So who is America's most extraordinary person? Does he or she live in Stanislaus or one of the surrounding counties?
This past week, Mary Lou Howell received an e-mail from a researcher for a Swedish television show asking her to solicit nominations locally.
Howell has one of those job titles that takes up both sides of her business card. She's the Film, Sports & Tour sales manager for the Stanislaus County Film Commission, which is part of the Modesto Convention & Visitors Bureau.
With a title like that, you could easily get out of breath just introducing yourself.
The e-mail states that Filip Hammar and Fredrick Wikinsson -- "two of Sweden's most beloved TV hosts" -- will be in the United States from December through February. Their assignment?
"Find America's most extraordinary, likable and offbeat person (and the 99 that were pretty damn close)," according to the e-mail.
"I think it would be great to have somebody from this region," Howell said. "It sounds like it will be fun."
So the challenge is to identify and select those among us who meet those criteria.
Some folks might be extraordinary, but might not be likable. Some might be offbeat, but not extraordinary, meaning those who go the extra mile. Some might be likable enough, but just aren't inclined to do the outrageous.
Let me toss some possibilities at you:
Bette Belle Smith. She's extraordinary because of her tireless work to make Modesto a better place. She's immensely pleasant and likable. Offbeat? That's not how I'd describe her, even though you don't see that many 86-year-olds who still go to work every day at the bank. She's actually on medical leave after rupturing an Achilles tendon while stepping off a sidewalk, but plans to return to work in December. Had she hurt it playing beach volleyball, that might have been offbeat enough to impress the Swedes.
Nelson Hackett. He's extraordinary and offbeat all in one. He's the guy I wrote about last week, who will soon turn 96 years old and still rides his three-wheeled bike all over the place -- so he meets the extra-mile element -- with his three-legged dog in tow. He's likable, and, as his daughter said, totally eccentric.
Rob Santos, a veterinarian from Turlock, might be a contender, too. Extraordinary? He's a well-known animal healer who also is running for the Turlock Irrigation District board. likable? Certainly, though the voters ultimately will have the final say. Offbeat? He once stuck his hand deep into a 200-pound Bengal tiger's throat to extricate a bone the beast had swallowed. Fortunately, it didn't wake up in time to add Santos' arm to its collection.
William Lawless Pace. Like Hackett, his extraordinary qualities mesh with the offbeat. He's 98 and has lived the past 90 years with a bullet in his head, the result of a childhood accident. He's the Guinness world record holder in that category, and I doubt you'll find many willing challengers for the title. And he's a very likable gentleman.
At 92, Oakdale's Dan Donnelly is America's oldest living kamikaze pilot. He was a pilot in a top-secret Navy program during World War II. He flew another plane behind the drone, using remote control to guide it to its target. He also became the oldest known veteran ever to land on an aircraft carrier. He did that at age 90 in January 2006. That probably covers the extraordinary requirement. Offbeat? He's a descendent of Dan Donnelly, the great Irish heavyweight boxing champion whose unusually long right arm was severed by a ghoulish doctor after his death in 1820 and recently was on display in New York City.
likable? He'll have a bourbon with you anytime.
King George, the talking magpie. He displayed extraordinary vocabulary -- better than that of another George we know. And he's hard not to like, whether you're a person or a cat. Unfortunately, he's also missing, which probably would eliminate his chances of making even the list of "99 that are pretty damn close."
Oh, and there's one other thing about the show I forgot to point out. It's billed as an unscripted comedy, which means we have some latitude here with the political types.
Carmen Sabatino. He's a teacher who became a restaurateur and City Council tormenter until he was elected mayor. Then he was charged with a bunch of fraud-related felonies, lost his bid for re-election, went to court and the judge declared a mistrial when the jury couldn't agree on a verdict. Now, he hosts a morning radio show in which he takes on his political and personal enemies.
How does he rate? Extraordinary in his relentless pursuit of whatever he chooses to pursue. Offbeat? Very much so. Likability? When you have enough enemies to fill show after show, likability might have to be considered a drawback.
Marcus Nugent ran for a City Council seat while living in a homeless shelter championed, in no small part, by his opponent, Janice Keating. He scores points for the offbeat. He's likable. But extraordinary?
Avinesh Chand "Ace" Singh pretended to be a cop because he wanted to be a cop. Like Nugent, he's likable and certainly offbeat. But he'd have needed to go through the police academy, be sworn in as an officer and perform some real heroics to be considered extraordinary.
Those are just some possibilities. You probably have a few favorites, and Howell wants nominations.
Let's see if we can bring a Swedish invasion to Modesto.
Contact Mary Lou Howell at 526-5588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2383.