A Prairie Home Companion from American Public Media

The Old Scout
A Man is Hurled from his Perch; Life Goes On
September 4, 2007

You do not want people to think of the Republican Party every time they step into a public toilet and so the gentleman had to go and why not dispatch him immediately? Why make him stumble through a week of contrition on cable TV and explain himself into an even deeper hole? Nonetheless, it was stunning, the suddenness with which a prominent man can be hurled from his perch by his own friends and with less ceremony than if he were a convenience store clerk caught taking the plastic wrappers off magazines.

What did him in was not his transgression so much as the fact that it was cartoonish and easily worked up into jokes. The next morning on YouTube there was a video of the gentleman endorsing a presidential hopeful, with the title "Senator Craig Taps His Foot for Mitt Romney," and he had become a punch line, like Bill Clinton. ("They're having a Presidents Day sale at the men's store — pants are half off.")

The underlying problem is that men's toilets are too big and women's too small. If there is a line of men waiting to use the stall, you are not going to be amusing yourself in there, believe me.

Meanwhile, life goes on. A gorgeous late-summer Sunday and bicyclists go zooming along the parkway past roller-bladers threading their cross-stitch strides and runners bobbing and the rest of us sashaying and lollygagging. An ancient man in running shorts stretches his ancient leg muscles on a fence as a pack of young women trots by and suddenly the purpose of running becomes very clear. Youth. The preservation and elongation of youth, the postponement of decrepitude. Good luck, old man.

In summer you see clearly the many body types available to us, the smooth and tight, the chunky, the bulbous with jiggly parts, and the confidently off-center. Like that softball team taking their at-bats, women with crew cuts, barrel chests, big hips and haunches, all of them whooping and hollering at the Amazon who has laced a triple to left and who is pounding around second. None of these girls will be seen this evening in a black dress with pearls. None of them seems to be a major consumer of beauty emollients. They seem quite pleased by the triple.

A moment later, a wisp of a man passes with a purse on one shoulder, wearing a green miniskirt that reveals his shapely, shaved legs. He is starring in his own private movie and listening to the soundtrack through the little wires going into his ears. I suppose it is a movie about a free spirit trying to make his way in a world of brutish incomprehension. Okay by me, pal.

At dinner that evening, the old people get to talking about calcium supplements, the dosage, the benefits of the chewable versus the non-chewable, and meanwhile the 22-year-old at the table crosses her eyes and bites her tongue as the conversation segues into the prospect of retirement, the timing of retirement so as to maximize pension benefits, plans for retirement, travel, volunteer work, blah blah blah, meanwhile the young woman's face goes slack with boredom and she gazes out the window to where, presumably, people are actually enjoying themselves and there is laughter and wit and flirtation.

It's an old refrain, but true: In twenty years, the sexual issues and tensions that led to Senator Craig's downfall will simply not matter anymore. They don't matter much to young people. When enough people my age are gone from the world, the world will change. Calcium supplements will always be with us, and retirement, but a person's sexual interests will not be an issue.

I sometimes sort of miss the old country I grew up in where a guy came out and pumped your gas and checked your oil and commented on the weather and the owner of the grocery store was the bald guy in a white apron who was stacking the apples and radio announcers were cheery and avuncular and told jokes in the morning and didn't rail at you about politics. In that country, sex was so terribly, terribly thrilling that it could not be spoken of and so men and women went off to dark places for secret exaltation, but that old country is fading away and I await the new. It doesn't matter whether I welcome it or not, it's coming, and I watch its arrival with interest.

© 2007 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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