Manly Men Celebrate Manhood With Spam

By AVIVA L. BRANDT

Associated Press Writer

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) _ The Order of the Manly Men has something even better than a secret handshake to weed out the Real Manly Men from the imitations _ a "belly buck," says R.M. Crane, self-proclaimed president-for-life and founder of the group.

"That's the official Manly Man greeting, you know," Crane said by telephone Wednesday from his Tacoma floral shop. "You raise your arms up and you _ BOOM _ just like a sumo wrestler."

What started out as a men-only camping trip with a few friends and brothers-in-law five years ago along the Cle Elum River grew into a full festival, called the Manly Men Parade and Spam Festival, scheduled this Saturday in the Cascade foothills town of Roslyn, Crane said.

"Our wives razzed us about being manly men and we said, `Sure we're manly men and we're going to do manly things in the woods," he said, deepening his voice for each "manly."

Highlights will include a Bevy of Biker Babes and the Crowning of the Spam Queen.

Crane emphasizes it's all in fun.

"It sounds sexist, but this is all tongue-in-cheek and fun," Crane said. "We love women. ... Behind every manly man, there's one heck of a woman."

There are at least 1,000 men nationwide who are members of the Order of the Manly Men, receiving a certificate, a mug and a membership card they can flash to prove their manliness.

"It's proof positive. If his manliness is ever questioned, he can whip out his card and prove how manly he is," Crane said. "It's also good in bar fights, but I've never tested that."

Honorary members include actors Kurt Russell, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, retired Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton and former Chicago Bears football coach Mike Ditka.

Ditka's response to being presented with his honorary membership epitomized the manliest of men, Crane said.

Ditka, after hearing the explanation of the Order of the Manly Men and being told how useful his membership card would be, responded, "`If anyone ever questions my manliness, I'll beat the crap out of them,'" Crane said. "I nodded, `Yes, Mr. Ditka.'"

The camping trip that started it all has become an annual event.

"The third year, we allowed people to bring their firstborn sons, so they could see what manly men do," Crane said.

Spam plays a key role in the manly activities.

It all started when the men were discovered at their secret campsite their first year by a female forest ranger.

"We invited her back for a steak dinner since it was our red meat night," Crane said. "She returned with a friend, a (Kittitas County) deputy sheriff _ I think she was afraid to come alone _ and we had a ceremony in the woods. ...

"As a fluke, I had a can of Spam and I offered them a ceremonious gift of the manly food. That started the Spam thing."

The following year, the deputy returned and presented Crane with a "Subpoena of Manliness."

This year, the three-day camping trip will include daylong festivities open to the public in Roslyn. Crane said public activities include:

_The parade, open to folks of any gender as long as their vehicle is sufficiently manly. "If a woman has a manly enough truck, she can be in the parade."

_A tool belt competition. "I hear there's one guy in town named Bull and he has this honking tool belt. I don't know if he'll enter, but they tell me he'll win hands down."

_An amateur Spam cook-off as well as Spam entrees at the Roslyn restaurants, such as Spam frittata, Spam pizza and Spam shooters, which Crane said are similar to oyster shooters.

_A softball game featuring the Manly Men and the Betty Bloomers. "They said men can only hit the ball with a broomstick or a coal pick handle, but I told them that we'll have to cheat."

_And, of course, the Spam queen, who won a 100-word essay contest for the honor. Entries came from as far away as Mexico, Maine and Michigan, but the winner came from Cle Elum, Crane said. His 17-year-old daughter, Shanna, will be a Spam princess.

This year, Hormel Corp. donated some trophies, shirts and hats in return for Crane's promise not to denigrate Spam's reputation. "They get upset over some of the Spam-carving contests, like the one held in Seattle," he said. "They're really only involved (in this festival) by name."