I MISS THE old days when newspapers used to publish humor columns, like Dave Barry’s — why did he go away? In Dave’s column, you learned things the New York Times didn’t print, stuff about exploding badgers or a man with a blade of grass growing out of his ear, or a story about the amount of methane created annually by dairy cows.

Dave pointed out the fact that men will never ask for directions and that this is a biological fact, which is why it takes several million sperm to find one female egg even though, compared to them, it is the size of Wisconsin. I laughed so hard at that, I almost coughed up a hairball.

Dave Barry once made fun of Grand Forks, North Dakota, for its tourism campaign, whereupon the city fathers invited Dave to Grand Forks, and Dave — this shows you what a classy guy he is — Dave flew to Grand Forks, where he was feted and dined and taken to the dedication of a municipal sewage pump station named after him.

The plaque reads “Dave Barry Lift Station No. 16.” Talk about a tourist attraction. (Who knew a small city needed so many lift stations?) You could go visit it if you were in Grand Forks.

Dave gave up writing a weekly column in 2005, and in 2019 we need him more than ever. Back in the day, humor was a relief from the serious, but now with our first preteen President, comedy has become the news itself. When the man twittered, “If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!),” this was taken up by somber opinionators though it was pure methane. The fact that a man is the Leader of the Free World is no guarantee against his making skid marks in his shorts. A serious journalist is unable to point this out.

Likewise, the acting chief of staff standing behind a lectern and telling the press that, of course, politics was a consideration in withholding aid from Ukraine, and it happens all the time, and it’s appropriate, and then two days later, saying he had said no such thing. Lying into a microphone under bright light is an exploding badger if there ever was one.

The Times is a great newspaper that gives you a daily crossword, reviews tons of books, offers expert advice on child-rearing, covers Congress, but it absolutely refuses to tolerate humor in its august pages. And so it reacts to White House whoopee cushions and exploding cigars with disapproval, dismay, disappointment, dread, which is exactly the reaction every preteen who pretends to york up his broccoli is hoping to get.

I was taken with the recent headline in the Washington Post, “Excessive brain activity linked to a shorter life,” reporting a finding by Harvard neuroscientists that diminished brain activity can be a good thing in regard to longevity.

Of course, it was much more complicated than that, as anything from Harvard would need to be, acres of footnotes and tossing in words like “aberrant” and “deleterious” and “prefrontal cortex,” and what the left-wing hippie socialist Post chose to take from the study is the idea that Meditation Is Good and we should all kneel with our foreheads to our ankles and murmur mantras mindfully, but what I take from the story is that the thousands of folks in the red caps who pack the arenas to shout their approval of every belch, every barf, every Bronx cheer are going to outlive us all. Their brain activity is only slightly higher than that of REM-level sleep. They love him, the withdrawal from the Syrian border, Judge Kavanaugh, the G-7 conference at the Trump resort (what’s the problem?), the quid pro quo, the whole kit and caboodle.

Our country is now in the hands of a man who takes care, several times a day, to comb those little skid-marks into the hair behind his ears. He lives on the Internet, which, as Dave once said, is the greatest advance in human communication since call waiting. He grew up in a real-estate family in Queens and learned that you can charge top dollar for tiny apartments made out of plywood if you put big chandeliers in the lobby and metallic wallpaper that is painted to look like gold.

Good luck, everybody. Sleep well.

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© Garrison Keillor