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The Odd Truth, Aug. 24, 2002

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Opera Audience Gets The Fingers

MILAN, Italy - Heartfelt performances are expected in opera but emotions spilled off stage in Sicily this week when a tenor stormed out, sticking two fingers up at the audience.

Complaining the conductor was taking Pietro Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" too slowly, tenor Franco Bonisolli broke off and started yelling abuse at the orchestra pit of Taormina's ancient Greek theater.

When the audience started whistling in disapproval, he stuck two fingers up at them -- a vulgar gesture in Italy -- and stormed off stage.

Bonisolli will be replaced as the rogue lover Turiddu for the rest of the opera's run at the theater, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea with Mount Etna smoking silently in the background.

The singer was not reachable for comment. (Reuters)

Emu Mistaken For Naked Man

HAMBURG, Germany - An escaped emu caused confusion in Hamburg after a woman called police to report what she thought was a bare-chested man with two big white dots on his forehead staring into her window, police said on Friday.

The large, flightless, Australian bird resembling an ostrich has been on the run from a local zoo since Thursday.

"The woman heard someone tapping at the window at night and when she looked out she saw a head with two big eyes and a bare chest," a Hamburg police spokesman said.

Officers said they knew there was an emu on the run and put two and two together after they found no one suspicious.

"We're still looking for either a naked man with huge eyes or an emu," the spokesman added.

The bird has escaped twice in two weeks. Last week it ran away and frightened a horse, but was eventually captured. (Reuters)

Tax-Deductible Smack

SYDNEY - An Australian court has given a convicted heroin dealer the all-clear to write off $118,800 in stolen drug money from his tax bill.

The Federal Court ruled that as jailed felon Francesco Dominico La Rosa had earned his taxable income through selling drugs, he was likewise entitled to deduct from his taxes expenses incurred as part of his criminal endeavors.

Perth resident La Rosa was jailed for 12 years in 1996 for importing and selling heroin.

As soon as he was behind bars, Australia's meticulous tax authorities pounced and presented him with a $243,000 tax bill based on what court proceedings had revealed about his estimated illicit income.

La Rosa fired back with a claim to deduct the $119,000 he said he had buried in the garden of his daughter's home and which he intended to use to buy more drugs. He said the money had been stolen by other criminals when he went to make a deal. (Reuters)

Once, Twice, Four Times A Baby

SEATTLE — When Scott Hulford heard about the odds of his newborn quadruplets being two sets of identical twins, as it appears they are, his reaction was somewhat understandable.

"I kind of wish I had bought a lottery ticket that night instead," the Bellingham sheet-metal worker said.

Hulford's 28-year-old wife, Korie, gave birth to four girls Wednesday.

The odds of having quadruplets are low to start with, about one in 729,000 births. The odds of the four infants being two sets of identical twins are roughly 1 in 25 million, doctors say — though it happened to a Kansas couple in April. Neither couple used fertility drugs.

Doctors at the University of Washington Medical Center say they believe the four Hulford babies are two sets of identical twins, though there's also a chance the girls are identical quadruplets.

The girls won't go home for another six or seven weeks, which is probably just as well. With the sudden arrival of four daughters in addition to two older boys, the Hulfords find themselves moving into a bigger house and wondering how they're going to cope.

"We're scared," Korie said in a hospital interview. "I don't know what to expect with this. I haven't had time to think about it."

Her sons don't need much time to formulate their thoughts.

"I'm not going to change any diapers," said 6-year-old Chris. (AP)

Flea-ing The Scene Of The Crime

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Police summoned to a home where the front door was standing open found the house abandoned — except by thousands of fleas.
Sgt. Marc Dopp said the three officers discovered they were covered with the bugs as they left the two-story house on Tuesday.

"He sat down in the car and said it looked like his pants were moving," Officer James Yoder said of a fellow officer.

The infestation spread to five officers and five police cars. The Sixth Precinct substation had to be closed.

The officers were taken to University Hospitals East, where they were vigorously scrubbed down.

Exterminators were called in to fumigate the police cars and substation. (AP)

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Race Humans

ROCHESTER, New York - Zippy Chippy doesn't do well against other horses but he can still win a race.

The losingest horse in the history of thoroughbred racing zipped past Rochester Red Wings outfielder Larry Bigbie in a 45-yard race at the city's minor league ballpark last night.

Bigbie, added after two teammates scratched, stumbled out of the gate, and lost by an estimated four lengths.

Zippie Chippy now has two career victories against human athletes, but in 93 races against his own kind, has yet to win. (AP)

Mr. Potato Head, Noted Philanthropist

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - A 50-year-old plastic spud with holes in his face is about to have his head served up on a plate -- an automobile license plate, that is.

