The Trentonian's Strange But True Page

Monday, March 31, 2008

Now that's a true fan

PORT ORCHARD, Wash. - A fast-food cook and Seattle Seahawks fan has been accused of spitting on a hamburger ordered by a man wearing Pittsburgh Steelers attire.
Kitsap County sheriff's deputies say the 37-year-old customer was with his daughters at the Port Orchard-area eatery last Saturday. He reportedly traded remarks with an employee about Super Bowl XL in which the Seahawks lost to the Steelers.
When the customer opened his food container, he says there was spittle on the burger. He demanded a refund and called the fast-foot outlet's district manager.
The manager told deputies a 24-year-old man might be responsible. The next day, deputies went to his house and smelled marijuana. The man was released after being booked for investigation of fourth-degree assault and possession of marijuana.

Well, who doesn't like doughnuts?

DULUTH, Minn. - Steven Seagull has returned to the Super 8 motel here, looking for his customary cake doughnut. Year after year, the ring-billed gull has tapped at the lobby's front door until a staff member gives him the doughnut, said general manager Jodi Chambers.
"If it's quiet in the lobby, you can hear him tapping on it," Chambers said. "But if we're busy, he starts squawking like crazy."
Steven returned Wednesday.
Chambers said she's sure it's the same bird because he behaves the same way every year. For one thing, Steven chases away other gulls looking for his food.
"We don't feed them if there's more than one, and he's figured that out," Chambers said.
Leslie Larsen, the education director of the Lake Superior Zoo, said Steven Seagull has learned to respond to positive reinforcement.
"What I do know is that animals, they don't necessarily have to be intelligent to respond to what we call operant conditioning," she said. "Without knowing it or meaning to, they've trained that gull. They've given him a positive consequence to come back."
Whatever the reason, Chambers said Steven is a hit. "The guests love it," she said. "I've had a few come in and say 'We came to check out your bird.'"

Lawmaking to follow

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. - A 77-year-old Illinois state representative is happy to be alive after a man with a gun pushed his way into her home and robbed her of $7.
Wyvetter H. Younge was not injured in the robbery that occurred around noon Friday.
Younge said she thought her son had knocked on her door and opened it, but instead found an armed man. He told her to get on her hands and knees, then grabbed her purse and ran.
Younge, a Democrat, said she didn't recognize the man, who wore a red hat and red jacket and dark pants. She said she's going to pray for him.
"This robbery and what's happening to this community is the result of a lack of a supportive system for our youth. We need jobs," she said. "This happened in broad daylight at noon. We need a mental health support system. This is further evidence of that."

Crime stoppers 101

LA CROSSE, Wis. - Police in La Crosse are a little red-faced right now.
They're apologizing after issuing an alert about a woman suspected of using a stolen credit card at a convenience store. They also helpfully issued surveillance video images of her.
Someone who works with the woman saw it and recognized her.
"The woman said her co-worker was kind of joking around and said, 'I thought I saw you on Crime Stoppers,'" said Officer Drew Gavrilos. "The woman hopped online and watched the video and found it was her."
But she hadn't done the crime.
Gavrilos said the mistake happened when police matched surveillance video with cash register information, trying to identify whoever used the stolen card.
They didn't realize there were two similar transactions about the same time.
"We had two very similar looking people come to the register about 10 to 20 seconds apart," each buying similar things, Gavrilos said. "It was a one-in-a-million type of thing."
They picked the wrong one for the Crime Stoppers information, and the public service announcement ran for three days before the mix up caused it to be pulled.
"We feel horrible about the mistake and want to do all we can to minimize any inconvenience or embarrassment this woman may have experienced," Gavrilos said.

Good morning

MAGNOLIA, Ark. - Blake Icenhower got a one-ton wake-up call.
As the 19-year-old laid in bed Friday morning at a hotel, co-worker Hoby Armstrong went outside to start his Dodge diesel truck. Armstrong said he started the engine and stepped out of the cab.
That's when the lifted truck roared through the motel's brick-and-mortar wall, pushed aside a bed and went toward Icenhower. Icenhower said Armstrong was able to jump back into the cab and stop the truck a foot away from hitting him.
Armstrong suffered a scrape to his arm.
If the truck had struck two brick support beams less than five feet away, the top floor might have collapsed, motel owner Ken Patel said.

He was really trashed

MUNCIE, Ind. - William M. Bowen woke up after a night of drinking with friends and realized he was inside a commercial trash-collection truck full of waste.
The driver had just emptied a commercial trash bin into his truck and was about to activate its compactor when he heard Bowen screaming.
"He looked up and this gentleman was standing out the top of our truck," said Larry Green, market safety supervisor for the Rumpke waste disposal company. Green said the only thing Bowen said to the driver was that he was cold.
"This gentleman was extremely intoxicated," he said.
Bowen told police he had been drinking with buddies at a Muncie bar until about 3 a.m. Thursday. But he said he didn't recall how he ended up inside the trash bin, and he wouldn't tell police who his drinking pals were.
Bowen was treated for minor injuries.
"I'm just glad it turned out the way it did," Green said. "We didn't have a body that was dead. We had a body that was talking."
There was no telephone listing for Bowen in the Muncie area.

