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Keillor writes: "I have been struggling this week, looking deep within myself, questioning my own values, asking myself: should I go public with the incident in 2009 when Michelle Obama put her arm around me at a luncheon in Washington?"

Garrison Keillor. (photo: WPPB)
Garrison Keillor. (photo: WPPB)


So Much Can Happen in an Ordinary Afternoon

By Garrison Keillor, Garrison Keillor's Website

13 April 19

 

have been struggling this week, looking deep within myself, questioning my own values, asking myself: should I go public with the incident in 2009 when Michelle Obama put her arm around me at a luncheon in Washington? She was posing for photographs with the attendees and I had been the guest speaker and I was told to stand next to her and I did and she put her left arm around my back and pulled me toward her and squeezed. It was a perceptible squeeze. I didn’t say anything at the time but I remember feeling that this was her idea, not mine, that I probably would’ve preferred to shake her hand, but what are you going to say to the First Lady? “Get your arm off me”?

She didn’t place her forehead against mine or kiss the back of my head, nothing like that, but the squeeze was unmistakable and intimated familiarity.

I don’t come from a huggy family. My wife does. I don’t. In my family, a pat on the back is considered sufficient, but when my wife walks into a room full of Keillors, she goes from one to another, throwing her arms out and clutching them to her, and they have to stand there and accept it or else look like soreheads.

People like us — white, Anglo, Midwestern, formal, reluctant to make eye contact, uptight, stiff, boring — are ridiculed, by comedians of color and also colorless comedians, and we have learned not to object. “Where’s your sense of humor?” people would say, so we laugh at the stereotype even though we don’t find it funny.

I don’t go around smiling. It doesn’t mean I’m unhappy; it’s simply the culture I was born in. The photographs of my ancestors that we kept on the piano showed solemn bearded men and severe women and their gloomy children, no incisors visible whatsoever. My dad and uncles didn’t smile a lot. They associated smileyness with salesmen trying to charm you into buying a ten-year-old Dodge with a loose clutch and rust around the bumpers. I went off to college and, in order to be hip, read existential writers about the indifference of the universe to human suffering, while chain-smoking Luckies and drinking espresso, which tends to solemnize a person as well.

On account of my seriousness, people are always asking, “What’s wrong? Is something the matter?” I call this demeanorism, judging people by their facial expression. Inside, I’m pretty lighthearted but on the outside, I look as if I’ve been struck by a baseball bat and am trying to remember my name.

The squeeze that I experienced was ten years ago and I’m not saying it was traumatic but I do wish she would take ownership of it and express some regret at having ignored my feelings, and then I have a sudden sensation in my rear end, a suspicious flatness, and I reach back and there is no wallet there, and suddenly I’m up and running from room to room, checking pockets, looking under tables, calling up cafes I’ve patronized the past couple days.

This is the bright red wallet my wife bought me after I left a black wallet on the seat of a taxicab late one night and it occurs to me that this wallet loss, coming a month after the previous, may be what convinces her I need help. Tomorrow there’ll be a power-of-attorney form to sign and consultation with a series of people in white uniforms who take notes as I’m put through a battery of tests involving matching shapes on little wooden cubes, and my wife, who loves me dearly, will break the news gently. There is a care center that specializes in elderly men with cognitive issues. It’s called Sunnyvale and it has a triple-A rating from the AARP and there is shuffleboard and checkers and color TV in every room and a sing-along on Saturday nights where the elderly gather to sing Grateful Dead and Rolling Stones hits.

For a moment, it occurs to me that maybe Michelle Obama reached around me to lift my wallet out of my back pocket.

And then I find it. It’s in the freezer. I set it down when I was getting out the frozen waffles this morning.

Ignore whatever I was saying before. I am okay. Wallet, cellphone, house keys. This is all a man needs. Wallet, cellphone, house keys. It’s spring. We’re going to be okay.

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+11 # jzacksmd 2019-04-13 23:07
This is hilarious...but it also merits consideration of all the implied considerations.
 
 
+2 # EternalTruth 2019-04-14 03:13
Is it just me, or does this come off as a mocking of the #metoo movement trying to hide behind a veneer of kindly senility?
 
 
+10 # ddd-rrr 2019-04-14 08:26
.
Yes.

As an Asperger, as a kid I disliked the tendency of various relatives
(upon our arrival at their places of residence) to immediately "handle"
my various and sundry bodily parts with a freedom that I normally only
grant to providers of medical assistance, and then only with some
considerable effort on my part to make adjustments in my
instinctual reactions to such handling. I still (at a ripe
old age) prefer not to shake hands, let alone
be hugged (and "worse"… 8^).

As a result, I fully understand the repulsion felt by women
who are casually "handled" by males who do not understand
that this common (and almost "traditional") practice may not be
welcomed by all receivers, and that this reservation may not be
understood by all of the givers of these "physical greetings",
however much they may be considered by most
to be "normal" and "traditional".

But, such are the "vagaries and mysteries" of life and the
acceptable social interactions between members of living beings,
regardless of their species-identit y. Over time, I have learned
what individual cats, dogs, and the occasional bird will
accept and/or appreciate by way of handling,
and what they will not accept.

Views on these matters vary also with time and place,
further confusing this issue...
 
 
+6 # Trumpistheswamp 2019-04-14 08:56
Thanks for keeping my mind off of pressing important issues and helping me sleep. Zzzzzzzz, you're the best.
 
 
-11 # starhelix 2019-04-14 11:25
It's in poor taste to refer to the former First Lady as a thief, even in jest. Black folks aren't amused by this kind of mockery. I'm sure you'd object if I referred to any of your family members as thieves. Garrison, you strayed much too fsr from civility with this article.
 
 
+5 # margpark 2019-04-14 15:30
Made me laugh out loud. There are many different cultures in this country and Lord help us, if we go abroad it is best to read up on the culture we are visiting. One can give insult quite easily without knowing that culture.
 
 
+4 # dandevries 2019-04-14 18:36
For reasons not particularly related to the current woopdedoo, I have spent more time than usual in bars the last six weeks or so. (Much of it has to do with music.) What I have noticed again and again is that people who do a lot of hugging and kissing (all gender mixes involved) KNOW & LIKE each other. And that's the implied permission. It gets invasive when someone does it without sufficient familiarity. And mostly, if you know and like someone else you will know what their preferences are in this regard. It's not really that complicated. (Of course, most of these folks are drinking alcohol, but none of the observations I'm referring to involve obvious drunkenness.)
 
 
+2 # trimegestus 2019-04-14 21:06
[... and then I have a sudden sensation in my rear end, a suspicious flatness, and I reach back and there is no wallet there, and suddenly I’m up and running from room to room, checking pockets, looking under tables, calling up cafes I’ve patronized the past couple days.

... And then I find it. It’s in the freezer. I set it down when I was getting out the frozen waffles this morning. Ignore whatever I was saying before. I am okay. Wallet, cellphone, house keys. This is all a man needs.]

Been there, done that, Mr. Keillor. Thanks for the much-needed humor. Incidentally, I urge retirees to buy power-tools (no need to actually use them more than once). It's very fulfilling.
 
 
+4 # Nonna 2019-04-15 08:05
No offense, but what about the fact that HER culture was what moved her. Is hers less important than yours? I am a woman, and definitely not in favor of inappropriate touching, but I do believe it is up to me to speak up when I am uncomfortable with someone's behavior. All my Italian relatives are in danger of being tarred and feathered these days - ridiculous; we tend to be affectionate - but I have learned to ask permission before hugging.
 

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