The Lake Wobegon Virus: Chapter One

THE LAKE WOBEGON VIRUS

Chapter 1: FEBRUARY 16, 6:30 A.M.

Well, it has been a quiet year in Lake Wobegon except for the heat wave in February and then that weird epidemic of what’s called “episodic loss of inhibition” and sensible Germans and Norwegians pouring out inappropriate feelings, spilling crazy secrets, hallucinating about some conspiracy or other, acting out—Darlene baring her breasts at the Chatterbox Cafe—Dorothy stopped her in time, but still—our beloved Darlene, the last of the old-time waitresses who called their clients “Sweetheart,” at 55 opening her blouse!—and Pastor Liz making a fool of herself in a Sunday sermon. And Clint coming out as an atheist and Father Wilmer caught in carnal thoughts, the postmaster Mr. Bauser observed while on duty singing, “The State Department and Internal Revenue are promoting a One World point of view. Obama was a Kenyan man, took the oath of office on a Koran. Don’t be brainwashed by the press, they’re promoting godlessness,” and then saw Myrtle waiting to buy stamps. She said, “Are you supposed to be singing songs on the job?” She went out and told Clarence Bunsen, and Clarence came and talked to him, and Mr. Bauser denied all. And from then on, he returned Myrtle’s letters to her, marked “Address Illegible,” though she went to school back when good penmanship was taught and hers was A+. And somebody—guess who?—put her name on the mailing list of the American Free Love Party. It was ugly. When I came to town in March, people said, “I hope you aren’t going to write about this,” which of course aroused my curiosity since I had no idea what they meant and so I stuck around to find out.

That same day, Arlen Hoerschgen walked up to the checkout desk at the library, and Grace, gentle Grace, ever-patient Grace, looked at the book of limericks he wanted to check out and said, “When in hell are you going to grow up?” And she quoted a dozen dirty limericks at him, including:

There was a young girl of Eau Claire
Who was graceful and so debonaire,
But she did not pee
Like a girl, downwardly,
But could aim up high in the air.

and others even worse and said, “I tell you, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I remember your ne’er-do-well uncle going around town tanked up on sloe gin and singing filthy songs in broad daylight like the one about the shepherd and the magpie, and his poor children were so ashamed of him they all went off and became Seventh-day Adventists.” And she stamped the due date on it and handed it to him, and he felt sort of sheepish and returned with it 20 minutes later to apologize, and she had no memory of it whatsoever. “Where’d this come from?” she said. “Read whatever you like.” Loss of inhibition followed by memory loss.

Mrs. Torgerson entered a national talent contest performing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on Audubon bird whistles, all six and one-half minutes of it, and Bob took off on a long road trip to visit relatives in Oregon and Washington while she rehearsed. Neighbors said the artistry was incredible, sometimes involving three or four whistles at once, but the effect of the whole was to make you reach for your gun.

It was craziness, and it set neighbor against neighbor, Norwegian against German, a town that prided itself on sobriety and responsibility and modest behavior, and meanwhile, looming on the horizon was the very real threat of a Keep America Truckin’ Museum and Motorway in the planning stages south of town, featuring a mile oval for racing 18-wheelers—farmland was already being bought up for the thing—annual attendance estimated to be 2.2 million visitors, many with huge tattoos and carrying six-guns and six-packs, and rumor had it there’d be a six-lane freeway and a couple of high-rise hotels on the outskirts of town and maybe a casino. An absolute nightmare. The “Little Town That Time Forgot” suddenly becoming the little town that Misfortune fell in love with, where all the women are horrified, the men are bewildered, and the children are amused at the distress of their elders.

Dorothy of the Chatterbox said, “It’s been like a horror novel but with actual people, you wouldn’t want to read it but you are living it.” In the midst of a town council meeting, Mayor Eloise Krebsbach jumped up, threw her gavel out the window not noticing it was closed, and said, “This town has gone to the dogs and as far as I’m concerned, they can have it.” She took a job as a nail salon hostess in St. Paul and was replaced by Alice Dobbs, a newcomer to town (1995), who feels that problems have solutions and if we commit ourselves to the common good, we can find our way out of the woods.

Lenny, a Wobegon girl who left home to become an epidemiologist, came home during a bitter divorce and diagnosed the problem, and Alice, over fierce opposition, brought in a municipal therapist though people here don’t do therapy or discuss unpleasant feelings. If someone asks, “How are you?” you say, Fine. And that’s good enough. It could be worse. You go into therapy and you are apt to get engrossed in yourself and neglect your children and they turn out fragile and moody and take up songwriting or conceptual baking. But the therapist, Ashley, turned out to be a very nice person, mannerly, soft-spoken, once you got to know her. And in the midst of it all, I arrived to work on a sainthood project and thought about writing this book instead, but now I’m getting ahead of myself.

Where to begin?

It began on February 16th at about 6:30 a.m. in the Chatterbox Cafe when the old waitress Darlene leaned down and said to Daryl Tollerud, “You disgust me, and you know why? Because you never make eye contact, there’s never a ‘Good morning’ or ‘How are you, Darlene?’—you sit there waiting for the world to do your bidding and bring your bacon and eggs, and when I bring it, you stare at my boobs. It’s like you never saw a woman before. Twenty years you’ve been staring at them. Well, here they are—” And she tore open her shirt and there they were for a split second until Dorothy grabbed her, and Darlene picked up the plate and smooshed it in his face as fried egg yolk ran down his shirt along with hash browns and bacon, and she turned and stalked away. People around him pretended nothing had happened, which Lake Wobegon people are adept at doing. They could ignore an anvil falling out of a tree so long as it didn’t fall on them.

Dorothy cleaned him up and apologized, and Daryl felt bad about what she said, realizing there was some truth to it. It went back to when he was 16 and attended a carnival sideshow at the county fair and saw a contortionist named Maria who folded herself up to fit inside a breadbox and then handed her brassiere up to the ringmaster, and if you liked you could pay a quarter to go and look into the breadbox and Daryl did, and there she was, all folded up, her arms wrapped around her chest, and ever since then Daryl has felt a thrill at the sight of a woman with folded arms.

Minutes later, Darlene emerged from the ladies’ room as if nothing had happened, and when Dorothy said, “What’s wrong with you?” Darlene had no idea what she meant. “You spilled all down the front of your shirt,” she said to Daryl. “Don’t eat so fast.” Somebody told her she had bared her bosom. She said, “Good God, who do you take me for?” Daryl is a forgiving soul—he had four teenage children living under his roof at one time, one of them a Goth and a shoplifter, another a drummer—and also he felt he was responsible for what happened, a common reaction among Lutherans.

