Off Beat

Department of Suspicious Letters

THESE DAYS, FOLKS who work at tabloids--even those that aren't of the supermarket variety--can't be too careful. Last Thursday City Pages received a sloppily typewritten letter addressed to "Anonymous Tips/Intrigue Dept." The author claimed to have planted a small box in the bushes near the Lowry Tunnel on I-94 in Minneapolis, ostensibly in an attempt to expose lax security in the Twin Cities. The box, said the writer, had gone undetected for a week; if it had contained anthrax spores, it would have infected motorists. CP operations director Brenda Clark called police, who passed the letter on to the FBI. According to Clark, the FBI deemed the letter a low risk and returned it to Minneapolis authorities. Amid the following day's anthrax high dudgeon, Off Beat checked in with local law enforcement and media outlets to see whether we were the only loon magnets in town. Most said they hadn't encountered any weird mail. But the landscape was clearly shifting. Star Tribune honchos issued a press release declaring that they were advising their employees of steps to take to protect themselves. Bruce Hagerty, director of building services at KSTP-TV (Channel 5), reported that two mailroom employees had requested and received filtration masks and latex gloves. "We've been reminding employees of methods to determine suspicious mail, and we're going to be taking other simple, practical measures," Hagerty said. Phil Arrington, marketing director at WCCO-TV (Channel 4), sounded a similar note: "I think that's pretty much universal. Everything we used to take as normal activities is changing, whether it's going to a crowded stadium, or opening your mail. It's a different world."

Flame Broiled

IT DOESN'T TAKE long for Minnesotans to go a little loopy in the South Florida sun. The Miami Herald reported October 6 that a Burger King "team building" exercise at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo went a bit awry. The finale of the day's festivities featured more than 100 employees of BK's marketing division walking barefoot across eight-foot strips of white-hot coals, ostensibly to motivate workers to reinvigorate the company's slumping brand name. But things didn't quite go as planned, and about a dozen workers ended up with "at least first- or second-degree burns," according to the Herald. Reportedly among the fearless firewalkers: Chris Clouser, former Northwest Airlines communications chief and Minnesota Twins CEO. Clouser, now director of marketing for the fast-food chain, participated in the event, which also included brick- and board-smashing exercises and a stroll across a bed of nails. Unfortunately, Off Beat's call to Clouser to check on the condition of his tootsies was not returned. We likewise struck out with another prominent former Minnesotan who wasn't mentioned in the Herald piece: Burger King CEO John Dasburg. Too bad. Now we'll probably never know whether Dasburg, who until March held the top job at Northwest Airlines, took part--or whether there were similar antics during the good old days at Northwest.


OFF BEAT WAS killing time, trying to decide whether irony is "in" or "out" these days, when an acquaintance at Minneapolis City Hall presented us with a tip: Word has it that amid the ongoing federal probe surrounding the Brian Herron bribery scandal, the Office of the Zoning Administrator has acquired a brand-spanking-new paper shredder. At a time when federal agents have subpoenaed boxfuls of internal documents, might the purchase of such a piece of equipment by a branch of the city's Inspections Division--which has been caught up in the Herron maelstrom--be merely coincidental? Two weeks' worth of phone messages left with zoning administrator David Dacquisto have failed to yield an answer. Meanwhile, the folks at the Inspections Division refuse to confirm or deny. (Sample exchange: "I don't know what you mean by 'paper shredder,'" one woman says in response to our inquiry. "You know," we reply, "one of those things that might look like a computer printer or maybe a Fed Ex box, except you put a sheet of paper through the top and it comes out the bottom looking, uh, shredded." "You're going to have to talk to David about that.") If we could talk to Dacquisto, we'd ask whether the shredder is the Fellowes PS80C-2 ("shreds 8 sheets per pass"; "accepts staples, credit cards and small paper clips") depicted on the roll of film supplied by our source.

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