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Story, Indiana Picks New "Village Idiot"
Updated April 3, 2015 7:17 AM
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(STORY) - Story, is a place apart. It is a place accessible mostly by two wheels, or four legs, and always with the help of some navigational tools. Mufflers are optional.

Since its founding in 1851, Story has had no mayor, no board of commissioners, no town counsel, and certainly no election commission to oversee the peaceful transfer of power to such non-existent offices.Yet, despite the dearth of government, democracy thrives in this tiny southern Indiana hamlet.

If one were compelled to identify the seat of real power in Story, it would be the tavern located in the basement of the old General Store, where town residents and overnight guests huddle to share news, gossip, and perhaps to take in some basketball or NASCAR on the town's only television.

Brown County, Ind., is, and is not, representative of America. With a population of barely 15,000 residents, it has 42 Christian churches, three traffic lights, and boasts (or shames, as the "case" may be), the highest per capita population of both PhD's and gun carry permits in the Hoosier state. This schizophrenic bunch huddle in Story Inn's tavern on or about April 1 of each year, as "town elders" a/k/a tavern regulars, confer to elect a "Village Idiot." "It's a tribute to the fermentation process," says Rick Hofstetter, the Story Inn's owner and town's only employer.

The balloting for the "Idiot" consists of submissions to the tavern's bartender. "We have only one requirement for voting for, and being elected to, this esteemed position: at some point in your life, you must be a customer here," explains tavern manager Dani Ham. In 2010, Ham was elected "Village Idiot" for igniting her own hair on fire while attempting to tame her coiffure with hair spray while smoking a cigarette and driving a car. "I multitask", says Ham, by way of explanation.

This year's award goes to a long time regular customer of the basement bar, "Justin Case" (a pseudonym).

"This annual 'Idiot' distinction," explained Hofstetter, "is reserved for the customer, guest, or employee of Story Inn whose skills and judgment most convincingly typify the dictionary definition of the word 'idiot.' In Justin, I believe, we have found an individual most truly deserving of our acclaim and this enduring honor. This 'honor,' by the way, has been an annual event since the Clinton Administration."

This year, the Story village elders had little difficulty quickly eliminating all other nominees for this year's honor. "We were amazed by--and guffawing at--specific instances of Justin's observed foolishness and stupidity. But what really cinched Justin's appointment this year was a very recent achievement of his. The elders were compelled to name Justin as the 2015 Story Village Idiot when they learned that Justin has actually chronicled his foolishness and stupidity in a book accessible to the entire universe at," Hofstetter explained. "It's the most sincere effort I have ever seen in an attempt to achieve this honor."

"Justin has actually gone public with his range of failures of skill level and judgment that any competent, rational person would prefer--indeed, demand--to be kept private," Hofstetter said with obvious admiration. Curiously, or not, Justin agreed to accept the award only if his anonymity could be preserved. How's that for schizophrenic eccentricity? He wrote a book about his experiences but doesn't want anyone to know who he is."

Hofstetter, himself, received "Idiot" accolade in 2006 for, among other things, hitting himself on the head with a hammer while attempting to hang a birdhouse, and selling bagged horse droppings at election time, marked as "Poolitical Droppings".

Case accepted the distinction of 2015 Story Village Idiot. "Because of the shame and embarrassment that this dubious honor will bring to associates whom I deeply admire and care about, I agree to accept this alleged accolade--but only because now I get a dram's worth of free drinks here at Story Inn. Let the good times roll. Ramble on!" Case said.

"What also helped Justin earn this year's Village Idiot title," Hofstetter pointed out, "was the sheer range and variety of his preventable yet laughable misestimations."

According to one nomination form, Case once off-trailered a pontoon boat into his Brown County pond on a windy day--forgetting to first tie off the boat. Case watched the boat drift across the pond and become beached on the opposite shore, inducing Case to get naked, swim to the boat, tie a rope to it, and swim the boat back to the desired shore while clenching the other end of the rope in his teeth.

