The Observer does silly things so you don’t have to. Lately we’ve focused our silly spectrometer on the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” chestnut hidden among the legal ads in the back of the daily paper.
We used to enjoy the old “Strange as It Seems” cartoon in the Arkansas Gazette. We liked the name, which implied, “Strange as it seems, this is true.” We remember genuinely strange things, like the woman who stepped on a needle when she was young and, many years later, the needle emerged from her daughter’s abdomen. Or the little girl who could crook her index finger and make any wild bird come down out of the trees and sit on her shoulder. (She lost this ability when she turned 12, if we remember correctly.)
We always accepted “Strange as It Seems” as fact, whereas “Believe It or Not!” tells us right there in its title that we don’t have to believe it, allowing us to make our own decisions.
Given that license, The Observer went through some recent panels of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” and charted whether we believed it, or not. This exercise led to the discovery that there is an undeclared third option — maybe we could believe it but there must be a whole lot more to the story. We usually place these into the Not! category by default.
So let’s get down to business. Here are some verbatim items from recent “Believe It or Not!” offerings along with The Observer’s decision as to whether the item falls under one of three categories: Believe It! or Not! or (on rare occasions) Maybe!
“Wayne Newton was paid $5 for his first professional gig at age 6!” Believe It! (This is a prime example of the lack of quality control in the postmodern Ripley’s.)
“While on shore leave during World War II, Bamse, a St. Bernard stationed on a Norwegian mine sweeper, would go from pub to pub retrieving the ship’s partying crewmen!” Not! (We don’t believe dogs get shore leave, and if they do, Bamse was clearly on duty while retrieving sailors. OK, scrambled grammar aside, this item is a Maybe! that defaults into a Not! Way too many questions, starting with the Norwegian mine sweeper. Were the sailors Quisling Norwegians or were they Germans on a Norwegian ship? Does the word “pub” indicate they were Resistance Norwegians being trained in England? Maybe a dog could retrieve a partying Norwegian. But no, a dog could never fetch an intemperate German.) Again: Not!
“It takes 55 dung of kangaroo poo to create 400 sheets of a special type of paper made in Tasmania!” Believe It! (The chary euphemisms are the clincher for us. And who knew dung was a unit of measurement?)
“As a tribute to bluegrass singer Ally White, Carroll Sanders of Hawesville, Kentucky, carved her initials into his toenails — with a chainsaw!” Maybe! (The ambiguous first names and pronouns are puzzling, but the illustration shows a man holding a 4-foot Stihl chainsaw. Kentucky chainsaw toenail carving is too much for us to contemplate. We’ll let you think about it.)
“Those caught speeding in the Indian state of Bihar are not fined. Instead they must frog-hop alongside the highway while chanting the name of a political leader!” Believe It! (The way the current session of the Arkansas legislature is going, we expect them to pass a similar law any day now.)
That’s how the game works. Play nice.
Fayetteville kicked off its first farmer’s market of the spring last weekend, and it was so … Fayetteville, which is to say it was a product of a vigorous and involved community undistracted by crime or the General Assembly. Women with their long gray hair tucked up with brass pins and their long skirts worn over bare legs greeted the twenty-somethings and their dogs. A man in a suit and dreadlocks headed clockwise around the square, twins in a stroller were pushed counterclockwise. A self-published author hawked his book about corruption in the Ozark constabulary. Shoppers balanced pots of perennials with espresso and the fanciest French pastries this side of New Orleans. It’s so civilized — especially the big board. On the big board, the farmer’s market organizers maintain a running tally of various pieces of valuable information. Visitors indicate with little circular stickies why they’ve come to the market (for the free trees handed out at 6:30 a.m.? for the herbs?), how they learned about the market, what they like best about the market, etc. The hills are alive, y’all.