(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Feb. 6, 2000)
We have some important news for those of you who've been harboring an urge to eat poinsettias. This news comes from an article in the Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News, sent in by alert reader Karen Durkin. The article makes this fascinating statement:
''Despite persistent rumors, poinsettias are NOT poisonous. Ohio State University testing has found that a 50-pound child could eat more than 500 poinsettia bracts with no ill effects other than possibly a sick stomach from eating that much foliage.'' The two questions that immediately come to mind are:
1. What is a ``bract''?
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2. Would ''Bill and the Bracts'' be a good name for a rock band?
(Answers: 1. Part of a plant; 2. No, but ''The Foliage Eaters'' would.)
Another question is: How did Ohio State University conduct this research? Did researchers actually feed 500 poinsettia bracts to a 50-pound child? How? And does this experiment really prove that poinsettias are safe? We personally have seen 50-pound children eat a LOT of things that would probably kill an adult, such as ''fruit roll-ups,'' which we do not believe are fruit at all. We believe they are the offspring of a biological mating experiment involving Kool-Aid and flypaper.
So our feeling is that you consumers should resist the temptation to rush out and start wolfing down poinsettias. Instead, you should take the wise scientific precaution of serving them to dinner guests (''Marge, try some of this delicious brie-on-a-bract!'') and then watching the guests closely for common symptoms of death, such as not moving for several days or purchasing an Oldsmobile.
But here's what really gets our goat: While so-called ''researchers'' at Ohio State University were busily stuffing poinsettias down the throat of an innocent 50-pound child, a potentially MUCH greater menace to humanity was running loose in the very same state (Ohio). We know this because we have received, from an anonymous source who shall remain nameless, a newspaper article from the Youngstown, Ohio, Vindicator, which bills itself -- and not without reason -- as the premier newspaper in the Mahoning Valley. This article, which we are not making up, begins with the following statement:
'WARREN -- The possibility that radioactive muskrats are lurking in the city bothers Pierson `Butch' Butcher Jr.''
The article states that Butcher, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the Warren City Council, had said it was possible that local muskrats were eating radioactive materials they found on the grounds of a recently demolished power plant. By way of rebuttal, the story quotes the mayor, Democrat Hank Angelo, as stating: ``There are no green, glowing-eyed rats running the streets of Warren.''
In professional journalism, the first thing we do when we need to check out this type of story is try to find out what a muskrat is. The sum total of our knowledge on this subject is the song ''Muskrat Love,'' performed by The Captain and Tennille, both of whom are, incredibly, still at large. So we checked the encyclopedia, which states that muskrats are ''closely related to voles.'' We have never heard of ''voles,'' and suspect that the encyclopedia is just kidding around.
Armed with this information, we called Warren, Ohio, and spoke with Pierson ''Butch'' Butcher Jr., who, it turns out, is not a shy person. During a lengthy and wide-ranging interview, he stated that although there are muskrats running around Warren, and SOMEBODY at a public meeting expressed concern that they (the muskrats) might be radioactive, that person was not Pierson ''Butch'' Butcher Jr. Mr. Butcher further stated that he had read an article somewhere regarding reports of radioactive deer in Pennsylvania.
So to summarize the key findings of our investigation:
1. There may or may not be radioactive muskrats and/or deer in Ohio and/or Pennsylvania.
2. Just in case, both states should be evacuated immediately.
3. Another good name for a band would be ``The Radioactive Muskrats.''
4. Speaking of musical groups, if The Captain and Tennille ever decide to try for a comeback, the obvious song for them to do would be ``Vole Love.''
5. In which case, please pass the poinsettias.