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The Hoosierist: Pop Secret

Swollen violins, the whereabouts of a supermodel, and a popcorn scandal. Ask The Hoosierist.

Q: I noticed a brand of popcorn at my grocery store called “Popcorn, Indiana,” and I’m pretty suspicious. Does it actually have an Indiana connection, or is this just a marketing ploy?  
Susan P., Carmel

A: At first glance, this company seems about as closely linked to the Hoosier State as Lincoln-brand cars are to Honest Abe. It’s headquartered in New Jersey, for Redenbacher’s sake. Yet beneath the fake-sounding Indiana-centric marketing campaign lurks a tiny, blackened, unpopped kernel of authenticity. You just have to dig for it.

Popcorn, Indiana began life in 2002 when its founders, Richard Demb and Warren Struhl, decided to get into the snack business. Their research included visiting the actual Popcorn, Indiana—a Lawrence County hamlet with a thriving populationof around 50 people. The mayor, Dale Humphrey, even showed Demb and Struhl around (it probably took about five minutes). The duo were so impressed that they opened a Times Square store called Popcorn, Indiana. One day, New York Knicks coach (and former IU basketball star) Isiah Thomas wandered in, bought a bag, liked the taste, and offered to invest. In short order, the owners began an umbrella firm called Dale and Thomas Popcorn (combining Isiah Thomas’s last name and Mayor Dale Humphrey’s first) and marketed their wares across the nation.

Though the Indiana connection is pretty thin, there’s one place where the Hoosier flavor is totally authentic: the corn itself. It may be owned, prepared, and packaged hundreds of miles away, but it’s definitely grown right here.

 

Q: Why is the Athenaeum called that? Isn’t that a Greek term for a German building?
Jackson W., Indianapolis

A: The name may sound strange and inaccessible, but it’s better than the building’s original moniker, Das Deutsche Haus. During the 19th century, Indy found itself up to its elbows in German immigrants. These folks were big joiners, establishing everything from choirs to cultural organizations to gymnastics clubs. In need of a place to practice their songs, paint their paintings, and spread out their tumbling mats, they started construction on a building that would, by the turn of the 20th century, become the sprawling German Renaissance Revival–style edifice we know today.

Everything went just fine until 1917, when the United States entered World War I against the German Empire. As war fever swelled, the big downtown building (with a name that meant “The German House”) started attracting lots of unwelcome attention—along with the occasional rock. So in 1918, the management did what anyone saddled with a hopelessly tarnished brand does, and changed the name to the decidedly un-Teutonic “Athenaeum” (after the Greek goddess Athena).

While the name changed, the building’s mission of promoting German culture never did. Indeed, a time traveler visiting from the Deutsche Haus today would probably feel right at home. There’s still a gym (in the form of a YMCA), the schnitzel-intensive Rathskeller, and a slew of German-themed cultural groups, including the Indiana German Heritage Society and the Max Kade German-American Center. Heck, there’s even a biergarten.

The Hoosierist loves questions like this, because it gives him an ironclad, work-related reason to troll trashy gossip sites.


Q: I was stunned when John Mellencamp divorced supermodel Elaine Irwin a couple of years ago. What ever happened to her?
Holly H., Bloomington

A: The Hoosierist loves questions like this, because they give him an ironclad, work-related reason to troll trashy gossip websites. Actually, that’s pretty much the only way to research this particular issue, because for some reason, neither Irwin nor Mellencamp will return his calls.

So here, according to various impeccable sources, is where things stand. The Coug met Irwin when she appeared in one of his music videos, married her in 1992 after a whirlwind courtship, and then decamped to Southern Indiana to do the Jack and Diane thing. They have two sons, Speck and Hud, both charter members of the Celebrity Kids with Absurd Names Club.

The couple divorced in late 2010, but according to various (again, unimpeachable) sources, Irwin maintains a Bloomington presence—even though she married racing magnate Jay Penske last fall and is expecting their first child. She serves on the board of Bloomington’s Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, and in recent years has been sighted attending her kids’ school-related events.

And if you follow the same trashy websites The Hoosierist does, you know that Mellencamp is getting really serious with Meg Ryan. Sightings of the actress in Bloomington have become somewhat regular. Which could make for some awkward moments should Penske/Irwin and Ryan/Mellencamp ever turn up at The Trojan Horse on the same evening.

 

Q: I know high-quality musical instruments can be “twitchy” when it comes to things like heat and humidity. What precautions do Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra musicians take during outdoor concerts to keep their violins and violas from being ruined by Indiana’s muggy weather?
Nadia O., Indianapolis

A: ISO players spend tens of thousands on their primary instruments, so they’re understandably squeamish about putting them in jeopardy. Which is exactly what they do when they take a violin (or pretty much any other woodwind or string instrument) to an outdoor venue on a 90-degree, 90 percent humidity evening for Symphony on the Prairie. The heat causes swelling, making the instrument sound “sluggish” and “slow” (whatever that means). Cold outdoor temperatures cause shrinkage, which is also bad, but unless someone starts a Symphony on the Tundra series this winter, it’s not as big of an issue.

High-quality instruments can cope with a bit of swelling and shrinkage, but puffing up like a compulsive eater at Golden Corral doesn’t do wonders for their life spans. Many ISO players avoid this problem by using a more-affordable backup for outside events. “Most string players have a second instrument, far less valuable than their main ax, which they use for outdoor concerts where the instrument may be exposed to the elements,” says ISO concertmaster Zach De Pue.

De Pue’s own backup “ax” was crafted locally at Indianapolis Violins. The Hoosierist thinks it’s awesome that symphony guys call their instruments axes. It makes them sound like garage-band bass players. But considering the size of a violin, wouldn’t “hatchet” be more accurate? 

 

Illustration by Shane Harrison

This article appeared in the July 2013 issue.