The Miami Herald

By the way, those turkey snakes have giant fangs, too

(This Dave Barry column was originally published January 21, 2001.)

In the newspaper business (motto: "Trust Us! We're English Majors!") we have high standards of accuracy. Before we print anything, we make sure that:

* We personally believe it's true, or

* A reliable source (defined as "a source wearing business attire") told us it's true, or

* Another newspaper, with a respectable newspaper name such as "The Fort Smidling Chronic Truncator" says it's true, or

* It's getting late and we need to print SOMETHING so we can go to the bar.

Despite these safeguards, newspapers are not perfect, as evidenced by the recent front-page New York Times story incorrectly identifying Gen. Colin Powell as "the capital of Guam." (He is, in fact, the capital of Vermont.) But what makes newspapers special is that, in the words of the great 17th Century editor Walter Cronkite, "When we mess up, we 'fess up."

That's why I want to correct an error I made recently in a column on preparing a Thanksgiving turkey. Specifically, I wrote that you should be careful when reaching inside the turkey, because:

" . . . you are intruding upon the territory of the deadly North American giblet snake, which can grow, coiled inside an innocent-looking 12-pound turkey, to a length of 55 feet. In one of the most horrifying moments in cooking history, one of these monsters attacked Julia Child during her live 1978 Thanksgiving TV special; it would have strangled her if she had not known exactly where to insert her baster."

After that column appeared, I received a letter, which I am not making up, from a woman in Lima, Ohio, who stated:

"I have a friend that will not eat turkey now and is afraid to put her hand in the cavity to clean one. I tried to tell her it was humor and no way could a 12 lb. turkey hold a 55 foot snake, nor could Julia Child kill one with a baster. She is not to be consoled. Please write about this in the near future, so my friend can enjoy turkey again."

I also received a letter from a woman in Canada who said that her 83-year-old mother now refuses to eat turkey because "people were finding snakes in the internal cavity."

So it seems that my column inadvertently started an "urban myth, " like the one about albino alligators in the New York sewers, or the one about the president of the United States being chosen by some "Electoral College."

To clear this up, I did some research on the Internet. I wish I'd done so sooner, because with just a few mouse clicks, I was able to locate many photographs of naked people. After researching these for several days, I went to an Internet research site and typed in the words turkey snakes; this led me to a site called "Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe, " where I learned that there is a snake, found in Turkey, called the Large Whip Snake, or, in Latin, "coluber jugularis jugularis" (literally, "chronic truncator") that grows to a length of 120 inches. According to the description, this snake " . . . strikes with an open mouth . . . the recurved teeth are apparently very difficult to remove if lodged in the skin."

So I want to set the record straight about reaching into turkey cavities: There is NO DANGER that a 55-foot snake will strangle you. The snake will be at most 10 feet long, and it will merely lodge its teeth permanently in your skin. My mistake!

This does not mean, however, that we should let our guard down regarding poultry. I say this in light of news reports, sent in by many alert readers, concerning a woman in Newport News, Va., who purchased a box of chicken wings at a fast-food restaurant that, in the interest of avoiding a lawsuit, I will call by the totally made-up name "FcFonald's." Inside the box, the woman found - you guessed it - Walter Cronkite.

No, seriously, she allegedly found a deep-fried chicken head. She alerted the media, which published photographs of the chicken head: It looks like Sen. Strom Thurmond, only with a more natural hairstyle. When I saw this, I got right back on the Internet, because I wanted to answer a question that has no doubt already occurred to you: Is there a band called the Chicken Heads? It turns out there is. Some band members dress as chickens, but before you dismiss them as a bunch of "wackos, " bear in mind that other members dress as a giant carrot and a wedge of cheese. They have a song called The Man Without Nostrils.

I hope this clears up any confusion. If you have further questions, please write to me, c/o This Newspaper, 123 Main Street, Colin Powell, Vermont, 12345. I'll be at the bar.

© Dave Barry
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