Winter of our discontent

When life becomes too placid, it's time to go in search of faraway trouble.

Published November 2, 2005 11:00AM (EST)

A person can learn a great deal if you're lucky enough to get into serious trouble and of course it's more beneficial if you do it when you're young. But trouble is a good teacher at any time and it's a shame so many people try to skip the School of Hard Knocks. If only they knew the good it would do them.

For example, you're a public official and you testify before a grand jury and tell them a fairly plausible story and a few weeks later you're indicted for perjury: This sort of thing, while inconvenient at the time, can make a philosopher out of you, and someday you'll look back and be grateful.

Or maybe you have a child in youth hockey. It's not how you had planned to spend your middle years, chauffeuring a 4-year-old to practice Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5 a.m. and three games on the weekend, but this will be good for you someday. You sit in the cold arena, watching your boy, a winger for the Junior Cougars in the Skeeter League, careening around in $500 worth of skates and pads and gloves. You have ponied up $1,000 for ice time, since no kids skate on outdoor ice anymore, due to global warming.

This is not how you remember hockey from boyhood -- you remember a backyard rink, old magazines for shin pads, a cardboard box for a goal and no adults in sight -- but your boy loves the Junior Cougars and so here you are, watching tiny armadillos in orange jerseys scuffling on ice.

And then a gent with a white crew cut plops down by you and informs you that the Skeeter League is short on coaches and that Brad, the guy in warm-up pants skating around and blowing his whistle, will be leaving the Cougars to coach the Weasels, and could you fill in temporarily? And suddenly you're the coach, though you don't know much about hockey, not compared to the mothers who sit behind the bench at the games and call out in their klaxon voices: "HUSTLE HUSTLE HUSTLE!! -- We need a goal, come on. HIT HIM. HIT HIM. BACKCHECK! HUSTLE HUSTLE HUSTLE!! -- DIG-DIG-DIG!!! HEY, REF -- IT'S A GOOD GAME, WHY DON'T YOU WATCH IT??" And a couple weeks later your 5-year-old daughter discovers hockey and becomes a goalie for the Mighty Mites in the Ice Maiden League, who practice Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 1 a.m. and play Saturday at 10 a.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. And you discover the benefits of Dexedrine.

There are no more dinner parties for you, no movies, no concerts, and at work your colleagues start calling you Dozer. Your midlife crisis arrives early. You feel a powerful attraction to the waitress at Bub's Brew Shack. You screech at other drivers on the freeway. You are in trouble.

One Sunday morning, the Junior Cougars are trailing the Marmots 4-1 in the third period, and one of the harpies asks why you don't keep your best line on the ice longer, and you reach around to admonish her and accidentally punch her in the left breast, and she files sexual assault charges, and you're called up before the grand jury and -- who knows why -- you tell them you were at home watching Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" and the D.A., an intense guy named Gerald Fitzpatrick, nails you for lying, and you lose your job.

But it passes. Eventually it passes. You're acquitted. Your son, never a strong skater, develops an interest in writing poetry -- no special equipment needed, just paper and pen. And one morning you wake up and come downstairs and fix coffee and open up the newspaper and suddenly you are struck by the grandeur of personal freedom. It's morning and you don't have to drive a carload of Junior Cougars to practice and your name isn't in the newspaper along with the words "sexual assault." Life is darned good.

On New Year's Day, I plan to take a flight to Oslo, Norway, and then fly north to the city of Tromso, 400 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, in hopes of seeing the northern lights and dog-sledding across a glacier but really it's to get some trouble into my life, which has become too placid. There is no sunrise or sunset in Tromso in January, just darkness. When I return, I will not ever feel bad about winter again, and in Minnesota, that means six months of happiness. One cannot ask for more.

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(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)

) 2005 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

By Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is the author of the Lake Wobegon novel "Liberty" (Viking) and the creator and host of the nationally syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," broadcast on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. For more columns by Keillor, visit his column archive.

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