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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Sad story:  lonely sleepless man thinks dark thoughts

For years I have put myself to sleep at night by standing at the rail of the Queen Mary 2 as she slips across New York Harbor past Miss Liberty and inches under the Verrazano Bridge and out to sea toward England. We sailed on the Queen Mary 2 to celebrate my 70th birthday years ago and my wife was wary of the extravagance but it has more than paid for itself by giving me thousands of nights of sleep. My sweetie lies in bed worrying about COVID variants and about all of her loved ones in turn and I stand at the rail with a glass of champagne but there you have it: life is unfair.

We have led a penurious life during the pandemic. “There is no point in wasting money,” she keeps telling me. So our refrigerator is full of tiny plastic bowls holding small portions of leftovers such as would sustain a Chihuahua and she has accused me of wasting laundry soap and I have to hide the books I buy: she only reads e-books she borrows from the library. She sleeps with two windows open so it’s cold when I wake up and I crank up the thermostat and she turns it back down. I ask if the stock market crashed during the night. No, she says, but you can put on a sweater if you’re cold. She says I use too much coffee. We are liberals so the coffee is a locally ground free-trade organic coffee, not made by child slave labor, so I don’t feel bad about generous portions, but I follow her instructions.

Last week she flew to Connecticut to visit family and I went to the store and bought half-and-half for my coffee and a New York strip steak for breakfast. I turned up the heat and closed the windows. I made the coffee strong. A man needs what he needs.

I was awakened at 2 a.m. by the roar of big dragster engines revving on I-94 nearby, drivers who love the bottleneck tunnel for the sheer reverberation. It sounds like a B-52 landing on the lawn. Pure adolescence of the Nobody-can-tell-me-what-to-do approach to life. There’s a lot of it around these days. Four hundred adolescents are likely to pay a price for storming the U.S. Capitol on January 6, encouraged by members of Congress who then fled from the mob. It was all about noisemaking.

I tried to imagine myself aboard the Queen Mary 2 but it was gone to sea and I was wide awake. The apartment was still. I turned on the bedside lamp. My sweetie, who handles all the anxiety for the both of us, leaving me free to write a comic novel, an adolescent enterprise if the truth be told, was gone. I thought about Connecticut, I thought about Lyme disease.

I tried reading Henry James who’s put me to sleep many times over the years. No luck. I turned on the radio, a call-in festival of people in agreement that the U.S. government had covered up the landing of aliens in New Mexico in 1947 — alien beings who have spread a virus that causes people to think collectively instead of individually, and the COVID vaccine is actually boosting that virus.

I went to the kitchen and put the coffee on. I looked out the window and saw other lighted windows nearby. The insomniac brigade, sentries of the sleeping world, thinking our 4 a.m. thoughts. I opened up the Times and read that Verizon is selling AOL to an equity firm and I remembered the love letters I wrote to my sweetie on AOL. We were both traveling back then, she with an orchestra in Asia, I with a radio show in the Midwest, and our love was urgent since I was fifty at the time. She wrote me about a steep hike to a Buddhist temple in Burma, the strange tourists, the wild monkeys in the trees, her exhilaration at being alone in a foreign land, and I wrote: “When your happiness makes me happy, even at a distance, independent of me, that means I’m the right man for you.” A profound thought and I turned off the coffee, opened two windows, crawled into bed in the chill, and the Queen was on course on the open Atlantic, not far from where the Titanic had gone down but there wasn’t an iceberg in sight and I am still here to tell the story.

Spring: we're going where we need to go

It is springtime in Minnesota and viva sweet spring, the tulips are opening and people are thinking about setting their tomato plants outside though of course we’re aware that it’s Minnesota and we’ve gotten snow as late as early June. But everyone we know is immunized so we’ve gone to people’s houses for dinner who aren’t in our bubble. We go outdoors without masks and can recognize other people even if we don’t know for sure what pronouns they use. I’ve been to two ball games. We visited relatives and did an exciting reenactment of a fairy tale with a five-year-old girl as Cinderella, her grandpa as the prince, and her grandma and my wife as the evil sisters. It’s a start.

