[Humor] Born to be (a little) wild in an overprotective world

Jim C. Nasby jim at nasby.net
Wed Jun 14 14:58:03 CDT 2006

Original: http://lnk.nu/chicagotribune.com/9yl.column

Born to be (a little) wild in an overprotective world

Garrison Keillor

June 14, 2006

Times have changed, and I know this because I have children, two of
them, one born in the old days and one in modern times. One was born
back before seat belts, when a child might ride standing up in the front
seat next to daddy as he drove 75 m.p.h. across North Dakota, and nobody
said boo, though nowadays daddy would do jail time for that and be
condemned by all decent people. My younger child rides in a podlike car
seat, belted in like a little test pilot. She likes it.

The older child grew up inhaling clouds of secondary smoke, and the
younger one lives in a house in which nobody ever thinks about smoking,
though sometimes a guest has lurked in the back yard like a convicted
sex offender and consumed a cigarette. The elder child was raised on
hamburgers and hot dogs; ground meat was our friend; melted cheese made
everything taste better. The younger one lives in the House of Organic
Leaves, where beef is viewed with suspicion, as if it might contain
heroin. The younger one's rearing was guided by a 10-foot shelf of books
by psychologists. The older one was raised by pure chance.

I don't miss the old days. Well, actually I do, sometimes. I miss the
jolliness. We had lovely illusions in the old days. We felt giddy and
free in that speeding car. The cigarette was a token of our immortality.
We chowed down on whatever tasted good. We thrived on ignorance. We all
were a little jiggly around the waist and didn't worry about it.

My in-laws were suburban Republicans who kicked off family dinners with
hefty Manhattans, which eased the social strain considerably. After two,
my father-in-law and I got almost chummy. He knew I was a Democrat and a
heretic in suburbia; in the gentle mist of bourbon, it began to matter
less and less.

They won't tell you this at Hazelden, but alcohol can be a real mercy

Now here we are in the age of too much information. The landscape lined
with guardrails. Warnings on everything: "Do not touch when hot."
"Sharp: may penetrate skin if pressed." "Open with an extreme sense of
foreboding." Security men in fake uniforms stand in a stupor in every
mall. A safety cap secures your shampoo bottle. Every week the use of
some ordinary thing is found to have potentially horrible consequences.

I'm a parent and anxiety comes with the territory, but it gets to be a
burden. Last week, on pure impulse, I drove to my office with my seat
belt unfastened. I just did it. Just for the cheap thrill of it. I
ignored the warning buzzer. It made me feel young again.

I never told anyone this. You're the first.

I imagine going to the doctor one day, and he comes in with the X-rays,
a shadow across his handsome features, and he says, "It's disseminated
fibrillation of the fantods. You have six months, maybe eight. There's
nothing we can do except to make you comfortable."

"Not a problem," I say. "I can make myself comfortable." I head for the
nearest grocery and ask for a carton of Luckies. The lady is horrified.
She hasn't sold those coffin nails in a coon's age. I walk home with the
smokes under my arm and people see me and try to intervene. They hand me
pamphlets. They recite the statistics. "Cancer schmancer," I say. "When
your number's up, it's up." I light one and my entire nervous system
jingles like it's Christmas.

I locate the martini glasses, which had been used for finger paints, and
I chill them, and I shake up the gin and vermouth in a pitcher of ice,
and put on a Sinatra CD, and word gets around. The neighbors come over.
They've been slaves to the brutal schedule of their children's social,
educational, spiritual, recreational and therapeutic activities, with
scarcely a free moment for themselves. "How about it?" I say. "Lock the
little buggers in the laundry room and let's party. If they get put into
foster care, so be it." I pour us each a stiff drink and slap some beef
on the grill, and we have ourselves a whee of a time.

I have myself a reasonably good time on a regular basis, but I haven't
wheed in years. Please don't write to me about this. Don't tell me about
yoga. I'm not about to go over the edge. I just like to look, that's


Garrison Keillor is an author and radio host of "A Prairie Home

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