He finished his breakfast and went home and heard a voice from the bedroom—“Is that you?”—and of course it was him, who else would she imagine it might be? He felt a twinge of jealousy, and then there she was, half in her lingerie and half out, approaching him in a meaningful way, and said, “I was waiting for you.” His old Marilyn, mother of his five children, in the mood for love at eight thirty in the morning, will wonders never cease? She had been the most beautiful woman in town, and when she was young and went dancing at the Moonlight Bay Supper Club, men fought in the parking lot for the right to dance with her. Men cursing, fists on bone, she was so lovely, and that’s how she came to marry Daryl. All the fighting men were in a rage and she walked away with a pacifist.

It was an historic week for her and Daryl. They had rid themselves of a Chihuahua named Mitzi who was bought over Daryl’s objections, he being an old farmboy brought up to believe dogs live outdoors so they can run off interlopers and in payment for this service, we feed them. A Chihuahua serves no purpose except to share its anxieties. One day in February, the dog, on a toilet run, encountered a skunk. The dog had never imagined such a thing as a skunk existing—had no idea what the purpose of one would be—and the skunk unloaded, and Daryl grabbed the .22 and ran out and met the skunk, who still had some left in him, and Daryl didn’t even get off a shot. Mitzi had a nervous breakdown and Daryl showered for an hour and still had some skunk in his hair, so Marilyn clipped his head clean and Mitzi went off to live with cousin Janice in the city. Daryl slept in the guest room for a week and now, evidently, was attractive again.

She kissed him and unbuckled his belt and placed his hand on her bosom, and he stepped out of his shoes and his masculinity hung loose like a graduation tassel. He was spectacularly impotent. She tried to get its attention, but it was thinking of other things. After years of embarrassing involuntary erections in public—walking around with a ball-peen hammer in his pants—Darlene’s attack on him had removed the lead from his pencil. His billiard cue had turned into a curtain sash.

And two days later, an anonymous person left a gift for Darlene: a new bra made of molded plastic with a combination lock on the strap. It was a joke, but Darlene took it badly, and days later she packed up and left town without a word and the loss was felt immediately.

Some people are irreplaceable, and in a small town we know who they are. Darlene is a font of information about local history and who is married to whom and where their kids wound up and what they do. For example, David and Judy Ingqvist, the former pastor and his wife—retired, Napa Valley, hikers and bikers, switched to Unitarian, daughter Brenda is a professional pet grief therapist, author of Mourning Your Cat, conducts pet grief seminars and several annual pet grief cruises to the Caribbean. Nobody but Darlene can give you this level of detail.

She also rules over the potluck suppers in town, receives the offerings and arranges them on the serving tables, and when she is away, the number of store-bought dishes quadru-ples—big tubs of yellowish potato salad rather than homemade, factory-made lasagna. With Darlene as gatekeeper, people are inspired to make an effort, and with her gone, there is a great slacking-off, and you don’t want that in a small town. What if your firemen and EMTs and teachers start to slack off? What if your neighbors see your window wide open in the pouring rain and think, “Oh what the hell. Not my problem.”

And beyond that, she’s from a previous era when waitresses might call you “Darling” or “Sweetheart” or “Sugar,” and if she  knows you well, you’d be “Honeybunch” or “Sweetykins” or “Precious.” Maybe she’d ask what you want and you’d say, “The usual,” and she’d pinch the flab under your chin and say, “Maybe we’ve been having too much of the usual, darling.” With her gone, nobody would ever be “Precious” again. She was missed by all the old men whose wives no longer sweettalk them. Once, Duane Bunsen, home from his IT job in a Minneapolis bank, came back for a weekend and was Honeybunched by Darlene and went back to Minneapolis and called his office manager “Sweetheart” and was spoken to sharply. But in this town, Sweethearting and Preciousing between adults who’ve known each other since childhood is considered a comfort. And you, beloved reader, should take my word for it. I’m not kidding, Pumpkin.

It was a time of strange phenomena. Daryl and David Darwin, the one-time bullies of the town who loved fistfights more than life itself, now approaching 80, their hands having been busted so many times they cannot shuffle a deck of cards or handle a wrench—they stood in Wally’s Sidetrack Tap among the cribbage game, the basketball on TV, the pinball machine dinging, both of them tipsy on peach brandy, and they broke into “Love’s Old Sweet Song,” a favorite of their mother’s, sang it in sweet two-part harmony like Don and Phil Everly. The pinball stopped, the TV sound was turned down. Two rotten sinners and hell-raisers, but something had moved them and they sang from the depths of their blackened hearts, “Tho’ the heart be weary, sad the day and long, still to us at twilight comes love’s old song, comes love’s old sweet song.”

Wally said, “That was beautiful, boys,” and then he sneezed so hard he blew his cigar across the room, shedding sparks like a comet, and he threw out his sacroiliac. He looked for the cigar and found it under a radiator, and there beside it was a letter postmarked 2017, addressed to Daryl Darwin when he was in jail for malicious cruelty, written by his mother, Millie, on her deathbed and delivered three years late, which said, “Darling Daryl, I love you dearly and though you have hurt me deeply, I forgive you, and as I prepare to leave this world, I want you to know that I see the good in you and am proud to be your mom.” Nobody ever had said good things about Daryl Darwin and here he’d been forgiven from beyond the grave, and he and David sang their mother’s favorite song, tears running down their cheeks, and men in the bar who bore scars inflicted by the Darwins wept along with them.

The same day Darlene got the bra, the Men’s Fellowship, a group of 30 or so who used to be the Men’s Prayer Fellowship but gradually devolved into a social club, met for lunch at the Legion hall. It was always old man Bunsen who had prayed, Clarence and Clint’s dad, Oscar, and when dementia struck, he prayed in Norwegian, which was so majestic men wept to hear it, though they couldn’t understand a word, and when he died, few ventured to pray a real prayer, knowing the result would be inferior. Oscar was widely revered. On the day he died, at age 82, though out of his mind, he came to town and enjoyed a hearty lunch, had a beer at the Sidetrack, won three bucks at cribbage, told three jokes well, danced to “The Too Fat Polka” with Wally’s wife, who was tending bar, walked three miles home, lay down for a nap and never awoke.

The Fellowship sat down to chicken chow mein and coleslaw at two long tables, and everyone murmured, “God is great and God is good, and we thank Him for the food. By His hand, we must be fed. Give us, Lord, our daily bread.” And then Clint Bunsen stood up as they started to dig in and said, “I have to say that the idea that there is a daddy in the sky who is arranging our lives and doing favors in exchange for our admiration is an old hoax, and everybody knows it deep down in your hearts and doesn’t dare say it. If he is a god of goodness and he doesn’t use his power to wipe out evil, then he isn’t omnipotent and there’s no reason to worship him. God is a wrong turn we took back in antiquity, and it is responsible for more hatred and warfare and cruelty than anything else, and yet our grandfathers handed it to our fathers and they gave it to us, and I say, No, thank you. Wake up, live your life, be glad for what you have, and don’t let delusions of godliness blind you to the beauty of nature.” And he sat down and dug into his chicken chow mein. And Roger asked Clarence if Clint was okay, and he said, “He was an hour ago.”

