Spores galore

I’m outta here: Not usually one to be alarmist or reactionary, Bites has been a little freaked out about these recent bioterrorism scares. Hate mail is one thing—hell, Bites takes great pride in some of the nasty vitriol that y’all fling my way—but envelopes filled with anthrax spores?!?! That wasn’t in the job description.

This journalism stuff is starting to become such dangerous business that Bites has considered switching to some safer profession, like alligator wrestling or underwater welding or maybe running for public office. OK, that may be going too far. This isn’t a time to lose our heads.

Last Friday, after the second journalist contracted anthrax and rumors swirled about mysterious envelopes filled with white powder showing up at newspapers across the country, Bites’ bosses issued an edict that none of us should open envelopes until we got this all figured out and put a plan in place. That’s the kind of nutty overreaction that is usually cannon fodder for this column, but it seemed pretty damned reasonable at the time.

And two days earlier, over at California State University at Sacramento, a bioterrorism scare forced the evacuation of Santa Clara Hall and a response from hazardous materials teams after someone found a $5 bill covered in a white powdery substance. Bites really misses the innocent ’80s, when finding a bill filled with white powder was a cause for celebration rather than alarm.

Subsequent testing showed that the substance wasn’t anthrax, the plague or any of the other nasty molecules that have become the weapons of choice for those of our enemies who can’t afford tomahawk missiles or stealth bombers.

Rumors that wouldn’t be confirmed nor denied by either Sac State police or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is now investigating the matter, said the bill included a cryptic handwritten message, something like “The sleeping will arise,” one student told the campus newspaper the Hornet. Creepy.

Mail bag: Meanwhile, over at the Capitol, California Highway Patrol Commissioner D.O. “Spike” Helmick was briefing journalists and state mailroom workers about extra precautions being put into place to prevent someone from opening an envelope of anthrax spores intended for Governor Gray Davis or some other top state official.

About 50 letter openers were told to watch out for suspicious letters and packages—and not just those addressed to “The Great Satan and His Minions”—and then were told they would be issued rubber gloves. Yes, it’s true, we’re fighting global terrorism with rubber gloves. It does not instill great confidence, eh?

Postal inspectors say that signs of a “suspicious package” include no return address or that of someone unfamiliar to you, sloppy addressing, and the words “Personal” or “Confidential” being written on the envelope. That describes about 80 percent of the mail that Bites receives.

As Bites said a few weeks back, perhaps the only effective long-term solution to this ugly situation we entered September 11 is to fashion a foreign policy that makes people hate us less. Because if commercial airlines and our mail are turned against us, who knows what’s next?

Sex toys: Geez, all this talk of death and disease has really cast a gloomy pall over this column. It’s time to lighten things up a bit, so let’s cut to Tonight Show funnyman Jay Leno, who’s always good for coming up with a few yucks.

Except that last week, Leno turned to the pages of SN&R for his comic material when, during his “Headlines” segment, he held up and read Sutter’s Fort park aide Jess Hilliard’s answer to one of our Streetalk questions from over the summer: “Are secrets safe with you?”

And if Hilliard’s answer was funny enough to repeat on national television, it’s certainly funny enough to repeat here. “I keep a lot of people’s secrets,” Hilliard said. “I’ve told people about strange sexual things that I found in my parents’ drawers. I’ve given a lot of tours of those, actually. It turned out to just be my dad’s, though.”

There now, don’t you feel better?