Listening to that lonesome whistle blow, etc.
The Column : 07.27.22
I am in the process of packing up and leaving Minnesota where I’ve lived for most of eighty years, which seems dramatic but isn’t since most of my classmates left long ago and Bob Dylan, who overlapped with me at the University of Minnesota, heard the lonesome whistle blow and matriculated his way to New York and if Bob ever wrote a song about hating to leave home, I’m not aware of it. The itinerant life was what he was all about.
I am fond of Minnesota, the home of Hazelden and the recovery industry and America’s front line of defense against the flood of illegals from Canada, which has led to the boom in hockey, the season now extending into summer. It’s the home of Robert Bly, author of Iron John, which was big back when there was a men’s movement but it disappeared due to gender fluidity when masculinity liquified and men were no longer required to be solid granite. I tried to be Agnes for a while but it was too late, I was in my late sixties, stoicism was baked into me, voice-raising drugs had no effect, my eyebrows are bushy, and I hate hockey, which real Minnesota women are very good at.
All of my women friends play hockey from October to June and — I don’t say this critically, believe me — they are very pushy for those eight months, and by “pushy” I don’t mean bossy, I mean they pass you on the street and give you the hip and send you careening into a parking meter. I do not get into an elevator with women; it makes me perspire just thinking about it.
I’m leaving Minnesota because there are recovery groups for everything under the sun — grief at pet loss, height inadequacy, Scandophrenia, vegephobia, compulsive colorlessness, northpolar disorder, nomenclature amnesia, traumatic taciturnity, hypercalmness, disagreement anxiety, disaster anticipation, suppression, and so forth — you name it and there’s a program for you where you will hear a talk and then break up into discussion groups, but there is no group for people in my category, old men at the high end of the contentment spectrum.
I’ve met men like me in Minnesota, and we eyeball each other and one of us says, “So how’s it going then?” We add the “then” so the other guy knows we’re from here. If I said, “So how’s it going then?” to a New Yorker, he’d say, “You mean how was it going? And what period of time are you referring to?” But a Minnesotan says, “Not so bad then.” He says it looking around to make sure no millennial hears who might grab him by the lapels and say, “Easy for you to say, having stolen land from the Lakota people and now living high off the hog thanks to the exploitation of woman and minorities.”
It’s true, of course. They’re right to be righteous. Life is unfair. I had the advantage of having seventeen aunts who all loved me and encouraged me and believed I was gifted and praised my childish scribbling and my crazed literary ambitions and predicted I’d become somebody and so I did, I became me, and I got into show business though I have the personality of a village assessor but I learned to be affable and I found eyedrops that make my eyes sparkle, but I recognize that not everyone had that advantage of admiring aunts.
Thanks to cowardice, I avoided contact sports and never was concussed, which made it possible for me to memorize the eighty-seven counties of Minnesota in alphabetic order and recite them at high speed. I was the only person in Minnesota who could do this and I did it dozens of times, once at the State Fair grandstand in front of thousands — Aitkin, Anoka, Becker, Beltrami, Benton, Big Stone, Blue Earth, Brown, and so forth — but once people have heard you do it, they’re not eager to hear it again so it’s time for me to go out in the world and make my way among strangers. I’m going to New York because I’m a fan of underground public rail transportation, and also because my wife loves New York and I love her. There’s no better reason. If you’ve gone down the wrong romantic roads often enough and then find the right one, you will follow the woman where she leads. It’s as simple as that.
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