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Category: Life Events / Topics: Advice, Guidance & Mentoring Attitudes Change Optimal Aging Seasons

A Word to the Wise as Winter Approaches

by Garrison Keillor

Posted: October 20, 2022

Cold weather stimulates the brain because survival is involved and the body wants to survive and when challenged it will do what is necessary, even think clearly…

Here in the northern latitudes, it appears we’ve come to the end of the golden October days and soon gray November will descend and then some snow flurries followed by an arctic air mass. The next morning you awaken to find the driveway drifted in, schools are closed, a Snow Emergency is declared, but your inner Dad says, “You think you’re staying home from work, you got another think coming” and you climb in your car and head for Amalgamated Federated. Abandoned cars in the ditches of the Interstate, which is glare ice, but you make it downtown and find a parking spot and ignore the “No Parking” sign — a man makes his own rules in a blizzard — and you arrive at Amalgamated and go to your tiny cubicle on the sixth floor.

The company execs have spaces in the heated underground garage but they were Ubered or Lyfted to work by drivers named Abdullah and Mohammed from East Africa, and when they see you in your tiny cubicle, your heavy parka and thermal vest and ski pants and insulated boots, suddenly the social order is turned upside down. You’re a hero and the privileged are exposed as moral weaklings. The president of Amalgamated decided to “work from home” and the stigma sticks to him. Winter is warfare and deserters are disdained. His secretary sneers at him and types his letters changing his verbs from indicative to subjunctive and earnings go down.

Some Minnesotans head for Arizona in November, which is an admission that your services are no longer needed, but Mr. Cubicle shovels his walk and the walks of elderly neighbors. He turns his furnace down to conserve energy. He takes a toboggan to the grocery and loads up on rice and beans and potatoes. He sees a deer struggling in deep snow and cuts its throat and skins it and brings forty pounds of fresh venison home to his family.

Minnesotans who leave for warmer climes lose their moorings and become enamored of gin fizzes and Blue Lagoons and avocado daiquiris and spend their evenings in a haze watching golf on TV. They sleep late and feel listless and hire a trainer named Lorna to bully them into doing three miles daily on the treadmill but treadmills are absurdity in motion. You get nowhere, you accomplish nothing. What you need is two feet of snow to shovel, which is unlikely in Phoenix. And then you are attacked by tiny subcutaneous ticks attracted to persons of northern ethnicity and you wind up in a Situational Care Unit absorbing chicken broth intravenously, dreaming of Mama and the chicken coop and the John Deere tractor.

Meanwhile, the man with the inner Dad is thriving in his natural element, the frozen tundra. He has a brilliant idea one night. Cold weather stimulates the brain because survival is involved and the body wants to survive and when challenged it will do what is necessary, even think clearly.

He invents a little box using parts from an old wall phone and a mimeograph, a box you can speak to and tell your computer what you need it to do and the word will get through. Computers now can perform 11,874 functions that you don’t need and your 17 crucial functions involve complex procedural sequences described in the computer manual, which was written by a high-tech person so as to impress his colleagues. It was not written for you and me.

My computer tended to toss in double or triple letters where I only wanted one, particularly the t and the r. It would write “ttterrrible” instead of “terrible.” I bought the box and set it by my computer and said, “Don’t add letters to the ones I type or I’ll throw you out in the snow” and that solved the problem.

The inventor left his 6th floor cubicle and took over Amalgamated and promoted the competent and fired the inept and the company’s profits sextupled. Meanwhile, the former pres who “worked from home” was about to enjoy a hot shower one morning, not realizing his wife had had a plumber install a new shower gizmo and the guy turned it to Tropical Mist and stepped in and then decided to make it warmer but turned the knob the wrong way and suddenly he was standing in Arctic Surf and he slipped on the wet tile and twisted his axial spondylofascia and began a painful journey from lower back surgery to the application of sacred oil to meditation and the reading of the Book of Jeremiah but still could only walk while crouched and holding onto furniture. A word to the wise should be sufficient. Listen and learn.

America's story teller, known for his heartland wit and wisdom, and for many years as the voice of Prairie Home Companion on NPR.

Posted: October 20, 2022

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