It is unbearably bleak as winter lingers in March and a cold wind blows and the people on the obituary page seem better looking than yourself and your prostate feels like a hockey puck and you walk around with your wallet and car keys looking for your wallet and car keys and you read an article about bipolar disorder and think, "Hey, that's me," and so in desperation I flew out to San Francisco for a few days, where the winter rains had stopped and the city was bathed in Mediterranean light and everyone seemed very buoyant, as if the miasma was gone and the halcyon days were back, and suddenly I felt 30 again.
I stayed in the Sunset District and rode the Judah trolley down to Van Ness and walked around by the War Memorial Opera House. The men who got rich in the Gold Rush loved opera, which seemed more relevant to their lives than, say, the music of Bach. Stories of violent drama and romance and sudden early death, sort of like their own lives. Opera singers who were embroiled in scandal wound up in San Francisco, a city that didn't care whom you slept with if only you could sing Verdi. What brought down Eliot Spitzer would be only a speed bump here. That sort of tolerance is what makes the city so attractive to us Midwesterners, and also the fact that you can eat outdoors and not be bitten by bugs.
It was a glorious four days and I didn't even go to the beach. I just sat in a coffee shop on Irving Street near Golden Gate Park and smelled spring and watched the passing parade of youth.
Everybody in my coffee shop seemed to be in their 20s, locked into laptops, clicking and dragging, jumping to new links, sending IMs while text-messaging with the left hand, and the sheer volume of communication was impressive to behold. Here I was, chugging along writing a novel in which a guy meets up with his own mortality and is shocked into an outburst of passion, a sort of coming-of-old-age novel, typing taptaptaptap, and all around me beautiful young people were disseminating information in all directions by all media.
My generation was secretive, brooding, ambitious, showoffy, and this generation is congenial. Totally. I imagine them walking around with GPS chips that notify them when a friend is in the vicinity, and their GPSes guide them to each other in clipped electronic lady voices and they sit down side by side in a coffee shop and text-message each other while checking their e-mail and hopping and skipping around Facebook to see who has posted pictures of their weekend.
Sitting in my coffee shop, I heard a dude discussing his hangover at greater length than I would've thought possible, all about how his expectations for the night before had been too high and that there was an emotionally needy side to him that sort of ambushed him and led to his debacle, which he then described in too much detail, and then he said, "Mom, I've got to run. Later." And then "Love you, too." And went back to reading e-mail.
To my generation, hangovers were the result of drinking alcohol, often in unwise combinations, and you took a glass of bitter Bromo-Seltzer, and suffered in silence. You didn't discuss them with your mother. But this generation craves closeness. They are not snarky in the slightest. Montessori taught them to cherish themselves, and Ritalin and Prozac came just in time to smooth out the harsh edges of adolescence. They are capable of writing a term paper on James Joyce and then running a couple miles and then going to a Bad Hair party, meanwhile keeping in touch with eight of their closest friends. They cover the waterfront.
The young are towing a barnful of credit-card debt and they mumble and talk that weird stuttery talk of y'know like so anyway like awesome or whatever, and they don't know how to do arithmetic by hand or use a dictionary, but they have a great attitude. They're OK about themselves. They're really into their friends. Wassup? That's wassup. They're totally connected. Like a colony of ants. I sat in their vicinity for a few days and tapped at my novel and got into a halcyon mood and then duty called and I came back to the miasma. I am now good and depressed again, but hey, I'm OK with it. Gotta run. Love you, too.
(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)
© 2008 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.