A July 14 Reliable Source item incorrectly said that July 17 was National Ice Cream Day. It was July 18. (Published 7/20/04)

Twisting at the Piggly Wiggly

You just never know which rock-and-roll legend you're going to run into in the checkout line of a Piggly Wiggly in Columbia, S.C. One of our far-flung correspondents found himself face to face the other day with Chubby Checker, who's hawking a new line of snack foods, including chocolate Checkerbars and Hot Twist Beef Jerky.

With his cowboy boots and well-manicured hairdo, Checker, 62, looked like a living display at the Smithsonian. He signed autographs and discoursed on the historical importance of his dance-craze-inspiring song "The Twist." "The biggest thing that happened in the music industry was the twist," he boasted to The Post's Hamil Harris. "The twist is putting on a single, coming out of the shower and wiping your bottom with a towel, and listening to the music. The twist is exposing your sexuality in front of your partner without touching them."

That monster hit topped the charts more than 40 years ago, but Checker is enjoying dance floor popularity again with a new club remix of his 1962 "Limbo Rock." God bless globalization: He performs with Jamaican and Russian rappers as Chubby C & OD.

Checker nearly broke into tears as he talked about returning to his home state. "This is the greatest thrill coming back to South Carolina. This is the first chain to carry my products," he told Harris. "I can't handle that." Then he walked outside to where his new foot-long hot dogs were being grilled, grabbed one and headed for his bus.

Mike Ditka, Da Senator?

* With Illinois Republicans in despair after a sex-club scandal that pushed Jack Ryan out of the U.S. Senate race, former pro football coach Mike Ditka is being touted as a solid late-season replacement. The tough-talkin' 64-year-old TV football commentator is considering the idea, but told a Chicago radio station yesterday: "I've got to be firmly convinced in my mind that I really think I can make a difference. If I'm just going to be another schmuck up there in Washington, then it wouldn't be fun for me." (Agreed: Enough with the schmucks already.) Ditka also said: "I'm not afraid of the battle."

Dismissing reports that his wife vowed to divorce him if he ran, Ditka said, "She'd do anything I wanted to do." He described himself in the Chicago Sun-Times as "very conservative" and "very outspoken, and a lot of people aren't going to like that, but that's me. So if they don't like me, they vote for the other guy." Exactly.

SQUIBS

* "Daschle denies hugging Michael Moore." We just can't resist passing along that headline from last week's Rapid City Journal in South Dakota. (A shame; we would have loved to see a picture.) The hubbub started after a Time magazine cover story said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle met the controversial filmmaker at "Fahrenheit 9/11's" Washington premiere. Moore's quote: "He gave me a hug and said he felt bad and that we were all gonna fight [Bush] from now on. I thanked him for being a good sport." Nuh-uh, says Daschle. "I know we senators all tend to look alike. But I arrived late, and I had to leave early for Senate votes. I didn't meet Mr. Moore," he told South Dakota reporters in a conference call. Moore's reps said he stands by his comment.

* At least one Northern Virginia moviegoer walked out in a huff after watching just a half-hour of "Fahrenheit," and she wants our readers to know about it. Loyal Republican Lenora Tomalin, 81, called us to report that she left her relatives in their seats at the Regal theater in Sterling and headed for the lobby during the scene when Moore, in a voiceover, suggests thoughts President Bush might have had in a Florida classroom the morning of Sept. 11. "I was enraged . . . I thought it was very sophomoric," she says. "There was laughter and I would just cringe." Tomalin, who happens to be the mother of activist/actress Susan Sarandon, got a refund and promptly gave it to a charity supported by Regal. To cool down, she paced for a while, then waited patiently on a chair provided by the manager.

The Annals of Puffery

An Occasional Verbatim Press Release

* "Donald Trump prefers to eat ice cream in a cup; Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban likes it in a cone; and business mogul and Dairy Queen investor Warren Buffett doesn't have a preference, as long as it's a 'large serving' of ice cream. In celebration of National Ice Cream Day on July 17, a new survey commissioned by Dairy Queen reveals that regardless of how it is served, many Americans sure love ice cream. 'Dairy Queen has known for the past 64 years that just about everybody craves ice cream, despite the current low-carb craze,' said Michael Keller, executive vice president of marketing for International Dairy Queen Inc. 'Ice cream is one of those great things in life that people are passionate about.' "

With Anne Schroeder