I had a pleasant surprise this morning. I looked at the bottom of the Wall Street Journal’s front page to see what the subject of their daily feature article was and found a piece about Eugene’s S.L.U.G. Queen. This quirky topic might barely have registered on me if not for the fact that I know a S.L.U.G. Queen, my very own college classmate Sarah Ulerick, a comic genius. Sarah first came to my attention at our 25th reunion in 1998, when she volunteered to participate in the class talent show. Our fellow classmate Al Franken was the emcee, and as brilliant as he was, she absolutely stole the show from him. Ten years later, last June, at our 35th reunion, with Al busy running to be junior senator from Minnesota, the talent show was hosted by our very own S.L.U.G. Queen. I wish there were a way for me to share her genius with you. Maybe at my next major party, I’ll bring her up to Seattle to make an appearance.
And speaking of Al Franken, he is being credited in the news today for taking time off from his senatorial campaign to phone in the idea for the opening skit on Saturday Night Live two nights ago. It’s about John McCain’s political advertisements.
The text of the S.L.U.G. Queen article from the WSJ is copied below:
In This Slimy Political Contest,
The Winner Is Crowned Slug Queen
Oregon Festival’s Pageant Contestants Come Out of Their Shells to Compete
By MARY PILON
EUGENE, Ore. — An hour before the pageant, contestant Constance Van Flandern carefully applied her eye makeup, as any beauty contestant would. But she was vying to become Eugene’s Slug Queen.
Ms. Van Flandern attached a plastic cage around her waist to puff out her 45-inch-wide green skirt. Then she put on a corsetlike green silk top.
Wearing 4-inch gold platform heels, the 42-year-old mother of two began her slow walk through Eugene to the downtown stage where the competition for slug queen was taking place. Three little girls — called slugettes — lifted the slime train on Ms. Van Flandern’s skirt as she walked.
Ms. Van Flandern had been angling for the title for nearly a year. To impress the judges, she designed a Web site chronicling the history and news of the pageant. She made slug-shaped meringues for them. She lobbied to have a statue of a slug erected in Eugene’s Hendricks Park.
“There will be fierce competition this year,” Ms. Van Flandern declared. “But I say, bring it on.”
The S.L.U.G. (an acronym for Society for the Legitimization of the Ubiquitous Gastropod) Queen has been a tradition here for a quarter century. It began because some rebellious local politicians wanted to make a snide statement about other Oregon pageants — Portland’s Rose Queen, Lebanon’s Strawberry Queen and the state’s Miss Rodeo.
“There are people who don’t like the slug queen, who are embarrassed by it,” says Kim Still, the pageant organizer. “But we just keep doing it.” Hundreds attend the annual coronation, and tens of thousands see the slimy queen in the parade every year.
The slug queen’s duties include ribbon-cutting ceremonies, opening the mayor’s art show, meeting with politicians and helping to raise funds for charities of her choice. At official events, “it’s me and the slug queens,” Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy says.
The title is won and a queen is crowned a week or two before the annual Eugene Celebration parade each September. The two-hour program includes a procession of former queens, a talent contest and a poise question from one of the hosts — someone like the 1993 winner, who took the name Queen Bananita Sluginsky when she was crowned, or 2004′s queen, Scarlett O’Slimeria.
Past winners have included an accordion player, an attorney, a librarian, a teacher and a mailman. Yes, four Slug Queens have been men, including the father of seven and a full-time drag queen. One has cerebral palsy and won the pageant in his wheelchair. One former queen, a woman, makes biodegradable caskets for a living.
It all began in 1983, when Cynthia Wooten, then a city councilwoman, and her friends met for backyard potlucks to brainstorm ideas for a new citywide celebration. The friends wanted to call it the “Slug Fest” but decided that was too extreme and settled instead on the “Eugene Celebration.” The celebration, they decided, would name an annual slug queen. The idea has something to do with Eugene’s plenitude of slugs.
