Potterphile: City Librarian Rick Ashton's alter ego, 
    Harry Potter.
Potterphile: City Librarian Rick Ashton's alter ego, Harry Potter.

Off Limits

t's okay to donate spare change downtown during the eleventh annual Denver International Buskerfest, but keep your handouts to yourself the rest of the time.

The Downtown Denver Partnership recently issued a brochure admonishing local residents and business owners to "Support Real Change, Don't Give Spare Change." Turns out the Partnership was shocked -- shocked! -- to discover that panhandlers sometimes use their booty to buy booze. "People who panhandle may need help," the brochure explains, "but the experience of numerous social services agencies indicates that money given to individuals on the street often supports destructive habits, including alcohol and drug addiction." Instead, the Partnership advised, do-gooders should donate to legitimate charities.

And why do this weekend's "buskers" -- a fancy name for street "performers," which itself is a fancy name for street "punks" -- deserve cash, when two punk-rock girls seen earlier this week on the 16th Street Mall trying to spell out "LOVE" with dollar bills do not? Why were their plaintive requests to help them "make love" -- by giving a dollar to finish the "E" -- less worthy than, say, Buskerfest participant Mad Chuck Taylor's chainsaw-juggling display?

"To us, really, if you had to delineate a difference, the buskers are giving a performance; they're adding to the vibrancy of downtown," says Partnership spokesman Michael Krikorian. "In contrast, when you have individuals holding a cup and asking people for money -- and sometimes, not always, that is an uncomfortable feeling -- that does not contribute to the vibrancy of downtown."

Local business owners made that perfectly clear in a survey the Partnership conducted earlier this year, which determined that panhandling was a greater concern than even -- gasp! -- parking meters. Take that, Hizzoner-to-be John Hickenlooper! Despite the ordinance passed by Denver City Council three years ago that requires beggars to stay twenty feet away from ATMs, pay phones and bus stops and pack up shop after sundown (among other things), panhandling is on the rise -- although the Partnership doesn't have any hard numbers.

Also on the rise is the wit of the profession's practitioners. "Will work for food" will no longer do as a slogan. No, our jaded populace requires a much more sophisticated, literate plea before they'll part with their cash, such as "Running for mayor -- taking donations here." Such signs were seen throughout the recent election -- and not just in the hands of the seven official candidates.

The truth about Harry: Quick! Get the Wizard! The Tattered Cover in Cherry Creek needed something to clear the air last Friday night, as the great, unwashed Harry Potter-loving masses crowded into the store's basement in anticipation of the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Despite the Tattered Cover's swanky address and the book's swanky price -- the 870-page tome went for the full $29.99 there, while other retailers were discounting it to $17.99 -- the place was packed with a group whose body odor would typically send Cherry Creek socialites skittering back behind their cloistered walls. Or at least to Campo de Fiori. All of those bodies -- ranging from screaming children in slightly used schoolgirl costumes to adults in full-on Renaissance Faire regalia -- crammed into one space raised the temperature in the basement a good fifteen degrees above that of the main floor, making the situation ripe for that other commercialized Wizard ("AIR WICK® by WIZARD® products have the solution to all of your fragrancing needs to ensure your home will always smell fresh and inviting," according to its Web site). But then, merchandising monster Harry Potter is still Harry Potter, the great equalizer, and sometimes you just have to suffer for the good of the children.

Or tell them to shut their holes and simply wait twelve hours until the library opens. Last Saturday was officially "Harry Potter Day" at all branches of the Denver Public Library, and to celebrate the august occasion, staffers were asked to wear fake tattoos depicting the lightening-bolt scar that Voldemort left on our hero. "For those who perhaps haven't read Harry, these scars go on your forehead on the left side (despite what the book jackets show)," Evelyn Connor, director of library services, advised in an internal memo. "I hope staff can enthusiastically support the unprecedented success of a children's title that has dramatically changed the reading habits of today's youth."

And about half of the DPL's employees working Saturday did, donning the fake tattoos provided by Potter's publisher, Scholastic. But even so, not many kids showed up for the festivities, despite the library's offer of free tattoos for whoever came in with scars drawn on their foreheads -- and properly placed, please. "We had a pretty much typical day, unfortunately," says children's librarian Lisa Champion. "We didn't have very many of the books, so kids couldn't just come in and pick up a copy."

The DPL did manage to rack up its largest hold list ever, however: The library had ordered 300 copies of Order of the Phoenix, and 848 would-be readers are currently on the waiting list. While they wait for their names to move to the top, those patient kids can re-create the Tattered Cover's Harrifying olfactory experience by plopping down in the periodical reading room of the main branch, a perfect petri dish of humanity.

Sorry, no butterbeer here.

Leaf us alone: While Harry Potter is the equivalent of crack for many adults, it wasn't the young wizard, but Salvia divinorum -- also known as "clown crack" -- that ranked as the country's newest scourge in the pages of Monday's USA Today. And you know, of course, that by the time the McNuggets of newspapers "discovers" a drug, the party's long over.

This variety of sage plant -- the high of choice for shamans, vision seekers and anyone jonesin' since A Vitamin Store's ephedrine stash ran out ("Confessions of an Ephedrine Eater," April 24) -- offers a more psychedelic than speedy experience, described as fast-forwarding to hour two of a mushroom trip (even if you've gotta smoke a lot to keep the high going). And it's still legal -- although the Drug Enforcement Administration is now trying to make the plant off limits, despite its historic roots in religious ceremonies.

But while even USA Today has moved Salvia to the top of its greatest-hits hit list, the Denver Police Department has no such concerns. "I'm not aware of that drug," says department spokesman Sonny Jackson. "If it's legal, we have to abide by the laws. There's not much we can do about it."

Which could be why a poster to Craig's List Denver recently discontinued his Salvia divinorum delivery service: It's hard to do a smokin' business over the Internet when anybody can walk into a head shop and buy the stuff for less. And at this very moment, Head Quarters Gift Shop, on the corner of 13th Avenue and Marion Street (the Bermuda Triangle for businesses) is proudly displaying sandwich-board signs asking passing motorists to come and sample its wares. Sure, Head Quarters also sells pipes and smokes, but it's the $25 for fifteen grams that gets 'em in the door.

A sticky situation: What would Jesus drive? Who the hell knows?

But his disciples are driving us nuts -- and we're not just talking about Reverend Jim Ball and those nuns careening around the country in their Toyota Piruses, spreading the anti-SUV eco-gospel and encouraging goodwill toward (non-gas-hogging) men.

Last week, an Off Limits correspondent parked in front of the Metro Lofts on Acoma Street was the victim of a stick-and-run. But that was no professionally printed, green-and-white (and easily removable) "What Would Jesus Drive?" sticker slapped on her Explorer's bumper. Instead, her windshield had been assaulted with a stubbornly sticky white address label bearing this handwritten message:

"Plantet KILLER SUV Do Not Mess Mother Nature You Do Not Care About The AIR, OR any One Else But Yourself God Dam YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HE ALL READY HAS."

What would Jesus say to that? And could he spell it correctly?


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