Thursday, August 03, 2006

Unicorns, and the Land That Irony Forgot


Last week I drove across the Midwest with my sister. We were going from suburban Denver, where she lives, to rural Minnesota, where my mother's family holds its annual family reunion at a Baptist Bible camp. It's a real hoot -- but more on that later.

We didn't get started until late Thursday night so we planned to stay with her in-laws in North Platte, Nebraska. North Platte, which during the summer bakes like a cow patty in the field on the flat, flat plains of western Nebraska, is home to the Buffalo Bill Cody museum (where I stopped to buy a number of buffalo ktoschkes and behold the taxidermied genius of a two-headed calf), the nation's largest railyard, and the state's highest per-capita number of registered sex offenders. It is a place where residents proudly display Cornhusker-themed mailboxes in front of their homes on Cornhusker Drive and Cornhusker Circle, and where well-off people enthusiastically line up at 6 a.m. for garage sales. The saddest thing I saw while I was there was a group of shoeless kids standing outside a minivan near the entrance to Wal-Mart in 100-degree heat, holding up a beat-up cardboard sign that said, "Chihuahua for sale." Mind you -- not a litter. They were selling the family dog. What the....?

It is also a place where irony -- and sarcasm, snark, and cynicism -- doth not thrive. I realized that as we drove through town and I hooted and hollered and took pictures of the Bill Cody wares and signs reading "RV Dump This Way"

We arrived late at my in-law's house in North Platte so I didn't get a chance to look around their home much. The next morning when I awoke, the first thing I noticed when I stumbled out of the guest bedroom -- located near the front door -- was this statuette of a princess and her unicorn. It appears the princess is saying "Don't GO THERE!" to her unicorn, and I wondered why this stuatuette of a princess telling off her mythological pet was given such prime placement on the entrance table in their foyer.

Further inspection of the house soon revealed the answer: my sister's mother in law -- a woman well into her 50s -- COLLECTS UNICORN STATUETTES. They were everywhere.

Now, my sister's mother in law is a perfectly nice lady. We don't have a ton in common, since her interests apparently lean toward amassing glass and porcelain objects shaped like mythical woodland creatures, but she's nice. I have no quibble with her.

But the statues made me wonder: Why don't *I* collect unicorns? After all, I grew up just a few hundred miles from this woman, and I suspect that collection of porcelain statues is somewhat standard among folks from that area and generation -- be it unicorns or Precious Moments or what have you.

Do I not collect unicorns because I fled the Midwest at the first opportunity, embraced New York and my Gawker-loving peers with both arms and drank deep from the rivers of irony and sarcasm that infuse our local water supply? Do people like me -- the non-unicorn collectors -- need to leave places like the Midwest so we can NOT collect unicorns and still feel normal? Do non-unicorn-collectors gravitate toward big cities?

Or, if I had stayed in the Midwest like a good little girl, married my college sweetheard and ended up in a farmhouse near Giltner, Nebraska, would I too collect unicorns? Would I join the Unicorn Collectors' Club and watch QVC?

For this, I have no answer.

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