Conversation was muted after that and stuck mainly to the weather, the long-term forecasts. It was Lent, after all, and Lutheran men sign a Lenten pledge to observe 10 hours of silence a week, which for some of them would be a normal day. Anyway, they didn’t talk about atheism.

When Clarence caught up with him later, Clint, unlike Darlene, did not deny having said what he said. He said he’d heard a TED Talk by a woman who said that deism is destructive to our ability to empathize, that it dehumanizes us, and he’d been listening to her podcast, so some of her thoughts were running through his head and something moved him to speak them aloud, so he did, and he didn’t feel embarrassed, quite the contrary. His granddaughters had been encouraged to express themselves freely, and now they are all over the map ideologically, anarcho-humanist, animal activist, post-behavioral feminism, witchcraft, and he feels okay about stepping out of the Comfy Grampa role and staking out some ground for himself.

Clarence pointed out the obvious—that their Ford dealership, Bunsen Motors, is traditionally patronized by Lutherans, rather than the Catholic Krebsbach Chev, and so it might be prudent to keep any atheist thoughts to himself lest Ford owners feel a divine calling to buy Chevs instead. Perhaps an apology to the Men’s Fellowship would be in order. Clint declined to apologize. “I feel like I’ve been apologizing all my life and that’s enough.” He said it felt good to say his piece, and it made people sit up and think, and how can you be opposed to thoughtfulness?

“There is truth in what you say, I’m sure, but we have a business to think of,” said Clarence.

“Ha! A dying business. You and I are old, and none of our kids are interested in selling cars or working on them, believe me, I’ve asked. Duane’s happy in Minneapolis, Harry does comic books, Donna’s in real estate, Barbara Ann runs her husband Bill and elects Democrats. And what fool is going to buy a small-town Ford dealership that runs 85 percent on personal loyalty? New owner comes in, and suddenly all the Lutherans are free to shop around and buy Japanese. There’s a big Ford dealership just down the road that undersells us by 10 to 15 percent. You know it and I know it. You’re looking at retirement, Bubs. Another year or two and you can stop combing the hair over your bald spot and get yourself a bigger color TV.”

“Okay, okay,” Clarence said. “Think what you like, but don’t feel you have to share it with the world, okay? Spare me the headache. No need to go around desecrating things.” And Clint nodded and slid back under the car—a quart of peanut butter had melted into the heater and needed to be vacuumed and squeegeed out—reason enough, Clarence thought, to lose faith in God temporarily. He noticed on the workbench a white lily and a chocolate-covered doughnut and a Post-it note, “You’re my hero. I love you.” In Irene’s handwriting. He’d been counting on Irene’s help. No such luck.

Clint had had his doubts about Christianity for years, having been the Samaritan who goes out on emergency calls with the wrecker to rescue Christians with car problems. Hundreds of times he had stood beside a motorist staring helplessly at his engine and taking the Lord’s name in vain and Clint reached down and flicked something, and the car leaped to life, and the Christian hated him for fixing it so quickly (couldn’t he have pretended to be confused and said, “Boy, I dunno, this is a toughie,” but no, he just reached down and bingo). So the Christian hands him a ten, and Clint says, “No, no, my pleasure,” and he smiles and pats the Christian’s arm, and walks away, and it’s the pat on the arm that pisses the Christian off, the patronizing pat of the big hero of the highway, and you’re the goat. No, Clint had helped many a stranded Christian and heard his teeth grinding as he walked away.

Now he expected Pastor Liz to come and have a word with him about faith and offer him some helpful pamphlets to read, and he planned to tell her, “I decided it’s time to face the darkness and not be afraid,” and two days later Pastor Liz went over the cliff.

The next Sunday morning, she seemed distracted, she didn’t join in the opening hymn, she stood up to give the sermon. The rule about sermons is: they should have a clear beginning and a strong end, and the two should be as close together as possible. Liz is dyslexic, so she tries to memorize the sermon, but she carries blank paper with her because Lutherans get nervous if the pastor in the pulpit has no text, they worry that she’ll go on at length and the pot roast will burn in the oven.

This sermon got away from her, and it went on for almost an hour. It started out on the verse in Colossians about Christ interceding for us at the right hand of the throne of God, and the word “throne” flipped a switch, and she told about the time she flew to Boston and used the toilet on the plane, not noticing the warning sign “DO NOT FLUSH WHILE SEATED ON TOILET,” because she was sitting on the toilet at the time, and she flushed and felt a powerful force gripping her butt like a python seizing a rat, and she couldn’t pry herself loose. The flight attendant was tapping on the door and asking, “Are you all right?” and Pastor Liz didn’t know how to answer that question. She was basically all right in that she had faith in God’s unceasing love, but on the other hand, she was being swallowed by a toilet. The flight attendant tried to break the seal by inserting his hand between the toilet seat and her left cheek. But she was still stuck, and the plane had to make an emergency landing in Cleveland, and the ground crew cut the toilet free with an acetylene torch and lifted her out, the seat still stuck to her, and carried her through the terminal, toilet seat attached, and someone took a picture and it appeared on Instagram, Liz looking like a Parker House roll on a plate, with arms and legs. This picture made its way to the bishop, and so Liz, who’d been marked for a coveted assignment at prestigious Central Lutheran in Minneapolis, got shunted off to Lake Wobegon. Minneapolis Lutherans didn’t want a pastor whose buttocks had gone viral online. One wrong flush, and though she’d been valedictorian at St. Olaf, she was sent to the sticks. The mention of St. Olaf then reminded her of the boy named Adam who took her virginity, but she had to beg him to do it, he didn’t do it of his own volition, and then she talked about her cat, Muffin, who had a kidney infection, and then she went on a tirade against the church demoting the Holy Spirit, who is the feminine member of the Trinity—the congregation sat in shock and three people walked out, and then the organist, Tibby Marklund, who’d been working a crossword puzzle, planted her left foot on a pedal and there was a throbbing bass note like an ailing hippopotamus, and two altos burst out in horrible whinnying laughter, and Liz left and there was no Communion.

