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  • December 8th, 2017

WHAT’S ON MY MND

By Joel M. Vance

For well more than half my life I have spent time in Minnesota, the largest state in the Midwest and one of exceptional beauty and variety. I’ve spent so many days and weeks in Minnesota that I more than qualify as an honorary citizen.
For 10 years I spent two weeks each summer in the mosquito infested confines of Camp Ripley, near the alleged home of the legendary Paul Bunyan. To paraphrase a famous poem by Gelett Burgess “I never saw a purple cow (think Babe, the blue ox) I never hope to see one. But I can tell you anyhow I’d rather see than be one.”
Every Columbus Day week, that fabulous time of fall when the aspens turn to gold and the air is crisp with the hint of winter, I spent time prowling through the grouse and woodcock woods of northern Minnesota, occasionally taking time off to hunt diving ducks.
For 35 years, while our daughter, Carrie, and her husband, Ron, lived in Minnesota, various members of our Missouri family traveled north to visit them. We canoed the St. Croix River together, went to a bluegrass festival, went into the Twin Cities for entertainment and memorable dinners, and savored the incomparable joy of the fun farm of 16 acres where they lived. We took a family house boat trip on Rainy Lake, caught and ate walleyes, and sat around a campfire under the stars on a remote shore of the big lake and told family stories.
So now Minnesota has become the nexus of sexual scandal with Senator Al Franken accused of misbehavior a decade ago and Garrison Keillor the beloved host of the radio program A Prairie Home Companion, likewise in the crosshairs of the scandal mongers. Franken has resigned from the Senate and Keillor has been fired from Minnesota Public radio. Both of their reputations basically are ruined, their lives turned upside down.
It was a bitingly cold Christmas Eve in Minnesota, as cold as only it can be in a Minnesota winter time. It was so cold that cars that depended on diesel fuel refused to start because the fuel thickened and would not flow. We saw a rooster pheasant dejectedly standing beside I 35, doubtless doomed to freeze in the subzero temperatures, but that’s the way of the wild.
We were en route to a performance of A Prairie Home Companion at the decrepit old World Theater. The original home of the show, was sparsely filled because apparently most people thought that there would not be at show on such a forbidding night. An antique popcorn machine produced snacks in the lobby and we sat in rickety wooden seats left over from vaudeville days. This was A Prairie Home Companion in its original form, a local radio show featuring homegrown talent.
Garrison Keillor drifted aimlessly around the stage, but always was at his microphone when the music or the skit ended and he needed to say something. He announced that at the intermission song sheets would be passed out in the lobby and those lucky enough to snare one would become members of the Lake Wobegon choir to sing Christmas carols on the air in the second half of the show. Ron and I raced to the lobby just in time to see the last song sheet grabbed by someone else. As Maxwell Smart used to say on the television show “Get Smart” “missed it by that much!”
Keillor said that the allegation against him originated when he put his hand on a woman’s bare back accidentally in an attempt to console her. So far the woman’s name has not been announced. I am suspicious of an anonymous accusation, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. However, characterizing a hand on the back, bare or not, seems to be a minimal sexual advance. Apparently, others say he patted them on the butt when they were having their photo taken with him. Thus, the evidence against him mounts, as it has with others who have been accused of sexual indiscretion.
I began writing this as a confused and conflicted defense both of Keillor and of Al Franken, but as accusations against Franken mounted, I was more confused than ever and less sure of anything. All I do know in my heart is that no matter how distressing accusations against Al Franken and Garrison Keillor are, they are pale in comparison to the credible accusations against most of the men who have been so far involved in sexual scandal–Moore, Weinstein, Sandusky, Spacey, Cosby, et al.
I confess that I have had enormous respect for both men for a long time. My wife, Marty, and I traveled with the Prairie Home cast and Keillor on one of their summer cruises to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. We would not have taken a cruise with anyone else. We stood in line for a couple of hours to have Franken autograph his book Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. As a fierce opponent of standing in line for anything, there are few people on earth I would spend that much time waiting for.
Ironically, an op-ed column by Keillor, defending Franken appeared one day before Keillor’s firing by Minnesota Public radio. Keillor said that it was absurd for people to call for Al Franken’s resignation from the Senate, considering what had happened. USO shows traditionally have featured raunchy skits, and those who sign up to go on the USO tours are well aware that they may be involved in such skits. Bob Hope, the Godfather of USO tours through several wars and half a century, was a serial womanizer and had a long-standing relationship with Marilyn Maxwell, one of his USO troop— yet he holds an unblemished record as a true American, as well he should, given his many years of service to the country through those USO tours. My first thought was why not offer Al Franken the same consideration society has given to Bob Hope? Since, other women have said that Franken forced himself on them, and his fellow Democrats in the Senate, both women and men, immediately called for him to resign.
