Before I get to this week's topic -- which, as you have probably already guessed, is deciding which Wisconsin community deserves the title "UFO Capital of the World" -- I need to make a correction. I have received a letter from Mr. William Wagner of Utica, N.Y., who informs me that my recent column about tipping contained -- brace yourself -- a factual error. Specifically, Mr. Wagner informs me that I was incorrect when I stated that "savoir faire" is French for "ear size," as in the sentence "Prince Charles and President Bush are men of great savoir faire."
Mr. Wagner's letter states: "Your translation . . . told your readers with French-speaking backgrounds that your research and preparation is seriously deficient. A formal correction in your next article should be enough to correct this serious and embarrassing blunder on your part."
The letter ends: "Sincerely, Someone With Savoir Faire, William Wagner."
Needless to say I feel like a total Mr. Potato Head (or, as the French say, "un total Monsieur Tete de la Pomme de Terre") about this. I deeply regret the error, and I wish to make the following formal correction: "Savoir faire" does not mean "ear size." It means "nose hair," as in the expression: "Garcon! What are these savoir faires doing in my soup?" Or: "That William Wagner of Utica, N.Y., certainly has a lot of savoir faire!"
Speaking of extraterrestrials, I imagine you are as concerned as I am about this Wisconsin UFO thing. I became aware of it when alert reader Michael Jones sent me an article from Wisconsin Tourism Development magazine, listing the slogans used by various Wisconsin communities to attract tourists. These include am not making these slogans up):
Babcock -- "Where the Last Passenger Pigeon Was Killed"
Cumberland -- "Rutabaga Capital"
Ellsworth -- "Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin"
Hurley -- "Where Highway 51 Ends and the Fun Begins"
Kewaskum -- "Gateway to the Kettle Moraine"
Mercer -- "Loon Capital of the World"
Sauk Prairie -- "Cow Chip Throwing Capital"
Reading these slogans, we are reminded once again of exactly what makes small-town, heartland America so wonderful: hallucinogens in the cheese curd.
No, really, these are all wonderful places that you, as a tourist, will want to check out. You should also go to Bear Creek, Wis., which boasts that it is "Home of the World's Largest Sauerkraut Plant." I called the plant, which is operated by Flanagan Brothers Inc., and spoke to Vice President David Flanagan, who told me that every year Flanagan Brothers processes 40,000 tons of cabbage, resulting in what the French call "kraut de sauer out de JTC wazoo." Mr. Flanagan told me that visitors are welcome to the plant and can get free samples, so you will definitely want to forget about Disney World and take the family to Bear Creek.
And you will not want to miss Sparta, Wis., which bills itself as "Home of the Big Fiberglass Animals." These are made by a company called F.A.S.T., for "Fiberglas Animals, Shapes and Trademarks." I spoke to F.A.S.T. President Jerry Vettrus, who told me that these animals are used by businesses to attract visitors. "Once, for a restaurant, we made a giant chicken holding a root beer and a cheeseburger," he said. "That was one of the more unique ones." Even as we were speaking, Mr. Vettrus said, he had a truck delivering a giant Fiberglas snail to California.
So anyway, while scrutinizing the list of Wisconsin slogans, I noticed that two communities -- Belleville and Elmwood -- both claim to be "UFO Capital of the World." So I called Elmwood and spoke to the village president, Larry Feiler, and he told me they chose their slogan a few years ago when "a fellow proposed to raise $50 million to build a landing site for UFOs here." Mr. Feiler said the man chose Elmwood because "there were a lot of UFO sightings here, so he wouldn't have to educate the people about UFOs."
Mr. Feiler said the landing site plan made Elmwood "very famous."
"It kind of went international," he said. "Some people from Elmwood were flown out to New York to be on the 'Geraldo' show." Elmwood was also on "Oprah."
Next I called Belleville and spoke to Bob Belle, former president of the Belleville Improvement Group, who told me they adopted their slogan a few years ago after a UFO was sighted in the area, and every year they have a UFO parade around Halloween. I asked him if there were any plans to build a UFO landing site in Belleville, and he said, "I think our land is too expensive."
So there you have it: Two communities, Belleville and Elmwood, both with solid claims to be "UFO Capital of the World." This is a tough call to make, but I would have to say, after weighing all the evidence, that the title rightfully belongs to: Lodi, Wis., whose slogan is: "Home of Susie the Duck." *