That Time of Year: Chapter One

THAT TIME OF YEAR: A MINNESOTA LIFE

Prologue

I grew up in a northern town

Ground was flat for miles around

We were fundamentalist

Underwear was in a twist

Aloof, avoiding those in sin

Expecting Jesus to drop in

I was staunch and rather pure

Riding on the Brethren bus

And then I read great literature

Lusty, longing, humorous

Telling us to seize the day

Before the flowers fade away

We were taught obedience

To the Word, God’s Holy Book

But Mother loved comedians

And that was the road I took

And so I bent and smelled the roses

Which God intended, one supposes

And now as life slips away

Just as Scripture said it would

I write this little book to say

Thank you. So far, so good.

Chapter 1: My Life

It’s been an easy life and when I think back, I wish it were a summer morning after a rain and I were loading my bags into the luggage hold of the bus and climbing aboard past Al, the driver, and the bench seats up front to the bunks in back and claiming a low bunk in the rear for myself. We’re about to set off on a twenty-eight-city tour of one-­nighters, two buses, the staff bus and the talent bus (though actually the tech guys, Sam and Thomas and Albert and Tony, have most of the talent and the rest of us just do the best we can). I kiss Jenny goodbye and she envies me, having been on opera and orchestra bus tours herself and loved them. The show band guys sit in front, Rich Dworsky, Chris, Pat and Pete, Andy, Gary or Larry, Richard, Joe, Arnie the drummer, Heather the duet partner on “Under African Skies” and “In My Life” and Greg Brown’s “Early.” Fred Newman is here, Mr. Sound Effects, and we’ll do the Bebopareebop commercial about the meteorite flying into Earth’s atmosphere about to wipe out an entire city when a beluga in heat sings a note that sets off a nuclear missile that deflects the meteorite to the Mojave Desert where it cracks the earth’s crust and hatches prehistoric eggs of pterodactyls, which rise screeching and galumphing toward a tiny town and a Boy Scout camp where a lone bagpiper plays the Lost Chord that pulverizes the pterodactyls’ tiny brains and sends them crashing and gibbering into an arroyo, and I say, “Wouldn’t this be a good time for a piece of rhubarb pie?” and we sing, One little thing can revive a guy, and that is a piece of rhubarb pie. Serve it up nice and hot, maybe things aren’t as bad as you thought.

At the table sits Janis or Jennifer, who has the cellphone that Sam or Kate or Deb will call if there is a crisis. If they called me about a crisis, then they’d have two crises. I sit at a table so I can write on a laptop, but the show is written, the Guy Noir sketch, the commercials, the news from Lake Wobegon about the pontoon boat with the twenty-four Lutheran pastors, the canceled wedding of the veterinary aromatherapist, the boy on the parasail who intends to drop Aunt Evelyn’s ashes in the lake when the boat towing him swerves to avoid the giant duck decoy and he is towed at high speed underwater, which tears his swim trunks off, then naked he rises on a collision course with a hot-air balloon.

The bus is home; everyone has a space. You can sit up front and listen to musicians reminisce and rag on each other or you can lie in your bunk and think your thoughts. The first show is the hardest, a long drive to Appleton, then sound check and show, breakdown, drive to Grand Rapids and arrive at 4 a.m., a long day, and then we get into rhythm, Cedar Rapids, Sioux Falls, Lincoln, Denver, Aspen, Spokane, Seattle, Portland, and on. The bus pulls into a town around 4 or 5 a.m. and you stumble out of your bunk and into a hotel room and sleep and have lunch and head to the venue midafternoon, and each show is mostly the same as the night before, you walk out and sing “Tishomingo Blues”—

O hear that old piano from down the avenue.
I smell the roses, I look around for you.
My sweet old someone coming through that door:
Another day ’n’ the band is playin’. Honey, could we ask for more?

And the show ends with the crowd singing “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” and “Auld Lang Syne” and “Good Night, Ladies” and whatever else comes to mind, and they go home happy, and the bus is sociable, and there is beer and tacos and ice cream bars. You belong to a family engaged in a daring enterprise and you’re on the road and all your troubles are behind you. Sometimes late at night, I imagine climbing on the bus at Tanglewood, past the band guys noodling and jamming and the game of Hearts, and I lie in the back bottom bunk and we pull away, headed for Chautauqua, near Jamestown, New York, and I fall asleep and wake up in Minneapolis and it’s years later.

I was not meant to ride around on a bus and do shows, I grew up Plymouth Brethren who shunned entertainment, Jesus being all-­sufficient for our needs and the Rapture imminent. (The Brethren originated in Plymouth, England, it had nothing to do with the automobile—we were Ford people.) God knew where to find us, on the upper Mississippi River smack dab in the middle of North America, in Minnesota, the icebox state, so narcissism was not available, I was a flatlander like everyone else. We bathed once a week, accepting that we were mammals and didn’t need to smell like vegetation. By the age of three I could spell M-i-ss-i-ss-i-pp-i—one hard word I’ll always get right—and that started me down the road to writing. I had eighteen aunts who praised what I wrote, and they prayed for me, and I have floated along on their prayers. I recited my verse in Sunday School and they praised me for speaking nice and loud and clear, which eventually led to radio. My parents didn’t hug me but my aunts did, Elsie and Jean and Margaret—I stood next to Ruby’s wheelchair and she clung to me, Ruth held me to her great bosom and pressed her wire-rimmed glasses to my head, Eleanor and Bessie hugged, Brethren men didn’t deal in affection but I was rich with aunts and never lacked for love. I was born in 1942, early enough to see the last Union Army veteran, Albert Woolson, in his blue forage cap riding in a parade, and in time to be moved by Jerry Lee Lewis who shook my nerves and rattled my brain. Gettysburg on one side, “Great Balls of Fire” on the other, half of American history in one swoop. I felt destined for good things, thanks to my aunts and because I was 1 person, the son of 2 parents, their 3rd child, born 4 years after my sister and 5 years after my brother, in ’42 (four and two equals 6), on the 7th day of the 8th month in 19—nine, ten—42. I never revealed this magical numerology to anyone; I held it close to my heart. It was a green light on the horizon.

I’m a Scot on my mother’s side, so I come from people who anticipate the worst. Rain is comforting to us, driven by a strong wind. My Grandpa Denham came from Glasgow and never drove a car lest he die in a flaming crash. Mother warned me as a child never to touch my tongue to a clothes pole in winter because I would freeze to it and nobody would hear my pitiful cries because the windows are all shut and I would die, hanging by my tongue. So I imagined I’d die young, which prodded me to make something of myself until now I’m too old to die young and can accept myself as I am, a tall clean-shaven man of 78 who escaped alcoholism, depression, the US Army, a life in academia, and death by hypothermia while hanging by my tongue. My people were Old Testament Christians who believed that God smites people when they’re having too good a time and so, doing shows, I was the stiffest person you ever saw on a stage, I looked intense, solemn, like a street evangelist or a pest exterminator. Laughter doesn’t come easily to me; it’s like bouncing a meatball. Strangers walk up to me and ask, “Is something wrong?” No, I’m a happy man but I come in a thick husk, like sweet corn.

