Sunday, February 11, 2007

Recently my old pal Garrison Keillor wrote an article that I found of interest in his syndicated column "The Old Scout", one that may interest you as well. For you newcomers, I call Garrison my old pal because I ate his sandwich once.

The article, called "21st Century Elements of Style," appeared on January 9th of this year. In it Keillor creates a Norman Rockwell painting in words, a sentimental and wistfully nostalgic depiction of the newspaper reader as a romantic figure. He contrasts this debonair and -- dare I say it? -- suave newspaper reader with some ADD technogeek sitting in a café with a laptop and wires coming out of his ears (my words mostly, not his). He says at one point:

A man at a laptop is a man at a desk, a stiff, a drone. Where is the nobility here? He hunches forward, his eyes glaze, and beads of saliva glitter in the corners of his mouth and make their way down his chin as he becomes engrossed in the video of the fisherman falling out of the boat.

Wait a minute. Garrison Keillor owns Common Good Books, the (admittedly charming) bookstore downstairs with the manager who periodically gets ravished. As a result of this proximity, GK is periodically to be seen looming upstairs in the redundantly-named Nina's Coffee Cafe, de facto world headquarters of the Hulles blog. So it seems likely that Nina's is the café he is obliquely referring to in his column. That technogeek sitting there with a laptop and beads of saliva etc. that he's talking about is me. Well, doesn't that put an interesting spin on things.

First of all, if you actually go to the link for the article, I'm sure you will not fail to notice the lovely irony that right next to his column is a picture of GK with, not a newspaper, but a laptop.

Second, to give Mr. Keillor credit he perhaps does not deserve, "21st Century Elements of Style" was not primarily a pro-Luddite piece, and he didn't really make fun of the technogeek archetype (i.e. me) as much as he might have done. But he did call me "lumpen," which irked me even before I knew what it meant. I looked it up, and according to Encarta it means "stupidly content with a life regarded as intellectually empty and socially inferior." Zut alors, that's quite a large cargo of condescension for such a little word to haul around. Glad I was intellectually capable of looking up the word at all, even if it was only in Encarta (I don't have access to the OED right this second, so sue me).

Once again my irony detector is beeping at me insistently. That person over there at that table in the café (Melissa) is using the unimaginably vast information resource that is the Internet to look up structural material specs for her engineering homework. The person next to her (Juan) is studying Japanese on line. The next person (Claire) is not on line at all, just listening to MP3's as she works on her master's thesis (she wants to be a writer, God help her). The person next to her is downloading porn never mind that person. Next to him is me, and I'm writing a blog that I think is, all in all, not a bad effort for someone who is stupidly content with a life regarded as intellectually empty and socially inferior by Garrison Keillor.

But the real irony for me is that when I'm sitting in the café writing this and reading all of your blogs, I am participating in a vibrant social network of singularly bright and interesting and talented people (you, duh, pay attention or we'll look like schmucks). This is the incandescent intellectual community for which I so desperately yearned as I was growing up in my small Norman Rockwell town reading local poorly-written newspapers that, if they were the cornerstone of anything, it was maintaining the status quo. And now I have you, so to speak, and if that makes me appear lumpen in someone's eyes, fuck 'em. (I wanted to end that sentence more articulately but "fuck 'em" is really what I meant so "fuck 'em" it stays.)

All this is to suggest that perhaps, Garrison, you might have talked to some of the laptop users (except for the guy I skipped over) before dismissing them out of hand as cretins wallowing in "MySpace, that encyclopedia of the pathetic". I know you were using hyperbole to make your newspaper reader seem more dashing, but sad to say it is your romantic 1940's era newspaper reader who ends up being lumpen if such pejoratives are to be slung about at all. The rest of us are doing quite nicely interacting and exchanging ideas at 10 Mbs in our cafés scattered across the world.

In passing you may have noticed I mostly glossed over the "socially inferior" portion of the lumpen definition. Granted, we may all be socially inferior to Mr. Keillor -- who isn't, except possibly Sharon Stone? -- but I thought it showed a lack of grace on his part to point it out.

And now I have to somehow console Lucille II, my notebook computer, who took "The Old Scout" article a bit too much to heart. It's okay, L2, Keillor may think "holding a newspaper frees you up to express yourself, sort of like what holding a sax did for Coltrane," but you and I both know that you're in fact one of the best tools ever created for allowing me to express myself, and you are much more analogous to Coltrane's sax than any newspaper ever will be. You were even named after B. B. King's guitar, which shows that two can play at the musical instrument metaphor game.

