Woebegone Me

The Rake: So why did you get out of Denmark so fast?

Taylor: In Denmark people stare at foreigners as if they have the mark of the beast on their foreheads, and I grew up in a family that takes the mark of the beast very seriously. I don’t like to be looked in the face, especially when I try to speak Danish. Each vowel in the Danish language requires the use of 128 facial muscles. When you sit down to dinner and try to say, “Will you please pass the bread?” it takes ten minutes for them to stop laughing at you, and you still don’t have any bread. They make their beds every morning to military specifications, though none of them can say why this is a virtue or what vice it prevents. New York is laid-back compared to Denmark.

The Rake: But you wanted anonymity. Wasn’t it anonymous enough?

Taylor: Too anonymous. Everyone there wears red socks, too, so they never noticed mine. They had no idea I was one of the ten sexiest men in America. They did not appreciate me for my true gifts. They appreciated me for my Pouilly-Fuissé, but not much else. So we moved to New York. In New York the newspapers really know how to treat a famous man. They don’t leave They write about what you’ve had for supper.(20)

The Rake: So why did you come back?

Taylor: To see if my books were being remaindered at Odegaard’s.

The Rake: Really?

Taylor: Will B. King called me up. He was running low on silk boxer shorts and started missing his cash cow. He insinuated that my ratings for the New York show were in the tank, which, of course, they were. “Remember the good old days?” he said, “When the pledges rolled in and we went out to Murray’s for seventy-dollar steaks and three bottles of Poilly-Fuissé?” But I was still rich as a troll from my books and told him I didn’t give a cold toilet seat about MPR. Plus, you never drink Poilly-Fuissé with steak—the cad. “Taylor,” he said, “You are like Ahab except you cut off your own leg and went looking for it in Denmark and New York. We’ve got your leg in Minnesota. You come back, we give you your leg and a big pile of cash. We keep the media jackals under control and make sure you don’t have to see so much as a hair off Noah Adam’s butt.(21) You belong here.”

My wife liked New York. It was better than Denmark for me, anyway. But Will was right. I don’t belong in New York. I told my wife, Bella, we were moving back to Minnesota.
She said “We are not. That place is full of spiteful, bitter volk who convert their frost-bitten misery into pathological revenge on successful people. Look what they did to Bob Dylan. He ended up singing only with his nose. If you go back they will make you sing with your nose, too.”
“When you say it like that, it sounds so bad,” I replied.
“It is so bad. They are not going.”
“We,” I corrected.
“We what?” she replied.
“We are not going,” I said.
“That is what I said. We are not going.”
“No. You said they are not going. You always get your English plural pronouns mixed up when you are angry. You want first person, not third. We are not going.”
“Good,” she said.
“But we are going,” I corrected.
“You just said, ‘We are not going,’” she said.
“No. I said, ‘We are not going,’” I corrected.

This conversation went on for six days. On the seventh day, the mail arrived with a stiff cardboard envelope from Will King. It contained a key to a locker in the St. Paul Greyhound station at Seventh and St. Peter, and instructions to retrieve the contents and bring them to Mickey’s Diner across the street where I would meet Terry McCauliffe and exchange them for a briefcase. Terry had tried to disguise himself as a St. Paul Companies executive to be inconspicuous, but you could tell it was a stretch for him to dress down that much.

The contents of the locker were lists of Minnesota Pedestrian Radio members. The briefcase contained a hefty advance on my salary to host another season of APHC. I dumped Bella Stoevaard and her little pack of brats and headed west, and had never felt more like a cowboy in my life. It turned out the briefcase came from the CEO of Land’s End, which has helped Democrats dress like Republicans for more than fifty years.

The Rake: So where’s Bella?

Taylor: Bella who?

The Rake: Now you have a new family, a new opera, and a new book. The press adores you. What’s the next big thing for Harrison Taylor?