From the age of nine or ten, I was determined to be a writer and didn’t waver from it. This is due to having grown up in a tiny utopian sect that due to its separatist tendencies kept getting smaller. Whatever the opposite of “ecumenical” is, we Brethren were that. We considered Lutherans to be loose. I grew up believing that the Creator of the universe, the solar system, the Milky Way and the Way beyond it had confided in a handful of us, the Faithful Remnant. The whole of Christendom had slid into a slough of error and our little flock of twenty-five or thirty in this room on 14th Avenue South in Minneapolis was in on the Secret. When you believe that, it is no problem to imagine you’ll grow up to write books and be on the radio. Most Brethren preaching sailed over my head but I loved the stories: Noah and his boatload of critters, Jonah and the whale, Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, Bathsheba, the drunken Herod who is seduced by the young dancer who asks the head of a holy man as a favor, Thomas the doubter, Peter the denier. To all appearances, we were normal Midwestern Americans, we wore clean clothes, spoke proper English, took small bites and chewed with our mouths shut, mowed our lawn, played softball and Monopoly and shot baskets, read the paper, were polite to strangers, but in our hearts we anticipated the end of the world. Meanwhile supper was sloppy joes on Monday, spaghetti on Tuesday, chow mein on Wednesday, tuna casserole on Thursday, hamburgers on Friday, fish sticks on Saturday, pot roast on Sunday. We sat down to meals under a wall plaque, JESUS CHRIST IS THE HEAD OF THIS HOUSE, THE UNSEEN GUEST AT EVERY MEAL, THE SILENT LISTENER TO EVERY CONVERSATION. This didn’t encourage loose talk at meals, so we didn’t: conversation was sparse. Philip, Dad, and I sat on one side, Judy, Mother, and the twins on the other, and baby Linda in a high chair at the end. I spooned oatmeal into her and she ate applesauce with her fingers off a plate. Please pass the potatoes and What’s for dessert? was about the extent of conversation. We certainly didn’t talk about bodily functions: diarrhea was “the trots.” We didn’t pee or poop, we “went to the bathroom.” We avoided the expression of personal preference, such as I want to watch TV tonight, and anyway we didn’t have a TV. We had a radio, a big Zenith floor model with stately columns in front and vacuum tubes that gave off heat and a tuning knob the size of a grapefruit. I lay on the floor and listened to Fred Allen and Jack Benny, and sometimes when nobody was around I stood in the hall closet among the winter coats and pretended I was on the radio, using the handle of the Hoover upright vacuum cleaner for a microphone. One day I took the Hoover behind the drapes in the picture window and imagined I was onstage, about to come through the curtain and say, “Hello, everybody, welcome to the Gary Keillor show,” and my older sister knocked on the window. She was outside, weeding the flower bed, laughing at my white Fruit of the Loom underwear. I was so excited about doing the show, I forgot to put on my pants.

My folks were Depression survivors, so they squeezed the toothpaste hard to get the last molecules out of the tube. Mother darned the holes in our socks. Dad was a farm boy and grew up with a big garden and loved fresh strawberries, tomatoes, and sweet corn and couldn’t imagine living on store-bought, and so he purchased an acre of farmland north of Minneapolis and built a house on it and kept a half-acre garden. Mother would’ve preferred a bungalow in south Minneapolis, but Dad got his way and so I grew up a country kid. I was a middle child and was left to my own devices and became secretive, devious, never confided in anyone. As a city kid, I would’ve adopted a gang and become socialized, but instead I was a loner, had very little adult supervision. Mother was busy with the little kids. I could leave the house unnoticed, sit by the river or ride my bike among the cornfields and potato farms, ride for miles into the city past warehouses and factories, penny arcades and cocktail lounges, independent at the age of ten. Nobody told me the city was too dangerous for a kid to ride around on a bike, so thanks to ignorance, I was fearless. I learned to smoke by the age of twelve.

My parents loved each other and stayed in the background as we children worked out our identities. There was no alcohol, no dark silences, no shouting, no slamming doors. I was never struck, though sometimes Mother said she wanted to. Once in a while she said, “You kids are driving me to a nervous breakdown.” And let it go at that. I don’t recall Mother or Dad praising me ever—that was left to Grandma and the aunts. I was a quiet, bookish kid who liked to stand off to the side and observe, which back then people took to mean I was gifted. Today they’d say “high-functioning end of the autism spectrum,” but autism hadn’t been thought up yet so I was free to imagine I was gifted. I was crazy about girls, they were all fascinating, the way they talked, their boldness. Once, when I was eleven, I walked past Julie Christensen’s house and she said, “Do you want to wrestle?” and so we did. She took hold of me and threw me down and pulled my shirt up over my head and sat on me. It was thrilling. She said, “Let’s see you try to get up.” I didn’t want to get up. She kissed me on the lips and said, “If you tell, I will beat the crap out of you.” She was a freethinker. She taught me to sing the Doxology to the tune of “Hernando’s Hideaway.” (Sometimes I look at my wife and think of Julie. I never was in therapy—you are the first person I’ve told this to.)

I was an indifferent student in high school and college, which served to limit my career possibilities, which were further limited by having no social skills thanks to growing up Plymouth Brethren, who taught us to avoid defilement by standing apart from those in Error, i.e., everyone on Earth. But I had good jobs—I washed dishes and I was a parking lot attendant and then a classical music announcer, which is like parking cars except you don’t yell at anybody. For a few weeks one summer I ran a manure spreader and did it about as well as a person could. The next summer I was a camp counselor and led three canoeloads of thirteen-year-olds across an enormous wilderness lake, a black sky above, lightning on the horizon, and I instilled confidence in them even as I was shitting in my shorts. Back then, a state university education was dirt cheap, and I incurred no debt so I could entertain the notion of becoming a writer. I wrote dark stories, Salingeristic, Kafkaesque, Orwellian, O’Connorly (Flannery, not Frank), exhaled cigarette smoke with authorly elegance and looked down upon engineers in their polyester plaid shirts with plastic pocket protectors who were busy designing the digital world we live in today. I was in the humanities, where existentialism was very big back then though nobody knew what it was exactly nor even approximately, which made it possible for even an ignorant twerp to expound upon it. At the U, I identified as a liberal Democrat for protective coloring but I had conservative leanings, was scornful of bureaucracies, unions, popular movements, and venerated the past and intended to make my own way and create work that would earn money on the free market, preferably satire that goes against the prevailing tide. I am still a Brethren boy. A little profanity I can tolerate but obscenity turns me away. I have agnostic friends but I don’t tolerate intolerance of religious faith. Scripture is clear about how to treat strangers and foreigners, any race or creed or gender, they are brothers and sisters. Life is a gift and we need be wise in the knowledge of death.

