A week on the road recently, publicizing my new book "Curses! Broiled Again!" took me from New York City to the Rocky Mountains and proved once again that urban legends are popular everywhere from the metropolis to the boondocks.
Early on a Monday morning in the Big Apple someone mentioned a shock that some tourists received after visiting the South Street Seaport.It seems they picked up a cute little stray dog and adopted it. It was only later that they learned from their veterinarian that their new pet was a wharf rat, not a Chihuahua.
"Here we go again!" I thought. The story is a variation of the legend after which I titled my last book, "The Mexican Pet."
On Tuesday, taking call-ins on Leonard Lopate's "New York and Company" program on WNYC, I heard two more local legends. One caller told about a big bar mitzvah party during which cherries jubilee was served. There were so many guests, he said, that the mass of flaming desserts set off the sprinkler system.
Another caller described a Chinese woman who was carrying a live chicken when she boarded a city bus. Realizing that the fowl was annoying her fellow passengers, the woman calmly reached over and strangled the offensive bird.
After New York, it was on to Minneapolis. On Wednesday morning a caller to the "Boone and Erickson Show" on WCCO talked about two bachelor farmers who had kept the frozen body of their grandfather in their barn during a long and bitterly cold Minnesota winter.
The caller said that the bachelors had placed the corpse in a sitting position with its arms outstretched and thumbs sticking up so they could hang their feed sack there until spring when it was warm enough for a funeral.
In Chicago, I appeared on WBEZ's "One Flight Up." One Chicagoan called with a variation of the "Spider in the Hairdo" legend. A woman wanting nice, even dreadlocks had been told to put honey on her hair and twist the strands tightly before going to sleep. The next morning her head was crawling with cockroaches.
Next stop, Denver.
A story I heard there Friday on Mike Rosen's KOA talk show actually reflected the New York scene. A man called to talk about a highly successful Chinese restaurant in New York that people said was secretly sprinkling opium on customers' food in order to lure them back.
The caller's uncle swore this was true. The proof was that his uncle once had bought a suit at retail when he was under the influence of the restaurant's food.
Gimme a break!
My last date in Denver was with Alan Dumas for his KBX "Dumas After Dark" show, broadcast from "Muddy's Java Cafe," a wonderful 1960s-style coffeehouse with a menu and clientele to match.
After many good calls, plus questions from the patrons, it was time to head for the airport and the last plane home. But a Muddy's patron handed me a scribbled note with one more question: "Is it true they cleaned out the water purification reservoir in Raton, N.M., and found a body at the bottom?"
"I doubt it," I replied as I trotted to a cab. At home on Saturday I checked my files and found three similar stories that cast some doubt on this one:
A letter from Pocatello, Idaho, repeated a local tradition that the bodies of two kidnap victims were once found in the city water supply tanks located in the nearby foothills.
An anonymous flier taken from a bulletin board in Eugene, Ore., said that city officials were covering up the discovery of "various kidnap victims" found in the water storage tanks in order to avoid "law suits."
A letter from Melville, Saskatchewan, mentioned that the partly decomposed body of a man had been found in Melville's water tower. Police had supposedly advised citizens that the water was still safe to drink.
I was tired from the trip but suddenly not thirsty at all.
(C) 1989 United Feature Syndicate Inc.