The Lake Wobegon Virus

Original Publish Date: July 13, 2020

The newest Lake Wobegon novel, The Lake Wobegon Virus, published on September 8, 2020 via Arcade Publishing.

Hardcover and eBook versions are available; plus a CD audiobook and subscription services such as Audible, Google Play, and ScribD, are also now available.


From the Publisher:
Bestselling author and humorist Garrison Keillor returns to one of America’s most beloved mythical towns, beset by a contagion of alarming candor.

A mysterious virus has infiltrated the good people of Lake Wobegon, transmitted via unpasteurized cheese made by a Norwegian bachelor farmer, the effect of which is episodic loss of social inhibition. Mayor Alice, Father Wilmer, Pastor Liz, the Bunsens and Krebsbachs, formerly taciturn elders, burst into political rants, inappropriate confessions, and rhapsodic proclamations, while their teenagers watch in amazement. Meanwhile, a wealthy outsider is buying up farmland for a “Keep America Truckin’” Motorway and Amusement Park, estimated to draw 2.2 million visitors a year. Clint Bunsen and Elena the hometown epidemiologist to the rescue, with a Fourth of July Living Flag and sweet corn feast for a finale.

In his newest Lake Wobegon novel, Garrison Keillor takes us back to the small prairie town where for so long American readers and listeners have found laughter as well as the wry airing of our most familiar fears, desires, and beliefs—a town where, as we know, “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”


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Read the first chapter:

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


Order an autographed hardcover copy →
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Sing Along (Click image)
Sing Along at the Ryman 2022
BOOM TOWN by Garrison Keillor!

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

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

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

 

Praise for Boom Town:

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

 

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

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

 

Read the first chapter for free >>>

Purchase Boom Town Hardcover >>>

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Even old people need to explore new realms

I’m an American, I like to believe that nobody but nobody is beyond the reach of friendship and understanding, not even North Koreans or former felons or the creators of complex security systems that have driven me to the brink of madness, trying to remember the password for my computer and then having to replace the password and confirm my identity by typing in a six-numeral code sent to me on my cellphone whose password I now can’t remember either.

I don’t have top-secret documents stored in the phone or in the laptop. I have a lot of appeals for donations from Democratic politicians and lefty organizations such as Citizens United for Diversity & Inclusivity In American Humor (CUDIAH), none of which needs to be kept from prying eyes. I’m a Democrat. So what? I wish I had a friend in the password biz who could say, “Oh, passwords went out of usage long ago, nobody does that anymore, you just need a simple voice-recognition system that eliminates the need for passwords.” My current friends are all liberal-arts grads who know nothing about this stuff. Do you get my drift?

I need to broaden my social circle. All of my friends are aging liberals, and they’re perfectly nice people but our conversation is the same old same old stuff repeated, reiterated, recycled, re-repeated, et cetera. We talk about the cold, about our grandkids, about bad books we’ve read recently. We’re still talking about the guy who uses bronzer and combs little squiggles in his hair. Which is so over. I mean, really.

I do not have a single friend who was looking forward to hearing Taylor Swift and who was furious at Ticketmaster for messing up her tour and watched carefully the congressional hearings into the whole Swiftian crisis. Nobody.

I wish I knew some Swift fans and I’ve tried to make connections but I am not good at texting because I use just one finger and they text at 60 w.p.m. with both thumbs and even when I’m sitting next to them they still prefer texting to talking, and I fall behind, which marks me as untextworthy, and they go like “C.U.” or “BRB” and they’re gone. I’m trying to like Taylor’s songs but it’s not easy.

You were so awful to me
And I sat there and took it
You had me in your pocket
So you could just reach in
Like grabbing a keychain,
I was a handkerchief to blow your nose on
But now I’m gone.
I’ll never be in love with you again.

All I can say is if a girlfriend of mine wrote a break-up song as bad as that, she never would’ve been my girlfriend to begin with so there never would’ve been anything to break up.

My friends tend to be overeducated, quasi-vegan, animal-rights types, though they whack flies and poison cockroaches and set vicious traps for rodents as if Mickey and Minnie have no right to exist — but hey, inconsistency is the spice of life — and just once I’d like to have a personal friend who’d invite me to sit in his den unmasked and look at his Mannlicher-Schönauer bolt-action 30-06 and admire the heads of water buffalo and jaguar and giraffe mounted on the walls and show me videos from his latest safari to Uganda, which by accident segues into scenes from Nancy Pelosi’s office on January 6, 2021.

