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Will Dakota's hooks lure this visitor?

North Dakota is calling me. "Come on up!" it says. And then it adds: "Bring thermal underwear!"

This invitation resulted from a column in which I poked fun at North Dakota for wanting to drop the word "North" from its name, so that people will stop thinking of it as a cold, frigid, freezing, subzero, arctic, polar, wintry place characterized by low temperatures.

My column also made fun of Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn., for marketing themselves as "the Grand Cities" and proclaiming that they are "where the earth meets the sky." My feeling was that there are a LOT of places where the earth meets the sky, including most municipal landfills, but you don't see them bragging about it.

Anyway, that column got a BIG response. I got mail from every resident of North Dakota (a total of almost 150 letters). Many of these letters proudly defended North Dakota and its citizens (sample quote: "The people are friendly and warm-hearted. We don't usually shoot tourists like some other states").

Several Grand Cities political and civic leaders invited me to visit. They sent me information about the area, as well as gifts of typical North Dakota things, including a plastic baggie filled with peat. Peat is a substance that looks like frog poop but is actually formed from decayed swamp plants, and is used as a fuel. Either that, or the North Dakotans, as a prank, sent me a baggie full of frog poop, hoping that I would set fire to it.

Another traditional North Dakota item I received was buffalo jerky, which is a delicacy made from the jerky of a buffalo. If you are ever, at gunpoint, forced to choose between eating buffalo jerky and eating peat, my advice is: Go with the peat.

The jerky was sent by the mayor of Grand Forks, Mike Brown, who also made this generous offer: If I visit his city, he will name a sewage lift station after me. Really. According to the mayor, this is a major honor in Grand Forks. "That system moves 8-million gallons of sewage a day," he said, in a statement that tells us more than perhaps we want to know about the effects of jerky consumption on the human digestive system.

But having my name on a sewage lifter is not the only reason I am attracted to the Grand Cities. There are a LOT of exciting things going on up there. It's like Paris, Disney World and Las Vegas all rolled into one, minus the hotels, restaurants, attractions, Louvre museum, roads, etc.

But who needs attractions, when you have . . . Cats Incredible! This is a HUGE annual summer event in the Grand Cities, judging from the Grand Forks Herald, which covers Cats Incredible in front-page stories with headlines the height of Bette Midler. As well it should. Because Cats Incredible is nothing less than the largest catfish tournament in the entire Grand Cities region, attracting thousands of spectators. When that many people turn out to watch other people fish, then you know you're talking about an area with poor TV reception.

No, seriously, Cats Incredible looks very exciting. The Herald ran a front-page photo of this year's winning team _ two men holding a fish that is WAY uglier than the thing that's always chasing Sigourney Weaver around the spaceship. The Herald article describes one of the winning anglers as "a catfish guide, seminar speaker and author."

Yes! Catfish seminars! Don't tell ME this is not a great country.

If you think Cats Incredible is the only excitement going on up there, think again. Because the Grand Cities also play host to _ this is a real event _ the Frosty Bobber. In a stark departure from the concept of Cats Incredible, which is a summer fishing tournament, the Frosty Bobber is . . . a winter fishing tournament! It gets its name from the fact that, if you spend enough time sitting next to a hole in the ice, eventually your bobber gets frosty. This is why there are so few Canadians.

And there is much, much more to the Grand Cities. There is also the annual Potato Bowl, which I am sure is everything the name implies. And the mayor of East Grand Forks, Minn., Lynn Strauss, informs me that her city also boasts some powerful attractants, including "the largest beet sugar processing plant in the United States."

So call me crazy, but I'm seriously pondering a trip up to Dakota. I could use some excitement, not to mention some fresh air. Because this peat smoke is disgusting.

Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald. Write to him c/o the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132.

2001, Miami Herald