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Friday, June 13, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rumors? Erik Sets The Record Straight

Seattle Times Staff Columnist

Letters, calls and e-mail from readers, all about rumors.

From Keith Bode, Lynden, Whatcom County. "In your column on false rumors, in which Berkeley economist Terry Chan helps compile, and dispel, rumors spread on the Internet (http://www.urbanlegends.com/afu.faq/index.cgi), I think Chan is well-intentioned, but erroneous on at least one item.

"He says it's a false rumor that a guy once tried to siphon gas from an RV but instead siphoned from the septic tank, with the guy then found unconscious by the RV the next day.

"Closer to the truth is that Seattle Police Officer Tom Umporowicz responded to a prowl a couple of years ago - it turns out a guy did in fact try to siphon gas from an RV, got the black or gray water tank (RV's do not have septic tanks), ingested some and was retching and turning colors of the rainbow (I exaggerate slightly) when Tom arrived on the scene. The news item is remembered well because Tom was a police officer up here in the Whatcom County town of Everson (I'm city attorney and worked on his cases) before he headed to Seattle."

Comment: I contacted Officer Umporowicz, and he did remember responding to a RV-siphoning call in about 1992 in the South Park neighborhood. Umporowicz never saw a suspect turning rainbow colors; what he did see was a trail of vomit leading away from the RV. The RV owner didn't want to press charges; he mostly thought it was hilarious that apparently somebody put a tube into the tank

containing waste, sucked on the tube to start the suction, and ended up gulping the stuff. Umporowicz remembered later contacting a known "local troublemaker who admitted the whole thing."

You know, I'm writing this portion of the column right at lunchtime, and for some reason, I'm not real hungry.

From Carrie Gordon (and similar letters from a dozen other readers), Seattle. "I've got one correction for you on debunking urban myths. I beg to differ concerning the `falseness' of the Sears catalog male model wearing boxer shorts. You said it was false the picture showed his male appendage, that it was a drawstring.

"My mother owns that issue of the Sears catalog, and that is NO DRAWSTRING peeking out from the hem of his briefs! My mom still loves to pull it out, the catalog, that is, and amuse family and friends. The catalog was recalled, which I think is strong evidence in favor of this rumor."

Comment: Through the miracle of computers, Carrie's mom scanned the photo that appeared in the fall/winter 1975 Sears catalog and sent it me to via e-mail. It certainly does appear that's no drawstring - although in reproducing the picture for this column, we made the editorial decision to cut it off, as it were, right before the item in question.

I called Sears headquarters and talked to spokeswoman Jan Drummond. She said that, no, the catalog never was recalled. In the Sears archives, she did find letters from outraged customers who were shocked that good old Sears was showing "this individual's nakedness." But Drummond said that was no nakedness peeking out. It was a drop of water.

"It was a blemish in the printing process. Apparently what happened was that water or some liquid fell on the art work or negative in the printing process, and it was not noticed," she said.

Anyway, Drummond said, the same photo had run in the earlier spring 1975 Sears catalog, and no male nakedness showed. But why do I think Carrie's mom still will bring out the catalog when things get kind of slow at that family get-together?

From Diane Murdock, Lynnwood. "One rumor that was labeled as false is a matter of law in Europe - the rumor about flowers being bad in hospital rooms because they suck oxygen out of the air.

"A few years ago, I was in a hospital in Brussels, Belgium, for some corrective surgery. My partner brought me some flowers to help me out. They did brighten my day. I was surprised when they removed the flowers that night and brought them back the next day. I was puzzled.

"I asked my surgeon when he came around and he said it was `federal' law. He said it didn't make sense, but being the law . . ."

Comment: I just had a couple nice conversations, one with Robert Cleland, professor of botany at the University of Washington; the other with Eric Gobert, a nurse at the hospital affiliated with St. Luc University in Brussels.

First, Prof. Cleland: "Why are you asking me such a stupid question when I could be doing important plant DNA research?

All right, the professor actually said, "All living organisms consume oxygen, but a plant in a room would consume so little there'd be virtually no depletion," he said. "And in the day, the plants may actually add oxygen to the room."

The professor patiently explained that there is plenty of oxygen for people and plants. "I mean, we don't pass out from lack of oxygen when we sit in a crowded theater, do we?" asked the professor. Not unless it's another Pauly Shore movie.

Next, the male nurse who got to answer my long-distance call. "It is not the law. It is, how you say it, the custom?" he said.

In Belgium hospitals, that flower bouquet traditionally gets put out in the hall at night. Of course, if you make a big scene, then the nurses say, "You disgusting American tourist, eat them for all we care!"

That's all for today's letters.

By the way, sorry I couldn't show you the Sears picture in its entirety. That was the most anatomically correct water drop I've ever seen.

Erik Lacitis' column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Friday. His phone number is 206-464-2237. His e-mail address is: elac-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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