Off Beat

With a Name Like Anthrax, It Has to Be Good

Now that the nation has gone spore-crazy, it might be a propitious time to revisit the Twin Cities' brief brush with bioterror. Recall, if you will, the October 10 incident that shut down the Science Museum of Minnesota in downtown St. Paul for two days after a strange "jelly-like substance" was discovered near an unattended briefcase.

As news accounts attest, the tension was palpable. "Although no explosives were found in the case," the Star Tribune reported two days later, "police did find a book and some containers with suspicious residue." (Two coffee cups and a volume entitled The Price of Freedom, as it turned out.) Police combed through the closed museum, and Chief William Finney sought to assuage panic, promising that the attaché-abandoning malefactor would soon be apprehended. "St. Paul police said they are close to arresting the man they suspect left the mysterious substance," the Pioneer Press reported.

No arrest was ever made, however. The mysterious goo, meanwhile, was removed by a team of moon-suited St. Paul firefighters and bomb-squad members and taken to a Department of Health lab for testing. "Tests on the red substance, which scientists could not identify, did conclude that it was not toxic," the Strib noted. According to the Pioneer Press's final word on the incident, the "mysterious substance...may never be identified."

All of which inspired us to do a little detective work. The substance, described by officials as red and viscous, was found on a plate. Science Museum communications director Carleen Pieper tells us that said plate was found "in or near" a kitchen used for catering. As it happened, Pieper adds, the museum had catered a breakfast meeting on the morning of October 10. "We did serve jelly," she confirms. A perplexing mystery, indeed. -- By Peter Ritter


Thank You for Smoking

It seems like only yesterday that Big Tobacco was scheming to boost brand loyalty with smokers-only concerts headlined by high-cachet alternative musical acts such as former Hüsker Dü frontman Bob Mould, Los Lobos, and Soul Asylum. As reported in Peter S. Scholtes's September 22, 1999 article "You're Not Invited," tickets to these events were made available only to those with a sufficient number of Marlboro Miles--i.e., proofs of purchase.

How the mighty have fallen. The latest tobacco-company come-on to Twin Cities' nightlife-loving smokers is considerably more straightforward--and low-rent: a night of standup comedy (and the doling-out of complimentary product) at the Minnesota Comedy Club at the Best Western Maplewood Inn. Dubbed Pall Mall Smokers Appreciation Night, the November 8 show ($10 at the door, no Marlboro Miles accepted) will be headlined by one Mark Klein. "He never got into the TV scene," allows Comedy Club president Tom Hansen, when we admit we've never caught Klein's act. "But he's really big in the corporate market down South. Makes huge money." (Indeed, Klein's Web page-- endorsements from corporate stalwarts Acordia Insurance, Commonwealth Mortgage, and Hirons Consulting.)

The idea for the show came from the marketing department at Louisville-based Brown & Williamson Tobacco, manufacturer of a plethora of brands including Kool, Lucky Strike, and the aforementioned Pall Mall. Why the Twin Cities? "We looked at the demographics of the city and wanted to measure the acceptance of filtered Pall Mall here," says B & W spokesman Steve Kottak. (Maplewood is the third stop on a six-city Midwestern tour.)

And why was the Comedy Club chosen as host? Kottak says the comedians helped pick the clubs. Hansen figures the selection had something to do with his venue's smoking policy; unlike other Twin Cities comedy clubs, his doesn't have a smoke-free section--effectively rendering every night at the Comedy Club a Smokers Appreciation Night. "The funny thing is that all three of the comics in the show are nonsmokers," Hansen adds. "I know--I just made their hotel reservations." -- By Mike Mosedale

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