I’ve been happier since I started to accept being uninformed. I read the newspaper headlines upside down as my wife sits across the table reading right side up and it’s too much trouble to follow Florida’s attempts to discourage voting and the romantic life of Matt Gaetz. But I do feel bad about Rudy Giuliani, the federal investigators banging on his door at 6 a.m. and executing a search warrant for his computer and phones. He was probably still in his pajamas, hadn’t even had coffee, couldn’t find his glasses, and he’s looking at the warrant, thinking, “Why me, of all people?”

It was a steep drop for the former mayor hailed as a hero after 9/11 who turned it into a lucrative career, giving speeches for a hundred grand per pop, and then hooked up with a New York tycoon with elaborate hair and became his mouthpiece, claiming election fraud where none existed, losing every claim in court, and in January his client refused to pay Rudy’s $20,000 per day fee. His big feral smile, like a shark with no gills, became the stuff of cartoons. He was photographed with hair dye running down his right cheek. The man is now a joke.

New York goes for big operatic dramas like his. It’s a town of big ambitions. I live some of the time there and walk in Central Park where the dogs are designer dogs, well-bred, coifed at a spa, accessorized, and the roads are packed with serious runners, lean women MBA vice presidents out to take over corporations and get a $3 million book deal, visionary thinkers conceiving new technologies that will turn our culture upside down, novelists writing 600-page books critics will describe as “penetrating, nuanced, mordant, cool,” and each of them uses plural pronouns (we, our) because each contains a multitude. In my little Minneapolis park, the dogs are normal scruffy dogs, as God intended dogs to be, and the people stroll or amble, they don’t race, and they’re simply feeling gratitude. I know I do. I think of the poet Roethke (A lively understandable spirit once entertained you. It will come again. Be still. Wait.) who died at 55 for lack of a drug I take twice daily. Thank you, God, for science.

After the raid, Rudy claimed political persecution, a weak defense in what may turn out to be a criminal case. The man is not getting good advice. He should come to Minneapolis and get an apartment near my park and write a book, admitting the hoax of the Stolen Election. Come out with the truth. Go on talk shows and say it loud and clear: “I was wrong. I was a fool. I was blinded by greed and I can’t believe I sank so low. I am a former D.A. who took on a crook for a client and believed him.” Accept that the days of the twenty-grand daily fee are over. You don’t need that kind of dough to be content in Minneapolis. That’s New York dough.

There is no redemption for Rudy in New York but he could find it here. Put aside the suits and ties and take up red flannel shirts, jeans, a denim jacket, and a Twins cap. Maybe take the last name Johnson. Shed the feral grin and the street fighter persona and take up fishing. Get a dog. Set about finding Ms. Right and marry her. Sit across the breakfast table from her and read the headlines upside down, stories about a man named Pmurt who is on trial for tax duarf or something. Don’t bother with it. It’s an old old story. You’ll learn more from Roethke: “God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there, and learn by going where I have to go.”

 

The privilege of happiness: one man's story

The first One Hundred Days of Uncle Joe have gone by in a whoosh and we’ve mostly forgotten the guy with the Art Deco hair. Time rushes on. I look at the unread novels on my bookshelf and wonder what crime I need to commit to get sentenced to prison long enough to read them all. Probably handing over nuclear secrets to the Russians but I assume they already have them.

Crime, however, seems unlikely due to the fear of virus transmission which has locked us in our homes and brought me under close supervision by my wife. Thanks to her, my consumption of double cheeseburgers is at an all-time low; my intake of greens is now close to that of an adult giraffe. I am in her hands even when I’m not in her arms. She keeps telling me, “There is no point in wasting money,” and so we live like tenant farmers in the Dust Bowl, we save tiny portions of leftover salad in little plastic containers and we use bars of soap until they are the size of a potato chip. I grew up with Frugal Monetary Theory, but I’ve been corrupted by the ATM: stick in a card and it blows money at you like bubbles from a pipe. She finds a wad of cash in my jeans pocket and says, “What do you need all this money for?” Good question.

