THE GENTLEMAN FROM INDIANA (1899) is Booth Tarkington’s first novel. It was made into a film in 1915.
12/07/09 | Novel

The Gentleman from Indiana

by Scott Garson

The gentleman from Indiana told us that his name was Franklin.

Frank? we asked.

The gentleman from Indiana chuckled kindly. We could tell he was hoping he wouldn’t cause us to feel we’d transgressed by suggesting the nickname.

It was closing time. We were following people who were crossing the street to crash a party whose crowd could be seen on an enclosed balcony in a brick fourplex. Franklin, the gentleman from Indiana, was following us.

Are there parades in Indiana on the Fourth of July? I asked him.

The gentleman from Indiana gave this some thought. Then he told us about a parade on the Fourth of July in which he and his sister had ridden bicycles. The wheel spokes had been threaded with crepe paper, he said. Red and blue rings in alternation.

Do brass bands play in the shelter on the main square? Do grandmothers take lawn chairs and tap their toes?

The gentleman from Indiana gave this some thought too.

You don’t need to answer that, Mara said. She introduced me. That’s Miles. He’s a dick wipe.

I don’t know if he knows what a dick wipe is, I told her. Do you know what a dick wipe is, Franklin?

But the gentleman from Indiana was spared because we had arrived and begun climbing the stairs in a slow line of strangers and now on the landing at the top a drunk woman appeared and began screaming.

Who are you? Do I know you? If I don’t know you, go away. If I know you, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Do I know you? Who are you? I’m sorry. Please listen everyone. Please listen. Go away.

The woman disappeared. We resumed climbing the stairs.

Does anyone know her? the gentleman from Indiana asked.

I do, said Lars, who was taller than the gentleman from Indiana, the tallest one on the stairs at that time. I know her. I’ve been here before.

When we were almost to the top, the woman reappeared on the landing and again filled the stairwell with screaming. I studied her nearby features, which seemed separate and erratic. They seemed misarranged.

Which one of you assholes burned my toothbrush? My fucking TOOTHBRUSH! Which one of you did it?

The gentleman from Indiana looked at me and others.

Did you do it? I asked. Did you burn her toothbrush?

What?

Don’t talk to him, said Mara. Don’t bother.

Inside we found that the keg was down to the foam so I went to the refrigerator. I dug out a bottle of pricey ale, which I opened with the butt of my lighter, and a can of light beer, which I took to Mara, who was shouting conversation with the gentleman from Indiana.

I was ready for a new experience, he yelled.

Mara nodded.

He said, Something new.

I asked him, Do you ever at times like these think to yourself, I’m alone, she’s alone, nothing’s keeping us from—you know—getting together and fucking?

I reached for Mara’s coat sleeve. She jerked her arm and ripped free of my fist. She walked away.

I’m sorry, the gentleman from Indiana said. Have I done something to make you not like me?

I studied him. Come on, I said to him. I lay my arm over his shoulders.

In the back corner of a built-in china cabinet flanking the portal to the dining room was what I suspected—correctly, I would find—to be a bottle of single-malt Scotch.

I’ve got a nose for this sort of thing, I said.

Should we be drinking it?

You see, this is the kind of response that people dislike—that might make them, potentially, dislike you. FYI.

For a while the gentleman from Indiana and I drank without speaking. We passed the bottle back and forth.

To Mara, I said eventually. I hoisted the bottle in a jaunty way, too quickly. Whiskey slicked my neck.

This is good, said the gentleman from Indiana.

I said, This is good.

I think I need air, he said, and turned away. He pushed out towards the balcony.

Mara was there but she was talking to somebody else, a guy with black glasses and wildflower hair. I took my place at the balcony rail beside the gentleman from Indiana. We leaned out towards the street.

I don’t like this music, he said about the music, which someone had changed.

I nodded, though I liked it myself.

A little ways down the empty street the traffic lights went to stop-sign mode. The gentleman from Indiana spoke with petulant resolve.

This is not the music I like.

I still had the neck of the bottle of Scotch in my grip and was thinking about the sidewalk below. I looked down at it. I opened my hand.