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I am sitting here watching over and over a video my wife took with her phone in Central Park after the 18-inch snowfall last week, looking through the trees at a snowy hill and listening to the shouts and shrieks of joy from New York children as they slide down the hill on saucers and sleds and cardboard. Shrieks of joy are a rare and beautiful thing and I keep replaying this 60-second drama, recalling my own sliding days back in Minnesota. the steep hill that we slid down and out onto the frozen Mississippi.

I remember feeling joyful on a toboggan with Corinne. We were 10 years old. She stood, her hands fluttering at her side, and I climbed on behind her and we slid at tremendous speed and I’m sure we shrieked. On the Central Park video, some parents are sliding with their kids, but this was unknown back in my day. Parents stayed indoors; the snow belonged to children. I do note that the New York parents do not shriek. Joy fades with age, though I did once see a gang of old men in Virginia dancing to jigs and hornpipes, and joy shone clear in their faces. I was brought up by evangelicals who forbade dancing on the grounds that it was licentious but here were old men grinning as their feet kept up with fast fiddlers. No shrieks but some whoops and yells.

The joy at the heart of the lockdown in the pandemic is the daily reassurance that you married the right person.

The joy at the heart of the lockdown in the pandemic is the daily reassurance that you married the right person. A funny person with her own life who is never at a loss for words and so is good company and who reads the news for me and passes along the good stuff.

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She read me a story in the Times last week about the hellish life in the skinny skinny new skyscrapers of Manhattan. Developers have taken tiny lots and thrown up a 90-story needle and sold apartments for vast amounts to people who want to look down on the rest of us but meanwhile high winds cause the needle to sway dramatically, which often snaps water pipes and causes major leaks and brings elevators to a stop and causes eerie whining sounds. It gave us joy, to think that architects and developers have found a way to earn big profits from torturing oligarchs from authoritarian countries who have way too much money.

Conversation is precious when you are only two and there is no live theater except what you provide each other. She walks every day in Central Park and comes back to tell me about the women runners discussing relationships as they go past and the homeless woman, a Trumper, who sells gewgaws from a tarp by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the jazz guy at the Belvedere Plaza who said to the other jazz guy, “Dude, you went to Juilliard, what do you mean you forgot where you left your trombone?”

So I propose that instead of giving silver chafing dishes or classy china for wedding presents, we give the prospective couple a whole month in which they live together alone, as in a pandemic, and see what happens. There will be energetic sex, surely, but if there is a shortage of conversation, an unwillingness to unload the truth, a self-conscious solemnity, and (God forbid) some weird ideas about fraudulent elections and Democrats feasting on the blood of small children, then there’s time to reconsider and save yourself years of anguish.

I looked at the Central Park sliding hill the other day and it’s bare, all the snow has been sledded off it. The joyful children have gone back to cloistered apartment life and virtual classes and addiction to electronics. The blizzard was a window into the pleasures of the nineteenth century, when, yes, there were deadly epidemics, as now, but at the same time, there was joy, as can be heard in jigs and hornpipes, and more snow, back before Greenland started melting. Back then, the old oligarchs were locked up in stone castles, not jiggled in skinny towers, but they were not immune to tragedy and found that joy cannot be purchased as one pleases. They took the train to Florida for the sun and sat under an umbrella and worried about the next panic.

GARRISON KEILLOR

No, joyfulness is in short supply, but it’s out there in the snow and on the ice rink. The beach is a false promise. Get a sled and wait for a blizzard.

Garrison Keillor
Prairie Home Productions