What a cliche

RIVERSIDE, Ohio - Police say a pastor who was reported missing from his home in western New York has been found at an Ohio strip club.
A police officer patrolling the K.C. Lounge parking lot Friday morning in the Dayton suburb of Riverside spotted out-of-state license plates on 46-year-old Craig Rhodenizer's car.
The FBI and New York authorities had been searching for Rhodenizer, who disappeared Wednesday after telling his wife he was getting his computer fixed at Best Buy. He is the pastor of a church in Lyndonville, N.Y.
Detective Matt Sturgeon said Rhodenizer was disoriented when confronted by police and said he felt "emotionally guilty."

Monday, March 24, 2008

An SOS to the world

SEATTLE - Merle Brandell and his black lab Slapsey were beachcombing along the Bering Sea when he spied a plastic bottle among the Japanese glass floats he often finds along the shore of his tiny Alaskan fishing village.
He walked over and saw an envelope tucked inside. After slicing the bottle open, Brandell found a message from an elementary school student in a suburb of Seattle. The fact that the letter traveled 1,735 miles without any help from the U.S. postal service is unusual, but that's only the beginning of the mystery.
About 21 years passed between the time Emily Hwaung put the message in a soda bottle and Merle Brandell picked it up on the beach.
"This letter is part of our science project to study oceans and learn about people in distant lands," she wrote. "Please send the date and location of the bottle with your address. I will send you my picture and tell you when and where the bottle was placed in the ocean. Your friend, Emily Hwaung."
Brandell, 34, a bear hunting guide and manager of a water plant, said many of the 70-plus residents of Nelson Lagoon were intrigued by his find. Beachcombing is a popular activity in remote western Alaska. Among the recent discoveries was a sail boat that washed onto shore last October.
"It's kind of a sport. It keeps us occupied. It's one of the pleasures of living here," Brandell said of the village reachable only by plane or boat that is too small to have its own store.
Brandell tried to track down the sender: a fourth grader from the North City School in the Shoreline School District.
No one answered when Brandell called the school in December so he sent the school district a handwritten letter, which eventually ended up on the desk of district spokesman Craig Degginger.
After some searching, Degginger discovered Emily Hwaung is now a 30-year-old accountant named Emily Shih and lives in Seattle. She was in the fourth grade during the 1986-87 school year at a school building that closed more than a year ago.
Shih said she was flabbergasted by the news and immediately shared it with her Kirkland co-workers.
"I don't remember the project. It was so long ago. Elementary school is kind of foggy," Shih admitted during a recent interview. "I've been getting a kick out of it for a month now."

Dead and loving it

OKLAHOMA CITY - Four months after he was declared brain dead and doctors were about to remove his organs for transplant, Zach Dunlap says he feels "pretty good."
Dunlap was pronounced dead Nov. 19 at United Regional Healthcare System in Wichita Falls, Texas, after he was injured in an all-terrain vehicle accident. His family approved having his organs harvested.
As family members were paying their last respects, he moved his foot and hand. He reacted to a pocketknife scraped across his foot and to pressure applied under a fingernail. After 48 days in the hospital, he was allowed to return home, where he continues to work on his recovery.
On Monday, he and his family were in New York, appearing on NBC's "Today."
"I feel pretty good. but it's just hard ... just ain't got the patience," Dunlap told NBC.
Dunlap, 21, of Frederick, said he has no recollection of the crash.
"I remember a little bit that was about an hour before the accident happened. But then about six hours before that, I remember," he said.
Dunlap said one thing he does remember is hearing the doctors pronounce him dead.
"I'm glad I couldn't get up and do what I wanted to do," he said.
Asked if he would have wanted to get up and shake them and say he's alive, Dunlap responded: "Probably would have been a broken window that went out."
His father, Doug, said he saw the results of the brain scan.
"There was no activity at all, no blood flow at all."
Zach's mother, Pam, said that when she discovered he was still alive, "That was the most miraculous feeling."
"We had gone, like I said, from the lowest possible emotion that a parent could feel to the top of the mountains again," she said.
She said her son is doing "amazingly well," but still has problems with his memory as his brain heals from the traumatic injury.
"It may take a year or more ... before he completely recovers," she said. "But that's OK. It doesn't matter how long it takes. We're just all so thankful and blessed that we have him here."
Dunlap now has the pocketknife that was scraped across his foot, causing the first reaction.
"Just makes me thankful, makes me thankful that they didn't give up," he said. "Only the good die young, so I didn't go."

