2002's Strangest Stories

Another year ends. Did you have a happy Nov. 31st?

Maybe you didn't notice that thousands of calendars senators and congressmen bought to send to their favorite constituents had an extra day.

Did you catch that the last relative of the man who inspired Count Dracula tried to form his own country — and that scads of followers in a small German town supported him?

Did you pray for peace when Graceland declared war on Elvis impersonators?

Before we close the book on 2002, lets look back on some of the stranger events.

1. My Son's a Fruit — Unless you are a tree, you shouldn't name your kid "Apricot."

Still, parents are giving their children peculiar names these days — sometime apparently naming their children after their favorite food, such as Gouda and Bologna. A Wolf Files look at Social Security records from 2000 (the most recent year available), revealed six boys named Timberland (as in the boot), 49 named Canon (spelled like the camera), and 27 Blue (as in little boy).

Among girls, there were 29 named Whisper and another 24 named Unique. Of course, my mother told all four of her children they were unique.

2. World's Best Joke Stinks — Did you hear the one about the British scientists that claim they found the world's greatest joke? After a year of government-financed research, the British Association for the Advancement of Science examined 40,000 wisecracks. Here's the real punch line — the one they think is best isn't funny. The joke begins "Two hunters are out in the woods" and goes downhill from there. The Wolf Files contacted some of comedy's top roast masters. "If the British are spending money on this, God knows what else they're spending it on," said the Daily Show's Lewis Black.

Phyllis Diller said it a little more simply, ""If that's the best joke in the world, then I've never had a face-lift."

3. Happy Nov. 31 — Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November — but not if you go by thousands of calendars senators and congressmen bought to send to their favorite constituents. It lists an extra shopping day to shop for Christmas gifts — Nov. 31.

It seems that the nonprofit organization that supplies much of Capitol Hill with calendars — the U.S. Capitol Historical Society — made a major blunder this year and didn't realize it until 650,000 copies of the "We, the People" calendars had been printed.

Rather than discard the calendars, Rep. Howard L. Berman, D-Calif., sent them out to his constituents, noting, ""To err is human — even for Americans."

4. Gambling Ghouls — Is nuclear war inevitable? Want to bet?

Death pools — a ghoulish twist on college basketball tournament pools — are nothing new to the Internet. Participants typically throw a few dollars into a pot and guess when various newsmakers will die for cash prizes and bragging rights. Now, thrill seekers are taking this morbid game to an all new level with the Indo-Pakistani Death Pool. All you have to do is guess the exact time the first nuclear bomb is detonated. It's that easy. Let's just hope nobody wins.

5. Professional Pigs — Gluttony is not just a growing health problem. Now, it's a sport, complete with a sanctioning body and championship matches all over the world, where fans watch their champions devour hot dogs, pizza, pickles, matzo balls and chicken wings in mass quantities.

Top eaters from around the world met Feb. 21 in Las Vegas at The Glutton Bowl, competing for a top prize of $25,000, eating everything you can imagine, including butter and ice cream by the pound.

It's more than money. Pizza champ Ed "Cookie" Jarvis — who's been known to chow down a 17-inch pie in three minutes — is just happy the sport's finally getting the recognition it deserves.

"In the last year, I've traveled all over the country," he said. "I can't believe how many people have come up to me and said, 'Aren't you that food guy?'"

The International Federation of Competitive Eating has 300 registered "athletes" and sanctions events in chicken wings, matzo balls, oysters, burritos, onions, pickles and hamburgers. Legends like jalapeño pepper champ Jed Donahue ate 152 jalapeño peppers in 15 minutes.

"Nobody has ever been hospitalized at one of our events," said Federation president Richard Shea. "There's an EMT there, just like a football game."

6. Donald Duck's Political Career — Al Gore and Strom Thurmond aren't the only people without a political future. You wouldn't be surprised Donald Duck had a political career if you were a fan of Swedish politics.

Swedes have a tradition of writing in joke candidates for president. Fringe groups like the Tax Evader's National Party, the Beer Party and the Professional Bachelors Party vie for seats each year in the Riksdag, Sweden's 349-member parliament.

But it's clear who's the big bird of the disenfranchised. In fact, over the last 20 years, the Donald Duck Party — better known in Sweden as "Kalle Anka" — has scored enough write-in votes at points to theoretically be the country's ninth-most-popular political organization.

Now, Sweden is changing election rules. By 2006, voters will be prohibited from choosing nonexistent candidates, eliminating the potential embarrassment of having to open an embassy in Tomorrowland.

