EACH LIFE IS a work of art but these days I live a very small life, more an etching than a mural. My friends are thinking large thoughts about the EU and Hong Kong and the future of American democracy, and I am thinking about these organic blueberries I bought to put on my bran flakes — why am I putting them in a colander to wash them? They’re from Bayfield, Wisconsin. Why wash Bayfield off them with Minneapolis tap water?

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Once you start worrying about the cleanliness of Wisconsin blueberries, you’re on the way to distrusting the Pure Food and Drug Act and believing that liberals in the FDA are spraying blueberries with scopolamine to undermine free will, and soon you have purchased an assault rifle for when chaos sweeps the land, and your neighbors look uneasy when you step outdoors. So I don’t wash the blueberries. My big decision of the morning.

I never shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, but Johnny Cash did and that’s what I call living large. Bob Marley shot the sheriff. Bob Dylan shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy. She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to him. “I can’t help it if I’m lucky,” he said.

I shot baskets in the driveway when I was a kid but then I got a driver’s license and started living large and now I sit and shoot the breeze. Like what I’m doing now.

I live in a bubble as most people do, which makes for a small life. I went to the Minnesota State Fair twice this year, an occasion where I rub shoulders with Otherness, the anti-vaxxers, the NRA crowd, the deep-state conspiracy believers, the wall-builders, and here I am, a socialist and reader of Fake News who wants to take guns away from law-abiding people, and we’re all eating the same corn dogs and deep-fried cheese curds together, and being Minnesotans, we’re too polite to talk politics, and then we go back to our fellow bubbleheads and curse the other team.

To be brutally honest, it’s a little boring in my liberal bubble and when the conversation turns to the relative virtues of wines, I feel obliged to cause trouble. I say, “I never knew an Indian who cared for wine.” My failure to use the approved term “Native American” makes people blanch. Most of the Native Americans I’ve known used the word “Indian” freely, misnomer though it is: they don’t consider themselves generic, they belong to a specific band but they don’t expect you to know that.

I don’t care to be called “Anglo-American” — I’d rather be called “Sweetheart” — and though the intention of “Native American” is good, the word “Native” to me suggests teepees and stone tools. But “Indian” leads to serious throat-clearing around the table. I like that.

I can cause trouble by saying that Laurel & Hardy did more for kids than Mister Rogers. I’m prepared to argue that the State Fair is not what it once was. I will argue for Elizabeth Warren, knowing the table is mostly pro-Biden. I defend fall and winter against summer. Other people talk lovingly about the small independent bookstore, I am glad to say a good word for Amazon.

In my cranky uncle role, I’m libertarian. It’s a big country, there’s room for us all.

If you believe the earth is flat, go live in North Dakota and be happy. If you want to keep an arsenal of weapons, buy 80 acres of woods and build a cabin and fire when ready.

Let’s liven up the conversation. Let’s not sit discussing the relative virginity of our olive oils. The Brits will have to figure out Brexit. Hong Kong is between the mob in the streets and the commissariat and I’m with the mob for all the good it does them. As for democracy, we have a President who reflects this country better than we communists realize.

Crude, ignorant chauvinists have done pretty well in this country for generations.

I had a couple cranky uncles who did their job well and now they’re gone and if I don’t take their place, who will? Want me to defend the devil himself? Glad to do it. For a fallen angel, he’s given God a run for his money and when he lands in the fiery inferno, he will not lack for company.

© Garrison Keillor, 2019.