Lutherans are not amused by stream-of-consciousness sermons. Some people said, “Oh, she was only sharing her humanity,” but phone calls were made by the elders, and on Monday morning Lutheran HQ sent a psychologist to talk to Liz, who had no memory of the sermon though she admitted the toilet seat story was true, and the psychologist asked her if she had had a mental lapse of this sort previously, and Liz looked him in the eye and said, “I don’t care for your tone of voice. I am a minister of the Gospel, I am not here for you to patronize. Go be snotty to somebody else.” The next day she left quietly on an extended leave of absence with her sister Lil, who’d come all the way from Grand Forks to collect her. The cat was given to the Tolleruds, and that evening Daryl dosed it with a tranquilizer crushed in whipped cream, and Muffin went to the Great Lap in the Sky.

Lake Wobegon had never had a genuine clerical scandal before, and it made the most of this one, especially the Catholics did. They went out of their way to accost their Lutheran friends and express sympathy in a way that made you want to give them a good swift kick in the shins. Their sympathy was insufferable.

Myrtle Krebsbach said to Florence Tollefson, “I can’t imagine what you people are going through right now. This must be terribly painful. She seemed like such a nice person.”

Florence said, “Mind your own business for once.”

“To sit there Sunday morning and listen to your own minister talk about getting stuck on a toilet seat and then losing her virginity to somebody who didn’t even like her. In church. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like.”

Florence’s gaze drilled right into her. “Well, I’m glad we’ve given you all something to gossip about. Feast on it. Your turn will come, I promise.”

“If there’s anything I can do to help, I hope you’ll let me know.”

“You could start by losing 40 pounds and using less eye shadow. You’re 80 years old, for God’s sake.”

“I’m only expressing my sympathy. I’m sorry this is so painful for you.”

Florence said, “Well, you can take your sympathy and put it where the sun don’t shine.”

There was great delight in the Sidetrack Tap, of course, a place where decorum is not a fixed standard. Men took a toilet seat off the wall and passed it around, and Clint Bunsen, on his second rum and Coke, hung the seat around his neck and sang:

I used to work in Chicago
In a big department store.
I used to work in Chicago—
I did but I don’t anymore.
A lady came in for a girdle.
I asked her what kind she wore.
“Rubber,” she said, and rub her I did,
And I don’t work there anymore.

And Mr. Bauer recited: “There was a young pastor named Liz who sat on the toilet to whiz. She flushed and it stuck on her butt. WTF. And that’s what her ass meant and is.”

Clint split a gut, and then they did “Waltz Me Around Again, Willie” and “Roll Me Over in the Clover” and the dirty version of “Red Wing,” and they told limericks about the young man from Antietam and the young lady of Buckingham. The Sidetrack Tap is not the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and it has its own rules. Of course, if Pope Francis walked in or Michelle Obama, people would behave accordingly, but meanwhile, it is what it is, and the old patrons took some pleasure in the chagrin of Lutherans at the Liz episode.

And so the town headed into March, the month God created to show people who don’t drink what a hangover is like. The Lutheran bishop sent a pale seminarian named Phipps to replace Liz. He was pleasant enough but had a terrible habit of strolling into the congregation during his sermon, approaching people, putting his hand on your shoulder, preaching face-to-face, which terrified people. What if he grabbed you suddenly and hollered, “Heal!”—what would you do? Lutherans are not Pentecostals, they’re not looking for out-of-the-body experiences. So Phipps was sent back to the factory, and a young woman named Faith arrived who was Episcopalian as you could see from the rather ornate sash around her neck, like a sidecloth from your grandma’s buffet, and good God, the way she genuflected with a deep curtsy—can’t you cross yourself without making it into a ballet move? She did the Good Friday reading of Christ on the cross, and when she read, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” it sounded like she was having an episode. And the Easter reading and the angel saying, “DO NOT BE ALARMED”—it was alarming. This is church, not Masterpiece Theatre. She was sent back.

Meanwhile, the inappropriate incidents went on. Margie Krebsbach sat down in the Bon Ton to have her hair done and started talking French to Charlotte. French! She spoke a whole slew of it. Charlotte remembers enough French from high school to recognize it as something of a communistic nature with the words “Allons! Allons! Mes camarades!” Then Margie closed her eyes and leaned back, and Charlotte did the usual and no more was said. Weird. It was Arlene Bunsen who read an article about inappropriate outbursts as a symptom of food poisoning, and she took it to Dr. DeHaven, who was busy with a man whose urinary tract was on the fritz, so she left the article for him and he wrote her a note before he went home for his nap. She had to find his old nurse Eleanor, who is the only person in town, including Dr. DeHaven, who can read his handwriting. He said, “I’m sorry, but I’ve got my hands full with people who actually need help. Your people are just competing for attention.” Dr. DeHaven was 78 and had hinted at retirement years before but was offended that nobody tried to talk him out of it, and so he stayed on. He was a good man, but his general motto was “Let’s wait and see,” which doesn’t always lead to good results. He was easily bored by people’s complaints and often changed the subject to his own adventures as a hunter and fisherman and told one story after another until the appointment was up and thanked the patient and saw him or her to the door.

The Lutheran church was pastorless, so the bishop sent Rev. Anderson, a retiree, a pastor from the pasture, 82, who often neglected to wear his hearing aids and seemed quite content to be deaf. According to Lucille, who cleaned the parsonage as well as the church, he missed the toilet when he peed, and he took two-hour naps, sometimes two in succession. It was discovered after three weeks that his sermons came word-for-word from Homily Helper, a collection of 520 sermon outlines that he read as sermons, about three minutes in length. To Lutherans, those are known as “chalk talks,” and they’re meant for children. The man was shirking his duty.

Lutherans are dutiful people. Many Lutheran couples, after their wedding and the supper in the church basement, have stuck around to help with the dishes and cleaning up, even though their families tell them, “You go now. We’re fine. It’s your honeymoon, for heaven’s sake,” but the couple insists, “No, we don’t want to leave you with the mess. As soon as we sweep up and clean off the tables, we’ll be out of here.” Elderly Lutherans have gone in the hospital and wished the pastor would come visit them but refused to let anyone tell him. They would rather die than be a problem, and often they do. But a three-minute sermon is an insult. So Clarence and Roger and Grace and Dorothy drove down to the Minneapolis Lutheran synod headquarters and arrived a few minutes before the 5 p.m. closing time, and the front door was locked, so Roger got out a lug wrench and banged on the glass until a bishop appeared, and they marched in without a word of apology, unusual for Lutherans, and told the bishop that Pastor Anderson was a disgrace to the vestments, and he was drummed out, and the next day Liz came back, good old Liz. She’d been accepted as an intern at an organic hydroponic herb farm owned by Ben, who was auditioning to be her boyfriend, but when the bishop called her, she felt a tug at her heartstrings, and besides, Ben—a Republican who believed that a Deep State of undercover Harvard liberals was running Washington—required more remedial work than she cared to invest in him, so she accepted her old job back and the next Sunday there she was, and as she came down the aisle, the congregation applauded. Highly unusual in a Lutheran church. Historic, even. But they’d seen the alternatives and compared to arrogance and sloth, a bare butt looked not so bad.