My true education was the deaths of four of my heroes, all four not much older than I, earthshaking deaths. My cousin Roger drowned at seventeen, a week before his high school graduation, diving into Lake Minnetonka to impress Susan whom he wanted to be his girlfriend, although surely he knew he couldn’t swim. I admired him, a sharp dresser, a cool guy, his slightly lopsided grin, his disregard for sports, his fondness for girls. Two years later, Buddy Holly crashed in a small plane in Iowa. I heard the news on the radio. It turned out that the young pilot was not qualified to fly by instrument at night, but, unable to say no to a rock ’n’ roll star, he took off into the dark and flew the plane into the ground and killed everyone in it. Two years later, Barry Halper, who hired me for my first radio job and became my good friend, who was smart, stylish, Jewish, had been to Las Vegas and met famous comedians, drove one afternoon east of St. Paul and crashed his convertible into the rear of a school bus and died at the age of twenty. And a year later, my classmate Leeds Cutter from Anoka, a year older than I, the smartest guy at our table in the lunchroom, who talked about why he loved Beethoven, how he’d go to law school but make a life as a farmer and raise a family, who was in love with my friend Corinne, who said, “I never do easy things right and I hardly ever do hard things wrong,” was killed by a drunk driver while riding home from the U. He was nineteen.

I felt the wrongness of their deaths, the goodness lost, the damage done to the world, and felt responsible to live my life on their behalf and embrace what they were denied, the chance to rise and shine and find a vocation. They didn’t know each other, but I see them as a foursome, Barry, Buddy, Leeds, and Roger. They were my elders and now they’re my grandsons. They each died in swift seconds of violence and the thought of them gives me peace. I promise to love this life I was given and do my best to deserve it. I carry you boys forever in my heart. You keep getting younger and I am still looking up to you. Life without end. Amen.

After college, I was hired by a rural radio station to do the 6 a.m. shift Monday to Friday, because nobody else wanted to get up so early. I worked alone in the dark and learned to be useful and clearly imagine the audience and do my best to amuse them. In my twenties I sent a story by US mail to a famous magazine in New York, as did every other writer in America, and mine was fished out of the soup by a kind soul named Mary D. Kierstead, who sent it up to the editors and they paid me $500 at a time when my rent was $80 a month and that was the clincher, that and the radio gig, my course in life was set, everything else is a footnote.

A few years later I went to see the famous Grand Ole Opry radio show in Nashville and decided to start something like it of my own. My boss, Bill Kling, against all common sense, approved of this. I had lost a short story about a town called Lake Wobegon in the men’s room of the Portland, Oregon, train station, and the loss of it made the story ever more beautiful in my mind, and, thinking I might recall it, I told stories about the town on the radio and also wrote books, including one, Pontoon, about which the New York Times said, “a tough-minded book . . . full of wistfulness and futility yet somehow spangled with hope,” which is no easy thing for an ex–Plymouth Brethrenist, to get the wistful futility and also spangle it, but evidently I did.

My great accomplishment was to gain competence at work for which I had no aptitude, a solitary guy with low affect who learned to stand in front of four million people and talk and enjoy it. I did this because the work I had aptitude for—lawn mowing, dishwashing, parking cars—I didn’t want to get old doing that. I preferred to tell stories. My first book, Happy to Be Here, published when I was forty, earned the money to buy a big green frame house on Goodrich Avenue in St. Paul. People noticed this. A renter for twenty years, I wrote a book and bought a house. In warm weather, I sat on the front porch and people walked by and looked. That era is over. Now you can get an unlimited Kindle subscription for pocket change and a successful book will buy you an umbrella tent. I am lucky I lived when I did.

I also became the founder and host and writer of a radio variety show of a sort that died when I was a child, for which I stood onstage every Saturday, no paper in hand, and talked about an imaginary town for twenty minutes. It was the easiest thing I ever did, easier than ­fatherhood, ­citizenship, home maintenance, vacationing in Florida, everything. I wrote five pages of story on Friday, looked it over on Saturday morning, went out onstage and remembered what was memorable and forgot the fancy stuff, the metaphors, the subjunctive, the irony, most of it at least.

Lake Wobegon was all about the ordinary, about birds and dogs, the unexpected appearance of a porcupine or a bear, the crankiness of old men, the heartache of parenthood, communal events, big holidays, the café and the tavern, ritual and ceremony, the mystery of God’s perfection watching over so much human cluelessness. The tragedy of success: you raise your kids to be ambitious strivers and succeed and they wind up independent, far away, hardly recognizable, your grandkids are strangers with new fashionable names. The small town is strict, authoritarian, and your children prefer urban laxity and anonymity. There was no overarching story, few relationships to keep track of; it was mostly impressionistic. The ordinariness of a Minnesota small town gave me freedom from political correctness, no need to check the right boxes. In Lake Wobegon society, ethnicity was mostly for amusement, and Catholic v. Lutheran was the rivalry of neighbors.

I did Lake Wobegon pretty well, as I could tell from the number of people who asked me, “Was that true?” The Tomato Butt story was true and the homecoming talent show. The stories about winter were true. The story about being French was not true. Or the orphanage story. But I did have an Uncle Jim who farmed with horses and I rode on Prince’s back to go help him with the haying as Grandma baked bread in a woodstove oven.

I never was a deckhand on an ore boat in a storm on the Great Lakes, the Old Man at the wheel, water crashing over the bow and smashing into the wheelhouse, running empty in thirty-foot seas, navigation equipment lost, and the Old Man said to me, “Get on the radio and stay on the radio so the Coast Guard can give us a location,” and I went on the radio and sang and told jokes for two hours and the ship made it safely to port, and that was how I got into radio. That was my invention, to demonstrate my facility. Hailstones the size of softballs smashed into my radio shack on the rear deck as I told Ole and Lena jokes. A story about a lonely guy in marital anguish wouldn’t have served the purpose.

One true story I never told was about Corinne Guntzel, whom I met when we were six years old and rode a toboggan down a steep hill and onto the frozen Mississippi River. It was thrilling. Later, she got the same excitement from beating up on me about politics. She was a college socialist and smarter and better-read and I argued innocently that art is what changes the world, which she scoffed at, of course. I loved her and thought about marrying her but feared rejection, so I married her cousin instead and then her best friend, after which Corinne killed herself. It’s not a story to be told at parties.