America is awash in firearms and I don’t have a single close friend who owns even a .22. I don’t personally know a single Proud Boy or Minuteman or Viking Avenger.

I’m not saying I approve of these people — au contraire, mon cher — I’d simply like to know somebody over on the dark side who is up on all the latest conspiracies, rather than the folks in my book club or the people I meet at coffee hour after church or at meetings of my ACLU chapter.

I feel a little smothered by good intentions and I’d like to see more of the world before I start the long grim slide. I’m not looking for an illicit romance or anything dangerous, I’m considering becoming a Republican realtor in Wabash, Indiana, and say bad things about Biden, just to see what it feels like, maybe go to a target range, do some bowling. My wife loves New York but I talked her into marrying me and how much harder could Wabash be than that? Six months is all I ask, darling. Just for the experience.

The beauty of a bitterly cold Sunday, 8 a.m.

I couldn’t sleep last Saturday night due to anxiety caused by rewinding various lowlights of my long life that hit me like a brick and I lay in bed and watched the hours go by as I contemplated my imminent demise leaving my dependents impoverished and homeless so when the day dawned I put on a suit and coat and I went around the block to the solemn 8 a.m. Mass rather than wait for the more festive 10:30 and walked through the bitter Minnesota cold into St. Mark’s Cathedral where a couple dozen souls sat, widely spaced apart, perhaps to guard against communicable disease, or maybe to avoid the Exchange of Peace after the absolution of our sins.

My sin was dread, anxiety, nameless unreasoning fear, but never mind. I remembered as I came into the cathedral that there is no music at the 8 a.m., no chipper Bach chorale to brighten the mood, no rousing opening hymn, just this scattering of folks in the vastness, like the Church in apostolic times, a few believers hiding out in the catacombs, hoping men in heavy armor don’t break in and bust our heads.

I knelt and prayed for my loved ones, that they be spared my anxiety. I could hear my own voice proclaiming the Nicene Creed, the whole megillah, including the unbelievable part about God coming to earth and becoming incarnate by the Virgin Mary, and it did nothing for the lead in my heart nor, as it turned out, did the homily.

What I found inspiring were two Scripture readings, one from the prophet Micah, where the reader faced the line, “O my people, remember what happened from Shittim to Gilgal that you may know the saving acts of the Lord,” and she slowed down when she saw “Shittim” and got traction and very carefully pronounced it “shi-team.” I was the only one in the sanctuary immature enough to enjoy this moment. There were no 13-year-old boys there, just me. I could tell from her voice that the reader had been dreading this for an hour, trying to decide between “shy-tim” and “shi-team” and fearing that she’d slip and pronounce it phonetically and a marble angel would fall and crash and red lights would flash and people would require treatment for post-traumatic stress.

And then moments later she read from First Corinthians that we do not find God through wisdom. No, God chose what is foolish to shame the wise, for God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. The thought of God’s foolishness is a radical one, seldom mentioned in church, and near me were some highly educated people, including a man who got his Ph.D. in classic philosophy from Harvard and here I sat, a writer of limericks and a lover of juvenile jokes (Knock-knock. “Who’s there?” Eskimo Christians. “Eskimo Christians who?” Eskimo Christians, I’ll tell you no lies.) and when I went forward for Communion I felt foolishly happy. The wafer was not artisanal, the wine too sweet, but I received it with a good and grateful heart.

I went downstairs for coffee. People were gathering for the election of church officers and I joined them. It had been an austere service but it took a big load off my mind, the woman navigating her way around “Shittim” — it’s in the sixth chapter of Micah, look it up — and the words “God’s foolishness” — the playfulness of the Creator of the universe who 13 billion years ago, from a little speck of matter, suddenly produced an infinity of galaxies of which our Milky Way is a small specimen and the solar system turning around our sun is but a kiddie amusement park and our little planet is a jungle gym and hot dog stand.

I sat down and someone said, “Welcome home.” I live in New York but I used to be from here and that was nice. Two candidates for church warden stood and gave brief speeches and I wrote a limerick:

I am not running for warden:
It’s a job I know I’d be bored in,
Running a prison.
My calling is in
Enjoying the journey toward Jordan.

A dreadful night, a cold day, a juvenile joke, I’m a happy man. The Greeks and Romans loved poop jokes: go ahead and google it. The world is a mess but dread gets us nowhere so cheer up and then go do what you were put here to do. I was put here to cheer you up. So smile.