Wobegon is a town of nice people except for a few cranks who serve to show how nice everyone else is. Self-effacing people. Bare butts are not what Wobegon is about, not at all, and yet—once Lutherans had seen the grabby guy and the thespian and the slacker, they welcomed Liz back joyfully and forgivingly. It’s good for a pastor to experience public shame and be forgiven. You practice on the pastor, and maybe someday you’ll be capable of forgiving yourself.

 

© Garrison Keillor, 2020


The Lake Wobegon Virus comes out on September 8, 2020 via Arcade Publishing.

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Available Now: BOOM TOWN by Garrison Keillor!

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

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

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

 

Praise for Boom Town:

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

 

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

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

 

Read the first chapter for free >>>

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A Wednesday drive in the old neighborhood

Another perfect summer and despite all there is to be forlorn about, I feel the same mindless happiness I remember from when I was 20 and running around Minneapolis in a red Mustang with a girl named Maggie and listening to the Cleftones and Cadillacs, the Coasters, the Drifters singing, “Out of the sun, we’ll be havin’ some fun. People walking above, we’ll be making love under the boardwalk.” We had no boardwalk at Lake Calhoun but there were dim places where we sat and necked. She had no plans for me nor did I for her, which was part of the mindlessness. Two young mammals keeping company, enjoying warm weather.

It all came back to me, riding around south Minneapolis Wednesday with my family, looking for the Dairy Queen on 38th Street, two blocks from the Grace & Truth Gospel Hall I attended as a boy in a small separatist sect where I enjoyed the feeling of complete comprehension of absolute truth, from Genesis to Revelation, right up to the age of twelve or thirteen.

Thanks to this upbringing, I have a good ear for the humorless self-righteous and when I got an email from an old friend asking for a donation to a collaborative storytelling collective to create a safe space and healing life-affirming environment for an inclusive group of young people focused on the intentional use of language to deepen self-awareness in the face of stress and trauma, I knew where he was coming from. I don’t object to this, I’m just a harmless old guy cruising around and looking forward to a Dairy Queen.

I did, however, note that in his list of minorities he’d serve, he listed “Dakhota” with a right-leaning accent mark over the o. I’d never seen the word spelled that way and I don’t know how to create that diacritical mark on my computer keyboard. But clearly, though he is white with no Dakhota corpuscles in him that he’s ever mentioned, he was demonstrating his moral superiority as one sensitive to indigenous nuance compared to a bigoted peasant such as myself.

Maggie and I were not inclusive, we were content to be two, both wanting to be writers, and we did tell stories, hers were about bad boyfriends who were too grabby, so I avoided grabbiness and simply held hands and eventually she kissed me and I kissed her back and was careful to make my kisses approximately equal in passion but not try to outdo her. Our safe space was the Mustang and the healing environment was July. In Minnesota you have to suffer a good deal to get to summer and when the perfect days arrive, you owe it to yourself to experience them fully. At the DQ I ordered a medium Butterfinger Blizzard and it was life-affirming.

Lake Calhoun was renamed Bde Maka Ska in honor of the Dakhota and surely it made no sense for Minneapolis to honor John Calhoun, the South Carolinian proponent of slavery and a man with bad hair, but for Maggie and me in the Mustang, the lake had no political significance, it was only a large body of water we looked at as we laid hands on each other. But I’m fine with the name change. Woody Allen was Allan Konigsberg and decided not to be; Allen Ginsberg’s first name was Irwin and a guy named Irwin could not have written “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” he would’ve become an insurance salesman. If Bob Dylan had remained Bob Zimmerman, Columbia Records never would’ve seen him as a poet and visionary and he’d be a cabdriver today. Maybe Maggie has become Starflower Moonbright and is conducting collaborative life-affirming workshops in Fargaux, North Dakhota. I wish her well.

As for me, I am enjoying a mindless summer day in the back seat behind my wife and daughter as we drive through my old neighborhood, eating our Dairy Queens. Some things we know for certain and that’s one. Another is that the two states west of here will never put the h in their names and the right-leaning accent mark over the o. There are good people there but they won’t let Minnesotans tell them how to spell their name. The originalists on the Supreme Court could find that Thomas Jefferson spelled the name with the h and the accent but I say, Live and let live. Enjoy the day. It’s summer.

 

Talking on the phone to Joyce and rejoicing

We sat in the sun and played Scrabble Monday and a few minutes later a vulgar four-letter profanity appeared on my letter rack that I could’ve played for 47 points and did not. I just wasn’t in the mood. I’d spoken on the phone that day with Joyce, a preacher and a favorite cousin of mine. Our grandfathers were brothers, and a long-ago rift between them separated our families for decades and I didn’t meet Joyce until I was an old man. This strange story of two stubborn Scots keeping their distance draws me even closer to her. She’s a student of family history and when we talk Jesus comes easily into the conversation with no change of tone of voice, same as you’d mention your brother or father. He is not in a separate universe.

I’ve tried to say the four-letter word several times and I can’t get it to sound natural, not like my two friends who use it often to bold-face what they’re saying. I don’t object. They’re neighbors and Jesus said to love them so I do, mostly, though the word sounds alarming to me like breaking glass. There’s no kindness about it.

Joyce’s grandfather was in the Navy and mine worked for the railroad and they must’ve heard plenty of profanity but never took up the habit. My grandpa, however, was capable of silent anger of an enduring nature, which his children knew and dreaded. My mother as a girl once sat down in the kitchen window and didn’t notice the fresh blueberry pie on the sill and knocked it out on the lawn and she was terrified her dad would berate her for it. He once got angry at her for being too friendly with boys at school and sent her to transfer to a school where she knew nobody. She forgave him and a few years later she had to confess to him that she was pregnant by the boy who would become my father though they hadn’t said their vows yet.

It was 1936, he was still needed on the farm, his father having died three years before, and she was in nurse’s training. They’d been in love for five years and had no money and one day, driving a double team of horses, he almost broke his neck when the horses bolted and the wagon crashed in the ditch, and he was so elated by his survival he wrote her a long letter describing the mishap — the only sustained narrative I ever knew to come out of my father — and he borrowed his brother’s Model A and drove to the city and a few months later she was pregnant. They lied to Grandpa, said they had eloped, and both families were upset but the storm passed. Grandpa’s anger might have exiled her to a home for unwed mothers and my brother Philip would’ve been adopted and I would not have come into existence. But they were forgiven and the story was kept secret by my 21 aunts and uncles and I never found out until my parents were gone and I was an 70-year-old orphan.

