Getting Drunk in Iowa (An Oral History)

Early Lytton (73 years old, Retired Senior Vice President of a Certain Bank in Des Moines): Well, the worst approach to being a serious drinker is to consume cheap beer. You just have to drink so much liquid at so little benefit. I used to golf with a guy who would drink a case of Budweiser every day. I just can’t imagine that. My tolerance is higher than average, I’d say, but if I drink six or seven cheap beers I always feel like crap the next day. Not because of the alcohol, mind you, but because of all the junk they put in cheap beer. I can never drink enough cheap beer to get to a happy spot before I just get puffy and tired of drinking. What’s the point?

Miles Packwood (77 years old, Retired Managing Partner of a Certain Law Firm in Des Moines): What junk in cheap beer do you mean, Lytton? Like rice? That’s one I’ve heard. Is there other junk in there?

Ollie Primghar (80 years old, Former Gas Station Owner in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Who Retired to Iowa in 1995 for the Nicer Weather): Did you know they fortify Canadian beer with pure black Canadian shale, eh? It tastes like metamorphosis!

Early Lytton: Well that explains a lot then, Ollie. But here in America, the cheap beers contain rice, like Miles there said, and also all sorts of chemical sweeteners, monosodium glutamate, dyes, antifreeze, horse hoof jellies and who knows what else.

Ollie Primghar: Well, you can’t make a Jell-O fruit mold without horse hooves, so don’t knock them, eh?

Roland Le Grand (71 years old, Retired Chief Information Officer for a Certain Insurance Company): I’ll admit that I was a 12-pack of cheap beer a day guy for years, and I got fat and felt awful all the time. Now, I drink expensive liquor with thirty to forty percent alcohol in it, and I swear my total expenses are lower, since it lasts longer, kicks you faster, and you don’t have to buy as much Tums and aspirin the next day. I always counsel young folks at the club to just switch to vodka. It’s got to be better for you than beer. Or if not vodka, then Scotch. That won’t give you a hangover, and it tastes mighty fine. Try it on ice, if it’s not too expensive, or with a splash of water. It’ll love you like nobody’s business.

Ollie Primghar: I like my Scotch with a donut. They need Tim Horton’s in Iowa.

Early Lytton: I used to drink Scotch, until it became the choice drink for all those punk young bankers who argue about their fantasy football teams while moving small amounts of money from gold to rhodium to palladium and back, before going off to buy expensive cigars that they chew on for awhile then leave all over the golf course. I wouldn’t be seen dead in public anymore with a Scotch in my hand. bilde

Miles Packwood: On a crisp summer day, I’m partial to a nice gin and tonic. Gin just tastes good.

Early Lytton: Oh come on, gin doesn’t taste good, Miles! It just tastes different.

Miles Packwood: No, Lytton, I’m going to stand up for myself here: gin tastes good, sir! It does! Brown liquors, on the other hand, are just awful, no matter what. Scotch. Whiskey. Bourbon. Yuck! Even more so when ice melts in them. I start gagging just thinking about them. Ugh!

Roland Le Grand: You’re just soft, Miles. I slurp down Johnny Walker Blacks one after the other. They taste great, and I feel good. I will back you up, though, regarding your position on gin. I’m an eight or nine gin and tonics guy a day during the summer. That is delicious. I recommend Gilby’s. It’s the best for the buck, in my humble opinion.

Ollie Primghar: When you mix them tall, like I do, the quality of the gin isn’t all that important, eh? So I say go Gordon’s for that kind of mix. You can get it cheap. Also, Gordon is a popular men’s name in Canada, so it reminds me of home.

Roland Le Grand: I like to take a pint glass and mix up a big gin and tonic, with a slice of lime, adding ice and limes as the day goes on. I leave the limes in there, partly to give me a rough estimate of how many I’ve had, but also because it just keeps it fresh and flowing. I’ve sort of got a system.

Early Lytton: I’m ashamed of all three of you. Gin and tonics are for girls, not men.