 

What I did when you were asleep

I just heard the story of the professor who refused to have “(he, him, his)” after his name on correspondence and his chairman who said, “You must. It’s policy.” And the professor said, “I don’t care. I won’t.” I understand that the policy police haven’t been called yet to haul him away for genderphobia and I salute him for resisting: the policy has no purpose, it’s about appearances.

Here is one more good reason to avoid a career in Academia. I write “(me/us/hers)” after my name and nobody can tell me otherwise. This is America, not Argentina. When I walk into the clinic and a sign says “Masks required,” I put one on, because there is science behind it. I go to the public library and turn my phone off out of simple consideration for the readers and writers at my table.

If you take a look at me, you’ll see a guy with short hair, in a brown pinstripe suit, wearing shoes with low heels, no necklace, and from that you can deduce whatever you like, monarchist, Mormon missionary, male model, whatever amuses you. What matters more is that you say, “Good morning,” “good to see you,” “like your red socks,” the little mannerly murmurs of daily life.

That’s the end of today’s lecture. Let’s talk about morning instead.

I’ve been going to bed at 8 and rising at 4, due to a construction project going on across the hall, which begins around 9 and which sounds like the walls of Babylon being knocked down by Vandals using battering rams. I’m a writer by trade, even though I don’t put it in parentheses after my name, I let people think what they want, and we writers don’t do well in scenes of battle and wholesale destruction. So I move bedtime up a few hours. Ten years ago my family sailed to Southampton aboard the Queen Mary 2, an expensive cruise, but an excellent investment because every night I can put myself to sleep by imagining myself at the rail sailing past the Statue of Liberty and inching under the Verrazano Bridge and by the time we’re at sea, I’m asleep.

Four a.m. is a peaceful hour. A person is unaware of time. If what you’re writing is of interest, it wakes you up. If not, you’re in the wrong line of work. It’s the hour of freedom. Around six, if the work goes well, I reward myself with breakfast. My sweetheart is a somewhat-vegan but she is asleep and so I can roast up a sirloin with fried eggs and feel a kinship with Beowulf and Hrothgar.

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I do not feed on roots or lettuce leaf
But microwave a bowl of frozen fries,
To eat with eggs and half a pound of beef.

Man is a hunter — women could thrive on a diet of nasturtiums and leaves of grass, but men cannot, and there are millions of cattle wandering around and what else are they for? They’re not going to work out new algorithms. My sweetheart thinks I eat too much red meat. Maybe so. So I’ll skip it this morning and make oatmeal instead and enjoy a sense of righteousness. Meanwhile I have three hours of peace until Armageddon resumes.

The owners of the apartment across the hall are going to feel a definite chill when finally they move into their luxurious quarters. When they invite us over for drinks, I’ll think up a communicable disease. And I may buy a couple speakers the size of VWs and turn up the volume on Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and maybe leave town for a month and have a crew come in and tear down some walls.

But I have decided to give up anger in my old age. I decided this months ago and I am sticking to it. I gave up looking at the news, and now if wars had ceased and Martians had located us and a cure for cancer had been found and the Vikings had won the Super Bowl, I would be unaware of it.

And so in this new spirit I am writing a book about cheerfulness, which is due out in the spring. I’ve looked around bookstores and found hundreds of books about clueless parents and bad boyfriends and the imminent demise of civilization, and I could write one about noisy neighbors, but I choose to write about gratitude and lightheartedness. I think they/them/those might need something like that and if, like the Queen Mary, it puts them to sleep, that is useful too.

 