Sit, Ubu, sit. Now pray

NAHA, Japan - At a Zen Buddhist temple in southern Japan, even the dog prays. Mimicking his master, priest Joei Yoshikuni, a 1 1/2-year-old black-and-white Chihuahua named Conan joins in the daily prayers at Naha's Shuri Kannondo temple, sitting up on his hind legs and putting his front paws together before the altar.
It took him only a few days to learn the motions, and now he is the talk of the town.
"Word has spread, and we are getting a lot more tourists," Yoshikuni said Monday.
Yoshikuni said Conan generally goes through his prayer routine at the temple in the capital of Japan's southern Okinawa prefecture (state) without prompting before his morning and evening meals.
"I think he saw me doing it all the time and got the idea to do it, too," Yoshikuni said.
The priest is now trying to teach him how to meditate.
Well, sort of.
"Basically, I am just trying to get him to sit still while I meditate," he explained. "It's not like we can make him cross his legs."

Tough to be tall

PODOLYANTSI, Ukraine - Leonid Stadnik's phenomenal height has forced him to quit a job he loved, to stoop as he moves around his house and to spend most of his time in his tiny home village because he cannot fit in a car or bus.
But Stadnik, who according to the Guinness World Records is the world's tallest human, says his condition has also taught him that the world is filled with kindhearted strangers.
Since his recognition by Ukrainian record keepers four years ago, and by Guinness last year, people from all over Ukraine and the world have shipped him outsized clothing, provided his home with running water and recently presented him with a giant bicycle.
"Thanks to good people I have shoes and clothes," said the 37-year-old former veterinarian, who still lives with his 66-year-old mother.
In 2006, Stadnik was officially measured at 2.57 meters tall (8 feet 5 inches), surpassing a Chinese man to claim the title of the world's tallest person.
His growth spurt began at age 14 after a brain operation that apparently stimulated the overproduction of growth hormone. Doctors say he has been growing ever since.
While he may appear intimidating due to his size, Stadnik charms visitors with a broad grin and childlike laugh. He seems at times like a lonely boy trapped in a giant's body, even keeping stuffed toys on his pillow.
Stadnik's stature has earned him worldwide attention, but it has mostly a burden to him. He has to battle to lead anything close to a normal life.
All the doorways in his one-story brick house are too short for him to pass through without stooping. His 200 kilograms (440 pounds) cause constant knee pain and often force him to move on crutches.
Stadnik loves animals, but he had to quit as a veterinarian at a cattle farm in a nearby village, after suffering frostbite when he walked work in his socks in winter. He could not afford specially made shoes for his 43-centimeter (17-inch) feet.
But his recent fame has brought him friends from all over the world and taught him not to despair.
A German man who said he was his distant relative invited Stadnik for a visit several years ago. On the trip, Stadnik got to sample frog legs in an elegant restaurant and saw a roller coaster in an amusement park — both for the first time.
Shortly after that, Stadnik came home one day and saw a brand-new computer connected to the Web sitting on his desk — a gift from a local Internet provider. Company workers "sneaked into the house like little spies" to install the equipment, Stadnik joked.
Since then he has made numerous online friends, including several in the United States, Australia and Russia. Stadnik hopes to learn English so he can communicate better with his Anglophone contacts; currently, he relies on computer translations, which he says are often inadequate.
Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko's personal tailor has made Stadnik two track suits and the president plans to present Stadnik with a giant car. Local authorities have also promised to supply gas to Stadnik's village, 200 kilometers (125 miles) kilometers west of the capital, Kiev.
On Sunday, a local organization for the disabled gave Stadnik a giant bike so he can pedal to the grocery store, which is in a nearby village. The group also presented Stadnik with a fitness machine.
"I have always dreamt that my life and the life of my loved ones ... would become more comfortable," Stadnik said. "My dream is coming true."
His neighbors joke that they may also benefit from Stadnik's success. "Of course we are proud of him — we may have gas here soon thanks to him," said Nila Kravchuk, 75.
Since he quit his job, Stadnik has concentrated on managing the family garden and taking care of his three cows, one horse and assorted pigs and chickens. He lives with his mother Halyna, 66, and his sister Larysa, 42.
Stadnik says his dream now is finding a soul mate, just like the former titleholder, China's Bao Xishun, who was married last year.
"I think the future holds that for me," he said.

Friday, March 14, 2008

How cliche

CARROLLTON, Ohio - Amy and Jim Albert's truck handled a special delivery when it broke down on the way to a hospital. A pregnant Amy was having painful contractions when the couple left their home on Wednesday. But they had to pull over about 45 minutes from the hospital when their truck died.
Amy's water then broke, but the expectant mom was prepared. A paramedic, she brought towels just in case.
Jim said his newborn daughter was in his hands before he even knew what happened.
Amy's fellow paramedics soon came along to take the couple and healthy little Erin Nicole Albert to a hospital.

