GK: It's Thanksgiving weekend, the weekend after our great national holiday when, without much fuss, everyone sits down and has basically the same stuff for dinner, as a reminder, as it says in the Psalms, that it is God who hath made us and not we ourselves; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Come unto his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise. For the Lord is gracious; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth from generation to generation. In other words, lighten up.
And look for the silver lining Whene'er a cloud appears in the blue Remember somewhere the sun is shining And so the best thing to do is make it shine for you---
Cheerfulness. If you're a Calvinist, like me, you have to remind yourself every morning to smile, because there'll be enough in the course of the day to make you feel bad, so you have to start out feeling cheerful.
SS: Did you read the story in the paper about the health insurance problems of people 55 to 65?
GK: Yes, I did.
SS: I noticed that the article referred to them as the "near elderly". Interesting. You're in that age group, aren't you?
GK: I'm in my extremely late forties.
SS: I never heard that term, "near elderly," before. I've heard the term "semi-geezers" and the term "pre-farts" but never "near elderly" ---- are you okay?
GK: I'm fine. I'll just----
Look for the silver lining Whene'er a cloud appears in the blue Remember somewhere the sun is shining
Life is not that complicated, people. You wake up, you have coffee, you do what you need to do, you think about lunch. Ever so often, you go do some impulsive thing that you can't explain to anybody, and then you come back and do what you need to do and have lunch again. It doesn't take a nuclear scientist to figure this out.
TK (LARRY): I always wanted to be a nuclear scientist. Nuclear science was my best subject. I used to give you answers on nuclear science tests. And then you slapped me on the back that time, and something snapped in my head, and I've never been the same again.
GK: Larry, it's time to turn a new page.
TK (LARRY): My neck is broken. You broke my neck when you slapped me on the back.
GK: I don't think so, Larry.
TK (LARRY): It's hard for a guy with a broken neck to relate to people and have a normal life.
GK: Larry, it's not too late to be normal.
TK (LARRY): It is too. I'm your age. The near elderly.
GK: It doesn't matter, Larry. Don't think about it.
TK (LARRY): You look old, you know that?
GK: I feel great, Larry. I have a lot of hobbies, I lead a rich full life, I feel appreciated....
TK (LARRY): You feel appreciated? Are you kidding?
GK: I'm feeling great, Larry ---- because.....
A heart filled with joy and gladness Can always banish sadness and strife, So always look for the silver lining And try to find the sunny side of life.
GK: About a month ago, the owner of the restaurant where I work on weekends gave an appreciation dinner in my honor and he stood up and said a lot of nice things about me.....
TR: Twenty-five years, Carson has been washing dishes here on Friday and Saturday nights, and in between loads, he's been going out and singing Gershwin. What other nightclub singer can make that claim, I ask you. Does Mel Torme wash dishes? Does Rosemary Clooney? No. But Carson has ---- for twenty-five years --- and with no thought for personal remuneration whatsoever. Now that is what I call a giving person.
GK: And then one night I went out and sang Gershwin and I told a joke that made people in the restaurant suddenly turn white and ask for their check, and I had to go in for counselling....
SS: Mr. Wyler, my name is Jessica and I'm your facilitator, and today we're going to discuss why the joke you told on Friday night was not an appropriate joke, Mr. Wyler.
GK: I know that now and I regret having told that joke.
SS: Do you?
GK: I know that my joke caused pain for many people and I'm very very sorry for that.
SS: I'd like to go over the joke with you, Mr. Wyler.
GK: That's not necessary.
SS: When the Catholic nun gets into the taxicab and the cabdriver says, "Sister, I've always had a secret fantasy of being kissed by a nun" ----- Mr. Wyler, that is not a good start, is it----
GK: No, it's not.
SS: And when the Catholic nun says to the cabdriver, "Well, if you're Catholic and you're not married, maybe I could fulfil that fantasy" ----- we know that's not a joke that promotes good values, don't we, Mr. Wyler?
GK: I must've been out of my mind.
SS: And when the cabdriver says, "I'm Catholic and I'm not married, Sister," and the nun says okay and she kisses him ---- I hope you can see why this upset people.
GK: I do see that.