Mr. Potato Head soon will appear on a special license plate in Rhode Island, state officials said as they unveiled the plate design.

Proceeds from the $40 license plates will go to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank to help feed the estimated 20,000 people who experience hunger in the state, officials said.

The plates, due to appear in January, feature an image of the mustachioed tuber next to the words "Help End Hunger."

Launched in 1952 as the first toy advertised on U.S. television, Mr. Potato Head is manufactured by Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based toy maker Hasbro Inc. Mr. Potato Head also appeared as an animated character in the "Toy Story" movies. (Reuters)

Death Takes A Holiday

LE LAVANDOU, France - The mayor of a French Mediterranean town, faced with a cemetery "full to bursting," has banned local residents from dying until he can find somewhere else to bury them.

Gil Bernardi, mayor of Le Lavandou on the coast 15 miles west of Saint Tropez, introduced the ban after a court rejected his plans to build a cemetery in a tranquil setting by the sea.

Bernardi said most locals had obeyed the edict so far, but he was desperately trying to find a resting place for a homeless man who had recently passed away in the town.

"Initially, the decree has been remarkably well followed," the mayor said.

Joy-Riding 2-Year-Old

SPRINGFIELD, Missouri - A Missouri boy has found out that age two is a little young to be driving.

Police say little Shawn Heath took the family car for a short joyride Wednesday morning, with his eight-month-old sister, Sabrina, along.

The car smacked into a neighbor's house after hitting a tree and a parked car, but both kids are OK.

Police say the children's father put them in the car this morning to take them to day care, then ran back inside to get a diaper bag. That's all the time Shawn needed to unfasten his child seat, crawl from the back seat into the driver's seat and put the car into gear.

The case was first reported as a possible abduction. (AP)

Group: 'Buffy' Bad, 'Doc' Good

NEW YORK - As it applauds broadcasters for embracing more family-friendly programming in prime time, a parents group is scolding TV's two most popular shows for being among the raciest.

The Parents Television Council places both "Friends" and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" on its list of the ten worst shows in prime time.

On the other hand, "Doc" - which runs on little-watched Pax TV - was named the best show on television.

The drama, starring country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, is about a country doctor who moves to New York City. It was praised by the watchdog group for its "uplifting and inspirational" themes.

UPN's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was rated the worst prime time show. PTC condemns it for graphic violence and sex, and an element of the occult.

There's been a slight movement recently toward more family-friendly programming in prime time, with ABC and the WB network making it a priority. (AP)

Pay For Play

LONDON - A British mother who offered to pay other children about $7 an hour to play with her 4-year-old autistic son received a gentle rebuke from the British Autistic Society.

Part-time nurse Emma Upfold, 25, stuck an advertisement in a shop window in the central English city of Leicester seeking playmates for her son Jack, whose condition makes it difficult for him to make friends.

"It was a last resort really," Upfold told BBC radio.

"Jack has very poor eye contact and communication skills and finds it very difficult to interact with children his own age and I thought this was worth a try to help him make friends," she said.

But a spokeswoman for Britain's National Autistic Society disagreed.

"We would rather do things in as safe a way as possible and you certainly wouldn't want somebody acting in an inappropriate way with an autistic child," the spokeswoman said.

Autism, a condition marked by sometimes severely limited physical and emotional responses to other persons, affects about 500,000 people in the United Kingdom. (Reuters)

Overextended Family

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — When looking through the papers of Riley Toney Jr. after he died, family members found they had more relatives than they knew about — at least 307.

Toney, who died Sunday at 94, left behind three little black books chronicling the birthdays and wedding dates of his nine living children, 47 grandchildren, 110 great-grandchildren, 106 great-great-grandchildren and 35 great-great-great-grandchildren.

"We didn't know that until we found some of his papers," said granddaughter Cynthia Toney Cotton, 38.

In the part of Huntsville where Toney lived, people knew his family for its size, funeral home worker Celeste Gilmore said Wednesday.

"The church they're having the funeral at will basically fit the family alone," said Gilmore. "No one else will be able to get in."

Toney, a Navy veteran of World War II, went into a hospital with pneumonia and died after developing a blood clot in his leg. He and his wife would have celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary in October. (AP)

Word Warriors

SAN DEIGO - If you love a nice friendly game of Scrabble then this week's National Scrabble Championship in San Diego would not be your scene.

Competitors from eight countries and 40 US states are going all out for the thrill of conquest ... and the 25-thousand dollar grand prize.

Participants are quick to sniff at what they call "kitchen table" Scrabble where 200 points is quite an accomplishment. These folks go for 400-plus.