Righteous indignation is the easy part of the Christian faith and the hard part is forgiveness. Our country is caught up in ferocious indignation but there is a more merciful culture among us. We know that our country is a haven for the hopeful. We grieve for the migrant workers who died of the heat in the semitrailer that hauled them up from Mexico. We grieve for the pregnant women trapped in an impossible dilemma. The children in room 112 are still on our minds.

What Grandpa never told my mother was that her mother was pregnant for three months before he married her and the indignation of his family was one thing that drove him to leave Scotland and come to America. This is why Joyce and I are keen about family history. Each of us owes our life to a marvelous combination of circumstances, and mercy and kindness and forgiveness are entwined with it.

The righteously indignant are missing out on comedy, which is at the heart of America and which is about forgiveness. Jews don’t recognize Jesus as Messiah, Protestants don’t recognize the pope, and Baptists don’t recognize each other in the liquor store. I heard that joke from a Baptist when I was a kid and I still love it. Jesus broke bread with sinners and Republicans and we should do likewise.

Here're your orders: make something beautiful

I woke up this morning and my good woman wasn’t gone, she was asleep beside me, I didn’t feel an aching in my head, no blues around my bed. I made coffee, it tasted fine, not like turpentine. I could put gin in the coffee and make it taste like turpentine but why would I? And that’s how I feel about the Six Supremes who’re trying to take us back to the 19th century. No need to grieve over it, November is coming, and the simple solution is to throw the bums out. Elect a Congress with a two-thirds majority in favor of enlarging the Court to fifteen, which will reverse the reversals. Ninety million eligible voters sat out the 2016 election and that’s how we wound up where we are with this ambitious minority in power. So you’re depressed by this turn of events. Think of the Six, staying home with the shades pulled, their spouses and children going to the hair salon accompanied by plainclothesmen with a bulge under the jacket. They know that they are widely despised. They avoid eye contact with passersby. I doubt they’re ordering takeout: some worker at Domino’s sees Alito’s name on the order, she is likely to tamper with the pizza. The Six are not attending concerts. No picnics for them. No long car trips except to Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. Clarence and Ginni surely have close friends but after he announced that the Supremes should take a hard look at gay relationships and contraceptives, he must be thinking about the children and grandchildren of the friends, the boy with his hair in a bun, the girl with the tattoos, and what about the paperboy and the waiters at the country club? And what if he takes a wrong turn and runs into the Pride Parade? They might put him on a rainbow blanket and march down the street tossing him in the air, waving his arms and legs, a ridiculous fate for the Leader of the Pack. You and I, my dears, can walk freely through town with a clear conscience, enjoy the breeze in the trees and say hi to the cop on the corner. The Six cannot. The cop is not so friendly, imagining everybody carrying a loaded .45 and if he sees one of the six enablers, he might give them the finger, which so far is protected by the First Amendment. Don’t be disheartened. Deal with the problem. If you’re troubled by inflation, cut back on expenses. Don’t buy sparkling water. Fill up the glass with tap water and if you want bubbles, stick a straw in the water and blow. If you’re depressed by the state of things, skip the news and take a walk beside a large body of water and look at the stars and the moon. The newscaster will say, “Good evening” and then give you fifty-seven reasons why it’s not. Give yourself a break. The Gang of Six is heading for 1845 and I doubt they’ll get to Prohibition before they fade into the sunset and go down in the WWTT chapter of history (What Were They Thinking). The Six couldn’t find abortion mentioned in the Constitution so they dumped Roe but maybe when they go to their physician to deal with their gloominess, they’ll find a medical originalist with a bucket of leeches who’ll bleed them white and administer powerful purgatives until they’re considerably lighter, and thus they will regain their senses and so will we. Meanwhile, remind yourself that other people have thrived under wretched governors so don’t be discouraged. The Duke of Saxe-Weimar threw Bach in jail for daring to think he had individual rights. Dante was sent into exile and he wrote the Inferno so he could put the politician Argenti into the Fifth Circle of Hell. Dostoevsky joined a liberal study group for which, in 1849, he was thrown into prison and sentenced to death by firing squad, and was third in line to be executed when a pardon arrived. He lit out for Paris, London, Berlin, and figured out how to survive, writing Crime and Punishment in serial installments for magazines, avoiding politics. While cruelty is in power, do what Mozart did. Exercise your gifts. Create beautiful things. Wolfgang stayed clear of emperors and did his work and he lives on today and the emperors are just moldy names on marble slabs covered with pigeon droppings. If you can’t write The Marriage of Figaro, write your own marriage and make it a work of art.  

America is missing a holiday maybe

It’s over and gone, but every Midsummer Day I remember the dinner at Hanne and Ole’s farm in Denmark back in 1989 when fifty of us sat in a meadow at long tables with white cloths and good china for a feast of cold soup and salad and white wine, platters of lamb and potatoes, and dessert and coffee, and the Danish lady next to me speaking perfect schoolgirl English, and around ten p.m., as the sky turned dark, we traipsed down to the ocean shore and lit a bonfire and burned a straw witch and all the Danes sang from memory songs they’d known from childhood and we could see far away up the shore, other bonfires, other parties, other witches being burned.

We have no celebration like it in America. There’s no commercial motive behind Midsummer’s Day, no political rationale or religious, it’s about the glory of summer and friendship and the casting out of evil spirits. I was there as an outsider, and in celebration of the day they went out of their way to make me feel welcome. The Danish lady had heard that I was an American author and she read a book of mine and talked about it, which, my being a self-effacing Midwesterner, made me uncomfortable but it was a kind gesture.

Maybe the Fourth could become that sort of celebration. We need some community parties that have a good feeling without a big message. The boomers went in for big music festivals, Woodstock and then the Grateful Dead concerts, thirty thousand people in tribal clothing, seriously stoned, listening to a stoned band on a distorted sound system vamping for twenty-five minutes on a song that was better at four and a half. The Dead concert was not about community, it was about who was not welcome, your parents, teachers, people over thirty.

I attended a strawberry fest once and that was a fine celebration. You pop a big ripe red strawberry in your mouth and you feel your meanness dissipate. That’s why strawberry-rhubarb pie is such a great innovation, combining sweetness and irony. It is a beautiful marriage and marriage, as we know, is the basis of community and the true test of character. The Deadheads were under the drug-induced illusion that they were lonely geniuses, but when old friends and neighbors gather to celebrate, it’s a triumph of hope over experience.

