The Old Scout
Garrison Keillor

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The Old Scout

“The NSA sure isn’t scaring us off cell phones”

published in The Star Tribune February 5, 2006

Conservatives are supposed to worry about government running roughshod over individuals. That’s their job. If conservatives don’t give a rip about warrantless wiretaps or torture or imprisonment without trial, then why should you or I?



“The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on”

published in The Star Tribune May 7, 2006

Clarity is hard. Honesty can be hard. Comedy is always chancy, but then so is profundity. Sometimes one winds up as the other. Illness is, of course, to be avoided, and also mega-malls and meetings involving vice presidents. But writing is not painful, no more so than a round of golf. Nobody was harmed in the course of writing this column.



“We jazz July. Then we die.”

published in The Star Tribune July 16, 2006

I’ve arrived at that delicate point in life where it gives me a twinge when the lady inside my computer says, “You are now disconnected.” Or when the flight attendant refers to our “final destination” and says, “We will be on the ground shortly.” Is that a nice way to talk?

“Every trip to the ballpark is homage to your old man”

published in The Star Tribune August 20, 2006

You wake up on a summer morning, the smell of possibility in the air, and you feel slim and gifted and innocent, and of course you should mow the lawn, but as Walt Whitman said, “What is the grass? It is the handkerchief of the Lord, a scented gift.” And who would cut God’s hanky? Not you. Time to set aside the petty drudgery of home maintenance and go off in search of the incomparable wonders of this world. Nebulae spiral in the sky thousands of centuries away, the Mississippi flows round the bend, ripe tomatoes hang on the vine, each one replete with astonishment and delight, and also there is baseball. Crowds hustling to the park, funneling through the turnstiles, the yap of the hucksters, the smell of bratwurst. Love can break your heart, but nobody was ever betrayed by a bratwurst.



“There’s redemption in a blitz of cold and snow”

published in The Star Tribune January 28, 2007

It’s a guy thing, shoveling snow. It’s a form of marking. You shovel the walk to show other males that you’re on the scene and operating at full capacity lest they think about stealing your woman, though ironically your shoveling has made it easier for them to reach your house.

Once we took January snow for granted, but these days it feels like a gift, and so does the bitter cold. You go outside and it hurts. You stand on the corner and wait for the bus to come, and you feel like a Christian martyr who clung to the truth and the infidels offered death by stoning or freezing, and you chose this. It is all very satisfying to stand there all righteous and holy, and then the bus comes and you climb aboard and you get warm. Redemption.



“The public library: A place of respite, still”

published in The Star Tribune July 1, 2007

The library is the temple of freedom. [...] in the library, you didn’t have to perform for the librarian. She simply presided over an orderly world in which you had the freedom of your own imagination. The silence was not repressive but liberating: to allow your imagination to play, uninhibited by others.

Of course a boy’s imagination headed in some directions that the public library could not satisfy, or would not satisfy — I thought that those particular books were kept behind the librarian’s counter and that if she liked me, she would let me see them, so I was a very, very good boy, but then it dawned on me that she probably thought a very, very good boy wouldn’t be interested in that sort of thing. (This would happen to me often with women.)



“Karl Rove was to the Bush White House as . . .

published in The Star Tribune August 19, 2007

There are basically two types of Americans and the first is the type that most of the world considers typical: the Americans who when the big smiley preacher stands in the pulpit and says, “How about everybody turn around and shake hands with the person behind you and give them a big howdy!” they all turn around and shake and say howdy and feel sort of uplifted by this. And then there are the Americans who would do anything to avoid this, including staying away from church entirely.


Two kinds


“The power of the I’ve Got Mine Party”

published in The Star Tribune October 28, 2007

Marriage is a good thing. But as for the sanctity of it, you shouldn’t look too closely. Every marriage has its profane moments, especially when children get mixed up in it, which so often happens.

There is yelling and weeping involved and door slamming and a great deal of bad poetry [...] and all due to the horrors of parenting.

The childless couples I know seem smooth and easy together, working their old comedy routines, and the fruitful couples seem distracted as if expecting a phone call from the county jail.




“Oh, ye of faltering faith: It’s Easter”

published in The Star Tribune March 23, 2008

Holy Week is a good time to face up to the question: Do we really believe in that story or do we just like to hang out with nice people and listen to organ music? There are advantages, after all, to being in the neighborhood of people who love their neighbors. If your car won’t start on a cold morning, you’ve got friends.

A year or so ago, I sat down and read the four Gospels in one fell swoop and somehow the jaggedness of some of it shook my faith, which maybe was based more on visuals — Jesus tending His flock, and little children gathered at His knee, sunbeams bursting through storm clouds, and so forth — and then I read about how the early Church cobbled the Scriptures together, which has to raise doubts in anyone’s mind. The Jews got stone tablets and the Mormons arranged for an angel to bring them their holy text, but ours was hammered out through a long contentious political process, sort of like the tax code, and that’s something you don’t care to know more about.



Scepticism is a stimulant, not to be repressed. It is an antidote to smugness and the great glow of satisfacton one gains from being right. You know the self-righteous — I’ve been one myself — the little extra topspin they put on the truth, their ostentatious modesty, the pleasure they take in being beautifully modulated and cool and correct when others are falling apart. Jesus was rougher on those people than He was on the adulterers and prostitutes.

So I will sit in the doubter’s chair for a while and see what is to be learned back there.

“A lesson in nobility only they can teach”

published in The Star Tribune April 6, 2008

The troops are not mercenaries, they are American soldiers in a long proud tradition going back to Gen. Washington’s Continental Army at Valley Forge, and what gives their mission dignity and meaning is that it comes from a constitutional government in which war is not a point of personal privilege but a matter to be openly debated, opposed, protested, reported. For the troops to fall into line is a noble thing; for civilians to fall into line is shameful.



“Hallmark doesn’t serve my Father’s Day needs”

published in The Star Tribune June 21, 2009

Women say, “Why don’t you talk to me anymore? I wish you’d tell me what’s going on with you!” so I start talking (like now) and they say, “How can you say that?” This is our dilemma.


Men and Women

“I believe in work. Also, in life on my terms.”

published in The Star Tribune April 11, 2010

Years later, I got a job in radio thanks to my willingness to get up at 4 a.m. and sound cheerful on the air. I could’ve gone into manure spreading instead, but it seemed too specialized and didn’t offer enough hours, so I chose radio. Two different career paths but there are similarities. You can’t do radio fast, and you can’t run a manure spreader in high gear [...] Both jobs, done well, contribute to society in some small way and give you, the professional, a crucial sense of well-being.




text checked (see note) Feb, May, Jul, Aug 2006; Jan, Jul, Aug, Oct 2007; Mar, Apr 2008; Jun 2009; Apr 2010

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Background graphic copyright © 2003 by Hal Keen