Fiction Garrison Keillor Love Me

ISBN 13: 9780142004999

Love Me

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9780142004999: Love Me

n this charming departure from Lake Wobegon, bestselling author Garrison Keillor tells a hilarious and heartwarming tale of ambition, success and failure, and the virtues of real love. Aspiring writer Larry Wyler leads a quiet, decent life with his do-gooder wife, Iris, in St. Paul, Minnesota, but he wants more. When his literary debut becomes a hit, he departs for a Manhattan apartment, a job at the New Yorker, and three- martini lunches with the great editor, William Shawn.

But when his second novel bombs and he finds himself in the grip of writer?s block, Wyler discovers that success?and the New York publishing scene?is a fickle mistress, indeed. Creatively barren, nearly destitute, and longing for Iris, he accepts a job writing ?Ask Mr. Blue,? a column doling out advice to the lovelorn. It may not be glamorous work, but through it Wyler discovers what?s really important and sets out to win back the woman he left behind.

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About the Author:

Garrison Keillor, author of nearly a dozen books, is founder and host of the acclaimed radio show A Prairie Home Companion and the daily program The Writer's Almanac. He is also a regular contributor to Time magazine.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Prologue

Once I was young and virtually indestructible and now I am an old married guy on a January morning on Sturgis Avenue in St. Paul sniffing the wind and taking my vitamins. Six A.M. It’s pitch-black out. Fresh coffee in the air. I take vitamin C, E, B complex, lysine, cod-liver oil, echinacea, with orange juice, which eases the pills down the gullet. I do a few leg stretches, forty crunches, twenty push-ups, a dozen curlies, on the living room floor. I don’t want to struggle when I go to get out of a car. And if tonight my queen should reach over from her side of the bed and draw me to her, I intend to be capable of knighthood.

I look out the kitchen window to get my bearings. St. Paul sits on a bend in the Mississippi, and from my window I see the giant illuminated 1 on the First National Bank downtown and the light in the cupola on the great dome of the Cathedral of St. Paul high on the hill above us. The cathedral sits up there overlooking downtown along with the stately mansions of Summit Avenue that we show to tourists, where James J. Hill, the Empire Builder, resided and next door, the Hampls who made Hamm’s beer, and the lumbering Weyerhaeusers, the O’Briens, the Pearsons of Pearson’s Nut Goodies, the MacDonald and McNeil families who founded 3M, and the domiciles of their vice presidents and their spoiled children. Sturgis Avenue is a long way down from Summit and Ramsey Hill. Down here are the mechanics and millhands, the laundry workers, the ladies of the cafeterias. Up there the liquor stores stock twenty-year-old single-malt Scotch from the Orkneys and the grocery sells goat yoghurt and eight different kinds of oregano and coffee beans from Costa Rica and in the coffee shops you hear Haydn and people talking about Henry James. Down here people buy Old Overshoe bourbon and season their food with salt and the coffee comes in cans and in the coffee shops people talk about their sister whose husband beat the shit out of her and took off for South Dakota. If it were up to me, I’d be living on Ramsey Hill by sundown tonight, but my wife is a Democrat and I lost that fight a long time ago.

Next door is the house of Mr. Ziegler, who died in September of aimlessness, now owned by a hard-working young couple who don’t smile when they see me. Apparently they don’t know I’m a former famous author and I write the twice-weekly “Mr. Blue” column in the Minneapolis Star Journal (Romance going sour? Boyfriend acting weird? Wife ignoring you? Ask Mr. Blue.) They are delivery truck drivers, judging by their dark brown convict uniforms. Dear Mr. Blue, My wife and I live next door to an older man who is always staring over our way. Should we say something? Suspicious. Dear Suspicious, It can’t hurt.

I attained old married guyhood despite some outstanding bad behavior on my part and an unsuccessful lunge at fame and riches a long time ago. There was a fairly popular novel, Spacious Skies, and an apartment at the Bel Noir on Central Park West in New York and an office at The New Yorker with a drawing on the wall above my desk that James Thurber scrawled there years ago with a carpenter’s pencil. A thoughtful dog with a harpy standing over him, saying, “I know what you’re thinking and the answer is No, No, No.” J. D. Salinger’s office was down the hall and J. F. Powers’s and S. J. Perelman’s. John Updike smiled at me in the hallways. Calvin Trillin took me to lunch. The great editor William Shawn became a pal of mine. Him and me went barhopping and got so soused we had to hold each other up. God, I loved that man. We played golf and sailed his boat, the Shawnee, through the Verrazano Narrows and out to sea and fished for grouper. I was in New York for six years and Iris almost divorced me, on grounds of emotional distance, but then I wrote a wretched second novel, Amber Waves of Grain, which bombed so badly she took pity on me and called off the dogs. I came down with a brutal case of writer’s block. Wrote one sentence of Purple Mountains’ Majesty and quit. The sentence was: “He and the Mrs. dreamed of alabaster cities but here they were in St. Paul and what could they do but cry in their soup?” Couldn’t write worth beans.

