Recently, my blogging partners, Big Mike and Benny Jay, have been taking a lot of potshots at the great State of Indiana. Those two ignorant bastards have gone on record as saying that the Hoosier State is a racist backwater and a cultural desert. They have intimated that Indiana’s residents are loutish, inbred yokels, with poor hygiene, a caveman’s worldview, and a disturbing fondness for banjo music.
Benny has gone so far as to say that any state whose social event of the year is an automobile race should be downgraded to the status of a territory or protectorate, sort of like Guam.
I can understand why Big Mike has a problem with Indiana. After all, the poor guy has to live there. But I could never understand why Benny Jay detests the Hoosier state so much.
“Benny, what have you got against Indiana anyway?”
“I hate the damn place.”
“I just hate it, that’s all.”
“Benny, has this got anything to do with basketball?”
“Heh, heh. Why do you ask?”
“Because I know how you feel about the Indiana Pacers.”
“Oh, I hate those bastards.”
“Don’t you think it’s a bit weird to hate a whole state just because of a basketball team?”
“Yeah, well, Bobby Knight’s from Indiana and I hate him, too.”
I suppose disliking a basketball team is as good a reason as any to detest an entire state. In Indiana’s case, however, there are plenty of other reasons to detest the place.
Reggie Miller — got out of Indiana just as soon as he could….
For one thing, Indiana is not much to look at. Most of the state is flat and featureless, as visually interesting as a bowling ball. Its main topographical features are silos, truck stops, limestone quarries and the crude wooden crosses that have been erected along most of the state’s highways, which commemorate the unfortunate deaths, in automobile accidents, of hordes of drunken Hoosiers.
Another problem people have with Indiana is the state’s capitol city of Indianapolis. Naptown, as the locals call it, in a futile effort to give the place an aura of hipness, has no reason to exist. It serves no useful purpose.
Most major cities evolve naturally and for sound strategic reasons. They grow up around vital trade routes, easily defensible geographical positions or well-traveled waterways, like lakes, rivers and along sea coasts. Commerce, a good military base and the ability to make quick getaways have always been important to the American people. And most large cities offer these amenities in abundance. Even the beer-sodden town of Milwaukee is located on some choice lakefront property.
Indianapolis, however, was not blessed with any of those geographical advantages. It just simply popped up on a prairie in the middle of nowhere, seemingly overnight, like a toadstool growing from a rotting log. Its origin is a mystery to me. Why and how it grew to a metropolis of nearly a million people is even more puzzling. Some things are simply unexplainable.
Sadly, Big Mike and Benny Jay might be right — the state of Indiana doesn’t have much going for it. Aside from several overpriced universities, a few thousand pig farms, several highly-regarded penal institutions, countless Dairy Queens, and a few Terre Haute whore houses, most of the state is a wasteland.
The exception to Indiana’s dreary landscape is an idyllic hamlet tucked away in the state’s northwest corner. Unlike the rest of this mean, spiteful and backward state, this town is an oasis of culture and refinement, a place where the men grow to be strong and handsome, where the women are all long-legged and busty and the air is sweet and clean.
The utopian village I’m talking about is Gary, Indiana, the Hoosier state’s garden spot, the town where I lived until I was drafted into the United States Army.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Gary was a booming factory town, a thriving rust belt city before oxidization began to set in. Its steel mills and factories worked around the clock, three shifts a day, every day of the year. As a result of the three-shift system, many of the businesses in town – taverns, diners, groceries, bowling alleys, pool rooms, barber shops, pawn shops, beauty salons, movie theaters, used car lots, gambling dens, whorehouses and houses of worship – kept their doors open 24-hours a day.
The time of day meant nothing in Gary. The rhythms of daily life were regulated by the demands of the factories. Swing shifts were a fact of life and many of the millworkers had to adjust their inner clocks by eight hours every seven days, often resorting to uppers and downers to make the transition easier. Fueled by alcohol, pills and the relentless ticking of the factory time clock, Gary was a wide-open town where the term “Anything Goes,” should have been engraved on a plaque at City Hall. It was a violent, gritty, hustling, noisy, smelly and often mean-spirited blue-collar town.
And when I was growing up I thought it was the greatest place in the world.
Joseph Stiglitz and Milo went to the same high school….
For a kid like me, who had minimal parental supervision and enjoyed the run of the streets, Gary was a 24-hour wonderland, a place where the circus was always in town. It was where I developed an appreciation for the high life and the low life, an affinity that has never left me.
Gary was where I learned how to acquit myself honorably in a street fight, how to smoke cigarettes, how to knock down a shot with my beer, how to roll a joint, how to play poker, pool and craps and how to behave around women. It was, in essence, where I learned most of the important things in life.
Now, some people might say, “Milo, how can you claim that a violent, booze and drug addled place like Gary is the best Indiana has to offer. It sounds like Sodom and Gomorrah. It must have been a terrible place to grow up.”
The only answer I can give is that while the rest of Indiana gave us people like Charles Manson, John Dillinger and the Reverend Jim Jones, Gary gave us Michael Jackson, Karl Malden, and Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize winner in economics.
Roses grow best where there is plenty of manure.
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