Democracy in action

TAMARAC, Fla. - Every vote counts. But what happens when there are no votes at all? That's the situation city officials in Tamarac are facing. No voters showed up Wednesday night to cast a ballot in an annexation referendum for an unincorporated Broward County community.
There are 68 registered voters in the 200-person Prospect Bend neighborhood. Tamarac officials have proposed annexing the neighborhood.
Details were mailed to registered voters. If just one voter had shown up, that one vote would have decided the neighborhood's fate.
The cost of keeping a polling site open for 12 hours with no voters: $2,500.
City officials could take another approach to annexing the area. One option is a mail-in ballot election.

Should be easy to spot, though

EASTPOINTE, Mich. - Police in suburban Detroit are looking for a 6-foot-tall glass of Guinness. Don't worry, it's work-related. A green, pint-glass-shaped Guinness costume has been reported stolen from an Eastpointe resident's garage.
It's valued at $3,000 and had been flown to Michigan from Ireland to be used as advertising. Eastpointe Police Lt. Leo Borowsky says it is believed to be one of only two such costumes in the U.S.
Authorities say a Detroit beer distribution company loaned out the costume for Halloween. The owner of the home where the costume had been stored found out it had been stolen after the company asked for it back.
Borowsky says to be on the lookout. There's no better time to dress up as a green pint of Guinness than on St. Patrick's Day.

All carry on mice must be kept in a one-quart plastic bag

DES MOINES, Iowa - A mouse intent on flying to Atlanta prompted officials to ground a plane for more than five hours Thursday in Des Moines. A flight attendant spotted the mouse before passengers boarded the 5:50 a.m. Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight. About 30 passengers were kept waiting at the gate until the plane finally left about 11:30 a.m.
The safety of our passengers is our number one priority," said Kristen Loughman, an ASA spokeswoman. "Our maintenance team was called. They inspected the aircraft, which is why it was delayed."
Loughman said she could not confirm whether the mouse was removed before the plane took off, but she said a safety inspection was required to ensure the mouse hadn't gnawed through anything that could cause safety issues.
Loughman said all passengers were rebooked on other connecting flights in Atlanta.
Atlanta-based ASA runs regional flights for Delta Airlines.
Gary Hagen, a Des Moines International Airport spokesman, said the delay was an airline issue and did not effect the airport operations.
"They went through all the things they had to do according to the situation," he said.
The airport has been extremely busy in recent days as people leave for spring break, Hagen said.
"There's a lot of traffic up there so we're trying to keep that under control," he said.

All's well that ends well, we suppose

FOREST LAKE, Minn. - A Forest Lake woman has her mom's ashes back. Last month, a thief burglarized Michele Siedow's home and stole her mother's ashes. Two days after news media reported the theft, Siedow received the cremains in the mail, in a padded manila envelope.
Siedow says she "just started jumping up and down saying, 'I got my mom back! I got my mom back!' " Then she started crying.
The thief who struck Siedow's home took electronics, tools and everything in a jewelry box -- including a 5-inch velvet bag with a funeral home's name on it. The bag contained some of her mother's cremated remains.
Police are still investigating the burglary and have some leads.

Wish I thought of this

DANBURY, Conn. - Danbury officials have been notified they are being sued by a student who was awakened in class by a teacher who made a loud noise. Documents filed with the Town Clerk, a prelude to a lawsuit, claim that a sleeping student suffered hearing damage when his teacher woke him up by slamming her hand down on the boy's desk in December.
Attorney Alan Barry says 15-year-old Vinicios Robacher suffered pain and "very severe injuries to his left eardrum" when teacher Melissa Nadeau abruptly slammed the palm of her hand on his desk on Dec. 4.
A city official says the matter has been referred to Danbury's insurance carrier.

Do as I say, not as I do

CANBERRA, Australia - Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's new campaign against teenage binge drinking in Australia revived questions Friday about his own drunken escapade in a New York strip club.
Reports of the night he spent at "Scores" in 2003 surfaced while he campaigned ahead of the November election. The bookish and church-going Rudd apologized, and most Australians believed him when he said it was the second time in his life that he was drunk.
Still, the incident resurfaced this week when Rudd launched a $50 million campaign to combat excessive drinking among Australians teens.
"It's a bit rich for a man who got famously stonkered at a lap-dancing club in New York five years ago to be lecturing the rest of us on binge drinking," columnist Miranda Devine wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald.
Rudd admitted Friday he was no "paragon of moral virtue" but told Melbourne radio 3AW he wanted to address the estimated 168,000 Australian teenagers under the legal drinking age of 18 who abuse alcohol.
"I'll take any incoming flak about yours truly, but I've got one target in mind and that is to get that number down," he said.
The campaign includes television, radio and Internet spots to shock young people on the consequences of binge drinking, as well as grants to clubs and community groups to help change the drinking culture. Some sports stars have agreed to appear in the ads.
Rudd and a lawmaker colleague, Warren Snowdon, were taken to the strip club in 2003 by New York Post editor Col Allan, a fellow Australian. Rudd, now 50, was the opposition foreign affairs spokesman at the time. He was in New York to meet with U.N. officials.
Australians are relatively tolerant of excessive drinking. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke held a Guinness World Record for speed beer drinking during his days as a Rhodes Scholar.