John D. Williams who heads the sponsoring National Scrabble Association put it this way: "This isn't your grandmother's Scrabble. This is cutthroat." (AP)

Death Wish

BERLIN - An aging Berlin playboy has come up with an unusual offer to lure women into his bed by promising the last woman he sleeps with an inheritance of about $250,000.

Rolf Eden, a 72-year-old West Berlin disco owner famous in the German capital for his countless number of sex partners, said he could imagine no better way to die than in the arms of an attractive young woman -- preferably under 30.

"I put it all in my last will and testament -- the last woman who sleeps with me gets all the money," Eden told Bild newspaper.

"I want to pass away in the most beautiful moment of my life. First a lot of fun with a beautiful woman, then wild sex, a final orgasm -- and it will all end with a heart attack and then I'm gone."

Eden, who is selling his popular "Big Eden" nightclub later this year, said "applicants" shouldn't wait long because of his advanced age.

"It could end very soon," he said. "Maybe even tomorrow." (Reuters)

Politically Correct Department

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. — Satan has been banished from Devils Lake.

High school teams here no longer will be known as the Satans, the school's nickname for nearly 80 years.

The school board unanimously voted Monday night to immediately drop the nickname and mascot and start the process of finding a new name to represent its athletic teams.

The 5-0 vote brought applause, hugs and a few tears of joy from an audience that favored change.

"It's hard to stand up and cheer for the Satans," said Kellie Karlstad, a parent of three and the junior varsity girls basketball coach. "It's not an appropriate name for children."

Supporters of the change said the Satans nickname had brought division and a negative image.

"As far as finding one positive for keeping the nickname, I can't," board member Julie Schemionek said. "I believe in tradition. But sometimes, traditions need to be changed."

School Board Chairman Kevin Regan, a Devils Lake alumnus and athlete, said he had not been bothered by the nickname.

"I always thought it was a natural fit that the mascot for Devils Lake would be Satans," he said. (AP)

He's A Real Gem, No, Really!

ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Illinois - "Diamonds are forever," they say, and soon the expression will have a whole new meaning.

Some folks are planning to have precious gems made from carbon captured during their cremations.

Funeral homes are lining-up to offer the memorial diamonds, which would have a starting price of about $4,000 for a quarter-carat.

The provider of the service is Illinois-based Life Gem. The company's chief executive says he knows some will consider it "a pretty wacky idea."

But the idea is catching on. One funeral director says while an urn may be beautiful in its own right your can't take it with you wherever you go.

The cremation gem would not have that limitation.

Incompetent Raindancer Fails To End Drought

LAMBERTVILLE, N.J. - A New Jersey man says he had a good reason for his naked stroll on a local bridge -- he wanted to end the drought.

New Jersey, along with much of the rest of the country, is drying-up and so Douglas B. Carroll's idea of shedding his clothes so the clouds would shed a few drops may have seemed a good idea at the time.

It was about three o'clock Monday morning when an apparently intoxicated man was spotted by police on the bridge wearing nothing but his 33-year-old birthday suit.

He took off but was caught after a brief foot chase. He was released on his own recognizance after explaining his belief that if he ran over the bridge naked it would rain.

If it works it could start a new trend. (AP)

Drew University Gets The Finger

MADISON, N.J. — Drew University's libraries have received many unlikely donations over the years. The oddest may be a human finger that purportedly belonged to a noted English evangelist from the 1700s.

The donation came from an alumnus who also gave the school some rare Methodist books and engravings, according to librarian Ken Rowe. The finger came in a small box and was accompanied by a yellowed slip of paper that claimed the finger came from George Whitefield, a well-known charismatic preacher.

"I've had a medical doctor look at, and it is a human bone," Rowe said Tuesday. Whether it actually is Whitefield's finger, though, remains a mystery.

The finger is one of the many items of memorabilia that can be found at the university's main library and another facility that houses various Methodist relics and memorabilia, such as 250,000 photographs of missionary life around the world and the hymnal used by President Ulysses S. Grant.

"People throw in odd bits and pieces with their donations," Rowe said. "And librarians didn't always throw things out — thank God." (AP)

Man Stakes Life's Dream In New Catfood Flavor

LAFITTE, La. — A distinctly Louisiana flavor is on its way to cat diets: crawfish-flavored treats.

David Prestage hopes to break into the $29.5 billion national pet industry market with his patented recipe. This month, 30,000 pounds of the treats were produced.

"I'm busier than a cat in a litter box," said Prestage, 49.

Prestage has poured $100,000 of his own money into the initial batch of cat treats, sold under the name Cajun Crawkitty.

