NewsQuirks 364

NO SOLO MIOGondoliers in Venice stopped serenading their customers this spring to protest an order that the singing oarsmen contribute to a state pension fund for entertainers. Fulvio Scarpa, president of the 60-member Gondoliers' Association, explained that officials had ruled gondoliers' singing while steering their craft through the city's romantic canals technically makes them free-lance musicians.RUFFLED FEATHERSIndia's social democratic Janata Dal party outraged its opponents in the eastern state of Bihar by capturing parrots and teaching them to recite political slogans at election meetings. The regional Jarkhand Mukti Morcha party demanded that the parrots be released, claiming Dal activists had clipped their wings to prevent them from escaping and starved them to force them to learn the slogans.Blackbirds in the English town of Gulsborough have learned to imitate the wailing sirens of car alarms. The noise regularly awakens townspeople, according to bartender Donald O'Shea, who said he discovered the phenomenon when he rushed out at dawn to confront car thieves but found only a bird in mid-song.CAPTIVE AUDIENCEAfter a 27-year-old woman in Hamamatsu, Japan, told her 31-year-old boyfriend that she wanted to break up with him, he threw her into the trunk of his car. She struggled for an hour trying to escape, then remembered the cellular phone in her purse. She called a friend, who in turn notified the police. They found the car in a parking lot and arrested the boyfriend.In Roanoke, Va., Vernon Laughon, 84, was locked in his trunk for two days without food or water by his housekeeper, who drove around town pawning his VCR, ring and watch and spending the $140 she stole from his apartment. The only time he saw daylight during his captivity was when Mitzi Jean Horton, 31, lifted the lid of the trunk to ask him if her forgery of his check looked authentic. "I said, 'Yeah, sure, and when you gonna...' and she slammed the door shut tight and went on driving," he recalled afterwards. He said he yelled for help until he was hoarse and had given up hope when police opened the trunk and freed him. They had been tipped off by a woman who caught a ride with Horton and heard thumps and shouts from the trunk.RANK HAS ITS PRIVILEGESLawmakers in California filed twice as many insurance claims in the past four years as the average motorist, according to the Orange County Register. After reviewing state records, the paper reported that the lawmakers, who receive free cars and free insurance, submitted 163 accident claims during the four-year period, costing taxpayers about $500,000 in damage costs. State Senator Leroy Greene alone caused $61,452 in property and bodily injury damage to other motorists in two collision that were determined to be his fault. Greene claimed he was distracted by the pressure of difficult bills, explaining, "It was a break in concentration. When I'm going through a legislative session, I'm endlessly trying to cogitate, ruminate and calculate. I'm always on a deadline and always got some problem facing me."GUN PLAYDomenico Germano, 32, was sentenced to four years probation and ordered to pay $5,433.09 to repair an automated teller machine in Portland, Maine. He admitted firing four shots at the ATM when it balked at his repeated attempts to withdraw cash with his bank card.DESPERATELY HOPING TO COVER HIS OWN STUPIDITYIn April, Kevin Jalbert of Milford, Conn., filed a lawsuit against Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas, seeking $15,000 to cover medical bills and repairs to his pickup truck stemming from a 1994 accident when he turned to look at the couple's dog and drove into the back of a firetruck. His suit claimed the celebrity couple were negligent in allowing their 5-year-old golden retriever to wander away from their Westport home and onto Interstate 95 a quarter-mile away.OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDWhile Los Angeles County coroner's investigator Michael A. Shepherd, 51, was picking up the body of a suicide victim, he collapsed and died. In 1980, Shepherd had been the investigator into the shotgun deaths of Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten (real name Dorothy Hoogstraaten) and her husband Paul Snider.INJUDICIOUS JUDGESWhen New York police approached a car where they had seen four men place two large duffel bags, the men fled. Police searched the trunk and found 80 pounds of cocaine. The driver confessed in a 40-minute videotaped statement that this was one of more than 20 large drug buys she had made in Manhattan. Judge Harold Baer threw out the confession, ruling it stemmed from an unreasonable search since the fact that the police observed four men running away was not unusual. He explained that since residents in the area regard the police as corrupt and abusive, what would have been unusual is if they had not fled.Maryland's Commission on Judicial Disabilities publicly scolded Judge Henry J. Monahan in December for failing to immediately evacuate his court during a fire. Warren Oden, the first bailiff to announce the fire, testified that Monahan reprimanded him when he approached the bench in an unorthodox fashion, then dismissed his suggestion that the judge call a recess. Another bailiff, John Matthews, who interrupted the proceedings a minute later to urge an evacuation, said the judge sharply scolded him and said, "This is my courtroom, and I run it as I please. Do you understand me?" The commission ruled the judge should behave more humbly and that his judgment "should not be clouded by his belief in his own stature, importance or significance (real or perceived." In 1985, Monahan was accused of breaking into a house and assaulting two police officers, who measured his blood-alcohol content at twice the legal limit for driving. He was ruled not criminally responsible in that case after a judge determined that a stroke had given Monahan "transient global amnesia."Compiled by Roland Sweet from the nation's press. Send clippings, citing source and date, to POB 8130, Alexandria VA 22306. Odd-news hounds will enjoy the latest compilation, "Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest: True News of the World's Least Competent People," by John J. Kohut and Roland Sweet (Plume/Penguin).

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