SS: And when the cabdriver says, "Sister, I lied to you --- I'm not Catholic and I am married," and the nun says, "That's all right. I lied to you, too. I'm Steven and I'm on the way to a costume party" ---- I think you can understand why we're going to have to let you go.
GK: I'm being fired? I can't sing Gershwin anymore?
SS: It was a very hurtful joke. Very hurtful. My real name, Mr. Wyler, is not Jessica, by the way. It's Justin.
GK: I am sorry.
SS: I'm in therapy, Mr. Wyler, and your careless joke set me back four years. That's what my therapist said. Your joke cost me four years of my life. Four years.
GK: Four years.
SS: Of my life.
GK: Four years of your life.
SS: That's what my therapist told me.
GK: Four. My joke.
SS: Yes. Four years. Of my life. Four.
GK: My joke.
SS: Your thoughtless joke.
GK: I'm terribly sorry. But maybe you ought to---
Look for the silver lining Whene'er a cloud appears in the blue....
TR: You'll never sing or do dishes in this restaurant again, Wyler. Shame. (TWO RIPS) You have dishonored the entire organization. (TWO SLAPS). Goodbye. And here's your stool and your hand-held microphone. We don't want either of them anymore. (DOOR SLAM)
GK: One minute a professional dishwasher and interpreter of Gershwin....and the next minute, a fiftyish guy in jeans and a sweatshirt, but with
A heart filled with joy and gladness To banish sadness and strife.
ST: Hey. Don't feel bad about being fired. To hell with the bastards. You'll get something better. Let me take you to lunch.
GK: Uncle Harry. What are you doing in town?
ST: I'm here with the circus. You hungry? Let's eat. (LION ROAR) Shuddup!
GK: The circus! I thought you retired.
ST: Smile when you use that word, Carson. I am not now and never have been a member of the AARP. Here ---- let's go in here.
GK: You're eighty-five, Uncle Harry.
GK: I mean.....---- the circus.....
ST: What are you saying, that lion-taming is a field for younger men? Is that what you're saying? (LION ROAR) Shuddup!
GK: You bringing your menagerie with you? Into the restaurant?
ST: Animals get hungry too. (LION ROAR) Shuddup. I got the only act in the history of the circus that includes lions, a macaque, a Siamese, a Brown Swiss, and an elephant. (ELEPHANT) He's got a cold.
GK: A macaque? It looks more like an orangutang.
ST: Him? (PRIMATE) A macaque.
TR: Welcome to the Cafe Rubato. How many for lunch?
ST: A table for eight. Two chairs and six pedestals.
TR: This way, sir----
ST: THIS WAY! (LION ROAR, ELEPHANT, MOO, MEOW, PRIMATE) (FOOTSTEPS, SOME ANIMAL SOUNDS)
GK: I don't know what I'm going to do, Uncle Harry. I told a tasteless joke, and I lost my show-business job.
ST: Awwwwwww, those people got the brains of a pair of wet tennis shoes.
GK: I don't know.
ST: And they got the heart of a box of hammers.
TR: Here we are, sir. (FOOTSTEPS STOP)
ST: Up! UP! (CRACK OF WHIP) (LION ROAR) UP! (ELEPHANT) Whoa, boss! (MOO) Up! Hyaaa! (PRIMATE) Okay, you get over there. (MEOW) Good. Bring me a martini. Straight up. With an olive. And one for the elephant. And a raw chuck roast for the lion.
TR: Very good, sir. (FOOTSTEPS AWAY)
GK: I'm going to have to start looking for a new job on Monday, Uncle Harry. I saw an ad in the paper for an assistant manager.
GK: What's wrong with that?
ST: Management, Carson? Have a little pride. If you're going to get a job, get one that means something.
GK: Assistant manager isn't bad----
ST: You become assistant manager, next thing you know you'll be a vice-president. This family has never produced a serial killer, a host of a call-in show, or a vice-president, Carson. Don't be the first.
TR: Here is your martini, sir. (GLASS) And one for the elephant. (ELEPHANT TRUNK SUCTION AND ELEPHANT CRY)
SS: He'd like another. A double. (ELEPHANT CRY) And a pimento in the olive.