"I sold everything I own: my houseboat, my camp, my fishing boats, my four-wheeler," Prestage said.

He says he got the idea when, under the influence of a brew or two, he put some canned catfood in a blender and added some crawfish.

His wife's cats went nuts for the stuff, tearing the kitchen up in the process of devouring his creation. (AP)

Thai Elephants Work For Peanuts No More

BANGKOK - Thailand is to ban elephants from city streets in an effort to prevent maltreatment by their owners, who make a living selling food for passers-by to feed the animals.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Prapat Panyachatirak told reporters the new law would also allow authorities to adopt abused elephants.

Elephants suffer badly in Thai city streets, particularly in traffic accidents in Bangkok. Road vehicles hit about 20 a month.

"Raising an elephant must be done in a way that does not humiliate the pride and dignity of the national animal," Prapat told reporters.

Prapat said the Thai elephant population was dwindling at a rate of 150 a year, mostly because of maltreatment by their owners.

Southeast Asia is home to around 60,000 elephants, 5,000 of which are in Thailand. (Reuters)

Escaped Seal Dies After Capture

PRAGUE, Czech Republic - A seal who rode surging flood waters in an escape bid from the Prague Zoo -- and captured a nation's attention during a desperate period -- died Tuesday after being captured in Germany, zoo officials said.

Gaston, a 12-year-old male seal, grabbed the headlines after making a bid for freedom by swimming more than 188 miles north into Germany when the worst flood ever recorded in Prague swelled the waters of his aquarium beyond its walls.

He was finally lured by rescuers and caught in Wittenberg, some 50 miles southwest of Berlin Monday afternoon, but was apparently exhausted and possibly ill, the zoo said.

Gaston died at around 6 a.m. while being taken back to Prague, said zoo spokesman Vit Kahle. The exact cause of the death was not yet known.

"We are very, very sad," Kahle said. "He could have become the hero of the floods."

Gaston and several other Prague seals made a break for the wild when their tank overflowed. Their quest became a cause celebre at home as Czechs, desperate to find something to smile about as floods ravaged their country, urged the truants on "to snack on fresh fish in the North Sea". The others have been captured.

The Prague Zoo has been hit hard by the flooding, suffering many other casualties, including dozens of birds, an elephant, four hippos, a lion, a bear and a gorilla. (Reuters)

"Face-Clawing Monster" Terrifies Indian State

LUCKNOW, India - Reports of a flashing space creature, or maybe a mutant bug that glows at both ends, have created panic in India's most populous state, triggering riots and lynchings that have killed more than a dozen people.

Victims report being scratched by something flashing blue, red or green that strikes only at faces and only at night. The creature has been dubbed "Muhnochwa", or "face-clawing monster".

Some police in Uttar Pradesh state have declared that Muhnochwa is an extra-terrestrial being. Others say it is a "technologically developed special insect" that glows red from the front and blue from its rear, let loose by foreign "anti-national elements" -- a euphemism for Pakistani agents.

And scientists say they have found no evidence that it exists at all.

"I was sleeping on my terrace when around 2:45 a.m. Tuesday I woke up with a start to find a bright red blinking object attacking my face and trying to pull me away," said Asma, who lives in Lucknow's old quarter.

"I screamed, but no sooner than my husband got up, it vanished into the thin air, leaving a couple of scratches on my face." (Reuters)

Complicated Football Maize

LAKE GENEVA, Wis. — There's a new twist on the longest-running rivalry in the NFL — pick your favorite team in corn.

The owners of a Wisconsin farm had two 3-acre helmets — one bearing the logo of the Green Bay Packers, and one the Chicago Bears — etched onto six miles of pathways on which faithful fans can get themselves deliriously lost.

The cornfields also read "Packers vs. Bears," and "Rivals since 1921," and between them is a 1-acre football, all of which is part of the complicated maze.

From the air, it's a feast for football fans' eyes, but on the ground, "it looks like a lot of corn," said Pam Keeler, of Delavan, who visited recently with her children John, 10, and Kasey, 12.

About 1,100 people, mostly Packers and Bears fans, have visited the southern Wisconsin farm since the maze opened at the end of July. (AP)

Lawn Ornament Crime Wave?

CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wisconsin - It's not known if it's the beginning of a crime wave or just a one time merry prankster.

Two residents of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, were surprised to find a treasured piece of yard art had been replaced with an imposter.

Layann Geissler found a donkey ornament in her yard where a bear had been and Judy Blaeser found a concrete bear where, you guessed it, her donkey once stood.

Local law enforcement was put on the case and it turns out someone had switched the two decorative animals.

