Symbolically Speaking

I read recently that a legislator in Texas proposed that the buckyball be made the official state molecule. Ignoring the essential wackiness of a molecule called a buckyball, it seems to me that this development raises interesting possibilities for official state designations.

I mean, if a state can have an official molecule, what the heck, it can have a state anything. There could be, for example, a state garment, or piece of furniture; perhaps a state tissue. How about a state body part? Moving to the abstract, perhaps a state alibi. The mind reels and twitches.

A repository of useful data called Facts About the States lists current symbols, and most are pretty much what you'd expect--trees and flowers, birds and critters. Amid the predictable entries, however, are some bizarre choices, and it's these that open the door to fantasy. New York, for example, has a state muffin. So why not a state sandwich? Pastrami, for instance. Wisconsin would probably opt for cheddar cheese on white. California, avocado and sprouts. Georgia, peanut butter and jelly.

A few states have juices as their official beverage, but no state has a designated omelette. The scramble for the Western omelette could get pretty fierce, I bet, with Arizona and Wyoming and all the rest bidding for it.

Massachusetts' state dessert is Boston cream pie. Shouldn't there be a state snack? Low-fat pretzels, say, for Colorado? Salsa and chips for Texas?

Consider apparel. The bolo tie is Arizona's official state neckwear. Why not other officially designated clothes? Washington might want to consider the trench coat or rain slicker as the state outerwear. California could opt for sandals as the state footwear. New Jersey? That's easy: the undershirt.

There are state insects aplenty, with bees, ladybugs and butterflies getting the most buzz. But I think we need a state pest, and it shouldn't be limited to bugs. The Nebraska pest, for example, could be a telemarketer for an aluminum-siding company. In Indiana, it could be junk mail promising million-dollar checks, while in New Hampshire it might well be a man I know named Henry.

One of the most intriguing entries in Facts About the States is Maryland's official sport: jousting. That's what it says, jousting. It strikes me as doubtful that there are all that many jousters ramming their lances around Maryland, which suggests it's not hard to get a state-sport designation approved. Three or four ardent boulder-heavers could probably get that pastime named the state sport of, say, Delaware. A small band of committed partisans might do the same for cat-treeing in Mississippi.

States have mottoes, of course, and sometimes pageants ("Indian River," in Florida), poems (Oklahoma's is called "Howdy Folks"), plays (Fandangle, in Texas) and even official tug-of-war championships (at the Nelson County Fair, in Kentucky), but I'd like to propose another category: state clichés. I have a few to nominate, but I don't want to get into trouble, so I'll provide the clichés and you can pick the state.

  1. Between a rock and a hard place
  2. Go for it
  3. Land of milk and honey
  4. Everybody's gotta be somewhere
  5. Please bus your own trays

I also wonder whether it would be helpful to have an official state attitude. This would be tricky, because if it caught on it could stick to the residents and affect their self-image. No state would be apt to adopt timidity, for example. There would be a rush to toughness, can-do efficiency and wholesome have-a-nice-dayness. But I'd like to see a determined group of let-it-all-hang-out legislators convince their colleagues to approve an altogether different kind of state attitude. They could run it on their license plate: STATE NAME (you fill it in), Land of Haughty Disdain.

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