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Old Democrat

I missed out on the GameStop frenzy on Wall Street last week and didn’t earn a bundle of money, but for me, it was enough that the temperature got up to forty, a slight thaw that made me think of spring, I being the registered optimist that I am. After all, I am a Democrat, the party that seeks to legislate against ignorance and cruelty. I believe in the goodness of people I pass on the street and I think that by July, we’ll be crowding into comedy clubs and laughing at pandemic jokes.

Other people imagine that the thaw means snow melting on the roof and leaking down the walls and dripping asphalt onto our scrambled eggs, causing incurable cancer. I do not imagine toxic snowmelt. I imagine baseball.

Ice is our friend. The ice melt on Earth is now twice what it was in the Nineties, 1.3 trillion tons a year, due to global warming, and this melt leads to the rise of oceans and more warming. Our grandchildren will have to deal with the problem and they will look back at the early 21st century as the Era of Stupidification. I regret that. But one must be hopeful. When you’re tied to the railroad track and the headlight of the Midnight Special is getting brighter and brighter, hope is what you have.

When you’re tied to the railroad track and the headlight of the Midnight Special is getting brighter and brighter, hope is what you have.

I was born in Minnesota, which most people know nothing about except that it gets cold in the winter and so wherever you go, you begin with a clean slate. A Chicagoan carries real baggage — people assume you have Mob connections or know people who do — and a Southern Californian is assumed to have an intelligence deficit caused by solar overexposure — and a New Yorker is assumed to not know where Minnesota is, not even approximately. But a Minnesotan is a blank slate. You can be Bob Dylan, you can be Walter Mondale, or anything in between. Mondale is the perfect model of a modest Minnesotan but he has his salty side too. He once told a friend of mine who asked if Walter thought he should go to work in a big law firm: “You’ll spend four years kissing ass and they won’t even turn around and say, Thank you.” Bravo, Mr. Vice President.

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Complaining about cold and ice is not useful, so Minnesotans are brought up not to complain, and this is an asset. The lockdown that will soon observe its first anniversary is a time of genuine deprivation, but it could be worse, and it is worse for health care workers, bus drivers, schoolteachers, the list goes on and on, so if you’re an old retired guy locked up with a woman you dearly like to be with, shut your mouth.

I’ve found during the pandemic that my dream life has become quite rich: long novels with sustained dialogue. The other night I was working in the Orkney Islands on a trawler that hauled various goods from one port to another. The sea was calm. My shipmates spoke in a musical dialect that, odd as it was, I understood perfectly. Sometimes, hauling crates along a wharf, one of them would burst into song and we all sang together, a chorus of big burly men singing four-part harmony, rousing sea chanteys and heartbreaking laments for lost love. We walked through town past a barrelworks where men were shaping oak staves to make barrels to store whiskey in. We stopped in a tavern and had a glass of whiskey and sang some more. It was a fabulous dream. I’d love to go back and rejoin those men, if only I knew where the door is.

Back in normal times when I was busy trying to be successful, I didn’t have dreams like that. I’m grateful for them now. I dreamed one night that I was a college professor and a basketball player named Kendrick was a close friend of mine, a student, 6’6” with size 15 shoes, Black, a star player who hoped to play pro ball in France. His girlfriend was French. He had withering things to say about Midwestern Scandinavians but he loved Paris and was eager to go. He was a happy guy, very gentle, and in the dream I sat and listened to him talk and talk. It was beautiful.


The newspaper bears dreadful news and of course one must pay attention. There is suffering in the world beyond my comprehension. But I am grateful for good dreams. And for the vaccine. And spring is on the way.

Garrison Keillor
Prairie Home Productions