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

O Frabjous Day! Callooh, Callay!

The debt limit deal takes an enormous load off my mind, weeks of worrying about what we’d do when the economy crashed and we lose everything and live on the street near a soup kitchen, but now apparently the ship will not sink, and as I understand the deal, the Republicans will raise the debt limit if the Ten Commandments are inscribed on every dollar bill, Disney will make no movies that portray fairies, the southern border will be sealed tight except for food deliveries and migrant farmworkers, all nouns will have the gender of the person speaking, and the word “gay” will simply go away.

I’m willing to give them that. I’m a lib they don’t own. There are other words for “gay” such as “frisky,” “vivacious,” “spiffy,” and “effervescent.” I’ll bet Governor DeSantis has had his effervescent days when he wore bright colors and said frolicsome things, though this has not been evident so far in his campaign for the White House. As for the Current Leading Candidate for the Republican nomination, gaiety seems quite alien. Fulmination is his style. I don’t recall ever seeing a photograph of him petting a dog or hugging a small child or even holding hands with his current wife. So sad, but of course that’s his business, not mine.

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Thou shalt not be dumber than dirt

The bill in the Texas legislature to require public schools to post the Ten Commandments in every classroom means that teachers may need to explain to small children what “adultery” means and also “take the Lord’s name in vain” but the real problem is the commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. A great many public schools send athletic teams to compete in weekend tournaments that make it hard for players to make it home for the Sabbath, especially if they’re Jewish. In Texas, a conflict between football and religious faith is not going to turn out well for religion. And taking the Lord’s name in vain is inextricably intertwined with sports. Golf, especially.

I grew up among devout Christians who did not say “gosh” or “darn it” because they took euphemisms seriously. My mother would say, “Oh fudge” but more likely, “Oh for pity’s sake.” I’m an old man and cursing still feels unnatural to me; I’ll bet plenty of Texas legislators who voted for the T.C. bill curse up a storm.

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Manhattan man living in the past

I was a big shot at one time, which I knew because when I went to work at the office, twelve people suddenly got very busy. I had a popular radio show and I pulled the plug on it not wanting to become a living legend, a last connection to broadcasting’s past when music came on big black vinyl discs and everyone had an ashtray on their desk.

I left Minnesota because there were so many middle-aged people there who loathed the sight of me because they’d been forced by their parents to listen to my show on long car trips and I was afraid one of them might throttle me so I moved to Manhattan where I felt very safe. Now my office is my kitchen and it’s just me and the coffeemaker and the toaster, and eventually my sweetie walks in and says, “What are you doing up so early?”

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Spring once more, what a surprise

I hear from back home that the wretched winter has concluded and the trees blossom and people are allowing themselves to think about resuming normal life though of course Minnesotans know that winter, like COVID, can return at any time and as it says in Ecclesiastes, “What has been is what shall be. One generation comes as another departs. We shovel the walk and the wind blows the neighbor’s unshoveled snow over us, making our labor meaningless. It is what it is.”

It’s not a sunshiny view of life but it serves us well, the stoical It Could Be Worse perspective. Yes, we’re flabby, uncool, discouraged, not flossing regularly, our mental acuity is somewhat diminished from when we were in the eighth grade, we can’t remember passwords, we need a paring knife to try to pry NyQuil out of its tight plastic pods, but at least wild bears are not rampaging across Minneapolis, snarfling up small children. The Mississippi still flows south. We have not been invaded by Wisconsin. The yellow goldfinches come to the feeder. The ducks swim in the pond. The frogs are croaking at night. It stays light later and later. Nobody I know has been caught paying hush money to a porn star.

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What we don’t know we must invent

The past is so fascinating to me now that I have so much of it and last Monday night at a New York nightclub I listened to a big band of men in tuxedos playing 1920s jazz that I heard when I babysat the neighbors’ kids when I was 10, which I did for the chance to watch TV, which we, being Sanctified Brethren, did not have in our home, but these were Lutherans so they did, and after I wore the kids out and got them to bed, I watched old movies about sophisticated people dancing to syncopated rhythms just like what the band was playing. My Brethren considered this music wicked, apt to lead to gin, maybe fornication, but at the age of 10 I found it joyful and I still do.

Brethren music was draggy, even the hymns about joy were sung lamentfully, and the recognition of the happiness of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Tiger Rag” and “Shreveport Stomp” was a tiny step toward independent judgment.

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A day in May sitting in the Park

I go to the park because I don’t read the paper because there are too many celebrities to keep track of like Madonna, My Maia, Meghan Markle, Marla Maples, Mary Murray, Marilyn Manson, Marsha Mason, Marky Mark, Mike Marcus, Melissa McCarthy, Mo’Nique, Moses Maimonides, Lin-Manuel Miranda, not to mention Mitch McConnell and Miss Minnesota — the mind spins at the multiplicity of eminence and immortality that I’ve moved away from mass media and the megaworld and simply go walk in the park and admire the nameless walkers. benchwarmers, birdwatchers, ballplayers, and realize that celebrity being so widespread, it is anonymity that is special. Fame is an old story and the nameless are a delightful mystery.

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Why I am not joining the strike

I salute the Hollywood writers who went out on strike this past week but I can tell you that we essayists won’t be joining them. For one thing, the essay is deeply imbedded in our nation’s very identity (U.S.A.) but for another thing, a national essay strike would be like a National Husbands Day of Silence, most wives wouldn’t care and many wouldn’t notice.

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It’s a good time, there’s none better

I remember when I was six and was allowed to do dishes with my older brother and sister while Mother cleaned the kitchen with Lysol: it was a ceremony, a step into maturity, being entrusted to handle the family china, a mark of maturity for a little boy, and, busy, crowded around the sink, we talked a lot, a big pleasure in a family in which children were not encouraged to speak up. And I made my brother and sister laugh, describing my teacher’s upper arms that bounced as she wrote on the blackboard, that we named Hoppy and Bob, and also when I said that Washington looked like Lincoln’s wife. To think I could amuse my elders was a real spark of self-esteem.

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The beauty of being a guy

When you bang up your knee so it swells up like an elephant’s and it brings tears to your eyes to take a step, the orthopedic guy gives you a knee brace to wear requiring four straps to be wrapped tight around the leg and hooked and held tight by Velcro strips, a piece of equipment that I, a professional humorist with less mechanical ability than the average primate, need to remove every night when I go to bed and reattach in the morning. My wife could do this in a jiffy but I made her go to Minnesota to play the opera (she’s a violist) because I love her and because I don’t want her to see me as a pitiful helpless wretch. You understand.

Why should two people be miserable? One is enough.

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That cold day I was naked in Utah

The writing life is such a good life that I’m grateful all over again that I paid no attention in 11th grade Chemistry and didn’t become a pharmacist and got kicked out of Industrial Arts for being careless with power tools and was sent up to Speech and LaVona Person and recited original limericks for Oral Interp and made the class laugh and thus went down the literary highway. And now I’m hobbling with a cane after a bad fall, one more excuse to not go out to big fundraising dinners but stay home and work on a screenplay. I’m on page 38 and already there are three funerals, it’s a sure hit, a comedy, I need to have my tux let out for the awards ceremony.

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