My Antonia
Saturday, February 10, 2001
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(GK: Garrison Keillor, TR: Tim Russell, SS: Sue Scott, TK: Tom Keith)

(THEME)

 

TR: And now Hemingway Feed & Seed brings you another exciting episode of …..The Lives of the English Majors…..

 

(PRAIRIE THEME)

 

GK: I grew up on the wide open prairie and it was here I learned about the grandeur of the human heart and the impossible beauty of life and here I met the great love of my life, Antonia Shimerda, an immigrant girl from Czechoslovakia-----

 

SS (SLAVIC): No, Jim ---- it never work, you and me --- you going to be big success in New York City someday, and me, Czech farm girl, speak not good English, work outdoors in fields, in ten years I look like Edward G. Robinson.

 

GK: My Antonia! You have an inner grace far more important to me than superficial beauty. Though I do think a good hair stylist could accomplish a lot. Short in back, kind of swept back on the sides, a little spiky on top. A good gel.

 

SS (SLAVIC): No, you go to city, be big success. You want woman with good skin and itsy-bitsy bazoombies. My shoulders too big for evening gowns. Have hair under arms. And a mustache. (MUSIC BRIDGE)

 

GK: I said goodbye to Antonia and I went to New York --- a heartless city ---- and I went there with Carrie Meeber. Sister Carrie. An actress. I'd met her in Chicago where she worked in a factory and I'd helped her get started as an actress on Broadway. She was charming and glamorous. A real knockout.

 

SS: Do you like this dress?

 

GK: It's beautiful on you. You should get it.

 

SS: I already did.

 

GK: Oh.

 

SS: I charged it.

 

GK: Good. It's enchanting on you.

 

SS: I got the shoes too. And the earrings.

 

GK: Real diamonds. Nice.

 

SS: Do you like them?

 

GK: I do.

 

SS: Are you sure you can afford them, Jim?

 

GK: Of course. Don't worry about it. (STING) I was an English major in college and took creative writing courses but after I graduated I realized that to earn money as a writer I would have to compromise myself and write trash, titillating gossip, light frothy entertainments, which, having come from the prairie and all that grandeur, I could not do, so instead I started robbing banks. (RUNNING FEET, ALARM BELL, GUNSHOTS, SQUEAL OF TIRES) Made a good living, knocking off banks, and was able to support Sister Carrie in some style.

 

SS: Could we get a car?

 

GK: Of course.

 

SS: I was looking at BMWs.

 

GK: I could use a good fast car.

 

SS: I've been looking at apartments too.

 

GK: Oh?

 

SS: I saw a beautiful three-bedroom on Park Avenue.

 

GK: Aha.

 

SS: Formal dining room and 30-foot living room with a big fireplace and a terrace with a little fountain and garden. It's probably out of our price range.

 

GK: Nonsense. We'll buy it.

 

SS: Really????

 

GK: Of course. I had to knock over four banks to buy the apartment ---(RUNNING FEET, ALARM BELL, GUNSHOTS, SQUEAL OF TIRES) One in Pennsylvania. One in Ohio. One in Indiana. One in Illinois. And by then I figured I'd head out to Nebraska and see how my Antonia was doing-----

 

SS (SLAVIC): Oh, Jim. You look so good. I hope you happy in big city.

 

GK: My life in Manhattan is empty and meaningless, Antonia, but I guess it's okay. But I miss that marvelous indigenous way you people have out here on the prairie, that marvelous peasant vitality. The life force is so much more powerful here. It's true that the women do have bigger legs but there's leg-reduction surgery now. And dermatologists who can take care of those mustaches.

 

SS (SLAVIC): You know name of good dermatologist for Antonia?

 

GK: Of course. But it's not important. What's important is the vitality, the life force, that you people have.

 

TR (MIDWEST): The life force, you say.

 

GK: Yeah.

 

TR (MIDWEST): You find that out here then----

 

GK: Yes.

 

TR (MIDWEST): Interesting.

 

GK: You disagree?

 

TR (MIDWEST): No, I wouldn't say so. You could be right. I'm not saying you're wrong.

 

GK: Right.

 

TR (MIDWEST): It could be.

 

GK: Sure.

 

TR (MIDWEST): I don't know.

 

GK: Right.

 

TR (MIDWEST): Depends on what you mean by "force" I guess.

 

GK: Exactly.

 

TR (MIDWEST): Anyway, they say it's supposed to rain soon.

