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Spin in the No-Spin Zone 

Some folks deserve our congratulations (kisses, Wash. U.!), some our patronage (we love Don Bellon's beautiful, found-object-filled deli) and still others our furrowed brow (hijinx on Bill O'Reilly's Web site: wha'?)

What does it take to get kicked off Bill O'Reilly's Web site,

Merely being obnoxious, apparently -- though O'Reilly himself manages to get away with that regularly on his Fox News show The O'Reilly Factor. But postings like "MASS Media Machine Whore dogs!!!" and "America Educates Incompetent Immigrants" were enough to get a St. Louis woman barred last month from the site's "Feedback Zone" and the armchair pundit's $4.95-per-month premium membership revoked.

A sample of what got the woman in trouble with her fellow Zoners, regarding the new high school for homosexuals in New York City (reproduced here verbatim):

RE: CAN MY KIDS have their own School?? Date: 11-Aug-03 BTW it was VERY personal and cruel for me to be attacked for my hair color and my ethnicity, I was Blonde naturally, but was Asian mix, so I was abused and taunted for this, as well as for getting Boobs early, something I could not help nor hide, I got AS MUCH ABUSE as any gay gets! Guaranteed! But you know what, I HAD to DEAL with it, and I HAD to get my butt to that school, and learn my subjects as well as ways to deal with rude, stpid people of the world!!....

The site posts rules regarding "nuisance" or "offensive" posts, but even allowing that offensive is in the eye of the beholder, it's hard to see where the commenter went overboard. Her tone, though, bothered the moderators. "This lady was just kind of out there, frankly," explains Scott Fedewa, the site's chief operating officer. "She scared people. We had to let her go."

Miffed, the woman registered with a different credit card and alias, then came immediately to her own defense:

RE: Where Are the Topics? >Date: 26-Aug-03 If this person was so bad, or annoying why is everyone else being equally bad by ruining some posts that could be thoughtful and worthwhile? It seems pretty pathetic.

She was quickly discovered -- and booted again.

Fedewa declined to consider a scenario in which O'Reilly himself -- say, under the pseudonym Billy Bill -- might get kicked off the site for airing his own commentary. But the site honcho does impart that the woman made two subsequent attempts to rejoin, to no avail. And to her claim that her five bucks wasn't refunded as promised?

"We refunded her money!" he says, noting that it takes a few days for such a transaction to go through. "We refunded all her aliases too."

Number Nine

Unreal welcomes back Washington University students and congratulates incoming freshmen on their acceptance to America's ninth-ranked university for undergrads, according to the latest U.S. News & World Report computations.

Can you believe it? Ol' Warsh. U. beats the likes of Columbia, Northwestern, Brown, Rice and Cornell -- all the schools that rejected you? (Their students had better GPAs in high school than you, and they were first-chair clarinet players, unlike some people we could name.)

Unreal couldn't believe it either. Of course, over the years we've read the various articles in the Wall Street Journal and other publications debunking the myth of the U.S. News ranking system, analyses that prove the best-selling annual "America's Best Colleges" guide, which sells for $12.95, is based on nothing more than statistical sleight-of-hand. And heck, we've been around. Be honest: When's the last time you walked up to someone in, say, Pittsburgh, and said, "Hey, can you believe Washington University is the ninth-ranked school for undergrads in the entire country?" and they've said something other than, "Is that in Seattle or Spokane?"

Ratings are one thing, but it's street cred that counts. So, while out jogging one evening, Unreal decided to take the issue to the four- to eleven-year-old demographic in University City's Parkview subdivision, a gated community in WU's backyard known for its well-watered lawns. We expected the future golfers would be blissfully unaware of Chancellor Mark Wrighton's endowment-bloating efforts. How wrong we were.

Unreal: [sweaty, creeping toward a cluster of six children in a driveway, accompanied by an adult] Hello?

Mother/Aunt figure: [looks anxious]

Unreal: I'm not weird or anything, I just want to ask your kids a question.

Mother/Aunt figure: [as one kid jabs another with a stick] Mitchell, put that down.

Unreal: Hey kids, look at me for a second.

Mitchell: [continues jabbing]

Unreal: Have you ever heard of Columbia University?

Toddlers: [inattentive]

Eleven-year-old girl: I have!

Unreal: Have you heard of Northwestern?

Girl: Uh-huh.

Unreal: How about Brown?

Girl: [nods affirmatively]

Unreal: Rice?

Girl: [thinks] Maybe.

Unreal: How about Wash. U.?

Girl: Yep.

Unreal: Which of those schools do you want to go to when you're older?

Girl: Wash. U.

At this, we bade farewell and resumed our run. Wouldn't you know it -- Wrighton must have gotten to her first.

Demolition Deli

After a long day of demolishing buildings, Don Bellon, owner of Bellon Wrecking and Salvage Company on South Vandeventer, likes to unwind with a salami panini sandwich and a bowl of ice cream. It's easy to do, now that his family has opened a deli and pizzeria in a wing of the company's building.

A wrecking company/deli combo may seem as mismatched as a salsiccia sub with peanut butter, but Bellon's 22-year-old son, Danny, has transformed the old salvage warehouse into Bellon's Market, a showcase of recycled décor that includes a mosaic floor made from busted marble and walls covered in oak paneling from Mark Twain's nephew's house. Bellon's 25-year-old daughter, Carrie, has formulated a menu of sandwiches, St. Louis-style pizza and salads.

Every item in the deli has a story, which Bellon family members have recited to a growing number of patrons since the doors opened in July. The massive oak bar that houses the soda fountain once graced the Lenox Hotel downtown; the cast-iron gates in the entry were used in Otis elevators before modern doors were invented; the tabletops are made of marble from local seminaries; the arched terra-cotta window façades once adorned the Sheldon theater.

Don Bellon has built a business tearing things down. Thanks to nature, neglect or politics, nearly 2,000 St. Louis buildings have fallen to his wrecking balls and bulldozers. He got into the demo business after his father, Mario Bellon, closed his grocery store on the near north side in the mid-1970s. When the family bought the property on the corner of Vandeventer and Chouteau in 1997, the lot was overgrown and the building was dilapidated. The rehab has added momentum to revitalization efforts already under way in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, which is bordered by Kingshighway, Hunt Avenue, Vandeventer and Highway 40.

"I'm not a believer in tearing things down," Don Bellon says. "You can reuse a lot of things. So much craftsmanship went into this stuff. Everything is fake now. You even got fake rocks now."

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