep./I’m over a barrel and you are Meryl Streep. She’s seen the show ten times, she knows it by heart. She loves Italian opera and she doesn’t eat lamb nor can she tolerate the misuse of pronouns (Her and me went to France last year is enough to make her lie down with an ice pack on her forehead). She can only drink fresh-ground, dark-roast coffee, one of three brands ground in New York, and she is very fond of Portuguese olive oil but not Spanish and she is intolerant of wool. She is extremely fussy about her pillow. She has hours of BBC talk shows on her phone, men talking about cod fishing and wickets and Ibsen and Finnish fiction, which she needs to put herself to sleep at night. I adore her and I have never doubted her love for me though I’ve taken her on a dozen or so disastrous vacations, which she can recite in a very funny monologue. The New Year’s flight to Norway to see the aurora and instead we got the flu. My seizure in London and the rainy week in Florida and the time in Paris when I sat in the hotel and worked. She has stories about me and that’s why I wrote a memoir, to get my version out first.

***

I told her I loved her with all my heart and went to the Chatterbox to talk to Dorothy who was behind the counter, the only familiar face in the place, all the others were new to me, younger faces, some with hairstyles that didn’t exist back in my day, some with hair colors not found in nature. Stylish dressers who looked like they’d never weeded a strawberry bed in their life and wouldn’t know which end of the hoe to hold. Very strange. I looked at the menu and noticed that tuna casserole was gone, a classic. “What gives?” I said. She said tuna casserole is offered at the Lutheran church’s Saturday lunch for seniors: nobody comes to the café for it.

“What about the Commercial Hot Beef Sandwich?” Missing. I loved the Commercial. Two slices white bread with big dollops of mashed potato and three slabs of pot roast in a gravy lake. She said, “Three of the regulars had heart attacks, one had quadruple bypass, two died, all of them good eaters, and it put the fear of cholesterol in their pals and they switched to vegetable pad thai. Men who’d avoided vegetables for fifty years but death changed their minds. Have some. It’s okay.” I ordered a cup of coffee, black. The waitress looked familiar and her name tag said “Darlene” and I thought I knew her but wasn’t sure because her hair was a dramatic crimson, so I asked Dorothy, “Is that Darlene?” She said, “Of course. She got tired of being a brunette and she had a jowlectomy.” Darlene is my cousin Alex’s daughter, married to the son of my classmate Carol. I said hi to her and she said, “I figured you were just being aloof.”

I couldn’t believe it. Me, being aloof? I have less aloofness in me than your average graduate student. I was brought up humble and I’ve been going downhill ever since. Give me a break.

She said, “My brother-in-law in Waco, Texas, send me your book Lake Wobegon Days for Christmas. His name was written on the title page. He’d tried to erase it but I could see the indentation. Anyway I started to read it and I got about twenty pages in and I was waiting for something to happen, somebody to leave town and go to California, something, anything, and I put it down and I haven’t picked it up again. It’s been a busy winter.”

Meanwhile Dorothy was saying it’s hard to attract a physician when so many of the new people believe in alternative medicine and think that regular exercise and hydration are the answers to everything. “Alice, our mayor, and the town council are offering to finance a new clinic, because they’re all over sixty, but one of these days the newcomers, who pay most of the taxes, will vote them out of office, and we’ll get a Chinese acupuncturist. Which is okay by me. Dr. DeHaven was the worst doctor ever, right out of the nineteenth century. No matter what the problem, he always said, ‘Let’s wait and see what develops,’ which isn’t medicine, it’s malpractice, but we lived with it because we were brought up not to complain. People came to see him who were suffering from stage four colon cancer and went home to take a couple aspirin.”

“As long as I’ve got you here, Mister Big Shot—” She poked me in the chest with a sharp fingernail. “While you’ve been busy weaving your little tales about sleepy Lake Wobegon, Mister Big Shot Writer Man, the town has boomed, and you can make fun of it to your heart’s content but it’s a boom that we desperately needed. Everyone was moving away, tax revenue was down to a trickle, the birth rate was about what you’d expect when the median age is fifty-five, so we were about to board up the schools and consolidate with Millet’s and have our kids go to class with those dummies. What a horrible thought. No Milletite has finished college in years. Nobody there has Wi-Fi. The newest encyclopedia in their town library is a 1978 Collier’s. So LifeCycle and Universal Fire were a goddam godsend. Now our kids graduate from Lake Wobegon High, they don’t have to move to Minneapolis to find a job putting price stickers on cans of creamed corn, there are jobs here, good jobs, and they can look around and see entrepreneurs a few years older than they who are prospering mightily. You’ve got teenagers talking about starting companies and turning into tycoons.

“Like Jordan who bought fifty acres of Daryl Tollerud’s farm and planted sassafras trees and sarsaparilla vines and he makes the first genuine organic root beer in America, American Roots, which sells for $10 a bottle, it’s a gold mine. He’s twenty-one. He sent his parents to Europe on the Queen Mary 2 in an Executive Suite. His wife, Jamie, and her sister Kaylee raise cockapoo dogs that are trained to provide child care, including bottle-feeding and diaper changing. Some of the dogs can even push a stroller. The root beer grossed three million last year, its first year, and the cockapoo caregivers are going to be in an article in Vogue.” Kaylee, she said, had won the National Gift-Wrapping Tournament once, wrapping a motorcycle, unboxed, with only two tiny rips, and she worked as a gift-wrap consultant to catalog companies. But training caregiver cockapoos was her true calling and seemed to be the cockapoos’ too.

