The Old Scout

Older man collapses at home, in satisfactory condition
June 20, 2006

White custardy clouds in the blueberry sky and here I am, sprawled on a chaise on the porch, ambition leaking out of me like water through cupped hands. Ambition has left the building. Hello, summer.

The country is in danger but someone else can rally to defend it, not me. Flag-burning gay married men are taxing dead people, and godless liberals, using 9/11 widows for cover, are in cahoots with jihadists, radioing coordinates of secret nuclear sites, lighting bonfires in meadows to guide enemy bombers to their targets, but the Hardy boys will have to track them down. I'm done. I have no wish to accomplish anything other than fetch more of this iced mint tea and crank the chaise back for maximum relaxability. Whatever my goals were last week - to make a difference in the world, to light a candle and follow a different drummer, perhaps teach a man to fish - my new goal is to get out of stuff. I am no longer available for work. So don't ask. I no speaky the English. Hard work pays off in the future but laziness pays off now.

Here in Minnesota one is surrounded by industrious Swedes and Germans, and so one must invent a cover story for laziness. Here is the perfect one: I am working on a book. A book can take years to write and nobody has to see it, ever. You can work on the book by holding a blank pad in your hand and looking at it. Then you set the pad down and close your eyes. If people ask how it's going, you say, "It's coming along." This can cover a lot of slow afternoons dozing in the shade. After a few years, if they ask, you say, "I didn't like it so I tossed it." They will commiserate: poor you, all that hard work down the drain. You get 10 years of excuses and then you get pity. It doesn't get any better than that.

A man can improve his reputation through inactivity. Look at the Current Occupant. Slightly more than a third of the American people - 50 percent or more in Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho - believe he is doing a heck of a job. After he takes his August vacation, that number will increase. A year's sabbatical could put him over the top.

My wife wants to go to Alaska and ride bikes and climb mountains this summer. What a dreadful idea. I lie here and recall expensive and exhausting vacation trips - the one to Australia, what a lulu that was - and that week on the Faeroe Islands, oh boy. And don't forget the cold wet week in Florida, the miserable canoe trip to the Boundary Waters, the sunburn vacation on Barbados - the list goes on - and I remember the restless ambition that led to those trips, the yearning for experience, the urge to confront the world, the shame of vegetablehood. Well, I'm over it now.

In the Boundary Waters we ate dry paste from plastic packets, and the food turned to stone in our bowels, and we lay awake at night and listened for bears, clutching an aerosol can and scratching bites from mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds. In Florida, we sat in a rented condo that was decorated in beige and listened to the rain and stared at the ocean. The ocean was flat and grayish. There were no bookstores within a hundred miles. To fly to Australia, you need powerful drugs that in our case we did not have, or you need to fly first-class for the price of a three-bedroom home, so you fly steerage like a criminal in leg irons and spend two weeks dreading the return. The Faeroe Islands have no trees and the residents are sunk in gloom and everything tastes of fish, even ice cream. Barbados was beautiful to look at, but a white man who lay on the beach for more than 10 minutes, even slathered with sun repellent, was opening the door to a world of pain. He spent the rest of his vacation as a boy in a bubble, trying to keep anything from touching his skin, trying to levitate in his sleep.

Here in Minnesota, we have actual food that tastes foodlike, and we can go outdoors and not burn in hell. There are no bears within the city limits of St. Paul. Why would one wish to leave such a place? If you want to see Alaska, just Google it: there must be live Webcams online.

© 2006 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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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).

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