From the Desk of Garrison Keillor
A prolific writer, Garrison Keillor is a frequent contributor to newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and abroad. To the right, you find a selection of articles published since 1989, and a few unpublished pieces.

The Mysteries of Prom Night
From Time Magazine

May 15, 2000

Spring is springing in Minnesota and the birds are winging their way back home. Yes, they spend the winter in Texas or Mexico, but when they get that old slippery urge to couple and procreate and raise kids, they head north. Meanwhile, our own fledglings are attending spring Prom. On Saturday nights for the next three weeks, we'll see long white limos like giant catamarans float up to a hotel marquee, and kids emerge, boys in black tuxes and girls in black or taupe or tangerine or mauve. Their awkwardness is sweet to see.

(A week ago these boys were traipsing around in short pants with the crotch below the knees and unlaced basketball shoes and baseball caps turned backwards, a costume that gives me the creeps, especially the backwards cap. To see eighteen-year-olds (hell, guys in their late twenties) grasping at boyishness is too pitiful for words, and when I see it ---- and one sees it everywhere ---- I have to look away.)

It used to be a big step in the breeding cycle, when children stayed out late on a spring night in full plumage, but these kids are smart and have no intention of begetting children. They know the grief that children cause, having so recently caused it. Think of the parents with children in sports programs, a form of adult incarceration. No, these six want to be nubile for another fifteen years, enjoy dalliances with various thrilling and inappropriate people, earn buckets of money in some amazing line of work like modelling underwear or selling stuff online or starting chain letters, and then get a real life somewhere around the age of 35 or so.

Minnesota has a low birth rate and thus we avoid explosive population growth. We know places where such growth has occurred and they are hellish. Houston, to name one. Phoenix, to name another. We prevent this by exporting our young people and by being not so hospitable to strangers. There is a definite chill here. Folks who move here, drawn by the fabulous weather and the gentility, find that they don't make friends: a year goes by and still nobody speaks to them after church during fellowship hour and when someone finally does, she turns out to be from Pittsburgh.

After a long search, my wife and I found a wonderful nursery school in St. Paul for our two- year-old, and then discovered one little drawback: the children are required to ask permission of each other before hugging or stroking. In Minnesota, the commissars of Appropriate Behavior extend their tentacles even into the ranks of toddlers. "We feel that the privacy of a child's body should be respected by other children," a woman at the school told my wife. This is classic Minnesota all the way. Rigidity and humorlessness and anger parading under the banner of righteousness. This is a state where you hear people use the term "persons of non-color" to refer to whites, or Caucasians. A creepy term, indeed, as creepy as the long patronizing articles in the local press about the Hmong among us and Appreciating Diversity. ("Civic journalism" --- don't get me started.)

When you experience political righteousness here, you have no problem understanding why Minnesotans elected as governor a guy who hopes to be re-incarnated as a brassiere. We used to elect governors who would murmur pious thoughts about diversity and respecting the privacy of other children, and now we have one who earned his living by screeching and frothing and exchanging perspiration with other giant goombahs and grabbing their shorts and hoisting them in the air for the Big Bounce. There is nothing he could possibly do to offend us. If he walked around naked and painted blue with green toenails, we would think, "Well, he's only being Jesse, that's all." This is a sort of liberation. I wish our kids were as free as the governor. The ones I meet seem so fearful of doing the wrong thing, of losing their place. Thanks to his loony attitude toward higher education ("If you're smart enough to go to college, you're smart enough to pay for it yourself."), tuition at the state colleges will stay high, meaning that kids graduate (if they can) with an enormous debt load. How free is a 21-year-old with a devalued B.A. from a declining state college, a certificate for which she owes $20,000 and an additional $10,000 on four different credit cards?

It isn't fair. It's isn't natural. Kids are not supposed to be indebted, they're supposed to get loose of us. Nature wants it this way, that's why it created those hormones. Nature is single- minded: it isn't interested in respecting privacy or appreciating diversity, it wants children to escape the clutches of their parents so they can grow up and be able to raise their own children and continue the species and come back in a few years and put you into a nursing home. It's important for survival that children have their own experiences, the kind they learn from. The kind their parents arrange for them are not as useful. Good parents are the hardest to get rid of.

I see the boys in tuxes and starched white shirts, I'd like to take them aside for a word of advice. (Boys, the first drink is a boon, the second is a gamble, the third is bad judgement, and then the rate of descent gets rather steep. And one more thing: don't patronize minorities --- that was your parents, that's not you. And another thing: don't go deep in hock to attend a college that isn't much good. And another thing: get out of town for a few years and go someplace where people don't understand you and don't even want to.) but advice is no substitute for personal experience, unfortunately.

Past Articles
  • Phil Keillor Benefit for the Tenney Park Shelter (04/17/09)
  • Bill Holm, 1943–2009 (02/26/09)
  • Happy New Year, Friends (12/29/08)
  • Talk of the Stacks (11/17/08)
  • What Makes St. Paul So Great? (09/03/08)
  • GK On Historic Preservation (10/05/07)
  • Welcome to St. Paul (09/23/06)
  • "Homegrown Democrat," Chapters 1-4 (08/10/04)
  • Sing the National Anthem—and Try it in the Key of G (07/02/04)
  • Holiday Greetings from Garrison Keillor (12/23/03)
  • Remembering Plimpton (10/01/03)
  • Crankiness in Decline, Says the Old Guy (04/19/02)
  • A Governor Works in Mysterious Ways (10/19/01)
  • In Praise of Laziness (09/10/01)
  • I Just Needed a Valve Job (09/13/01)
  • A Eulogy for Chet Atkins (07/03/01)
  • A Foot Soldier in God's Floating Orchestra (04/01)
  • Exile on Main Street (10/02/00)
  • Walking Down the Canyon (07/31/00)
  • The Mysteries of Prom Night (05/15/00)
  • How I Write (12/04/99)
  • The Christmas of the Great Flu (12/99)
  • Let Jesse Be Jesse (10/10/99)
  • The Rice, the Bat, the Baby (09/06/99)
  • Faith at the Speed of Life (06/14/99)
  • The Republicans Were Right, But (02/15/99)
  • Minnesota's Excellent Ventura (11/16/98)
  • The Dangers of Christmas (04/06/98)
  • Gasgate (11/10/97)
  • Talk Radio (10/97)
  • The Seven Principles of a Successful Christmas (09/08/97)
  • The Seven Deadly Sins—Envy (04/97)
  • You Say Potato (04/04/96)
  • The Poetry Judge (02/96)
  • With All the Trimmings (11/27/95)
  • In Autumn We Get Older (11/06/95)
  • Minnesota's Sensible Plan (09/11/95)
  • The Art of the Embrace (02/95)
  • The Voters are Angry (08/94)
  • Word Play (05/18/90)
  • We Are Still Married (12/18/89)
  • Elevator Tales
  • A Graduation Speech

  • Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

    Old Sweet Songs

    Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

    Available now»

    American Public Media © |   Terms and Conditions   |   Privacy Policy