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I’ve been skipping the news about Senator Colon Gas of West Virginia lately and his objections to reducing greenhouse gases and I’ve been focused on the pleasures of being an old man, which includes the occasional steak-and-eggs breakfast. An old man must choose his vices carefully and I gave up smoking and drinking when the thrill was gone but if I were offered a Last Meal the night before I swing from the gallows, steak and eggs would be it and possibly (why not?) a glass of Pinot Noir, robust but subtle, moderate tannins, floral aroma, notes of cherry and plum with a slight rhubarb accent, otherwise a bottle of Grain Belt.

I come from fundamentalists who avoided rhythmic singing lest it lead to dancing but there was Mother Julie dancing like a cheerleader in the aisle, and I walked home, a pile of emotional rubble.

I am 79, and this year is a fine year and I’m not just whistling past the graveyard. I feel loose and free and jazzy and Sunday morning in church I fell apart, which is unusual for an old stoic, but the choir sang, “We shall walk through the valley in peace. We shall meet our loved ones there.” And then a jazzy “Amazing Grace” with Hammond organ, and at the end, our sins forgiven, we sang “I Am the Bread of Life” with Anglicans raising their arms up high like Pentecostals on the chorus (“And I shall raise them up”) and I got completely choked up and couldn’t sing, then “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and people clapping to it like Baptists. I come from fundamentalists who avoided rhythmic singing lest it lead to dancing but there was Mother Julie dancing like a cheerleader in the aisle, and I walked home, a pile of emotional rubble.

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Someone had emailed me a newspaper article about me and I opened it and scrolled down to the Comments that followed. The old print newspapers had Letters To The Editor, which were signed and polite and the online Comments is a whole new venture of journalism, anonymous and open to malice. It’s like walking into a bar at 11 p.m. when the guys are well-liquored-up and you get to see human darkness up close. I read some real abuse about me, which people would never say face-to-face about my lifelong lechery and cruelty to coworkers and my fake amiability and how much they always hated my radio show, and I wasn’t offended, I was fascinated. I thought, “Why not? I’m only a name to them and a cliché. I went onstage willingly and offered myself to interpretation and fabrication, and these folks are having a good time despising a caricature and maybe they’ll work off their cruelty here and then treat their children with kindness. Leave them be.” People walk up to me and talk about the bond they feel between us and the Comments people deserve to have their say.

We don’t see much outright anger in everyday life, a little honking and silent cursing, otherwise formality prevails, which makes right-wing talk radio so shocking, and there’s the reason my friends and I are so out of touch in our native land. Senator Colon Gas and Leader Kevin McCarthy represent those people who believe they’ve been cheated and put down and their rights stolen. They don’t live in my neighborhood so we’re not in contact. I live in New York, near Central Park, a little paradise where parents of small children have laid claim to large tracts of lawn and hills and dales and playgrounds and families promenade along walkways, pushing a stroller, a toddler or two hanging on, and no cruelty or vulgarity, no threatening behavior is tolerated.

You can blame the anger on a poor upbringing or listening to too much heavy metal or angry theology — over on the other side of town, preachers are telling the faithful that a secular liberal socialist cult is conspiring to steal their country, but I think the problem is simply separation. There is a serious lack of intermingling.


I do believe that if the angry Comments people and the dystopianites had joined us in church this morning and sung “Amazing Grace” and held their arms up to “And I shall raise them up” and clapped their hands to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” it would’ve warmed their hearts and we would’ve shaken hands afterward, maybe even embraced. If I get choked up, then the hardest heart would be moved. He will raise us up. We sang it and I believe it. We need to let our light shine.

Garrison Keillor
Prairie Home Productions