The Old Scout

Reining in the Dog Days of Summer
July 12, 2005

When it comes to the summer doldrums, a person's brain shrinks to pea-size and one forgets about lofty moral values and takes the short view, and so I turn on the air conditioning and burn up precious non-renewable resources for my own comfort and pleasure even if it does mean that glaciers shrink and the Arctic tern is threatened, I just want cool air to blow on me as I sip a cool drink.

I like licorice herbal tea, iced. It's better than beer because you can drink 10 or 15 glasses and still remember your name and address and you don't emit all that gas. Perhaps the licorice comes from an endangered plant whose demise will mean curtains for the great auk, but it's too hot to worry about that now. I bought the tea at my local co-op which is run by people who wear clothing made entirely from broccoli and I shop there because everything is organic, which is my version of kosher—it means that someone else has worked out the moral arithmetic so I don't have to worry about it. Which it's too hot to do anyway. I don't think about morality, I read trashy magazines about the excesses of the rich and famous.

How did the graduate of a liberal arts college who attended class in a building with Greek columns and an inscription that said men are ennobled by understanding come to this sorry state, sitting in shorts and T-shirt in a stream of cold air, consuming ice, reading trash, looking forward to his second shower of the day? What happened to the nobility?

We have a new shower gizmo that lets you regulate water temperature precisely, not like the old shower knob, which was a joke knob from a novelty store and produced a shower that went suddenly from warm to arctic waterfall and then to the scalding brimstone of hell. You showered quickly and toweled off with a burlap bag and lashed yourself with birch boughs and were, I suppose, a better person for it. But now you can turn the control to, say, 101.5 degrees, and water of that precise temperature shoots on you, the spray adjusted to Needle Sharp or Scattered Showers or Wistful Mist. I remember a time in my childhood when we bathed in a washtub on the kitchen floor on Saturday nights and in warm weather, during the week, we dipped in the Mississippi River. This does help a person appreciate advancements in plumbing.

How the gizmo works, I don't know. Probably good fairies are involved. But it is gratifying for the older naked gentleman lumbering into the shower, catching a glimpse of rococo belly and haunches in the mirror, thinking of men his age who slipped on bathroom floors and jarred a vertebra and began a long odyssey through orthopedics and chiropractics and faith healing and the administration of sacred hankies, to step into a cascade of 101.5-degree water. It's not what I went to college for but it feels good and it cools you off. I know that a man ennobled by understanding should not think about such trivialities, he should be in search of truth, but I am comforted by the flow of water over me. And that's the truth, Ruth.

Give me iced tea, air conditioning, three showers a day, and I could spend August in Texas, no problem. Happiness is in the details. People who study the Larger Picture are bound to get depressed. Environmentalists are a gloomy bunch, not so different from the fundamentalists I grew up among. They were never so interested in the beauty of lilies or kindness to strangers as they were fascinated by visions of The Tribulation, Armageddon, the Last Judgment. The world was about to end—they alone were privy to this information—and the imminence of it excited them, as if they were in a darkened theater watching the opening titles of a movie in which all hell breaks loose.

But small-minded people like me, we wake up in the morning and think, "Coffee. Hot toast with butter. The crossword puzzle. Thank you, Lord." And we feel happy. Comfort has weakened us and we are not the men our ancestors were. They would be out in the field bucking hay bales on a hot day and not feel ill-used, whereas we sit in air-conditioned cubicles and diddle with memos and plan to attend our Victims of Circumcision meeting tonight where we help each other deal with the grief and anger—but it's hot out, too hot to be noble. Time enough for that in September when school starts.

© 2005 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, INC.


From the Desk of Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor
Photo by Cheryl Walsh Bellville


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Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

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