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The world is falling apart but my niece has sent me pictures of her, her friends, people from her church, cleaning up along Lake Street in Minneapolis, something that distinguishes a Minneapolis riot from one in Chicago or Philadelphia: when the arsonists leave, the brigades of nice people come in to tidy up.

Troubled Times

Say what you will, but this is our neighborhood and we don’t accept trashiness, we believe that clean streets, nice lawns, well-kept houses, bring out the goodness inherent in humanity. My aunts believed that, my mother, my grandma. Men with incendiary devices come through and torch businesses, a library, a police station, but the women will have the last word, count on it.

I have learned this during the almost three months of quarantine: woman rules the roost and man is a detriment to be tolerated. We’ve been isolating in a two-bedroom apartment and she has gotten very strict about squalor. She holds up a pair of black underwear she found on the couch. It is a large pair with a slit in front. I weigh 220 pounds, she weighs half of that. “Whose is this?” she asks, rhetorically.

Without a woman to hold up the underwear and say, “Is this yours?” it’s all over, goodbye Information Age, we’re back to Bronze.

She knows that I, like other men, have strong latent bachelor farmer tendencies. I set something down where it doesn’t belong — a magazine on the floor by the toilet — and minutes later, you’ve got papers strewn on the dining room table, a sinkful of dirty dishes, bedsprings in the front yard and an old rusted-out Chevy up on blocks, a refrigerator and two rusty sinks in tall weeds. It starts with one magazine on the floor and your life descends into chaos. Without a woman to hold up the underwear and say, “Is this yours?” it’s all over, goodbye Information Age, we’re back to Bronze.

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She is tough. Man is a hunter: give me a rock and I’ll go out and bring home my kill and skin it and roast it over a fire. She leans toward veganism. So my meat ration has been cut to a tenth of what it once was. I used to travel for business and wake up in a hotel, having hung my breakfast order on the doorknob the night before, and in comes the waiter with coffee, an 8 oz. top sirloin, two eggs fried over easy, a breakfast that prepares a man to go out and vanquish the Visigoths. No more. In my vegan prison, it’s wheat cereal with some blueberries. She loves lentils, quinoa, green leafy things, stuff that cattle eat.

“It’s good for you,” she says and of course she’s right and that’s the irritating part. She wants me to do sit-ups and jumping jacks and stretching, she encourages me to join her in yoga with her YouTube instructor Adriene. I don’t do yoga, I’m a guy. Some male persons may do it but guys don’t. What’s His Name doesn’t do yoga with Melania and neither does Joe Biden with Jill, and if either one were to be photographed in black tights doing Ardha Chandrasana, he would no longer be eligible to become Leader of the Free World. The LOFW plays golf. He doesn’t kneel or squat, he swings a club and sends a missile flying with deadly accuracy.

Before the lockdown I went to an office and was consulted by employees who offered their suggestions, which, wisely, I took, with minor revisions. I wore a suit, sometimes a tie. I had a role. Now my usefulness is limited to reaching the copper boiler on the top shelf and bringing it down and then, later, putting it back up. Height is my main asset, not experience. Sometimes I unload the dishwasher. Once in a while, if the sky turns black and bolts of lightning appear to the south and the wind moans in the weatherstripping and she becomes anxious, she turns to me for manly reassurance, though I know less about meteorology than the average medieval peasant did, but I put my hand on her shoulder and say, “It’s okay. Only a storm.”

And that is what makes quarantine bearable, putting my hand on her shoulder. We’ve been locked up together for a long time and whenever I walk into a room and see her, I put my hand on her shoulder, her back, I kiss her hair, I know this woman by heart. For her sake, I eat lentils and quinoa instead of muskrat or wild boar. She runs the house and I get to put my hand on her shoulder. It’s not a bad deal.


Garrison Keillor

Reposted with permission from Prairie Home Productions