Dorothy said, “I love you like a brother but frankly you’re a little past your expiration date. You ought to meet Pastor Liz’s sister Alyssa. She was in Silicon Valley for three years, got stressed out working for Google, cashed in her stock options, and came to live on her great-aunt Mildred’s farm two miles west of town, the farm with the goats and gardenias. Did you ever meet Mildred? She’s a widow, eighty-five, suffering from dementia, but it’s good dementia. She was a lifelong Lutheran, rather tightly wired, but dementia loosened her up and made her funny. She can’t tell you what she ate for breakfast, but she remembers a dozen Cole Porter songs and she’s led the Women’s Bible Study down some interesting paths and now at eighty-five she loves to dance and twirl around and tell scandalous stories about men taking liberties and she adores Alyssa and Alyssa’s girlfriend, Prairie, and treats them like sisters.

“They were two nerds, humanities dropouts, who couldn’t so much as boil an egg and she taught them the basics of cooking and in her kitchen they formed AuntMildred’s.com and created Aunt Mildred’s Gourmet Meatloaf and Mashed Potato frozen dinners, using ground sirloin and lamb to make the only gourmet meatloaf on the market. The top frozen meatloaf dinner, Hillcrest, was produced for penal institutions and retailed for $2.29. Aunt Mildred’s retailed for $18 and was worth every penny.”

I held up a hand to ask a question but Dorothy was on a roll.

“It was the first American meatloaf to win the coveted Grand Prix du Carne Baguette in the Entrée Exotique category of the Académie Délicatesse Culinaire Française and Oprah mentioned it on her show and sales went through the roof. And then came Aunt Mildred’s Hometown Brownies with lavender honey, brown eggs, dark caramel, unbleached artisan flour, and Costa Rican chocolate. And Pumpkin Bread with Nicaraguan Nutmeg. And Fifteen-Minute Pomme de Terre Tot Hotdish with Mushroom Cream Sauce. It was Grandma cuisine but made for well-to-do connoisseurs of historic cookery, and it all happened here in Lake Wobegon and now the dishes come out of a factory in Kansas City and six months ago Consolidated Foods offered them fifty-five million for AuntMildred’s.com and they turned it down.”

She poked me again. “Fifty-five million dollars. Anybody offer you fifty-five million for something? How about five million? I don’t think so. Sweetheart—” She pinched my cheek. “It’s a new world. It’s a whole new town. There is overachievement in the air. Multimillionaires riding their bicycles around town, and our kids trying to emulate them. And real estate is booming. Old people are getting three times what they expected to get for their little crackerbox houses. What’s not to like about that? I realize it doesn’t make as good a novel as bachelor farmers and the Sons of Knute and an overturned pontoon boat, but we are happy campers up here, so watch your step. If you came here to write another novel about us, show some respect.”

And then Dorothy looked up and waved to someone. “I want you to meet her,” she said. A tall woman with black wiry finger-in-the-outlet hair approached and Dorothy stood up and they hugged. I stood, unhugged, my hand unshaken. “This is Alyssa,” said Dorothy. She said, “Garrison’s a writer. He writes books. Or used to.” The woman said, “What sort of books? Mysteries? Thrillers?” Her gaze went over my right shoulder, watching for the next person to come through the door, a friend perhaps, maybe a celebrity. “Not mysterious to me,” I said. Dorothy said I had done a radio show and Alyssa asked if it was a podcast. “No,” I said. I enjoyed the fact that there was a little bit of creamy soup on her upper lip and she seemed not to know about this. Dorothy said, “He’s written some books about this town.”

“You come from here?” said Alyssa. I nodded. “Hnnhh,” she said. Dorothy said that I lived in New York with my wife, Giselle. “I lived in Brooklyn for six months,” Alyssa said, “and paid two thousand a month for a fifth-floor walk-up and everywhere I looked, I saw highly intelligent people working full-time to impress each other who had no idea of the world except that New York was the center of it and they slaved at lousy jobs in tiny cubicles out of fear that leaving New York meant sudden death, and one day I got on a bus to San Francisco and took charge of my own life.” She looked over my shoulder again and still didn’t see whoever she was hoping for. She told Dorothy, “I’ve got to scoot” and said, “Nice meeting you” to me and was gone. I was perfectly okay with her lack of interest in me. I’m a Minnesotan, from the Gopher State, our state bird the loon, so I don’t expect strangers to be impressed by me. My wife the hiker loves me dearly, and I have friends—five or six, maybe more, and that’s good enough. Adulation would only go to my head and lead to expensive spas and a winter home and Percocet addiction. Who needs it?

Dorothy was right. The new people were no dummies. While old coots like me are mourning the passing of the hour of splendor in the grass and glory in the flower, Alyssa and Prairie started a beauty line, NutriSoft nontoxic face cream and beeswax eyebrow balm. The nontoxicity was writ large right on the label and for emphasis, below it, the line “Guaranteed to contain no sulfates, phthalates, nor anything from form- aldehyde. Not ever tested on cats or dogs.” Maybe ordinary lotions don’t contain toxic phthalates either, but if so, why don’t they say so on the bottle? NutriSoft does. And it contains oatmeal and lavender, a big step up from formaldehyde. The nontoxic guarantee propelled NutriSoft to No. 5 on the Top Twenty lotion list, two slots ahead of a lotion from the same factory in Akron that makes NutriSoft. The lavender and oatmeal are blended in at a bottling plant in Pittsburgh. Nontoxic lotion and gourmet meatloaf—I thought, “The quicker they get rid of us geezers, the jazzier the world will be.” An unspeakable thought but there it is, I thought it. They can’t be stopped, once we’ve dropped. When we’re dead, they’ll get ahead, their profits increase when we decease.


