What's Your Name, Hoosier Daddy?
My dead friend Tony, back in the days when he wasn’t dead, worked in Atlanta at a rather upscale restaurant that was decorated in an old New Orleans harbor motif. That is, most of the tables were down on the “docks,” but if you paid extra you could cross the gangway over a shallow pool with a couple of live alligators in it and eat on the “ship,” where a light-jazz trio would serenade you and your date while you fed each other fondue. The owner of this restaurant used to walk around, surveying his domain, wearing a blue admiral’s uniform with gold epaulets and braid. I once asked my not-yet-dead friend Tony where this guy got off pretending to be an admiral. Tony replied, still breathing, that the man was in fact an admiral, having received at some point a commission as such in the Georgia Navy.
“The Georgia Navy?” I puzzled. “Georgia has a navy?”
Tony shrugged his shoulders voluntarily and nodded. “Apparently. I’m sure it’s bigger than, say, the Montana Navy . . .” And then he died.
Actually, Tony died years later, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that most people in Georgia don’t know that they have a navy, which one would think might be useful information to some—presidential candidates looking for ersatz military records to put on their resumes, for instance. Such factual gems might be more common knowledge if someone writes a travel guide for the Peach State like Michael Martone has done for the Hoosier State with The Blue Guide to Indiana, a virtual tour through one of the most exciting and vibrant states in the union. Though a mere 122 pages in length, every page of the Blue Guide is packed with things to see and do, a rich tapestry of history and fun. But one shouldn’t try to do it all in one day—the wise traveler will allot a day and a half to take in all the spectacle of majestic Indiana.
Martone’s satirical guide is the latest in a body of work rooted in his home state in much the same manner as Twain’s Missouri or Faulkner’s Mississippi, or as Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon might be if Keillor were remotely funny. This is my first exposure to Martone’s Indiana, but anyone who can write books with titles like Fort Wayne Is Seventh on Hitler’s List and Pensees: The Thoughts of Dan Quayle has clearly staked his claim on fertile soil. There are few items in the book that are plain hoot-out-loud funny, but Martone maintains a consistently dry wit and deadpan tone that make the Guide go down easy—for example, this advice for visitors to the Tomb of Orville Redenbacher:
Bring binoculars to view the fifty-six metopes which are carved to narrate the life of Orville Redenbacher. The third panel shows the infant Orville nursing at the breast of Demeter and Ceres. The twenty-fourth details the procedure for tying a bow tie. The thirty-ninth commemorates the invention of the microwave. Each spring, the citizens of Valparaiso and Porter County re-enact the grand procession from the tomb to the birthplace, in a Lutheran version of the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries.
Or at the Musee de Bob Ross, a monument to the late, great, bountifully Afroed host of the public-TV painting show (complete with The Happy Little Tree Cafe), one will find that
[w]ith a pallette more extensive than every major artist save Delacroix, Mr. Ross’s repetitive rendering of his special motif, a placid lake in an ancient fir forest, is made new with each painting. The artist’s actual palettes are, themselves, displayed on the mezzanine, where the visitor can appreciate Bob Ross’s meticulous craft in the mixing of his paints, preserved in a kind of fossil record which, in its energy and elan, rivals the most enthusiastic abstract expressionist works.
Martone paints a picture of Indiana as a land of extraordinary sameness—all of the major architectural feats are designed by the same person and every home in The Parade of Homes has a mandatory basketball hoop—and possessing a thorough mania for anything creamy and fatty, as evidenced by the recipe for pork cake, the content of the state’s premier soft drink KokomoKola (carbonated milk and five secret fat-soluble ingredients), and the mighty Trans-Indiana Mayonnaise Pipeline. But by far the funniest chapter in the Guide concerns the state’s newest theme park, Eli Lilly Land. With such rides as the Possible Side Effects Funhouse, the Gelatin Capsule House of Horrors, and It’s a Prozac World, one may experience, firsthand and in macrocosm, the thrills and chills that await all whose lives now or one day will depend upon the pharmaceutical behemoth’s on-again-off-again relationship with competence and medical ethics.
Not being a Hoosier myself, it’s hard for me to judge how offensive this material may be to a native of the state, but it bears mention that the Blue Guide may well be the gentlest book ever to come from the avant-garde fiction house FC2—so incongruous is it, in fact, that the folks who run it must either love Martone or hate Indiana. Either way, The Blue Guide to Indiana is a pleasant diversion if deadpan satire is your thing. If piss-yourself funny is more your speed, I’d advise checking out the uniform of an admiral in the Georgia Navy. My dead friend Tony will smile on you.