In defense of ordinary I Chuck's World

By Chuck Sigars | Dec 06, 2017

My father died of cancer 14 years ago, four days following his 67th birthday, just 8 years older than I am now. This is something to ponder.

He would have turned 81 this week, although that’s something I don’t ponder very much. My father’s life was complex and interesting to me, but it didn’t seem designed for longevity. For one thing, the man smoked more cigarettes than anyone I’ve ever met. I doubt any of us who loved him expected to see him at 81.

He died in 2003, though, which is roughly the Bronze Age when it comes to modern technology. I sometimes wonder what he would have thought about life in 2017, although even that is fairly predictable.

He would not have been a fan of Donald Trump. He would have sneered at superhero movies (while secretly loving “Wonder Woman”). He would have thought that most new technology was a rip-off, designed to part us from our cash. He would have scoffed at smartphones, everyone’s head in a permanent slope.

Even back then, he had no use for personal computers, relying on my mom to relay emails and other online stuff. I heard he was playing a game or two on the PC at some point, but I’m dubious.

And at one point, after listening to a conversation between my mom and someone else about computer annoyances, he got confused with all the talk about spam.

If you’re a person in your 20s, and somehow you’re reading an actual newspaper (i.e., retrojournalism), you might be surprised to learn that spam was a big deal in those primitive years. Not as worrisome as something called Y2K, which is too embarrassing to really talk about, but a big problem until email filters gained some sophistication and whisked unwanted messages into the cornfield.

My dad heard these complaints, then, and it bothered him.

“But I like Spam,” he said.

He was referring to the meat product, of course, introduced around the time of his birth and popularized during World War II. It became a recurring joke in a 1970 Monty Python sketch, which led to its use as slang for unwanted advertising creeping into the pristine, early internet.

I’m not surprised at my father’s affection for mystery meat; nostalgia is a powerful force, blinding our palates, allowing us to put stuff in our mouths we probably wouldn’t, in most circumstances, feed to our pets. I stay away from candy corn for this reason.

It was his surprise that sticks with me, though. I recognized the feeling, the shock at discovering that an old favorite has somehow become universally despised (such as candy corn, which I won’t mention again but I have an opinion about, you bet).

And when I got up last week to read the news about Matt Lauer’s firing from NBC, I was aware that these sexual misconduct stories seem to be entering the realm of celebrity deaths and Seahawks offensive line penalties; they tend to come in bunches.

So I wasn’t surprised to see another one pop up, a few minutes later, about Garrison Keillor.

Compared to some of the other stories, Keillor’s feels a little contrived, although this isn’t my call and I’m not all that interested.

What struck me about this story was the snide and the snark. Bad enough that Keillor may have been just another creep in a creepy world, but apparently he also was an old white guy, boring, old-fashioned, dull and dingy and is he still alive?

In this century? Also, he’s ugly.

And I thought, “But I like Garrison Keillor.”

Not in a passionate way. In a casual way, but respectful. I’ve listened to “Prairie Home Companion” from time to time. I’ve read some of his books, which I mostly found entertaining, a breezy voice of wisdom and wryness. He celebrated the ordinariness of white-bread life with gentle satire, always maintaining his affection for a culture of stoicism and potlucks, gentle nostalgia and rollicking populism.

Whether or not these Lake Wobegon lives actually reflect reality doesn’t matter.

His affection was my affection, and I have no apologies either. I like ordinary.

I’ve become more fond of it recently, simple pleasures that don’t twist my life into knots of anxiety and stress. Plain food, simple music, old jokes: This is comfort and solace to aging bones. When I get those news alerts, when I look at the intentional disintegration of a flawed but enduring system of self-governance, when I observe the walking Halloween mask in the White House, casseroles can get awfully important.

So I’ve been drawn to simplicity lately, to comfort food, to dumb movies that make me smile, to old songs that are laughable but in a good way. I’m erring on the side of simple a lot these days.

I’m just looking for a little respect for the ordinary, then.

I don’t blame those who see his alleged behavior as a good excuse to poke fun at his languid features and even more languid monologues; it just surprised me. Toss Keillor over the side if he deserves it – I’m all for tossing.

But I’m a fan of simple things, and knee-jerking ourselves into dismissal when it comes to the joys of noodles and processed cheese feels self-defeating. This is not a good time, and we could use a good time, and these days I think simpler might actually be better

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