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On the Road to Mandalay (click image)
That Time of Year softcover by Garrison Keillor!

That Time of Year coverThe "revised" softcover version of  Garrison Keillor's memoir, That Time of Year: A Minnesota Life will be available wherever you get your books on March 7, 2023.  It is available for pre-order in our shop now.

From the author:
I sat down and looked at my memoir THAT TIME OF YEAR when it came out and was put off by the sadness, the opening chapter about how much I missed doing “A Prairie Home Companion,” so I sat down to fix it. That’s why a writer shouldn’t read his own work. But I did and so I sat down to cheer it up a little and wrote a new first paragraph.

I am a Minnesotan, born, bred, well-fed, self-repressed, bombast averse, sprung from the middle of North America, raised along the Mississippi River, which we spelled in rhythm, M-i-ss-i-ss-i-pp-i, a sweet incantation along with the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 and our school fight song about v-i-c-t-o-r-y. We sang it with a sense of irony, knowing we weren’t winners in the eyes of New York or L.A. or even our football rivals, but we were proud of our North Star State, the flatness, the fertile fields, the culture of kindness and modesty, our ferocious winters, when white people become even whiter, and to top it all off, we were the origin of the Mighty Miss. Wisconsin wasn’t, nor North the

Dakota. It was us and strings of barges came up to St.Paul to haul our corn and beans to a hungry world.

I wrote a new preface and a cheerier first chapter, which came (literally) from the heart I having undergone heart surgery at Mayo to replace a leaky mitral valve and I felt good. I did this for readers who missed the hardcover edition, to give them a lift, and also myself. The revision led to SERENITY AT 70, GAIETY AT 80 and a new book in progress, CHEERFULNESS. It’s a happy phenomenon, an author still ambitious at 80, and I give credit to my wife Jenny. If I were teaching Creative Writing today, I’d teach my students the importance of marrying the right person.

Garrison Keillor

From the Publisher:
With the warmth and humor we've come to know, the creator and host of A Prairie Home Companion shares his own remarkable story.

In That Time of Year, Garrison Keillor looks back on his life and recounts how a Brethren boy with writerly ambitions grew up in a small town on the Mississippi in the 1950s and, seeing three good friends die young, turned to comedy and radio. Through a series of unreasonable lucky breaks, he founded A Prairie Home Companion and put himself in line for a good life, including mistakes, regrets, and a few medical adventures. PHC lasted forty years, 750 shows, and enjoyed the freedom to do as it pleased for three or four million listeners every Saturday at 5 p.m. Central. He got to sing with Emmylou Harris and Renee Fleming and once sang two songs to the U.S. Supreme Court. He played a private eye and a cowboy, gave the news from his hometown, Lake Wobegon, and met Somali cabdrivers who’d learned English from listening to the show. He wrote bestselling novels, won a Grammy and a National Humanities Medal, and made a movie with Robert Altman with an alarming amount of improvisation.

He says, “I was unemployable and managed to invent work for myself that I loved all my life, and on top of that I married well. That’s the secret, work and love. And I chose the right ancestors, impoverished Scots and Yorkshire farmers, good workers. I’m heading for eighty, and I still get up to write before dawn every day.”

 

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The six-minute video speaks louder than words

When you look at the body camera video of Nashville cops, guns drawn, dashing into the school, throwing doors open, shouting, “Shots fired, shots fired, move!” and a line of cops moving swiftly down the hall and up the stairs and shooting the attacker, you see men doing as they were trained to do, pursue a killer and take the killer out. From first call to completion of mission: 14 minutes. An expert operation carried out by dedicated public servants. And when you watch members of Congress tiptoe away from their duty to deal with the danger those men faced, you see cowardice in a pure form.

Everyone should look at that six-minute video of men moving down the hall of the Covenant School. Body cameras were meant to guard against police brutality and instead they show pure professional courage — they don’t stop to confer, discuss options — lives are in danger, terrified children in lockdown, and they run forward toward gunfire shouting “Police!” and giving the shooter a chance to surrender. This is something most of us would be incapable of. As for the heartlessness of politicians who decline to say what needs to be said and then carry it out, the language lacks the contempt that’s needed.

What horrifies a person is the coolness with which this is accepted. The Nashville congressman who has sent out Christmas cards with a picture of his family around the tree holding weapons and who said that as a father he was “heartbroken” but that we shouldn’t rush to conclusions and there is a larger mental health issue involved that requires more study. Well, if someone should shoot a congressman I might be heartbroken but I also think there is a larger issue of the callousness of public officials whose heartbreak seems routine and who get to the “but we shouldn’t rush” much too quickly.

I am also waiting for the progressives on the Minneapolis City Council and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar to express full public remorse for their “defund the police” idiocy after the George Floyd killing by patrolman Chauvin in 2020 and the riots that terribly damaged the city. It still hasn’t recovered. If any of them look at the six-minute video of Nashville cops storming the school, running toward an active shooter, her gun going off, cops prepared to take a bullet to save terrified innocent people, I’d be very interested to hear their thoughts about defunding.

