After lawyers, ministers, therapists, psychics and relatives have written Uncle Ed off as a hopeless wacko, we're still here to listen. And we do. For instance, someone's Uncle Ed recently wrote to insist that New Times lead a campaign to collect stray cats, which would then be shipped to the Four Corners area, where they would be unleashed to eradicate the rodents responsible for spreading the Hantavirus. Someone else's Uncle Ed has also called several times recently to insist that Attorney General Grant Woods is using alpha beams to manipulate the thoughts of law-abiding citizens.
We try to be polite to Uncle Ed, and get him off the phone quickly so we can pursue more worthy journalistic endeavors, such as setting up fake photo opportunities for the operators of mind-controlling alpha beams.
Sometimes, however, Uncle Ed surprises us.
Not long ago, he went to a pizzeria and was sickened to see the chef handling money and then pizza dough without washing his hands. Uncle Ed called the county health department to complain, but was told it's okay for chefs to handle money because money kills germs. In fact, they put stuff on paper money that actually fights disease.
Uncle Ed was incredulous. So were we. But Uncle Ed had documentation. He played a tape he had made of a county health official explaining that money does, in fact, have germ-killing qualities.
We sensed a megascoop. That money does not spread disease and pestilence is a contradiction to the time-honored admonitions of mothers and schoolteachers everywhere. We have been taught that money is filthy--in most cases, literally, and in many cases, figuratively.
All our resources were brought to bear to get to the bottom of this fast-breaking story. We called various county health offices and were given different versions of the same basic line. The short version is: Currency kills germs.
"Money kind of gets a bad rap as being a major vehicle in the transmission of illness," explained Tom Waldbillig, assistant supervisor in the county's environmental health division. "You're more likely to transmit illness-causing organisms by shaking someone's hand."
County sanitation inspectors do encourage food handlers to wash their hands as often as possible, Waldbillig says, but if an inspector sees an unwashed cook mingling money and dough, he would not issue a citation.
Our investigative instincts kicked in. This whole affair bore the unmistakable stench of federal decree. Bingo! County health regulations are based on 1971 communiqus between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, the agency that prints currency. The bureau told the FDA back then that "specifications for currency paper require that it contain fungicidal agents . . . hav[ing] germicid[al] characteristics . . . [which] retain their effectiveness throughout the life of currency in circulation."
We drew a bead on the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. After she was through laughing, Antoinette Perry, a bureau spokeswoman, said: "Nothing is put into currency during production to combat bacteria. I can further tell you that currency does get dirty."
Aha! Government contradicting government!
We closed in on Crane & Co. Inc., which sells currency paper to the bureau. Predictably, Crane & Co. director James Manning wouldn't discuss the secret formula for currency paper. "I'm not saying he doesn't know whether currency has antibacterial agents or not, he just doesn't wish to discuss it," his secretary snapped, referring inquiries to Crane & Co.'s Washington, D.C., attorney, Peter Susser.
A lawyer. This story was taking on National Security Implications.
Attorney Susser's enunciation of the company's official line was less than definitive: "The Bureau of Printing and Engraving has not requested that Crane & Co. supply currency paper that includes any antimicrobial ingredient or chemical, and the company does not add any chemical of that type to the currency paper it supplies."
So, to summarize: Maricopa County, citing 22-year-old Bureau of Printing and Engraving and FDA memos, denies that money is a spreader of disease. However, current bureau workers deny any knowledge of those landmark memos. The bureau also denies giving a whit about this pressing public-health concern. And the paper supplier's evasive attorney denies that his client puts anything on the paper, or has ever been asked to put anything on the paper.
It sounds suspicious. Uncle Ed will be pleased.