While Donald's now a political lame duck, he can rest assured that he's consistently outpolled Bugs Bunny, SpongeBob SquarePants, and even his old rival, Mickey.

7. Kingdom of Dracula — You can probably imagine how long your wait would be at airport security if your passport read "Kingdom of Dracula."

Still, the last known relative of Vlad the Impaler — the medieval Romanian nobleman who inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula — led a tax revolt in his hometown outside Berlin, threatening to turn it into a vampire paradise.

"We could change 'I want to suck your blood' to 'I come to collect your tax arrears," said Ottomar Rudolphe Vlad Dracul Kretzulesco, who warmly embraces the moniker "Count Dracula."

Several elected officials in Schenkendorf, with a population of 1,200, are backing him in his bid to secede from Germany and create a country with a more responsive government.

Vlad, a 61-year-old retired banker and antiques dealer, has become a social activist in recent years, sponsoring "bloodletting" drives for the International Red Cross. "I want your blood," he said in advertisements, "for a very good cause." Vlad's in the process of turning his home — a Gothic castle — into a tourist attraction with a golf course, restaurants and vampire rides. For kicks, he wears a black cape. But forget fangs. He said, "They're tacky."

8. Muppet Sexuality — Are Ernie and Bert more than just best friends? Just like Tom Cruise, these two Muppet stars were threatening to sue independent filmmakers to prove they're not gay.

Rumors have long dogged those two felt legends. They're roommates. They tend to sing a lot of silly songs. One of them has a curious obsession with his rubber ducky. Not that there is anything wrong with any of that.

Lawyers for the Children's Television Workshop threatened to take legal action against Peter Spears, the director of Ernest and Bertram, a documentary spoof of two male puppets who become heated lovers.

Even before this incident, Ernie and Bert have been under constant attack. In 1993, TV Guide received dozens of letters railing against Sesame Street for condoning a homosexual relationship. Shortly after, a North Carolina preacher began a campaign on his radio show to ban them for their immorality.

The situation grew so unpleasant that the Sesame Street had to issue this 1993 press release:

"Bert and Ernie, who've been on Sesame Street for 25 years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future. They are puppets, not humans. Like all the Muppets created for Sesame Street, they were designed to help educate preschoolers. Bert and Ernie are characters who help demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends."

9. Bridesmaids Anonymous — A support group, Bridesmaids Anonymous emerged for disgruntled bridesmaids. After years of frustration playing the New York singles game, Ronit Ray turned her pathetic dating life into a cabaret show, and then into an ad-hoc support group for perpetual bridesmaids. Can a daytime talk show be far away?

At BA meetings, women put on their most horrible, overpriced bridesmaid getups. It might be a $400 sequined periwinkle gown with creampuff sleeves. It could be a frightful frock in incandescent lavender. Add up the cost of the gown, shoes, alterations, the bachelorette party — and let's not forget the present. BA members say the cost of being in a bridal party is easily $700. And for BA ladies, that's not a one-time cost. "I had three [weddings] within six months," said one BAer. "And I had to travel."

Like Alcoholics Anonymous, the message of BA is straightforward: You are not alone. But the two groups are hardly affiliated. Don't expect formal therapy, just a chance to put on that dress and swap horror stories over sushi. Do forlorn bridesmaids really even needed to be anonymous? "You bet," said a 30-something bride-in-waiting. "If my best friend knew I was passing around pictures of the ugly gowns she picked out for her wedding, and complaining about it to ABCNEWS, she'd just die."

10. Every Man (and Woman) An Elvis — What the world be like without Elvis impersonators?

In October, it seemed like Elvis festivals would no longer be able to feature hip-swiveling competitions between fat white guys who think they can sing, "Hound Dog."

Elvis Presley Enterprises, the business arm of the multi-million- dollar Presley estate, decided in October to no longer associate with festivals using Elvis impersonators. But Graceland was flooded with angry letters, and soon reversed its decision — so put on your white spangled jumpsuit.

Most Elvis impersonators do "heartfelt" tributes to Elvis, said Jack Soden, chief executive officer of EPE. "But we've all seen pictures of people who just should not have gone outdoors in outfits like that."

Earlier in the year, the Wolf Files spoke with some of the King's strangest clones — including the 350 pound "Extreme Elvis," who got threatening calls from Presley traditionalists, when he performed stripteases in his tribute to the King.

"I'm misunderstood," Extreme Elvis said. "If you see the way Elvis was going with his act, you know what I'm doing is true to my hero." Extreme Elvis said he celebrated Presley's birthday by taking a cocktail of Zoloft, Viagra and Geritol.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.