Roland Le Grand: Well, maybe so, but I read online that gin and vodka produce the least intense hangovers and bourbon produces the worst hangovers, due to some chemical byproducts when they’re fermented. However, I can tell you from experience that if you mix varieties and types, or drink mixed drinks, then all bets are off, since the different types of impurities and the sugar in mixed drinks will all interact in random, vomit-producing ways.

Ollie Primghar: I always try to remember that “Chug the Merlot, Hug the Terlot,” and “Mix your Liquor, Get much Sicker,” eh?

Early Lytton: Who would chug Merlot anyway, Ollie? That’s just terrible wine. No character.

Ollie Primghar: Well, okay then, fancy pants, you’ve been sitting here telling us all night about what not to drink and arguing with our tastes, so how about you enlighten us all instead and tell us what your perfect drinking experience would be, eh?

Early Lytton: Well, that’s a good question there, Ollie. So let’s see: first, I’d go down to my cellar and pull out three bottles of Prairie Moon Marechel Foch 2004 Reserve. It’s the best wine ever produced in Iowa, and I bought up most of the stock several years ago. It’s hearty without being truculent, plays well with all foods, has a nice nose and a truly fine ass – or whatever the right term is for that sweet taste you get at the end. Next, I would put some great old jazz on the stereo by Enoch Light or Stan Getz or Herb Albert, just stack up the records and let them drop and play. I don’t use any of those compact diskettes or iPod boxes in my den. They’re nothing compared to good old pliable vintage vinyl albums, ripe with pops, redolent with warps, rich with character. Now, then, with the stage all set, late at night, while my lovely family is sleeping in the safe confines of my stately manse out in West Des Moines, I would turn on the giant plasma screen TV, mute the sound, and guzzle the wine straight out of the bottles while watching video-taped episodes of my favorite daytime talk shows. And then I would just laugh and laugh and laugh . . .

Humor in Iowa

(Note: This originally appeared in 2014 on the defunct Des Mean website, to which I guest contributed anonymously on occasion).

Does Iowa rank number one on Forbes’ list of “Top 10 Most Humorless States in America”?

This is the question that I pondered with the three founding members of The Des Mean Editorial Board late one night last summer at our favorite neighborhood bar in Des Moines — which I am not naming here, because we all dread the thought of the Young Professionals discovering it and yup-yup-yupping the locals away by imposing signature cocktails and trivia nights.

That conversation prompted some other conversations, and then they put on their successful business-people hats to think about whether there was money to be made through exploring (and exploiting) the original silly question in a serious fashion. It didn’t really seem to be a “goer,” as they say in the biz, so they considered a nonprofit model instead — because Iowa is definitely the Number One State in America for Half-Assed Charities, according to any number of click-bait websites and a casual look at where the big philanthropic money flows around the State.

That avenue seemed promising, since they already knew of more than a dozen hucksters in Central Iowa with cushy “Executive Director” (heh heh!) jobs at “nonprofit” (giggle!), “charitable” (snnrrk!) “cultural organizations” (haw haw haw!!) that they founded themselves, filling no discernible needs, for no apparent benefit, and raising big bucks (for themselves) in the process.

Oh, wait, we’re sorry. Did we say “hucksters”? We meant “community engagement entrepreneurs.” (Pffftt!!)

The original Des Mean folks had decided that they’d be happy to declare themselves community engagement entrepreneurs too so they could slop at that bountiful trough, too, so last fall they organized the Des Mean Foundation for Humor in Education as a 501(c)3 charitable corporation and anointed themselves as the founding Board of Directors. (Note: I didn’t join them on the board, since I thought it would conflict with my real nonprofit job, and I didn’t want to bite any hands that fed me in my real job; it’s a small state, y’know?). The trio then collected some seed tax-exempt “gifts” (pfffbbbttttt!!!!) from their friends, hired crazy Swede Konrad Yüngermann to be their roving curator and man on the ground in Iowa, and got down to the serious business of being funny, for educational purposes. Which are charitable. Seriously. No smirking this time. All straight faces.