No shoes, no shirt, no pants

YORKTOWN, N.Y. - Careful with that coffee! Police say a man placing an order in a suburban New York doughnut shop's drive-through lane didn't have any pants on.
They say a Dunkin' Donuts worker saw John Greco's exposed genitals in the Feb. 27 stunt and then noted the make of his car and his license plate number.
Police say the 46-year-old Croton-on-Hudson resident was arrested last week and has been charged with misdemeanor public lewdness. He's due in court March 27.
Police released a statement Thursday saying it was "unknown how Mr. Greco took his coffee that day."
Greco says by telephone from his home that he has no comment on the police report.

Saucer for sale

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - A mountainside house being auctioned in Tennessee is perfect for anyone tolerant of gawkers and fascinated with outer space: It's built like a flying saucer.
The home "landed" on a twisting road leading to Chattanooga's Signal Mountain in 1970 — just after television executives grounded the run of the original "Star Trek" series. It will be sold to the highest bidder Saturday.
The circular house — ultramodern when it was built — is ringed with small square windows and directional lights and perched on six "landing gear" legs. It has multiple levels, three bedrooms, two baths and an entrance staircase that retracts with the push of a button.
Terry Posey, an agent with Crye-Leike Auctions of Cleveland, Tenn., said the current owner has had the property only four months and didn't want to comment. Posey posted an e-Bay ad and said he already has a $100,000 bid.
John Kleeman of Litchfield, Conn., an attorney and space culture enthusiast, said he knows of variations of the flying saucer design in Florida, Connecticut and California.
The flying saucer designs popped up about the time of the moon landings. "That's when all the excitement was," Kleeman said.
The Chattanooga home's unusual shape — sort of like two white Frisbees pasted together — poses some interior decorating challenges. The curve of the exterior creates a sloping ceiling and short side walls, but there's also a striking curved bar and a custom bathtub.
The house is larger than the prefabricated and movable UFO-shaped structures, known as Futuro houses, designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen in 1968.
"It really looked like a spaceship ready to take off," said realtor Lois Killebrew, who handled an open house at the first sale of the Chattanooga home decades ago.
The late Curtis W. King and his family built the unusual home because "they liked to do unusual things," Killebrew said.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Yep. Garbage smells

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. - A "sniff squad" of trained noses is being called in to root out Northampton's landfill odors. The city has hired specially trained stink-sniffers to help determine whether the dump is too pungent for neighboring homeowners to stand.
Northampton officials signed a $25,000 contract with an Agawam environmental company after state officials ordered independent testing of landfill odors.
Using little more than their own noses, the super sniffers are trained to detect and rate the strength of rotting trash, landfill gases and other unpleasantries.
Rating on a 1 to 8 scale — roughly, from bearable to foul beyond belief — the sniffers also judge the smells against a kit they carry of ready-to-sniff odors of various intensities.
The city could be fined or ordered to make changes if the landfill flunks the smell test.

Save Sparky!

CORE, W.Va. - Life jackets are made for people, not dogs. So, when Randy Earl's small boat capsized while he was fishing with his dog Lacy, a black spaniel mix, he stayed in the water with his life jacket while making sure Lacy was OK.
"When the boat flipped over, I put the dog on top of the boat," Earl told The Dominion Post of Morgantown.
While waiting for someone to rescue them on Mason Lake in northern West Virginia, Earl clung to the 12-foot boat's hull. The water temperature was about 50 degrees, said J.M. Crawley, a senior conservation officer for the Division of Natural Resources.
Another fisherman, Jan Thorn, watched from shore as a state trooper paddled out to rescue Earl and Lacy.
"He asked the state trooper to take the dog first," Thorn said. "It was very touching."
Earl, 53, said Lacy means a lot to him and his wife since they lost both of their children in a car accident 15 years ago.
"That dog is like a child to us," he said.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Danny Boy, banned

NEW YORK - It's depressing, it's not usually sung in Ireland for St. Patrick's Day, and its lyrics were written by an Englishman who never set foot on Irish soil.

Those are only some of the reasons why a Manhattan pub owner is banning the song "Danny Boy" for the entire month of March.

"It's overplayed, it's been ranked among the 25 most depressing songs of all time and it's more appropriate for a funeral than for a St. Patrick's Day celebration," said Shaun Clancy, who owns Foley's Pub and Restaurant, across the street from the Empire State Building.

The 38-year-old Clancy, who started bartending when he was 12 at his father's pub in County Cavan, Ireland, promised a free Guinness to patrons who sing any other traditional Irish song at the pub's pre-St. Patrick's Day karaoke party on Tuesday.