I’m a happy man. I had a happy frugal childhood, riding my bike around the countryside back before cellphones and apps that parents could track you with on a laptop, but I avoid talking about happiness because I have young leftist friends who, if I admit to being happy, say, “Well, that’s very nice for you but not everyone is as privileged as you were.”

Privilege was not what made me happy. Dad worked for the post office, we were six kids, so though we weren’t impoverished, we could see it from there. No, it was the bike and freedom and the truck farmers who’d pay a kid to hoe corn and pick strawberries and I’d take my dough to the corner store and buy a couple Pearson’s Salted Nut Rolls and take them down to the Mississippi and eat them and skip stones. It wasn’t about privilege. Why can’t a man talk about happiness without getting a poke in the eye from someone who’s just read a book about systemic inequity and wants you to know it?

The great privilege of my childhood was hoeing and weeding, which is denied to kids now whose moms go to Whole Foods to purchase raspberries from New Zealand and a bag of baby arugula hand-raised in the coastal foothills of Northern California by liberal arts graduates, instead of growing food in a garden and affording their children a useful education.

Weeding is editing and editing is a basic skill desperately needed now that the computer has led to floods, downpours, typhoons of verbiage. Everything is ten times too long. (I had a couple thousand words here about my old editor William Shawn, which I’ve taken out, as you can see.) I read a memoir now and then and I think, “This person never mowed a lawn or weeded a flower bed.” Their book has, in a manner of speaking, a lot of old rusted cars and busted appliances sitting in tall weeds that need to be thrown down in a coulee and the grass mowed.

I grew up mowing lawns, parallel lines, back and forth, it was deeply instilled in me and that’s why I write prose today and not

Butterflies go tipitipitipitipi
toward the blue
crocus and focus
looking for nectar
and stick out their
connector like a straw
and cry,

aha

Notice how the irregularity makes it seem sort of artistic. So what? Sew buttons on your underwear. I am happy going back and forth, back and forth, putting subject and predicate together. It’s therapeutic. When I was your age, kiddo, I had artistic ambition, which was the privilege of ignorance — to look down the road and imagine being honored by the U.S. Essay Association, but in the pandemic, it’s all about today. A walk in the park, a skinny sandwich for lunch, a brief nap, a poem.

A virus called COVID-19
Can be sneaky, mysterious, mean,
But once immunized
I have been surprised
By days that are calm and serene
And limericks that are pleasant though clean.

A modest proposal for saving the republic

I am a simple man leading a simple life, thanks to my wife who reads the pandemic news and the dark dreadful visions of pessimistic epidemiologists and instills caution in me, otherwise I’d be hanging out in saloons singing sea shanties with unmasked ne’er-do-wells, passing a bottle of whiskey around and sharing bacteria. Instead, she and I lead a monastic life, staying home, reading books, eating salads, playing Scrabble.

A year of quarantine with your spouse is something we didn’t anticipate when we said our vows. I promised to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, but by “sickness,” I was thinking of a bad cold, maybe a sprained ankle, not a year of incarceration. But by God, quarantine is an excellent test of a marriage, and either you go to a hotel and call your lawyer or you discover that you married the exact right person, which, as I contemplate it day after day, seems to me to be the greatest good luck, right up there with being an all-star third baseman or winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

I had twenty aunts and uncles, all of them married, and I witnessed no yelling, no door-slamming, no sobbing in locked rooms, so I figured the odds were in my favor. But I walked into a couple of troubled marriages before luck struck, and now I think that quarantine should be a prerequisite for marriage. Six months locked in a one-bedroom apartment before the license can be issued. You will quickly find out whether you have anything to say to each other or not. You’ll find out about housekeeping habits, personal hygiene, sense of humor (if any), dietary preferences. I am a liberal and know what is good for people and premarital quarantine is right at the top of the list.

She loves foreign TV shows with subtitles and long brisk walks and Zoom chats with friends. I love to sit and write notes with a pen on paper and put them in envelopes with a U.S. postage stamp. She walks by me and puts a hand on my shoulder and I touch her hand and every night, sometimes more often, we say, “I love you.”

