Day 256: Urban Legend

As she walked down Raglan Road each morning just before 7:00 am, Laetitia always had a sense of anticipation. There would be the alkaloid rush from the freshly roasted and ground coffee, but the main attraction was the Emerald Victorian’s library. It had all that she needed to come up with an imaginary tour each day. But the books and the surroundings had a seductive charm that made her want to browse rather than get down to the business at hand. It was almost as though the Emerald Victorian’s librarian—whoever he or she was—delighted in seeding the library with distractions that would keep her from her work. From time to time she succumbed and picked up a book because it looked intriguing rather than for its information about a tour destination.

Today she found a book entitled The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings. The author was Jan Harald Brunvand, a professor of English at the University of Utah, who apparently coined the term “urban legend” when he published the book in 1981. He chose it to show that misinformation such as that found in folklore does not arise from primitive or traditional societies alone. Like all folklore, the urban legends are sometimes morality tales and often contain elements of horror, humor, fear, and mystery. As they are spread by word of mouth, they are personalized and embellished with names of real people and places to give them verisimilitude and are often believed by whoever is telling the story.

Laetitia’s favorite was about two Arkansas men whose trip to gig frogs was marred when the .22 caliber cartridge that they used to replace a burned-out headlamp fuse exploded, shooting one of them in the testicles. It was submitted as a contender for a Darwin Award (given to those whose stupid actions take them out of the gene pool), but it was disqualified when the Arkansas newspaper reported as its source said it was a hoax.

The Iowa State Fair originated in Fairfield, Iowa in 1854. Subsequently it moved several other places before finding a permanent home in Des Moines in 1886. Laetitia and her group had an enjoyable day going on rides at the midway and viewing the annual Butter Cow sculpture and the extensive array of contests: big boar, super bull, largest rabbit, heaviest pigeon, sheep shearing, pigeon rolling, rooster crowing, wood chopping, pie eating, and cow chip throwing.

At the end of the day the group went to a beer garden, and Laetitia had a sense of déjà vu when she heard someone telling the same story she had heard from the bartender back in Potter, Nebraska. It was about some local man, a friend of a friend in this case, who put socks in his underwear to enhance his appeal to women, allegedly inspired by George Bush’s strut across the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln under the “Mission Accomplished” banner. “It’s amazing how ideas proliferate now that we have the Internet,” Laetitia thought. “It probably hasn’t circulated widely enough to be an urban legend, but it gives me another limerick.”

An Iowa man from Des Moines
Went ‘round with socks stuffed in his groin
That he hoped would impress
Girls of his sex prowess
As their virtues he tried to purloin.