How do they satisfy their charitable mission nearly a year on? By offering five blog posts each week on the Des Mean website (Note: now defunct), Monday to Friday, with no advertising or any other commercial interests, plus regularly populating their popular Twitter feed and then analyzing the ways in which native Iowans interact with the information they present to them. It’s a lot of work, and it takes a lot of time, but they run a tight ship, in keeping with their 501(c)3 status, and I am happy to help out in a volunteer capacity as I am able.

They pay Konrad for his work (Swedes are not charitable, despite being Socialists), but they donate our time to the charity as volunteer board members, only claiming reimbursement for such necessary business expenses as lunch interviews, road trips to look at funny stuff (one of them drives a hybrid car, so that keeps costs down, though it’s a little embarrassing in some parts of the state they visit), phone bills, late night pizza orders, transcription services for their oral history project, and other similar office incidentals.

They’ve been serious and consistent about their output, and they’ve got a higher website update rate that the lion’s share of cultural organizations hereabouts, so I think they’re doing a good job on that front. They’re also carefully and thoroughly monitoring, analyzing, and processing traffic flows, referrals, and other social media buzz-word thingies in real time as they work through our ongoing search to divine the answer to the original formative question: Are Iowa and Iowans inherently funny or humorless?

What have they learned so far?

Executive Committee Meeting.

Executive Committee Meeting.

Since the Foundation Board members are all native Iowans, and Konrad the Swede has lived here long enough to have lost his native accent and to say things like “please put my pop in the sack” to the Hy-Vee bag girls, they have concluded that they collectively embody one key variable in the analytical work: They are all Iowans, trying to be funny. Can they do it?

Their traffic logs and targeted marketing campaigns make it clear that over 90% of their readership lives in the State of Iowa, so their followers embody the other key variable as they explore our their original core hypothesis: Are Iowans capable of laughing at themselves, and their home state?

Using an adaptation of simple Mendelian Inheritance principles, they posit that there are four possible humor interfaces between their Iowa writers and their Iowa readers here:

  1. Des Mean is not funny, and Iowans are humorous enough to know that.
  2. Des Mean is not funny, but Iowans are humor impaired and think that it is.
  3. Des Mean is funny, but Iowans are humor impaired and don’t get it.
  4. Des Mean is funny, and Iowans are humorous enough to laugh along.

They are desperately hoping that Scenario Number Four is the one that will be sustained by their research, but they will probably need a few big federal grants and a some more humor writers and a lot more late night pizza parties at Young Professional-free bars before they can state that confidently.

Let them know what you’re thinking. Let them know what you’re laughing at.

Most of all: let them know if Iowa and Iowans are funny.

Iowa Art Crisis 3: Afterglow

Voice-over: And now Des Mean After School Specials proudly presents the tear-jerking third and final episode of “Iowa Art Crisis.”

Flash Screen Links to Part One and Part Two.

Scene: A grubby but comfortable East Village bar in the shadow of Iowa’s Capitol Building.

Fade in with piano music and singing over credits:

Making your way in the arts today
Takes everything you’ve got
Taking a break from all your critics
Sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you wanna go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you paint
You wanna be where people see
Artists are all the same
You wanna go where everybody knows your name

Bode P. Chatsworth, COO of Cardinal Mutual Casualty Company, walks in.

Barflies: BODE!

Lovilia (polishing a glass behind the bar): How’s it going there tonight, Mr. C?

Bode P. Chatsworth: Not too bad, Lovilia. Quite a day at the office, helping out some traumatized artists. My bunions are killing me again. But it’s good to be here.

terryplayaTerry Branstad, Governor of Iowa (dressed in a postman’s suit, stands up, wobbles over to Bode P. Chatsworth, sits on the stool beside him): That’s good, Bode. We’re all glad to be here. Let’s chat about our favorite Emerson, Lake and Palmer albums to get your mind off your bunions.

Lovilia (Slings towel over shoulder): I tell you what, y’all keep chatting about E.L.P. all night and this bar’s gonna get shut down real quick.

Barflies: LAUGHTER!

