Hide and Peek

There's a new Mr. Missouri Leather! Plus: counterfeit-proof White Castle gift certificates; talking crab rangoon with novelist Lynn Messina; and a disturbing SAT flashback.

The contestants came from all over Missouri and from many different backgrounds. There was a farmer, a machinist, a manager of information systems, a veterinary hospital worker and a student. Some were cut and greased up, others flabby and dimple-butted. Their hobbies ranged from cycling to horseback riding to dog training to leathercrafting to bondage, domination, sadism and masochism.

But the five had one thing in common -- they all wanted to serve the Show-Me State as Mr. Missouri Leather 2004.

In case you missed it on the ten o'clock news, the 23rd annual Mr. Missouri Leather pageant was held March 6 at JJ's Clubhouse on Vandeventer, and the hundreds of studs (and smattering of ladies) hooting at the five contestants in their leather thongs witnessed the pure excitement that accompanies the crowning of a new Mister.

Newly tanned Mr. Missouri Leather Ron Walters (right) 
hopes outgoing champ Mark Bozif keeps that lighted 
stogie away from the ol' rawhide.
Scott Lokitz
Newly tanned Mr. Missouri Leather Ron Walters (right) hopes outgoing champ Mark Bozif keeps that lighted stogie away from the ol' rawhide.
Washington University grad Lynn Messina
Washington University grad Lynn Messina

Like the Miss America pageant, the competition has different components: pre-pageant interviews in which contestants showcase their knowledge of the history, importance and appreciation of leather. "The second part," explains Fredric Rissover, president of the Gateway Motorcycle Club, which sponsors the competition, "is where they introduce the contestants in what they call 'cruisewear' -- what they wear casually."

Casually, the contestants apparently all wear leather thongs.

"The third section is what we call the physique section, which is -- well, we'll just leave it at that," says Rissover. "The last section is called 'Leather Image,' where they wear their best leather outfit, and the contestants each have two minutes in which to talk about what they would do if they were chosen Mr. Missouri Leather."

The winner: St. Louisan Ron Walters, who works as an administrator in a veterinary hospital. "That's an incredible feeling," Walters tells Unreal in an exclusive interview, "to stand there and have a good portion of the people there support you and root for you, which is what the community is all about to begin with. This is my home."

After he travels to Chicago to take part in Memorial Day weekend's annual International Mr. Leather competition, the world is Mr. Missouri Leather's oyster. "You have the option in this of going in several different routes," he says. "You can work the charity portion of it, you can work on judging other contests on a nationwide basis. The network's very large. It all depends on what you want to do with it. I want to do it all. For me it's not whether or not you wear leather, but it's the mindset that you come from."

What Thieves Crave

First Uncle Sam called its HQ the White House. The creators of the Belly Bomber dubbed theirs White Castle. Then America's forefathers came up with the idea of transparent government. White Castle put in transparent windows for burger-grilling viewing. Most recently the feds redesigned the nation's currency to thwart counterfeiters -- and White Castle did the same thing with its gift certificates.

What gives?

Late last year White Castle rolled out gift certificates that would make Andrew Jackson dollar-green with envy. Each $1 white-and-blue note features a pair of White Castle logos near the top that are invisible to the naked eye until they're rubbed with a coin. Farther down, two pink, beribboned burgers are printed with thermochromic ink so that their image disappears when warmed by one's touch. Finally, a unique serial number assigned to each note makes these certificates the most secure currency in White Castle history.

Doubtless a good move on White Castle's part, given St. Louisans' reverence for the diminutive burgers -- and our love of counterfeiting. As evidence of the latter, Unreal cites River City resident Margretta Saffold, who last October became the federal government's first new-$20 counterfeiting catch -- only a week after the redesigned notes were introduced -- when she was indicted for trying to pass four fake bills. In January of this year, Jeremy D. Marshall of High Ridge pleaded guilty to felony mail fraud after selling somewhere between $70,000 and $120,000 worth of bogus Applebee's gift certificates on eBay; he faces up to twenty years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine (plus restitution). And earlier this month local couple Kathleen King and Brian Zolotor pleaded guilty to counterfeiting $7,500 worth of $20 bills using a computer and an ink-jet printer, then trying to pass off the fakes at the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles and a nearby hotel.