So Garrison, thanks for picking on me and my poor little laptop, you big galoot. I'm glad I ate your sandwich. It was really good, too.

-- Hulles

[Postscript: The irony continues. Nina's was too full for me to sit down and post this, so I came downstairs and am currently sitting in a nook in GK's bookstore as I'm about to push the "Publish" button. Nice touch, I thought. And thanks to the wonderful staff at Common Good Books for allowing me to do so; I promise I won't tell the boss.]


cK said...

You can also get a bit of a signal from Frost. I'm just sayin'.

You can't spell "schumck" without cK!*

*You can if you spell it incorrectly.

Hulles said...

I hope you realized that you did spell it incorrectly, albeit with a cK....

cK said...

Are you calling me a schmuck? Jerk. I was talking about schumck!

Right around naptime I have a blitz of horrific spelling confusions and ridiculous thoughts. I could probably take over for Andy Rooney, though I'd need eyebrow transplants.

Claire said...

Great post. I love how you spin a story.


Stephen Blackmoore said...

GK is a relic. The newspaper is dying. We're not tethered to a supply chain of pulped paper and inkstains to get our news and social commentary.

Yes, in some ways it's sad. Headlines are being dumbed down so that Google can find them more easily. There are so many sources of information and news that a paper is no longer the information center for a community that it once was.

But it hasn't been in 30 years.

If Mr. Keillor can't be bothered to recognize that time has moved on with or without him then, well, as you say, fuck him.

Lumpen, my ass.

Anonymous said...

GK stands for Garrison Knucklehead!


Hulles said...

cK, it was funny but before I left that comment about "schumck" I googled it to see if maybe I was being a dope (as if) and found a ton of German language pages. I figured it was too much to imagine that you are also fluent in German so I went with the spelling error. Just thought you'd chuckle at that.

Claire, thanks once again. It always makes me happy when you leave a comment.

(Does anyone else think Claire looks like a rock star? I keep thinking Cheryl Crow but it might be somebody else; regardless, she is adorable, which is Spanish and means adorable.)

Stephen, I've been thinking a lot about the death of newsprint recently. A number of iconic papers in the Twin Cities are currently swirling around in the toilet bowl prior to The Big Flush. In fact I think I need to talk more about that soon. Thanks lots for taking the time to comment. And BTW, I miss Inkgrrrl. Is she writing anything these days? If so I have been unable to find it. Just in case you run into her.

Erin, thanks for stopping by and I'm working on it.

anne frasier said...

fantastic post, hulles. so many great lines. i did especially love this one:

that's quite a large cargo of condescension for such a little word to haul around.


Hulles said...

Thanks lots, Anne. Did I mention it's good to have you back?

anne frasier said...

i think you did. ;) thank you!

i just read the GK article, and all the while i found myself thinking things like HOGWASH and CLAPTRAP. my normal response of BULLSHIT was nowhere in my brain.

SuperBee said...

They filmed...taped... whatever an episode of the Prairie Home Companion here recently.

Stupidly, I did not go.

Because... I sort of couldn't bring myself to be that...Public Radio-y...

Even though I am.

Even though I enjoy Public Television.

Even though I went to college at Madison... and understand the jokes in the Prairie Home Companion. And think they're funny. Because... they're true.

I think I feel a blog coming on... 'scuse me.

Babe King said...

LOL- go easy on us poor Luddites.

Kristen Painter said...

Great post. Must reread to fully digest. ;o)

Hulles said...

Anne, I know, he's insidious that way with his folksy manner, isn't he? I had to shake it off more than once myself when I was writing "Ignoble".

superbee, don't tell anyone but I occasionally enjoy The Prairie Home Companion myself. In fact I have fond memories of GK's weekday morning radio show on the local public station. He once had listeners call in to name newly-born lamb triplets and the names that one were Shirley, Goodness and Mercy. How can you not love that? I look forward to reading your blog.

babe, you got it. I'll leave you guys alone for at least a little while. I need to break it up with something completely different now just to keep myself (and hopefully you) amused.

kristen, thanks lots. I find alcohol in excessive quantities often assists in the digestion of my posts. You might want to give it a shot, so to speak.

Hulles said...

Oops, it should have been "names that won" in the previous comment. Damn homonyms are everywhere, don't they know the Bible expressly forbids their existence and use?

Anonymous said...

No reason to work on it any further - I think I already have my answer. Thanks anyway! We can discuss more in the future.