Sam Eifling spent a recent Saturday in Stuttgart, Ark., at the World's Championship Duck Calling Contest and its Duck Gumbo party, a rollicking bumpkin Mardi Gras that has taken for its central rite the practice of slapping that ass.
Every year, on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving, the hamlet of Stuttgart, Ark., holds its World's Championship Duck Calling Contest. Around that cacophonous downtown display, a carnival springs up -– rides, crafts, funnel cakes, the works. What distinguishes the Wings Over the Prairie Festival from all other bumpkin Americana is two things: Mack's Prairie Wings, the massive duck hunting retailer, which gets simply overrun; and a little party called Duck Gumbo (more on that shortly).
Mack's is where it is because Stuttgart justifiably claims to be the rice and duck capital of the world. Arkansas produces almost half the rice grown in the United States, and migrating ducks fly in each fall to partake in the marshland. As a result, east Arkansas attracts the sort of folks who love to blast the shit out of some birds.
My buddies and I drove out of Little Rock through rural delta farmland that gave only the faintest impression of inhabitation. Once in a while we'd pass a three-story shed with the words "seed farm" printed on the side, or a "Firewood 4 Sale" sign, or the Future Home of County Line Missionary Baptist Church. We passed some kind of blob on the road. "Is that just garbage?" my friend Johnnie asked. "I think it's part buzzard," I replied. Not much going on. Then we got to Mack's, and it looked like dead animal Christmas.
We didn't make the trip to look at waders, though. We ventured into the heart of duckness to hit up the World Championship Duck Gumbo Cookoff. It's an annual rite that draws 3,000 revelers for beer, live music, and homemade duck gumbos, all cooked under a 33,000-square-foot tent in some rice processor's parking lot.
Apparently Playboy once listed Duck Gumbo among the best parties in the South or something. The legend of that distinction seems to grow, so you'll hear guys tell each other Playboy called Duck Gumbo one of the best parties in the country, or maybe the best party in the country. People roll up in limos and on trolleys from towns 90 minutes away. Favorite Arkansan Jerry Jones has been known to make a cameo. In short, it's a throwdown.
Long-time Duck Gumbo attendees say the party used to be even more blue (wistfully, they compare the olden days to Mardi Gras), but one piece of debauchery has become ritualized: the practice of slapping stickers on people's asses. Years ago, one of the teams in the gumbo competition had the brilliant idea to print stickers. Soon, those were ending up on butts. Now it seems every team packs a roll of labels to slap on that ass.
Ass-stickering can be carried out to great effect. It's almost axiomatic that the nicer asses are those that attract the most stickering. Strictly for ROI, gumbo teams would like to see their brand associated with the choicest hind ends; for the most discerning gropers and slappers, a sticker in hand becomes license to stroke, slap and then smooth a sticker against a butt. Here we see an example of excellent coverage aided by obvious interlopers: the Doe's Eat Place, the Miller Lite and the upside-down "Reduced for quick sale" all on the left cheek. These were cheap feels for cheap thrills.
Up close, even the legit stickers reveal shortcuts. Here a team has either let a typo ride or has recycled leftover stickers from 2006. On a circular sticker, under a dark, dusty tent where people polished off more than 10,000 metal pints of Bud Light by 3:30 p.m., no one's going to give much of a damn what year it is.
This haphazard coverage runs at least three or four deep on the supremely swatable upper cheek region while tapering off down the back of the thighs. The sticker holding the shirttail to the top of the pants illustrates an awkward phenomenon known as "diapering."
The apotheosis of the ass-splattering approach is perhaps this fine behind, shingled as it is in several gumbo team stickers and a whole host of irrelevant tags. One notes with amusement the not one, not two, but three "approved" stickers along the right cheek.
It should be said, too, that depending on the recipient, the sticker-slapping might migrate from the traditional backsides to any other part of the person that a stickerer deems fun to feel. To wit, this amply clefted specimen.
When I asked this woman's permission to document her behind, she obliged, then asked after how her $200 jeans looked in the photo.
Occasionally you might notice a dude with stickers on his can, but demographics dictate that most of the people on the receiving end of the stickering are women (seen here). When I asked gumbo booth proprietors for a perch from which to photograph the crowd, a couple were kind; one 67-year-old (who claimed he has hunted ducks for 50 years) invited me onto the second story of his Swiss Family Robinson-style gumbo loft and asked, "Want to see some tits?" He pointed to another nearby gumbo stand that apparently had been the site of some goings-on (and takings-off) earlier but had since tamed. On my way out, he let me pour myself a shot of José Cuervo Gold. Another gumbo stand was more exclusive. "No guys allowed," the dude at the front said.
No doubt there were some dedicated culinary artists at work among the 55 teams cooking gumbo that day. (Several have spent years or even decades on a waiting list; this year, every team returned from last year.) But it would be hard to take seriously any gumbo named "Duck Naked" that chooses as its emblem a drunk, bare bird sucking on a longneck.
In a rarity for a sternum tattooed with a Mexican skull overlaid with bat-winged birds, this woman's frontal display is actually understated. It earns points because those stickers on her nipples are the "spark" from the new logo of Walmart, another venerable Arkansas institution.