Blubber for Cash

Alvaro Diaz-Rubio

Nothing troubles Tailpipe more than the sight of a tubby kid who can barely climb over a park bench or run around a track. The 'Pipe wants to say: Hey, little dude, lay off the doughnuts and get a physical life. American kids have been fattening up faster than you can say "childhood diabetes," prompting schools all over the country to banish their snack and soda machines and provide more nutritious lunches.

But Omni Middle School in Boca Raton takes the road less traveled. "Let 'em eat doughnuts," has become the unspoken mantra for the Parent Teacher Student Association at Omni, where glazed Krispy Kremes are sold cheap every Friday morning. It's part of a fundraiser led by Virginia Levey, who believes that by the time a kid reaches middle school, he should be making his own diet decisions. Levey, a middle-school mom and the PTSA's vice-president for fundraising, says she herself is overweight and therefore usually opts out of doughnuts, brownies, and other goodies. But if a fat kid wants a doughnut, well, so be it.

"How bad is a doughnut for a kid on a Friday?" she said. "I think it's absurd that a kid would be upset about that."

Well, there is a kid upset about it. A health-conscious sixth grader who wasn't willing to cross the Friday-gorge gang and let her name be used spilled the beans to the 'Pipe last week, reporting that her classmates were buying entire boxes of Krispy Kremes and gorging themselves in the bathroom before the day even starts.

"In my first period class, there are people who can't concentrate," she said. "It's hurting them academically, and it's hurting their health."

Although the young whistleblower and her mother understand that it's important for the school to do fundraisers, they don't see how the $4,000 from doughnut sales this year makes all of that sugar-intensity worthwhile. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gives you the long perspective on sugary food and sedentary habits. Almost one out of five American kids aged 6 to 11 are overweight, compared to only four percent in the early 1970s. Teenagers (12 to 19) aren't doing much better, with more than 17 percent of them on the way to Lardville, compared to about six percent 20 years ago.

Levey argues that the school needs every penny, since the Palm Beach County School District has not provided it with adequate funds. Also, there's plenty of good about doughnut day, she says. Sometimes she plays games with the students, making them answer questions correctly before they are rewarded with a doughnut. Sometimes they buy each other doughnuts — an ultimate act of kindness. And usually each child only buys one, she says. (A district spokesman said no one has complained about the fundraiser and the district has programs in place to encourage healthier eating. Principal Mark Stenner said reports of doughnut gorging were "absolutely unfounded.")

This car part woke up extra early last Friday to check out for himself Operation Doughnut Day.

At 8:55 a.m. a woman with a whistle stood guard in front of Omni.

"Excuse me, where are the doughnuts?" the 'Pipe inquired.

"You're hungry aren't you?" the woman answered, pointing through a brick tunnel, past the upper school office, where guests usually have to check in.

Outside the tunnel, the 'Pipe crossed paths with scores of sticky-fingered middle schoolers, some of them carrying doughnuts, bouncing around before their first period classes.

Behind a little stand in the courtyard, a volunteer stood at the helm, doling out 12-packs of gooey Krispy Kremes and collecting dollar bills from all sides. Almost nobody wanted the change. Just a second doughnut, please.

Sprinkle Not My Grave

For nearly five years, Elaine Bardar worked as an administrative assistant at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Cemetery, on State Road 7 in North Lauderdale. She filed sales reports, ordered grave markers, presided over petty cash, entered contracts in the computer, and kept the inventory for the cemetery lots.

But in one respect, Bardar stood out: In the office of this Roman Catholic cemetery, she was the only Jewish person.

And so, Bardar alleges in court papers, the cemetery became a battleground in this grand, millennia-old religious rivalry. Future skirmishes are scheduled for Broward County Circuit Court, after Bardar filed a discrimination suit in mid-November.

At issue in the case: whether the Catholics are culturally insensitive or whether the Jewish person is oversensitive.

Bardar alleges that when she said she supported Sen. John Kerry for president, a co-worker told her it was only because "all Jews support him." She was told to work on Easter Sunday "because she was Jewish" and that "she might as well work," she complains. And co-workers snickered at her for being unfamiliar with Catholic emblems.  

But Bardar's complaint contains much more flagrant episodes of prejudice. She claims to have been told by co-workers to convert to Catholicism, that she was forced to listen to the Rosary, that the cemetery's deacon told offensive anti-Semitic jokes, and that he told her "he used urine on Jewish graves instead of holy water."

