Winter in Minnesota
Saturday, January 16, 1999
Listen

(GK: Garrison Keillor, SS: Sue Scott, TK: Tom Keith, TR: Tim Russell)

 

GK: People from other parts of the country ask me what it's like in Minnesota in January and I say...

TK: Fine.

GK: They say, No, really, tell us what it feels like when it gets that cold, and I say,

TK: Really, it's fine.

GK: And then they say, We are your friends, we love you no matter what, you can tell us the truth, what is it like in January, and I say...

TK SCREAM AND SOBBING

GK: January in Minnesota: the truth, the whole truth, what Minnesotans won't tell you unless you're their best friend. (COLD CHORDS, SPARE. SOME GLOCK. SKITTERY VIOLIN. LOW BASS NOTE)

GK: January in Minnesota, an Arctic cold front moves in and parks and sits, and people in Edina and White Bear Lake and Apple Valley experience the same weather that befell the the doomed Antarctic expedition of the late Robert Scott....(WIND, OUTSIDE. PE N ON PAPER)

TR (BRIT, WRITING): My darling, today we ate the last of our sled dogs, and now, as I put pen to paper for what may be the last time, I want you to know that I have done my duty as I saw fit.

GK: In a northern suburb of the Twin Cities, a woman in the kitchen of a quarter-million dollar ranch house phones her daughter in Dallas -

SS: I just called to let you know that - that we had to eat Rex today, darling. (SHE BURSTS INTO TEARS) I know! ... I know! ... I feel terrible! ... I can't tell you - when I took his ears out of the microwave - (SOBS) (MUSIC)

GK: Food supplies dwindling. Why? Because it's been so cold that the thought of making a trip for groceries is unthinkable. Relatives call from Texas or Tennessee, and residents try to sound brave, unperturbed.

TK: Oh, hi. No, we're fine. Really? Doesn't feel that cold.

GK: But it does feel that cold. Many people are living off stuff that's been in the fridge for years, like pickled watermelon and herring and cheese logs and fruitcake. Or - (MEOW). Why is this winter harder? For one thing, because the weather stayed to warm too long. Climate psychologist Marcia Brickman.

SS: Studies show that a December such as we had this year, with temperatures in the fifties and sixties, affect a person's resignation mechanisms and trigger a denial process that makes the onset of frigid weather geometrically more traumatic.

GK: People are also staying home because the schools are closing - schools never used to close for cold weather, not back in my day - we kids'd tune in the radio in the morning for the school closings and instead we'd hear a message from the Governor.

(MARCH, DRUM & MOUTH TRUMPETS)

TR (JOWLY): This is Governor Anderson calling on all Minnesota girls and boys to put on your warm mackinaw and go to school. Our state's future depends on it. I have instructed the National Guard to go door to door and run a bed check at 0900 hours and make sure that nobody is playing possum, and we will bring in a physician to check any child who claims to be sick. It's important that every child get to school this morning. Any child who does not will be forced to eat a pound of raw liver and drink a glass of buttermilk. Remember. It's the law.

GK: That was then, and this is how it is now.

TR (KID): Mom, I don't feel like going to school when it's so cold. The air hurts my nose.

SS: Okay. Here's the remote control for the TV and fifteen bucks to order yourself a pizza and if you have your friends over, don't let them shoot Daddy's guns in the house, okay?

TR (KID): Awwww. Okay. (MUSIC)

GK: People simply aren't able to cope with winter the way they used to. Our ancestors welcomed winter as a test of manliness. (TR SWEDISH) They strapped on their wood skis and traveled fifteen or twenty miles into the teeth of an arctic wind just to get a newspaper and a tin of chewing tobacco, just to show they could do it. (TR SWEDISH) They might even cut a hole in the ice (SAWING) and take off all their clothes and (TR SWEDISH RESOLVE AND SPLASH OF WATER) dive into the freezing water, just to show they could. But no more.

TR (SHIVERING): Brrrr. Cold out today.

GK: Now they turn up the heat and look outside and shiver.

TR (SHIVERING): Boy, she's a cold one all right.

SS (OFF): You going to work today?

TR: Can't. Too cold. (BLEAK MUSIC)

GK: High absenteeism during cold weather months has driven factories south to Mexico where grateful mestizos are happy to work a six-day week for pennies-per-hour and don't demand the extravagant fringe benefits that Minnesota workers do, such as worker's compensation. And absenteeism is even higher because products manufactured in warmer places don't work in Minnesota - cars, for example. (STARTING ATTEMPT. ANOTHER) The factories where Minnesotans used to work to manufacture things that would work - those factories have all been turned into malls full of specialty shops…(FOOTSTEPS AND STOP)

SS: Excuse me. Can you tell me where I'd find a hardware store?

TR: Hardware store? We don't have anything like that here. What are you looking for, ma'am?

SS: Well, vacuum cleaner bags, for one thing.

TR: There's a theme shop over that way called The Bag Lady. Vacuum bags, shopping bags, duffel bags, burlap bags....

SS: I also need a wood saw.

TR: Try The Cutting Edge. It's down that way next to Strings 'N Things.

SS: And glue?

TR: There's a shop called Get It Together. They carry every kind of adhesive. You head down there, turn right at The Shoelace Place, then turn left at Socks In A Box and go past Hangers Unlimited and Four Floors of Drawers - there's a Little Jack Horner Pie Shoppe there - don't turn there but look for the Y where Kangaroo Lane splits into Wallaby Lane and Koala Court - it's the Y with the World of Chisels shop on one side facing the (HE FADES) Cat's Pajamas sleepwear store ...

