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Bath Salts & Beyond: Man Fights Drug With Shirt

mollystevens, flickr

Central New York is known for a lot of things. Whether it be chicken riggies, half-moon cookies or being the 31st exit along the Thruway; we have an identity.

But, lately the area has encountered a new, unfortunate connection; the use of a horrifying and dangerous drug called ‘bath salts.’

The trend has settled into the Mohawk Valley and has garnered both Utica, and the city of Syracuse, international attention for the intensity and frequency of incidents.

So, when Tom Carpenter, the omnipotent figurehead behind King Weasel Custom Buttons and Screen-printing in Nedrow, saw what was happening to his community, he decided to address the issue in the best way he knew; by making a comical t-shirt.

“When I heard about the woman who attacked her child a couple weeks back, I offhandedly posted the link to it on my Facebook page,” Carpenter explained. “I said, ‘If it gets much closer to home, we’re going to have to start referring to Syracuse as The Bath Salt City.’”

Photo from kingweasel.com.

After receiving laughs from his comment, Carpenter decided maybe he could get his point across, and make a couple bucks, by creating a shirt. Little did he know what he was getting himself into.

He set off to work, finding the right kind of screen print for his creation. In this case, it turned out to be a man being attacked by a zombie, all in front of a picturesque silhouette of Syracuse. Under this scene was the phrase “The Bath Salt City.”

The shirts started to sell. Fast. Carpenter was inundated with orders, and soon requests came for other shirts.

“A lot of people from the Utica and Rome area were like, ‘Why don’t you make a Utica shirt? Make a Utica shirt,’” Carpenter said. “Considering that so many of the news agencies were focusing on Utica and Syracuse as two of the biggest places in the country for the bath salts, I said, ‘Alright, well I’ll make the Utica shirt. I mean, everybody’s demanding it, who am I to tell them no?”

Photo from kingweasel.com.

And so he did. Utica’s shirt features the same zombie, but with the city’s famous clock and a downtown building in the background. In bold letters, the phrase “Bath Salts and Beyond” pays tribute to the confusion caused by the drug’s name.

Carpenter says by playing off the “Bed, Bath and Beyond” logo, he was able to address the topic more clearly.

“People like my mom, they actually thought it was the stuff you put in your bath to make your skin soft. A friend of mine was telling me her daughter will not put it in her bath anymore… The confusion is why I used the logo in parody to show the confusion in the minds’ of the general public who don’t know what it is.”

The image itself is printed on a gray shirt. Carpenter says the choice was made deliberately, but not for artistic reasons.

“People keep asking me, ‘Hey, will you print it on this color or this color or this color’ and I keep telling them ‘No, it needs to be on the gray shirt,’ because the people who start using that stuff, they start looking like methheads. They start to get that gray color about themselves. The longer they use it, they start to get kind of a gray look, a sunken eye kind of thing.”

But, with the shirts selling quickly, Carpenter says he isn’t out to mock the city for the unfortunate situation they’ve been placed in. All he’s doing is riding the wave of popularity and trying to earn money for his shop.

“I want people to understand; I’m not making fun of Utica for this,” Carpenter said. “It’s not the people of Utica’s fault and not the city’s fault. This is something that is affecting them in a bad way, that people need to be aware of and it needs to be talked about, so something can be done about it. That was also kind of the fun behind using the “beyond” on the shirt too, I thought it worked because, yeah, there’s a bath salt problem, but there’s much more to Utica than that.”

The Utica shirts are selling at the same clip as the Syracuse ones and are earning Carpenter a good profit. Although the money is nice, he says it’s still good to provide an outlet for some kind of commentary, whether it be good or bad.

“I like to think that the shirt is, in my own way, a scathingly humorous commentary on the drug situation in this country,” Carpenter said. “It makes people laugh and it makes some people angry. But, like any good artist, I mean that’s what art’s supposed to make you do, right? I’m not claiming I’m Picasso or anything like that, but, you know, I’m putting something out there and you have to look at it. You are forced to make a call. You’re either going to laugh at it or be offended by it. Either way, I’ve succeeded.”

Carpenter says he will use the money to continue investing in his shop. The shirts will continue to be printed as long as they’re wanted and he will continue his fight to get the drugs banned.

“It’s just insanely dangerous,” Carpenter said. “I have two daughters of my own. I don’t want them getting anywhere near it, and I want [bath salts] off the street. If making my silly shirts gets people talking about it and saying something, I think that I’m doing a positive thing with it, even though I’m making a small profit off of it. I’m still doing something that I think is positive.”

In the meantime, the City of Utica recently made the possession and sale of bath salts illegal, with offenders facing up to 15 days in jail and a $250 fine for having the drug. New York is also taking action, as Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is filing lawsuits against 16 head shops around the state.

The actions are good news for a city struggling to stay out of the lime light. For Carpenter, the moves are a step in the right direction.

Who knows? Maybe they saw the shirts.

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