The Old Scout

The retiring type? Not me.
October 31, 2006

It took me an hour to turn the clocks back an hour, coordinating all watches and digital alarm clocks and oven clock and kitchen clock and car clocks to Central Standard Time, during which a man starts to question the entire concept of promptitude, meetings, appointments, etc., which leads to thoughts of retirement, the End of the Trail, Old Paint, the part of your life when it doesn't matter so much if it's 9:30 or 10:05, or even if its Tuesday or Saturday, when you drift along as most mammals do, eating when hungry, sleeping when sleepy, and meeting whoever you meet whenever you meet them.

People my age are retiring one after the other, which scares the bejeebers out of me. It's like when I sat in Toni McNaron's Milton class wrestling with the first question of the final exam, which was about "Lycidas," which I had not actually read, so it was difficult for me to discuss how the form of the poem was integral to its meaning - difficult, but not impossible, by any means - and suddenly two women stood up and walked to the front of the room and turned in their tests. Done! Finished! And me still trying to get traction!

It is tempting, the thought of escaping from these clocks and learning to savor ordinary life at a mammalian pace. It's November, the squirrels are fat, the frost glitters on the grass in the morning. Stunning fall days with a high blue sky over a landscape of grays and browns. A retired gent could stroll around and gaze on this and inhale the air and slip into the grocery to select a caramel apple from the big display next to the pumpkin cakes. The soup of the day in the cafe is creamed corn. That would taste good.

I could volunteer at school. The fifth-graders are in the midst of a unit on manners, learning how to say "Please pass the salt" and what to do with your napkin during a meal. (Put it on your lap, please.) Next week they will write letters to their pen pals in Denmark. I could help with that. And it would keep me out of the senior citizen center, where a nutritionist is scheduled to talk about the importance of diet and exercise, after which everybody will tuck into a lunch of meatballs and gravy, mashed potatoes, brown-sugared carrots, buttered rolls, and apple crisp. No thanks.

The Current Occupant, who is two years and three months away from retirement, was quoted last week as saying, "They can say what they want about me, but at least I know who I am, and I know who my friends are." A pathetic admission of defeat for one who has owned all three branches of government for the past six years - did he seek power so that he could attain self-knowledge? If so, the price is too high. The beloved country endures a government that merges blithering corruption with murderous incompetence.

Congress, which once spent an entire year investigating a married man's attempt to cover up an illicit act of oral sex, has shown no curiosity whatsoever about a war that the administration elected to wage that has killed and maimed hundreds of thousands and led our own people to commit war crimes and squandered hundreds of billions of dollars and degenerated into civil war. The contrast is deafening. Republicans haven't tolerated much dissent in their ranks, the voice of conscience has not been welcome, and now the herd finds itself on the wrong side of the river. It's discouraging seeing so many people go so wrong all at once. It makes you question the idea that each of us has unlimited potential for good.

Washington is a city where a bill to relax air-pollution standards would be called the Clean Air Act and a bill to protect government officials from war-crimes prosecution would be called the Military Commissions Act, and so a man's statement that he knows who he is and who his friends are needs to be taken as meaning the opposite, a cry for help. You come to office as a uniter and you wind up doing the opposite. You stand for American values and you wind up defending torture and waste of resources. Knowing who you are is a minimal adult requirement, and you don't get there by being an object of attention. Retirement is recommended. The sooner the better.

© 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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