In Defense of Ordinary
My father died four days following his 67th birthday, just 8 years older than I am now. Today, a 67-year-old isn’t quite my contemporary, but close enough not to matter much. A few different experiences, but we’re generally in the same age group, so something to ponder.
Dad died in 2003, though, which is roughly the Bronze Age when it comes to modern technology. He would have scoffed at smart phones, everyone’s head in a permanent slope, although I suspect he would have developed some comfort with an iPad. It happens to all of us.
But back then? He had no use for personal computers, relying on my mom to relay emails and other online stuff. I heard he was playing a game or two on the PC at some point, but there are no pictures and so that remains unproven, of course.
And after listening to a conversation between my mom and someone else, possibly my sister, about annoyances, he got confused with all the talk about spam.
“But I like Spam,” he said.
The first thing I saw yesterday morning on awakening was a news alert about Matt Lauer. I don’t remember thinking this, but it sure seems like these stories are entering the realm of celebrity deaths and dropped forward passes; they tend to come in clumps, and sure enough, Garrison Keillor popped up on Twitter in a few minutes.
There’s a natural inclination to conflate in all things, particularly all things newsworthy. This is understandable and unfortunate, of course. Some of what Lauer is accused of sounds criminal, seriously criminal, and in my mind bordering on even worse than Harvey Weinstein.
Keillor’s transgression, on the other hand, sounds…boring. The pudding proof is always going to be corroborating stories, so time will tell us something, but in the meantime this one sounds a little puffy.
And Keillor himself seems a tad defiant and certainly not apologetic, which also might tell us something. I won’t be surprised to learn that he’s been a serial groper, although I also won’t raise an eyebrow if this turns out to be a nothingburger. I think it would be helpful if one of these guys was simply the victim of bandwagon hopping, so we can all calm down and change the world and put the women in charge and still not rush to judgment. But, again: I shall wait to see. I’m not sure I’m capable of surprise anymore.
What struck me in all of this was the snideness and snarkery. Bad enough that Keillor may have been just another creep in a creepy world of creeps who creep, but yeah. He also was an old white guy, boring, old-fashioned, dull and dingy and is he still alive? In this century? Also, he’s ugly.
And I thought, But I like Garrison Keillor.
Not in a passionate way. In a casual way, but respectful. I’ve listened to Prairie Home Companion from time to time, usually in the car, occasionally on a lazy Saturday afternoon, if not so often over the past 15 years. I’ve read some of his books, which I mostly found entertaining, a breezy voice of wisdom and wryness. He celebrated the ordinariness of white-bread life with gentle satire, always maintaining his affection for a culture of stoicism and mac and cheese, gentle nostalgia and rollicking populism.
Whether or not these Lake Wobegon lives actually reflect reality doesn’t matter. His affection was my affection, and I have no apologies either. I like ordinary.
I’ve become more fond of it recently, simple pleasures that don’t twist my life into knots of anxiety and stress. Potlucks; who can dislike potlucks? Plain food, simple music, old jokes: This is comfort and solace to aging bones. When I get those news alerts, when I look at the intentional disintegration of a flawed but enduring system of self-governance, when I observe the walking Halloween mask in the White House, casseroles can get awfully important.
So I’ve been drawn to simplicity lately, to comfort food, to dumb movies that make me smile, to old songs that are laughable and laughter is needed, you bet. I’m not going to wallow in old episodes of Bonanza (or listen to Prairie Home Companion, for that matter), but I’m erring on the side of ordinary a lot these days.
I’m just looking for a little respect for the ordinary, then. I don’t blame those who see his alleged behavior as a good excuse to poke fun at his languid features and even more languid monologues; it just surprised me. Toss Keillor over the side; if he deserves it, I’m all for tossing. I’m not a huge fan, or maybe even much of a fan at all except for some affection when it comes to his writing, which is often predictable but usually excellent anyway.
But I’m a fan of simple things, and knee-jerking ourselves into dismissal when it comes to the joys of noodles and processed cheese feels self-defeating. This is not a good time, and we could use a good time, and I think simpler might actually be better.