Shoved into eternity with a chortle
This world belongs to the young and the daring, the avid, the adventurous, and that's why one follows the saga of corporate bailouts with a certain trepidation. We're mortgaging the future and we are rescuing the stubborn and stupid. The cost of a good college education for the young and daring is stupefying. Meanwhile the federal deficit yawns, tax increases lie ahead, job losses per month are like a major city getting wiped out, and India and China are doing what we used to do better.
So why does my mind keep drifting back to the woman I knew when I was in college, a writer like me, tall and magnificent, languorous, delightful, whose thighs were so ticklish that when I kissed them she burst out laughing. She lay shrieking and writhing and that was my sexual initiation, a link between the erotic and the comic, make of it what you will. And now when I hear young women laugh loudly, as I did last night, I think of her and wonder where she is and who is making her laugh.
Last night, a couple of friends and I were in a restaurant, eating local produce and discussing the world's troubles, and we were on the subject of the Middle East and its intractable troubles when peals of girlish laughter rang out from the booth behind us. I had tuned out of International Relations a few minutes before and tuned into the program next door so I got the joke.
One woman was talking about her mother, a nurse in a nursing home, and about a cocktail of morphine with a few additives that Mom would serve to select patients when she felt quite sure that they wished to be released from the bonds of earth. She ushered them out of the world around 4 a.m. when it was quiet — "hearing is the last sense you lose at the end, so if an old man hears a ballgame on the radio, he may come bounding back to life to catch the score" — and she made sure that someone was around to hold the dying person's hand. Death came painlessly around 7 a.m. and she called the family with the news. They now did not need to sit a long death watch, and the body was moved out and the bed changed for a new customer. All very orderly.
"But one day I walked into the living room and saw my father napping on the couch and my mother, the Angel of Death, standing over him and looking at him in a professional sort of way. Our cat sat on a chair watching her with concern in its eye. The cat knew. He never napped out in the open."
That was the laugh line, the wariness of the cat. And when the woman called her mother the Snuff Queen, her mother said, "I just hope that when I get there, someone will do the same for me." More laughter.
A person should be horrified by young people laughing at euthanasia, but I only thought of Margie and that apartment on Erie Street in Minneapolis and how hard it was to keep focused when the object of your lust was laughing to beat the band. She played guitar and sang the blues and wrote her term paper on Joyce's "Ulysses" and her laughter was like an aviary of exotic birds. We were young, we had no money, we possessed the world through sheer enthusiasm.
The world belongs to the young. Old pitchers get shelled one day and the next winter are released. Old writers go fallow and that's when people start giving them awards. Old politicians are locked up in think tanks. Old pop stars play casinos.
We're marching toward the cliff and the middle-aged are pushing us and the young are pressing them. The angel is waiting with a cocktail.
The poets told us to gather rosebuds while we could, that the flower that smiles today tomorrow will be dying, and it turns out that they were right.
My friends discuss the election in Iran, and over my left shoulder young women chortle at the thought of geezers being launched into eternity by the Snuff Queen, and I remember the beautiful girl laughing and laughing and laughing. I was alarmed at how much she loved me and I neglected her for a whole summer — and when I came back to school in the fall, she was gone gone gone.
Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" airs 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday on radio station KHPR 88.1 and 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday on KIPO 89.3. His column appears Wednesday online at www.honoluluadvertiser.com/opinion and in Sunday's Focus section.