The first year, they picked Bruce Gordon, a bicycle designer. For the first parade, Mr. Gordon dressed up in a mint-colored gown and perched atop an MG convertible. He was followed by a 25-foot slug, modeled after a Chinese dragon. It’s still in use today.
Later that day, Mr. Gordon surprised the mayor by showing up at the high-toned Mayor’s art show in a wig.
“Everyone was shocked,” Ms. Wooten says. “They didn’t know what to do.” Soon everyone was laughing, and today the reigning slug queen always opens the art show.
The next year, the organizers picked Melva Boles, a 37-year-old teacher, as the queen. Mrs. Boles got pregnant soon afterward and started wearing a sash around her stomach that said “Slugette.”
The annual parade presided over by the slug queen sometimes confuses out-of-towners. One year, the Eugene Celebration coincided with the opening football game of the hometown University of Oregon Ducks. That weekend, this city of 125,000 had about 75,000 visitors from across the country.
Football-crazed tourists eagerly lined up to watch the parade, expecting perhaps Americana. What they got was slug queens.
“[The visitors] were just baffled,” says Ms. Wooten.
There are many odd things about the slug-queen contest. Bribery is encouraged. Slug-queen contenders commonly give chocolate and champagne to judges at the pageant, and often start with the bribes several months before that. The motto among the old queens is, “Bribe early, bribe often.” Over the years, would-be queens have given judges slug pizzas, a chocolate cake adorned with a chocolate slug and primroses (known for being prime eats for actual slugs).
The queens appear on the front pages of Eugene newspapers (a daily and a weekly) and on Eugene TV and radio. They’ve raised $5,000 for the Eugene Public Library.
Mayor Piercy and Rep. Peter DeFazio still make a point of meeting the sitting queen and participating as judges. Schedule permitting, Rep. DeFazio follows the slug queens in the town parade and shovels up their slime (cellophane they toss in their wake).
Gathering of Queens
The night of this year’s pageant, a big crowd packed a city park surrounding an outdoor stage. One fan waved a “Long Live Mucous” sign. A woman sold snail candles made of snail shells.
Backstage in a small, dark tent, nearly a dozen past slug queens, in their winning outfits, gathered. They were there to judge this year’s event.
Five women and two men contested the crown. Ambassador Mucous Molluscadia belted a rendition of “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” replacing the phrase “age of Aquarius” with “age of androgynous.” Mona Zygota, a pair of identical twins wearing one big silver cape, threw chocolate kisses to the crowd. Impluvius Maximus strutted across the stage in a dress made from balloons and performed magic tricks. Marie Slugtoinette (Ms. Van Flandern) sang “start spreading the ooze,” her interpretation of the Sinatra classic. Lady Slugiva entered the stage on horseback. She was clad in a skin-tight black unitard and belted a sluggish version of the George Gershwin song “Summertime.”
Behind the scenes, the judges narrowed it down to Marie Slugtoinette and Lady Slugiva.
Marie Slugtoinette’s bribes were “unprecedented,” but some worried about her schedule. She would have to split her time between Eugene and Barbados, where her husband plans to be working next year. “She’s really into the Web site. She put us on Wikipedia!” piped one judge. “We could work with her schedule.”
Another shook her head. “But Lady Slugiva really brought down the house,” she said. “Slugtoinette isn’t going to be here all the time.”
The queens debated having a co-queen title, but decided that would be untraditional. Finally, after more talk, they settled on Marie Slugtoinette, because she had more community involvement.
“Ugh,” said one judge, adjusting her sparkly sash as she left the judging tent. “I’m glad that’s over.”
The six contestants lined up on stage, sweating in their silver spandex under the stage lights. The “2008 Slug Queen is…Marie Slugtoinette!” said Queen Bananita, who hosted the contest. Ms. Van Flandern walked up to the microphone, “Merci! Merci!” she yelled to the enthusiastic crowd.
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