If we wished, we could dive headfirst into the internet and find a turgid churn of people who see the vaccines as a “deep state” conspiracy to inject woke thought-control chemicals, or born-again anti-vaxxers who accept COVID as God’s Will and as the doorway to heaven; I worry about those people.

What with right-wing resistance to immunization, I worry that a big new wave of COVID could wipe out the Republican Party and suddenly we’d find ourselves in a nation of public-radio listeners, old folkies, organic sustainable people who are spiritual but not religious, and all the cranky uncles and crackpot cousins will disappear, and Terry Gross will be elected president. She does a show, “Fresh Air,” on which she interviews only people she admires because they agree with her. This is the problem with public radio. They can’t bear dissent. They are about unity and communal goodness, and their illusions is what led to the birth of Fox News.

I am an old liberal Democrat but I grew up among Republicans. My uncles were (their wives were undercover liberals), many of my teachers, my first employers. I do not want to live in a woke America with no street-corner preachers, no angry callers to call-in shows, no malefactors of great wealth who in their twilight years seek to redeem themselves through philanthropy to ballet companies and orchestras, no crazed individualists.

We cannot afford to lose the right wing through their self-imposed ignorance of communicable disease and that is why the National Guard needs to round them up and take them in trucks to internment camps for a month to get their shots. The Supreme Court may try to interfere with this and so they may need to be taken into custody too. The Jim Jordans and Lindsey Grahams and Ted Cruzes have a role to play in our country and we need to protect them from themselves. Lock them up and jab them and who knows, some of them may fall in love with the vaccinators and find true happiness. For their own good, we need to be the totalitarians they already believe we are. I don’t want to live in an entire nation of Vermonters. We need Texas and Mississippi too. Even Oklahoma.

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A Prairie Home Companion: May 15, 1999

A Prairie Home Companion: May 15, 1999

Our featured show this week comes from Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, with folk singer Greg Brown and country musician Junior Brown, the Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band and The Royal Academy of Radio Actors.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, May 9, 2021

The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, May 9, 2021

It’s the 100th birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mona Van Duyn (1921). She said, “I believe that good poetry can be as ornate as a cathedral or as bare as a pottingshed, as long as it confronts the self with honesty and fullness.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, May 8, 2021

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Poet and Zen practitioner Gary Snyder, was born in San Francisco on this day in 1930. His most recent book is one of essays, “The Practice of the Wild,” published in 2020.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, May 7, 2021

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Today is the birthday of Johannes Brahms (1833), Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1876), and Robert Browning (1812).

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, May 6, 2021

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On this day in 1935 Franklin Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration. The WPA employed 8.5 million out-of-work people on 1.4 million individual projects.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, May 5, 2021

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Nellie Bly was born on May 5th, 1864. She reinvented investigative journalism with her exposee on life in a New York asylum, to which she got herself committed for ten days.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, May 4, 2021

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Horace Mann was born this day in 1796. An advocate of public education and an opponent of slavery, he said, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, May 3, 2021

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It’s the birthday of poet, novelist, and memoirist May Sarton (1912). Her memoir “Journal of a Solitude” (1973) has been called “the watershed in women’s autobiography.”

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A Prairie Home Companion: May 8, 2010

A Prairie Home Companion: May 8, 2010

Our featured show comes to you from  The Town Hall in New York City with legendary pianist and composer, Dick Hyman, vocalist Andra Suchy, The Royal Academy of Radio Actors; Tim Russell, Sue Scott, Fred Newman, and Erica Rhodes.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, May 2, 2021

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The author of the novel “Catch-22” Joseph Heller was born in Brooklyn on this day in 1923.

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Writing

Sad story: lonely sleepless man thinks dark thoughts

For years I have put myself to sleep at night by standing at the rail of the Queen Mary 2 as she slips across New York Harbor past Miss Liberty and inches under the Verrazano Bridge and out to sea toward England. We sailed on the Queen Mary 2 to celebrate my 70th birthday years ago and my wife was wary of the extravagance but it has more than paid for itself by giving me thousands of nights of sleep. My sweetie lies in bed worrying about COVID variants and about all of her loved ones in turn and I stand at the rail with a glass of champagne but there you have it: life is unfair.

