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Let's talk about gender, but only for a moment
The Column: 07.29.22
On summer vacation, I get my news from my wife, which is a great convenience and helps brighten the mood and she’s just read me the story about sharks sighted off the coast and beaches on Cape Cod and Long Island posting warnings to swimmers, which only reaffirms my lifelong aversion to beaches. Lying sunburnt on the sand, looking out at ocean vastness in the company of people who have no business wearing loincloths in public never appealed to me, especially not the vastness part. I am a domestic creature, I love enclosed spaces. I went to Alaska once, checked into a hotel in Homer, ordered room service, sat in my room with the shades drawn, and was quite content.
Now that I know about shark-infested beaches, I have one more reason to stay inland. I don’t want some poor reporter to have to write the second paragraph of my obituary, “Mr. Keillor was eaten by a shark off Jones Beach on Tuesday while wading in a raspberry-colored swimsuit and wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat fringed with straw fronds. A memorial service will be held at a time to be announced later.”
“Memorial service” suggests that there was not enough of me left to put into a burial plot. The shark took the meaty parts and other sharks got some and turtles finished the job. What was left could be put in a tunafish can. I was a productive author for fifty years but in the future, if my name comes up in conversation, someone will say, “Wasn’t he the guy who was eaten by sharks?” So I renew my vow to avoid beaches.
Thus journalism performs the useful function of confirming us in our prejudices. I read stories about Texas to confirm my decision to never set foot in the state. I read about celebrities to confirm my feeling that there are no really huge ones out there, nobody on the level of Cary Grant or Marilyn Monroe or Groucho Marx, just a hundred dozen minor ones who get into little snits about the media invading their privacy.
WELL, EXCUSE ME ALL TO PIECES — but that’s the role of the press, to peer in the window and see Mister Big Pants caught naked. Imagine seeing a secret video of Orange Man taking a mindfulness class at Mar-a-Lago, listening to sitar music while sitting in the lotus position, with lotuses around his neck.
People go to beaches to look at vastness and to temporarily forget their humdrum inland lives in enclosed quarters in the urban grid, going to an office and staring at a square screen. The occupations have nifty titles like Integral Technology or Investment Encompassment, but basically they’re all farmers, cultivating the cornfield, harvesting the eggs, butchering the pig.
After ten years or so, about the time they get the hang of the job and are truly productive, they start to feel trapped, and this is when men are tempted to purchase a boat. They want to smell the salt air and head into the waves and learn to tie interesting knots. Women scorn this. So the urge to buy a boat and go to sea is a manly urge to escape from women. This is a dangerous course for a man to take: women are the ones who can say, “What in God’s name are you doing?” and save a man from climbing a ladder to get up on a limb and take a chainsaw to cut the limb off while standing on it. Women won’t tolerate this sort of thing.
But a man on a boat is free to head out into deep waters aboard Pequod II with a bottle of brandy and a pair of binoculars and he enjoys the pitch and roll of the ship and decides to tie a half hitch in the rope on deck to secure it and accidentally gets it wound around his ankle and it’s the rope attached to the anchor and the roll of the boat loosens the anchor and it falls in the water and the man is yanked overboard and eaten by sharks. His life preserver is no protection against sharks, they chew right through it.
I promised my wife that I won’t be eaten by sharks. I’m planning to go quietly, at home, while cheering up the mourners, but I am only 80 so there’s no rush.