She almost divorced me again after I shot the publisher of The New Yorker (an accident, sort of). He lay on the floor of the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, quietly discoloring the carpet, and said, quietly, “You’ll never write for my magazine again, Larry Wyler,” and expired. I left New York the next day and returned to St. Paul, to a studio apartment on Ramsey Hill, and cooled my heels there until Iris was willing to take me back.

So I am basically okay. When people ask me, that’s what I tell them. “You’re sure looking good,” they say, which they never said twenty years ago when I did look good, but never mind. I’m sixty. Brown hair, low medium IQ, big feet and sloping shoulders, the face of a ladies’ shoe salesman, about a quart low in the charm department, and nothing to be done about it. Boo hoo for me. Hurray for monogamy.

Shortly, I’ll take coffee and the Times up to Iris, the mistress of the house, as she soaks in a hot bath, suds up to her neck, a rolled-up towel behind her head, listening to Morning Edition from NPR. And an hour later, she’ll appear downstairs good and pissed off at the Republicans for their treacheries. This bodes well for the day. We’ll eat our bran flakes and bananas and she’ll say something short and sharp about our shallow doctrinaire president and pick up her battered briefcase and hike to work downtown. Meanwhile, I stay home and write my column for the lovelorn. Dear Mr. Blue, He used to be a young stallion taking me to heights of wild passion and then he turned into Eeyore, all moody and needy. In the afternoon, I take a nap and scribble on a legal pad what I hope will become this book and I chop vegetables for supper. Iris comes home at 6. We eat. We go for our nightly constitutional, a two- mile circuit along West 7th past the old Czech lodge hall and the Day By Day Café, the porn shop and the magic store and the funeral parlor, and the half-mile trek across the High Bridge over the Mississippi to Cherokee Heights and back. Even on the bitterest cold nights when the arctic blast bites you in the shorts, she insists we do the Death March over the frozen Father of Waters—“It’s good for you,” she mutters through her ski mask, and I guess it is. It seems to settle the meal and pacify our minds and we arrive at some tender if inconclusive understanding of each other and come home and read ourselves into a pleasant drowsy state and so to bed.

Perchance to some nobility or else straight to sleep and the nobility of dreams. And then it’s 6 A.M. again.

V

Today Mr. Blue has a letter from Lonely asking how a woman who hates the bar scene can find a good man. And there’s Frustrated, who asks if he should stick with his programmer job or fly to Stockholm and pursue the woman he met at her farewell party two weeks ago. The Swedish girl. She didn’t say she loved him but there definitely was something between them and he can’t get her out of his mind. And then there is Uncertain, who responded to a personals ad (Seek sex buddy. No grief artists, drama queens, memoir writers, Dylan fans, or people in recovery. I am a fattycakes & two-fisted drinker & UB2. Acne a plus.) and met a large lonely man who came into her life like a bad case of psoriasis. He wants to borrow money so he can go back to technical college. Should she lend it to him? Surely not, but I am in no position to scorn her, or Frustrated either. I have my own flaws.

1. Arrogance. Glorying in the dopiness of others. Taking a piggy pleasure in hearing nice things said about me no matter how fatuous.
2. Restlessness. The reckless urge to abandon ship and move on and thus stay a step ahead of defeat.
3. An ungrateful heart. The expectation of gifts.
4. Alcohol. Too much of it. The inevitable stupidity. (I have cut out No. 4 for now and that leaves three to deal with. Sorry. Forgot No. 5. Dishonesty.)

I go to fetch the Times from the front step and there is fresh snow, so I grab a broom and sweep the steps and the front walk. I like January. Christmas is put away and the cold air wakes a man up and kills off delusions of grandeur. I am sober this morning. It has been two and a half years.

Dark figures stumble through the dark toward the bus stop on West 7th, an old man in a beat- up denim jacket. Dear Mr. Blue, I want to quit my custodial job and move to Florida but Mother needs me here. She is 95 and I am 72. What to do? I am freezing to death. And a young couple not holding hands, her shivering violently in a cheap leather jacket, hands in her pockets, him solemn-faced, sleepy, earrings, head shaved. I’m guessing they live together and she is angry about the three years she’s invested in him. Dear Mr. Blue, My girlfriend is mad because I’m not all that thrilled about the idea of us buying a house. I like things the way they are. She keeps saying, “What if I get pregnant?” As if this were an option. I’m 28 and don’t know what I want to do except buy a new guitar and write more songs. Why the sudden rush to buy a house? And silverware patterns? I don’t get it. Confused. Hey, it’s only life, son. It can crowd in on a guy fast. Don’t buy the house if you don’t want to. Pray for clarification. I say a prayer for you now as you walk past me. Pray for me in return.

V

This morning, as I have for two and a half years, I stepped out of the shower and felt lucky. Stepped on the scale. 195. Brushed my teeth and toweled my thatch of thin hair and anointed myself with Tango deodorant and put on jeans and black T-shirt and asked God to forget my transgressions and give me a cheerful and attentive heart and headed for the kitchen to make coffee.

