Indianapolis is hardly ever first in the United States at anything. We don"t have the richest people, the smartest or even the ugliest. Our children"s test scores are never the highest in the nation - or the lowest, for that matter. Our sports teams never finish higher than second place. We"re the doormat of the nation. Other cities use us as a springboard to propel themselves into first place. Our civic pride is lacking. For a few glorious months, however, Indianapolis shed its image and was finally No. 1 at something. No longer could anyone say Indianapolis wasn"t a winner. We led the nation in syphilis cases. Syphilis, of course, is a disease caused by bacteria and is spread by coming in contact with sores on the mouth or genitals. And we were the best at getting it. No other city could boast a higher incidence rate for syphilis. Not New York, not Los Angeles, not Chicago. All other cities had to bow down to us and proclaim us as the best. The announcement, earlier this year, that we were No. 1 in syphilis cases was a gigantic boost to the city. People walked around for months humming "We Are the Champions." Tourism was helped. By locating their conventions in Indianapolis, members of groups could assure their spouses that they"d remain faithful while in our city. No one in their right mind would dare risk acquiring a venereal disease from a prostitute. Our local women ceased being bothered by drunken out-of-towners. Religious groups flocked to our city. Money started flowing into the city for education and treatment programs. The economy received a boost. Some even suggested replacing our current motto, "The Crossroads of America," with "The Syphilis Capital of the USA." Alas, our civic dream was dashed in late November when the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released their latest figures. The heartbreaking data showed that Indianapolis went from more than 400 cases of syphilis in 1999 to just over 300 in 2000. Cook County, Ill., which contains the city of Chicago, had just 25 more cases of syph than us, although their population is five times ours. But we had to hand over our syphilis crown to them. I"m sure we"ll all remember, for the rest of our lives, where we were when we heard the news that we were no longer the tops in syphilis. I was sitting at my desk, eating a meatball sandwich from Subway, when the grim news came. I immediately dropped my sandwich and sat there a few moments to collect my thoughts. All of our hard work had failed us. Our place in the sun had been taken. There"s no glory in being No. 2. Explaining the population difference between us and Cook County is just a technicality, like Al Gore"s truthful claim that more people voted for him. Nobody cares anymore that Al won the popular vote, because the popular vote doesn"t mean jack. Nobody cares that we have a higher rate of syphilis, either. The CDC ranking is what counts. And we"re losers. After I heard the news, I comforted several of my co-workers, who were weeping. I tried to reassure them as best I could, but they weren"t fooled by my platitudes. There was nothing I could do. Where can we go from here? How can we reclaim our rightful spot at the top of the heap? The first step should be education. Maybe if we place billboards in high-risk communities explaining to people just how important our status as the Syphilis Capital is, more people would respond. Maybe if we sent a medical team to Chicago to prevent and cure syphilis cases there, we could reduce their numbers and boost ours. Of course, we can"t remain complacent. We"re No. 2 now - but for how long? Baltimore is nipping at our heels, so to speak, in the syphilis race. It"s humiliating enough to go from No. 1 to No. 2, but can you imagine the esteem-crushing blow that would happen to our city if we dropped to third or fourth? Do your part. With your help, and God"s, we can reclaim our rightful title as the Syph Center of the USA. Martinsville III I"ve received dozens of e-mails about my suggestion that we overthrow the government of Martinsville. While many have been supportive, others have not. Here"s a letter I received from a high school student that falls into the latter category. "I love Martinsville. Oh sure, it"s not perfect, but it contains many of my favorite friends, family and memories. Do you know my grandparents, my parents, my brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, minister, elders of my church ... I don"t think so, because if you did you wouldn"t have written your story. You don"t know them, or me, nor do I think you know the true feelings of all of Martinsville. You didn"t see the outrage, the disgust that I saw when Officer Nail"s letter came out. "From my experience of growing up here in Martinsville, I"ve never witnessed this overpowering feeling of prejudice that you claim to have witnessed in one meeting. "Is this what you believe in? Taking out anyone you perceive as a threat to your ideal world? Would you like to lynch everyone in Martinsville, or send us to internment camps in California? Or would you rather force us to wear burquas and stone us if we showed our faces? "I don"t really know you, so I can"t say why you"d joke about destroying a broad group of people. Sure, you don"t come out and say "kill all people from Martinsville," but the rest of your article could easily support such a statement. That scares me, and I ask that you clarify your article to show a hate of racism, not the people of Martinsville. Stop the circle of finger pointing and destruction. If the only way to change the minds of people is to follow the suggestions you"ve given, we are all in trouble."