The lyrics for "Danny Boy," published in 1913, were written by English lawyer Frederick Edward Weatherly, who never even visited Ireland, according to Malachy McCourt, author of the book "Danny Boy: The Legend of the Beloved Irish Ballad."

He said Weatherly's sister-in-law had sent him the music to an old Irish song called "The Derry Air," and the new version became a hit when opera singer Ernestine Schumann-Heink recorded it in 1915.

Some say the song is symbolic of the great Irish diaspora, with generations of Irish fleeing the famine and poor economic conditions starting around 1850. Others speculate it's sung by a mother grieving for her son or by a desolate lover. Lyrics include: "The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying/ 'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide."

"Danny Boy" was recorded by Bing Crosby in the 1940s, served as the theme song of television's "Danny Thomas Show" from 1953 to 1964. It has been performed by singers ranging from Judy Garland and Elvis Presley to Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.

At least one patron at Foley's was glad to hear the song was banned from the pub for the rest of the month.

The song is "all right, but I get fed up with hearing it — it's like the elections," Martin Gaffney, 73, said in a thick Irish brogue.

Gaffney said Wednesday he looked forward to crooning his own Irish favorites, such as "Molly Malone" — whose own theme is hardly a barrel of laughs.

A sort of unofficial anthem of Dublin also known as "Cockles and Mussels," the song tells the tale of a beautiful fishmonger who plies her trade on city streets and dies young of a fever.

Oh, fudge

SOUTH PASADENA, Calif. - What the @$%#? This community on the edge of Los Angeles has become a cuss-free zone.

So if you're headed to South Pasadena this week, be sure to turn down the volume on that Snoop Dogg CD, and, if the little old lady from Pasadena cuts you off in traffic, don't even think about flipping her the bird.

Not that police will slap cuffs on you and haul your sorry, er, butt off to jail in light of the proclamation passed Wednesday by the City Council. But you could be shamed into better behavior by the unsettling glares of residents who take their reputation for civility seriously.

"That's one of the purposes of this," Mayor Michael Cacciotti said of his city's proclamation designating the first week of March as No Cussing Week. "It provides us a reminder to be more civil, to elevate the level of discourse."

The proclamation will be in effect until Friday, and then the first week of every March hereafter.

South Pasadena, a tranquil city of tree-shaded cottages at the base of a mountain range eight miles north of downtown Los Angeles, isn't the first to try to rein in potty mouths. Earlier this year, the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles, Mo., proposed banning swearing in bars. Last year, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons called for an industrywide ban on racially and sexually charged epithets.

But what's different about the latest push to stop saying in public the words that Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton recently discovered we still can't say on television is that it was proposed by a 14-year-old boy.

"My mom and dad always taught me good morals, good values, and not cussing was one of them," said McKay Hatch, the founder of South Pasadena High School's No Cussing Club, during a recent break between study hall and tennis practice.

"I've cussed before, I'm not gonna lie to you," Hatch quickly added. "But I try not to cuss any more."

He was in junior high school when he became fed up with all the blue language around him.

He understood why his friends use foul language: "They just want to fit in like everybody else and they don't know how. They figure if they cuss maybe it's an easy way to do that."

But it wasn't for him.

"I finally told my friends, `I don't cuss.' And I said, `If you want to hang out with me, you don't cuss.'"

It took a couple of years, but enough friends finally came around that Hatch formed a 50-member club, handed out fliers and called the group's first meeting, held June 1.

Nine months later, the No Cussing Club has a Web site, claims a membership of 10,000 and boasts chapters in several states and countries. Hatch considers his greatest achievement, though, to be getting his hometown of 25,000 to become a cuss-free zone.

Cacciotti, the mayor, isn't surprised that South Pasadena started the movement. He noted that the city broke off from its much bigger neighbor 120 years ago when residents unhappy with the saloon trade in downtown Pasadena voted 85-25 to go their own way.

By midweek, however, it was unclear just how many people in South Pasadena knew about the no-cussing edict.

A clerk behind the counter at Buster's Ice Cream & Coffee Shop just laughed and said, "That sounds pretty funny."

David Salcedo, who manages High Life Burgers, a popular hangout near the high school, hadn't heard of it either.

But, come to think of it, he said, the language among the after-school crowd has been pretty clean lately. The biggest problem these days, Salcedo said, is kids talking too loudly.

"But they're good kids," he added. "They just eat their chili fries and go home."

For his part, Hatch hopes his No Cussing Club will lead to cuss-free zones in other cities. He believes it could be a quality-of-life issue, and that there may be less violence if people behave better.

"You have to start with the little things," he said.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A postal mystery

STRATFORD, Conn. - Officials now know who wrote a 50-year-old postcard that has intrigued Stratford residents, but they may never solve the mystery of how it arrived at town hall earlier this year.

