Philip Gulley: Sorry States Of Affairs

Shunning 93,000,000 Americans is a complex operation, but I manage.
Illustration by Ryan Snook

EVERY JANUARY, I resist the urge to set goals for the new year, not wanting to be disappointed at year’s end by my lack of progress. Instead, I think of something I might do if time and circumstances permit, so long as it doesn’t take much work. This year, I’m contemplating riding my motorcycle to San Antonio, Texas, to visit my son, Sam, and his family. To that end, I studied my atlas and realized riding to Texas would require me to travel through four of the 10 states I’m currently shunning: Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Missouri. I’m willing to unshun Texas while Sam’s son, Miles, is stuck there, but as soon as he leaves that benighted state, I’ll be shunning it again.

It doesn’t take much for me to spurn a state. I’m currently eschewing Ohio because I was once booed while giving a speech there. I’m snubbing Missouri because in 1976, I caught a horrible case of mastoiditis while swimming in Lake of the Ozarks on a family vacation. The pus leaked down my ear canal into my brain, and I nearly died. One doesn’t forget something like that, let alone forgive it.

Being a Pepsi man, I shunned Georgia for years, it being the home of Coca-Cola. But then I remembered Georgia gave us Martin Luther King Jr., as well as Jimmy Carter, so I’ve reconsidered.

Several years ago, in one of my books, I criticized the Amish and Jehovah’s Wit- nesses for shunning members of their own families. But now, ironically, I find myself ostracizing 93,000,000 Americans, which is no easy task. I’ll be glad when those 10 states straighten up so I can go back to liking them. Grudges, like all things carried, eventually weigh us down.

There is a complexity to shunning that most people don’t recognize. My favorite aunt spends half the year in Florida and the other half in Indiana. Florida has always annoyed me for reasons I don’t fully understand but deeply feel, hence my shunning of the Sunshine State. Regarding my aunt, I’ve decided to snub her while she’s in Florida, then extend the hand of fellowship when she returns to Indiana.

It’s hard not to like Colorado, but I’m working on it. It has irritated me ever since one of my best friends left Indiana to live there. He texts me pictures of the mountains and brags about how pretty they are. Still, I can’t quite bring myself to shun Colorado because I honeymooned there. It would be the same as shunning my wife,
who, as it turns out, spent her honeymoon there, too. The secret to a successful honeymoon is taking your spouse with you.

To avoid the states I’m shunning, I’ve concluded I can travel to Texas via Detroit, where I will cross the border into Cana- da, motor to Quebec City, board a ship, and sail northeast up the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean, down the Eastern Seaboard, then through the Gulf of Mexico to Galveston, Texas, where I will disembark and head west to San Antonio. Yes, it will be more expensive, but I have no respect for people who jettison their morality for financial considerations.

Canada and I have been on good terms since my first visit in 1974, when my parents inadvertently left me behind at a gas station in Quebec for several hours. I spent my time in abandonment well, conversing with les Québécois, specifically an attractive Quebecois girl my age who spoke only French, which I had learned to speak from watching Louis LeBeau on Hogan’s Heroes. We spread out a blanket underneath the Esso sign and ate crêpes suzettes while I sang “Les Feuilles Mortes” until she fell into my arms, overcome. Then my parents returned, and my charmed life in Canada sputtered to an end. But somewhere in Quebec is a 62-year-old woman who falls asleep each night dreaming of me, who, when asked by her husband what she is thinking about, falls silent, the pain of her loss too great to bear.

Like most Canadians, she probably spends the winter in Florida. Were I to visit her, it would require driving through Kentucky, which I’m also shunning after they mailed me a ticket for speeding. This leaves Michigan and Illinois as my only escape routes should life in Indiana become unbearable. Of course, I could always move to Bloomington—which is kind of in Indiana but kind of not—and study French, just in case.