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Army Base Corrects "Blacklist" Error, Locals Still Baffled
by R.J. Chesterfield
* List had grown to encompass Walmart, health spas, local rest home
* Despite shaming, businesses thrive on impulsive service members
* Previous lists believed to have fingered 'al-Qaeda sleeper cells'
FAYETTEVILLE, NC - Following an embarrassing retraction two weeks ago, Fort Bragg officials confirmed Thursday they've finally got this year's list of "off limits establishments" squared away.
But Thursday's correction still has some asking how a Haymount retirement home was listed between such known offenders as "Three Fingers Spa" and "Oy Vey Gentlemen's Lounge" (one of this year's farthest off-limit sites at more than 170 miles to the south in Columbia, S.C.).
A Fort Bragg spokesman would not confirm earlier suspicions that the list, which was originally posted online, had been hacked. Base officials stated only: "We've conducted our own investigation into the matter and the retirement home in question is not an off limits establishment."
The full results of that investigation are not expected until 2017. "Well after anyone cares, as is customary," said one official who declined to give a name citing security purposes.
Sources tell us, however, that including The Village Assisted Living Palace and Crying Game Theater was meant to send a message.
"The message," submitted one resident of Fayetteville, whose identity is being protected in a state where homosexuality is constitutionally unallowable, "is to make the area around Crying Game Theater fabulous again. Since what's bad for you is good for you, you know. The services are cool with gay now. Everyone should go out and support your local theater!"
While others had mixed feelings about the theater, no one had the restive old folks home on their radar.
"It's baffling," said longtime Haymount resident, Gwen Thomas, 72. "That list has about as much oversight as that bill out of Congress they changed while in subcommittee. You know the one?"
No one in Fayetteville knew what Gwen was talking about.
"Pills," is all one base official would confirm.
"Hey, I look at it like domestic spying," said Capt. Alexis Cummins, 29, of Houston. "If you're a business owner and you're not doing anything wrong you should have nothing to worry about. Blacklist you. Don't blacklist you. Whatever."
"I didn't even know there was a blacklist," said Pvt. James Comer, 20, of Billings, MT. "I just learned about bath salts last week and that's because of some poster beside the duty roster. I still don't really know what [bath salts] are, by the way."
Viewed on a map, the list of banned establishments marks a clear line around Fayetteville's seedy areas, Fayetteville Police Detective James Tethermore explained. But one prime outlier was eliminated from this year's list.
"For three years beginning in 2008, when Spring Lake's police were all relieved because of corruption, Walmart suddenly shows up on the list. And not because of their low prices, I assure you."
It happened right when a lot of guys were going for their second, third, fourth deployments, said Tethermore.
"Money just everywhere in town. That's when the local hip-hop community saw a significant spike in sales at Walmart parking lots," he explained. "There was some indication that former police were involved, too. Something had to be done."
The Fort Bragg NCO Academy came to the same conclusion about Art's Window and Auto Detailing off Skibo Road, to the chagrin of Army officers like Cummins.
"Someone had purchased, without having cleared the expense through his NCO, mind you, a sticker for his back glass which read, 'Basic Training Graduate,'" Cummins explained. "I thought personally it helped make the idiots easier to point out from a distance."
Despite the list, which Bragg officials hint may have spelled the end for more than 80 businesses since it was first published in 1994, Fayetteville's dedicated crooks keep popping back up.
Look no further than Art's Detailing, Tethermore said. "[It] burned to the ground two months after making the list."
But its owner Arthur ("Art") Thiebold, 48, is one of Fayetteville's many agile entrepreneurs.
"Hey, look: the kids, they burned it down. What can I say? It wasn't me," said Art, locking up his new shop off Bragg Blvd. last Friday evening.
He's since opened a cigar shoppe in Spring Lake, outside Fort Bragg's Randolph gate.
"You remember the al-Qaeda sleeper cell scare of 2007?" Art said, referring to the broad closure of tobacco retain stores owned and operated by "darker elements of the community," according to the Spring Lake police force at the time.
"It took a lot of convincing to get back into it after that. Until I saw the profits to be had with Spice [or synthetic marijuana]," Art said.*
"Business was hard at first," he said, "since we're not far from where those fellers [sic?] killt [sic] each other over some donuts," referring to the 2009 shooting at Donut Connection in Spring Lake.
Notable additions to previous off limits lists include: a Jamaican restaurant and "lounge" ("for obvious reasons," says Tethermore); a prostitution ring run out of a hot dog stand off Ramsey Street; and The The Paladium on Owen popped up after two people were shot there within a year.
There is still some debate whether this year's rest home rivals last year's diamond in the rough: "All unlicensed barbers."
"I don't consider anything in my grooming store dangerous," said Rahim, Lebanese-born owner of a pet grooming booth beside an ATM in northeast Fayetteville, and one-time owner of tobacco shop off Yadkin Road in 2006.
Garrison officials, however, have cautioned Rahim that a neighboring establishment, Hot Dawg Grill, was added to the list when police noted a high level of calls involving prostitution, mugging and drug distribution.
"I'm not pointing any fingers, but as recently as 2012, a well-to-do Caucasian was held at gunpoint in the parking lot of Rahim's grooming booth," Tethermore explained, "and forced to smoke crack. That's what he alleged. On a Sunday night. Radio silence, he was mugged that bad. Missed PT formations for three days because of it. Can't make this [expletive] up."
Other businesses, though, are used to the treatment. Shady's Bar & Grill on Bragg Boulevard, for example, have posted multiple signs which read, "Shady's not off limits to military."
It is. But as with the regional theater, Cummins thinks few of her soldiers will pay attention.
"They're largely good guys," she said, "And we don't even use this except to shame those who are already screw-ups. Believe me, they know who they are."
"They're the ones who'll be selling CDs in the parking lot soon," Tethermore added.
*EDITOR'S NOTE: It has been learned since the initial posting of this article from Art that he has worked out a deal for immunity at his new business which, he says, involves passing security camera footage on to Bragg officials. Asked about the arrangement's legality, Art said, "They told me it was legal so that works for me."
Pressured who "they" referred to, Art opted against naming names, citing security concerns.
NOTE: This article is a satire.