I am giving up anger, so should you

The apartment across the hall from where we’re staying in Minneapolis is undergoing extensive renovation, walls being moved, floors torn up, and every day last week the noise from there was seismic, volcanic, like they were throwing pickup trucks into a giant grinder, and when I walked out of our place and saw a workman I asked him how long this racket would continue and I used, as a modifier to “racket,” a word not seen in your family newspaper, not yet, God help us, though I’ve heard it used by small children in New York attending schools named for saints. Kids grow up faster in New York. I felt bad about my cursing. I still do. I am trying to give up anger. It’s poisonous and it has no effect other than to make the angerer feel bad and perhaps do something truly stupid. You sit in a traffic jam yelling at other drivers and where does it get you? You read about Kevin McCarthy online and in your fury you hurl your laptop out the window and how does this change anything? (I didn’t do that, only considered it.) So I am skipping the front page and enjoying reading the angry comments on the editorial page and the obits and stories about minor crime. From this, I learn that (1) Americans aren’t adept at cutting people down, like whoever said of Endicott Peabody that he was the only Massachusetts politician to have four towns named for him –– Peabody, Marblehead, Athol, and Hyannis. We tend to mutter. (2) Good obits are few and far between. They’re over-the-top laudatory and they leave out the delicious details. Minor rock musicians die and you read that they “had a profound effect on music at the time” when what you want to know is exactly how many hotel rooms did he destroy. (3) There’s a great deal of outright stupidity in the world of crime. Last week I read about a bearded man wearing a mask and dark glasses, gloves and tan sweater, carrying a handgun, who walked into a bank in St. Paul and demanded money from three tellers in turn, his pistol aimed at them, and he followed them as they went to a safe for more. He wound up with $28,000, which he put into an Aldi grocery store bag and departed, unaware that a tracking device was included with the cash, which led police to find him a half mile away, on foot, carrying the Aldi bag with the money in it and also the mask, wearing the sunglasses. He claimed to have found the bag with the money in it and he declined to answer questions but they found a library card with his name on it, which corresponded with his fingerprints on the bag. He also carried an unloaded Ruger handgun. He was bearded. The reporter Nick Ferraro wrote the story beautifully, with all the fine details, the library card, the grocery bag, and also the perp saying to the tellers as he departed with the cash and tracker, “Have a nice day. Stay warm.” And his refusal to talk to police. You’re holding the Aldi bag with the dough in it and you fit the description and you walk away from the scene ¬¬— were you planning to wait for a bus? He is in jail now, with bail set at $500,000, charged with robbery and assault. A public defender will do her best to make a case for leniency — maybe he had a poor relationship with his father, maybe low self-esteem, poor reasoning skills, but how do you defend outright stupidity? The man is destroying the bank-robber mystique: John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde would be embarrassed to be associated with him. If you’re considering larceny, my dear reader, stop and think this through. Cellphone towers can track your whereabouts and there are surveillance cameras everywhere. Twenty-eight grand is poor compensation for three years in prison. You can do much better by setting yourself up as an advocate for the math challenged and bringing a lawsuit against Apple and Microsoft for writing instruction manuals that make you feel unwelcome and marginalized. They are practicing normaphobia and the letttter tt keeps repeattting on your laptop and itt’s causing you menttal disttress and you can’tt fix ittt. Ask for a million and hope for tttttttwo hundred grand. Have a nice day and keep warm.  
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

February 8, 2023

Wednesday

8:00 p.m.

Uptown Theater, Kansas City, MO

Kansas City, MO

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

February 9, 2023

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

Gillioz Theatre, Springfield, MO

Springfield, MO

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

February 10, 2023

Friday

8:00 p.m.

Orpheum Theatre, Wichita, KS

Wichita, KS

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

February 11, 2023

Saturday

7:00 p.m.

Bowlus Fine Arts Center, Iola, KS

Iola, KS

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

February 22, 2023

Wednesday

8:00 p.m.

The Parker, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Fort Lauderdale, FL (rescheduled date from Dec 2022)

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

February 23, 2023

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

Clayton Center for the Arts, Maryville, TN

Maryville, TN

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

February 24, 2023

Friday

7:30 p.m.

Grand Theatre, Frankfort, KY

Frankfort, KY

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

March 2, 2023

Thursday

8:00 p.m.

Fargo Theater, Fargo, ND

Fargo, ND

“Garrison Keillor at 80” with special guests Heather Masse and Richard Dworsky comes to Fargo, ND for a show filled with stories, music, sing-along all focusing on the topic of CHEERFULNESS.

March 3, 2023

Friday

8:00 p.m.

Orpheum Theater, Sioux Falls, SD

Sioux Falls, SD

“Garrison Keillor at 80” with special guests Heather Masse and Richard Dworsky comes to Sioux Falls, SD for a show filled with stories, music, sing-along all focusing on the topic of CHEERFULNESS.

March 4, 2023

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Admiral Theater, Omaha, NE

Omaha, NE

“Garrison Keillor at 80” with special guests Heather Masse and Richard Dworsky comes to Omaha, NE for a show filled with stories, music, sing-along all focusing on the topic of CHEERFULNESS.

Radio

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, February 7, 2023

It’s the birthday of Sinclair Lewis, born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota (1885), author of “Main Street” and “Babbitt”, and the first American to win the Nobel Prize in literature.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, February 6, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, February 6, 2023

It was on this day in 1937 that John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men was published. It’s the birthday of British paleoanthropologist Mary Douglas Leakey (1913) and of Babe Ruth (1895).