Rufus Dunn Leakey, D.Phil., Voice of Wisdom (from a table in the corner): Aww come on, Lovilia, let’ em talk about what they want. I personally don’t care for E.L.P., but it’s a free world, and learning a little bit more about stuff we don’t think we like might just make us better, more tolerant people when all’s said and done, right?

Bode P. Chatsworth: That’s what I think, Rufus. (Sips from beer). Ah, nothing like sipping back a cold one and criticizing E.L.P. albums with pals.

Terry Branstad (increasingly wobbly): Yep, their third arlbum wars tha’ one ta have. Hic! It’s er, eh undeniable. Hey bahrkeep, how’s about parrin’ me anather one?

Lovilia: Just a minute there, Governor B. Hey, Mallard, why so glum tonight?

Mallard Meservey, Art Critic (in sports coat with beard): Oh I don’t know, Lovilia, I suppose it’s just so unreal, isn’t it?

Lovilia (Leans against bar): Well how d’ya figure that, Mr. M?

Mallard Meservey: Well, it’s the whole idea of criticism and community these days, I suppose. I mean, here we are, in a public space, similar to the way it used to be, talking about Emerson, Lake and Palmer albums. Some we like, some we hate. We explain our reasons why, people nod or shake their heads, and Lovilia pours us another beer. Simple! However, on another plane it’s completely different than it used to be, since our minds are all really far, far away, as we slyly check our phones under the bar for tweets about the latest art and music happenings elsewhere that we’ll never actually experience, or excuse ourselves to sit on the crapper with our pants up behind a closed stall door to read real time criticism from people we don’t know, with no training or qualifications, sitting in places we’ve never seen, anonymously savaging artists we’ve never heard of, about work we’ll never experience. And then we flush and Lovilia pours us another beer. Fifteen years ago, Putman was right, we were “bowling alone.” However, now, we’re not even actually bowling (and nor are we, I might add, in virtual reality helmets, literally). We’re just clacking away, 140 characters at a time, in public, privately. The least effort possible short of watching television, yet this is the proverbial and current public sphere!

Lovilia: What are you getting at, Mr. M?

Mallard Meservey: Oh nothing I suppose, nothing. It’s just depressing is all.

Rufus Dunn Leakey, D.Phil. (from a table in the corner): I hear that.

Terry Branstad (Raises glass): Hic! Tahr dahpressions!

Barflies (All raise glasses): DEPRESSION!

Mallard Meservey: Don’t understand me too quickly, people! I’m talking about atomization, the individualistic, privatized tendencies of man gone too far! I’m talking about alienation, and anomie only against one’s self, the cause of that depression! I’m speaking of ennui, a lack of feeling, a numbing of our emotional senses, caused by a lack of real, public interaction, that can’t help but leave one feeling empty and unfulfilled in the end! I’m talking about the ways in which criticism comes easier than craftsmanship, and how bullies no longer need playgrounds to wreak havoc on the souls of those who are judged weak and wanting! Most of all, I’m talking about the fact that I’m pretending to be talking in public while I’m actually typing in private, and yet all of this private scribbling and sniping and clattering is, in some surreal sense, considered public discourse! And that’s acceptable to us all!!

Barflies: AWKWARD SILENCE!

Bode P. Chatsworth (Turns away from Mallard Meservey and towards Terry Brandstad): Yeah, so that third E.L.P. album is definitely the one to have. You know, the one with the giant armadillo tank on the cover?

Terry Branstad: Hic!

Fade to black over piano music.

Iowa Art Crisis 2: The Creative Rehabilitation Program

Continued from yesterday’s story: Central Iowa’s arts community continues to roil in the aftermath of the Bad Art Reviews Blog’s (ed. since shut down) violent disregard for the State’s Code of Niceness. In an effort to preemptively ward off an epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder among the region’s creative caste, the newly-empowered Iowa Ministry of Artistic Compliance has established The Creative Rehabilitation Program to nurse wounded artists back to health. The program mirrors a “Big Brothers/Big Sisters” model, with struggling, disenfranchised artists receiving hands-on mentoring from wealthy arts patrons, all of them hand-selected by Governor Brandstad from among his wide circle of friendly GOP arts enthusiasts. Let’s drop in on a session as Cardinal Mutual Casualty Company’s Chief Operating Officer, Bode P. Chatsworth — a well-known collector of large metal objects and signed sports memorabilia — meets with two artists fished from the wreckage of their heretofore peaceful cultural pond:

whitemanartElliot Gruver, Graduate Student in the Arts: I don’t want to get too heavy on you, Mr. Chatsworth, but I’ve never been more confused in my life.