We have led a penurious life during the pandemic. “There is no point in wasting money,” she keeps telling me. So our refrigerator is full of tiny plastic bowls holding small portions of leftovers such as would sustain a Chihuahua and she has accused me of wasting laundry soap and I have to hide the books I buy: she only reads e-books she borrows from the library. She sleeps with two windows open so it’s cold when I wake up and I crank up the thermostat and she turns it back down. I ask if the stock market crashed during the night. No, she says, but you can put on a sweater if you’re cold. She says I use too much coffee. We are liberals so the coffee is a locally ground free-trade organic coffee, not made by child slave labor, so I don’t feel bad about generous portions, but I follow her instructions.

Last week she flew to Connecticut to visit family and I went to the store and bought half-and-half for my coffee and a New York strip steak for breakfast. I turned up the heat and closed the windows. I made the coffee strong. A man needs what he needs.

Read More

Spring: we’re going where we need to go

It is springtime in Minnesota and viva sweet spring, the tulips are opening and people are thinking about setting their tomato plants outside though of course we’re aware that it’s Minnesota and we’ve gotten snow as late as early June. But everyone we know is immunized so we’ve gone to people’s houses for dinner who aren’t in our bubble. We go outdoors without masks and can recognize other people even if we don’t know for sure what pronouns they use. I’ve been to two ball games. We visited relatives and did an exciting reenactment of a fairy tale with a five-year-old girl as Cinderella, her grandpa as the prince, and her grandma and my wife as the evil sisters. It’s a start.

I’ve been happier since I started to accept being uninformed. I read the newspaper headlines upside down as my wife sits across the table reading right side up and it’s too much trouble to follow Florida’s attempts to discourage voting and the romantic life of Matt Gaetz. But I do feel bad about Rudy Giuliani, the federal investigators banging on his door at 6 a.m. and executing a search warrant for his computer and phones. He was probably still in his pajamas, hadn’t even had coffee, couldn’t find his glasses, and he’s looking at the warrant, thinking, “Why me, of all people?”

Read More

The privilege of happiness: one man’s story

The first One Hundred Days of Uncle Joe have gone by in a whoosh and we’ve mostly forgotten the guy with the Art Deco hair. Time rushes on. I look at the unread novels on my bookshelf and wonder what crime I need to commit to get sentenced to prison long enough to read them all. Probably handing over nuclear secrets to the Russians but I assume they already have them.

Crime, however, seems unlikely due to the fear of virus transmission which has locked us in our homes and brought me under close supervision by my wife. Thanks to her, my consumption of double cheeseburgers is at an all-time low; my intake of greens is now close to that of an adult giraffe. I am in her hands even when I’m not in her arms. She keeps telling me, “There is no point in wasting money,” and so we live like tenant farmers in the Dust Bowl, we save tiny portions of leftover salad in little plastic containers and we use bars of soap until they are the size of a potato chip. I grew up with Frugal Monetary Theory, but I’ve been corrupted by the ATM: stick in a card and it blows money at you like bubbles from a pipe. She finds a wad of cash in my jeans pocket and says, “What do you need all this money for?” Good question.

Read More

A modest proposal for saving the republic

I am a simple man leading a simple life, thanks to my wife who reads the pandemic news and the dark dreadful visions of pessimistic epidemiologists and instills caution in me, otherwise I’d be hanging out in saloons singing sea shanties with unmasked ne’er-do-wells, passing a bottle of whiskey around and sharing bacteria. Instead, she and I lead a monastic life, staying home, reading books, eating salads, playing Scrabble.