But the best story is about the day in New York I had lunch with a woman from my hometown of Anoka and had the good sense to fall in love with her. I was fifty, she was thirty-five. I am a Calvinist, she’s a violinist. We talked and talked, we laughed, we walked, we went to the opera, we married at St. Michael’s on 99th and Amsterdam, we begat a daughter. Now, twenty-five years later, she and I live in Minneapolis, near Loring Park, across from the old Eitel Hospital where my mother was a nurse, near the hotel where I worked as a dishwasher the summer after high school and learned to smoke Lucky Strikes, a block from Walker Art Center, where Suzanne Weil produced the first Prairie Home Companion shows. My old apartments are nearby and fancy neighborhoods I walked in back in my stringency days. I like having history around to help keep my head on straight and ward off delusion.

I had relatives who used outhouses and now I walk into a men’s room and pee in a urinal and step back and it automatically flushes. I walk around with a device in my pocket the size of a half-slice of bread and I can call my daughter in London or read the Times or do a search for “Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed. To comprehend a nectar requires sorest need.” It’s a world of progress.

When I go live in the Home for the Confused, I’ll sit in a sunny corner and tell stories to myself. When my time is up, they’ll wrap me in a sheet and truck me back to Anoka and the Keillor cemetery fifteen minutes north of where I was born and plant me with my aunts and uncles on whom the stories of Lake Wobegon were based. I got a lot of pleasure out of writing them up, and so it’s right I should lie down there in a cemetery where Aunt Jo used to send me over to mow the grass and trim around the gravestones. Dad’s cousin Joe Loucks is here, who drowned in the Rum River in 1927: a dozen boys formed a human chain into the river to rescue him and he slipped from their grasp. Now they are here too. Old farmers are here, also an astrophysicist, a banker, a few salesmen, a cousin who died of a botched abortion by a doctor in town. Some had more than their share of suffering. My cousins Shannon, Philip, William, and Alec are here, all younger than I. When I was young, I was eager to escape the family, but death is inescapable and I’ll be collected into their midst at last. A brief ceremony, no eulogy, no need to mourn a man who had an easy life. Lower him down and everybody grab a shovel. Either there will be a hereafter or I will be unaware that there is not. I believe there will be. I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, nor our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen and amen.

 

© Garrison Keillor, 2020


That Time of Year: A Minnesota Life is out December 1, 2020 via Arcade Publishing.

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Mr. Socialist confesses a love of opera

Free enterprise is fascinating, especially for us socialist communists who want to make the world into a dormitory with a cafeteria where on Mondays everyone has mac and cheese and on Tuesdays franks and beans, and so forth, but with free enterprise you get to see old empires crash and bold upstarts take over the town, such as Uber and Lyft have done to the taxi trade. I’m a taxi fan, especially in New York, a great old taxi town where sometimes you run into a growly old cabbie right out of the movies who says, “Where to, bud?” and all the way through town he denounces the rich and famous, but nostalgia is no competition against smart technology.

You go on your app and it knows your location and you punch in “Where to” and in less than a minute it tells you that Muhamed will pick you up in three minutes and the charge will be $26.78 and three minutes later Muhamed rolls up. The cost goes to your credit card on file along with your designated tip. Muhamed is from Libya and doesn’t know the city like the old cabbie does but the lady in the dashboard gives him precise directions and he does very well. What’s not to like?

Free enterprise can be brutal. In New York, a couple years ago, owners of taxi medallions, the city-issued license to own a cab, conspired to drive the prices up, and corrupt lenders offered loans at high interest rates, and thousands of drivers got taken to the cleaners, just as the pandemic hit and Uber and Lyft were growing, and the Times reported nearly a thousand bankruptcies and eight driver suicides in one year.

So when I’m in New York, sometimes I hail a cab, out of socialist sympathy, but Uber and Lyft have come up with a better light bulb.

Capitalists say that you have to drown a few puppies in order to achieve progress, but I come from Minnesota, which is a socialist state in the sense that we identify with victims and feel guilty about whatever success we’ve achieved. In New York, success is admired and people love to go see Broadway stars on stage and world-famous sopranos at the Met and we expect the Philharmonic to be up to international standards. In Minnesota, we feel sorry for the sopranos who failed the audition, especially if they come from a dysfunctional family of modest means that couldn’t afford to hire a first-rate music teacher. We would support an opera company devoted to hiring disadvantaged singers rather than the shining stars and why not have them perform operas that have been rejected by other companies? Enough with the Puccini and Mozart, those guys have had their chance, let’s do the work of Tiffany Tufford and DuWayne DeVore. This strikes us as a Christian thing to do.

If you search through the homeless encampments and the treatment programs for substance abuse, you will find folks who used to play musical instruments, and why not hire them for your orchestra rather than privileged children from middle-class homes who took lessons from pros and majored in music at Juilliard?

Elitism is suspect in Minnesota, and this new opera company — let’s call it The Progressive Opera — would find a good deal of support. People would donate money to democratize opera who likely would not attend performances. This is where the idea of socialist art falls down. Art is visceral, it lifts you up or it lets you down, you can’t talk yourself into loving it. Puccini’s Madame Butterfly is so great that even if performed by the Grand Forks Opera Company by Lutheran singers, it will move you, and when you hear “Un bel dì” you will feel the tragedy, even if it’s Allison Nelson and not Anna Netrebko. But when they dump Puccini in favor of a justly neglected composer, the ship sinks. Nobody wants to sit in an auditorium and watch crappy shows except the relatives of people on stage and they’re only good for one performance.

So you’d need to give away sets of glassware or sell lottery tickets and the winner gets a trip to New York to see Bruce Springsteen on Broadway. People pay hundreds of bucks for those tickets who wouldn’t pay much to see my nephew Bruce Butler, the garage door tycoon in South Carolina. I just talked to him on the phone for an hour and he’s a good man, genuine and funny, but garage doors (unless you know something that I don’t) are not great art.

The darkness descends and I talk to friends

“Omicron” sounds like a pharmaceutical, an omnipotent drug against deadly microbes of a chronic nature, but it’s a flu variant just setting foot in America, whose ingenuity is not yet known, so we have one more excuse to stay home and not go to big fundraising dinners or games where unmasked people stand close together and sing the school fight song, emitting clouds of droplets in the air with every “Fight, fight, fight” and “Rah, rah, rah.” I am scheduled to do some Christmas shows hither and yon and am debating whether I should, as I normally would, invite the audience to sing the song about all being calm and bright. I’ll certainly scratch the song about the figgy pudding but “Silent Night”? All of Christmas is in this lullaby. You could skip the stockings, the cranberries, the tree with the tiny lightbulbs, and if you and your loved ones only sang about the quaking shepherds, you’d have Christmas in your heart, which is where it belongs.

