Pepper spray should be easy to buy at downtown Minneapolis stores, maybe even art shops, in light of the rash of gunpoint robberies near parking ramps.

This in no way suggests that pepper spray is a match for bullets. An editor suggested that Target was a good place to get some pepper spray for stocking stuffers because this spate of robberies is probably just the beginning as the economy is only going to get worse. However, neither Target nor Walgreens on Nicollet Mall senses that these recent crimes represent an opportunity to increase revenue. Two Target workers, who quickly concluded that stocking such a product was a good idea, referred me to General J's, about seven blocks down on Nicollet. General J's carries three sizes of pepper spray, plus, the gentleman behind the counter noted, stun guns. No thanks. If someone gets within stun-gunning proximity, I've already lost my advantage.

While telling Minneapolis Police Department spokesman Jesse Garcia about a possible unreported sighting of the robbers, he recommended more than pepper spray. Buy a "2-ounce of combination OC/CS, which is a pepper spray/mace type product combined in an aerosol," he said. "With pepper spray alone, you have to get them right in the eyes, or it's not going to have any effect at all. The OC/CS -- if you [spray] them in the chest or you miss their face -- it's still going to affect them."

Employees at Utrech Art Supplies, a business smack dab in the middle of where two robberies occurred, had an unsettling visit from a strange duo. Two guys, reeking of marijuana, reportedly came into the store two Saturdays ago. They were not looking at art supplies, but they kept exchanging jittery glances. Oh, and one had his hand concealed high inside his jacket while the other also seemed to be holding on to something else, also not visible, lower under his coat. The duo's energy made the Utrech worker behind the cash registers leave and hide behind a large display of art supplies, while another worker sensing danger walked quickly to the back of the shop and telephoned THE STORE MANAGER -- instead of the police! "We didn't want to profile anyone," one worker said. Please.

So I called Garcia, who went over to interview the art store's workers on Sunday.

Another Prince phobia

"I'm sure he's laughing at the kerfuffle that's going on," said Twin Cities writer Neal Karlen, speculating of Prince's reaction to his curious comments in the New Yorker.

The musical master of androgyny -- whose latest religious conversion to the Jehovah's Witnesses seems to have a serious hold on him -- made what sounded like homophobic comments to the magazine. Since Symbolina hasn't sallied forth in his high heels and raspberry beret (imagery inspired by a joke aired on "Chelsea Lately"), I asked a couple of longtime observers of Prince's to pretend they could crawl into his brain, an admittedly cramped space, and provide speculation.

Karlen strongly suspects that had the New Yorker writer been allowed to take notes, we'd have a better context for quotes attributed to Prince. "I guess I have the last tapes of him," Karlen said of his 1985 Rolling Stone interview with Prince. By 1990, Prince was banning tape recorders and note-taking. So, for that next RS interview Karlen feigned a bladder infection, which he was flushing by drinking lots of Coke. This way he had an excuse to keep running to the restroom to write quotes down on toilet paper.

Noting that "a lot of Prince's audience is gay," Karlen said he's never gotten anything from him that seemed even vaguely homophobic. "He was still so into this androgyny. That hasn't changed since he was in the eighth grade. He hasn't gotten a lot of press lately. He's very canny. He knows what he's doing. Part of his control thing is that he had a really good idea about public relations." The New Yorker writer probably asked Prince "about California repealing gay marriage, and he's had his own bad luck with marriage. It seemed like throw-away [lines]. When you think he's never made one statement that's come to rebound on him, why would he want to say that? There must be some reason he said that."

The woman behind said Prince's New Yorker remarks were "not a good move on his part. Is he going to talk more on this?"

He hasn't so far. "Looks like Prince possesses some kind of religious fervor right now," Charlton said. "I guess he's more religious than ever." She was pleased to hear that Jehovah's Witnesses are discouraged from voting. "Oh, that's a blessing. I guess gays won't have to demonstrate in front of his house, because he doesn't vote anyway," Charlton said, laughing.

Peterson moves the line

Word has it that when Vikings running back Adrian Peterson wants to be seated ahead of other diners at a restaurant this is what he says: I have things to do.

Don't we all, football player?

On Wednesday, I went to Winter Park to ask Peterson whether this pathetic play for special treatment rang a bell, and I was told that His Star Runningbackedness was not deigning to interact with the media until Friday. So I asked a Vikings PR guy to ask Peterson about having things to do.

At Costco on Monday, I ran into linebacker Ben Leber shopping with his wife, Abby. When I told him about Peterson's reported line seeking preferential treatment, Leber laughed and said, "That sounds like Adrian." I asked Leber to help Peterson come up with a better line (or learn to make reservations), and Ben said he'd get on that.

C.J. is at 612.332.TIPS or E-mailers, please state a subject -- "Hello" doesn't count. Attachments are not opened, so don't even try. More of her attitude can be seen on Fox 9 Thursday mornings.