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 To the right, you find a selection of articles published since 1989, and a few unpublished pieces.

Exile on Main Street
From Time Magazine

October 2, 2000

I was in Chicago over Labor Day, in front of a big crowd, and gave them the chance to sing a song (to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic) and they went for it like a cold beer in August. It was a Large Moment, if you know what I mean.

It's time for working people to rise up and defeat
The brokers and the bankers and the media elite
And all the educated bums in panelled office suites
And throw them in the street.

People sang this with tremendous gusto, even the folks down front in the expensive seats. They sang verses denouncing the "East Coast liberal aristocracy" (which rhymes with lobbyists in Washington, D.C.) and "We'll take them out of first class and with a mighty cheer/We'll send them to the rear" and a verse about Bush and Gore ("We'll make them work the night shift in a 7-11 store/And let them clean the toilets and let them scrub the floor") and another verse against "the media, those mighty millionaires/Who weave their little fictions sitting on their derrieres" and the chorus, of course, about truth marching on. The rabble got highly aroused and some people could hardly contain their joy as they sang:

Let's reverse the social order ??? oh wouldn't it be cool?
Down with management and let the secretaries rule.
Let the cleaning ladies sit around the swimming pool,
Send the bosses back to school.

Of course it was only for entertainment and this was Chicago, a union town, but all that heat must have a source, and what else but good old American populism bubbling under the surface, ready to blow when offered an aperture?

Everyone knows that, in this country, if you have nothing, you pay through the nose, and if you have everything you could possibly want, people can't do enough for you. The rich are showered with lovely gifts, the poor have to scrape hard for busfare. A Park Avenue divorce case is fought by platoons of talented lawyers, a man up for murder in Texas is represented by a clown in a green polyester suit. The hemmorhoids of the wealthy are cut like diamonds, while the poor lie waiting in hospital hallways. The guiding principle of American life is: don't dare not have money.

On the other hand, populist though you be, you don't entrust your life savings to a guy named Bud who you met this morning at the diner next to the bus depot. You prefer men named Calvin who work in buildings with pillars out front.

Years ago, I did a publicity tour for a book that started creeping up the best-seller list and as it crept higher, my accommodations got nicer and nicer. The tour started out in Marriotts and Sheratons and went up to Doubletrees, then Ritz-Carltons, and then those stately hotels with small hushed lobbies and big lovely rooms with real art on the walls and towels as big as blankets and heated towel racks and where the answer to every question is, "Yes, sir. My pleasure, sir. Right away, sir." Black cars were waiting to take me places, maitre'ds whisked me to secluded corners, and I never saw a bill, everything was handled quietly, out of sight. I went around for a week with $40 in my pocket.

After the tour, I spent a weekend at a friend's house at a famous ski resort in Utah. A half-million dollar house with timbered ceilings and high windows with views of snowy peaks and tall pines, and here, alone on a chill March afternoon, I discovered what it's like at the bottom. A simple tale. After lunch, I took off all my clothes and went out to the hot tub and the door closed behind me and locked.

I sat in the hot water for an hour or so, thinking that Santa might drop in, or the Lone Ranger, or St. Jude, and when they didn't, I wrapped myself in a blue plastic tarp off the woodpile and trudged (barefoot) down the (gravel) road and knocked on doors and pleaded for help.

A naked man wrapped in blue plastic does not win friends easily. I knocked on the doors of five homes with lights on and cars in the driveway and nobody showed their faces. I waved in an urgent way to three men driving by in a pickup and they managed not to make eye contact and drove on. At the fifth house, a woman came to the door and opened it a crack. She agreed to call my friend's office. She didn't invite me in, though I was shivering.

I walked back to the hot tub and was rescued an hour later, and that was the parable of the naked man in the blue plastic. The moral is: have mercy.

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

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