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Garrison Keillor: Columnist recuses himself

February 07. 2018 11:08PM

A guy has got to sympathize with Congressman Devin Nunes, whose name will forever be on the secret Nunes memo released last week, claiming that the Mueller investigation is a Democratic plot. It reads like a very long tweet that someone wrote with his thumbs on a tiny keypad. It gives columnists one more 2x4 to whack him over the head with.

I am not that sort of columnist because I have made grievous mistakes myself, unlike George Will or David Brooks. Butter does not melt in their mouths. You could put a quarter-pound stick in either of them and it would be perfectly hard hours later. Me? No way.

I’m a columnist who cannot be trusted to replace an air filter in my car or change the oil. You would not leave small children with me for more than an hour; I’d be capable of sitting down at my laptop and not noticing the kiddos ingesting dead rodents and poison sumac.

A guy like me, who put so much faith in Vitamin E for so many years and who organized a trip to the Norwegian Arctic one January to see the Aurora Borealis and all we saw was low cloud cover and steady rain, is not in a position to make fun of Nunes.

The way I see it is, I’m grateful there are so many people smarter than I and what more can I say? I come from a line of Keillor men who suddenly dropped dead of heart failure and thanks to a great many brilliant people in the medical sciences, I have not. I have thought about them often since the summer of 2001 when Dr. Orszulak, in a chilly room full of bluish light, opened my chest and sewed up the mitral valve in my heart. This was after several months of severe fatigue and breathlessness from climbing short flights of stairs.

A few years later, after a minor stroke, the blood thinners arrived. A few years later after that, after EMTs had to be called to restrain an old man who was out of his mind, the anti-seizure pills came to pass.

I’m fine, now. When I go to the Mayo Clinic, where all these blessings were bestowed, I feel as the medieval pilgrims felt who arrived on foot in Jerusalem. I return there this week to be sedated and lie very quietly as an ophthalmologist fixes the cloudy lens in my right eye. If, afterward, I have visions of Peter, Paul, and Moses playing ring-around-the-roses, I will not be alarmed.

When I was 28 and 29 and 30, of course, I was deeply dissatisfied, even bitter sometimes, having to arise at 4 a.m. and drive to a monotonous ill-paying job I did not care for while my unique talent went unrecognized. I sometimes sat up late at night, medicating myself with Irish whiskey, and nursed feelings of betrayal and hopelessness. And then suddenly my unique talent was recognized, and I was in serious trouble.

Talent is mostly an illusion, and a person has to work extremely hard to maintain that illusion. And so I did. I hardly remember my thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties; I was working all the time and the rest of the time, too. Other men and women lived the same story.

And now the luxury of being 75 (thank you, Dr. Orszulak) and having no schedule at all except what my wife invents for me, which is the luxury of the level perspective. I live on the prairie, which I love, on a bluff overlooking the upper Mississippi, a few miles downstream from where I grew up, skating on the river with my jacket held out for a sail and the wind pushing me under the Beltline bridge toward the towers of Minneapolis.

I was free then and I am free now. I have plenty of time to read the paper. I follow all the columnists the way I used to follow Skeezix and Dick Tracy and Little Iodine. After the eye is fixed, my wife says we’re going to New York. Later this month, I plan to board the Southwest Chief in Chicago, and ride west across the plains and the Rockies and Sierras to Los Angeles.

The difference between thinking about the Nunes memo and two days on the Southwest Chief is the difference between potato chips and Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” Read it sometime. It’s a great book.

Garrison Keillor lives in Minnesota.


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