Let us speak about the importance of separate bathrooms. The wise old couple cherish their individual rights and one is the right not to be crowded. I am a man who awakens in a convivial mood, apt to shuffle off to Buffalo and sing about the red, red robin who comes bob-bob-bobbin’ along. Her Ladyship does not. She rises as if from open-heart surgery. She should not be jostled or spoken to until she gathers her faculties. This requires the Times and a cup of strong coffee. She sits in her bath, eyes closed, tendrils of brown hair trailing into the water, freckled arms folded over dappled breasts, organizing the world—the Holy Trinity, the Four Points of the Compass, the Seven Cardinal Virtues, the schools of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, the avenues of Minneapolis, Aldrich, Bryant, Colfax, Dupont, Emerson, Fremont, Girard. When I tiptoe in, she reaches up for the paper and the cup of coffee and says, “Thank you. Good morning, ” and I am dismissed.

I am loathe to write about her, our life, my sins. I dislike revealing what must be revealed here. I love secrecy. I would love to live invisibly with Iris and let the dust settle on us until we are hauled off to the glue factory.

Communication is an injurious thing in marriage. A person should never ever discuss the marriage if it can be avoided. Sometimes in a weak moment you blurt out something—“You never understood me!” for example—and it becomes your albatross. “What did you mean when you said she has never understood you,” says the therapist, who hopes you will say more and throw some more sand in the pistons, all the more work for him at $150 an hour. Don’t answer the question. Keep all dark thoughts to yourself. Be cheerful. Tell the therapist to peddle his papers somewhere else. You can deal with your own problems by the time-tried method of shutting up and letting them pass.

One thing that kept our marriage together was a mutual distaste for Republicans. Nixon fuming about the Jews and Reagan weaving his little MGM fables and the Ivy rednecks George I and George II and their servitude to the obscenely rich. Without this gallery of rogues, we might’ve been history a long time ago.

It also helps that I’m not drunk.

I don’t want to but I will tell the truth to the best of my ability as a step toward sobriety. I sincerely apologize if this offends you, dear reader.

1 a We Met at the U

I met Iris O’Blennis in choir when I was twenty. We were juniors at the University of Minnesota, 1963. She was in social work, I was an English major. Choir met MTW 3–4:30 in the musty basement of Northrop Auditorium. I took my place among the baritones and stood behind a pale shining alto with short brown hair and long neck and that was her. Dear Mr. Blue, I am too shy to talk to girls. Sing to them then. Join a choir. Pick out the girl you want and stand behind her and blend your voice with hers, gently, reverently, in tune, as if lifting her by the waist, and this will excite her and also create trust. Animals mate by ear, so do people. People mate in choir all the time in Minnesota. We are a choral state. Our director, Bruno Phillips, was rehearsing us in The Passion According to St. Matthew, and I leaned forward and looked down the front of her silk blouse and saw her pale freckled breasts resting in their white hammock and my baritone heart swoll up, as did my baritone pants.

April is in my mistress’s face,
And July in her heart hath place.
Within her bosom lies September,
And that’s the one that I remember.

I was thrilled to stand within inches of her and smell her and brush against her bare arms as we swung off together in “O Mensch, bewein dein’ Sünde gross,” breathing in unison, my voice a buttress and sounding board.

I followed her like a dog. She ran with a crowd of poets and literati who camped in the corner of the Shevlin Hall cafeteria and said airy things about jazz and sex and revolution and I sat studying her and entertaining lustful thoughts, working up the courage to ask her to come with me to a movie—O Mr. Blue, how do you do that? You do it by doing it, sir.—and then one day in May, I was witness to a horrible traffic accident (CAR JUMPS CURB, SLAYS FAMILY OF 4) and an hour later I stood dumbly in choir, weeping, as the apostles cried out for the soldiers to let Jesus go—“Lasst ihn! Haltet! Bindet nicht!” and I swayed forward and put my right hand on her bare shoulder and she turned and smiled up at me. And afterward asked me what was wrong. And I told her.

It was on the West River Road. I was sitting on the grass, reading Dubliners, and a car jumped the curb and mowed down the four picnickers. Bodies strewn like dolls on the grass and the Buick Dynaflow smashed into an elm tree and the driver was wandering around, an old man, confused, needing to “get to Dorothy’s” and pleading with the dead to get out of his way. The bodies covered with picnic blankets. The crowd of relentless gawkers. The Elvis lookalike priest giving last rites. Fresh gawkers arriving by the minute. What happened? Car went out of control. Anybody hurt? No, they’re all dead. Four people gone, evaporated like a song.

We lay side by side on the grass in front of Northrop looking up at the white clouds and I told her all about it.

She took my hand and pressed it to her cheek.

“I am glad you’re alive,” she said. “Life is so precious, we have to savor every moment.” And she scootched over and kissed me on the mouth, a sisterly kiss that lasted longer than intended and sort of flared up into something passionate and noble, her tongue searching my mouth, and then she touched my pants and I about passed out for joy.

...

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