Some of my Danish relatives are crossing the Atlantic to join me for Christmas and we’ve made a solemn compact that it will be modest, and not the gaudy jamboree that the Danes put on. They call it Yule, which they spell “j-u-l,” and thereby leave Jesus out of it, and they cook a goose and hang real candles on the tree and light them and dance around it, singing, and polish off a good deal of mulled wine and by sunset on the 25th, the nation is fairly unconscious. A boatload of Swedes could cross the Storebælt and take over the country, but then they’d need to learn the language, and why bother? There are vowels in Danish that are pronounced low in the throat and can induce gagging.

So we shall light a candle at midnight and sing the song, and I’ll make turkey sandwiches on the Day and we’ll pick up a couple pine boughs from the corner Christmas tree stand, and we’ll sit and converse.

This is one benefit of the pandemic, the rediscovery of conversation. My interest in adding COVID to my list of life experiences is minimal and so we’ve seen few people this year, other than passersby, and we’ve rediscovered Mr. Bell’s telephone, a wondrous gift, especially now that the curly cord is gone and you can carry it everywhere. I was once in the radio business and so telephone conversation comes naturally to me.

I’m a writer and my best work is done before noon, which leaves plenty of time for palaver, and I have a dozen regulars on my list, and another couple dozen occasionals, and this dispels loneliness very nicely. I don’t do FaceTime because I have a forbidding face as a result of growing up fundamentalist. I walk down the street and small children look at me and cling to their mothers. I look like Cotton Mather with a migraine. But on the phone, I can be actually sort of charming.

So I am at home with my love who orders food to be delivered by a masked man and she reads hygienic e-books from the public library while I write a screenplay and we play Scrabble on a board cleaned with antiseptic wipes, same as our phones and our pillowcases. We go for walks but we avoid runners who are breathing hard. We do not talk to unvaccinated persons on the phone. When we receive mail from states with high COVID rates, we boil it for seven minutes.

I notice in my phone conversations that I seldom hear people say, “When we get back to normal” or “When this is all over.” People don’t talk about plans for next year, they talk about next weekend. I worry about our kids and grandkids who have decades ahead of them, on whom uncertainty must weigh heavily. I worry about Minneapolis, my mother’s beloved hometown, where, in her old neighborhood, shootings and stickups are commonplace. I worry about how the Supreme Court might rule if asked to defend the right of high school students to carry a loaded weapon to class. And what is the constitutional basis for compulsory school attendance? Why shouldn’t six-year-olds be free to take factory jobs? Their little hands would be perfect for assembling small parts.

I think about these things but it’s not what we talk about on the phone. I believe in cheerfulness. If the subject of death comes up, I sing: “Ole lay on his deathbed, he knew he was going to die. And then he got a little whiff of Lena’s rhubarb pie. He crept down to the kitchen; there it was, he let out a moan. Lena whacked him upside the head, she said, ‘That’s for the funeral, leave it alone.’” Thank you for your attention and goodbye.

December is here, it is perfectly clear

Minnesota beat Wisconsin Saturday so hope is restored, the heart is lightened, and I am ready to enter the darkness of December unafraid. I got up early Sunday morning, grateful for the sensor in the bathroom that switches on the light when my physical form breaks an invisible beam. “Let there be light,” as the Creator once said, though He Himself has excellent night vision, and it felt good to be recognized as I stepped, half-asleep, over the threshold and all was made clear, the sink and mirror, the shower, the towel rack, and my target below, and I thought of Wisconsin and let fly.

Six a.m. and the city is only faintly enlightened. My early jobs as a dishwasher and parking lot attendant began at 6 a.m. and I remember this dimness well. It changed my life. I stayed home at night and went to bed early and postponed debauchery to my mid-twenties and then, at the age of 27, I got a job on the 5 a.m. shift and postponed it again. A dear friend of mine, whose parents subsidized her fully, went out late one night and fell in with some fascinating strangers who introduced her to hashish and some other substance and she fell into a psychotic state and had to be hospitalized and spent some time in a drug program where she met more fascinating troubled people and it changed her life. She never found a vocation. Instead, she became fascinated by her own disability and made a career of being troubled, married a troubled man who abused her, and today she’s in a nursing home somewhere, a faint replica of the witty woman she once was, and I am waiting for the coffee to brew so I can get back to work on a novel. Early to bed and early to rise makes for a life that, if not wealthy and wise, is at least pleasant and sensible.

The kitchen is dark because our friend Terry is sleeping in the guest room, which is just off the kitchen. She’s in town to play in The Nutcracker ballet, a difficult part that she’s played a thousand times so she has it down cold and can enjoy the comedy of the orchestra pit, the squawks and squeaks of the reeds, the smirks of the strings when the smart-aleck violinist screws up, the grimaces and snickers at the conductor who can’t conduct his way out of a paper sack, and she comes home and gives us a hilarious close-up account. To the audience, it may be pure magic, the Sugar Plum Fairy and all, but in the pit, it’s a human comedy.

I don’t turn the light on. I can hear the coffee dripping. I deliberate whether I shall go to church at 10 a.m. and it seems that I shall not; I am not in a proper frame of mind, being still exultant over beating Wisconsin. We were down 10-3 at halftime but the defense held and we won 23-13. Wisconsin has been kicking us around for years, thanks to their Teutonic culture, so this victory means a lot, sort of like D-Day or the Battle of the Bulge. I shouldn’t walk into church with this baggage. My sins are selfishness and ingratitude and animosity, and in the early morning, I’m very aware of my loved ones asleep in other rooms and am thankful for the cardiologist who implanted the defibrillator in my upper left chest, but I’m not ready to give up animosity.

I have two enemies, one in Fargo and one in Minneapolis, and I intend to forgive them someday but the defibrillator is postponing that day, and so I hope for them to have wagered their homes and retirement accounts on the Badgers of Wisconsin, a sure bet, and watched Minnesota march to victory, and heard the debt collectors pull up in the driveway, and hours later found themselves sleeping off a bad drunk in the bus depot with no place to go but their great aunt Flossie’s in Wausau, the one with the German shepherd Rolf and the picture of Joe McCarthy on the bedroom wall and the Victrola with the 78 of Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries.

And then I pour my coffee and turn on a light and pick up a pen and write, “Minnesota beat Wisconsin Saturday so hope is restored, the heart is lightened, and I am ready to enter the darkness of December unafraid.” And the rest is easy as pumpkin pie.

