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What Made Tuesday

Photo by Junior REIS on Unsplash

Back in Minnesota briefly and in the euphoria of returning home to the land of slow talkers, I called up some friends to invite them to supper at a steakhouse. As the submissive husband of a quasi-vegan, my steak opportunities are few and far between, and she happened to still be in New York, giving me a couple days of freedom to hunker down with other cavemen by a blazing fire and hack at the half-raw hunk of animal flesh and speak Middle English. But several friends declined. Invented excuses. An errand to help a son, a school assignment. As a longtime fictioneer myself, I can detect made-up excuses. The real reason, I’m guessing, was a lingering fear of contagion. My friends are worriers and if you google COVID you will be offered 1,437,893 things to worry about. Arriving from New York, I was unclean in their eyes.

You know me, I’m not a worrier. We have a division of labor in our household and worrying is her department. My job is to be a bringer of joyful enthusiasm. My family was evangelical and expected the world to end and in college I wrote dystopian stories, thinking it was the thing for a serious intellectual to do. For the same reason, I also chain-smoked and drank heavily. Around the time I quit that, it dawned on me that the Creator of the cosmos loves humanity and this includes me. It wasn’t a dramatic event like Heracles slaying the dragon and getting the golden apple, it was more like waking up one day and deciding to stop kicking the wall with your bare feet.

If I were a professional wrestler, the pandemic would’ve been rough on me, being a 300-lb. guy with big tattoos and weird hair and nothing to do but walk his Pekingese, but for a writer, isolation is an opportunity.

If I were a professional wrestler, the pandemic would’ve been rough on me, being a 300-lb. guy with big tattoos and weird hair and nothing to do but walk his Pekingese, but for a writer, isolation is an opportunity. And I found a young couple to join me for dinner. Two musicians pursuing nonmusical careers that engage them, both of them cheerful and looking ahead, and I ordered oysters and a salad and they ordered a humongous chunk of meat, which might’ve been a flank of antelope or the left cheek of a cougar, which they split, and, just in case their mothers inquired, a serving of broccolini.

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It was a jovial two hours and because I am fifty years older than either of them, I did not natter. There was no nattering, no reminiscence about the Swinging Sixties back when pop songs made sense. I asked them questions about their lives and it was illuminatory and inspiring, to hear about real things.

Two hours, during which we did not spend one minute talking about the issues and crises that newspaper columnists have been agonizing over for the past five years. The political fortunes of Vlad the Impaler did not occupy us for five seconds. She is heading into the business of listening to troubled people and he is managing a venue for punk bands and stand-up comics and both are doing well and this makes me happy: young people avoiding the many dark corridors available and pursuing what makes them happy.

This gives me hope for the future, which I have much less of than they, that friendship will see us through whatever happens. I am not a bundle of charm; I depend on loyalty. I realized this recently when a woman from church asked me to give a Zoom talk to some educators she knows and I did and when I saw my face on the computer screen, my heart sank. So did my face. It’s a face that belongs on a “Wanted” poster at the post office or an ad for a pill that relieves migraines. The educators knew me from my years in radio and when they saw me they were stunned at the difference. For thirty-five minutes, nobody laughed.


Nonetheless, there are ways to be useful. Now and then my wife hands me an odd dish, a platter or a colander or a hypotenuse, and says, “Can you put this on that top shelf?” and I do. It’s an easy reach for me. She asks what I’d like for dinner and I say, “A brisket of beef and a baked potato with butter,” and she serves an arugula cucumber salad with a light vinaigrette dressing and two rye crisps and feels good about having prolonged my life. She looks at me and says, “Smile” and I do and then she does too. I’m smiling now, at the thought of it.

Garrison Keillor
Prairie Home Productions