Thursday, December 15, 2011

Iowahawk: Is This Hell, Or Is It Iowa?

Our old friend Dave Burge, AKA Iowahawk brings the funny once again:

[ed note: Found! In a dumpster behind Hamburg Inn, the first draft of University of Iowa professor Stephen G. Bloom's anthropology dissertation for Atlantic magazine explaining the bizarre cultural mores of the primative Aborigines who pay his salary.]

IOWA CITY -- On January 3, Iowans will trudge through snow, sleet, sludge, mud, ice, corn, beans, pig feces, flaming lakes of ethanol, gale-force blizzards -- whatever it takes -- to join their neighbors that evening in 1,784 living rooms, barns, community halls, recreation barns, silos, wigwams, and public-school Corn God sacrifice altars in a kind of Norman Rockwell-meets-HR Geiger old timey bygone-era past-that-never-was town-hall folksy-regular-folks go-to-town-meeting at which they'll eat and debate, and then battle with corn hoes and pitchforks to choose their presidential candidates along party lines. The local tribal elders call this "Kaukkassqaatsi," the Iowa word for "run on sentences."

We now know these as the Iowa Caucuses, which create a seismic shift in the presidential nominating contests. In 2008, after Obama catapulted to the top of the Democrats' rain-dance card, the resultant seismic tremors swept him to victory at the Democratic Convention. The tremors were also thought to be the cause of the volcanic eruption of long-dormant Mount Pleasant, which tragically destroyed over half the final term papers of my students in C3101, Introduction to Communication Studies.

Since Obama is the presumed Democratic candidate in 2012, this year it's the Republican candidates who must now woo the sad, semiliterate populace of this benighted barren outpost beyond the frontier of rational civilization. They're falling over each other in front of grain elevators and cornfields, over biscuits and hogslop in breakfast cafes, in ghost-haunted tornado-ravaged baseball cornfields, and at potluck dinners (casseroles are the thing to bring), under the covered bridges of Madison County with lonely sex-starved Italian war widows, glad-handing and backslapping and eyepoking as many Iowa voters they can. Great photo ops, you know. Hoisting a baby in the air is good politics. So's gulping down a brat (short for "bratwurst" - contrary to popular myth, Iowans seldom eat misbehaving children).

Considering the state's enormous political significance, and all the falling-over-slap-handing of hoisted babies, I thought this would be a good time to explain to those fortunate enough to live elsewhere a little about Iowa, including where Iowa is, and perhaps more importantly, in both a real and metaphysical way, and, at the same time, a postmodernly theoretical way, what Iowa is. And, possibly, why Iowa is. Because I have tenure.

For almost 20 years I've lived in Iowa, where as a professor at the University of Iowa I've taught thousands of university students. When I arrived I was mortified how few of them were prepared to write an impactful, 300-word, two-paragraph, fully-hyphenated sentence. After my initial shock subsided, I became curious about the strange culture that produced these fascinating young drunks. I overcame my agoraphobia and began walkabouts into Iowa's foreboding outback. I've written a couple of books on rural Iowa, traveling to all 99 counties, and have spent much of my time when not teaching or applying for safari supply grants, visiting with and interviewing Iowans from across the state of Iowa in Iowa. I haven't taken up hunting or fishing or methamphetamine, the main hobbies of rural Iowans, but I'm a fan of University of Iowa Hawkeye football, so I'm told I am a good third of the way to becoming an adopted Iowan. According to my students, the final two steps of my official Iowa adoption ritual involve challenging and defeating an Iowa State player in a bar fistfight. I even have a dog, born and bred in Iowa (more on that later) .

* * *

Iowa is not flat as a pancake, despite what most people think. Northeast of Cedar Rapids is actually pretty hilly, like the undulating waves of a waffle, or perhaps a misshapened blintz or flapjack johnnycake. It's an agricultural (corns and soybeans), landlocked state, which may come as an unpleasant surprise to those, like me, who first come here in search of exciting urban beach vacations. While Iowa's landmass is a little larger than England's, its population is only three million, about 17 times smaller than Britain's, and with 786 times fewer castles. The state's name derives from the Ioway Indians, which translates as "casino people." Of Iowa's 99 counties, 88 are classified as rural, and God only knows why the other 11 aren't. Iowa's capital and largest city is Des Moines (pop: 203,000), whose primary business is insurance. The state is 96 percent white. So if you're looking for uncultured white insurance agents, you just hit the jackpot.

On the state's eastern edge lies the Mississippi River, dotted with towns with splendid names like Keokuk, Floopsboro, Quankadoorf, Chumbawumba, Bananarama, Kajagoogoo, Millivanilliville, and Right Said Fred. Each once was a booming city on the swollen turgid banks of that Ol' Man Ribbah, flowing down to dem' Ol' Cotton fields in Alabammysaw. Not much travels along the muddy and polluted Ol' Mississippi no mo' dese ol' days, no suh, ceptin' dem ol' rusty-bucket barges of grain and an occasional Eskimo kayaker weeping -- as only a noble, nature-loving savage can -- as he circumnavigates the garbage, beer cans, dead dreams and assorted debris left by the 96% white insurance agents who stole it from him.

Mark Twain once lived in Southeast Iowa, in Keokuk, working at his brother's printing press. He also was employed nearby as a reporter for the Muscatine Journal. That is pretty much the sum total collective highlight of Keokuk, as the Gateway City -- once a sought-after destination seriously considered a worthy rival to Chicago as a metropolis of culture and commerce -- has descended into a a depressed, skuzzy, crime-infested slum town, host to 73% of all North American murders in the past year. In the last semester alone, 8 of my students were forced to miss midterm exams due to the senseless Keokuk murders of their grandmothers.

On Iowa's western frontier lies the Missouri River, which girds a huge, sparsely populated agricultural region anchored by Sioux City (pop: 83,000) in the state's far northwest and Council Bluffs (pop: 62,230), across from the Nebraska hub of Omaha. Eskimo Pies, the original I-Scream Bar, was invented by a Danish immigrant in Onawa, a tiny town not far from the Missouri, and today you can visit an Eskimo Pie display at the Monona County Historical Museum there.

This concludes our break into folksy quaintness. Now it is time to resume our deep journalism dive into the psychic chasm of this rustic hell on earth.

In between the two great, garbage-clogged rivers, Iowa is a place of bizarre contrasts. The state is split politically: to the east of Des Moines, Iowa is solidly Democratic; to the west, it's rabidly Republican. Bizarre enough for you? Well. hold on to your hat because Iowa's two U.S. Senators are emblematic of this progressively solid vs.rabies-infested-evil Jeckyl-and-Hyde schizophrenia: Fundamentalist Republican Charles Grassley and Ultra-liberal Democrat Tom Harkin. Grassley is a decrepit 78; Harkin is a youthful 72. How's that for top-notch journalistic contrast?

Read the rest here. You know you want to.....

please helps me write more gooder!

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