Where I was last night and what I saw

Midnight and one a.m. and two, and the mind is racing around the track with lights flashing, me at the wheel but the wheel doesn’t respond, it’s a whirl of thoughts in chain reaction and I know I should turn on a light and read for a while, maybe a math book or Egyptian history, but I lie in the dark and excavate old episodes of my life, and not the happy ones. Playground bullies emerge who, if they’re alive, are ancient old men like me, but in my mind they’re fresh and eager, tormenting sensitive me, daring me to respond. I ignore them, as I tend to do still. Then Hitler appears. The war isn’t over. The Third Reich is in London, my Danish daughter is in danger, the Nazis have the A-bomb, so I drag myself back to the torments of the playground, a sweet slender boy with nicely combed hair and wire-rimmed glasses. And the thought leaps out at me: I was so nice, am I gay? Gay men are terribly nice, you know. By the age of 79, a man should know the answer, but my mind rolls it around. I decide I’m not, having had many girlfriends and no boyfriends. Also, I spill and I have no fashion sense. I could pass for a homeless person.

Now it’s three a.m. I had evacuated the marital bed out of simple courtesy, lest Hitler awaken my wife, and now I return, silently, like a thief, and the silence awakens her. “Can I go back to sleep?” she says. She is the designated worrier in the family. She listens to the radio at night, to drive worry away, but it’s the BBC so she lies awake worrying about codfishermen and Lebanon and Prince Harry and Meghan. I’ve always been a good sleeper but am quite awake at three and so is she, I can tell by the way she sighs. I wonder if insomnia is contagious. I wonder if in her mind it’s 1992 and she’s walking into that restaurant to meet me for the first time and spots me, tall, unkempt and yet pretentious, and thinks, “Oh no. Get me out of here. Not this.”

It’s a wild night, like the bumper cars at the state fair, memories crashing around, I walk down the Mall of the U of M campus and I skip my Milton class and decide to major in folk music instead, the CEO who fired me and was himself dismissed is hitchhiking in the rain and my right front wheel hits the mud puddle exactly right and turns him dark brown from toes to crown, I am offered the Nobel Prize, which I decline with a very noble speech about equality in the arts.

I guess I slept some. I awoke at nine. It’s ten-thirty now. I’ve had breakfast with my wife who is extremely funny describing her niece’s two children, a smart boy and a popular girl, fighting a guerilla war, and then she leaves for Boston where I’ll join her tomorrow. On her way out, she gives me detailed instructions, which I should write down but do not, choosing to live dangerously. And it dawns on me that since nine o’clock, I have been deliriously happy. Insomnia is supposed to leave you exhausted and depressed. I hear my mother saying, “You work too hard, you need your sleep.” She lay awake many a night, worrying about us six kids, she told me so when she was old. Then added, “But you were worth it.”

I think the mind needs now and then to be released from a lifetime of harness and who needs LSD when hallucinations come to you naturally? It was a wild night and as I write it down I’m aware that I’m remembering only a few slivers of it. It makes me wonder about the little defibrillator that the cardiologist installed in my chest a couple weeks ago: is there a secret feature of it that twice a month like clockwork stimulates the brain to take free flight in the universe. If so, I guess I am in favor, though I’d rather the brain did this of its own accord.

It’s good to get off the racetrack and resume normal life. Hitler was defeated. Life is good. The sun shines and we rise from our tangled beds and resume our purposes in the world. The blessed America will survive the festivals of dismay and rise to the challenge of the century, which is to save the planet from ourselves. Thank you, Irving Berlin, for writing that great song.

Garrison Keillor © 11.26.21

https://www.garrisonkeillor.com/where-i-was-last-night-and-what-i-saw

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

December 10, 2021

Friday

7:30 p.m.

Bridge View Center, Ottumwa, IA

Ottumwa, IA

Dec 10 in Ottumwa Iowa Keillor & Company: A PRAIRIE HOME HOLIDAY. Let’s come together for a Christmas sing-along, some Poetry, the News from Lake Wobegon and some holiday cheer with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard.

December 11, 2021

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Rialto Square Theatre, Joliet, IL

Joliet, IL

Dec 11 in Joliet, IL Keillor & Company: A PRAIRIE HOME HOLIDAY. Let’s come together for a Christmas sing-along, some Poetry, the News from Lake Wobegon and some holiday cheer with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard.

December 12, 2021

Sunday

7:30 p.m.

Holland Civic Center, Holland, MI

Holland, MI

Keillor & Company: A PRAIRIE HOME HOLIDAY. Let’s come together for a Christmas sing-along, some Poetry, the News from Lake Wobegon and some holiday cheer with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard.

January 21, 2022

Friday

7:30 p.m.

Reynolds Hall, The Smith Center

Las Vegas, NV

Garrison Keillor brings his show: “Stories from Lake Wobegon” to the Smith Center in Las Vegas, NV

January 27, 2022

Thursday

12:00 p.m.

Carrollton Cultural Arts Center (Lobby), Carrollton, GA

Carrollton, GA Luncheon

Garrison Keillor will join guests for a casual Luncheon in the Lobby of the Carrollton Cultural Arts Center, where he will talk about how it all began and where he thinks he is going. 12:00 PM

January 28, 2022

Friday

7:30 p.m.

Carrollton Cultural Arts Center, Carrollton, GA

Carrollton, GA

Garrison Keillor and the Hopefuls (Robin and Linda Williams) comes to the Carrollton Cultural Arts Center for an Evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 7:30 PM

buy tickets

February 4, 2022

Friday

7:30 p.m.

High Point Theatre, High Point, NC

High Point, NC

Garrison Keillor and the Hopeful Gospel Quartet come to the High Point Theatre for an Evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 7:30 PM

buy tickets

February 5, 2022

Saturday

7:00 PM

The Wayne Theatre, Waynesboro, VA

Waynesboro, VA

Garrison Keillor and the Hopeful Gospel Quartet come to The Wayne Theatre for an Evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 7:00PM

buy tickets

March 4, 2022

Friday

8:00 p.m.

The Kent Stage, Kent, OH

Kent, OH

March 4 in Kent, OH Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

March 6, 2022

Sunday

7:30 p.m.

Virginia Theatre, Champaign, IL

Champaign, IL

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Willa Cather was born on this day, 1913. On writing, she said, “If I made a chore of it, my enthusiasm would die…I make it an adventure every day.”

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, December 6, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, December 6, 2021

It’s children’s writer Susanna Moodie’s birthday today. Born 1903 in England, she wrote about frontier life in Canada, compared to the Little House books, but with the goal of discouraging English people from undertaking the adventure.