I’m an outsider. My dad didn’t hunt nor did any of my uncles. They grew up on a farm. A gun was kept to use against varmints who’d come after the chickens. Grandpa Keillor woke his kids up one winter night to go out and see a silver timber wolf howling at the moon. The wolf wasn’t bothering him and he didn’t shoot it.

After the shooting, I had dinner with a friend who said, “My granddads were both hunters, one a Republican, one a Democrat. They’d be horrified by what we’re seeing today. People walking in and buying an AR-15 as casually as you’d buy a sofa. This isn’t a hunting weapon, this is designed to kill people. Hunters aren’t the problem. Hunting is a sport. You want to make a clean shot in order to gather meat. This is a deadly weapon that’d destroy the meat. This is a problem of crazy people who on an impulse walk into a gun shop and walk out with an instrument of brute force. It’s got to stop.”

The press needs to tell the full story and it hasn’t yet. The woman who did the shooting apparently gave plenty of signals and there is some morning-after wisdom to be gathered from her friends and family. It’d be good to hear from the gun shop salesperson. This shooting didn’t happen in a vacuum. And gun collectors — does their fascination with deadly weaponry now strike them as ever so slightly BIZARRE? And the head of the school, Katherine Koonce, who gave her life for her kids: there is a genuine story here. The 2024 election is a non-story. There’s no there there.

The six minutes are real. Look at the video. And the mayor of Nashville, John Cooper, who said, “Let us praise our first responders. Fourteen minutes, fourteen minutes, I believe under fire, running to gunfire.” An elected official who says the exact right thing. Remarkable.

 

A plate of rigatoni with friends

The newspaper sets out to cover the full gamut of experience, from the Personals (Man, 45, seeks younger woman for mutual adventure and comfort) to the 50th anniversary party, George and Francine in their old tux and sparkly suit, and also the Letters of the Lovelorn (“He flirts with old friends of mine and our children’s teachers.”). If the rich and famous wind up in divorce court, the story can get very thick, and if one lover shoots another, the story becomes a novel. What the newspaper can’t cover very well is ordinary happiness because there is much too much of it and for us happy people, that is completely proper. You want to be able to eat your eggs and hash browns and sausage in the Chatterbox Café without a man with a pad and pencil interviewing you as to the cause of your good temper.

One cause is that you look back at your mistakes and know for a fact that you won’t do anything that dumb again.

The world is in constant crisis, the prospects for catastrophe are ever favorable, the cruelty of dictators and the confusions of democracy are well-known, but as one gets older and even older than that, the front page starts to fade and you cherish your moments of ignorance, such as when I sit with Buddy and Carl and the world devolves to just us.

A table of women is thirty feet away and they are shrieking and all talking at once and we men do not shriek. A shriek would indicate a need for CPR. We sit and gently rag on each other and inquire as to each other’s beloved grandchildren, not mentioning the son in rehab or the QAnon sister.

We reminisce about our impecunious youth and the crummy jobs that put us through college and we avoid politics because we’re all wishy-washy liberals so what’s to talk about?

I love these lunches. Wish there were one every day. But life went off in other directions and the old gang is scattered and some came to a sad end. Our classmate Ben was electrocuted fifty years ago while installing a water pump in his basement and Buddy mentions that Ben’s daughter called him to ask about her dad — she was five when he died and hardly remembers him — and Buddy lauded Ben’s good qualities, not mentioning that he died because his little daughter, wanting to help Daddy, had plugged in the power cord to the pump. Life is perilous. All the more reason to take pleasure in what’s left.

True friendship means not feeling obliged to impress each other and so we don’t. We do light sarcasm and gentle mutual deprecation, we’re old Midwestern guys, we see that we’re all in the same boat, the equality of old age prevails. Health is what matters, not money, not prestige.

Carl mentions that his miserable ex-brother-in-law died, a thief and a hustler, a bad father who ran off with another woman years ago and who, in his final illness, returned to the family he’d abandoned and they took him in. Carl says, “I’m tired of crazy people. I grew up with a bunch of them, drunks and sociopaths, narcissists, they were a blight on the lives of others. I hate craziness. If the SOB had come to my door, I would’ve shot him. Accidentally, but cleanly.”

Carl is a Democrat and Democrats aren’t allowed to say “I’m tired of crazy people” or talk approvingly of gun violence but we let him talk. The SOB was a blight on the lives of his children and at the age of 82 he threw himself on their mercy. A moment of silence. And then Buddy says, “So a guy went to his brother-in-law’s house to beg for help and the brother-in-law pulled a gun on him and the guy ran away and the brother-in-law chased him and he was getting closer so the guy reached back and grabbed some and threw it at him.”

I love this joke. “Grabbed what?” I say.

“Oh. It was there. A whole lot of it.”

Friendship is what it’s all about. What it’s always been about. As Mr. Trump awaits indictment on one or more of four different charges, I hope he has at least a couple of close personal friends. Not managers, lawyers, admirers. Friends. They know he’s guilty but they still love him and they’ll have lunch with him and he won’t rant and rave, just reminisce about his wretched father.