Denmark is a nation of a dozen political parties so you knew there was plenty of stiff disagreement under the surface and, as in any group of people who know each other all too well, various old feuds and misunderstandings and interesting gossip, but they set it aside when the witch is carried in on her pole and consigned to the flames. Let go of the past, summer is here, live these brilliant days one by one, put regret and recrimination behind.

Marriage is a great test and some of us were allowed to retake it until we got it right. To make a life with your most knowledgeable critic is heroic, and the reward is a spacious happiness, no doubt about it. I have no objection to same-sex marriage but it strikes me as a compromise, whereas marrying someone from the other team is a bold move. My parents eloped and married in secret over the opposition of both families and this was a bond between them, they were in love to the very end, though they were as different as could be, a farm boy and a city girl, a stoic and a romantic. My mother loved comedians and laughed at Jack Benny and Lucille Ball and my dad didn’t understand comedy, it struck him as contrary to Scripture. She adored Christmas, he thought it was a pagan aberration, but they worked it out.

And now Jenny walks into the room and asks what I’m writing and she’s going to want me to read it to her and when I do, she’s going to tell me to take out the part about same-sex marriage, that it’ll hurt people’s feelings, but I’m not going to do it. Some of my best friends, et cetera, et cetera, and if you can’t kid your friends, then we have a problem. She and I have been together thirty years and she still mystifies me. We could make Columbus Day into Couples Day: marriage is a voyage into the unknown and when you get there you find out it’s not where you thought you were going, thank goodness.

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

July 10, 2022

Sunday incl LIVESTREAM

7:30 p.m.

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

A Prairie Home Companion American Revival comes to Ryman Auditorium on July 10, 2022 with Aoife O’Donovan, Joe Newberry, Heather Masse, Rich Dworsky, Sam Bush, Pat Donohue, Fred Newman, Tim Russell and others. LIVE STREAM AVAILABLE

July 25, 2022

Monday

7:30 p.m.

Brown County Playhouse, Nashville, IN

Nashville, IN

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Nashville, IN for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

July 27, 22

Wednesday

7:30 p.m.

RESCHEDULED Midland Theatre, Newark OH

Newark, 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

July 28, 2022

Thursday

8:00 p.m.

Rescheduled 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

July 30, 2022

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Door County Auditorium, Fish Creek, WI

Fish Creek, WI

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Fish Creek, Wisconsin for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

October 9, 2022

Sunday

7:00 p.m.

Paramount Hudson Valley, Peekskill, NY

Peekskill, NY

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

October 13, 2022

Thursday

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

November 6, 2022

Sunday

7:30 p.m.

The Bend Theatre, West Bend, WI

West Bend, WI

Garrison Keillor brings his show to West Bend, WI for a performance of sing-a-longs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

December 4, 2022

Sunday

8:00 p.m.

Broward Center for Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Fort Lauderdale, FL

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Fort Lauderdale, FL for 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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A Wednesday drive in the old neighborhood

Another perfect summer and despite all there is to be forlorn about, I feel the same mindless happiness I remember from when I was 20 and running around Minneapolis in a red Mustang with a girl named Maggie and listening to the Cleftones and Cadillacs, the Coasters, the Drifters singing, “Out of the sun, we’ll be havin’ some fun. People walking above, we’ll be making love under the boardwalk.” We had no boardwalk at Lake Calhoun but there were dim places where we sat and necked. She had no plans for me nor did I for her, which was part of the mindlessness. Two young mammals keeping company, enjoying warm weather.

It all came back to me, riding around south Minneapolis Wednesday with my family, looking for the Dairy Queen on 38th Street, two blocks from the Grace & Truth Gospel Hall I attended as a boy in a small separatist sect where I enjoyed the feeling of complete comprehension of absolute truth, from Genesis to Revelation, right up to the age of twelve or thirteen.

Read More

Talking on the phone to Joyce and rejoicing

We sat in the sun and played Scrabble Monday and a few minutes later a vulgar four-letter profanity appeared on my letter rack that I could’ve played for 47 points and did not. I just wasn’t in the mood. I’d spoken on the phone that day with Joyce, a preacher and a favorite cousin of mine. Our grandfathers were brothers, and a long-ago rift between them separated our families for decades and I didn’t meet Joyce until I was an old man. This strange story of two stubborn Scots keeping their distance draws me even closer to her. She’s a student of family history and when we talk Jesus comes easily into the conversation with no change of tone of voice, same as you’d mention your brother or father. He is not in a separate universe.

I’ve tried to say the four-letter word several times and I can’t get it to sound natural, not like my two friends who use it often to bold-face what they’re saying. I don’t object. They’re neighbors and Jesus said to love them so I do, mostly, though the word sounds alarming to me like breaking glass. There’s no kindness about it.

Read More

Here’re your orders: make something beautiful

I woke up this morning and my good woman wasn’t gone, she was asleep beside me, I didn’t feel an aching in my head, no blues around my bed. I made coffee, it tasted fine, not like turpentine. I could put gin in the coffee and make it taste like turpentine but why would I? And that’s how I feel about the Six Supremes who’re trying to take us back to the 19th century. No need to grieve over it, November is coming, and the simple solution is to throw the bums out. Elect a Congress with a two-thirds majority in favor of enlarging the Court to fifteen, which will reverse the reversals. Ninety million eligible voters sat out the 2016 election and that’s how we wound up where we are with this ambitious minority in power.

So you’re depressed by this turn of events. Think of the Six, staying home with the shades pulled, their spouses and children going to the hair salon accompanied by plainclothesmen with a bulge under the jacket. They know that they are widely despised. They avoid eye contact with passersby. I doubt they’re ordering takeout: some worker at Domino’s sees Alito’s name on the order, she is likely to tamper with the pizza. The Six are not attending concerts. No picnics for them. No long car trips except to Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. Clarence and Ginni surely have close friends but after he announced that the Supremes should take a hard look at gay relationships and contraceptives, he must be thinking about the children and grandchildren of the friends, the boy with his hair in a bun, the girl with the tattoos, and what about the paperboy and the waiters at the country club? And what if he takes a wrong turn and runs into the Pride Parade? They might put him on a rainbow blanket and march down the street tossing him in the air, waving his arms and legs, a ridiculous fate for the Leader of the Pack.

Read More

A weekend in the wilds of Connecticut

I have seen some of the future lately and I must admit it’s very appealing to me. My wife drives through Connecticut, a woman’s voice in the dashboard directing her along a twisting route through small towns laid out in the 18th century, a street plan designed to frustrate intruders, and my daughter in the back seat FaceTimes her roommate Saamiya who is in India, visiting relatives. My daughter is drawn to people, loves to be in a group, and the phone is her instrument of choice, and soon Marisa joins from London, and Erin in New Jersey, Hindu, Orthodox, and Jewish, joined in small talk. Remarkable to me, not to her.