Read More
A Prairie Home Companion: December 11, 2004

A Prairie Home Companion: December 11, 2004

A 2004 Fitzgerald show with Howard Levy, Andy Stein and the Tannenbaum String Quartet and the House of Hope Church School Choir.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, December 5, 2021

“Do not whine… Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.” – Joan Didion, born on this day in 1934.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, December 4, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, December 4, 2021

It’s the birthday of mystery writer Cornell Woolrich (1903) whose stories were often adapted for radio and film, including “The Bride Wore Black” and “Night Has a Thousand Eyes.”

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, December 3, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, December 3, 2021

This day in 1947 the play “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams premiered on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, December 2, 2021

“People like to ask me if writing can be taught, and I say yes… but I can’t teach you how to have something to say.”—Ann Patchett, born on this day 1963.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, December 1, 2021

On this day in 1860 the first two chapters of Charles Dickens’ novel “Great Expectations” were published.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, November 30, 2021

“A successful book is not made of what is in it, but of what is left out of it”– Mark Twain, born Samuel Clemens in Florida, Missouri on this day in 1835.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, November 29, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, November 29, 2021

November 29th celebrates the birth of Madeleine L’Engle author of “A Wrinkle in Time,”and Louisa May Alcott author of “Little Women”, and C.S. Lewis, author of “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

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Writing

Mr. Socialist confesses a love of opera

Free enterprise is fascinating, especially for us socialist communists who want to make the world into a dormitory with a cafeteria where on Mondays everyone has mac and cheese and on Tuesdays franks and beans, and so forth, but with free enterprise you get to see old empires crash and bold upstarts take over the town, such as Uber and Lyft have done to the taxi trade. I’m a taxi fan, especially in New York, a great old taxi town where sometimes you run into a growly old cabbie right out of the movies who says, “Where to, bud?” and all the way through town he denounces the rich and famous, but nostalgia is no competition against smart technology.

You go on your app and it knows your location and you punch in “Where to” and in less than a minute it tells you that Muhamed will pick you up in three minutes and the charge will be $26.78 and three minutes later Muhamed rolls up. The cost goes to your credit card on file along with your designated tip. Muhamed is from Libya and doesn’t know the city like the old cabbie does but the lady in the dashboard gives him precise directions and he does very well. What’s not to like?

Read More

The darkness descends and I talk to friends

“Omicron” sounds like a pharmaceutical, an omnipotent drug against deadly microbes of a chronic nature, but it’s a flu variant just setting foot in America, whose ingenuity is not yet known, so we have one more excuse to stay home and not go to big fundraising dinners or games where unmasked people stand close together and sing the school fight song, emitting clouds of droplets in the air with every “Fight, fight, fight” and “Rah, rah, rah.” I am scheduled to do some Christmas shows hither and yon and am debating whether I should, as I normally would, invite the audience to sing the song about all being calm and bright. I’ll certainly scratch the song about the figgy pudding but “Silent Night”? All of Christmas is in this lullaby. You could skip the stockings, the cranberries, the tree with the tiny lightbulbs, and if you and your loved ones only sang about the quaking shepherds, you’d have Christmas in your heart, which is where it belongs.

Some of my Danish relatives are crossing the Atlantic to join me for Christmas and we’ve made a solemn compact that it will be modest, and not the gaudy jamboree that the Danes put on. They call it Yule, which they spell “j-u-l,” and thereby leave Jesus out of it, and they cook a goose and hang real candles on the tree and light them and dance around it, singing, and polish off a good deal of mulled wine and by sunset on the 25th, the nation is fairly unconscious. A boatload of Swedes could cross the Storebælt and take over the country, but then they’d need to learn the language, and why bother? There are vowels in Danish that are pronounced low in the throat and can induce gagging.

Read More

December is here, it is perfectly clear

 Minnesota beat Wisconsin Saturday so hope is restored, the heart is lightened, and I am ready to enter the darkness of December unafraid. I got up early Sunday morning, grateful for the sensor in the bathroom that switches on the light when my physical form breaks an invisible beam. “Let there be light,” as the Creator once said, though He Himself has excellent night vision, and it felt good to be recognized as I stepped, half-asleep, over the threshold and all was made clear, the sink and mirror, the shower, the towel rack, and my target below, and I thought of Wisconsin and let fly.

Six a.m. and the city is only faintly enlightened. My early jobs as a dishwasher and parking lot attendant began at 6 a.m. and I remember this dimness well. It changed my life. I stayed home at night and went to bed early and postponed debauchery to my mid-twenties and then, at the age of 27, I got a job on the 5 a.m. shift and postponed it again. A dear friend of mine, whose parents subsidized her fully, went out late one night and fell in with some fascinating strangers who introduced her to hashish and some other substance and she fell into a psychotic state and had to be hospitalized and spent some time in a drug program where she met more fascinating troubled people and it changed her life. She never found a vocation. Instead, she became fascinated by her own disability and made a career of being troubled, married a troubled man who abused her, and today she’s in a nursing home somewhere, a faint replica of the witty woman she once was, and I am waiting for the coffee to brew so I can get back to work on a novel. Early to bed and early to rise makes for a life that, if not wealthy and wise, is at least pleasant and sensible.

Read More

Where I was last night and what I saw

Midnight and one a.m. and two, and the mind is racing around the track with lights flashing, me at the wheel but the wheel doesn’t respond, it’s a whirl of thoughts in chain reaction and I know I should turn on a light and read for a while, maybe a math book or Egyptian history, but I lie in the dark and excavate old episodes of my life, and not the happy ones. Playground bullies emerge who, if they’re alive, are ancient old men like me, but in my mind they’re fresh and eager, tormenting sensitive me, daring me to respond. I ignore them, as I tend to do still. Then Hitler appears. The war isn’t over. The Third Reich is in London, my Danish daughter is in danger, the Nazis have the A-bomb, so I drag myself back to the torments of the playground, a sweet slender boy with nicely combed hair and wire-rimmed glasses. And the thought leaps out at me: I was so nice, am I gay? Gay men are terribly nice, you know. By the age of 79, a man should know the answer, but my mind rolls it around. I decide I’m not, having had many girlfriends and no boyfriends. Also, I spill and I have no fashion sense. I could pass for a homeless person.

Read More

A call to action: ignorant persons, unite

Personally I like the statue of Theodore Roosevelt on a horse standing majestically in front of the Museum of Natural History in New York, which I often pass on walks and so I’ve followed the controversy about the statue, along with the debate about the statue of Columbus at Columbus Circle.

The statue removalists argue that Roosevelt and Columbus were guilty of inappropriate treatment of indigenous people and so don’t deserve this prominence. The removalists, I’m sure, have done their homework and especially in the case of Columbus could cite cruel and outrageous deeds and I respect their seriousness. There’s an avenue named for Columbus and a university, plus the Circle, and you could change them all to Smith and it’s no problem for me. The statue in the Circle stands on a very high pedestal so as to make it harder for pigeons to defecate on him, so high that his gender is not clear, and I seldom bother to look up.

