DIY DNA

Unreal learns some CSI-style tricks. And then: a tale of whiskey and venereal disease.

Don'cha find it so empowering, the DIY movement? You know, doin' your own perm, or your very own steakhouse-style bloomin' onion?

Well, dear self-starting friends of Unreal, we are delighted to announce that you will soon be able to DIY your DNA.

That's right, on May 12, Don Brown Chevrolet will hand out hundreds, maybe even thousands, of the one-and-only DNA LifePrint Kit. Endorsed by the renowned John Walsh, child advocate and citizen crime fighter, and devised by Joseph Matthews, a former Florida homicide cop who now solves cold cases for Walsh's America's Most Wanted, the kit contains a DIY DNA-sampling tool.

Dan Zettwoch

Alas, it's not yet available at your local Walgreens. Read on to find out why.

Unreal: I'm not sure I get the concept. If a missing kid turns up five years after being abducted, wouldn't his parents recognize him without DNA?

Joseph Matthews: In every case I ever worked, you have 100 leads the first night. Maybe one of those is the real lead. Let's say it's a suspect vehicle or an apartment somebody thought the kid was in. You find a pacifier or a baseball cap the child might have left. You can extract the DNA from that, and have something to compare it to in order to determine whether the child was in this car or not.

What happened to going down to the school gymnasium and having fingerprints taken?

You can't get a fingerprint off a pacifier or a soda can. And 80 percent of all children's fingerprints are not legible for identification purposes.

Well, could I clip my kid's fingernails and save them in an envelope? Or cut off a clump of his hair?

No, no, no. There's no DNA in a fingernail or in hair unless you have the root. You have to have cells from saliva, skin or sweat — any body fluid.

Urine?

Yeah.

Should the sample be stored in a safe place, like under the mattress?

Well [laughs], I don't think under the mattress. But maybe save it if they urinate in bed. If there's any bacteria anywhere, though, that messes with the sample. You're taking a chance.

Have you tried to get dollar stores to sell this kit?

We do it all through corporate sponsors, police departments, nonprofits. They use it as fundraisers. I really don't know how many people would actually see it in a store and say, "Oh, I gotta buy a home DNA kit." You know what I mean?

You're coming to St. Louis the day before Mother's Day, though. This might make a fine gift!

We do a lot of events around Mother's Day, and it's always such a — I'm telling you, as a parent myself, when I took my own children's DNA — [trails off, speechless].

Enough to Drive You to Drink

Joseph J. Mersman, whiskey seller and amateur diarist, moved to St. Louis from Cincinnati in 1849. From the get-go he had a hard time of it. His "dreaded condition" (syphilis) was a constant worry, and when that wasn't nagging the dysentery was. Writes Mersman in his diary: "Early yesterday morning I had to rise and visit the privy. I felt immediately that I had the dysentery, during the course of the forenoon I was compelled to repeat my visit six times...."

The Whiskey Merchant's Diary: An Urban Life in the Emerging Midwest (Ohio University Press) presents for the first time the antebellum diary of Mersman, an everyman capitalist who operated a whiskey- and tobacco-wholesaling business in the riverfront warehouse district now home to the Arch. Compiled and annotated by the late Linda A. Fisher, the book offers a glimpse of what it was like living in the disease-infested stinkhole that was early St. Louis.

Mersman lived through some shit, and documents it. "Business during this week was very dull," he writes on Sunday, May 13, 1849. "The great Plague of the Year Cholera is driving every country [person] and merchants from surrounding cities away. The city looks like a desert compared to its usual animated appearance." At its peak the plague killed 200 people a week. "Business is suspended," he writes, "except what appertains to sickness and Death." The summers are hot and nasty, the winters cold and "disagreeably dull."

The budding St. Louis was not without its charms. Mersman gambles at euchre ("I lost the liquor," he complains after one game), gambles on dominos, smokes his share of cigars, procures whiskey at cost (eighteen cents a bottle) and brews basement port wine out of cider, raisins, whiskey, brandy and "tincture of Rhatany."

Despite his disease, Mersman occasionally finds time to visit "accommodation houses" for dalliances with "strumpets." He gets drunk at a joint called Bach's Beerhouse. At one point the whiskey man is nearly forced into a duel with "a low character who lives the Lord knows how," who has accused our hero of cheating during a game of dominos. "Should he challenge me, I think it my solemn duty to refuse fighting a duel. [But h]e may attempt and succeed in destroying me in a way even more dishonorable."

Mersman vanquishes the syphilis (for a while) with tonics and sarsaparillas and settles down with his new wife, Claudine — which is when the real Hell begins. Though "[s]he appears and pretends to love me dearly," she's "extraordinarily jealous" and evidences "peculiar ways" — though not too peculiar to prevent him from impregnating her eight times.

Tedium sets in. Mersman drinks and complains about the weather, transforms his whiskey business into the Fourth National Bank of St Louis and builds a mansion in Lafayette Square. Syphilis, his "confounded complaint," returns. The author's sister, Agnes, meanwhile, marries a clown and is soon managing a circus. Later in life she marries "Wild" Bill Hickock.

Their twin trajectories reinforce this city's notorious pattern: The best and brightest always light out for greener pastures, leaving the rest of us with our cheap whiskey and venereal diseases.

Where the hell is Agnes' diary?

Local Blog O' the Week

"The Onymous"
www.theonymous.com
Author: The Onymous
About the blogger: The Onymous loves his wife and his daughter, is pretty tolerant of the cats and uses the word "awesome" way too much. He also recently underwent a vasectomy.

Recent Highlights (April 7) give it to me i throw it away

Post op report number one: 24 hours

The procedure was quick. It was very hot in the room from all the lights. I hopped up on the table, which is basically the same table that they use for OB/GYN visits. The only pain was the shots (one for each side), I didn't feel the cutting or the cauterizing. When I left my legs were a little sore from the muscles being tense the whole time (I'm the same way at the dentist, it's purely psychological). I was slightly lightheaded and nauseous, but that could have been from hunger as much as anything as I'd had both a light breakfast and a light lunch.

The afternoon and evening of the operation I slept most of the time. I got up for dinner and to watch Boo while Mae took her shower.

Pain? Very little. There's some tenderness of course, and there is an occasional sharp pain when I move too quickly or try to do something I shouldn't (or more precisely when my 3 year old tries to climb on me). I took Motrin for the first 18 hours, but nothing since.

It's a bit surprising how much you use your groin muscles for without being aware of it. It's almost harder to transition to sitting from standing than vice versa.

Athletic supporters feel very very strange if you aren't used to wearing them.

(April 8): My balls feel like a pair of maracas

In which we experience the after effects of a vasectomy.

Athletic supporters were not designed to be worn 24/7. At this point the discomfort from the supporter is more of an issue than the discomfort from the procedure. There is a mild ache in the general region of the surgery intermittently. There is constant irritation where all of the straps of the supporter are creating pressure.

Someone asked if it hurt to urinate. It does not. It's a little tricky in terms of the dressing, but it doesn't hurt at all and didn't at any point post procedure.

That is all for now. I will update again tomorrow after a dressing change.

Know of an Unreal-worthy local blog?
Send the URL to unreal@riverfronttimes.com.

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