Bode P. Chatsworth, COO, Cardinal Mutual Casualty Company: What’s on your mind, kid? Go ahead and spill it. You know that we love to be entertained by others’ misery here. That’s what this whole “Big Rich Art Brothers” thing is all about, yes?

Elliot Gruver: Well, I guess you sort of put your finger right on the heart of my problem, Mr. Chatsworth. My issue is that I’m just a little put off by the whole notion of what makes for “good art.” It often seems that “good art” means exactly what you just said: comfortable people getting off on other people’s misery. That makes me think that in order to make “good art” for the people who have the time to appreciate and afford it, then I have to take a vow of misery and angst. But, you know, Mom and Dad are paying a pretty penny for me to be in a Master of Fine Arts program, and I really just don’t have much to be sad about. So is my art worthless? And do I need to find things to be unhappy about if I want it to have value?

Bode P. Chatsworth: Nonsense, kid! You’re just showing your youthful naiveté when you say things like that. Look, back before I became a successful insurance executive and collector of large metal objects and signed sports memorabilia, I was a wannabe artist too, and like you, I thought that my misery made for better art. But when I look at my stuff from back then, it’s generally not better or worse than anything else, it’s just more miserable. Misery doesn’t equal quality. It’s just that when people are miserable, perhaps they invest more value and import in their art than they do when they’re not. The art symbolizes their struggle, and maybe they fight harder for their art because of that. But that’s an issue of promotion, not of quality. And, frankly, sometimes the stuff people do that isn’t based on struggle can be far more profound and less obvious than the more angst-ridden stuff tends to be.

Elliot Gruver: But does angst-ridden art always have to be obvious? Can’t art be angst-ridden and subtle at the same time?

Bode P. Chatsworth: Well, what the hell would be the point of “angst-ridden and subtle”? Sure, you can be angst-ridden in your life, and subtle about it in your work, but who would be able to tell the difference? Would you have to code it into your titles: “Still Life with Fruit and Yarn (Composed While Suffering an Existential Crisis in a Sioux City Squat)” or “Sunrise Over Dubuque (Where Some Immigrant Somalian Babies Suffer from Worms)”? If you believe that suffering leads to angst, which then leads to “great art,” then you can’t make “great art” without such suffering, and you should just move out to a nice cardboard box now and have your folks send your tuition checks directly to me. But that’s a false model. You really don’t have to choose between art and happiness. Comfort level is not tied to how profound someone’s work can be.

Charlotte Mondamin, Working Artist: Oh, I can’t take it any more! Listen to you two go on about angst and art! What a pair of pretentious poseurs you are! And you’re missing the big picture completely. Listen: angst is an emotion that’s exclusive to the privileged class. When you are hungry, homeless, sick or poor, you don’t have time or energy to feel sorry for yourself because you don’t feel like the world understands or appreciates you. So buck up and quit wallowing. Go spend a night in a dumpster without a coat and see how bad your petty boo-hoos feel tomorrow.

Elliot Gruver: Don’t dismiss my feelings just because I’m a child of privilege! I didn’t choose to be born in comfort!

Bode P. Chatsworth: C’mon, Charlotte, you’re not really going to trot out that stale old canard, are you? I mean, sure, we should all be doing cartwheels because we’re not in a labor camp in North Korea waiting for a rat to jump out of the hole in the ground where we shit so we can kill it and eat it, even though we’ll be beaten by the guards for doing so. I’m convinced! Life is suddenly beautiful to me! Thanks for the wisdom!

