I set out to be the sort of brilliant artist who dies young, but I missed several chances at an early death

Garrison Keillor

By Garrison Keillor

Published Nov. 3, 2020

New York is a city of fast women, as I know from my morning walk — one after another, they say, "On your left," and they stride past, grandes dames and leggy lasses in a hurry to get somewhere, and meanwhile I shuffle along, a slow-moving obstruction, no schedule, nobody's waiting in a coffee shop for me to come talk shop. This is the freest I've felt since I was a kid. I could hop on the A train and ride out to Far Rockaway and watch the Atlantic waves roll in on the shore and observe planes landing at JFK and I wouldn't even need to invent a reason.

Instead I walk into Central Park and sit down on a bench by the dog run, an acre of grass where people let their dogs off the leash so they can tear around in a circle chasing each other (the dogs, that is), yapping and woofing happily. Apartment dogs enjoying a brief period of wildness as their owners stand in a group and converse. It's a sociable scene, the dog run. Dogs in euphoria and people socializing who ordinarily would pass each other with eyes averted. An urban phenomenon.

I am not a dog person. Several friends of mine are, including two who are in deep mourning for deceased pets, and two whose dogs served as maid of honor and best man at their wedding. I once saw a friend kiss her dog on the lips. I looked away. I'm not into anthropomorphism, but it's her life, not mine.

Discretion is the secret word here. No comment, thank you. And old age is another topic to tread lightly away from. It is endlessly fascinating to the decrepit geezer himself, atrial fibrillation is profoundly meaningful, each polyp and liver spot, but to his audience it is like the Treaty of Ghent or the Gadsden Purchase, not of immediate interest. So shut up.

I happen to love being old, I wish it hadn't taken me so long to get here. I was distracted by youthful ambition, I set out to be the sort of brilliant artist who dies young, but I missed several chances at an early death and got to be fifty, which is too old to die young, so I stuck around and found that old is cool. It's like Robert Frost said, you stop to look at the snowy woods so lovely, dark, and deep, which your little horse thinks is queer but who cares about the opinion of horses? A guy in the village owns the woods but he's not here so the beauty of it belongs to you, the observer. The world is yours for the looking. You discover this in old age.

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My eyes squint, I can't read the small print so probably I will fall victim to a scam and sign away my home and savings and wind up living with relatives, my hearing is failing so I nod yes to questions I can't hear and so word goes around that my faculties are failing, but actually I'm okay, thanks to this little phone/camera/newsstand/encyclopedia the size of a pack of smokes that I carry around with me. If I forget where I am, I click on the Map icon and it shows me. I can google the Grateful Dead on YouTube and after an ad for calcium supplements and one for a retirement village in Tucson, they sing "Ripple." So life is good.

Thoreau said, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," and he was dead wrong; as usual, he was talking about himself. He went to live in the woods in a cabin with a narrow bed. I am spending the pandemic in an apartment with a large bed and a comforter. She is amused by me. Every day I make her laugh twice before 10 a.m. Thoreau studied mushrooms but I am a fun guy. There are problems, of course. PIN numbers are hard for an old man to remember. Mine is 1384, thirteen being the number of electoral votes Mondale got in the 1984 election. I run into Mondale these days and at 92 he's one of the happiest guys around.

Anyway, I put the cash card in the ATM, punch in the numerals of crushing defeat, and out comes the dough. There is an important lesson here and when I remember it, I'll let you know.


Garrison Keillor is an author and radio personality. His latest book is "The Lake Wobegon Virus: A Novel". Buy it at a 33% discount! by clicking here. Sales help fund JWR.