The Odd Truth, March 30, 2004

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The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by CBSNews.com's Brian Bernbaum.

The Odd Truth is moving! Beginning Monday, April 5, you can find the Odd Truth in the "Features" box that appears in the lower right-hand corner of the CBSNews.com home page, and in the upper right-hand corner of each news section, National, World, Health, etc.

Vicious Ice Cream Attack

NEW YORK - Two ice cream vendors were charged with attempted murder for an alleged pipe attack on two of their competitors, authorities said.

Fernando Esparza and Librada Veron pleaded innocent Monday to the charge stemming from a confrontation on a street in the Bronx borough of New York City.

According to police, Juana Marrero and her husband, Luis, have been in a dispute with the alleged attackers over routes for their competing ice cream truck operations.

On Saturday night, Esparza allegedly bashed Juana Marrero in the head with a pipe while Veron held her down, police said. When Luis Marrero and his 15-year-old granddaughter tried to intervene, they were also attacked.

The teenager was not seriously injured. Juana Marrero, 64, was in critical condition at a hospital with skull fractures and internal bleeding. Her 63-year-old husband was in stable condition.

Esparza and Veron were held without bail. A call to the Bronx district attorney's office late Monday was not immediately returned.

Work Shirt Draws Criticism

SYDNEY, Australia - A jeans retailer outfitted all its employees with a T-shirt saying "Stop Pretending You Don't Want Me" — but shop clerks soon stopped pretending they wanted to wear it.

Female clerks said the shirt drew sexual harassment from customers, but were met initially by a "No T-shirt, No Work" stance from the company. One woman told a Melbourne radio station she was sent home for refusing to wear the shirt.

After the Victoria state government entered the spat on the employees' side, the company backtracked late Monday, deciding the T-shirt was optional.

But the Westco retailer defended the slogan, calling it "a quirky statement reflecting the fact that Westco jeans products are pleasing, in demand, and difficult to resist," the Sydney Morning Herald reported Tuesday.

Man Gets $2,500 Phone Bill

DENVER - When Mark Walters received a $2,500 bill from his long-distance carrier, Denver-based Qwest, he figured it had to be a mistake. It was, and it was his daughter's boo-boo.

Elissa Walters, 18, had gone home to Springfield, N.J., for Christmas break, turned on a new computer and called an America Online number in the 973 area code - the Walters' home area.

Figuring it was a free local call carried by their local carrier, Verizon Communications, she left the computer on. And on. And on.

But just because the area code was the same, it didn't mean the call was local.

"The bottom line is it's a toll call," said Qwest spokesman Skip Thurman. The usual way to tell is if you have to punch "1" before the area code, although that isn't always the case in some East Coast service areas, Thurman said.

Mark Walters learned all of this when his bill arrived six weeks ago.

He begged for a break, saying even $500 would be fair - enough to teach Elissa a lesson without bankrupting her, but said a representative named Bob told him last week that wouldn't happen.

"He said he denied the request for reduction because the calls emanated from our home," Walters said. "I said, 'Bob, it took you guys six weeks to come up with that? I'm not denying that. I'm not saying a stranger made the calls. It's a mistake.' He said, 'Well, sir, that's your responsibility.'"

On Monday, however, Thurman said the situation had been resolved and Walters is being charged just $375.

"We work on unique issues like this from time to time and when we do, we stay on them until the customer is satisfied," he said.

Deadly Snake Venom Also Lifts Blood Stains

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Researchers have put some fang in a newfangled way to lift stubborn blood stains from dirty laundry.

Bloodstained swatches of denim treated with an enzyme isolated from the venom of the Florida cottonmouth snake and then laundered came out cleaner than did denim samples simply thrown in the washing machine, researchers said Monday at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.

In snakebites, scientists believe the enzyme helps toxins spread through the body by hampering how blood naturally clots.

Devin Iimoto, a Whittier College biochemist, said he began studying the enzyme for potential medical applications. Iimoto and two of his undergraduate students next plan to assess how water temperature and other variables affect the nontoxic enzyme's stain-lifting performance.

The enzyme was extracted from commercially available venom milked from the deadly snakes, also known as water moccasins.

An Expensive Hedge

LONDON - When Paul Derwent and his wife Janet cut down 25 feet of laurel hedge on the boundary of their property in May 2000, they set off a legal dispute that now looks likely to cost them their home.

The Derwents' neighbor, Robert Seeckts, a lawyer, sued them for removing the hedge, which had formed a screen between his home and theirs in the southern English village of Groombridge.

Three appeal judges on Thursday threw out the Derwents' appeal against a county court ruling that the hedge belonged to Seeckts and they had therefore acted illegally in removing it.

Lord Justice Carnwath described the Derwents' action as "not only unneighborly but wrong in law."

The Derwents said they will have to sell their $1.1 million home, Linden House, to pay their $630,000 legal bill.

But "at least we shall know the true boundaries when we put it on the market," Derwent told reporters after the hearing.