Charlotte Mondamin: It is not a stale argument, you creep. Life’s what you make of it. If you’ve got a house, a family who loves you, and money for food, then you’re doing better than 90% of the human beings living in the world right now, including me. If you choose to be a spoiled crybaby because nobody understands your art, Elliot, then that’s your problem, not society’s, not your parents’, not anybody else’s. It’s just wrong to try to find things in life to be unhappy about just so that you can make “better” art that allows well-off boobs to feel even better about themselves because they embrace your false suffering. What do your type have to be unhappy about anyway?

Bode P. Chatsworth: Please, Charlotte. That’s just dumb. People with all of those things can be unhappy if their jobs are not fulfilling, their personal lives are in disarray, or their financial futures are uncertain. Having stuff doesn’t make you happy. If it did, celebrity gossip columns would be far more boring than they already are. Do you really think there’s some sort of happiness line, where if you make over a certain amount per year, you’re not allowed to be sad?

Charlotte Mondamin: Look, the more you make, the more you can do whatever you want with fewer and fewer consequences. I’d certainly rather be sad and rich than sad and poor, because sad and poor means that you also have the pressure of basic survival while being unhappy. So, yes, once you have your basic survival needs met, you really shouldn’t be whining about being sad. Your sadness becomes meaningless. You can buy something to make it better. Or you can use your ample spare time to make some art, in which you subtly embrace the fantasy angst that eats at your comfortable, benumbed brains.

Bode P. Chatsworth: Gah, you bore me! Enough! I don’t need all of this misdirected anger and needless confrontation from the likes of you! I’d much prefer to spend time with comfortable people in search of a little angst to fire their creative furnaces. C’mon, Elliot, let’s head over to the corporate canteen and see what they’ve got stashed away there behind the bar, crack a bottle of somethin’ somethin’, smoke a couple of cigars and figure out how best to balance your emotional and artistic aspirations. The keys to the Jaguar are on the end-table there. You can go warm it up for Old Uncle Chatsworth, since it’s a nippy night out tonight. And be careful not to step on any hobos. There’s a good kid. You got a future.

CONTINUES IN PART THREE

Iowa Art Crisis: “Bad Art Reviews” Is Not Nice

Central Iowa’s arts community is all aflutter as the rogue Bad Art Reviews website (ed.: since shut down) has violated countless Iowa Nice Statutes by mercilessly excoriating venues and artists alike for presenting half-baked, aesthetically bankrupt, or poorly executed exhibitions. As civic leaders and economic boosters wring their hands over how this most unfortunate turn of events will impact Des Moines’ standing in Forbes’ “Top Ten Cities Where Anybody Can Get A Solo Show” rankings, the State Legislature went into emergency session and appropriated $6.0 million to establish the Iowa Ministry of Artistic Compliance, modeled after the very successful Iowa Ministry of Musical Appropriateness. The Ministry is now requiring public hearings for proposed exhibitions. We go live to their headquarters to pick up on the action:

rsz_1creative_proposal_performance_5-1Jessica Festenbinchen, Art Student: So, this weekend I want to have my thesis show, please. I call it “The Dark Dark Vortex of My Shards of Selfless Fullnesses,” and I am writing haiku poems about war and stuff in blood and then using coat hangers to put them on the wall so it’s like it’s about abortion or something too. There will be some colorful lights shining on it and my friend will make some laptop music, and I will read the haiku while standing on my head naked to show how the world is upside down and how women get abused and objectified all the time. May I have a grant now, Iowa Taxpayers?

Iowa Taxpayers: Giver her two grants! Shut down some elementary schools if you have to! We want our money supporting that exhibition, for sure!

Professor Rufus Dunn Leakey, D.Phil., Voice of Wisdom: Not everyone can afford to be a patron of the arts, but most people will pay for entertainment.

Art House Action Team (swinging in through an open space on a wall, which some might choose to label as a “window”): Biff!!! Pow!!! Deconstruct!!!

Voice From the Crowd: Wow, Professor Leakey, that’s profound. What’s it mean?

