Roy Exum: Just Try Some Saltpeter

Saturday, July 13, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Dental Tech Melissa Nelson
Dental Tech Melissa Nelson

I was saddened to learn the State Supreme Court in Iowa ruled Friday that, yes, it is alright to terminate an employee solely because he or she is “irresistible.” I’ve worked at several places and that has never happened to me. Then again, I’ve also been to Iowa where the streetscape is markedly different from the Deep South. Here there are so many irresistible people it is almost commonplace but, in Iowa, you have to look pretty hard sometimes.

The storyline is that this dentist in the town of Fort Dodge hired a very capable young lady named Melissa Nelson to be his assistant but – at some point -- began having “the urges” when the two would work on cavities and molars in close quarters. They worked together for 10 years, mind you, but Dr. James Knight finally told her that he couldn’t stand it any longer and gave her a pink slip with a month’s severance pay.

He freely admitted Melissa was one of the best assistants he ever had and later told the court her firing was actually a direct order from his wife, who had determined if Dr. Knight didn’t get rid of Melissa it would ultimately destroy their marriage. Oh please! Mrs. Nelson is married with kids of her own and never, not even once, flirted or did anything untoward in the office. Further, Dr. Knight didn’t get her emotions stirred up at all.

It made no difference. The court – all male – ruled in the appeal on Friday that the firing was based on feelings, not gender, and therefore did not constitute gender discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Melissa vows she’s going to keep fighting. “I think it is completely wrong,” Nelson told ABC News. “I think it is sending a message that men can do whatever they want in the workforce.”

Iowa attorney Ryan Koopmans went it one better. “People think this decision is just unfair,” Koopmans said. “It’s really unprecedented. In this case there is no new evidence there is no fact that the Supreme Court missed. The only thing that’s new here is the public reaction to the opinion. Which is mostly negative, actually overwhelmingly negative.”

I contend the whole thing could have been handled not in a court but with a dose or two of saltpeter. When I was about eight or nine, scampering all over my grandfather’s huge farm, my Dad took us boys to some old ruins on the property and showed us where the Confederate Army once had a saltpeter mine. He explained that in the Civil War you couldn’t just walk into Ace Hardware and buy gunpowder, and that armies had to make it from scratch as they traveled about.

In the way he would teach us about all kinds of stuff, he urged us to find out more about it and we were eager to learn about anything that would blow up. So we soon made our own gunpowder – true story! It was really very simple – one part saltpeter, two parts sulfur and three parts charcoal. Sulfur was easy to get – that yellow powder you remember from chemistry – and we would grind some barbeque Brickettes two or three times in the corn grinder until it was fine dust.

But what about the saltpeter? Dad would just laugh and say something like, “Why do you think the saltpeter mine was built here?” So us junior sleuths learned that saltpeter was best found in bat guano. “What’s that?” we cried and Dad said, “It’s a Spanish word,” came the reply. So we tore around like madmen to find a Spanish dictionary and learned “guano” means “dung.” Glory! Just a short run up a steep hill from the ruins of the mine was a cave where a lot of bats still lived.

Bat guano has been the top source of saltpeter since before the Revolutionary War so soon we scraped up a bunch of dried guano from the walls in the cave, mixed it with sulfur and charcoal dust according to the recipe and – KaBOOM! – we made gunpowder just like the Confederates. Then dad explained bat guano was a great source for “niter” -- potassium nitrate. People had used bat guano as “niter” for many centuries.

Well, we thought that was great until The Old Man slyly mentioned, in an off-hand way he used to do, that saltpeter was also thought to be a splendid way to kill a man’s “urges.” Don’t tell me you haven’t heard it – every man in the South knows about the saltpeter. Our GIs in both World Wars swore it was in the cigarette paper the government issued to the troops and, every summer at camp, “those in the know” would spread word the cooks were sprinkling it in the pitchers of our “Bug Juice.”

If you’ll follow my thinking, all Dr. Knight needed to do was call the place he got his Novacaine and add some saltpeter to the order. According to legend, he would have been able to better concentrate on his patients instead of Mrs. Nelson. But, alas, I have just learned after living over a half of a century that saltpeter -- or potassium nitrate – has no effect whatsoever on a libido. In candor, Dr. Knight really should just have invested in a cold shower because the lawyer bills at this point must be awful.

The whole thing is just as absurd as the saltpeter myth. How can any court rule on feelings? Dr. Knight      should get some professional therapy – which I’m told is better than saltpeter – and leave the poor girl alone. My goodness, how could any woman go to a dentist who by his own admission has such a now-gnarly history with “irresistibles?”

I refuse to believe you should hire or fire people based on looks. I know some homely girls have threatened Hooters but when you hire appearance over ability, it’s rarely going to turn out as well as going after a good and decent person.  I’m thinking the Iowa Supreme Court should have ruled more along the lines, “Physician, heal thyself.”

royexum@aol.com


Lessons From My Dad, Marty Haynes

Enough is enough. I have heard Marty Haynes’ name drug through the mud for far too long. Let me tell you a few things that I have learned from my father, that now as a family man myself I realize are far more important than anything else.  1. Be Faithful in your Service- My dad learned this trait from my grandparents, Dub and Norma Haynes- Mr. and Mrs. Hixson High 1951, ... (click for more)

TVA Coal Reductions Could Come With High Price Tag

Reliable, low-cost electricity has always been the backbone of the Tennessee Valley economy. Low-cost power from the Tennessee Valley Authority, generated by a balanced mix of coal, natural gas and nuclear, drives the valley’s manufacturing economy and makes the region an attractive destination for business. In the process, Tennessee has developed the fourth largest automotive manufacturing ... (click for more)

Firefighters Stop Fire At Local IHOP Restaurant

Chattanooga firefighters did not have far to go when fire broke out at the IHOP on Highway 153 in Hixson around  9 a.m.  on Friday. Battalion Chief Don Bowman and firefighters with Quint 16 had just enjoyed a nice breakfast there while having a morning staff meeting. When the firefighters returned to their fire truck and were getting ready to drive off, one of the firefighters ... (click for more)

City Councilman Chris Anderson Gearing Up For Election A Year Away

City Councilman Chris Anderson is already gearing up for the next city election, though it is over a year away. In the financial disclosures due Feb. 1, he reported receiving $24,165 for the reporting period from July 16, 2015 to Jan. 16, 2016. He spent $4,887 during that period. Councilman Yusuf Hakeem took in $11,110 during the period. Councilman Russell Gilbert reported ... (click for more)

Near-Perfect Red Bank Leads Region 2-A/AA Wrestling

High school wrestling coaches are always looking for perfection and Red Bank's Shane Turner almost got it Friday night in the opening day of the Region 2-A/AA tournament at Hixson Middle School. The Lions advanced all 14 of their wrestlers to Saturday morning's championship semifinal round and lead the 14-team field with 52 points. Hixson advanced 10 to the semis and hold ... (click for more)

Clemons, Lynn Named Miss Basketball Finalists

Baylor's Kaleigh Clemons and McMinn Central's Jacobi Lynn were named finalist for Ms. Basketball on Saturday. There were no local nominees for Mr. Basketball from the Chattanooga area. The awards will be presented to the top girls and boys in five classifications of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association on the floor of Murphy Center on the campus of MTSU on Tuesday, ... (click for more)