They're Dropping Like Flies

Call it a good idea for all the wrong reasons. The Broward County court system has set up a misdemeanor drug court for low-level drug users. Now, hapless pot smokers who get snagged by county law enforcement with less than 20 grams of the stuff can get off with random drug testing, counseling, and a stern lecture from Judge Gisele Pollack. Kudos for that idea. Why punish an 18- or 19-year-old recreational user with loss of his driver's license and a permanent stain on his record?

But county officials say they felt compelled to take special measures because of what they describe as a dangerous marijuana epidemic. It's really getting out of hand, says Doug Hughes, former drug czar under Gov. Bob Martinez and now head of the agency that monitors those who receive gentle justice. He told the Sun-Sentinel that "900 emergency room admissions in Broward last year stemmed from marijuana overdoses."

Say what? "Marijuana overdoses"? The 'Pipe wondered if that's what happened back at Auto Parts U., when he imagined that Pep Boys Manny, Moe, and Jack were trying to break into his college dorm to drag him off to the junkyard.

When Tailpipe asked for evidence of the epidemic that's supposedly laying waste to the county's youth, Hughes cited a study conducted at Nova Southeastern University led by Jim Hall, director of Nova's Center for the Study and Prevention of Substance Abuse.

It seemed hard to believe that anybody, much less 900 anybodies, ended up in the hospital from smoking too much wacky tobaccy (despite those famous scenes in The Gene Krupa Story showing Sal Mineo going into the shakes and cold sweats for lack of a reefer fix). So this battered tube asked Hall about his proof that 900 marijuana overdoses had occurred.

The researcher was diplomatic. "I wouldn't necessarily agree with exactly how that was phrased," he said. "Actually, there were only 849 of them."

Oh. But they were overdoses, right?

"Actually, [the numbers] do not refer to an overdose," Hall said. "It means that, in the course of coming to the emergency department for any reason, the individual had been identified as using marijuana beforehand."

In other words, the study found that 849 people who came to Broward emergency rooms last year had smoked pot at some point before coming to the hospital. It didn't say, Hall made clear, that their reasons for showing up there had anything to do with pot, nor did it say anything about "marijuana overdoses" or other injuries caused by grazing on the wrong kind of grass.

Way to go, Sun-Sentinel, for unquestioningly reporting the official drivel, just like they wanted you to.

The Long March

Want a chance to win $25? Here's all you have to do: Pick up a "treasure map" from the Downtown Development Authority in West Palm Beach. Visit all 77 participating downtown businesses. Collect stickers for each one and attach them to the map. Just like that, you're entered in a lottery.

Sure, you're thinking, why spend my days collecting stickers? Come on, we're talking a chance at 25 bucks, you lazy bastard. Why, that would almost pay your gas bill for the trip. Annette Gray, the DDA's new marketing director, says she dreamed up the idea in hopes of helping out downtown businesses that are being strangled by the never-ending construction. Her catchy motto: "You've got to dig to win!"

No kidding. These days, you practically have to dig yourself a tunnel to get to some downtown businesses, hidden as they are by the construction vehicles and nearly inaccessible along the sandboxes that were once Dixie Highway and Olive Avenue. Gray acknowledges that visiting 77 businesses might be a challenge for some. "It depends on who you are and how involved you get," she says.

Of course, there are other ways to win. Enter the $1,000 grand-prize sweepstakes by answering the trivia question: What was the name of the widow who found treasure buried by Seminole Chief Billy Bowlegs? When Tailpipe searched for the answer, the question stumped the Palm Beach Historical Society and author/historian Eliot Kleinberg. The problem is that the only reference to the question anywhere is an Internet site where Gray got the answer. To be precise, it came from a site that reprinted a 1975 article from the Northwest Florida Daily News, so you know it must be true.

You can also be entered for a chance to win instantly by visiting one of the selected businesses with a treasure chest on display. You just have to utter the "phrase that pays," which is, "I've walked all day for what?" No, that's not it. "It pays to dig downtown!"  

Yes, it does pay to dig downtown, but you'd better bring your own shovel.

The Survey Shows...

Tim Smith wants to become Fort Lauderdale's gadfly. A former city commissioner who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2003, Smith built a reputation as a quick-witted, no-nonsense, tough-on-crime politician. But after Smith lost his bid for the top job in America's Venice, people began to forget about this professional landscaper with public service ambitions. He was yesterday's news.

But Smith persists.

Last month, Smith mailed out a "leadership survey" to 250 Fort Lauderdale residents who were, according to Smith, "chosen due to their prominence in the city." Those familiar with Smith's missives will recognize the style: bolded, italicized, and virtually unreadable typeface, as well as Smith's peculiar mega-ellipses -- strings of as many as 63 periods used in place of commas, drop-dead graphological proof of Smith's deeply repressed anger. (Like, dude, you're so hungry.) Well, isn't it?

In all, 84 people responded with opinions about the state of the city and its elected officials and bureaucrats. Smith recently distributed the survey results around town and at City Hall. If the results are to be trusted, Fort Lauderdale's leaders should be polishing their résumés.

According to Smith's findings, only 17 percent think the City Commission is adequately representing their interests. City Manager George Gretsas has only a 52 percent approval rating. And 81 percent of the respondents think the city could do more to fight crime.

