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It has the feel of a tacky double feature bill at the drive-in. The Ooze That Came From the Wall paired with Too Many Women Behind Bars.

The scene opens with a slimy substance slipping from cracks in the ceiling and creeping down the walls of the jail cell. Cut to the look of alarm on the faces of female convicts who are crammed together in extremely close quarters.

The setting is actually the North Broward Detention Center, and there really is a brownish sludge that drips out of the walls at the overcrowded facility in Pompano Beach. So, if it's not special effects, what is that slime? No one knows.

Now there's another reason to escape from jail.
"It's not good," says jail watchdog-attorney Chris Cloney. He spotted the sludge while on a tour of Unit 11, where 486 women are wedged into the aging facility. The overcrowding has forced 100 inmates to sleep on mattresses placed on the floor. The women are understandably reluctant to bed down next to the walls emitting the ooze.

"It's like tree sap, a thick brownish fluid coming out of the wall," says Cloney. The walls may be sweating the unknown substance, possibly ancient oil-based paint or...? One would hope the Royal High Sheriff Ken Jenne would move the inmates out and fix the slime leaks, except the system is so jammed there's nowhere to place the women while repairs are done. A new corrections facility expected to open in August may give the women a proper place to escape to.

Yet another toast, this one water, to the editors of the Palm Beach Post, who are developing an uncanny knack for missing the significance of a news story.

In the paper's effort to provide top-notch coverage of the Spice Girls extravaganza a couple of weeks ago, the Post joined the media frenzy and provided story after dreaded story detailing the Girls' first concert without Ginger Spice at the Coral Sky Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach.

"The guards searched the kids' backpacks for offending substances, specifically cameras and water bottles," writer Jan Tuckwood keenly observed. "No outside water allowed! No matter that it's 95 degrees."

Granted the Spice Girls' brand of light pop doesn't exactly scream "IMPORTANT NEWS!" -- which would explain the cutesy stories about little girls in high heels screaming for "Girl Power!"

But might this combination of small children, heat, and a health-threatening rule against outside water be something worth reporting? Not to the Post.

"After my padded bra had become a sweat sponge and I had shared body fluids with several hairy strangers, I snapped," the self-absorbed Tuckwood wrote instead. "I've been plundered by popular culture, and I'm not going to take it any more!" The readers probably share her sentiments.

Fortunately, Post editors caught wind of the real story the next day. As the paper eventually reported, there was, in fact, a bottled-water shortage and about 50 concertgoers had to be treated for heat-related problems far more significant than bra chafing or body odor.

Just a minor lapse in editorial judgment, perhaps. But Tuckwood's no rookie. She's the Post's associate editor. Earlier this year she was charged with taking an expanded role in the paper's daily coverage.

Undercurrents wants to know about any and all political deals, media screwups, and particularly dumb memos from bureaucrats. Let us know. Call 954-233-1572, fax 954-233-1571, or e-mail [email protected].

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