Music as a means of detecting a heart

At least once in your long and delicious life you owe it to yourself to go hear Olivier Messiaen’s “Turangalîla-symphonie” and don’t wait until you’re 80 as I did but finally last week went to hear the New York Philharmonic take us on this wild 90-minute roller-coaster ride in which Catholics are kidnapped and Baptists go Buddhist and you think in French and fly in a formation of geese and get a taste of molecular physics as horses go galloping down the aisles, and in the gorgeous slow passage “Garden of Sleeping Love” you will fall in love forever with the person next to you so be very careful where you sit. I sat next to my sweetheart and after years of thinking I was averse to modern music, here was a hymn to joy and time, movement, rhythm, life and death, with big Wagnerian chords, delicate intervals, a dozen percussionists, a genius pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and we’ve been happily married ever since. It’s not often a person gets to experience euphoria. For years I imagined alcohol could do the job if I could just find the right brand but eventually I gave up on that. Sometimes in church I’ve felt it. When I was 11 I got to go to the top of the Empire State Building. I sang the Dead’s “Attics of My Life” once with two women and got a little high from it. And one night before the Philharmonic I experienced it at the Bowery Ballroom on Delancey Street listening to Aoife O’Donovan and Hawktail and the phenom fiddler Brittany Haas and it made the big crowd go wild to see artists overcome gravity and simply float. Aoife and Messiaen, two transcendent tours on successive nights: it makes living in Manhattan worth the trouble and expense. You can eat expensive mediocre food in loud restaurants, almost get run over by e-scooters, deal with surly salesclerks, cabs stuck in dense traffic, extortionate rents, impenetrable bureaucracy, but the museums and trains and tulips in spring and the occasional transcendental experiences make up for it. Two nights of mind-blown beauty make me want to start my career all over again. But the world has changed, of course. Taylor Swift, the middle-aged 14-year-old, has kicked off another tour, taking self-absorption deeper than ever before in human history, standing on a stage in front of 70,000 fans who each identify deeply with her, saying, “Tonight is so special and you have led me to believe, by your being here, that it is special for you too and it’s so nice that this is mutual. I don’t know how to process this and the way that it’s making me feel right now.” Who in the entire history of show business has ever talked like this? A woman adoring her fans for their adoration. The iconic emptiness of it is phenomenal. How does she maintain her powerful insecurities despite being a billionaire? The mind is boggled. Did Elvis tell the crowd he was so overwhelmed by their coming to see him that he was confused by it? No, he was Elvis. But you walk out the door and across the street, into the park, and bubblegum disappears, and you’re among real people watching their kids, walking their dogs, jogging, looking at birds, reading the paper, enjoying city life. The city relieves you of the burden of narcissism. People look out for each other in the crowd, make way for the elderly, for people with kids, pay attention to the musicians playing under the trees. And then you remember that night at the Philharmonic, the moment the symphony ended, the maestro relaxed, and the crowd jumped to their feet to whoop and applaud. Messiaen is dead. He didn’t create a cult, he created a masterpiece, and it lives on. It can’t be played by any orchestra in town, it’s too ferocious, but in the right hands it is a priceless gift to the audience. Same with Brittany Haas. I’ve heard hundreds of fiddlers in my day, all with their virtues, and they strove hard to find something and she simply has got it in her pocket. She stands on their shoulders. She can do it all and a ballroom full of people got their socks knocked off. Messiaen and Haas, you hear the music, you don’t envy them or admire them, the music simply goes through you like radio waves and proves that you’re alive.

The longer you live, the better it gets

I went down to the Bowery one night last week to see Aoife O’Donovan sing to a ballroom packed with young people standing for two hours and whooping and yelling — I sat up in the balcony and whooped and yelled too — and what the woman could do with her voice and guitar was astonishing, utterly fabulous, and for a man my age to be astonished is remarkable, she was competing with my memory of Uncle Jim handing me the reins to his horse-drawn hayrack and my grandma chopping the head off a chicken and seeing Buster Keaton perform at the Minnesota State Fair and also Paul Simon at Madison Square Garden and Renée Fleming in Der Rosenkavalier, but there she is, Aoife, in my pantheon of wonderment.

I came home from the Bowery to learn that a dear friend, Christine Jacobson, had died — amazement and mortality in one evening, and it’s a rare privilege to be aware of both, the beauty of life and the brevity. I look down from my balcony seat on the heads of young people excited by an artist and in their behalf I am worried about our country, with so many of our countrymen in favor of resuming the Civil War, with our history of trillions spent on wars in Vietnam and Iraq from which no benefit whatever was gained, but the exhilaration of the young is better than bourbon, more wonderful than wine.

Two young people called my wife recently and she put the phone on Speaker and I could hear the quiet joy in their voices that told the story, no explanation needed: she was pregnant, a child is on the way, she can feel it moving. Someday, I trust, my grandson will call me and I’ll hear that joy in his voice, and the Keillor line will extend into the 22nd century.

I am descended, in part, from William Cox, a British seaman aboard a man-o’-war docked in Charleston harbor in the early 19th century, who jumped ship, which was a capital offense, and made his way to Pennsylvania and settled among Quakers who were unlikely to turn a man in for desertion, and married Elizabeth Boggs who bore a daughter, Martha Ann, who married David Powell from whom my paternal grandmother, the one who beheaded the chicken, was descended. I sat by her bedside when she died in 1964, tended by her daughters. She and her twin sister had been railroad telegraphers, a rare thing for women in 1900 — they had learned Morse code as kids to give each other the answers to tests in school — and she became a schoolteacher and married my grandfather, who was on the school board.