The cellophane-wrapped postcard, postmarked Aug. 14, 1957, showed up in January, more than 50 years after it was sent from East Sumner, Maine, to Stratford Town Manager Harry Flood, who died in 1966.

"Hi, Enjoying this rather fallish weather. It was 44 degrees yesterday. See you next week. Alice," it read.

Fairfield genealogist Melanie Marks did some sleuthing and concluded the postcard might have been sent to Flood by Alice Staples, the widow of an assistant town clerk at the time.

The two lived on the same street, had the same circle of friends and are buried a few feet apart in a Bridgeport cemetery.

But that wasn't the end of the story.

James Merrill, 85, grew up in East Sumner and was so intrigued that he sent a copy of a Connecticut Post story about Marks' conclusions to his daughter, Jan Merrill-Oldham, a preservationist librarian at Harvard University who lives in Cambridge, Mass.

She quickly recognized the handwriting on the postcard.

"It was the unmistakable handwriting of my mother Alice (Merrill), and I just stared at it and couldn't believe the story was saying it was written by someone else," she said. "I called my father and teased him and said, 'Dad, don't you even know your own wife's handwriting?'"

He took a closer look and realized his wife of 64 years, Alice Merrill, had, in fact, written the postcard.

"I felt pretty foolish when I realized it," James Merrill said.

The Merrills vacationed in East Sumner every summer, and Alice Merrill, now 93, loved sending postcards to Flood and other friends, though she doesn't remember sending that particular one.

"I still have no idea where the postcard has been all these years, or why it showed up now," Alice Merrill said.

Postal officials doubt the postcard has been sitting in a post office for 50 years, but they say they may never know who sent it to town hall.

They said Flood probably saved the postcard and it somehow ended up in the hands of a collector or someone else who dropped it in the mail.

"We had two mysteries here and we've solved one of them, the identity of Alice," Marks said. "But where the postcard has been all this time, whether it was sitting in a post office drawer or in someone's attic, is just so much fun to speculate about. I don't think we'll ever solve that part of it."

The Merrills have had fun with the mystery as well.

"I just never imagined (Alice) would make it into the newspapers and create such a stir this late in our lives," James Merrill said. "When you live as long as we have and are married 64 years, you don't expect something this mysterious to happen."

CAPE MAY, N.J. - Having learned a lesson about the birds and the beach, this Victorian seaside resort adopted a compromise plan Tuesday to protect both by keeping cats away from them.

After nearly a year of conflict that pitted cat lovers against bird lovers in one of North America's prime bird-watching spots, the City Council approved a plan to move feral cat colonies 1,000 feet away from the beach.

The move was necessary to protect endangered shore birds like the piping plover and the least tern, both of which are vulnerable to cats and other predators because they nest on the ground, in ruts on Cape May's popular beach.

Because the birds are listed as endangered species, federal environmental officials had threatened to withhold funds for replenishing Cape May's beach if the city refused to protect the birds.

"It's important to protect our beaches," said Councilwoman Linda Steenrod. "At the same time, it's important to protect life. That means all life. I think we have a good compromise."

About 40 cat lovers picketed outside City Hall before Tuesday's vote, chanting "Feral cats won't go away, revise the plan and let them stay."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had wanted feral cat colonies banned within one mile of the beach — which would have eliminated all wild cats in Cape May, where both cats and birds are popular.

The compromise calls for a 1,000-foot buffer zone between the cats and known bird nesting grounds.

The federal Endangered Species Act prohibits killing, harming or even bothering endangered birds like piping plovers and least terns. Nesting areas are closed during the breeding season.

The city will continue its trap, neuter and release program, which has reduced Cape May's wild cat population from 450 to about 100 over the past decade, but now it will release the animals outside the buffer zone.

Becky Robinson, president of Alley Cat Allies, a national cat advocacy group based in Maryland, said Cape May's cat control program is a worldwide model.

"To hold beach replenishment money over the heads of a city that has done everything right is simply misguided," she said.

Deputy Mayor Neils Favre received 600 e-mails against the cat relocation plan on a single day last month. He said the compromise leaves the door open for either the city or federal or state wildlife officials to revisit the plan if it needs to be changed.

Federal authorities have said they are not thrilled with the compromise, believing it still allows wild cats too close to nesting birds, but are willing to try it for a few months this spring and summer.

Melissa Holroyd, who has trapped 53 wild cats since November and paid to have them neutered, said the compromise is a good one.

"This is such an emotional issue here," she said. "I can feel my heart racing right now, but continuing to trap, neuter and release is a step in the right direction."

How does this not happen every day?

NATICK, Mass. - A child's birthday party at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant was cut short after a fight broke out between two mothers. Natick police said the mom of the 9-year-old birthday boy apparently became enraged because the other woman's son was "hogging" an arcade game.

Sgt. Paul Thompson said Catherine Aliaga, 38, and Tarsha Williams, 33, both of Boston, would be summoned into court to answer charges of simple assault and battery stemming from the scuffle.