Mayor Jim Naugle bristles upon being asked about Smith's survey. "Apparently, Tim Smith doesn't think I'm one of the prominent people," Naugle says. "I didn't get a ballot."

Naugle flips through the results of the survey in his office at City Hall. "Here's my favorite," he says. "'Who do you think is most responsible for the recent rise in the crime rate?' Fifty percent say the City Commission. Five percent say the mayor. But, wait, wait, only 12 percent blame the criminals!"

Tailpipe is glad to say that Fort Lauderdale politics are as snippy as ever.

Got Barf?

Like much of America, Tailpipe was distressed last month when the Marlins suspended one of their batboys, a Broward Community College student named Nick Cirillo, for six games. The 19-year-old lad's supposed crime was accepting a dare from Dodgers pitcher Brad Penny, who had $500 that said Cirillo couldn't drink a gallon of milk in an hour without puking.

A player like Penny doesn't usually throw softball pitches down the chute (though he has served up 15 home runs this year). Cirillo drank the gallon but couldn't hold his sauce. A source told the Sun-Sentinel: "It was a big cleanup."

But the 'Pipe got to wondering. Was scarfing 128 ounces of moo juice just a fool's challenge? Could it be done?

Tailpipe turned to his favorite world-class eating competitor: Joe LaRue, the six-foot-eight, 280-pound Hollywood banquet chef who's currently the world's 14th-ranked competitive eater. On a recent Sunday, the 'Pipe joined LaRue at a picnic table on Fort Lauderdale Beach for a meeting of the milks.

"Throw the cap away," LaRue said audaciously, like Cortez burning his ships before marching on the Aztecs. "This is serious business." The 'Pipe fumbled to open his container of skim.

LaRue poured his own gallon of whole milk into four red, quart-sized cups, set his timer, and started pounding away.

The first quart he absorbed in, as he himself put it, "a leisurely 45 seconds." The second quart he imbibed by the three-minute mark and the third by minute eight.

He slowed. "I'm not pushing the consumption thing," he said. LaRue was concerned that his body might reject the milk, which allegedly has too many indigestible enzymes for the human stomach to, well, stomach. The worst-case scenario would have been "a reversal," which is pro-eater talk for hurling "six pounds of still-cold gut soup." LaRue finished the final quart in the 18th minute.

The 'Pipe, still chugging, passed the time by doing the math on LaRue's nutritional intake: 2,400 calories, including 1,120 of those from fat; four days' recommended allowance of saturated fat; two days' worth of cholesterol. LaRue shrugged at those numbers. He estimates he once consumed 11,000 calories in a 12-minute chicken-wings-eating contest.

Alas, the 'Pipe could not follow LaRue to such Olympian heights. After 35 minutes, with about 40 ounces remaining, this conduit's own pipework started to burble something fierce, and a sharp abdominal pain settled in, as if someone were jabbing the 'Pipe's midsection with a broomstick. With newfound appreciation for Cirillo's ordeal, Tailpipe tapped out.

LaRue sympathized: "Milk is a powerful beverage." A challenge not for mere mortals like Cirillo and the 'Pipe.  

Out of a Phone Booth

It was that bruised, humiliating feeling that you get when you've been the victim of a hate crime and there's nothing you can do about it. Jeffrey Krainess and Mark Shawley stood on a dark Miami street last Sunday, waiting for the cops to arrive. They were also reliving the attack of a young man who, moments before, had leaped out of a car, called them "fucking faggots," and thrown a liquor bottle at them, striking Krainess in the back. Both were filled with frustration at the thought of the perpetrator of the second hate crime on South Beach since July getting away.

A single squad car showed up, joined by a large black Ford Explorer, out of which climbed a supersized man who began conversing with the police.

"The cops are talking to some guy after we'd just been attacked," Krainess recounts, "and we're like, what's going on?"

"He comes over to us, and we were both sort of emotional," Shawley says. "He asks Jeff, 'What's your name?' and Jeff tells him, and then he says, 'I want you to know they caught those guys.' He's very calm. He says, 'Everything's going to be fine. Just relax. '"

"And I look up," Krainess says, "and I'm like, you look like Shaq!"

They both start laughing, remembering the sheer incredulity.

"Shaq just sort of nods and says 'Uh-huh,'" Shawley remembers. "And I say, 'Oh my God. '"

They're sitting in their living room now. Shawley is tooling around on his laptop and wincing occasionally from the bruise on his back. The 10 p.m. television news is on, and suddenly O'Neal is there on television from Baton Rouge, holding a child evacuee of Hurricane Katrina. Next to Shaq, the baby looks so tiny, it seems as if it should be incubated. "He's nice," sighs Shawley, watching Shaq.

According to Miami police, Shaquille O'Neal witnessed the assault and helped apprehend Michael Gonzalez, 18, on Palm Island, where he was arrested for aggravated battery and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Krainess and Shawley agree that if Shaq hadn't stepped in, Gonzalez would have gotten away.

Big Samaritan. But an even bigger issue.

"How can an 18-year-old kid in South Florida be raised with so much hate and hostility?" Shawley wonders. -- As told to Edmund Newton

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