Saturday, October 7, 2006

10 World Leaders Who Wear Footie Pajamas

8 Famous Parrots

A Dozen Celebrities Who Hiccup

The 10 Worst Area Rugs

Oh, my gosh. Hand over those lists and let’s discover who wears Dr. Dentons and whether Paris and Britney have secret bilious moments. Maybe Drudge knows. Or Guinness.

What? Those are fake lists? Say it isn’t so.

Alas, we confess, they are indeed fake compilations produced solely for amusement purposes. No parrots or area rugs were harmed in the process. But they could be real. There is a list for the top 10, top 20 and top 100 of anything and seemingly everything on the planet. Mankind revels in the best of, worst of, greatest, coolest, hottest, sexiest, tiniest, smelliest or scariest.

Want to put together an insider’s rating for refrigerator magnets? It’s been done. Hope to assemble the all-time most intriguing items that ever appeared on a grocery list? That’s been done, too. In fact, it’s a 240-page book.

“Milk Eggs Vodka,” by Bill Keaggy will be published by HOW Books in a few months, based around the author’s collection of grocery lists he found abandoned in carts, blowing around in the Safeway parking lot or flapping feebly in the gutter. The enterprising Mr. Keaggy has assembled and organized 1,300 of these lists to reveal that a surprising percentage of Americans do not know how to spell mayonnaise, banana, anchovy and yogurt.

His Web site ( displays hundreds of the long-lost lists, and Mr. Keaggy says he is always looking for more.

But back to everybody else’s bright ideas.

The U.S. Hurricane Research Center has just assembled the top 10 worst places to live should one not enjoy storm surges and lawn furniture circling the house at 125 mph. The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society is looking for nominations for its list of the “world’s greatest moments in materials and engineering history,” to be unveiled with considerable ceremony at Walt Disney World next year.

Not to be outdone, the Social Security Administration compiles the top 10 baby names for both sexes every year — Emily and Jacob are in the lead. Mitsubishi Motors named the top 10 strangest street names: Psycho Path in Traverse City, Mich., and Divorce Court in Heather Highlands, Pa., were first and second. The American Pie Council named the top five holiday pies: pumpkin, apple, cherry and lemon meringue, with pecan, chocolate cream and mincemeat tied for fifth.

There also are strangely disquieting lists, such as “100 Things to See Before You Die,” a 1999 book by Neil Teplica, who suggests that one participate in the World Cow Chip Throwing Championship in Beaver, Okla., and the Pushkar Camel Fairin India, along with 98 other activities.

But that is just the tip of the phenomenon.

Just to name a few of the great oeuvres, there’s also “101 Things to Do Before You Die,” “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” “10 Fun Things to Do Before You Die,” “101 Things to Do Before You’re Old and Boring,” “50 Things to Do With the Rest of Your Life,” “101 Things to Do Before You Turn 40” and “30 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do Before Turning 30.”

Will there be an entire series for our overplanned, overextended children? (No, no. Say it isn’t so.) “12 Things You Must Do by Kindergarten” and “50 Sure-fire Strategies for Fifth Grade” may be brewing in some 26-year-old writer’s brain at this very moment.

There are those who try to make sense of it all. Irving Wallace and his brilliant offspring, Amy Wallace and David Wallechinsky, practically invented the list-organizing genre in 1977 by preparing “The Book of Lists,” which started as a joke and grew into a franchise. Their many volumes, which tout such things as “11 Men Who Have Cried in Public” or “9 of the World’s Quietest Places,” are still being published.

Russell Ash produces “The Top 10 of Everything” in book form every year, appeasing our need to track the highs and lows and the human experience with more than 600 annual lists of stupid crimes, popular cocktails, fat animals and tall buildings. Then there’s always Guinness, or perhaps David Letterman’s nightly top 10.

Still, the top 10/best-of elves are forever spinning out new lists, for all our new list needs. A few current samples gleaned from print, broadcast and blog: the 10 Most Hated Hollywood Celebrities, the Top 50 Movie Endings of All Time, the 15 Most Popular Ice Cream Flavors, the 10 Fattest Cities in America, the Worst 100 April Fool Jokes, the 10 Scariest TV Characters.

It makes all of us here at the Bombast Desk feel inadequate and confused as we flail in the oncoming rush of informed judgment and learned opinion. But wait. We always could assemble a list of the top 10 things that make us feel inadequate and confused, package them cleverly, sell the movie rights and appear on “Oprah.”

Then, surely, we would not be inadequate and confused anymore.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and famous parrots for the Washington Times’ National Desk. Reach her at jharper@washington or 202/636-3085.

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