In May 2005, Bardar claims to have faxed a complaint to Archbishop John C. Favalora. She never heard back. Last February, after refusing to work what Bardar called "excessive hours on consecutive business days" she was fired.

Mary Ross Agosta, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, told Tailpipe that "we are looking into (Bardar's) allegations of inappropriate comments." Agosta says that the archdiocese never received the complaint that Bardar claims to have faxed.

Bardar wouldn't talk to Tailpipe on advice of her attorney.

Snipers Have Feelings Too

Nobody loves a sniper. Nobody appreciates the guy on a roof somewhere with a high-powered .50 caliber Accuracy International with a telescopic lens until serious shit happens. But when you're lying in a fetal position on the floor of a bank while some lunatic is waving a Glock around, demanding a million dollars in small bills and an airplane to Havana — that's when your mind wanders longingly to a guy like Derrick Bartlett.

Like, can't somebody take this psychopath out?

"Snipers are kind of like fire extinguishers," says Bartlett, president and founder of the American Sniper Association. "They don't acknowledge you or recognize the need for you until the house is on fire."

Bartlett has worked as a SWAT team marksman for 20 years, first in Illinois, then for 17 years with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. The headquarters of the ASA, it turns out, are just off the living room of Bartlett's house in Sunrise, screened from the hallway by a bank of shelves lined with a collection of GI Joe dolls carrying miniature sniper rifles.

"I kind of gravitated toward the sniper end of the job because it was more cerebral than your basic doorkicker," he says.

The sniper is the guy who shimmies, creeps, or crawls to a vantage point with a good view of his target, using covert methods of movement and camouflage that Bartlett says he can't talk about with the public. (The GI Joes around the room are all festooned head-to-toe in camo, if that's any clue.) Then a sniper becomes the eyes and ears of a SWAT team, the rest of which is essentially moving blindly without his running blow-by-blow of the action. The rest of the time? The average sniper's day is like that of a lot of police officers — "a normal 9 to 5 desk job."

Bartlett has trained scores of police snipers across the country, he says, in classes run by the ASA and Snipercraft, his private training company. The highlight of his year is Sniperweek, the world's biggest sniper conference, which happens in the Tampa area every spring.That's when the real hotshots participate in the Snipercraft Challenge, a tournament that gives the world's snipers a chance to participate in what may be its deadliest obstacle course. Over two days, teams of snipers tackle a series of simulated real-life emergencies designed to test the limits of their skills.

What about those skills? Bartlett, a thin, deadly serious man with a small, even voice, says he can slice a hole through a half-inch shell casing from 100 yards away — leaving the outer brass rim intact. That's the standard training goal, he says, since a sniper rifle is capable of repeatedly shooting rounds into a one inch circle from that distance.

"Most snipers would be disappointed if they couldn't hit a target as large as a lemon at 200 yards," he says.

Six years ago, Bartlett decided that he was sick of being unappreciated and founded the ASA to offer classes, training, and a sense of brotherhood to police snipers across the country. This means that Bartlett comes as close to speaking for the profession as you can get, which has given him a whole host of new problems.

Misconceptions abound, he says. "People like to portray snipers as cold-blooded, heartless killers," he says. "You see it in the media all the time, in movies and television shows. It's an unfair characterization." In 20 years of sniping, Bartlett has never killed anyone. He hasn't even come close.

"It's one of those things that people don't realize—they think we shoot people all the time. Our snipers at FDLE haven't shot anybody in 15 years."

But if these guys are so good with a rifle, why shoot to kill? Why not shoot the Glock out of that hypothetical bank hostage-taker's hand? They can't, it turns out, because the gun would explode into stray bullets and shrapnel and slice everything in its path. Bartlett knows, because he spent hours filming it.  

An even more aggravating misconception, Bartlett says, is that John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo — the notorious D.C. snipers — were involved with his organization. During the D.C. sniper rampage, Bartlett fielded calls from all over the world.

"We were thought to be responsible for them, thought to be responsible for promoting this type of attitude," Bartlett says, shaking his head. "We had to explain over and over again that we only will provide training materials for the police and military. We will not train civilians under any circumstances.

"We've gotten called all sorts of names, and all sorts of bad press and letters," Bartlett says. "We got a letter from some lady who said that we were drawing snipers to the area by our activities. I got called unpatriotic and un-American by some guy who said that when the time came he'd be coming after us."

Even snipers have feelings, people — sensitivities that only other shooters can understand. Thank God for Bartlett and his organization. "Guys are taking pride in the fact that they are snipers," he says. "They no longer feel like they're the black sheep of the police force."

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