One of those wild manic days in which the warmth of the air solves everything by nightfall, and you’re reminded – by something as simple as the wind – how grateful you feel to be on the right side of the dirt. And then you wonder why that lessons eludes you most of the time. Blame the brain, I guess. The busy, mad, scurrying brain: the best contentment-preventer in the business.
I’ve criticized local tall person Garrison Keillor here from time to time, so it’s only fair I should defend him when I think he’s getting hammered for the wrong reason. Supposedly this column is anti-gay. Dan Savage thinks so. (Warning: naughty language, from the title on down to the end.) I don’t. It’s a typical “Old Scout” entry – it sits there and stares at its shoes and talks in a monotone and then it says something which might be the point and then talks about the old days which had some good points but things are different now and we are all getting older. His remarks about gay couples, expressed with a leaden recitation of stereotypical attributes, is a standard humorist trick: state the most extreme example of other people’s preconceptions as a means to undermind them. It's like saying "we all know Blacks are excellent dancers" in a column about how booboisise Midwesterners enjoy the NBA, or something.
But it helps if you frame the exaggeration with actual, discernible humor, and this example was a bit too dry. He apologized:
The column was done tongue-in-cheek, always a risky thing,
Because all you of earth are idiots, to quote a famous movie.
…and was meant to be funny, another risky thing these days
Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!
and two sentences about gay people lit a fire in some readers and sent them racing to their computers to fire off some jagged e-mails.
That’s okay. But the underlying cause of the trouble is rather simple. I live in a small world—the world of entertainment, musicians, writers—in which gayness is as common as having brown eyes. Ever since I was in college, gay men and women have been friends, associates, heroes, adversaries, and in that small world, we talk openly and we kid each other and think nothing of it.
I’ll take him at his word, but it seems rather odd – I’ve had gay friends and acquaintances as well, and haven’t kidded them about it. I’m not even sure how that’s done. I don’t kid straight friends in straight-specific ways. Well, you would say that, given your proclivity for vaginally-oriented relations! Let's have a beer! But it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the theater world – like thirty years past never, so I’ll take his word.
But in the larger world, gayness is controversial. In almost every state, gay marriage would be voted down if put on a ballot.
Two different issues. In any case, in the larger world, everything is controversial. “Gayness” is not controversial in Saudi Arabia. It would be controversial in Des Moines if the mayor came out. It is not controversial in Hollywood. So it all depends.
In the small world I live in, they feel accepted and cherished as individuals, but in the larger world they may feel like Types. My column spoke as we would speak in my small world and it was read by people in the larger world and thus the misunderstanding. And for that, I am sorry. Gay people who set out to be parents can be just as good parents as anybody else, and they know that, and so do I.
With the last sentence I agree, although the editor in me – a very small portion of myself, infrequently consulted and usually startled when I ask his opinion – would have struck “and so do I,” since it seems redundant and has the unfortunate effect of making the apology sound like it’s all about Him, and that gay parents should be pleased to note he approves. I suspect they're too busy with homework and supper to give a fig. But that’s a minor carp.
It’s interesting how a lifetime of good behavior didn’t count for anything in the end; Savage, for one, is still unsatisfied, and his larger points beyond the offending paragraph are good. What interests me, however, is the unintended revelation nestled in the apology, one that has nothing to do with the main controversry. The Small World. Ah yes. We’ve all spent time in the Small World; it’s a place where everyone knows what we mean and everyone gets our jokes and reference and everyone’s family, from the lowliest stagehand – who’s hardly lowly, no, he’s indispensable – to the toppermost of the clique, who loves the fact that he gets along well with the stagehand. The Small World. It’s always misunderstood by the Larger World, which doesn’t have a grasp on the lapidary wit and precise yet cryptic vocabulary of the Smallers, and hence always gets things wrong, in their dull predictable ways. The Largers don’t know any gay people, and hence have never engaged them in wry, familiar, manifestly ironic kidding.
There’s a lesson: if you’re going to tell a joke, do your best to be funny. When you later raise the “joke” defense, it helps. He can do it on the air and in the novels; why this eludes him so consistently in his columns I can't say.
One more lesson: if you find yourself living in The Small World, and you do not spend the majority of the day in a building that features the words "High" and "School," you might want to get out more often.
Not exactly a ringing defense, I know, but when I saw a Drudge headline about "Keillor's Anti-Gay column" I was surprised. I don't think he's a bigot. For what it's worth.
I used to sleep in until noon. Those were the carefree college days – or, more accurately, the carefree college days in which I had stopped going to classes. (A small but important distinction.) Oh, I had spent a few years getting up for early classes, sitting half-awake in dark rooms with a cup of cafeteria coffee until Prof. Canedy jolted everyone awake with another exceptional lecture on the miracles of Renaissance Art, but towards the end of my college career I took one afternoon class, wrote a lot, waited tables at night, played a lot of pinball, and argued over The World in a booth at the Valli after bar rush. I’d go home, listen to Larry King in the dark, drift off, and wake on the cold, shame-draped steps of Noon.
I am, and have always been, a nightowl. But you can’t keep those hours when you have a kid and a job and the rest of the boons of adulthood, so I stay up late and rise early. Thus the nap. Of course, “early” for me isn’t “early” for normal sorts, particularly in this part of the country, where people rise before chickens and get into the office at eight. I rise at eight. My wife gets up earlier, but my alarm sounds promptly at eight. Time to wake up sir, it says, in a gentle insistent voice. Time to wake up, sir. And then it plays “Wake Up and Sing,” a tune from the thirties. Every morning. I never tire of it. Then I wake Gnat and we all go downstairs for breakfast.
This morning my wife left early. When the doorbell rang I was certain that the alarm hadn’t gone off – the fridge was supposed to be delivered between eight and ten, and my alarm hadn’t sounded. Gnat came out of her room clutching her stuffed wolf, Maya; she was alarmed by the bell, thinking it was robbers. Jasper was barking his head off. I looked at the clock: 7:53. It’s odd how you see these things; wake at 8:00 and you feel rested, but wake at 7:59 and you think you’ve been cheated. I found my clothes and a cap and dressed and went downstairs. 7:55. The deliverymen were here. Well, let’s begin, then.
The previous day I’d emptied out the freezer; all the stuff in the fridge side I’d put in large bags that could be hauled out in short order. I emptied out the fridge in a trice, made Gnat breakfast, and did her hair while Giant Persons removed the fridge. Twenty minutes after we’d risen, we went down the steps to the bus stop. It’s a block away.
While we waited, one of the kids looked north, frowned, and said “Is Jasper supposed to be out?”
There’s more – 1393 grim words, in fact – but Minor Carp, which turns out to be the name of my inner editor, has suggested I post and go to bed, and leave the rest of the tale for tomorrow. So I will.
New Fargo: lots of old modernist banks. Start here for the full effect, or pick up the story here. See you tomorrow!