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5:11 a.m. - 2001-04-03

THE BIGGEST RAT TURNS OUT TO BE A TINY MOUSE

So yesterday was the kickoff for the Biggest Rat in Town Competition.

I'm in over my head before the competition even started.

I arrived at the mall 30 minutes before the contest started, because in my warped mind, extreme punctuality may actually earn me brownie points in the minds of the judges.

No such luck. The judges hadn't even shown up yet.

Keep in mind ... the contestants are kept TOTALLY in the dark about what kind of contest we are about to compete in. I had no idea if we were going to be spray painting our naked bodies and running up and down the mall screaming "I'M A BIG RAT!!" or if we were going to be chaining ourselves to trees and screaming "LOOKIT ME!! I'M A BIG RAT!!"

As I walked into the mall, the aroma wafted into my nostrils and I immediately became nauseous.

Then I saw them.

Big blocks of cheese laid out on tables.

Okay. For those of you who haven't been paying attention ... I abhor cheese.

I hate it.

I cannot eat it. I cannot smell it. I cannot touch it. I can look at it, but only from a distance because I have a constant fear that someone's going to pick up a hunk of cheese and either throw it at me or rub it on my skin.

Yes. I'm pushing 40 and am still a freak about cheese.

Sue me.

One of the judges, Dr. Sam shows up. Dr. Sam is a radio deejay here in town and has been a friend of mine for about 13 years.

"Sam," I say quietly. "Do you know the rules of the contest?"

"I SURE DO!" he says in his booming voice.

"Uhhhh...do we have to eat cheese? Because I can't even touch it ... it grosses me out."

He laughed.

LAUGHED.

"Don't worry, ratboy," he said. "You won't have to eat any cheese."

I gulped. Sam's not the most trustworthy soul on this earth. But before I could really grill him hard on the subject, he walked away.

I stood there ... alone...knees knocking and big stomach churning.

Catherine Edwards with the American Cancer Society walked up and handed me an XL t-shirt with the Biggest Rat logo on it and walked away.

Was I supposed to put this on? I'm a big guy, folks ... I shop at the Big, Tall and Abnormally Obese Store for Men. The only thing I can do with an extra large t-shirt is use it for a headband.

I wadded the t-shirt up in my massive fist and handed it to my wife who had magically appeared at my side.

"Hide this," I hissed. "If they ask us to put them on, I'll say my t-shirt was stolen."

She rolled her eyes and secretly wished she had married a man who understood the concept of "Pushing Himself Away From The Dinner Table".

My campaign manager for this event, the lovely Mrs. Leanne Cornwell showed up in time to share in the growing panic that was festering in my belly.

"Leanne," I said desperately. "I have a phobia with cheese. I can't touch it, smell it or eat it. And I think I'm about to touch it. And if I touch it, I'll DIE Leanne ... I'll just DIE!!"

"Don't worry," she said, eyes darting around the mall. "I've got you covered."

Let me say right here ... Leanne is much more than a campaign manager. She's my personal savior.

Finally, it was time to be introduced to the growing throng of people gathered to witness the kickoff of the campaign.

Leanne comes rushing up with a pair of rubber gloves and slips them to me.

"These will help," she said, in her best attempt at a rushed pep talk.

"Thanks," I whispered, shoving the gloves in my pocket. "You're much more than my campaign manager. You're my personal..."

"I know," she said, pushing me toward the table. "I just read that about six sentences ago."

I walked over to my spot on the contestant's table and stood behind my nameplate.

The rules of the contest were explained.

I didn't understand them. Rather ... I didn't pay attention to them. I was too busy staring at the stack of individually wrapped cheese slices before me.

The gist of the contest was that we had to unwrap the cheese slices as quickly as possible without tearing the wrappers up.

Keep in mind ... I've never unwrapped a cheese slice in my LIFE ... let alone done it carefully.

Thus ... I knew I wasn't going to win this contest.

Dr. Sam counted to three and we began unwrapping and the crowd started cheering.

I fumbled with my first slice of cheese, carefully opening the wrapper and laying it neatly on the table as judges hovered nearby, admiring my slow, but terribly neat handiwork.

It wasn't until after the contest was over that I was told that I had misunderstood the rules. It wasn't the wrappers that I was supposed to be careful of tearing ... it was the cheese slices themselves.

Which I guess makes more sense, doesn't it?

My cheese slices looked like they had been jammed in a paper shredder. Meanwhile, my wrappers were perfectly stacked in a neat little untorn pile. When all was said and done, it's safe to say that I lost.

Horribly lost.

Kudos to WAKA's Monica Allen who won the contest and received a whopping $200 to kickstart her month-long campaign with.

And hey, as long as we're handing out kudos ... I'm going to heap some on myself as well. At least I didn't pass out from touching the cheese.

As far as the rest of the campaign goes ... it's all downhill from here.

The cheese handling is over.

(To read the actual NEWS story of the event from my competition ... click here.)

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