Debra McCorkle

Southern Comforting

Howard Dean was obviously born north of the Mason-Dixon Line. He proved it with the well-meaning but badly-stated desire to "want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks." Howard, if you were a southerner, you would never call your future constituents rednecks! You would win them over by descriptions of your grandma's fried apple turnovers, or recalling a moment in which you begged Jesus Christ to help you, or by confessing your love for a Johnny Cash song. See, that's how I haven't gotten run out of my southern town yet for my liberal views. I bury that horse pill of Democratic leanings in a sweet potato soufflé of my genuine southern life. I refuse to believe that the South really belongs to the Republicans. I just tend to think that the conservatives mix the stuff that concerns the citizenry with a heaping spoonful of Dixie Crystal sugar. They sweeten that iced tea while a candidate from Vermont sticks a glass of Lipton Instant in our faces with two cubes of ice and a packet of Sweet and Low and tells us to drink it. It's just not the same, Howard.

Of course you want to be the candidate of the trailer park as well as of Hilton Head's Sun City. However, it's pretty obvious to me that you haven't read your Molly Ivins or even your Jeff Foxworthy. No matter how I feel about you, Mr. Dean, I have doubts that we're gonna be able to work this out. Wesley Clark did not tickle my innards when he announced his intention to court me and the others; still, the man has lived in Arkansas enough to be technically southern, even if he spent most of those years in the army. What's more, military life has a similarity to southern life -- you can't always say exactly what you think without a little obfuscation in order not to get folks all upset. My spiritual teacher Jill Conner Browne, head of the Sweet Potato Queens of Jackson, MS, said that if you really think that so-and-so is a complete psychobitch, you just say "that so-and-so, bless her little heart," since we southerners can't actually say what we think in polite society. All the women will know what we really mean, and all the men will still think we're nice proper ladies.

I have a great friend from Cairo, GA who often winces at the plainspoken and often harsh words of his girlfriend toward others. One time he just smiled at me sadly and said, "She's from Michigan, you know." We both knew what he meant. I might agree with her eight times out of ten, but she needs some tutoring. The south might be a hotbed of Baptist fundamentalism, but we strive to be silver-tongued devils.

Bill Clinton, love him or hate him or have those conflicted feelings like I do, knew how to talk to people. It's partly due to his manipulative politician scoundrel ways, but he was a southern boy, through and through. Whenever I hear Jimmy Carter speak on the radio I drop everything I'm doing, partly because he's trying to be a latter-day Gandhi-type and partly because I just love to hear his soft southwest Georgia accent.

One problem with George W. Bush is that he was raised by Yankees in Texas. No wonder he doesn't talk right. We have to feel a little sorry for a man who mixes up his metaphors, makes incomplete confusing sentences and, when he does get it right, must be looking at Bob Hope-sized cue cards and taking cleansing breaths in between each line. Still, he's our president. Bless his little heart.

Candidate Dean, you said what you did about those rebel flag pickups because you said that those people "ought to be voting with us because their kids don't have health insurance either, and their kids need better schools too." Now, no one's arguing that we need health insurance and good schools. While Bush is sending our grandchildren's future tax dollars to Vietnam, uh, I mean Iraq, teachers are teaching for free some days in order to keep schools running. None of my friends have health insurance except for those who work for corporations or the government, and the benefits of most have been cut during the Bush administration.

Howard, I suggest that you hush up about rebel flags this week and tell us some stories. When I have a waitress friend who begs her doctor for amoxicillin instead of the stronger zithromax because it costs one tenth the price even though she needs to get well fast, my trucking buddies are going to understand that as quickly as my great aunt. When I see a decades-old factory close, leaving hundreds of workers unemployed, because they can move the thing to China and employ slave labor so that Wal-Mart's profits are assured, the common man and woman can understand that something is wrong. When the richest of the rich prosper through tax cuts in a period of recession while the poorest parents skip meals, people will question the direction our country is heading. Tell anecdotes; don't preach about constituencies, Howard. The truth is, politics in itself is pretty boring, a bean counter's concern. Breathe a little life into it with some storytelling. Go Faulkner on us, and don't forget a little Flannery, because weirdness is what America is all about.

Otherwise, I'm going to be looking for a new dance partner at this political ball. I need a man who can not only lead me across the dance floor, but charm me at the same time.

Tommy Chong Will Be Free in Prison

I feel genuine shock and sorrow upon the news that Tommy Chong is going to prison for nine months. At the same time I am joyful. For one thing, the only other prominent American who up till now is serving a newsworthy jail term for a paraphernalia conviction is Chris Hill, who was such an outspoken Young Republican that it was hard to garner much sympathy for him even within the tobacco accessories industry. There was always a bit of schadenfreude whenever Hill's fourteen month stint at the Eglin prison facility was mentioned. Tommy Chong is a different story.

