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Not Finishing First

The fastest man in the world is now Lamont Marcell Jacobs of Italy who ran the 100-meter dash in Tokyo in 9.80 seconds, and bravo for him, but when you peak at 26 you face a long descent into normality. You run that fast and you miss a lot such as the woman I saw as I strolled in the park the other day who said into her telephone, “I was not put on this earth in order to make him happy,” which made me happy to hear, a woman who’d gotten a clearer sense of mission. You find happiness by slowing down. At my age, you know that.

A few minutes later I saw an old man, younger than I, take a spill on his bike and hit the asphalt and was immediately surrounded by strangers asking if he was okay or did he need help. He sat, dazed, holding his right wrist gingerly, and then pulled out his phone and said, “I’m going to call my wife.” Two stories within a hundred meters of each other and Lamont would’ve missed both of them.

You give up the idea of speed at my age because you are slowed down by regret and anxiety and also by dealing with Social Security

You give up the idea of speed at my age because you are slowed down by regret and anxiety and also by dealing with Social Security, whose initials are the same as Hitler’s Schutzstaffel, which is no mere coincidence. If you dial the SS number and get into the arms of their computer, you may feel you’ve been taken into a deep bunker and your wrists are bound to the chair and a 1,000-watt lamp is shining in your face. I called a few days ago to try to replace a lost Medicare card and I spoke my SS number to the computer, which could not understand me though I am a native speaker employed as a radio announcer for many years. “Let’s try again,” it kept saying in a voice like Orson Welles’s and after many tries I was shouting the digits, then screeching them, until Welles said, “Let me find someone who can help you.”

This took a long time. If you call the SS, you should have a book to read, perhaps War and Peace. A woman came on the line who I could tell was wearing a brown uniform with a swastika on her cap. I gave her my SS number and she asked what hospital was I born in. I told her and she said, “That’s not what it says here. You’ll need to call another number.” Let’s put it this way: if Amazon were run like the SS, Jeff Bezos wouldn’t have flown into space, he’d be shooting bottle rockets off his apartment balcony in Seattle. Dealing with SS is almost enough to turn a sentimental Democrat like me into an embittered Republican.

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It’s a tremendous accomplishment to be World’s Fastest Man, but what does it lead to? A champion gymnast can join the circus but 9.8 seconds is not long enough to make into a starring act that’ll earn you big bucks of the sort a best-selling novelist would earn, and novelism is accomplished very very slowly.

No, I worry about Lamont. He is celebrating now, getting off his training regimen and enjoying deep-fried calamari and linguini in clam sauce, which soon will make him the former fastest man, which is not the distinction it should be. FFMs have to wait in line at airport security along with the rest of us and are not given preferred seating in restaurants.

This is the tragedy of track and field: it leads nowhere. Ryan Crouser crushed the world record for shot put but in normal life why would you throw a 16-pound ball 76 feet, 8 1/4 inches, you could kill somebody. Eventually Ryan and Lamont will grow old and slow and Ryan’s putting shoulder will ache and they’ll be on the phone dealing with bureaucracy, on hold, miserable, helpless, not like me the novelist.

GARRISON KEILLOR

I recognized the voice of the SS woman. “Janice?” I said. “It’s me. We dated years ago, we spent a week at your cabin in northern Michigan. The gorgeous sunsets, remember? I wrote you a sonnet.” She wept. “Oh my god, oh my god. I have your picture on my desk. I’ve read all your books. There’s never been anyone else for me but you. I was put on this earth to make you happy. Your Medicare card will be FedExed to you tomorrow, I promise.” She wanted to fly out and meet me but I said no. The Medicare card is all I want.

Garrison Keillor
Prairie Home Productions