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Column: Maybe I shouldn't have taken the calls ...

FARGO, N.D. -- Maybe it's the humidity or the full moon. Who knows? But whatever the cause, last week set a high (low?) mark for phone callers afflicted with that special nuttiness that makes my job among the most interesting on the planet. Here's a sample:

"What's with all that Sanford stuff in your crummy paper?" the caller asked. "Why in hell is the governor of South Carolina dumping money into a hospital in Fargo? I think it stinks because ..."

Whoa, I said. You've got the wrong Sanford. You're thinking Mark Sanford. The hospital guy is Denny Sanford, the philanthropist from South Dakota. Dakota, not Carolina.

"Don't give me that," he said. "I mean the guy who took up with that Brazilian gal ..."

Argentine, I said.

"What?"

Argentine. Gov. Sanford's girlfriend is from Argentina, not Brazil.

"What's the difference?" he shouted. "The question is what the hell was she doing in Fargo at that hospital thing?"

Sir, I said as politely as such stupidity allowed, she was not here. Gov. Sanford of South Carolina has no part in the hospital merger. He was not here. It's Denny Sanford of South Dakota. "Oh sure," he growled, "just another cover-up by you (expletive deleted) media types. I'll bet you have pictures of the Brazil babe ..."

Argentina, I said.

"You think you're real smart, don't ya," he hissed and, mercifully, hung up.

"I been a subscriber a long time, and I want to know why you liberals in the media hate the tea parties," the caller said.

Well, I said, we don't. Fact is, the tea party movement is a good story, and we always like a good story.

"Then why are you calling us racists?" he asked.

Not doing that, I responded.

"You gol-damn are," he said, his voice rising. "It's 'cause we're all good Americans, right? It's 'cause we white people are finally speaking up about all that diversity crap, right?"

Well ...

"Don't interrupt me," he snapped. "Go to a tea party rally and see us real Americans. None of that gol-damn diversity, that's for sure. None of them (he used the n-word) or gol-damn illegal immigrants -- or legal ones, either. Don't need 'em, don't want 'em. They're ruining this country."

I thought I'd add fuel to the fire. You know, I said, your remarks sound racist to me.

"What the hell do you know," he said. "That name of yours. Polish, right?"

Yes, it is, I said, and my mother's family was Italian.

"Gol-damn," he whispered, "that's what's wrong with the goldamn liberal media. Just another gol-damn mongrel ..."

I hung up.

"I read your column on humidity and hot weather," the caller said, "and I have to say, I disagree. I just love to sweat in the hot weather."

Oh, I said, good for you.

"I just love it," she said. "I sit out in my backyard all naked and natural and just sweat -- dripping off me till my lawn chair is slippery. I'm a big girl - I mean fat (she giggled) and I really sweat."

I was almost at a loss for words. That's nice, I said, I guess ...

"You got something against fat girls?" she asked, a tint of anger coloring her tone.

No, no, I said. I just, well, I've never talked to anyone who, well, you know, enjoys what you do ...

"Really," she said -- her anger sharper now. "So I'm a freak, is that it?"

No, no, I said. That's not what I mean. She was having none of it.

"You're skinny aren't you?" she said. "And your friends, too. Right?"

Uh, no. I have friends who are ...

"Go ahead, say it," she said. "Fat. You hate fat people, don't you?"

No, I don't, I said. Some of my friends and colleagues are ...

"Is that so," she said, calmer now. "That's good. I'm sorry if I was nasty. I'm really a very nice person." Then, after a long pause: "Tell you what. You come over to my house. I'll make you a big icy tea and we can talk and you can watch me sweat ..."

I declined.

Jack Zaleski is the editorial page editor of The Forum which like the Daily Globe is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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