Not a great time for us guys

Garrison Keillor

December 29, 1992|By Garrison Keillor

THIS was not a great year for guys. Once again, our gende put up all the major candidates for president and suffered all the contempt and derision -- any year you have Ross Perot, Dan Quayle and George Bush honking in public, manhood's negatives are bound to rise -- whereas women, choosing to hang on the sidelines and cluck, managed to seem high-minded and discriminated against at the same time, a neat trick.

Now that the best man has won and is talking in whole sentences and saying dignified things, some of us hope that the gender will recover. I for one say, Hum babe, c'mon babe, way to go, babe, and hope that Bill turns out to be a Great Guy and a Great Man. We need one, babe.

Guys are in trouble. Manhood, once an opportunity for achievement, now seems like a problem to be overcome. Plato, St. Francis, Leonardo da Vinci, Vince Lombardi -- you don't find guys of that caliber today. What you find is terrible gender anxiety, guys trying to be Mr. Right, the man who can bake a cherry pie, go shoot skeet, come back, toss a salad, converse easily about intimate matters, cry if need be, laugh, hug, be vulnerable, perform passionately that night and the next day go off and lift them bales onto that barge and tote it.

Being perfect is a terrible way to spend your life, and guys are not equipped for it anyway. It is like a bear riding a bicycle: He can be trained to do it for short periods but he would rather be in the woods doing what bears do there.

Girls had it better from the beginning. Boys can run around fighting wars for made-up reasons with toy guns going kksshh-kksshh and arguing about who was dead, while girls play in the house with their dolls, creating complex family groups and solving problems through negotiation and role-playing. Which gender is better equipped, on the whole, to live an adult life, would you guess?

Adolescence hits boys harder than it does girls; don't kid yourself. Girls bleed a little and their breasts pop out -- big deal! -- but adolescence hits a guy like a bad drug experience. You are crazed with madness. Your body is filled with chemicals of rage and despair. You pound, you shriek, you batter your head against the trees. You come away terribly wounded. Life is unknowable.

Women know about life and about how to get along with others, and are sensitive to beauty, and can yell louder. They know all about guys, having been exposed to guy life since forever, and guys know nothing about girls except that they want one desperately. Which gender is better equipped to manipulate the other?

Men adore women. Women look at men and chuckle. That's because women are the makers of life, and we aren't. We will never be able to carry life within our bodies, never be able to breast feed. We get more than our share of loot and we are, God knows, handsome devils and irresistible in many ways, and yet our role in procreation basically is to get crazy and howl and spray our seed in all directions.

So we guys carry the seeds of adolescence in our bodies all our lives. We go along being cool, hearty, good-humored, wily, dashing, winsome, saying incredibly witty things, shooting baskets, the breeze, the moon, and then one day we wake up middle-aged and full of loneliness, our life seems like one long wasted afternoon and we go do something spectacularly dumb, like run off with Amber the cocktail waitress, and suddenly all the women in our life look at us with disgust.

Men need women to tell the truth to. It is a main feature of sexual life where guys are concerned. Because guys don't talk to each other. Never tell a fellow guy you feel bad. It will embarrass him and he won't speak to you for months.

Face it, from Thomas Jefferson to George Bush was a long way down, and when I wondered which of those two am I more like, it wasn't the one with the pigtail. I need you to get in and throw strikes, babes. This is what I would have said in the inaugural poem if you had chosen me to write it:

Tired of wimps and gonzo brutes

And the anxious murmurs of the suits

Tired of feeling low-grade, low-rent

Make us proud, Mr. President.

Garrison Keillor is host of "American Radio Company."

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