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What was the anthrax caller trying to say?

January 17, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

Add one more to the growing list of "it could only happen in Hagerstown." In fact, this could safely be nominated as an entry for the "Quintessential Hagerstown Moment" award, without fear of embarrassing itself.

Look, I know everything comes to Hagerstown a little late - fads, fashion, cuisine, shoe styles, Robert Ehrlich. It's like Mark Twain said of the Midwest: When the apocalypse comes, you'll want to be in Cincinnati, because it will happen six months later there."

But an anthrax threat? Anthrax? Hello, earth to idiot, that was soooo four years ago. So what happened - on some level of consciousness you must have heard about the big anthrax scare back in ought two, and the information has been incubating away in the old bean until just last week when you woke up and said "Eureka! I shall contact the authorities and tell them there is anthrax at City Hall!"

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Who are you, the old geezers from the Guinness beer ads? "Anthrax? Brilliant!" If they cart you off to jail, will they have to explain to you what a phone call is? Dang, you're a clever one. I bet you gave your name to the dispatcher as "Ann Thracks," didn't you?

What an embarrassment. Even our terrorist threats are hopelessly out of date. I haven't been this depressed since the security guard at the shopping center demanded that one of our photographers hand over his "film."

Anthrax. Well, look at the bright side. At least it will probably be another 10 years before dude hears about car bombs, and the chances of him getting the news about Ebola before he passes away from old age is probably nil.

Oh, but it gets better. The chap says there's anthrax in the city government building, but he calls the county government building.

OK, so now we know two things about the perp. 1. It took a cultural stimulus four years of neural wandering to reach this guy's lemon and 2. We're not dealing with the winner of the Nobel Prize for municipal geography.

Yes, they evacuated both buildings and yes they had to evacuate both buildings. You have to be safe, even if you know better. But that must have been an interesting conversation on the second floor of the county administration building:

"Sorry, but you have to vacate the premises."

"Why?"

(Long pause)

"Well, basically because we got an anthrax threat from some chucklehead who was too stupid to figure out which building he was threatening."

"I see."

Right there, I'm sure authorities knew that they were not dealing with a fellow who was likely to have the wherewithal to get his hands on anthrax or any other material having to deal with science. Probably has a fairly limited commercial repertoire, if you know what I'm saying.

Police: Hello, Wal-Mart? Do you sell anthrax?

Wal-Mart: Negative.

Police. Thanks, that's all we needed to know.

I'm not trying to put the guy down, I'm just pointing out that he probably isn't a player at Fort Detrick. So cool it, FBI, no need to start draining our ponds.

But I admit, the guy has piqued my curiosity. He seems to be trying to communicate with us in some manner, and we are left to wonder precisely what point it was that he was trying to make.

The injection of a deadly biological toxin into the conversation would give you the idea that he's dissatisfied about something. But what? He's not giving us a lot to work with here. It's like we got to "two syllables" in charades, and then nothing.

So we're left to guess. We haven't had any snow lately, so it's probably not a failure-to-shovel ticket. Could be somebody who's really, really mad about the city's new voluntary recycling program. Maybe he just saw "Hagerstown Idol," aka the live City Council meeting feed on Channel 6.

Chances are pretty good that this is a frequent contributor to Mail Call (the pattern is similar: Cause a fuss, don't leave your name), so perhaps we can look there for clues.

And true enough, my forensic evaluation is starting to piece together a profile: I believe we are dealing with someone who is bitter that gas costs more in Hagerstown than elsewhere, a man who is angry that they took the post office out of Halfway and a grump who is outraged that the city Christmas tree would be called a holiday tree. Yes, there you have your prime suspect, and it appears that suspect is ...

Hold on here. It's me?

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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