First off, a Merry Christmas weekend to all those who celebrate! I hope you have a fantastic holiday. And, as a Hannukah-celebrator myself, a Happy Hannukah to those of you who are also lighting the sixth candle tonight.
This newsletter, though, isn’t about the holidays. It’s about a story I should have written this week, but didn’t because I don’t have a time machine and, last week, I gave away a lot of the story. I don’t blame myself, though, as I’ll explain in a moment. But before we get too far in the backstory, let’s cut right to the image of the creepy statue of Ronald McDonald, as promised by the headline above.
See? Creepy Ronald. And yes, that statue is real. I just learned about it yesterday: someone posted the image above to reddit two days ago, the image went viral, and ultimately, flickered across my unsuspecting eyeballs.
And I wish I had found it a week earlier because it’s related to last Friday’s email, and specifically, to the Week in Review section.
Last Friday, I shared with you “this story [on Altas Obscura] about the Boll Weevil Monument, a statue to honor a pest that destroys cotton crops,” to quote myself. I didn’t explain why such a statue exists, instead suggesting that you “click through to learn why.” I wish I hadn’t because the weird clown above is part of the story, too. So here’s a (short) version of the story I would have written, had I known about the statue above a week ago.
The boll weevil is a beetle that absolutely destroys cotton crops. It’s native to Mexico and has found its way to the southern parts of the United States which, for decades, relied on cotton as its cash crop. Most of the American south, therefore, really hates the boll weevil. In the 1970s, the U.S. government engaged in a rather successful effort to eradicate the beetle from those regions, in order to protect cotton growers.
Alabama is part of the American south and grows a lot of cotton, so you’d expect Alabama to loathe the boll weevil — and by and large, that’s true. In 1915 or so, the boll weevil made its way to Enterprise, Alabama (here’s a map), and within three years, you simply couldn’t support yourself by growing cotton there. So farmers started growing other crops, and in particular, peanuts. Peanut farming turned into a very lucrative business for the people of the region, arguably making them more prosperous than they were when they grew cotton. So, in an effort to celebrate this newfound wealth and honor the town’s resilience during a period of adverity, they created a monument to the boll weevil.
I probably could have made that into a stand-alone Now I Know story and definitely considered it. But I ultimately decided to share the story in passing last week — there are a lot of weird statues out there and not all of them need their own story told, at least not here. What I didn’t realize last Friday, though, is that this past spring, Enterprise decided to double down on the weevil statues. They started a community project called “Weevil Way,” with local businesses commissioning the creation of boll weevil-inspired sculptures to be placed around town. If you go to that website, you’ll see the McDonald’s one (known as “Ronald McWeevil”) as well as about two dozen others, representing realtors, the mayor, a pediatrician’s office, the police and fire departments, a pizza place, and even an accountant. The weevils have invaded Enterprise again, and once again, Enterprise has won.
I think that Ronald McWeevil deserves a Now I Know article explaining his existence. I hope this does him justice.
The Now I Know Week in Review
Monday: Ye Old Mispronunciation: It’s not pronounced like it’s spelled. (By the way, I really like the picture of the sign I chose for this one.)
Tuesday: Why the NFL Doesn’t Play on Saturdays in October and November: But they can play in December (and, in fact, are playing games tomorrow).
Wednesday: The Episode of Peppa Pig That’s Banned in Australia: This story got me thinking: I wonder what they think of Spider-Man?
Thursday: He Could See Fine. But He Still Wore His Glasses: The story of an NBA player who did a really nice thing.
And some other things you should check out:
Some longreads for the holiday weekend:
1) “High for the Holidays” (Buzzfeed, 11 minutes, December 2013). This isn’t about drugs. It’s about mountain climbing. Here’s a pull-quote:
My sister’s email was short and to the point: “I want to climb Kilimanjaro. You should come. I’ll pay.”
Whenever it came time to visit family, crying poverty was my favorite excuse. But this wasn’t your regular Christmas at home — this would be Christmas on a mountain. With my sister. My half sister, actually, who I hadn’t seen much of since we were little, visiting each other occasionally while growing up in separate homes on separate sides of the state. She was making an effort, and I was getting to the age where I could appreciate that.
“Sure,” I wrote back, while making a mental note to cut back on my smoking. “Just you and me.”
[ . . . ]
Just weeks before we were supposed to fly out from NYC, my sister called me up. She told me, “Dad wants to come.”
“If you want, I could tell him this is our trip,” I said. “That it’s about us bonding. I’m not afraid to ask him not to come.”
“Why would I want that?” she said.
“Oh. Right.” Turned out I was the one who was afraid to have our dad come along. Suddenly I was 8 years old again, trying to block out the noise.
The trip turns out well, and the story is really a fantastic example of family coming together, albeit in an unusual if not unique way.
2) “Everything You Know About Latkes Is Wrong” (The Atlantic, 6 minutes, December 2022). The title is incorrect. I know latkes are delicious and that is not wrong. (The article admits as much.)
3) “Smash Knit: How Ugly Christmas Sweaters Took the Holiday Season by Storm” (Mental Floss, 7 minutes, December 2022). I have an R2-D2 ugly sweater (this one here, if you want one yourself) and I love it.
Have a great weekend!