Wisconsin, the land of the weirdos

Writing a humor column in Wisconsin couldn't be any easier these days. I expend less effort than the Maytag repair man. It's like being a gold miner, only instead of chipping away at the walls of a dank shaft, I'm allowed to pick bars of bullion off the shelves at Fort Knox.

Consider Wisconsin's recent news of the weird and wacky: If we aren't dethroning Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin for standing up, we're declaring open season on alley cats. And if our criminals aren't offering used farm machinery as payment in murder-for-hire schemes, then they're stuffing their dead mothers into freezers for safekeeping. I mean, you can't make this kind of stuff up. But if you can, Newsweek will hire you.

I'm reluctant to complain about this steady flow of priceless material. After all, putting a comedic spin on current events these days is the easiest payday since the creation of federal homeland security grants. And I don't even have to prove that a $4 million ferret extermination project at the local airport will protect the country from clear and present danger.

Yet I worry about my home state's reputation. As is the case with so many Midwestern states where Herefords outnumber humans and dressing for a special occasion means wearing one's best flannel, Wisconsin seems to exist only to create fodder for comedians.

We have only ourselves to blame for reinforcing the nation's view of us as quirky hicks. Our state is full of educated, refined people, but the only badgers who get any attention are the shirtless boozers who insist on wearing foam-rubber cheese wedges to nationally televised sporting events.

Try though we might to promote our world-class university and our precious natural scenery, we remain - in the national consciousness - the land of polka bands and "Laverne & Shirley." Our state runneth over with wineries, yet our reputation remains full of Schlitz.

I had hoped our state had used up its 15 minutes of infamy in March when a teacher who suffers from muscular dystrophy was stripped of her Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin title after she appeared in a newspaper photograph standing up.

But a month later, Wisconsin was back in the sights of Leno and Letterman, when Conservation Congress voters endorsed the hunting of wild cats. This measure, designed to protect songbirds - and provide gun-wielding bumpkins with much-needed entertainment - was shot down by Gov. Jim Doyle. "What it does is sort of hold us up as a state that everybody is kind of laughing at right now," Doyle said.

Little did he know the laughs would keep on coming. In addition to feral cats, Wisconsin seems to be overrun by weirdo criminals. Just last month, a Dunn County farmer was charged with solicitation of homicide after allegedly offering an undercover agent a mechanical hay baler in exchange for killing a romantic rival. Leave it to a cheesehead to barter with a hit man.

Or to give new meaning to the term "frozen assets." In April, a 52-year-old La Crosse man was found to be keeping his dead mother's body in a basement freezer, allegedly concealing her death so he could continue living off her Social Security checks. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for those meddling kids who strayed onto his property, prompting Philip Schuth to shoot at his neighbors and launch a 15-hour standoff with police that ended in eight felony charges, not to mention the discovery of Schuth's mother and evidence he subsisted on Spam, tuna sandwiches, snack cakes and cold beans.

Yes, life in Wisconsin is the stuff of "Psycho." After all, the Norman Bates character was inspired by Wisconsin's own Ed Gein. And just as people began to forget about Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer came along.

Sometimes it seems our state's chief export isn't cheese or beer, but weirdos. The problem, of course, is that we aren't exporting them at all. They tend to stick around, sullying our state's reputation and prompting outsiders to ask, "What is in the water up there in Wisconsin?"

What's in the water? Mostly Schlitz.

Send your favorite tales of Wisconsin weirdness to former Lillie News staffer Ben Bromley at bbromley@ capitalnewspapers.com.

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