"We (the village elders) instantly thought of JFK pulling, as legend has it, PT-109 to the shore of a Pacific island," Hofstetter said. "Except, of course, JFK had a Japanese destroyer to blame. Justin didn't. Justin lived in Brown County for two decades and was a weekly regular at our bar before he moved to Ohio for several years. Now, he's back in Brown County, and my accountant couldn't be more elated. Maybe he's avoiding extradition."

"For anything mechanical on a friend's vehicle or house, Justin is an excellent diagnostician and problem solver," bartender Ham said. "But if Justin, himself, has something that needs doing, let me just advise you that you don't want to be standing very close."

Case once needed an ambulance for the 25-mile ride to the emergency room at Columbus Regional Hospital, according to another nominating petition. Case had pulled the front wheels of his truck onto ramps so that he could work underneath. Certain that the transmission in PARK would keep the vehicle stationary, Case disconnected the driveshaft to replace its worn U-joints. Gravitationally, the vehicle immediately started rolling backwards off the ramps-- pinning Case to the ground. Case survived the mishap, suffering only a fractured pelvis. Case reports that he was most upset that the ambulance driver refused to turn on the shrill siren during the long drive to the hospital.

One time, Case needed to pull down a large, mature, tree branch left hanging after a tornado had removed the top of a tree adjacent to his driveway, according to one nominating petition. Case tied a stout rope on the tree branch, which probably weighed a half a ton, and on the trailer hitch of his truck. Gunning the truck down his driveway, Case expected the high-hanging tree branch to fall to the ground. It didn't. Instead, the rope broke, the 20-ft. long tree branch swung back in the opposite direction and fell--onto the fender, hood, and windshield of a Chevy Suburban parked nearby.

While riding his motorcycle at dusk, the headlamp of Case's motorcycle stopped working a mere 12 miles from home. Case walked to a nearby Walmart and spent $20 on flashlights, batteries, and duct tape. By taping four flashlights to his motorcycle's handlebars, Case safely made the ride home in the dark.

"I had a decent view of tree branches, ditches along the sides of the road, the bike's front fender," Case explained later. "I could see fairly well everything, except the actual road I was on, the hills I was riding over, and the turns I had to make."

"What the employees and bar regulars at Story Inn especially relish about Justin is that his actions are not reserved only for doing "man-stuff" projects. When he really puts his mind to having fun, Justin frequently takes it off the absurdity chart," Ham said.

According to one nominating petition, Hofstetter reported, Case and a cabal of Story Inn employees decided to move their party from the safety of the subterranean bar to a hot tub in rural Bartholomew County--20 miles east of Story. Case, attempting a backcountry shortcut, navigated himself and others to Jackson County--13 miles south of Story. The next morning, over Bloody Mary's at a late brunch back at Story Inn, Case learned that he had not only left his eyeglasses at the hot tub but that his dark blue, cotton, bikini briefs had somehow traveled on a co-partier's rearview mirror all the way to Bloomington in Monroe County--30 miles west of Story.

"I've, we've all, known Justin on-and-off--and his range of justifiable mishaps--for about 20 years, hilariously and gratefully," Ham summarized.

Justin was able to defeat a formidable list of "Idiot" contenders. These included:

A Story Inn employee, Greg White, who navigated a freezing river to retrieve his coon dogs. The dogs, it seems, had more sense than to cross the stream. But they did so, on Greg's back. When asked, "How cold was it?" Greg replied, with a gesture, showing his index finger and thumb about ½ inch apart.

Frank Mueller, a founder of the Story Inn, who on March 4 went to his first basketball game since the Pacers played the ABA. Frank inquired: "Why are there only five guys per team?" (Frank was a drinking companion of "Slick" Leonard, the former Pacer's coach.)

Steve Brandon, who wearing only a sombrero to ride "Tilly" the mule, became, by choice, an overnight guest by sleeping out on a picnic table.

A hunter who left Story to prove his "manhood" on the last day of hunting season. He wandered into Jackson County, where he was picked up by a sympathetic truck driver the next day.

In a transparent attempt at recidivism, the very first Village Idiot, Ricky Sawyers, retrieved dropped tongs by sticking his hand into hot frying oil.

For his achievements, Justin Case will enjoy a $100 tab at the tavern. He will hold his office, with all of its privileges, until March 31, 2016.

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