Having a grandma who’d taught school was a big factor in my childhood: I wrote her letters and was very careful about spelling and grammar. I write this sentence now and I am aware of Grandma Dora. If I came home with a poor grade, my mother said, “Grandma would be disappointed,” and her possible disappointment weighed very heavily on me. I became a professional journalist at age 14, writing sports for a weekly newspaper, and my grandma read them and approved. And so a man finds his career.

I wrote a magazine piece about a radio show, which led me to start my own, which is how I came to know Aoife and I’d sung with her before, and now, sitting in the balcony, I was dazed with admiration. Admiration of her artistry and also of the openhearted enthusiasm of the crowd below. To me it’s all connected somehow, the desertion of Mr. Cox from the cruelty of life below decks, my good penmanship writing to Grandma, the old radio show, and the woman on stage bestowing enormous gifts on us all.

Mortality is what makes the gifts enormous. That afternoon I got a phone call from my old pal George, who is 87 and who announced that he’d been bounced out of hospice because he’d failed to die and was feeling very chipper about it. He recalled eulogies I’d given at funerals for our friends Arvonne and Martin and he seemed to be angling for me to eulogize him. I said, “George, if I do it for you then everyone’s going to want it for them. I used to think death was a tragedy and now it’s a trend.”

A necessary trend. There are people standing in the crowd who will need to sit down and we in the balcony need to make room for them.

A Prairie Home Companion An Evening of Story and Song Humor Love & Comedy Tour Old Friends Poetry Prairie Home Christmas Show Solo Songs Stories The Gratitude Tour
Schedule

March 31, 2023

Friday

7:30 p.m.

Avalon Theater, Grand Junction, CO

Grand Junction, CO

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Grand Junction, CO. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

April 27, 2023

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

Cary Memorial Hall, Lexington, MA

Lexington, MA

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Lexington, MA. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

April 29, 2023

Saturday

7:30 p.m.

Park Theatre, Jaffrey, NH

Jaffrey, NH

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Jaffrey, NH. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

April 30, 2023

Sunday

7:00 p.m.

Paramount Hudson Valley, Peekskill, NY

Peekskill, NY

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Peekskill NY. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unite us.

July 6, 2023

Thursday

8:00 p.m.

Sellersville Theatre, Sellersville, PA

Sellersville, PA

Garrison Keillor and Robin & Linda Williams come to Sellersville, PA for an evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon.

buy tickets

July 8, 2023

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Lime Kiln Theater, Lexington, VA

Lexington, VA

Garrison Keillor and Robin & Linda Williams come to the Lime Kiln Theater in Lexington, VA for an evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 8:00 PM

buy tickets
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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, March 31, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, March 31, 2023

Today is the 87th birthday of poet, novelist, and activist Marge Piercy. In 1976, she published “Woman on the Edge of Time,” a work of speculative science fiction about a working-class Latina woman who is committed to an insane asylum, and whose experiences with time travel lead her to understand that her actions will influence the direction of the future. It became regarded as a feminist classic of science fiction.

Read More
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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, March 29, 2023

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It was on this day in 1944 that Anne Frank made the decision to rewrite her diary as an autobiography. She wrote: “I know that I can write, a couple of my stories are good, my descriptions of the ‘Secret Annex’ are humorous, there’s a lot in my diary that speaks, but whether I have real talent remains to be seen.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, March 28, 2023

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“A certain ruthlessness and a sense of alienation from society is as essential to creative writing as it is to armed robbery.” –Nelson Algren born on this day in 1909.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, March 27, 2023

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It’s the birthday of the woman who wrote “Happy Birthday to You,” Patty Smith Hill, born in Anchorage, Kentucky (1868). Most of her life was spent as a kindergarten teacher. Her song gained popularity before she copyrighted it. After copyright the song produced about $2 million in licensing revenue for years. In 2015 it finally entered the public domain.

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Today is the birthday of Robert Frost. Born in 1874, his first poem, “My Butterfly: An Elegy,” was published in the New York Independent in 1894. His final work of poetry was published in 1964, the year after his death, “You Come Too.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, March 25, 2023

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It’s the birthday of American short-story writer and novelist Flannery O’Connor, born in Savannah, Georgia (1925). O’Connor had a short life, dying of lupus at the age of 39, but she profoundly influenced literature in the 20th century with dark stories about religion, redemption, sin, and guilt in the American South.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, March 24, 2023

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It was on this day in 1882, German doctor and microbiologist Robert Koch announced that he had found the bacterium responsible for tuberculosis, historically one of the most dangerous and deadly diseases. Koch was awarded the Nobel Prize, in Physiology or Medicine, in 1905 for this work with tuberculosis.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, March 23, 2023

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Today marks the first day in 1942 when the U.S. government began moving Japanese-Americans from their West Coast homes to internment camps. Between 110,000 and 120,000 people were forcibly relocated. Some Japanese-American men were drafted into the War even as their families remained incarcerated. The camps remained open until 1945.

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Writing

The six-minute video speaks louder than words

When you look at the body camera video of Nashville cops, guns drawn, dashing into the school, throwing doors open, shouting, “Shots fired, shots fired, move!” and a line of cops moving swiftly down the hall and up the stairs and shooting the attacker, you see men doing as they were trained to do, pursue a killer and take the killer out. From first call to completion of mission: 14 minutes. An expert operation carried out by dedicated public servants. And when you watch members of Congress tiptoe away from their duty to deal with the danger those men faced, you see cowardice in a pure form.

