Saturday

November 18th, 2017

Insight

Refugees in the land of good enough

Garrison Keillor

By Garrison Keillor

Published May 3, 2016

Don't quote me on this but New York City is in the midst of digging a third tunnel, 60 miles long, deep underground, to bring in water from upstate reservoirs, and until it is finished, if either the first tunnel (1917) or the second (1936) should break down, half of the city would be without water and therefore uninhabitable, and several million inhabitants would need to find homes, and I believe that my state, Minnesota, which took in thousands of Hmong and Somali, would stand ready to welcome New Yorkers.

Imagine a canyon opening in Westchester where an old tunnel collapses and geysers shooting hundreds of feet into the air, mobs of refugees carrying laptops and lap dogs and TiVos and espresso machines descending on JFK and jumbo jets ferrying them to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport where teams of church volunteers meet them with hospitality baskets and the New Yorkers examine the contents and say, "Why is there rhubarb in this bagel?"

The answer to that question is "Shut up. It's good enough. Don't be so finicky. Eat it, you might like it. Or don't eat it, I don't care one way or the other. But don't expect the world to attend to your every whim. Now beat it, I'm busy."

It's what we Midwesterners learned from our mothers. And so we grew up to be accommodating, slow to complain. We might, if we're having a bad day, say, "I'm sorry but why is there toilet-bowl cleaner sprinkled on my blueberry muffin?" But probably we'd just say "thank you" and throw it away when no one is looking.

Don't ask me who "they" are but they estimate that this refugee crisis would last for three months and would involve mostly residents of Queens and Brooklyn. There would be hipsters involved and super Orthodox and people who pronounce English words to make them sound like coffee beans in a grinder.

They would arrive in the land of Good Enough and begin advocating for themselves which we were brought up not to do nor think of doing. We were brought up to say, "Don't go to any trouble for me" and "I'll have whatever is easier for you."

The New Yorkers operate under no such disadvantage. They would state their specific likes and dislikes and make sure we took them seriously and we would. We'd accommodate people with Jell-O allergies and would provide kosher casseroles and learn to make bagels the right way, firm, with a crust, not like Parker House rolls, and we'd read up on the Mets so we could converse intelligently.

We would not judge our guests for their pathetic infantile attachment to unpleasant cats and dogs. We would listen to them as they complain about the flatness of the land, the bitter cold, the weakness of the coffee, the blandness of politicians, the darkness at night, the poor bus service, the lack of excellent Indian restaurants, the limited choice of movies in theaters and the lousy popcorn, and that our local production of "La Traviata" was quite inferior to the one they saw with Renata Tebaldi.

Eventually the new tunnel would be completed, water would flow, our guests would return home, and we would be a changed people. Our range of expression would expand. We would feel free to say things like "I think you overdid it on the saffron" and "Please stop using the word 'totally' " and "You utterly missed the point of the book" and "I don't want to discuss my mother any further."

Don't get mad at me when I say this, but I would be one of those Midwesterners who would not be changed. I think that Good Enough is an okay philosophy. It's not up at the top with existentialism or string theory or the Bhagavad-Gita but it has served me pretty well for a good long time. Into each life some rain must fall. Nothing so bad but what it contains some good. All good things come to an end. Not every question has an answer. In silk and scarlet walks many a harlot. So you wish -- people in hell wish they had ice water.

In this election year, surrounded by noise, people dissatisfied or pretending to be dissatisfied, orators railing at the powers that be, let me just put forward one little thought, and please don't shoot me for saying it, but -- if there is water coming out of your tap, if the toilet flushes, if the truck comes and picks up the garbage, things could be a lot worse. Be happy.

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Keillor is the host of "A Prairie Home Companion."


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