TR: Good. And your raw chuck roast----
ST: Thanks. (ST EFFORT, THROWING. LION ROARS)
TR: May I tell you about the specials, sir---- Today, we have a long brown rice sauteed in diced portabello mushrooms and yellow peppers and lightly sprinkled with parsley marinated in a light saffron vinaigrette sauce, and that will be served on a bed of kelp, and accompanied by a terrine of lightly braised parsnips topped with parmesan cheese?
ST: Fine. A hundred pounds of that for the elephant and fifty pounds for the macaque.
TR: The macaque?
ST: Him. (PRIMATE)
TR: With that terrine of parsnips, may I recommend a very evocative and yet very subtle 1994 Chardonnay----
ST: Chardonnays are for district sales managers. I'd like another martini.
TR: Very well. And your entree?
ST: I'd like a dozen oysters on the half-shell and a pepper steak. Rare. With french fries. And ketchup.
GK: Same for me.
TR: Very well. (FOOTSTEPS OFF)
ST: I remember coming in this place years ago, Carson. Back when I was in radio.
GK: I didn't know you were in radio, Harry.
ST: Had my own show. Interviewed all the big shots who came to Chicago.
GK: Like who? Writers?
ST: Writers ---- politicians ---- you name it. Interviewed Roosevelt once.
GK: What was he like?
ST: Ehhhhhhh. A showboat. A know-it-all. He was no Lincoln, I'll tell you that.
ST: Abraham Lincoln.
GK: You interviewed him on the radio?
ST: He was terrible around a microphone. He shouted. Had a high-pitched squawky voice. Sounded awful. I liked him.
GK: What'd he say?
ST: Awww, it was a long time ago. Who cares? I interviewed Whitman once. Now there was a yakker. Would not shut up. Non-stop. The guy didn't know the meaning of the word "conclude". I liked him, but after a week ---- you know ---- enough already. With Whitman, I was always running out of tape.
GK: You tape recorded Whitman?
ST: Sure. Edison had just invented the tape recorder. People were using it to dictate letters. I couldn't believe it. This fantastic tool ---- it was being used by vice-presidents. But how would Edison know? The guy was deaf as a post. You could yell at him, he just stood there and smiled. Amazing guy. Invented the electric light, the movie camera, the phonograph, and he invented Call Waiting.
GK: Is that right---
ST: That's how he died, you know.
GK: He was on Call Waiting----
ST: Right. Anyway, the guy couldn't play poker to save his life. He was always asking if a flush was higher than three of a kind. Unbelievable. I won so much money from him I got tired of counting it. HEY! (LION ROAR) Don't take food off my plate. (PRIMATE CRY) And that goes for you too. What'd you say?
GK: How'd you get into radio?
ST: I was in radio before they called it radio. They used to call it remote audio discreet interconnected oscillations. Pretty racy, huh? I said, heck, call it radio, and as soon as I did, so did everybody else.
GK: You liked radio, huh?
ST: Radio taught me everything I know, Carson. Like how to shoot a pistol with accuracy. Look. (SIX SHOTS, SIX GLASS BOTTLES HIT) Not bad for an eighty-five-year-old guy, huh?
GK: Darn good.
ST: See that guy with the cigarette?
ST: Way back there. (SHOT. DISTANT CRY) WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU! NEXT TIME, SMOKE A CIGAR --- LIKE A MAN!!!!
GK: So how'd you get into the circus?
ST: I was interviewing all these people on the radio, and one day, instead of a person, suddenly there was an elephant in the studio ---- and you know something? I didn't even notice. All these years, I had been doing most of the talking anyway! Isn't that something? I learned it from Whitman. Keep talking and eventually you'll think of something to say. So I started talking to animals, and you know, they're not dumb, and I wound up in the circus --- and here I am, and no matter what, Carson, it's all the same thing: you go out there every day expecting the best. And when the best comes your way, you're darned grateful. And when it's less than the best, you put on a clean shirt and light a fresh cigar and you wait for tomorrow.
GK: A sound philosophy.
ST: Shuddup. (PRIMATE) You too. (CAT) Up! Up! C'mon! (CAT QUERY) Go ahead. Up on his head. He won't hurt you. (MEOW, JUMP, ELEPHANT) See? (MEOW)
GK: A heart filled with joy and gladness Will always banish sadness and strife.
ST: Another martini for me and one more for my elephant.
GK: And try to find the sunny side of life.
(BAND CHORD BUTTON)
© 1997 Garrison Keillor