The mounted Roosevelt statue, it was announced last week, will be removed to Medora, North Dakota, where he spent some pleasant time living the life of a cowboy out west and refashioned himself as a man on horseback, which made it possible for him to be elected president. Medora is a town of 129 people, and I imagine they’ll be thrilled to get this work of art, which may attract people who’ll then stop in a café, have lunch, buy postcards, a souvenir blanket, coffee mugs, teddy bears, and so on. In New York, the statue is no big deal, just a guy on a horse.

Read More

An old liberal repents and comes out for order

I used to make fun of law and order as “lawn order” but I don’t anymore. I was a motorist then and now I’m a pedestrian, and when you get down off your horse, you feel the value of civil order, it isn’t just an idea anymore. This happened when we took up residence in New York where having a car is mainly a hindrance, like owning a camel. Parking regulations alone can drive you nuts: Parking On Odd-Numbered Days Except Between 4 and 6 a.m. And During Snowstorms Of More Than Two Inches. And then there are times when traffic slows to 2 mph. So you walk.

I like New York because my wife loves it for the museums, theater, friends, and Central Park. If it were up to me, I’d go back to the log cabin in the woods where I lived when I met her, but here I am and it’s okay. But whenever I hear that awful song (“Start spreading the news”) I have to leave the room. New York life is not about being “king of the hill, top of the heap,” it’s about appreciating civil order.

Read More

Forget politics, let’s talk about something fun

I woke up this morning realizing that “woke” is now gone from the political vocabulary. It’s only used as an insult by people who never knew what it was about. The Democrats lost the Virginia election because they nominated an old hack; wokeness had nothing to do with it. “Woke” was an arrogant term never used by mature people except ironically. The fact is, we all have our weird biases and prejudices, I do, you do, it does, they do, and the point is to get a grip and be sweet. Or at least be civil.

Now that that’s settled, let’s talk about sex. We know each other well enough by now. I’ve read other columnists beating up on Democrats for being in disarray and I’ve thought, “I wonder if Mr. Grumpy just needs someone to put their arm around him and lead him upstairs to bed.” And Thanksgiving is coming and I am thankful for what that girl inspired in me who sat ahead of me in Sunday night gospel meeting in her short-sleeved blouse through one sleeve of which I could see a slight crescent of underwear. I was eleven or twelve and the preacher was talking about eternity in the smoking cauldrons of perdition as if it were scheduled for later in the evening and somehow this only intensified my interest in underwear. I’m sorry if this offends you, I am only making a clean breast of my loss of innocence.

Read More

Our house is on fire: let’s talk

 My generation, the pre-Boomers, now known as the Humors, had it pretty easy, coming of age in the afterglow of World War II, believing in perpetual prosperity and progress, much of which came true, even as rock ’n’ roll provided the pleasure of rebellion without any consequence. Great medical advances came along just as we needed them, and Medicare to pay for them. We are lucky to have been born when we were.

I see the thousands of young protesters in the streets of Glasgow bearing signs such as “I Have To Clean Up My Mess, Why Don’t You Clean Up Yours?” and “The Dinosaurs Thought They Had Time Too” and “Stop Climate Crime” and “If Not Now, When?” at the UN Climate Change Conference, where the United States and China have issued vague promises of eliminating carbon someday but without a timetable. So much for American leadership; I guess we’re waiting for Iceland or Ecuador to show the way.

Read More

Man contemplates miracle and is amazed

We white hetero males have taken a steep dive and likely will be phased out in a few years, replaced by manufactured semen that is free of defects, and the gender balance will be adjusted to 90–10, women to men, making for a more peaceful and sensible world, with a few million WHMs kept around for heavy chores, a militia, basically a class of serfs with no legal rights, and women will look back at our era of WHM dominance as an absurd extension of the Middle Ages, though one hopes they’ll remember a few of us such as Michelangelo, Mozart, Abe Lincoln, Babe Ruth, that whole gang, and meanwhile, I myself, thanks to a cardiac procedure called ablation that didn’t exist when I was your age, have had my life extended by who knows how long, which goes against the trend of white hetero obsolescence, and how can I justify this miracle? I feel resurrected, but what to do with it? Did I win this privilege unfairly? Did I jump the line? I was dragging my feet, ready to enter retirement, dementia, and the nap in the dirt, but now apparently I am supposed to do something worthy of this amazing blessing. But what?

Maybe writing these dinky essays about the buzzing of the bees in the cigarette trees is no longer good enough. By rights I should master electrocardiology and do for other people what was done for me but I struggle to deal with a waffle iron let alone a defibrillator and I didn’t even get to witness the brilliance and proficiency of the cardiologist and physiologist who did the job, I being deeply anesthetized at the time so as to keep me from trying to amuse them while they were performing the transformation.

Read More

A man of the north speaks out

Now that the warm days have petered out and gray November has descended, I look forward to the arrival of winter when Minnesota becomes silent and shimmering and magical just as in a children’s story. It’s like Robert Frost said in his poem, you stop to look at the woods full of snow that belong to a guy in the village and your horse thinks it’s nuts to stop but you do and the woods are lovely, dark and deep but I have a dental appointment to keep and I want to buy a sheepskin jacket, and sheepskin ain’t cheap.

Thirty years ago, winter arrived on Halloween and Duluth got 37 inches of snow and the next day men were out shoveling their sidewalks. It was a beautiful day. And a few months later I met my wife to whom I am still married and vice versa. To me, the blizzard and the romance are closely connected: having faced death, I was ready for love and she took me in her arms and there was a powerful mammalian attraction. She gave off heat, I loved her conversation, I could imagine spending winter with her. The subject of Florida has arisen recently, now that she has family down there, and I have reminded her of the Florida condo building that collapsed. Buildings don’t collapse in Minnesota, they freeze solid.

Read More

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

Garrison Keillor did “A Prairie Home Companion” for forty years, wrote fiction and comedy, invented a town called Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average, even though he himself grew up evangelical in a small separatist flock where all the children expected the imminent end of the world. He’s busy in retirement, having written a memoir and a book of limericks and is at work on a musical and a Lake Wobegon screenplay, and he continues to do “The Writers Almanac” sent out daily to Internet subscribers (free). 

He and his wife Jenny Lind Nilsson live in Minneapolis, not far from the YMCA where he was sent for swimming lessons at age 12 after his cousin drowned, and he skipped the lessons and went to the public library instead and to a radio studio to watch a noontime show with singers and a band. Thus, our course in life is set. 

Recent reviews:

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“[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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