A year of quarantine with your spouse is something we didn’t anticipate when we said our vows. I promised to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, but by “sickness,” I was thinking of a bad cold, maybe a sprained ankle, not a year of incarceration. But by God, quarantine is an excellent test of a marriage, and either you go to a hotel and call your lawyer or you discover that you married the exact right person, which, as I contemplate it day after day, seems to me to be the greatest good luck, right up there with being an all-star third baseman or winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Read More

My plan for the future, whenever it happens

Spring is here, the park is gloriously in bloom, and I sit on a sunny bench watching the young on the running path, working hard out of their fear of mortality, and I feel the great privilege of being in my late seventies, all my ambition gone, enjoying life itself, not aiming for distinguishment. All those decades I tried to be intelligent, to be in the know and to maintain a cool sense if irony, an elegant detachment from the mundane, and now that rock-climb is over: it takes no effort whatsoever to be an old man. You sit in the park and savor your happiness and let the young do the suffering.

I enjoy writing more now than I ever used to. I have writer friends my age who’ve been stuck for decades because they once published a book that was greeted by heavyweight critics as “provocative and profound,” “unflinching,” “bold and riveting,” “dense and dazzling,” “lushly layered,” “exceptional,” and “exquisitely crafted,” so now they look at a first draft and there’s nothing exquisite and it makes them flinch — you get put on a high pedestal and it’s a long way down. But nobody ever accused me of exquisiteness, the most I ever got was “amusing yet often poignant.” That’s not a pedestal, it’s a low curb. So I write freely, happily, no looking back.

Read More

A walk around the Central Park Reservoir

With the birth rate falling and America getting old and cranky, it’s wonderful to walk in Central Park on a sunny day and see all the little families rollicking around, all the little kiddos. It’s brave to raise boisterous kids in a small apartment in a bumpy economy and good for Joe Biden that he put some child support in his Recovery Act. We need more of these kids, otherwise we’ll become a national historical reenactment.

I don’t want that. I want the past to fade into the sunset, except for the classics, like Central Park. I walk in the park as April comes in and it’s a genteel world like what Renoir painted in Paris with the ladies carrying parasols and Dvořák walked in Prague whistling a tune that became the Humoresque that generations of kids would learn for spring recitals and Shakespeare sat in and scribbled notes for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” –– it is a permanent pleasure, to be cherished for all time, but I want life to move on so the kids grow up and think of Vietnam as a cuisine and trump as part of card games and “pandemic” will come to mean a college prof who gets negative reviews.

Read More

Still thinking of Yesenia weeks later

When I read in the paper last month about impoverished children playing in a park and finding used hypodermics and thereby contracting HIV, the tragedy stuck with me. I had a young child once, two of them, twenty years apart, and can envision this happening and how the heart would break absolutely. And this story puts all the other lesser stories into line: this is a prime function of journalism, to show us the difference between hokum and hogwash and bean counting and true tragedy.

The scrimmage in the Senate over the filibuster is a contest of mastodons. And the discovery of the subatomic particle, the muon, that physicists say may change our understanding of the cosmos is a cloud of mist. You read and turn the page. And then comes a story that brings you to full attention.

The early morning crash in the California desert on March 2nd of the Peterbilt truck and the Ford SUV packed with 25 Mexican and Guatemalan migrants was a tragedy to be grieved over by any reader. The first officers on the scene found bodies scattered on the highway, some moving, a woman crying out in Spanish, brushing the blood from her daughter’s beautiful face, Yesenia Melendrez Cardona, 23, dead. They had traveled 2,500 miles to Mexicali on the U.S. border and paid thousands of dollars apiece to be smuggled across and a few miles north the SUV ran a stop sign and was crushed by the truck and 13 persons died.

Read More

Spring arrives in time to forgive us our debts

It’s spring, the air is brisk, the forsythia is blooming, there’s widespread amiability afoot, and walking through Central Park you feel you could pull twenty pedestrians out of the flow and rehearse them in “New York, New York, it’s a heck of a town, the Bronx is up and the Battery’s down, the people ride in a hole in the ground.” Winter tried to hang on, like a loud drunk at closing time who staggers around and takes a swing at you but eventually you heave him into a cab and it’s spring. “All the merry little birds are flying in the floating in the very spirits singing in are winging in the blossoming,” as E.E. Cummings down on 10th Street & Greenwich Avenue wrote. “And viva, sweet love.”

