Sunday, June 02, 2013
The Pontoon Not Taken
Woke up still thinking about the "humor class" I "taught" at the university. "Humor class"! Can any phrase cause more wincing? I was recalling how I learned at the last minute that I was expected to teach a text by Garrison Keillor. I knew he was coming to speak to the Honors College, but I thought his appearance was slated for the end of the semester and did not, in any case, realize that I was required to teach some of his work to the kids (as you may remember from last night's "post," the class consisted almost entirely of young women: we'll get back to this). So anyway, it turned out he was coming at the beginning of the semester! Not the end of the semester! The beginning! The beginning of the semester, I said! Classes had already started. In fact, I believe some weeks had already gone by. So I dashed over to Square Books in a panic and asked what was the shortest book by Garrison Keillor they could order in the greatest quantity to arrive in the shortest amount of time. The answer to that question turned out to be LIBERTY, a novel by Mr. Keillor, and one I had never read. "Make it happen!" I cried. And the good people at Square Books made it happen. They always make it happen. Yet in this case it was my undoing! So here I am in a class full of young women, and it turns out I am requiring them to read a novel by Garrison Keillor all about an old man entering into a sexy carnal relationship with a young woman, the details of which are rendered with a level of sauciness and unseemly vigor unknown to Mr. Keillor's radio listeners. Oh dear. It just felt so wrong. Every day it felt so wrong. And then Garrison Keillor comes to talk to them. And all we have done is read pages and pages of his reflections on carnality with a young woman. I mean his CHARACTER's reflections. And here's the aging male creep who assigned it, out of all available Keillor works. What they must have thought! There we sat. It was my fault for not choosing the Keillor novel called PONTOON, which I believe was also available. Although for all I know it is about carnality on a pontoon. Anyway, Mr. Keillor was very nice and gave the class a good talk. My arguably poor choice of material - under the circumstances! - did not hinder him in the least and he rose to the occasion as you might expect he would, with all the elegance you can imagine. We were at a long table. Garrison Keillor sat at one end, a black curtain behind him. I sat at the other end and fell at once into a kind of trance, not dissimilar to the one I entered while having lunch with Robert Osborne that time. Mr. Keillor in front of the black curtain seemed to be floating in space. One student - the one who portrayed Richard Pryor in a class skit - reported afterward that Keillor had never stopped rubbing his eyes, not even once, during his entire lecture, but I cannot vouch for that observation, dazed as I was at the time. Someone else said he had huge hands, I think. As I recollect, I had a BELIEVER column due at the time, and ideas are always scarce for me, and I ended up writing one in which Garrison Keillor and I own a racehorse together and Garrison Keillor ends up eating my foot for reasons I no longer wish to recall - a nightmarish product of my own shortcomings.