DARRELL MULROY, PRESIDENT of Plus P Technology Inc., has come up with the ultimate senior discount: As of today, December 1, the Twin Cities' own "Specialists in the Training and Use of Lethal Force" are offering a one-day "handgun self-defense training" course, normally priced at $75, free of charge to folks 65 and over. And why would an entrepreneur make such a magnanimous gesture? "There are so many vicious attacks against our senior citizens," says the Plus P top gun, still a spring chicken at 54. "I'm not that money-oriented. I just think it's rather silly to give these people a McGruff crime book and think that's going to do it." He and his small staff are busier than ever this year, Mulroy says, attributing the increase to Y2K concerns and to the sense that, despite reports of dropping levels of serious crime, plenty of people out there don't believe the statistics. And how might he tutor students with failing eyesight or arthritic trigger fingers? "We can compensate in a number of ways for any infirmities that they may have," he assures. "If we match them properly with the right equipment, I would say 90 percent would be capable of defending themselves." Mulroy offered Off Beat a go at the free course, noting that members of the media are welcome anytime. ("We've had some Star Tribune people go through. There's a lot of closet conservatives over there.") But we'd just finished checking out the Plus P Web site (www.plusp.com)-- in particular the "graphic and disturbing" gallery of gunshot-wound photos--and our heart just wasn't in it.
A BIT OF a penny pincher, Off Beat doesn't often succumb to the temptation to dial 411. But last week we had occasion to, and having dutifully replied to the computerized voice that asked, "What city? What state?" we were greeted by a real human's pleasant voice: "Hello, this is Midge--I'll be right with you." Midge? "No one's named Midge anymore," we marveled when she came on the line. "It's my workplace name," said our operator. "Midge was available, so I chose it." Just what we needed: An excuse to make indiscriminate calls to 411 at work! Next we got Connie (her real name). Cheyenne (also real) told us that each operator is required to use a distinctive name so that "if someone calls [a supervisor] and says, 'Hey, this person did a bad job,' they'll know how to find them." Fran and Shelley weren't so forthcoming, confirming that they use their real names but precluding further questioning by activating the recorded voice--which doesn't seem to have a name.
The phone company says it instructs operators to use their real first names with customers. "The use of the name is a really important addition to the 411 contact," says local U S West spokeswoman Kim Bothun. "It makes it a friendlier experience."
The Land of the Clenched Sphincter
LAST WEEK WE happened upon this query addressed to "Dear Prudence," Slate magazine's everyday-ethics expert: What ought one do when one witnesses a fellow grocery shopper sneaking a handful of sweets from the bulk candy bin? "I didn't say or do anything, and now I wish I had," wrote the advice seeker. "Do you think I should have said something to the woman? Should I have told the manager?" Though none of the other entries in the column gave any hint as to the questioner's place of residence, this one fairly trumpeted its provenance; it was signed "R. in St. Paul, Minn." The kindly Prudie deemed the matter "a public issue where the act seems minor, but the collective price is significant," and assured, "You did the right thing." Off Beat, meanwhile, had lapsed into a reverie in which "R. from St. Paul" was standing in line behind that "Minnesota honest" fellow from Fridley when the ATM started spitting out $20 bills. Which probably goes a long way toward explaining why this isn't an advice column.
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