All's well that ends well. The women have agreed to a swap that will return the animals to their rightful places. (AP)

Ending Up On Top

FAIRBANKS, Alaska - For nearly 17 months, Stanley Brodaric has been peddling his mountain bike on a non-stop journey that began at the southernmost tip of South America and will end, he hopes, at the northernmost tip of North America.

As he approaches his seventieth birthday he's dreaming of sitting in the "toondra" and sipping champaign.

But if he doesn't make it all the way he'll accept it philosophically. Smiling through a wooly, white beard and mustache he said I'm "blessed" if I can do it, adding, "How many people that are 70 do crazy things like this?" And if he doesn't make it -- he's seen a lot and had quite an adventure. (AP)

Case Of The Copulating Couple

A New York Catholic group is infuriated over the antics of some radio dee-jays and by a couple allegedly having sex inside St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Police say they arrested a Virginia couple after they had sex in a vestibule just feet from worshipers praying in the landmark midtown Manhattan church. The encounter was described live on the air Thursday during the "Opie and Anthony" show on WNEW FM. Police also arrested the man who provided the play-by-play.

WNEW issued an apology -- although the two dee-jays were back on the air less than 24 hours after the arrests. The encounter was part of a regular feature on the show where couples can win prizes for having sex in risky places.

But the director of communications for The Catholic League, Lou Giovino, says the group found the station's apology lacking. Says Giovino: "I want to know who's not offended by this. I know atheists who were offended by this."

The Catholic League is calling on the Federal Communications Commission to revoke the license of the station and heavily fine its owner.

As for the couple: Brian Florence, of Quantico, and Loretta Lynn Harper of Alexandria were arrested on charges of public lewdness. (AP)

They Needed a Study for This?

LONDON - Want to be more attractive? Make sure those around you are having a drink.

British scientists have found even modest amounts of alcohol will make the opposite sex appear better-looking.

"We have carried out experiments which show that what is known in the trade as the 'beer-goggle effect' does actually exist," said Barry Jones, a professor of psychology at Glasgow University.

The study of 120 male and female students found drinking up to four units of alcohol -- about two pints of beer or four glasses of wine -- increased the perceived attractiveness of members of the opposite sex by about 25 percent.

Jones said alcohol apparently stimulates a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which judges facial attractiveness.

"There is a strong link between facial attractiveness and signals about the quality of a potential mate," Jones said. (Reuters)

Yes, They Lost A Hippopotamus

PRAGUE, Czech Republic - A hippopotamus lost for days during record flooding in Prague has turned up unharmed but bad-tempered after his ordeal, city zoo officials say.

Slavek, an 18-year-old male hippo, was carried up out of his enclosure by the flood waters and staff eventually found him on the second floor of a pavilion used to house elephants, a zoo spokeswoman said.

While elated at the discovery, staff said they had to be careful when approaching the animal.

"Understandably, he's quite hungry, and therefore quite angry. He was in attack mode," zoo head Petr Fejk said. Zoo officials have been sharply criticized for their handling of the floods, which killed dozens of animals, and many asked how creatures weighing more than a ton could disappear.

The zoo lies on the banks of the River Vltava in the north end of Prague. Wednesday, river levels reached some of their highest in Prague's 800-year history.

With water levels receding, zookeepers put out a trail of food to lure the hippo back down to ground level.

"He's eating, so I think he will be just fine," Fejk said. (Reuters)

Lost And Found Department

CALGARY, Alberta - A Canadian man paid less than a dollar for a used suitcase at an auction house only to find when he got home that it was crammed with nearly 11 pounds of cocaine with a street value of $180,000, police say.

Now, investigators in Calgary -- calling the seizure of the crack and powder-form cocaine one of the western city's biggest ever -- are trying to find out where the baggage came from, and who is missing the drugs.

"It would be nice if they phoned and said, 'Hey that's really mine.' But that's not likely to happen," Staff Sgt. Roger Chaffin of the Calgary Police drug unit said.

Police were not identifying the man who bought the suitcase, or the auction house, while they tried to track the bag back to its original owner. (Reuters)

Pit Bulls Banished

DALLAS - A dog causing problems on an American Airlines flight has led the company to ban aggressive dogs from its planes.

On a July 22 flight from San Diego to New York, a pit bull escaped from its cage in the cargo hold and chewed through some electrical cables. The damage knocked out a backup radio and some navigation gear. But airline officials stress it didn't put the flight in danger.

The airline says safety concerns have led to a ban on pit bulls, Rottweilers and Doberman pinschers from its flights.

The American Kennel Club says the airline is overreacting and should focus on ensuring that travel containers are secure rather than banning breeds as a whole. (AP)

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