Thompson told the MetroWest Daily News that police received a number of 911 calls about the fight Saturday night.

He said what started as a birthday celebration turned into a "birthday melee."

Score one for print media

CONCORD, N.H. - Vern Potter's whereabouts had been unknown since Concord police issued an arrest warrant for him in January. Then a police lieutenant happened to spot a page-one photo of Potter in Tuesday's New Hampshire Union Leader, shoveling snow off the roof of Andover Elementary School.

The photo accompanied a story with the headline, "Up on the roof; shoveling reaches new levels."

Police learned that the Potter, 31, who works for a roofing company, was at the school again Tuesday and arranged to arrest him on an insurance fraud charge.

Potter is scheduled to be arraigned in Concord District Court on Wednesday. He's accused of filing a false personal injury claim following an accident in 2006.

It was broadcast live on "Tool Time"

KEARNEY, Neb. - The couple had their first date at the home improvement store, so they thought it would be a handy place to get hitched, too. Gaylan Whitwer and Francine Brickner-Whitwer of Gibbon were married Friday, standing in a kitchen display at the Menards store in Kearney.

They remodel homes as a hobby.

"This is where we spend on all our spare time, where we spend all our spare money," Gaylan Whitwer told the Kearney Hub. "It's just the right place for us."

They got engaged on Valentine's Day after dating for three years. It's the second marriage for both.

The nuptials were a secret from family and friends. The couple invited only the minister, their two attendants, a photographer and a videographer.

And all the shoppers who wandered by.

Who ya gonna call?

NEW YORK - Something strange going on in your neighborhood? You may want to give Brooklyn Ghost Investigations a call. For $20 an hour, the group of self-proclaimed paranormal investigators offers to go to your house to help chase away whatever goes bump in the night.

"When I was 10 years old, I started to see things — spirits and ghosts," said Sal Cicconi, 27, who formed the group with two other Brooklynites.

The group, which claims to have honed its spooky craft by watching such TV shows as "Ghost Hunters" and "Paranormal State," has one client: a man who said he saw two apparitions in his apartment.

Cicconi and another member of the group, Sergio Ocasio, 20, went to the man's house and waited until 3 a.m. to catch a glimpse of the ghosts.

"I caught something on tape," Cicconi said. "It looked like two lights moving around, like the spirits were playing with each other."

He said they used a homemade Ouija board — often used in seances to supposedly talk to the dead (or undead) — to coax the bogeymen to leave. But it didn't work.

"Sometimes, spirits are afraid to talk or to show themselves to us," Cicconi explained.

Indict Bush???

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. - Voters in this southern Vermont town were deciding Tuesday whether to approve a measure calling for the indictment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on charges of violating the Constitution.

The symbolic article seeks to have police arrest Bush and Cheney if they ever visit Brattleboro or to extradite them for prosecution elsewhere — if they're not impeached first.

"Our town attorney has no legal authority to draw up any papers to allow our police officers to do so," said Town Clerk Annette Cappy, "but the gentleman who initiated the petition got the signatures (and) wanted it on the ballot to make a statement."

An identical article was passed at a town meeting in nearby Marlboro, but it isn't binding because it didn't appear on the warning for the meeting, according to Nora Wilson, clerk for the town of 978. The vote was 43-25, with three abstentions.

In Brattleboro, a steady stream of voters paraded into the Union High School gym to cast their ballots on a day when school board elections and Vermont's presidential primary were also on the slate.

Organizers of the indictment campaign were frustrated that the printed ballot ended up relegating the Bush-Cheney indictment article to the back side, which they said would cause some people to miss it.

The 8-by-14-inch yellow cardboard ballot listed the offices and candidates in the local election on one side, and at the bottom in block letters "Turn Ballot Over and Continue Voting."

"Turn Over Ballot and Indict Bush," read a 3-by-4-foot handmade picket sign carried by Kurt Daims, 54, who organized the petition drive and stood outside the school Tuesday.

Voters interviewed after casting ballots said they saw the article as an opportunity to express their frustration over the war in Iraq and Bush's tenure in general.

"I realize it's an extreme thing to do, and really silly in a way," said Robert George, 74, a retired photographer. "But I'm really angry about us getting involved in the war in Iraq and him (Bush) disrespecting the will of the people."

Ian Kelley, 41, a radio DJ, said he didn't vote on the article.

"It's not a good reflection on the town," he said. "Do I like either of them and would I vote for them? No. But I don't think it's cause to arrest them."

Barbara Southworth, a 66-year-old nurse, said she would have voted against it.

"I forgot to vote because it was on the flip side," she said.

The White House press office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. But a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee denounced the article.

"It appears that the left-wing knows no bounds in their willingness to waste taxpayer dollars to make a futile counterproductive partisan political point," said Blair Latoff. "Town people would be much better served by elected officials who sought to solve problems rather than create them."