Friday, October 12, 2007

Don't Take Candy From Strangers

Or Gum Balls From Vending Machines

All right. Now we've heard it all. [Until we next open the funny pages, to be sure.]

Cargo entering our ports goes uninspected.

Reservoirs, bridges, nuclear plants go largely unprotected.

There's lead in our children's toys and in several popular brands of lipstick.

Our borders are open to all, except American citizens.

And here we are -- or there they are, in good old Dover, New Jersey -- worried that terrorists are going to infiltrate America via poisoned gum balls in unlicensed vending machines.

Did April Fool's Day come early to Dover?

It would be "pee in the pants" funny if these folks -- or at least some of them who, apparently, have been hanging out in Jersey's toxic dumps for too long, inhaling the fumes -- didn't take such nonsense so seriously -- or seriously at all.

Yes sir. Bin Laden & Company have set their sights on America's unlicensed vending machines, and on those ever-popular gum balls, in particular.

Come to think of it, maybe its not so far fetched, after all.

Perhaps it can happen here.

Local Water Commissioners slipping something into our drinking water so that we'll keep their little fiefdoms going well into the next century.

Kate Murray and her clan (literally) sending coded, subliminal messages to every household in Hempstead Town via an endless barrage of Murraygrams. The message: YOU WILL VOTE FOR US, AGAIN, AGAIN, AND AGAIN. How else could this scandalous cadre of scoundrels hold on to power for more than 100 years, while screwing the populace royally?

Nat Swergold, and the fellas in Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 1, on the orders of Town Councilman Tony "Mondello's Boy" Santino, spraying something funny in your garbage cans and recycling bins -- not to mention, putting on those extra trucks to pick up bread during Passover -- so that every homeowner comes to believe that he truly does "enjoy" paying more for garbage collection than for police protection.

The members of the New York State Legislature, channeling through rebate checks delivered to mailboxes in front of every home, a kind of government-sponsored hypnosis of a gullible electorate, leaving us in the trance of "Gee, this really is tax relief!"

Think of it as The Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets 1984.

Or maybe its just the fear of what could be -- or more likely, what never was -- a creeping paralysis of paranoia and suspicion that consumes us in ways that even the terrorists themselves never imagined. Seems to us that we are now a nation primed for nothing less than fear itself.

Alert Peter King and Peter Schmitt. Confiscate all of the gum ball machines in Nassau County, posthaste!

Maybe it really can happen here. Maybe, just maybe, it already has. . .
- - -
Where Candy Machines Are Eyed With Suspicion
By Kareem Fahim

DOVER, N.J., Oct. 11 — Frank Poolas, a burly ex-marine who has been an alderman here for eight years, simply did what many of his fellow politicians have done since Sept. 11: He raised the specter of terrorism.

Specifically, he warned of the hidden dangers lurking in gum balls and other loose candy dispensed by coin-operated vending machines.

The machines, he said at a City Council meeting last month, were vulnerable, and “in times like these,” they might be used for nefarious purposes.

But on Thursday, after his concerns were publicized in an article in The Star-Ledger of Newark, Mr. Poolas spent much of the afternoon explaining — or some might say, back-peddling.

He was not, he told the reporters and photographers who assembled in this northern New Jersey town, really all that concerned that candy posed a terrorist threat.

“Our main concern was health. Period,” Mr. Poolas said, explaining why he and some colleagues started a project six months ago to inspect all of the town’s candy and gum vending machines to make sure they were properly licensed.

Sure, he had mentioned terrorism, Mr. Poolas said, but only as a “worst-case scenario.”

Mr. Poolas and the town’s mayor, James P. Dodd, who joined him in an impromptu press conference, explained that the idea for the project came after Mr. Poolas noticed unlicensed pinball machines in a store. Then they found 96 candy machines that had licenses and 103 that did not.

For the safety of residents, Mr. Poolas said, “we felt there should be accountability.”
In the Star-Ledger article, Mr. Poolas was quoted as saying, “Someone who wanted to do harm surely could” by tampering with the vending machines. Mr. Dodd was also quoted in the article.

“It would be very easy for someone to put poison in one of these coin-operated devices that distribute candy to children,” he said.

All in all, it was a jarring day for this town of 18,000, which sits on the Rockaway River. It is a former industrial town, where old brick buildings stand out against the flat architecture of the 1970s, and most of the residents are Hispanic. There are Mexican restaurants everywhere. And candy machines.

By the early afternoon, news trucks had started appearing on the town’s streets, and TV cameras were filming old-fashioned glass-globed gum machines in stores.

By 2 p.m., Mr. Poolas, a tavern keeper, and Mr. Dodd, an entrepreneur, had had enough, and they called the reporters and cameramen into a room that doubles as the municipal court house.

Meanwhile, nearly a dozen people who had appointments in court had to wait, and by the end of the afternoon, some were not happy about it. They included Keesha Faines and her husband, Garrick Faines. “That was silly,” she said of the press conference.

Mr. Faines said he was there to contest a fine on behalf of his brother, who is now dead.

There were varied reactions in the town to the inspection program. Raymond Doran, the longtime owner of Doran’s Auto Parts on East Blackwell Avenue, said state health inspectors had removed five of his candy machines last year.

And Mr. Doran did not entirely dismiss the idea that terrorists could use the machines to their advantage. “Anything is possible,” he said, adding that he had started to feed his Siamese cats fresh food because of poisoning fears.

Mr. Doran’s store now has new candy machines, in sight of a door with a window etched with a bucking stallion.

Other residents said there were more important things for town officials to spend their time on. Maria Barrera, a sales associate at Towers Realtors, on North Sussex Street, said that the housing market in Dover was collapsing.

“There were 99 houses in foreclosure here last week,” Ms. Barrera said.

Her boss, Daniela Diaz, complained that overzealous housing inspectors were driving many residents out of town. Meanwhile, she said, no one had ever asked for a licensing fee for the gum machine they had had in their office for the last two months.

Reached a few hours after the press conference, Mr. Poolas told a reporter he was happy to talk but would tape the conversation, to prevent any further misunderstandings. Mr. Poolas, who owns a tavern called At the Hop, said he has an M & M machine in his restaurant, but it is free, and so he has not had to license it.

He said that he did not regret what he had said, but that if he were doing it again, he would probably not use the word "terrorism."

“It was all blown out proportion,” Mr. Poolas said. “The next thing you knew, they were invading Dover.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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