I enjoyed Cheech and Chong as I was growing up in the seventies and still own one of those gatefold album-sized Big Bambu rolling papers. I was no stoner (but counted many among my friends) and found the comedy duo's routine fun although silly. But, like the late humorist Lenny Bruce, they shocked and broke new ground in comedy. It became not only acceptable but fashionable to joke about marijuana and its many effects not only on college campuses but in Las Vegas and beyond. Cheech and Chong proclaimed that the world was full of pot smoking fools and we were free to recognize our own spacey smoky dumbassedness and not be ashamed.

When Tommy Chong re-appeared in the television series That Seventies Show and in the marijuana classic Half-Baked, it was a triumphant return. He neither glorified the druggy life or condemned it; it was simply the endearing role of a character which he had always played, like the perpetually drunk Otis in the Andy Griffith Show a generation ago.

Chong continued to use the character and his personal belief in the goodness of marijuana when he lent his name to a glass pipe company as well as a drug detox product. Both Nice Dreams Enterprises (operating as Chong Glass) and Tommy Chong's Urine Luck were successful tax-paying companies. Both advertised openly in consumer magazines like High Times and in industry publications such as HeadQuest (which has since the paraphernalia crackdown turned its attention and advertising toward the tattoo and body piercing business). Like dozens of other glass companies, Chong Glass operated as an above-board corporation and Tommy Chong must have thought that he was free to do so.

When Operations Pipe Dreams and Headhunter swooped down from the DEA at outrageous taxpayer expense last winter, 55 of the more prominent paraphernalia company owners were arrested and Chong was not spared. Months of speculation among the storekeepers and wholesalers followed. Many waited for the sentences to be handed down before marking down their wares and getting out of the pipe business altogether. Some went ahead and closed voluntarily. Some were confident that, because the government had targeted the wealthier of the glass dealers, there would be money and topnotch lawyers to fight the good fight.

The details of Tommy Chong's court date were all over the Internet by September 12th, the day after his sentencing. Guilty. Nine months� imprisonment, a $20K fine, and $100K in forfeited assets.

Chong's attorney Richard Hirsch had offered the court a deal for leniency: Chong would repudiate his involvement with marijuana and the bong industry and promised to spend his probation making appearances speaking against drug use. The judge said no dice.

Thank you, Judge Schwab.

Because of the court's refusal to accept this devil's bargain to turn Tommy Chong into another horrible Just Say No advertising shill for the Partnership for a Drug Free America, Chong is a free man. For the mere price of nine months in jail, he can spend the rest of his life as a hero for libertarian ideals. He doesn't have to kiss John Ashcroft's ass. He doesn't have to be a liar and a hypocrite. Like those who went to jail and endured the blacklist during the McCarthy Era, Chong can maintain his integrity in these increasingly right-wing Big Brother times. He can use this imprisonment to publicize the punishment inflicted by our government for a non-violent crime which has harmed no one.

Henry David Thoreau said that those who are in prison are in essence the most free.

Face the future with grace and courage, Tommy. Your jail sentence will only add to the authenticity of the beloved character you have delighted us with for decades. The youth of America are depending on you to tell the truth about marijuana. Do the right thing for all of us.

Operation Pipe Dreams Is a Nightmare

People selling drug paraphernalia are in essence no different than drug dealers. They are as much a part of drug trafficking as silencers are a part of criminal homicide.
--John Brown, acting DEA chief

I'd like to direct Mr. Brown to the Web site of of Aloha, Oregon. Not only will they sell me a gun silencer, there is an entire page devoted to explicit directions on how to obtain the necessary paperwork and background check in order to allow me to purchase a silencer online. I have to be at least 21 and innocent of any felony crime. One credit card payment and a little paperwork and I can blow someone's head off with a minimum of personal hearing damage.

Of course John Brown, of the Drug Enforcement Agency, has little interest in guns and murder outside of the world of drug dealing. In the last couple of days, however, he has overseen the arrest of at least 55 people whose only stated crime was the manufacture and selling of tobacco accessories. His equation of bong-makers with drug traffickers is ludicrous at best, and his apparent indifference to the legal sale of silencers across America makes him a hypocrite caught in his own words.

This action, known as Operation Pipe Dreams, is part of a continuing effort on the the part of Attorney General John Ashcroft to rid our land of the ability to smoke weed with a little style. In the past 10 years the pipemaking industry took an art class and began to integrate aesthetics into the production line. Handblown glass pipes began as a one-of-a-kind art form created usually by twentysomethings with talent and time on their hands. Over the years pipes became amazingly elaborate, with high-end waterpipes evolving into colorful gothic cathedrals. Simple $20 spoon-shaped pocket handpipes became the common smoking apparatus of choice, replacing decades of utilitarian metal and acrylic.

