By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, July 1, 2007
Athough this column originates in The Washington Post, other newspapers can buy it through syndication. Unfortunately, I have not yet become a National Treasure, because a disproportionate number of the newspapers that do buy my column are in pretty large metropolitan areas: San Diego, Toronto, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Tampa-St. Pete, Sacramento, etc. That means I have not yet taken Main Street America by storm, possibly because, for some reason, hicks feel that I talk down to them.
However, the other day something really exciting happened. My syndicate notified me that the Journal Star has contracted for a one-month trial of the column, to see how the readers like it. The Journal Star is in . . . Peoria. I think it was Groucho Marx who first observed that if an act can play in Peoria, it has entered the American mainstream.
This could be my big break. I have to make the most of it.
So, instantly, I got on the phone.
Me: I want to do everything possible to make sure that I am welcome in Peoria, which is why I am calling you, the mayor. I wanted to begin by assuring you that I have enormous, gargantuan respect for your excellent city.
The Mayor: Okay!
Me: My first question is: What is your name?
The Mayor: Jim Ardis.
Me: And, Jim, what state is your city in, exactly?
The Mayor: Illinois.
Me: Swell, swell. Okay, here's my key question, and a lot is riding on it. In your opinion, will my particular brand of humor play in Peoria?
The Mayor: I'd have to get online and read some of your columns.
Me: Well, it's mostly snide, smart-aleck stuff, gratuitous character assassination, quasi-vulgar observations about human excretory functions, general cultural chauvinism with particular elitist condescension toward people who don't live in big cities and, above all, overwhelming contempt for small-town politicians.
The Mayor: I have to say, people here are already very sensitive to that type of attitude from bigger cities, because we're kind of a stepdaughter to Chicago. I think some Peorians have a tendency to be a little insecure. So I don't know about that.
Me: Maybe I should try out some humor on you.
The Mayor: Sure.
Me: I'm thinking that "Peoria" sounds like a combination of "pee" and "euphoria," which is something many people can relate to, especially after a long car ride, which Peorians might want to take to get out of Peoria!
The Mayor: See, that's the thing. A big part of the misperception of Peoria is that if you blink, you'll pass us by. We have a Level 1 trauma center, and Caterpillar's world headquarters is in Peoria. And we have a big agricultural research lab. A lot of people don't know this, but penicillin was discovered here.
Me: Wow. I am beginning to like Peoria just fine! I might move there!
The Mayor: People come here and look around and are surprised, and they say, "Gee, where are the cornfields at?"
Me: So, where are the cornfields at?
The Mayor: About five miles outside of town.
Me: Look, maybe I could stick to political columns. Maybe my politics would fit right in!
The Mayor: What are your politics?
Me: I'm wildly liberal to the point that I could probably be prosecuted for treason, and executed.
The Mayor: We're pretty conservative here.
Me: This is looking bad. Maybe I could change my sense of humor.
The Mayor: You would change your sense of humor just to play in Peoria?
Me: You don't understand how important this is, metaphorically. Okay: Why did the boy get embarrassed when he opened the refrigerator?
The Mayor: Why?
Me: Because he saw the salad dressing!
The Mayor: Ha-ha.
Me: Okay, I'm in a lot of trouble.
The Mayor: Sorry.
Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon.