Where all the bloggers are above average

September 8, 2008

Every morning at 6:35 on the dot, WAMU breaks into Morning Edition with a certain familiar chiming. “It’s the birthday,” he announces, at 6:35:05, “of writer Marilyn Durham, author of ‘The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing.'” Then, shortly after, “It was on this day in 1644 that the Dutch surrendered the city of New Amsterdam to the British, who renamed it New York.” It’s information that might force even the most nerdy of trivia geeks to evaluate the way they talk to their friends (“I don’t sound like that, do I?”). It redefines banal. It forces you to think “subduuued” with a pronounced Midwestern accent.

And yet… and yet, there’s something about it.  Then you hear that old piano and realize you’ve stopped getting dressed, that despite yourself you’re paying attention, that, once again, the man is taking up vital minutes of your morning and you can’t stop listening. You have awoken to Garrison Keillor’s Writers’ Almanac

I used to keep Writers’ Almanac a secret. I listened, but I didn’t want anyone else to know that I did. I’m bookish enough, thank you very much, without tromping into the office and announcing my morning routine of NPR and poetry. Then, one revealing summer, I learned of two friends who shared my secret shame. They too knew the draw and the agony of Garrison’s monotone recitation. One uses it as a push to finally get out of bed and shut the alarm off; another uses the Almanac as a signal that he’s running late and should have left the house by now. I stand alone among my friends, as far as anyone will admit anyway, as the One Who Listens.

Often I am rewarded for this. Some of the facts are fun, and some of the poetry manages to be moving despite the fact that I know it’s Garrison Keillor reading it. And sometimes, the sleep still in my eyes and shower water still in my ears, I’m not quite sure if my brain is processing the words it’s hearing. On Aug. 18, I e-mailed a friend at 6:38 in the morning with this breathless note:  “tell me you heard Garrison just now! He went straight from celebrating the anniversary of Lolita’s publication to honoring the birthday of Roman Polanski. With no twinge of irony! At all!” 

To this day I don’t know if Keillor was trying to be funny. Surely he was, right? Right? WAMU, I’m sorry but 6:35 is too early an hour for Garrison Keillor’s particular brand of irony. That’s why “Prairie Home Companion” runs on Saturday nights, when people are relaxed, and often drunk.

It’s a strange hour, 6:35. Few people are reliably awake, and those that are probably haven’t had their coffee yet. He used to come on about 75 minutes later, around 7:45, and back then he was my signal that I, too, had dallied too long and needed to go catch my bus. Then he disappeared one morning, or I started leaving earlier, and Garrison and I went our separate ways. 

About 2 years ago, I started filling in on an earlier shift at work. The first week I had that 7:30 start time, my body was still adjusting to the early hour and the darkness of the sky. Oh, but what’s that sound? Can it be? Yes! Garrison hadn’t really gone anywhere after all. He’d just moved up an hour, like the rest of us were on Daylight Saving Time and he stayed there in Garrison Time, like Indiana. 

Last Monday, Sept. 1, Garrison read two poems. Well, one poem and bits of another. I stopped that morning at the foot of my bed to listen, and picking out the right shirt wasn’t nearly as interesting as listening to the next line of Meg Kearney’s “Ticket.” By the time Keillor wound his way back to New York and the opening lines of W.H. Auden’s “Sept. 1, 1939,” I was by the overstuffed and not-well-maintained closet, fumbling in the dark for one of three different black skirts. “I sit in one of the dives/On Fifty-Second Street/Uncertain and afraid/As the clever hopes expire/Of a low dishonest decade.” I don’t remember how the rest of that day went, but it was a good one for Garrison. 

Apparently such a good one that WAMU had to replay the same tape this morning. Any other morning it wouldn’t have been noticed, probably. After all, every Garrison Keillor recording sounds vaguely familiar (that’s kinda the point). By the time “Ticket” finished, I thought I was in a particularly disturbing half-level of Dante’s Inferno, the one where you are forced to listen half-awake as Garrison Keillor reads the same poem over and over again. But when Garrison again welcomed “Sept. 1, 1939,” I’d figured it out and decided to be happy I got to hear Auden again. 

Twenty minutes later, I sat down in a Metro car at Union Station and opened my Post to Page 2. Shankar Vendantam, apparently, listens to Writers Almanac, too.


2 Responses to “Where all the bloggers are above average”

  1. buschap said

    I’ve started listening up to the point where he reads the poem. I still have my resolve there.

    Today had the joy of hearing him mispronounce “Wooster” while talking about Arthur Compton.

  2. lifewithgatsby said

    Man, the one day I sleep in late. I was still in the shower when he came on. Did it rhyme with “rooster” or has he found a whole new way to be contrary?

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