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.
[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.]