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A Night Outside, Eating with Friends

Garrison Keillor: If your heart is open to the gifts of genius, you will walk across the plaza afterward, past the fountain, and feel transformed.

I admit that when I hear the word “impeachment” I think of fruit, and “censure” makes me think of dentures, which is a sign that I’ve been watching too much news: time for a break. How often can you look at the man with the tattooed pectorals and the horned helmet and what understanding do you gain from it? So you make the screen go dark and do other things.

The lady and I went to dinner with friends the other night and the four of us spent more than an hour making no reference to the riot at the Capitol, an entirely trumpless hour, which felt like a triumph. We ate outdoors under heat lamps on Broadway, opposite Lincoln Center, which is very very dark, and we didn’t talk about the virus either.

We talked about a baby named Charlie born in Atlanta a few days before and showed pictures of him, tightly swaddled. His mother is a mathematician married to a landscape architect. The fact that young people still want to bring children into this world is an encouraging sign, a gesture of faith.

So is Lincoln Center. In the Fifties, they tore down sixteen acres of tenements in Hell’s Kitchen and under the sponsorship of the Rockefeller brothers they built a symphony hall, an opera house, a theater, and a dance theater around a plaza with a fountain. Republicans were behind it and Lincoln’s name is on it and when you attend events here, you brush elbows with a good many moguls and grande dames who probably miss Ronald Reagan keenly and you go in to watch performers, 95 percent of them Democrats, some to the left of Bernie Sanders, but the conflicting views between the stage and the box seats are forgotten in the glory of “Der Rosenkavalier” or Beethoven or “Les Sylphides.” If your heart is open to the gifts of genius, you will walk across the plaza afterward, past the fountain, and feel transformed.

If your heart is open to the gifts of genius, you will walk across the plaza afterward, past the fountain, and feel transformed.

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I once saw Ellie Dehn of my hometown, Anoka, Minnesota, in a lead role in “Don Giovanni” at the Metropolitan Opera, and in that glorious moment, I felt that we are truly one country, one people. Anoka is an old milling town on the Mississippi, a football town, but this fabulous soprano had found her way to Manhattan, and I was there to see it. So I’m provincial — what of it? My wife, also an Anokan, had been taken to see the Met’s touring company perform “Carmen” in Minneapolis, Grace Bumbry in the title role. My wife was twelve and stood through the entire performance and has been enthralled by opera ever since and made a career playing viola in the pit. So many things are possible. Dream on. Practice, practice, practice.

I first saw the U.S. Capitol in 1962, heading for Baltimore to attend a wedding, got lost, saw a lighted dome and realized I was in Washington. I parked and walked up the steps and in the door, past one policeman sitting on a folding chair in the foyer, and walked in under the great dome and looked at the statues and murals, and saw only a couple of cops relaxing in a hallway, not paying much attention to anybody.

When I tell people about that night, it feels like ancient history. Those days will never return. Even at the opera, security men wand you as you come through the turnstile. After the Capitol insurrection of January 6, security will be iron-tight forever to come, metal detectors will beep at every steel zipper, uniformed men with assault weapons will watch your every move. Walking into the Capitol of 1962, the openness of it told you that we are a civilized society with a high level of mutual trust. I don’t care to ever visit Washington again and see our government on wartime alert for attacks by our fellow Americans. Too painful.

I’ve seen what I needed to see of Washington. I sat in the Senate gallery once and watched the proceedings and it was dominated by the sort of self-important people I avoided in high school.


I went to a ceremony at the White House once and sat where I could see Barack Obama’s teleprompter and saw how beautifully he improvised something much better than the script. So I’ve seen the good and the not so good. America will never be what it once was but still it is good enough. And if Hawley and Cruz get tossed out on the street, we will be better for it.

Garrison Keillor
Prairie Home Productions