Web Exclusives: Inky Dinky Do
a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary

March 21, 2001:
Day of the Biscuits
When Garrison Keillor comes to town, it's not exactly Bob Dylan, or is it?

By Hugh O'Bleary

My Aunt Aggie phoned the other night in what can only be called -- to use an Aunt Aggie-ish term -- a tizzy.

"Oh, you must be so excited," she trilled.

I was microwaving some leftover garbanzo beans for supper at the time -- having gotten home even later than usual -- so "excited" would not have been the first adjective to come to mind, but this was Aunt Aggie, so I stifled the urge for sarcasm. I was about to ask just what she was referring to when she went on.

"Just think," she cooed, "Garrison Keillor will be speaking at Princeton -- in your town! Garrison Keillor!"

Now, I'm as big a fan of National Public Radio as the next man (bigger even, if the next man is Jesse Helms), but the news that the folksy host of A Prairie Home Companion is to be this year's Baccalaureate speaker at Princeton on June 3 did not exactly nuke my garbanzos. For Aunt Aggie, though, who listens faithfully to "The Companion" from her little house on the north side of St. Louis, Keillor enjoys the stature of a rock star. (I wouldn't be surprised, by the way, to learn that dear old Aggie believes Lake Wobegon is a real place.) The fact that Garrison himself would be coming to her nephew's town was clearly big news and she wanted to be sure I'd be on hand for the great moment. I didn't point out that, considering I routinely pass up appearances and lectures by world-renowned professors, Nobel laureates, Presidents, and any of the multitude of luminaries who regularly pass through Princeton, I was hardly likely to rush out to secure a front-row seat for a man whom Spy magazine liked to refer to as the "corn-fed dronologist." Instead, I thanked Aggie for the tip and promised that I would try to snag an autograph. She rang off with a happy toodle-oo.

I mentioned the conversation to Marco Hackley the next morning on the Dinky. Hackley, a software marketer and sometime bass player in his own rock 'n' roll band (the Deviated Septums), has a healthy appreciation for the wider world beyond Princeton, and I thought he would get a kick out of Aggie's priorities.

"Garrison Keillor," said Hackley with a snort (he snorts a lot, hence the name of his band). "That's a bit of a come-down for Minnesota-Princeton relations."

I asked what he meant.

"Well, first you had Scott Fitzgerald, only the best damn prose stylist in American literature, then you had Dylan, America's greatest rock poet, at Commencement 1970 -- Day of the Locusts, for god's sake. Now Keillor? What are they going to remember this as, Day of the Powdermilk Biscuits?" He looked disgusted. "Who's next, Jesse Ventura?"

Hackley was obviously in a cynical mood. I dropped the subject and we rode in silence. Then the thought occurred to me: Perhaps Garrison Keillor was in at least one respect the ideal speaker for Princeton. After all, isn't everyone here above average?

Hugh O'Bleary commutes to New York City from Princeton. He revels in his daily sojourn across campus to catch the Dinky. You can reach Hugh O'Bleary by writing him c/o paw@princeton.edu