New York gets a bad rap, much of it richly deserved, but spring is such a blessing you can almost forgive the rest. You wend your way from the Trinity churchyard where Mr. Hamilton lies who got not one thin dime from the musical he inspired, through the Village where brilliant and bewildered people once lived, and visit Grand Central with its starry ceiling and the Rose Reading Room of the Public Library, hike past the schist outcroppings of Central Park and Teddy Roosevelt on his horse defending the Natural History museum, the apartment palaces of the Upper West Side, the cheese department at Zabar’s where you gain weight with every deep breath you take, Harlem, the Cloisters, the mighty Hudson — and did I mention the schist outcroppings? My family forbade dirty talk and so the word “schist” is a favorite of mine.

Read More

Portrait of the columnist as an older man

I respect the Rembrandt self-portrait at the Frick in New York, at which millions of us commoners have stopped and felt chastened by that noble 17th-century gaze that says, “What have you done great lately?” Not much. I look in the mirror and see a grim-faced old fundamentalist staring back and now I understand why, when I went to parties back when there were parties, people social-distanced around me before there was such a thing. I wandered alone around people’s living rooms looking at photographs of their friends on the walls, wishing I had friends too. So I’m thinking about seeing a dermatologist about getting Botox to give me a beautiful smile but my wife says, “Do not go down that road. No matter what, Botox never looks right. I don’t want a husband who looks laminated.” And so I’ve come to accept that being loved by one person is an amazement, especially when I know she looks at me and sees Boris Karloff.

We live in New York because she loves music and shows and has friends here who can talk for three hours nonstop. I’m more at home in Minnesota among friends who are comfortable with silence. I feel uneasy in New York because it has bike lanes and I’m certain that one day I’ll be struck down and killed by a deliveryman on a bicycle. They go whizzing by at top speed and do not slow down for red lights or pedestrians. A shout and a quick whiff of sausage pizza with extra onions and that’ll be the end of me. The obituary will say, “He was struck by a pizza deliveryman and died instantly.” It won’t mention the distinguished limericks I wrote, or my classy memoir, my radio reminiscences. There won’t be a 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 pizza and they will wonder, “What size and did the family who ordered it get a refund?”

But life is good, especially if you had an unhappy childhood among fundamentalists thinking about the imminent end of the world. After a hellfire childhood, everything is easy. People who complain about pandemic life grew up with unrealistic expectations based on watching Mister Fred Rogers who led kids to imagine the world as a friendly neighborhood in which you are well-liked just the way you are and don’t need Botox. So they find it hard to cope with endless days of isolation.

Read More

Still thinking of George, wishing I’d known him

I am still thinking about George Floyd almost a year after he died with the cop’s knee on his neck because it was in south Minneapolis, a few blocks from the Brethren Meeting Hall I attended as a kid, near where my aunts Margaret and Ruby lived. I wish I had met him but I didn’t patronize the Conga Latin Bistro where he worked security and I didn’t eat at the Trinidadian café he liked. He’d come here from his hometown of Houston where he grew up in the projects in Beyoncé’s old neighborhood. He was a high school basketball star, went to college but it didn’t take, did some hip-hop and rap, did drugs, did prison time, and got religion. He attended a charismatic church that met on a basketball court and he was the guy who hauled a horse-watering trough out on the floor for the pastor to baptize people in. He came north to get in a drug rehab program and change his life.

He’d been unusually tall since middle school and knew that this made him appear threatening and to avoid trouble, he adopted a friendly demeanor all his life. He grew to 6’7” and 225 lbs. He made himself meek and blessed are the meek. He was easygoing, even sort of shy. Shaking hands, he used two hands. He was a hugger. He could lift up a troublemaker and carry him out of the Club. He tried to dance but was too tall, and people laughed at him, and he didn’t mind. He kept a Bible by his bed and in his struggles with addiction, he and his girlfriend Courtney made a practice of standing together, hand in hand, and reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the Twenty-third Psalm. A tall Black man far from his family, dealing with demons, stood close to his girlfriend and they both said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” and declared their faith in goodness and mercy.

Read More

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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. 

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