Llama Llatte 

Unreal shares our coffee with a posse of camels, finds out if a fitness guru is truly "lovin' it" and gets competitive with Howie Mandel

Last month researchers at Washington University made news when they announced plans to develop a "dipstick" test to check for caffeine in beverages. The test uses antibodies the scientists derived from — get this — injecting camels and llamas with caffeine. Not opposed to mainlining stimulants ourselves, Unreal dialed up researcher Dan Crimmins to quiz him on his technique.

Unreal: How do you like your camels, one lump or two?

Dan Crimmins, Ph.D.: Yeah, we've gotten a ton of goofy questions on this one. But then, with apologies to The Wizard of Oz, this research has it all: llamas and dipsticks and caffeine, oh my!

It reminds Unreal of the time we fed beer to the family dog. It vomited all over the living room. What response did you get from injecting camels and llamas with massive doses of caffeine?

They got along quite fine, actually. But we didn't give them very strong doses. It was less than in a cup of coffee. We also got approval from the university's animal-welfare department that what we were doing wasn't cruel.

Is there something about camelids that makes them better suited to the vices of man? Joe Camel smoked unfiltered cigarettes for years and it never seemed to affect him.

I don't know about that. We chose camels and llamas because their antibodies withstand high temperatures. I guess that's because they live in hot environments. We wanted to be able to test our dipstick in extreme temperatures, such as coffee.

The Food and Drug Administration advises pregnant women to limit their caffeine intake. Have you given any thought to packaging your kits with home pregnancy tests?

Not right now. But we do see this as marketable, especially for people who have adverse reactions to caffeine.

How about developing a test that could tell people whether a restaurant secretly replaced its gourmet coffee with Folger's Crystals?

Hmm. We've got a few things planned, but nothing that specific.

Real or Unreal
"The only person I'd wait in a hundred-degree, six-hour line to see is Howie Mandel," piped one linelubber with questionable comedic taste and no understanding of open casting. He was one of 5,000 locals (along with a handful of devout road trippers) hoping for face time with Howie and 30 seconds to showcase their worthiness as America's Next (sorta) Millionaire. From a fella who camped out for sixteen hours to a back-flipping gaggle of uniformed nurses, there was no dearth of oddballs at the casting call for the inexplicably popular game show Deal or No Deal, held May 27 at East St. Louis' Casino Queen.

Though Unreal's audition failed to make Howie say wowie, we made good use of our downtime by inventing our own game: Real or Unreal™.

To play, simply read the following scenarios and determine whether the profiled hopeful is Real or Unreal™. Answers appear below.

Dianne Burrows, 50, minister: Began day with halo that read "Deal or No Deal" but after top disjointed was left with halo that read "No Deal."

Craig White, 54, veteran: Explained his number-selection technique: "You gotta eliminate all those evil odd numbers, 'cause I'm an even-numbered man! Ha-ha!"

Lea Ozturk, 27, X-ray technician; Jennifer Williams, 27, mom: Wore shirts that read "Hair or No Hair." When asked to elaborate, replied, "We were going to dress up as Old Howie (with hair) and New Howie (without hair)." When informed that neither was bald, Jennifer said she'd been unable to find a skullcap in time for the audition.

Michael Snowden, 35, graphic designer: Said he would pick briefcase number 12 and if it proved a loser would claim dyslexia and insist he meant to choose 21.

Bruce Howard, 51, dentist: Declared his distaste for Howie Mandel. Said he would use the million-dollar prize to replace Deal or No Deal host with Late Late Show star Craig Ferguson.

Debbie Tidwell, 50, wallpaper hanger: Had poster of lucky briefcase number 5. When an impressively constructed cardboard flap was lifted, the briefcase interior revealed a photo, vintage 1980, of Debbie and Howie Mandel at a banquet in St. Louis.

Trace Dean, 33, bus driver: Quizzed about his number-selection strategy, he replied, "I'ma pick the suitcase bitches with the biggest boobs."

"Schlack," 70, tow truck driver: When asked which briefcase he'd pick, replied, "Briefcase? What're you talkin' about?" Upon being told the rules of the game show for which he was auditioning, exclaimed, "Huh? I'm out on job-related injury!" Answer key: R, R, R, U, R, R, U, R

The Choice Is Nancy's
Nancy Sexton is a Studio City, California-based host of a pair of fitness shows on Fit TV, and recently kicked Ivan Lendl's butt in a FSN West-televised poker tournament. (Rollie Fingers won their table.) She's also a former model and Italian pop star; Hasselhoff-like, she had five number-one hits there in the '90s. Her publicist thought Unreal should talk to her, so we said, "OK."

Unreal: On your Web site it says, "No fast food unless it's a chicken you can't catch." What does that mean?

Nancy Sexton: No fast food. It means no fast food. It shouldn't be in your diet. It's not even an option on a "cheating" day. It's horrible. It sets you up for complete failure. Actually, I take that back, because I do work for McDonald's, so I should be careful.

What do you do for McDonald's?

I'm their physical-fitness representative for Southern California.

Isn't that kind of like being the NAACP liaison for the KKK?

Yeah, kind of. Ha-ha! No, not at all. McDonald's introduced a program this past month that involves DVDs with fitness — basically the Adult Happy Meal. They wanted someone who could verify that the workout was valid, and it is.

What is an adult Happy Meal?

It's a salad and, I think, your choice of drink, and the DVD, which features a computer-generated character named Maya who walks you through different workouts.

So "No fast food unless it's a chicken you can't catch or McDonald's."

Well, if it's a salad from McDonald's.... It's all about making choices. You gotta realize — McDonald's is not all that bad. They're one of the only restaurants in the country that provide a playground for children that's enclosed, that a parent can actually go to and watch their kid play, and have something to eat. It really is all about choice.

Reach Around
The local blogosphere has been patting itself on the front in recent weeks, and with good reason. According to Google Trends (www.google.com/trends), St. Louis ranks first in Google searches for the phrase "hand job," beating out jerks in Denver, Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis.

We're also tops when it comes to searches for "chastity" and "lose weight." All of which would seem to be good public-health news for a city notoriously plagued by syphilis and obesity.

Then again, we're also number one for "White Castle" and "Vanilla Ice" searches, and that can't be good for anybody. To make sense of it all, Unreal attempted to consult Hugh Stallworth, M.D., M.P.H., and Melba R. Moore, M.S., former and current (respectively) commissioners of the St. Louis Department of Health. When they declined to talk to us, we rang an old roommate, S. Thomas Ives, hand-job aficionado and resident in internal medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

Unreal: Does it surprise you that St. Louis has the most hand-job searches?

Dr. S. Thomas Ives: It is surprising. I would think they would be more conservative about their Google searches, that people in the Midwest might be worried that someone would check their computer and know they'd been searching for hand jobs.

Is it difficult for you to reach your mind around this concept?

Until it bursts with understanding? Yeah. Normally I feel like I need death-grip knowledge before I have a superfirm hold on issues.

Do you think this points toward a local public-health renaissance?

It points to a city in crisis about its identity. People want to indulge in classics like the White Castle burger while wanting to lose weight, and want to have their hand job while preaching chastity. But I think as soon as Albert Pujols shares his secret steroid recipe with the rest of the citizens, you'll all be better off. Either that or his age-defying document-forging technique.

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