Everyone should look at that six-minute video of men moving down the hall of the Covenant School. Body cameras were meant to guard against police brutality and instead they show pure professional courage — they don’t stop to confer, discuss options — lives are in danger, terrified children in lockdown, and they run forward toward gunfire shouting “Police!” and giving the shooter a chance to surrender. This is something most of us would be incapable of. As for the heartlessness of politicians who decline to say what needs to be said and then carry it out, the language lacks the contempt that’s needed.

Read More

A plate of rigatoni with friends

The newspaper sets out to cover the full gamut of experience, from the Personals (Man, 45, seeks younger woman for mutual adventure and comfort) to the 50th anniversary party, George and Francine in their old tux and sparkly suit, and also the Letters of the Lovelorn (“He flirts with old friends of mine and our children’s teachers.”). If the rich and famous wind up in divorce court, the story can get very thick, and if one lover shoots another, the story becomes a novel. What the newspaper can’t cover very well is ordinary happiness because there is much too much of it and for us happy people, that is completely proper. You want to be able to eat your eggs and hash browns and sausage in the Chatterbox Café without a man with a pad and pencil interviewing you as to the cause of your good temper.

One cause is that you look back at your mistakes and know for a fact that you won’t do anything that dumb again.

Read More

Music as a means of detecting a heart

At least once in your long and delicious life you owe it to yourself to go hear Olivier Messiaen’s “Turangalîla-symphonie” and don’t wait until you’re 80 as I did but finally last week went to hear the New York Philharmonic take us on this wild 90-minute roller-coaster ride in which Catholics are kidnapped and Baptists go Buddhist and you think in French and fly in a formation of geese and get a taste of molecular physics as horses go galloping down the aisles, and in the gorgeous slow passage “Garden of Sleeping Love” you will fall in love forever with the person next to you so be very careful where you sit.

I sat next to my sweetheart and after years of thinking I was averse to modern music, here was a hymn to joy and time, movement, rhythm, life and death, with big Wagnerian chords, delicate intervals, a dozen percussionists, a genius pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and we’ve been happily married ever since.

Read More

The longer you live, the better it gets

I went down to the Bowery one night last week to see Aoife O’Donovan sing to a ballroom packed with young people standing for two hours and whooping and yelling — I sat up in the balcony and whooped and yelled too — and what the woman could do with her voice and guitar was astonishing, utterly fabulous, and for a man my age to be astonished is remarkable, she was competing with my memory of Uncle Jim handing me the reins to his horse-drawn hayrack and my grandma chopping the head off a chicken and seeing Buster Keaton perform at the Minnesota State Fair and also Paul Simon at Madison Square Garden and Renée Fleming in Der Rosenkavalier, but there she is, Aoife, in my pantheon of wonderment.

I came home from the Bowery to learn that a dear friend, Christine Jacobson, had died — amazement and mortality in one evening, and it’s a rare privilege to be aware of both, the beauty of life and the brevity. I look down from my balcony seat on the heads of young people excited by an artist and in their behalf I am worried about our country, with so many of our countrymen in favor of resuming the Civil War, with our history of trillions spent on wars in Vietnam and Iraq from which no benefit whatever was gained, but the exhilaration of the young is better than bourbon, more wonderful than wine.

Read More

Marriage is a game and two can play it

BANK STOCKS SKID was the scary headline days ago sending shivers of 1929 and old newsreels of breadlines on Wall Street and Dorothea Lange photographs of migrant women and naturally the thought of a Crash makes me think we need to go out for entertainment, of which New York has plenty.

Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks are playing at Birdland, a 12-piece band reliving Twenties stomps and blues with Vince’s bass sax honking at the head of the formation. The New York Phil is playing Messiaen’s Turangalîla symphony. There’s an Emo Ball with DJs playing disco hits and an All-Night Singles Party at which ladies drink for free. (How do they make sure you’re single? Or a lady?)

Read More

Thanks to Lutherans I skipped ballet

I talked to a friend last week whose Lutheran church in Minneapolis is trying to attract people of color. Lutherans have been white for centuries, coming as they did from Scandinavia and Germany, countries that were never great colonial powers and didn’t grab big chunks of Africa and Lutheranize the indigenous people. Some Lutherans are more gray than white, but if you go to a Lutheran church you sense a monochromaticism due to the fact that people in the pews tend to be descendants of Lutherans, the faith was handed down, it’s like farming — most farmers grew up on a farm — not many Manhattanites develop a passion for soybeans and head for North Dakota to buy 400 acres and a John Deere.

Read More

The worst play I ever saw: a landmark

In case you’re wondering why I was not in church Sunday morning, I was in the Omaha airport at 6:30 a.m. waiting for a flight back to New York, listening to an announcement that unattended baggage would be confiscated, eating a breakfast croissant and blueberry yogurt, drinking coffee, which came to $19.74, which happens to be the year I started doing my old radio show.

I grew up Sanctified Brethren, so it was odd to wind up in comedy, but my mother loved Jack Benny and Lucille Ball, so there’s the hitch. I started the show to amuse her, and I succeeded. And the one Saturday night in Omaha did too. A tall woman and I sang love duets while a piano player with wild hair kept the beat and I did octogenarian stand-up and the audience accepted this pretty well.

