The Old Scout

Garrison Keillor's weekly newspaper column.

An Early Whiff of Spring

March 2, 2010

We have a good guy in the White House, a smart man of judicious temperament and profound ideals, a man with a sweet private life, a man of dignity and good humor, whose enemies, waving their hairy arms and legs, woofing, yelling absurdities, only make him look taller. Washington, being a company town, feasts on gossip, but I think the Democratic Party, skittish as it is, full of happy blather, somehow has brought forth a champion. This should please anyone who loves this country, and as for the others, let them chew on carpets and get what nourishment they can. End of sermonette.

The beauty part of my week (not that you asked) was a visit to the warehouse district north of downtown Minneapolis where, in my boyhood, I used to ride my bike past printing plants and barrelworks, small factories, a slaughterhouse, lumberyards, auto salvage yards, fascinated by the sight of men at work, and where, now, a new ballpark has arisen where, on April 12, though we are still knee-deep in snow, the Minnesota Twins will open the 2010 campaign, against the mighty Red Sox and their nation.

On Monday I snuck into the park through a door left ajar and attached myself to a group of suits on tour and got to see the whole joint, the steep left-field bleachers, the spruce trees in deep center, the skyboxes (each with a porch, so the nabobs can get fresh air), down to the locker room (with batting cage and pitching machine nearby, just like at a carnival), the spot where the statue of Killebrew will stand, and to me, a skeptic when it comes to public works, this looks to be the Eighth Wonder of the World, a temple on the order of Wrigley or Fenway or the Acropolis, a beautiful little bandbox of a ballpark tucked snugly into streets of old warehouses and the Burlington railyards, with commuter trains running to its front door, a sight that fills me with unmitigated dizzy delight.

We Minnesotans have been watching baseball in a basement for 28 years, under a fabric dome on a plastic field designed for football, and come April, we'll be sitting in sunlight, or under the stars, with the handsome towers of downtown Minneapolis just beyond center field, and we'll mill on the great concourse just behind the loge seats and eyeball the game while ordering a steak sandwich or an old-fashioned Schweigert hot dog. Hallelujah. Wowser.

That this beauty was accomplished through public financing — $392 million of the $544 million total paid through a sales tax approved by the legislature — is some sort of triumph, and to an old Democrat like me, who believes that government can indeed do some good things right and is not a blight upon the land, this ballpark is an enormous pleasure, and so I headed south to my favorite medical clinic to make sure I'd live until Opening Day.

Southern Minnesota was fully swathed in snow. I listened to the Beatles' "White Album" on the way down to Rochester, past miles of small farms where people live by stern realities that don't forgive mistakes easily, listening to playful music ("Why Don't We Do It in the Road," "Rocky Raccoon," etc.) from back when I was a bright young thing, before I got ponderous and hoofy. At the clinic I was tapped and bled and X-rayed and examined and some barnacles were removed by freezing with liquid nitrogen, and that was all good. When you hang out at a medical clinic, you notice the thoughtful people around you sitting in prayerful silence, and you see scenes of pure marital devotion, a healthy mobile spouse pushing an immobilized one, and the banter of camaraderie of the long married, though one is in dire straits and the other apparently not. The stern realities of life, for all to see.

And then I was sprung loose. They opened the gate and slapped my haunch and I raced north toward the city, toward April 12, toward spring and summer and the bright future of the beloved country. It was during "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" that I smelled the skunk. He expressed himself powerfully, richly, for almost a mile. Nothing says spring like a big stink. A Republican skunk protesting big government, and he got in the way of a big vehicle that knocked him out of this world, and I wish his species well but did not stop for the memorial service.

© 2010 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, INC.

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