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A Prairie Home Companion: February 11, 2012

A Prairie Home Companion: February 11, 2012

A Fitzgerald Theater feature with special guests Ann Reed, My Brightest Diamond and Heather Masse.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, February 5, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, February 5, 2023

The American novelist, poet, and painter William S. Burroughs was born on this day in 1914.Burroughs is best known for his third novel, “Naked Lunch.” On writing, he said: “The only way I can write narrative is to get right outside my body and experience it. This can be exhausting and at times dangerous. One cannot be sure of redemption.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, February 4, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, February 4, 2023

It’s the birthday of writer, activist, and feminist Betty Friedan (1921), who wrote the groundbreaking book “The Feminine Mystique”, which explored the unhappy lives of American housewives and spurred the second wave of feminism in the United States during the 1960s.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, February 3, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, February 3, 2023

Today is the birthday of the first woman to graduate from medical school, Elizabeth Blackwell, born on this day in Bristol, England, in 1821. She wanted to become a doctor because she knew that many women would rather discuss their health problems with another woman. After becoming a doctor, she opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, February 2, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, February 2, 2023

“The artist, like the God of the Creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.” — James Joyce, born on this day in Dublin, 1882.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Today is the birthday of Langston Hughes, born in 1902 on this day in Missouri under the name James Mercer Langston Hughes. Hughes became a prominent member of the Harlem Renaissance, a group of African-American artists and writers in Harlem, New York. His books include “Fine Clothes to the Jew”, “Not Without Laughter”, and “The Ways of White Folks.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Today is the birthday of Norman Mailer (1923). His first novel, “The Naked and the Dead”, it became the definitive literary novel about World War II, and made Norman Mailer famous at the age of 25. He went on to win two Pulitzer Prizes: for “The Armies of the Night” and for his nonfiction novel “The Executioner’s Song”.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, January 30, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, January 30, 2023

It is the birthday of historian Barbara Tuchman, born in New York City on this day in 1912. She wrote “The Guns of August”, a study of the events that led to the outbreak of World War I. She said, “War is the unfolding of miscalculations.”

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Writing

Even old people need to explore new realms

I’m an American, I like to believe that nobody but nobody is beyond the reach of friendship and understanding, not even North Koreans or former felons or the creators of complex security systems that have driven me to the brink of madness, trying to remember the password for my computer and then having to replace the password and confirm my identity by typing in a six-numeral code sent to me on my cellphone whose password I now can’t remember either.

I don’t have top-secret documents stored in the phone or in the laptop. I have a lot of appeals for donations from Democratic politicians and lefty organizations such as Citizens United for Diversity & Inclusivity In American Humor (CUDIAH), none of which needs to be kept from prying eyes. I’m a Democrat. So what? I wish I had a friend in the password biz who could say, “Oh, passwords went out of usage long ago, nobody does that anymore, you just need a simple voice-recognition system that eliminates the need for passwords.” My current friends are all liberal-arts grads who know nothing about this stuff. Do you get my drift?

Read More

The beauty of a bitterly cold Sunday, 8 a. m.

I couldn’t sleep last Saturday night due to anxiety caused by rewinding various lowlights of my long life that hit me like a brick and I lay in bed and watched the hours go by as I contemplated my imminent demise leaving my dependents impoverished and homeless so when the day dawned I put on a suit and coat and I went around the block to the solemn 8 a.m. Mass rather than wait for the more festive 10:30 and walked through the bitter Minnesota cold into St. Mark’s Cathedral where a couple dozen souls sat, widely spaced apart, perhaps to guard against communicable disease, or maybe to avoid the Exchange of Peace after the absolution of our sins.

My sin was dread, anxiety, nameless unreasoning fear, but never mind. I remembered as I came into the cathedral that there is no music at the 8 a.m., no chipper Bach chorale to brighten the mood, no rousing opening hymn, just this scattering of folks in the vastness, like the Church in apostolic times, a few believers hiding out in the catacombs, hoping men in heavy armor don’t break in and bust our heads.

Read More

Picture in a Frame (July 2022)

The sun come up, it was blue and gold
The sun come up, it was blue and gold
The sun come up, it was blue and gold
Ever since I put your picture in a frame

Read More

What I did when you were asleep

I just heard the story of the professor who refused to have “(he, him, his)” after his name on correspondence and his chairman who said, “You must. It’s policy.” And the professor said, “I don’t care. I won’t.” I understand that the policy police haven’t been called yet to haul him away for genderphobia and I salute him for resisting: the policy has no purpose, it’s about appearances.