GK: We all know what kind of mall that is - and old factory buildings where honest workmen turned out well-made cars and appliances and railroad engines, those buildings now are the home to shops specializing in designer children's clothing and restaurants where you pay $30 to get two lamb chops the size of an immature chickadee ...

TR: I'm Todd and I'll be your wait person. Before I tell you the specials, may I take your beverage order? Today we're pouring a California Fume Blanc (HE FADES) and a French Chateauneuf du Pape ... (MUSIC)

GK: Factories closing, kids not going to school, cars not starting, the lamb chops getting as small as chickadees, and the ever-present danger of bridges contracting in the cold and falling apart (BRIDGE, SLOWLY CRACKING, THEN COLLAPSING WITH A TERRIFIC ROAR AND QUAKE) - it's no wonder that out at the airport you see giant 747s taking off full (JET ROAR), giant 747s landing empty - Still, some of us hang on. Out of stubborness.

SS (ELDERLY): I see they got a deal now on going to Miami Beach.

TR (ELDERLY): What about him? I never heard of him.

SS (ELDERLY): I said the airlines got cheap flights now to Miami Beach!

TR (ELDERLY): What are you talking about? Is it somebody on the phone?

SS (ELDERLY): I'm talking about Florida!

TR (ELDERLY): (PAUSE, SWALLOW) Florida. What about it?

SS (ELDERLY): Do you want to go?

TR (ELDERLY): To Florida?

SS (ELDERLY): That's what I just said!!

TR (ELDERLY): Why in the world would I want to go there?

SS (ELDERLY): It's warm there.

TR (ELDERLY): If you're cold, go put on a sweater.

SS (ELDERLY): You don't want to go?

TR (ELDERLY): Go where?

SS (ELDERLY): Florida!!

TR (ELDERLY): Never heard of him!

GK: I almost got transferred to Florida this week. I went to the executive producer's office on Monday.

(FOOTSTEPS, THEN KNOCKING)

SS: (EXECUTIVE) Come in.

GK: (DOOR OPENS) You wanted to see me, Ms. Weltanschaung?

SS: Call me Brunnhilde. - Yes, Carson. Come in. Sit down. No, on second thought, keep standing. I want to make this as quick and painless as possible.

GK: It's about last week's show, isn't it? It was a little slow. A little dozy.

SS: Carson, I don't look back. I look forward. I want you to look forward.

GK: I'm not sure what I'm looking forward to, Ms. Weltanschaung.

SS: I'm sending you to Florida, Carson. You need to leave immediately.

GK: But why? Minnesota is my home. My family is here, my friends, I've lived here all my life, it's the only place in the world I know how to get around without a map.

SS: The laws about incorporating are less stringent in Florida, Carson, and we're going to incorporate you. We've decided to list you on the stock exchange, Carson, and sell you in a public offering. You're going to become a corporation called Sisyphus-dot-com.

GK: Named for the mythological figure -

SS: -mythological figure who kept rolling the stone to the top of the hill and it kept rolling back down.

GK: Dot-com - so I'm going to be an Internet company - but I don't know anything about the Internet!

SS: Exactly. We project you'll lose $3 million this year. Which should put your market value at about a billion-and-a-half.

GK: I don't understand ...

SS: This is a great country, Carson. It turns losers into winners. The market is bullish on high tech stocks right now. So we'll take you public and sell you and use the windfall profit to hire talent to do your show - we're talking to Barbara Mandrell and Puffy Combs right now.

GK: I wish you could give us just a few weeks to -

SS: Barbara Mandrell is a terrific entertainer. Puffy Combs is very hot right now.

GK: Please, give us another chance.

SS: I'd like you to meet our Vice President for Online Enterprises, Brent Monsoon.

TR (TEEN): Hi.

GK: He was about 17 and wore sneakers and a T-shirt that said, "My other car is also a Porsche."

TR: (TEENAGER) I'm the one who's, like, going to be converting you into Sisyphus-dot-com, and I donno, it's sort of like a video game. I mean, that's the easiest way to explain it. Like here. (COMPUTER CLICKS. BEEP. BEEP) (LASER SOUNDS) OK, there you are, rolling the rock up the hill. (RANDOM ELECTRONIC BEEPS) and here you are fighting off an alien spaceship (LASER BLASTS, EXPLOSIONS), and here you are fighting off a robotic vampire (EVIL LAUGHTER WITH REVERB, LASER BLASTS, EXPLOSIONS), and here you are solving complex quadratic equations...(BEEPS)

GK: I'm doing algebra, in the midst of an alien invasion?

TR: Yeah, this is, like being marketed as educational software. We get a lot more tax breaks that way ... (BEEPS TONE DEEPENS AS COMPUTER DIES) uh-oh.

GK: What happened?

TR: Computer's dead.

SS: Dead? Just like that?

TR: Yeah. It's the cold.

SS: The cold is too much for it?

TR: Computers don't do well in cold weather. That's why they didn't put Silicon Valley up on the Iron Range.

SS: So all the audience data -

TR: It's gone.

SS: The marketing plan for Sisyphus-dot-com.

TR: Sorry. (MUSIC)

GK: So cold weather is good for something. It saved our show. We have another chance, thanks to the cold snap. - You want us to do more jokes, Ms. Weltanschaung? more uptempo songs? you want us to talk about the impeachment?

SS: I'm too depressed by this cold weather to care. Go do whatever you want.

GK: Thank you. Then I'll sing "Nikolina".

(c) 1999 by Garrison Keillor

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

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