Rufus Dunn Leakey:  It’s wisdom, you fool! I can’t say what it means! Damn!

Lester Klorax, Commercial Gallery Owner: Professor Leakey is correct, and artists would do well to be entertaining, if they wish to be successful. Entertaining art does not require an artist’s statement or Master’s thesis to understand what you are looking at, and why. People who can’t make it on their own with a quality, entertaining, artistic product are the ones who need patrons and grants. And there is simply no way that pretentious art school “art” can be entertaining to anyone but pretentious art school “artists,” which is why it is surplus to our society and requires such subsidy. Give the people what they want, I say. And that is certainly not gymnastic blood poetry.

Jessica Festenbinchen: I am filled with sudden shame and self-loathing, Lester, and I will scrap my misguided project, and instead I will make a movie about space ships, hamburgers, large-breasted alien women, and muscle car chases, to be shown at the Jordan Creek GooglePlex. May I have a green light for that, Iowa Film Industry?

Iowa Film Industry: Green light that project! And a sequel! That’s the cinematic golden goose!

Iowa Taxpayers: We stand corrected, Lester. Let’s buy casinos and football stadiums instead! Something to shut down all those pesky elementary schools and hospitals, anyway!

Lester Klorax: My work here is done. Fortitude!

Jacques Derrida (in a dark place that some might choose to label as “Hell”): Le Biffe!!! Le Pou!!! Le Deconstruct!!!

CONTINUES IN PART TWO

Danny Allamakee’s Iowanferno (Cliff Notes Version)

Iowanferno opens on the night before the Iowa State Fair.

Traveling through a dark corn field, Danny Allamakee has lost his path and now wanders fearfully down the rows. The sun shines on a silo ahead of him, and he attempts to climb up to it but finds his way blocked by three monsters: a disembodied hawk’s eye, an anthropomorphic cyclone, and a panther, which appears to be weak and sickly, and is generally ignored by the other two beasts.

Frightened, Danny returns to the dark corn field. Here he encounters the ghost of Herbert Hoover, the great American President, who has come to guide Danny back to the path toward the silo, atop which Danny’s beloved Mamie awaits with a fresh pork tenderloin sandwich. Herbert says that their path will take them through Hell, adding that it was Mamie who — seeing Danny lost in the corn field — sent Herbert to guide him. Danny says “Let’s do this, bro!”

Herbert leads Danny through the Gates of Hell in Omaha, marked by the haunting inscription “306 Miles to the Illinois State Border.” On the beach beyond the gates, they see the souls who in life could not decide whether to caucus with the Democrats or the Republicans and now must run in a futile chase after a blank Des Moines Register editorial page for all eternity. Danny witnesses their suffering with repugnance, and curses them for their cowardice in life.

The Ferryman Carson then takes Danny and Herbert across the Missouri River into the First Circle of Hell, Limboni, home to the great Iowans from antiquity – including Herbert – who died without ever having the chance to taste Maytag Blue Cheese. After meeting Bix Beiderbecke, George Washington Carver, and Black Hawk, Danny continues into the Second Circle of Hell, reserved for the sin of political lust.

At the border of the Second Circle, the monster Cloris lurks, assigning condemned souls to their punishments. Inside the Second Circle, Danny watches as the souls of the politically lustful swirl about in a terrible storm, desperately trying to visit all of Iowa’s 99 counties. Danny meets Michelle Bachmann and Howard Dean in the Second Circle. Bachmann attempts to manipulate Danny’s power of reason with her crazy eyes while Dean rattles his soul with blood-curdling screams, but Herbert safely guides his shaken charge onward.

In the Third Circle of Hell, Gluttonous Farmers must lie in a hog confinement and endure a never-ending rain of pesticides. In the Fourth Circle, the Insurance Agents and the Bankers are made to charge at one another with giant works of garish corporate art. The Fifth Circle of Hell contains the River Raccoon, a swampy, fetid cesspool in which the Political Fundamentalists spend eternity struggling with each other to diminish the rights of all the other souls in Hell. Danny glimpses Bob Vander Plaats in the muck, and watches in delight as other souls tear him to pieces. The Tea Partiers lie motionless beneath the Styx’s waters, bound tightly in old “Don’t Tread On Me” flags.

