Time passes except when it suddenly leaps backward

 Garrison Keillor

By Garrison Keillor

Published Dec. 25, 2018

The Nobel-Prize

Snow on the ground in Minnesota and a frosty grayness in the air and a delicious chill that makes a person feel alive and vibrant.

Cold is a stimulant, but of course some people don't tolerate it well and they decamp for the Sun Belt and — don't tell anyone I said this — everything works better when those old people leave town.

Traffic flows, the line at checkout moves faster without querulous oldsters demanding a discount on bruised bananas, you don't have fifteen cars waiting at the drive-up ATM while some old coot tries to remember his PIN number.

I can say this because I'm 76. If you said it, you'd be accused of ageism, which it is, but past the age of 70, one is entitled.

It's the Age of Sensitivity.

A house down the street has hung up Christmas lights, but as I look closer, I see that alongside the star of Bethlehem is a Star of David and also a star inside a crescent moon with an inscription in Arabic. These people are liberals, like me, but their inclusivity strikes me as show-offy — and why did they leave out Buddhism and Hinduism? And how will agnostics feel when they see this?

Last month, I went to the grocery store and I asked a clerk where I'd find the dairy case and she told me and I said, "Thank you, kid" and she said, "I don't accept people infantilizing me." She was in her fifties. I was stunned. I told the manager I wanted to apologize to the woman and he said, "Don't worry about it. She is nougat intolerant and it makes her hypersensitive, though I'm not supposed to use that word, and if you report me, I'll deny everything."

In the Minnesota I knew, there was very little sensitivity. We played hockey on backyard rinks with rolled-up magazines for shin pads. It was bitterly cold. Kids whacked me with their sticks, I was pelted with insults — dodo, dummy, dimwit, moron — until, a few years ago, I was diagnosed as being "at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum" and I got a card to carry in my wallet: "I am an autist, high-functioning but with limits. Please be patient."

The big cultural shift came with the introduction of no-smoking areas in the Sixties, after the Surgeon General's report. Back then, everyone smoked except sissies and pantywaists, and then suddenly it was uncool. I loved smoke and still do, though now I limit myself to pre-inhaled smoke. But the ban on smoking was followed by rules about joking and poking and then a city ordinance was passed forbidding the custom of "Ladies First" as patronizing: women demanded the right to open doors for themselves. Church attendance plunged due to the threatening language of the Bible.

In the old days, threats were everywhere. Parents yelled at their kids, kids yelled at each other. That's why I'm not a hugger; when someone takes a step toward me, I step back. In the old days, someone stepped toward you, they'd say, "Look down there" and you looked down and they stuck a foot behind you and shoved you and yelled, "Doughnuts!" I grew up with that.

The other morning at the coffee shop, I said, "Good morning, dear" to the barista. I knew I shouldn't say it but she had given me such a sweet smile, I thought maybe she is the granddaughter of an old classmate, maybe she loves my writing.

She stiffened when I deared her. She said, "You are using your power position as a customer to imply an intimate relationship that doesn't exist and thereby enjoy a fantasy that is demeaning to me."

I said, "Your smile implied a personal relationship and made me think I might know you and simply had forgotten your name."

She said, "You're out of your mind."

And I showed her my Autist card.

She said, "I am so sorry. I had no idea you were mentally handicapped."

And then she recognized her mistake, using the forbidden h-word. I told the manager and she was fired.

I got a gift certificate for two dozen lattes. Cool.


Garrison Keillor is an author and radio personality.