However, the powers-that-be want a return to the paraphernalia stone age. If the DEA has its way, that loathsome scum of an American subculture who still dare to believe that smoking various herbal substances is their own damned business will be forced back into stealing plumbing screens from their faucets and emptying out plastic honey bears in order to fashion crude waterpipes a la Brad Pitt in the movie "True Romance." Pepsi cans and beer bottles will be pulled out of trashcans, aquarium tubing will be purchased at Wal-Mart, and lamp parts from Home Depot will turn into pipe bowls for the waterpipes that will be Rube Goldberged into existence.

Americans have been given the distinct impression that our federal budget is strapped for cash and that we need all resources to ferret out the terrorists in our midst. It seems a waste of resources to carry out Operation Pipe Dreams in order to ensure that 55 pipesellers will no longer be on the streets while terrorist cells await their orders in the heartland of America. Doesn't Ashcroft have better things to do? What about those darned silencers all over the internet?

In the meantime, lives are being ruined. Many if not most paraphernalia dealers are under 40 years old and guiltier of being young and naïve than of being dangerous. If forfeiture occurs there may not be enough money for their families to hire top-notch lawyers. In a recent conviction Chris Hill of Chills Pipes was sentenced to one year at the Eglin prison facility, and Hill was one of the wealthier pipe manufacturers in the U.S. Pipe dealers have not made their profits from stealing or acts of violence. It is an odd choice on the part of the U.S. government to convict young entrepenuers and house them in prisons at great taxpayer expense.

Over at there's a virtual cornucopia of submachine guns, some with silencers, some without. There's an HK MP5 A3 machine gun transferable 9mm in excellent condition on sale for $8,800. Oh darn, it's got a "Sold" sign by the price. The top of the page states: "Machine guns are a specialty here at Impact. They are very easy to purchase and are a great investment."

If only our forefathers had the insight to put in an amendment for smoking accessories right there with the right to bear arms. Maybe then John Ashcroft and his DEA buddies could just sit around the fire with Tommy Chong and the other paraphernalia company owners, and their only pipe dreams would be world peace.

Debra McCorkle is a shopowner living in the mountains of North Carolina.

Urine Trouble Down in Carolina

For almost a decade my stores sold an assortment of cleansing teas, detoxification drinks and urine additives. Customers sought to clean out their systems for four to six hours and I did not ask them why. They could buy similar products from some health food stores, pharmacies and even convenience stores. The products had names as vague as Detoxify, Black Magic and Ready-Clean. My guess is that the ingredients include some creatine and a lot of powdered fruit pectin. Everyone says that they taste awful.

A new law was passed in North Carolina, effective Dec. 1, 2002 making it a first offense misdemeanor and a second offense felony to sell these products. No one informed me of this until Clear Choice, a brand I haven't carried in years, sent me a copy of the law and stated that they would no longer ship product to North Carolina.

The official words state that "It is unlawful ... to adulterate a urine or other bodily fluid sample with the intent to defraud a drug or alcohol screening test ... to possess adulterants that are intended to be used to adulterate a sample ... sell adulterants with the intent that they be used to adulterate a sample."

Needless to say, my inventory was swept into a box and put in the storage room.

Although I never stated such a purpose for these products, I admit that all of us business folks have the sneaking suspicion that they might be used to foul up drug testing. However, it has been a decade of don't ask, don't tell for me. I consider all drug screens for school and work to be a violation of one's civil rights, and feel that the public has a constitutional right to interfere with any search without reasonable cause. Anyway, studies suggest that random and pre-job drug testing policies are associated with lower levels of productivity, not higher (Working USA '98).

My business will survive without selling detox products. However, I worry about the many customers who came in, some monthly, in order to purchase these products. Some will resort to internet sales although many express reluctance to have such items shipped through the mail to their home addresses. Most will likely head to their nearest border town in neighboring South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

I worry about the shrinking rights of Americans to do basically whatever the hell they want, as long as no one is hurt in the process. Nothing written on the labels of detox products stated any illicit purpose. Even the product touted by Tommy Chong's stony smile, Urine Luck, had its alternative stated use: Add to your aquarium to commit euthanasia in the case of sick and dying fish.

Hey, why not? Doesn't a legal use usually create a legal intent for the item? However, few of us can risk a felony conviction in order to stubbornly cling to our freedom to sell fruit pectin, assorted additives and little vials of yellow-dyed fluid.

I know that I live in the Bible Belt and should understand that community standards are a wee bit more conservative than in, say, Northern California. Still, we have the same Constitution down here as everywhere else in America. But until most drug testing is declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, we'll have to expect continued restrictions on related products and issues.

Debra McCorkle is a shopowner living in the mountains of North Carolina.

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