Herbert and Danny next proceed to the walls of Dis Moines, a demonic city located within the south central region of Hell. The demons who guard the gates refuse to open them for Herbert, until John Wayne arrives from Heaven leading the full cast of The Longest Day to force the gates open before Danny. The Sixth Circle of Hell houses the Heretics, and there Danny encounters an old rival for Mamie’s affections named Grimes, who blasphemously denies the quality of La Quercia Prosiciutto and praises the Wines of Story County.

A deep valley leads into the First Ring of the Seventh Circle of Hell, where The Violently Friendly and The Aggressively Nice spend eternity in a river of boiling blood. Herbert and Danny meet a group of Agonyaunts, creatures who are half human, half scorpion. Twin Agonyaunts named Abigail and Ann take them into the Second Ring of the Seventh Circle of Hell, where they encounter those who were violent toward their own political careers. These souls must endure eternity in the form of trees. Danny there speaks with Mitt Romney, who explains why he put a dog on the roof of his car.

The Monster Grassley transports Herbert and Danny across a great abyss to the Eighth Circle of Hell, known as The Muscatine, which is divided into a series of ten mud-filled river locks called Keokuks. Each Keokuk features a different sin being punished in a different fashion:

  • First Keokuk: The Social Media Consultants are lashed with frayed wires;
  • Second Keokuk: The Registered Lobbyists lie in a river of their own bullshit;
  • Third Keokuk: The Partisan Cronies hang upside down in hickory-fueled smokehouses;
  • Fourth Keokuk: The Community Development Consultants are forced to walk with their heads backward;
  • Fifth Keokuk: The Fraudulent Nonprofit Directors steep vats of fake Templeton Rye while demons stab at them with cocktail spears;
  • Sixth Keokuk: The Wasteful Sport Hunters walk through endless fields of brambles wearing heavy camouflage vests loaded down with steel dove shot;
  • Seventh Keokuk: The Farm Mortgage Repossessors sit in a pit of weasels, becoming weasels themselves when bitten; to regain their form, they must then bite other Repossessers.
  • Eighth Keokuk: The Political Flacks are trussed and tied with their own power ties, then broiled on their own individual rotisseries;
  • Ninth Keokuk: The Compulsive Trash Talkers walk through a sleeting rain of feces, with wounds like open mouths flapping all over their bodies;
  • Tenth Keokuk: The Child Support Check Bouncers suffer from horrible sores and festering wounds, and none of the other souls will talk to them, ever.

Herbert and Danny finally leave The Muscatine and proceed to the Ninth Circle of Hell through the Giants’ Well, which leads to the massive drop to Quadcytus, a great frozen lake. The convivial giant Andy Williams picks Herbert and Danny up and sets them down at the bottom of the well, in the lowest region of Hell where those guilty of declining Federal subsidies and tax breaks are frozen in the ice forever. A huge, mist-shrouded form lurks ahead, and Danny approaches it.

It is the three-headed giant Terry, plunged waist-deep into the ice. His body pierces to the center of the Earth beneath Iowa, where God threw him on the Seventh Day, frustrated that He could not find an open restaurant. Each of Terry’s mustachioed mouths endlessly chews one of Iowa’s three greatest sinners: Harkin (who opened the gates for Ernst the Castrator), Ferentz (who dared to put on Fry the Magnificent’s shoes), and Willson (who wrote that God-awful Music Man play).

Herbert leads Danny on a climb down Terry’s massive thighs, holding on to frozen tufts of Polyester Sansa-Belt Slacks. Eventually, Herbert and Danny reach El Bait Shop, the river to forgetfulness, and travel downstream from there out of Hell and back into Iowa. They emerge on the morning the Iowa State Fair opens, just before sunrise.

“I’m outta here, Bro,” says Danny. “That Mamie chick is a pain in the ass, yo.”