The Tip Top Club
A short story by Garrison Keillor

This is a delightful story by the host of the Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor.

It's a idealized nostalgic trip back to a time of innocence much like "Lake Wobegon, a place that time forgot."

It is as sweet and understandable as a Norman Rockwell cover or the 4th of July in Ronald Reagan's head.

It is the charm of a small town where the trees on one side of the street touch the tops of the trees on the other side.

It's enjoyable to be transported back to this time and place (if it ever really existed) and Keillor does a fine job taking us there.

Part of the appeal is to be transported to the innocence but unlike a Norman Rockwell painting, Keillor finds humor in the lack of sophistication and friendly ignorance.

The humor is amusing and it also gives us the excuse of detachment for enjoying the guilty pleasure of his sentimentality.

The Life is Beautiful setting of the Tip Top Club is not simply a creation of Keillor's imagination. Within the story we learn how the main players realize it is a myth and not a reality. They screen the calls, put all the calls on a tape delay, and circulate the show's phone number only to those who believe in living on the sunny side of life. Like Keillor himself, Keillor's characters are fabricating a warm view of reality, not simply affirming it.

Another excuse for sloshing around in the pleasure of this sentimentality is that we're able to see what's behind the fabrication. It's self aware. We're in on the joke.

And still another excuse is that Keillor's storytelling is well crafted enough to be legitimate literature. It allows us to still feel superior to Paul Harvey.

I'd like to live in Keillor's neighborhood. It you look out my window at a certain angle, you see pretty leaves in the ground, a picket fence, a beautifully restored Victorian. But before long, the windows will shake with the low frequency boom of rap music coming from cars with trunk mounted speakers that vibrate the entire car making it a giant bass speaker. And around the corner is Express Liquors. And there are abandoned shopping carts on every block.

In the story there are repeated gentle reminders that the upbeat attitude is delusional. Consider the woman who sleeps next to her radio. Even though the radio is turned off, she's sure she sleeps better knowing the radio is there. How are we to feel about that? It's silly-- but we're glad she's found a reason to feel good.

Are these Tip Top Club members really sweet and upbeat by nature or are they just this way when in a conservative, well - defined setting insulated from the real world? When Bud retires and leaves the program, the rules change a little, and the listeners change from being kindly grandparents to mean-spirited, crochety conservatives.

Keillor moves from having the listeners be sweet to a delusional to mean.

We see how eventually how the kindly listeners did so much talking and so little listening that Bud seemed to fade away. Bud said so little that Harlan called him a ghost.

The story lays bare the contradiction of conservatives. They are full of love, but love for those within their small circle. Good at appreciating small blessings and the simple elements of life, but intolerant of new things and change. Bud wanted to chat. Wayne wanted to communicate. They ran Wayne right out of the business.

For the conservative myth to flourish, you have to keep your world small so that your community is the size of a club, surround yourself with people just like you so there's no cause for conflict, and freeze time so you'll constantly be reassured by familiarity. You do that and your world can be warm, friendly, beautiful, simple and secure.

But though Bud helped create this artificial world, he couldn't remain in it. In reality, time forces change. Radio hosts grow old and retire.

If time could stand still we'd all be conservatives and it would all be rather pleasant.

Keillor has the wonderful ability of making quirky characters seem real. All of his characters, quirky and loveable or modern and aloof, all have the same vulnerabilities. If we take a look at ourselves, we're sure to fit in.


Morrill Books