Hungarian Velcro Crop, More Than a
Fastener, Knits the Social Fabric
Mysterious Lint Storms Threaten
Lush Bounty Of Rich Velcro Fields
A Very Sticky Situation
By SUSAN LEATHERGARMENT Staff Reporter of
OFF THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
MISKOLC, Hungary-- It is windy here but, mysteriously, Zoltan Dudai's field hat does not blow off his head. With a twinkle in his eye, the wiry Magyar, 52, tears off his hat, producing the unmistakable ripping sound made by only one substance on earth. Proudly, he shows his foreign visitor the secret-a velcro hat liner and its mate, a black velcro band around his head. "We are a velcro people," he boasts. "The blood that my ancestors spilled on this ground now gives life to our crop, and our crop keeps our garments securely fastened!"
To Zoltan Dudai, velcro is more than a convenient, modern fastener-it is a way of life. Mr. Dudai is the overseer of the Miskolci Velkrogyar, the largest velcro farm in the world. From the Miskolc area comes 56% of the world's grade A velcro crop. After harvesting, the adhesive vegetable is dried and processed in the nearby state-run factory, then exported to the four corners of the earth for use as the bristly multipurpose closure material so popular on ski jackets, shoes, slipcovers and wallets. "Hungarian velcro and Hungarian women are world's finest," Mr. Dudai says. 'We love our velcro. It gives us life.'' That Mr. Dudai and his people love velcro is no understatement.
Velkro, in fact, is the Hungarian word for love. He explains: "Velcro is exactly like love, is it not? Lovers come together in silent union, stick, then separate noisily."
Gazing adoringly at his 52,000 hectares of gently rolling hills covered with the plant that often reminds foreigners of giant bonsai trees covered with wolly black Spanish moss, Mr. Dudai's reveries is interrupted by a shower of white flakes that descends from the sky and lands on his head and his shoulders. He runs his calloused hands through a thick mane of hair. "Is no snow, is no dandruff," he laughs nervously, "it's csouris-lint. This is lint to choke a family.
Lint, the natural enemy of velcro, destroys the plant's unique adhesive qualities. "the female velcro plant, she is weak, like a woman," says Mr. Dudai with tears in his eyes. " She cannot resist the white lint. After she forms a union with this lint, she is sterile, barren, not sticky-she refuse to mate with the male velcro, and he in his loyalty cannot stick with anything else." Lint, raining from the sky in quantities not seen since the invasion of 1956, will likely cause this year's crop to fall far short of last year's record 15.8 billion spines, enough raw velcro to affix Japan to Michigan 13 times over. No one is sure where the lint comes from, although researchers at the nearby N. Khrushchev Agricultural and Mining Institute speculate that it is a result of increased use of aerosol products in the West. (This is disputed by Professors Sanjeev Mukhari and Radi Gupta of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who claim that the Hungarian lint situation is caused by the improper cleaning of laundromat exhaust stacks in nearby Czechoslovakia.) Wherever the lint may come from, one thing is certain: There. are going to be a lot of "unattached" male velcro plants this season.
If there is a shortage, it will likely mean higher velcro prices on the international spot market, a situation welcomed by many Communist planners. But there are those who disagree. Dudai's son Deza, 19, whose penchant for numbers has earned him the nickname "Mathematics," is one of them. "These big party officials with their cars and zippers know nothing of our velcro," fumes Mathematics. "if velcro price goes up only 17%, Americans will have much incentive to make their velcro perfect. We will have to increase our efficiency by over 34% or we will all die!"
"We're still years behind the Hungarians, even with the lint problem," says Mal Fowler, spokesman for the American Velcroman's Association. "Our velcro is every bit as cohesive as theirs, but we still don't have the sound right-that nice, crisp 'rip' they get." Mr. Fowler refused to comment on the other well-known objection to the domestic strain-the way it releases the noxious smell of rotten eggs during each uncoupling.
"American velcro makes a loud, distinctly flatulent sound," says Whitney Schooner, garment industry analyst with Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb. "But that's not the worst part-it's the odor that really clinches it Nobody wants to be accused of 'letting a big one' every time he takes off his coat.
Back in Miskolc, the Dudai family prepares for the spring fertility festival despite the ominous clouds of lint approaching from the direction of Czechoslovakia. Mathematics' sister Csandi, 15, named Velro Princess at last September's harvest festival, enthuses over the hardy perennial as she dons her colorful ceremonial patushki, festooned with and fastened by the local staple. "I never fear bad fit from clothes," she smiles. 'Velcro is adjustable and makes my patushki feel so good on my skin! Mmmm. Not a button is to be seen in this part of my fatherland. I am happy."