Here is one more good reason to avoid a career in Academia. I write “(me/us/hers)” after my name and nobody can tell me otherwise. This is America, not Argentina. When I walk into the clinic and a sign says “Masks required,” I put one on, because there is science behind it. I go to the public library and turn my phone off out of simple consideration for the readers and writers at my table.

Read More

I am giving up anger, so should you

The apartment across the hall from where we’re staying in Minneapolis is undergoing extensive renovation, walls being moved, floors torn up, and every day last week the noise from there was seismic, volcanic, like they were throwing pickup trucks into a giant grinder, and when I walked out of our place and saw a workman I asked him how long this racket would continue and I used, as a modifier to “racket,” a word not seen in your family newspaper, not yet, God help us, though I’ve heard it used by small children in New York attending schools named for saints. Kids grow up faster in New York.

I felt bad about my cursing. I still do. I am trying to give up anger. It’s poisonous and it has no effect other than to make the angerer feel bad and perhaps do something truly stupid. You sit in a traffic jam yelling at other drivers and where does it get you? You read about Kevin McCarthy online and in your fury you hurl your laptop out the window and how does this change anything? (I didn’t do that, only considered it.)

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The Band Played On (Nov 26, 2022)

I’ll always remember the day I planned
Thanksgiving with the Coffee Club Band
Heather was there, Rich, Christine and Rob
The horns and reeds signed up for the job
They ate the turkey down to the bone
Drank every bottle of Cote du Rhone
They stayed for pie and wouldn’t go away
Got out their instruments and started to play
I cleared my throat, I said, “Well, it’s late,”
I said, “Thanks for coming, it sure was great.”
I cleared the table and I swept the floor
I turned out the lights and I opened the door
And I pointed to the sidewalk and the lawn
And the band played on.

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Why I am in Minnesota, if you wish to know

We came back to Minneapolis to see snow on the ground, there being none in Manhattan yet, and to drive around the old neighborhood where I lived when I was broke. It was 1969, I’d quit a comfy job at the U so I could write a novel and become famous. I had an infant son and he and my wife and I lived there for several months, then the money ran out. She suggested we live in her parents’ basement and instead I applied for an early-morning shift at KSJR at St. John’s University and Mr. Kling hired me. I was the only applicant, I discovered later. That shift led to “A Prairie Home Companion” and forty-two years of amusing myself on radio. So when I drive by that house, I see an enormous canyon between what might have happened and what actually did, and I say a little prayer of gratitude.

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A night at the opera, she and I

My sweetie and I went to the opera “Fedora” at the Met last Saturday — she loves opera and I love her so it was a deal, though she blanched at the price of tickets — “We could fly back to Minnesota for the price of two seats on the main floor,” she exclaimed. “But the flight attendants wouldn’t be singing,” I said. “And if they did, we’d want them to stop. Hang the expense.”

So we went. I was proud of ordering the seats on my cellphone and saving them in email, a first for me. I’ve always used paper ducats. I am 80. I am one of the 2 percent of Americans who know what the word “ducat” means. (It’s pronounced “duck it,” my children, in case you’re curious.) So it was exciting crossing the plaza of Lincoln Center, cellphone in hand, wondering as we entered the opera house if, when I clicked on my email, the ticket code would appear or would we be thrown bodily out onto the street.

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GUY NOIR – St. Louis

HM (SING): The winter solstice is one week away
And here he sits in Jimmy’s bar,
Wondering where he should spend Christmas Day,
It’s him……Guy Noir.

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Father Time advises a brown-eyed girl

I had a good conversation Saturday with a college student named Emily, a rare pleasure for an old man like me, most of my social life is spent with geriatrics eager to talk about their most recent hip replacement, but Emily talked about her ambition to go to law school and to devote herself to the issue of prison reform.

A bright articulate idealist from a good family who entertains noble ambitions that nobody in my age group would consider for two minutes; we’re done with nobility ¬¬¬— when we were her age we sang that deep in our hearts we believed that we would overcome, but instead we got good jobs and hung out with cool people and were overcome by piles of stuff we couldn’t bear to part with and now we just hope not to fall down in the street and bang our noggin against a curb and lie there gaga and be hauled away by EMTs who’ll never realize what an illustrious person we used to be and not this gibbering mess on the gurney. And we’re hoping to get a decent obit even though our illustriousness ended when most obit writers were in the third grade. The surest way to get a great obit is to be in the arts and die before 40 and it’s too late for that.

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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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