October 3rd, 2023


I'm an oddball but I have friends

Garrison Keillor

By Garrison Keillor

Published Sept. 18, 2023

I'm an oddball but I have friends


The time I have spent looking for my glasses — over the 70 years since I got glasses in the fourth grade, it must add up to a couple thousand hours, roaming nearsighted from room to room, bathroom, bedside table, desk, kitchen counter, coffee table, maybe six months of eight-hour days — a person could train for a triathlon in that time, find a cure for foot fungus, write a memoir — and yet, looking back over this endless series of ridiculous frenzies, I see how what a classic comedy it is, the half-blind man searching for his sightedness, and how can the regular reenactment of comedy do anything but make a man cheerful? I ask you.

Add to this my other blunders, stumbles, screwups and snafus in family life, professional career, political path, real estate — good Lord, the majestic apartment on Trondhjemsgade in Copenhagen that I bought, 13-foot ceilings, elaborate molding, a view of Ørstedsparken, you could've entertained royalty in the dining room or negotiated the union of Denmark and Sweden — I quit my radio show at the peak of its popularity and took my Danish wife to live in splendor and sit with her friends speaking my kindergarten Danish — my mind boggles: What was I thinking?

And the reader answers: “The problem was that you had too much money.” And the reader is quite right. But nonetheless what happened to the frugality of my parents John and Grace, shopping at Sears, darning socks, the meals of fried smelt, the hand-me-downs, why did I throw this overboard?

It's comedy, pure and simple. The man walks out his front door, is drenched by the neighbor's water sprinkler, turns away and steps on a rake, his head is bleeding, he goes back to the door and finds he's locked himself out. It's the human condition: too soon old, too late smart.

But I found my glasses today. They were in my jacket pocket. Sometimes they're in a shirt pocket, sometimes perched on top of my head. The frenzy ends, the problem solves itself.

The comedian is grateful. He looks around and appreciates the beauty of the day, the here and now. It's 5 a.m. My love is asleep in the bedroom, my daughter in her bedroom. I look out at the lights of New York. I make coffee, take my meds. The day awaits. There is work to be done.

Then daughter Maia and I will take a brisk walk around Central Park. There will be lunch, a nap, a phone call, perhaps from cousin Elizabeth explaining how Our Lord, though omniscient and omnipotent, nonetheless experienced our mortality with all its sorrows and pain, or maybe cousin Joyce planning our trip to Scotland, or cousin Richard reminiscing about his travels in Africa.

I am rich with cousins. My love has only a couple of second cousins. I have dozens. Cousin Stan is 90, my mentor. Elizabeth is my conscience, Dan my doctor, Susie my family historian, Janice my authority on cheerfulness. Dad had six siblings, Mother twelve. This connects me to hundreds of people, including a month-old great-nephew.

As Van Morrison sang:

These are the days now that we must savor
And we must enjoy as we can.
These are the days that will last forever,
You've got to hold them in your heart.

Somehow the ridiculous missteps of my life lead to this day in September, the back-to-school month, and in my heart I am still walking into the old high school, anxious to do well in Lyle Bradley's biology and Helen Story's English and even in Stan Nelson's phy-ed.

I'm an oddball but I have friends. Miss Story assigns us to memorize a Shakespeare sonnet and for some reason she assigns me Sonnet No. 29, “When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state,” and it is still intact in my mind, the series of complaints and then — “Yet in these thoughts … happily I think on thee, and then my state, like to the lark at break of day arising from sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate.”

Miss Story grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota, never married, devoted herself to teaching and reading and travel and was a passionate Shakespearean. She assigned me the poem.

The poet feels wretched, envies the good fortune of others who have not walked into sprinklers and stepped on rakes, and then he is awakened by love and returns to the present. I don't need glasses for this. It's planted in my head, as fresh and green as when I was 17.


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.