Imagine for a moment that it’s the late nineties. I was not even a preteen when I got access to the world wide web and opened my mind to thousands of possibilities. But, everytime I answered that constant question of ASL? Aka (age/sex/location) With wyoming— I’d get some strange responses.
“Is that in the US?” one well meaning friend asked.
“Do you ride horses to school?” another asked in a chatroom. I had to explain that, while, no they I didn’t— that wasn’t always the case for some of the rancher kids in school. Especially when the weather was inclimate and roads could close.
Actually on that last one, there was a rumor when I was in high school that the school constitution included a provision that the principal themselves would be responsible for feeding and watering any horses ridden to school. I even heard that the shed we used to keep football equipment dry from the rain may have once been a stable.
All of those are harder to believe when you remember that my hometown high school of Wright had its very first class graduate in 1987.
Another person asks me on the internet if it’s possible to get the internet in Wyoming.
Nope, I say, and they don’t see the joke.
As a kid in the 90s in Wyoming I heard hundreds of these kinds of non sequiturs about the existence of my state or the complete remoteness. The internet gave me friends all over the country. One of those friends still jokingly tells me she thinks Wyoming is a conspiracy theory and that it really exists just to cover up nuclear weapons stockpiling.
That friend, come to think of it, was in DC.
I’d grew up on the plains of Converse county Wyoming. In the morning, the very first thing I wanted on Saturday was saturday morning cartoons. Of course they started a little earlier where we were. One day, I was sitting in front of the TV for those saturday morning cartoons and my entire worldview shifted underneath me.
It’s worth knowing that I was an extremely gullible kid. Shortly before this particular saturday, I had gotten extremely excited about the prospect of going to “Rabbit City,” an incorrect hearing of Rapid City nearby.
Today, Garfield was on the TV. This must have been a rerun or something. Garfield was telling a large studio audience all about when the states were made! And italian mapmaker named Arbuckle Vespucci named each state except—
I watched with rapt attention now, the big blocky tv humming slightly as I stared.
Garfield said that Wyoming wasn’t a real state— it was an old italian word that meant “no state here.”
I felt myself start to panic a little bit, I didn’t know enough italian to dispute the claim! I didn’t have enough worldly experience to discern if it were a joke or not and I realize now that meant I was more than just naive.
So what does one do with the knowledge that their state doesn’t exist? Well, first you cry. Then you pick yourself up and go find mom— mom knows everything, so she’ll make it make sense to you, don’t worry.
Luckily, my mom was always great at soothing the fears that popped into my precocious mind. Once, I stayed up all night, worried I’d close my eyes and open them to see ghosts (I’d just been allowed to watch The Sixth Sense.)
“Okay, but even if ghosts were real,” mom said, “That movie took place in NYC where there’s hundreds of years of history for ghosts to have come from.”
“You live in a town that was founded in 1984. We know all the people who have died here. It’s just a smaller population sample than NY.”
Weirdly, mom knew that intellectualizing things like that would calm me down, and I never worried about ghosts again (well, that’s a story for another time. Close friends of mine know I went the opposite way and now find myself quite obsessed with the paranormal.)
Nowadays, I tell people I’m missing a few back-paychecks for being a government agent and convincing the world that Wyoming exists.
Back to that particular saturday when I’d been trying to figure out how I could live in a state that didn’t exist.
Exhausted by my hundreds of why questions at that point, I believe I was five or 6– Mom says “Look at the name of the show, baby, “It’s on TV so it must be true!” That’s sarcasm.
My life-long beef with sarcasm began that day. I understand the concept now, but back then it was the hardest thing for me to tell the difference between a joke and a true statement. Garfield gave me that fun character development back in 1997.
By the way, the real origin of the word Wyoming is, according to the secretary of state: “The name Wyoming is a contraction of the Native American word mecheweamiing (“at the big plains”), and was first used by the Delaware people as a name for the Wyoming Valley in northeastern Pennsylvania.”
Not an old italian word for “no state here.”
I get the joke now! In fact, a lot of wyomingites have adopted the sort of meme, making sure people KNOW Wyoming doesn’t exist. Because that keeps it beautiful and secluded for the rest of us that love it here.
I may have completely imagined this next part because I can’t find it on the internet. I remember the end of the Garfield sketch turning out very differently. The TV game show pans to the audience, where you realize it’s completely filled with mean looking dogs, all wearing University of Wyoming garb.
They chased Garfield off stage and I felt a little better about my Non-state status.