In my mind which may be as misguided as the minds of the misogynistic oafs who are guilty of manhandling women, I still think that both Franken and Keillor are light years less culpable than Roy Moore, Donald Trump, John Conyers and the other men who have been credibly accused by multiple women and who often have flaunted their inexcusable behavior.
Let us not forget George H. W. Bush, past president of the United States who was a genuine World War Two hero (although he made the mistake as did Sen. John McCain of being a loser according to our present Misogynist in Chief Donald Trump– who strenuously avoided military service of any kind–of being shot down in enemy territory). Mr. Bush has been accused by quite a few women of patting them on the rump. Does he thus deserve to be humiliated and have his lifetime legacy of service to the country trashed? I don’t think so.
Let us also not forget Clarence Thomas, while we’re busily bringing down the high and mighty. Those with fairly long memories may recall his confirmation hearing where his rampant sexism was graphically exposed, and yet Congress, which now has sidelined three of its members and is investigating a fourth, rewarded him with a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land.
There is such a fine line these days drawn between men who cross into sexually inappropriate territory and those who don’t. As a man, I feel totally unqualified to comment on either side of that line. It is a line that has existed almost since time began. I think of the image of Proto Man dragging his mate by the hair into his man cave. The concept of the droit du seigneur echoes through history, and for that matter through our political system. The flawed but long accepted idea is that man is dominant in a relationship and woman is subservient–that repugnant idea even appears in the wedding vows of some religious faiths. Perhaps that fundamental belief of male dominance which is prevalent in the religious right goes at least part way toward explaining such awful creatures as Roy Moore.
How can a self proclaimed devout Christian vote to seat in the United States Senate a pedophile and go to sleep tonight after kneeling by the bedside to pray? But then that’s Alabama politics where, these days anyway, either you are a Republican or you’re disenfranchised. There is no such thing as too much as long as you hang on to that cherished Senate seat.
If you don’t think politics is the bottom line in these scandals, regardless of party, consider that the Senate Democrats are willing to fall on Al Franken like wolves attacking a weak member of their pack while at the same time accepting a pedophile across the aisle. The Democrats don’t want to be accused of being tolerant of the antics of one of their own members so Franken is the sacrificial lamb. That way the Democrats can claim the high ground if there is such a thing in today’s politics, and gain potential strength in next year’s election cycle. Hypocritical? You betcha.
I’m afraid that I can foresee about these rambling thoughts women saying, “Oh, he’s just a guy defending guys.” But I suspect I am not alone in worrying that anything I say or do might be deemed offensive by some women.
On one hand I see a sort of national hysteria where any man can feel threatened by the potential for accusation. On the other hand I am gratified to see women insisting on their rightful place in society, gaining long delayed justice for injustice to them by men, in demanding and winning the ability to throw rocks at the workplace glass ceiling, in every way achieving the equality (and, in my opinion, superiority) in a male-dominated society that dates back to the days of Adam and Eve.
Ron and Carrie have moved to Colorado and live 8000 feet above the fray and although they’ve never done it and neither have I the temptation is to climb Pike’s Peak to the very top, amid the clouds, light a legal-in-Colorado joint, inhale deeply and float away into the cumulus, far above the shit that has infested not only the political climate far below, but also an uncomfortably large portion of the citizenry of what used to be a country that the world looked up to and which now is looked down upon as if the rest of the globe were on top of Pike’s Peak where the air is pure and we down below aren’t.
There is no excuse for sexual predators and no remedy other than to expose them and subject them to whatever punishment is appropriate. Men who brutalize, intimidate, threaten or otherwise dominate women are reprehensible and despicable. The Donald Trumps and Roy Moores of the world are evil personified and debase humanity by their very existence. They are the human equivalent of tapeworms or other parasites which feed on the human host and deserve a legal purgative that will rid us from their depredations.
I’m more and more convinced that we need the current wave of accusation and subsequent male abasement, kind of like rubbing a dog’s nose in its mess to make the point.
And maybe I should just learn to keep my mouth shut and limit my commentary to hunting, fishing, and adorable Labrador .retriever puppies.

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