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Not Hoping for Normal

I think of the chicken when I crack the two eggs into the fry pan for breakfast but when I put in the sausage patty, I don’t think of the pig. The egg is a work of art; the sausage is a product. As a young man I tried to make art but I didn’t want to work in a factory (teach) to support my art, so I chose to do radio, which is a form of sausage. I admire the egg but I enjoy the sausage more. And it makes me feel good about my life, a good thing at 5 a.m.

It’s dark out. I’m alone in Minnesota, so the coffee is my own, not my wife’s good coffee but a bitter, accusatory brew. It’s Lent, but I don’t notice it because we’ve had Lent since a year ago when we and a bunch of friends were about to go on a Caribbean cruise and then the word “pandemic” was uttered and I hung my white linen suit up in the closet and Jenny and I, who had only been husband and wife before, set out to become best friends, boon companions, cellmates. When you are locked down, it’s a choice between best friendship and putting rat poison on your pancakes. Rat poison is not a good death.

When you are locked down, it’s a choice between best friendship and putting rat poison on your pancakes. Rat poison is not a good death.

Back in my careering days, I abandoned her for periods of time and she has completely forgiven me. And here we are. We sit at the table and she says, “You just dropped a pill on the floor” and I look and there it is. I feel noticed, just like a peacock I once saw walk across a yard, his great fan of bejeweled feathers open wide, following a peahen whom he had a crush on, and he stretched out his gaudy neck and shook the little doodads on his head and waved the great fan of iridescent blue-green beauty and she looked up and noticed. This happens to me when I read her something I just wrote, like this very paragraph about the peacock, and she laughs out loud at the thought of me as a large bird in a pen.

When the virus is beaten back and we are free to mingle again, I plan to go on living the small life we’ve led for the past year. I’ll go visit my London family and my wife’s cousins in Stockholm but home is where my heart is and mainly what I learn from travel is that wherever I go, I don’t belong there. I go to Paris and realize I’m not French, not even close. Same with Florida, the land of yellow pants.

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I like my small life. Back in my adventuresome years, I canoed into the northern wilderness looking for spiritual lessons out there and once saw an airliner high overhead and thought, “I would rather be up there than down here.” Whenever I fly over wilderness, I remember that and am grateful for my water and a snack.

I have ambitious friends engaged in fighting gender bias and urban squalor and trying to bring diversity to the arts and rename streets now named for bigots and chauvinists, and I love these folks, but conversation with them can be tiring, so many dangerous topics to be avoided. They are Living Large and I’ve chosen small so I need to hang with forgiving souls like my wife. The sentence about the peacock was a highlight of my day. I don’t read the newspaper. My wife does and whenever she says, “Oh my God,” I say, “What?” and she tells me what. The “Oh My God” news is enough for me. Usually it’s funny.

I come from fundamentalist people who were into social distancing before anyone else was — we avoided Catholics and were uneasy around Lutherans — but in a pandemic, locked up with your BF, distance is only available in your sleep. I put my head on the pillow and imagine I’m on a bicycle pedaling south on Lyndale Avenue toward Minneapolis, past cornfields, into the city heading for the library downtown.


It’s 1953. I pass a bandbox café, a sawmill, a slaughterhouse, and by the time I come to the printing district, I’m asleep, and I wake up and it’s 2021. She isn’t here but there are two eggs and sausage and this sarcastic coffee. As we say in Minnesota, it could be worse.

Garrison Keillor
Prairie Home Productions