Truth is definitely stranger than fiction. Novelists know that a story and its characters have to be believable.
One unusual aspect of human behavior is the uncanny urge to compete. It’s funny the lengths some folks will go to in order to win a contest. People have been known to compete for just about anything. Sometimes money is the goal, but for the most part the prize that’s coveted is prestige.
Some people crave fame as others hunger for food. This drive for esteem is found in many diverse groups of people.
Consider the Kwakiutl Indians of the Northwest Coast. The Kwakiutl have Potlatch ceremonies, contests to see who can give away or destroy the most goods. There is even a Potlatch secretary who keeps a detailed record of the gifts that are given away. The chief who gives away more wealth than his rival gains the greatest honor.
Most Americans would scoff at Potlatches, but the Kwakiutl would no doubt find it odd that we compete to determine who can catch a greased hog, stay astride a bucking bull, hit the most softballs over a fence, or eat the most hotdogs.
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It seems like everybody wants to be the best at something. Just take a look at the “Guinness Book of Records” and you’ll find over 800 pages of weird smashed records. It lists the winners of such wacky contests as bed making, bathtub racing, bubble-gum blowing, needle threading, stroller pushing, and whip cracking.
One contest I could never be enticed to enter is the Rattlesnake Round-up. Once a year people from all over gather in Opp, Alabama, to see who can catch the most eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. This contest was started to thin out an overpopulation of rattlers. Now winning the contest seems more important than getting rid of reptiles. Fact is, rattlesnakes are becoming endangered.
Another unique contest, the World Championship of Mosquito Killing, was recently held in Lapland. Mosquito haters from all over the world met for the event. To qualify, five competitors get five minutes to kill as many mosquitoes as possible. Insecticides, nets, and fly swatters are banned. The prize was a weekend at a Lappish resort that was more than likely infested with mosquitoes.
My favorite contest is the one I heard about from a friend who had the honor of meeting the winner of the World Worm Charming Championships. Of course, he’d never heard of worm charming. It turned out to be a method of luring worms from the ground.
First, a stake is driven 3 or 4 inches into the ground, then a board is rubbed on top of it at a slight angle causing a vibration that sounds like snoring. The vibrations raise worms out of the soil like a magnet lifting nails from a bucket. My friend says he learned the technique and hasn’t spent a cent on bait since then.
These peculiar practices are too farfetched for me. I think I’ll stick to fiction.
Mary Belk lives in Auburn and writes a column for the Opelika-Auburn News.