 

GK: Oh, really….

 

TR (MIDWEST): Yeah. Tuesday or Wednesday.

 

GK: I see.

 

TR (MIDWEST): Probably Tuesday.

 

GK: Right.

 

TR (MIDWEST): Or Wednesday.

 

GK: Sure.

 

TR (MIDWEST): One or the other.

 

GK: Right.

 

TR (MIDWEST): I'm boring you, aren't I.

 

GK: No, not at all. (MUSIC) I said goodbye to my Antonia----

 

SS (SLAVIC): Oh Jim. I wish I could see New York someday. But look at me. Big shoulders…..hair on legs.

 

GK: You are beautiful, Antonia. Your alabaster skin, your lustrous black hair, your refulgent sky?blue eyes ----

 

SS (SLAVIC): "Refulgent"?? Where you come up with that?

 

GK: I'm an English major, Antonia. Words are my stock in trade.

 

SS (SLAVIC): I wish I could speak good like you. I could come New York. But no. Antonia stay here. Marry and have eleven kids --- in fifteen years I be big as Mack truck. (MUSIC)

 

GK: On my way back to New York, I knocked off about six more banks (RUNNING FEET, ALARM BELL, GUNSHOTS, SQUEAL OF TIRES), knowing how expensive it would be to furnish that Park Avenue apartment.

 

SS: Darling! So glad to see you! I was afraid you might settle down out there ---- in Minnesota or something ----- but then I thought, How ridiculous. And here you are. Just in time for my opening in "Whoopdidoo!" We're throwing an opening night gala here at the apartment. I've hired the caterer. She's marvelous. (MUSIC)

 

GK: I hated the party. After visiting Minnesota and experiencing sincerity first-hand, a New York cocktail party with all the attendant glad-handing and networking and social climbing seemed utterly shallow and unsatisfying. And incredibly expensive. ---- I was looking at the bill from the caterer, Carrie.

 

SS: Yes?

 

GK: Coffee at $3 a cup?

 

SS: It's overhead.

 

GK: I realize that, but three dollars a cup?

 

SS: Do you not want me to entertain at home?

 

GK: No, it's not that. But what if the next time you asked everybody to bring something?

 

SS: What on earth are you talking about?

 

GK: Some people could bring salads, some desserts, some bring bread or muffins, and somebody would go by the church and pick up the big coffeemaker and come and make coffee.

 

SS: And not have a caterer? My dear, we would be a laughingstock ---- we would be the butt of jokes for years to come. (MUSIC)

 

GK: I knew what I had to do. I had to knock off another bank… (MUSIC) I picked out a little savings bank over on Lexington, I walked up to the teller's window and handed her a stick-up note. It said:
"When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
It makes me feel better to go and larcenize
A bank so go ahead and make my date."
SS (SLAVIC): Jim?

 

GK: Antonia---- what are you doing here?

 

SS (SLAVIC): I come to New York to improve English. Get good job. Learn how to dress smart.

 

GK: But why?

 

SS (SLAVIC): Why? Because I love you, Jim.

 

GK: You love me? (ALARM BELL)

 

SS (SLAVIC): I always love you, Jim. You talk so good. You make Antonia feel beautiful-----

 

GK: Oh, Antonia. My Antonia. (SHOUTING IN BACKGROUND, RUNNING) My life here has been nothing but a senseless race to accumulate goods and treasures that bring me no true happiness.

 

TR (GUARD): Hey, you! Punk! Lay the gun down on the counter! You hear me?

 

GK: Come with me, Antonia.

 

TR (GUARD): Reach for the sky, punk!

 

SS (SLAVIC) : You better run, Jim. Run out the back door.

 

GK: I've been running long enough, Antonia. Now I've found what I want----

 

TR (GUARD): Okay, punk---- (GUNSHOTS, GK REACT)

 

SS (ANTONIA) Oh Jim! You're hurt! You're bleeding----- oh -----

 

GK: You are so luminous.

 

SS (SLAVIC): Nobody ever called Antonia luminous before.

 

GK: You're the green light at the end of my dock, Antonia. You're my precious, incommunicable past…and so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. (HE DIES)

 

SS (SLAVIC): He's gone. My English major. (BIG THEME)

 

TR: The Lives of the English Majors……was brought to you by Hemingway Feed & Seed.

 

(MUSIC OUT)

 

(c) 2001 by Garrison Keillor

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

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