Taylor: The budget deficit created by our current governor, who is in a safe, undisclosed location, has forced Will King and me to consider dramatic measures to protect what remains of the state’s funding of MPR.

The Rake: What do you mean?

Taylor: Listen up, Parody Boy. This is what you journalists like to call a “scoop,” though at most newspapers this refers to what you get out of a litterbox. I have filed to run for governor of Minnesota.

The Rake: Wow. Why do you want to be governor?

Taylor: I will run on a platform of putting a complete line of casual clothing at your fingertips and securing new funding sources for public radio. And I want to live on Summit Avenue while I write my next book, like F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Rake: That must be very exciting.

Taylor: Excitement isn’t important to Lutherans. They are terrified, really, of the current governor, and would only have voted for him because of threats and intimidation. It is a blessing in no disguise whatsoever to be rid of him this quickly.

The Rake: But do you think you’re electable, with all those ex-wives and squalid personal history? Something’s bound to come out, like with Jon Grunseth.

Taylor: Are you threatening me, Parody Boy? Have you been digging in my garbage?

The Rake: No, Mr. Taylor, not at all. It’s just rather well known, your caprices.

Taylor: You are just like the rest of them. You have a professional interest in my death. You journalists are all like a dog that can’t be trained to stay off the bed.

The Rake: That sounds a little paranoid, Mr. Taylor.

Taylor: I’m onto you, Parody Boy. Nick Coleman sent you here, didn’t he… What’s that noise?

Tom Keef: Making bizarre expulsive noises with his nose, hands, and underarms: Splintering, crunching sounds… Cruuunch! Doing! Higga higga higga…

The Rake: Someone’s at the door.

Taylor: Valente!

Jimmy “Big Boy” Valente: So, you little pinhead son-of-a-jackal, you’re sitting down with a writer. You better hope it goes better for you than it did for me. Not rid of me so quickly after all, are you? Think I was in a snit before? You’re gonna see a real snit now, frog-boy!

Taylor: How did he get in here? Call security!

Valente: I’m a Navy Walrus, frog-boy! I can get in anywhere. And your security is too far gone in their orgy of self-pity to do you any good now! I can take them all with my beer belly tied behind my back! How come you’re under your desk, Taylor? Don’t have the courage to get up and do what has to get done? I’ll tell you what’s done! Your smug career taking shots at me from the safety of the radio every week! You feel like telling me something to my face, frog-boy? You’re the one who needs a safe undisclosed location now, and under the desk ain’t it!

Keef: Ripping sounds, crunching sounds. Rrrrrrrrrrrrip! Cruuuuuuunch! Ack.

Taylor: Oh my god, that was my chair! That was imported leather dyed to match—oh, don’t do that, that desk is solid South African mahogany! Security!

Valente: What’s the matter, Taylor? Too much ketchup? Too much Pouilly-Fuissé?

Taylor: Put me down!

Valente: Don’t mind if I do.

Keef: Sound of a large side of beef being slammed onto desk, small stick breaking, air escaping. Fwunk! Click! Fsssssssss.

Taylor: Hunh…Hunh…Oh, Jesus! That was my spine!

Valente: How about a pile driver, Taylor? Actually I’ve got a new one I thought up just for you. Here comes the Sleep Number, froggie!(22)

Keef: Pumping and whirring sounds. Dunk! Dunk! Dunk! Dunk! Fooooosh, fooosh, foosh…

Taylor: That’s assault! Keef, can’t you do something besides just standing there gibbering like a cricket on steroids?

Valente: I’m not done with you yet. I’m gonna pound you on the fresh, green breast of the new world. I’m gonna beat you back ceaselessly into the past! (23) You’re gonna look like rhubarb pie… Wha? Where the hell did he go?

Keef: Sound of clattering footsteps echo down the steel-walled corridor. Click click click click!

Taylor: (distant, off stage) Frontenac! You’ll never find me there! I owe you, Keef!

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