Though a local White Castle spokeswoman tells Unreal the restaurant's changes are merely "a preventative measure, just in case," it's clear it was only a matter of time.

Lit Up

Thirty-one-year-old Washington University grad Lynn Messina used to write for InStyle, an experience that fed into her critically acclaimed 2003 novel, Fashionistas. Unfortunately, the novel's parody of the fashion world hit a bit close to home for InStyle's editors, who gave her the heave-ho. Now, with a job as a freelance copy editor for Metropolitan Home and (according to her flacks at Red Dress Ink publishers) a reputation as a "chick-lit" trailblazer, the New York-born author has released Tallulahland, which skewers the industry of home design.

Unreal put in a call to Messina to find out whether she's been fired from her current job yet.

Unreal: What is chick-lit? And why does your press release say its demise is greatly exaggerated?

Lynn Messina: Chick-lit was all part of the Bridget Jones fallout. It started with these mid-twentysomething women looking for a man and going out on one-after-another successive terrible dates, looking for humor. Now it has sort of evolved into anything written by a woman under 50.

Who's the more pro-chick-lit candidate, Kerry or Bush?

I'm gonna have to say John Kerry, because I don't think Bush reads.

Did you write a home-design parody with the hopes of getting fired from Metropolitan Home too?

I told them that my next book would be about a furniture designer, but I swore it had nothing to do with them.

Why did you go to Wash. U.? Is it because you knew the school would one day be ranked higher than Columbia?

I was given a two-hour travel limit from home by my mom, and Wash. U. was as far as I could go. I had no idea there would be so many Long Islanders there.

Which do you like better, St. Louis or New York City?

Um, New York City.

Maybe I should put it this way, then: Which city has legalized gambling and has an arch?

St. Louis.

That's right! And which has better toasted ravioli?

St. Louis, of course. That's also where I discovered crab rangoon, which is quite my favorite. We don't have it here in New York.

Crab rangoon rocks!

Cheese being deep-fried -- how could it not be loved?

No More Multiple Choice

Unreal's stomach took a tumble when we heard that the College Board, those merciless masterminds behind the Scholastic Aptitude Test, has raised the top score possible on the dreaded college-entrance exam from 1600 to 2400, rendering our hungover 800 even more pathetic.

So we put in a call to Kaplan Inc., the Washington Post-owned company to whom worried parents shell out big bucks to prepare their pimple-faced kids for the Big Test. Jonathan Zeitlin, a Kaplan exec in New York City, says the architects added a new section to the test devoted to essay writing and grammar, and subtracted analogies, that classic SAT exercise in mental masturbation. Unreal decided to join the throngs of freaked-out high school juniors who want answers now.

Unreal: The essay section must be handwritten. What if my penmanship is worse than a chimpanzee's?

Jonathan Zeitlin: I have absolutely horrible penmanship. Usually, the worse the handwriting, the smarter the student is. But if it's completely unreadable, they'll have a hard time grading it.

With analogies gone from the test, how will Conan O'Brien ask important questions like "Beyoncé is to did the national anthem as Christina Aguilera is to did the National Football League"?

Maybe he could bust people with bad grammar.

But seriously, isn't this being propelled by a shortage of good analogy writers?

No, that's not the case.

If the new score is 2400 and I made a 1500 ten years ago, doesn't that make me look dumb now?

Yeah.

OK, let's be honest. I didn't get anywhere near a 1500. Can I take the test again to better my pathetic score?

There's a guy in California who has been trying to set the record for the lowest SAT score ever. To get the lowest score ever, you have to be incredibly smart, because you have to be able to figure out every answer that's right and get it wrong on purpose.

That's what I did! OK, here's an analogy: crumb is to bread as a) Lil Jon is to crunk; b) drinking is to college; c) a 900 on the SAT is to spending the rest of your life flipping burgers at Hardee's.

We have a method for analogies called "building a bridge," which means you build a little sentence in your mind. So a crumb is a little piece of bread, but drinking isn't a little piece of the college experience.

I don't think we went to the same college.

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