Read More

Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson – The Family Car

Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson – The Family Car

Read More

The old man’s winter weekend

In case you’re wondering why I was not in church Sunday morning, I was in the Omaha airport at 6:30 a.m. waiting for a flight back to New York, listening to an announcement that unattended baggage would be confiscated, eating a breakfast croissant and blueberry yogurt, drinking coffee, which came to $19.74, which happens to be the year I started doing my old radio show.

I grew up Sanctified Brethren, so it was odd to wind up in comedy, but my mother loved Jack Benny and Lucille Ball, so there’s the hitch. I started the show to amuse her, and I succeeded. And the one Saturday night in Omaha did too. A tall woman and I sang love duets while a piano player with wild hair kept the beat and I did octogenarian stand-up and the audience accepted this pretty well.

Read More

Thinking about that woman in Kentucky

I was down in Frankfort, Kentucky, last week and sat in a café one morning and a fortyish woman in a white uniform approached and said, “What can I get you, Hon?” and I, being a Northerner, was rather touched because female food service workers up North don’t go around Honning male customers. I’ve been Deared a few times but only by women older than I and they may have Deared me from dementia. Once a waitperson in Minneapolis Friended me and I almost spilled my coffee.

(Notice that I don’t refer to them as a “waitress.” The “-ess” is a diminutive, it’s a patronizing relic of male dominance; she is a Waitperson, even though that term could be mistaken as “Weight Person,” meaning “fat lady.” Anyway, female service personnel in Minnesota do not address a man as “hon” or any other term of affection and if he addressed her as Hon, he could be arrested, handcuffed, and taken downtown.

Read More

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If you are hosting an event with Garrison Keillor, please feel free to use the press photos below for marketing, as well as the short biography. Promo video for the purpose of booking is available here.

To book Garrison Keillor, please contact: Northstar Artists, P.O. Box 47393, Minneapolis, MN 55447.    P 763-999-7700

For interview inquiries, please contact:  Ellyn Solis, e2PR Strategic Communications (ellyn@e2pr.biz)
Johnny Tokarczyk, e2PR Strategic Communications (johnny@e2pr.biz)


Whether solo or accompanied by Richard Dworsky, Heather Masse, Prudence Johnson, Dan Chouinard, Dean Magraw, or others, Garrison Keillor delivers an extraordinary, crowd-pleasing performance.

Garrison Keillor’s celebrated radio broadcast A Prairie Home Companion ran for forty years. He wrote the comedy sketches and more, and he invented a “little town that time forgot and the decades could not improve.” These days, his shows are packed with humor and song, plus the audience-favorite News from Lake Wobegon. He has written dozens of books — recently, Boom Town (a Lake Wobegon novel), That Time of Year (a memoir), a book of limericks, and Serenity at 70, Gaiety at 80 (reflections on why you should keep on getting older). Garrison and his wife, Jenny Lind Nilsson, live in New York City.

Trained as a jazz singer at the New England Conservatory of Music, Heather Masse is equally versed in a variety of traditions — folk, pop, bluegrass, and more. As member of Billboard-charting group The Wailin’ Jennys, she has performed at hundreds of venues across the world. She was a frequent guest on A Prairie Home Companion, both solo and with The Jennys. One reviewer rightly lauded her “lush velvety vocals, capable of melting butter in a Siberian winter.”

 Prudence Johnson‘s long and happy career as a singer, writer, and teacher has landed her on the musical theater stage, in two feature films (A River Runs Through It and A Prairie Home Companion), on a national radio show (several stints on A Prairie Home Companion) and on concert stages across North America and occasionally Europe. She has released more than a dozen recordings, including albums dedicated to the music of Hoagy Carmichael and Greg Brown, and a collection of international lullabies.

 For 23 years, Richard Dworsky served as A Prairie Home Companion’s pianist and music director, providing original theatrical underscoring, leading the house band, and performing as a featured soloist. The St. Paul, Minnesota, native also accompanied many of the show’s guests, including James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Yo-Yo Ma, Sheryl Crow, Chet Atkins, Renée Fleming, and Kristin Chenoweth.

 Dan Chouinard is a St. Paul-based honky-tonk pianist, concert soloist and accompanist, street accordionist, sing-along enabler, Italian and French teacher, and bicycling vagabond. He’s been writer and host of a number of live history-with-music shows broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television. He played on a dozen live broadcasts of A Prairie Home Companions plus a half dozen APHC cruises, and served as rehearsal pianist for Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, and Lindsay Lohan on the 2005 APHC movie. He’s featured on a number of recordings with Prairie Home regulars Peter Ostroushko, Prudence Johnson and Maria Jette.

 Composer/arranger/producer/guitarist Dean Magraw performed and recorded extensively with Ukrainian American virtuoso Peter Ostroushko over several decades, and he has worked with some of the finest musicians in the North America, Europe, and Japan. As one of his collaborators commented, “Dean Magraw’s guitar playing transcends, transports, and lifts the soul to a higher level as he weaves, cajoles, and entices every note from his instrument.”

Recent reviews:

“Fans laughed, applauded and sang along throughout Sunday night’s two-hour show” -Jeff Baenen, AP News

“His shows can, for a couple of hours, transform an audience of even so-called coastal elites into a small-town community with an intimacy only radio and its podcast descendants can achieve” -Chris Barton, LA Times

“[Keillor is] an expert at making you feel at home with his low-key, familiar style. Comfortable is his specialty.” -Betsie Freeman, Omaha-World Herald

 

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