“Can you feel how smooth the car runs?” my wife says. She took it to a garage for an oil change two days ago and the garage texted her videos of two very worn tires and an engine that needed retuning and she texted back her consent. The cost was steep but the advance info lessened the shock. I wish I’d been at the marketing meeting that came up with that idea.

Read More

Just a word about Sunday, then I shut up

Father’s Day is a wonderful joke, a day on which you sit with your brood and someone turns to you and says, “When is Father’s Day? Isn’t it in June?” and you, the father, say, “I have no idea whatsoever.” And that’s the end of it. Mother’s Day is the big deal when tanker ships full of French perfume dock at the bottling plants and four-star restaurants hire extra staff and Father’s Day is the Sunday when someone gives you a bottle of cologne that smells like disinfectant. The price tag is still on it, $1.89.

Women, as we know unless we’re in Texas or in the memory unit, run this world. There was never a single object that a man set down that a woman didn’t reach over and move it. Never a sentence came out of a man’s mouth that a woman didn’t correct. Women decide what we shall eat and what we shall sit on or sleep on, and a man’s opinion is of no more use than that of the family cat. This is a major factor in the popularity of gay marriage: two men decide they want to be free and sleep on cotton sheets and not polyester and have dark brown towels and wear festive colors rather than the prison uniforms women buy for us. The sex is an add-on, mainly it’s about exercising personal taste.

Read More

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit a shirt

As a Midwesterner, I was brought up to be self-effacing and make no demands of anybody. I don’t honk, I don’t wave at the waiter who’s ignoring me, I don’t want to be a problem. Offer me ranch or blue cheese dressing, I say, “Whatever is easier for you, whichever you have more of, whatever nobody else wants.” “Just choose, damn it,” the host says, and I’m tempted to ask for blue cheese but I don’t want to if it deprives someone else of blue cheese who is on the edge of the cliff already and, denied his dressing, might harm himself. “We have plenty of both,” the host says. But now I’m wondering, “What do I have against ranch? Is it my antipathy to cowboy mythology and the fetishization of guns?” And the host screams, “CHOOSE!” And I ask him, “Which one has less impact on the environment?” And he shows me to the door and locks it after me.

Self-effacement is rare in New York where I live. People don’t go around meeking each other as they do back in Minnesota, because here, the Christian faith is an oddball item, as it was in Jesus’s time. It’s a city of Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and a million people who moved here to escape from fundamentalist families, plus other minorities, Sodomites and Gomorrhians, and the people who designed the Tower of Babel and went into the practice of law.

Read More

Looking down the road, seeing the future

It would appear that five of the Supremes are favoring an absolute right to possess any weaponry whatsoever by whoever has the cash, and to bear arms without restriction in schools, churches, shopping centers, aboard airliners, in the courtroom itself, that a right is a right, period. And when the Executive Quintet opens those doors, we’ll see dramatic changes here in the land of the free and home of the brazen, such as the man police apprehended carrying a gun near Justice Kavanaugh’s home last week, with intent to do harm.

We have 400 million guns now and when we get up to a billion, there will be more men with guns than police can apprehend, and it’s safe to say that no parent will send children to school, even one with armed guards. Law enforcement has been overwhelmed in many cities, including Minneapolis, where police have begun to privatize themselves and hire out as freelance security. Education, I suppose, will move online. Millions of people will become consultants and work out of their homes; manufacturing will all go to China. The closing of schools will likely mean the end of interscholastic sports except fencing, sharpshooting, and bowling, which may be useful for self-defense.

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The meaning of life as it dawned on me the other night

I enjoy writing this column every week but how would you know that, me being from Minnesota, from stoical people, brought up to bite our tongue and persevere through suffering, and if pleasure occurs, be patient, it will soon pass. In other parts of the country, our stoicism would be diagnosed as depression. Sedatives are pretty much wasted on us. Joy is a word on Christmas cards, not used in conversation. At games, the cheerleaders only try to keep the crowd awake, and if our team wins, we think, “Well, I guess it could’ve been worse and next time it probably will be.”

We’re people of few words and that’s why we’ve produced very few writers. Fitzgerald was an Easterner born in St. Paul by mistake and he left as soon as he could and never returned. The poet Robert Bly’s big book was Silence in the Snowy Fields, which pretty much says it all, and then he wrote Iron John about plumbing. As for Louise Erdrich, she grew up in North Dakota.

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Recovering from disaster, thanks to my heroes

I’ve been writing nagging hectoring columns about malfeasance in high places lately, and now it’s time to admit I left the water running in the shower three weeks ago and it leaked down to two apartments below us and caused water damage and now insurance adjustors are working out a settlement and I am required to wear a hazard-orange vest with IN THE EVENT OF ERRATIC BEHAVIOR, CALL — and my wife’s phone number written on the back. I distinctly remember turning the water off, but plaster damage below us says otherwise. So I’m not going to write about the federal judge who threw out the mask mandate that led to the steep rise in COVID cases. I have my own problems.

My wife is a forgiving person. She has not filed for guardianship. She kicks my butt at Scrabble but she’s gracious about it. She rations my bacon cheeseburgers. She tells me if I look bedraggled so I don’t walk down the street and people hand me spare change. And she turns out the light at night and rolls over and puts her arms around me. This is better than a Pulitzer Prize. So I don’t wake up in the morning with an aching in my head and the blues all around my bed and the water tastes like turpentine because my good gal left me here cryin’. She didn’t. She has made coffee and she has read the morning paper so that I don’t need to. When you skip the news, life is a lot more like Anne of Green Gables or The House at Pooh Corner.

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Some news, as we know, is realer than others

Uvalde stays in the mind despite all distractions, a pleasant day at a little summer house in Connecticut and Scrabble on the porch and the drive back to Manhattan on the Merritt Parkway with its arched stone bridges dating back to the days when families went for a “drive” for pleasure — it stays because it is so real. I don’t understand economics, Ukraine is far away, climate change is an abstraction, but the terrified parents across the street from their kids’ school hearing gunshots, they are real, and I have a great-niece who is the same age as the kids in room 112 and I imagine her as the girl who lay on the floor among dead classmates and called 911 and said, “Send the police now, please.” That is my niece, a lively independent spirited girl who loves reading and bonds with her grandma and eats like a trucker but is thin as a rail thanks to the intensity of her life. That girl has a name, like the kids in Texas.

The teachers Eva and Irma are real. They are my fourth-grade teachers, Miss Carroll and Mrs. Moehlenbrock. The Border Patrol trooper in the hallway who said to his two colleagues, “Let’s get this done,” and the three of them burst into 112, I know men who would’ve done that. The shooter is completely unreal, a blank shadow.

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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. 

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