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ROUNDING UP THE WILDER SIDE OF THE NEWS

Don't you just get tired of all that blather about global warming, economic indicators, balance of trade, human rights, international terrorism and bilateral disarmament?

Do you ever catch yourself wondering just where to find the Third World, and whatever happened to the First and Second?

Look, that's not where the real news is. Real news is what's happening over the fence at the neighbor's house, or how Aunt Matilda is coping with Uncle Harry's ingrown polynomials, or the current sale down at Smiling Sam's Bait, Tackle & Snack Store.

Sorry, can't help you there -- unless the neighbors go homicidal, Harry's polynomials make the New England Journal of Math & Medicine, and Sam is indicted for his worms-and-pasta mix.

Still, we do make an effort to leaven the global economic balance, human terrorism and disarmament stories with some real, down-to-earth examples of what might happen in your neighborhood, because it sure happened somewhere else. Some of them are local, others a world away -- but all cast light on the human condition.

Herewith, some of the stories we offered this year in our community-spirited effort to feed humanity's endless fascination with itself and its foibles.

This is an emergency!!! Follow that balloon

The Bobbitt method made it to Thailand last year, with a twist.

A rickshaw driver was left bleeding in March after his wife performed an amputation on an extremely sensitive portion of his anatomy. When he awakened from what police said was a drugged sleep and discovered the loss, he leapt from bed in what turned out to be a vain effort at retrieval.

"I woke up and ran looking for it, but a neighbor said my wife had already tied it to a (helium-filled) balloon and let it fly away," he told police from his hospital bed.

If the cops need me, I'll be at this address

A bank robber was apprehended by a security guard after he brandished a butter knife at a Buffalo teller and handed her a note written on an envelope that had his name and address on it.

Who says two brains are better than one?

In London, bird lover Neil Symmons was ecstatic when for 12 months the tawny owl "t-wit" calls he made from his garden at dusk attracted an answering "t-woo" from the wild.

His ecstasy lasted until his wife, Kim, mentioned his nightly hobby to neighbor Wendy Carnes, who said her husband Fred had been out by the back fence for the past 12 months doing exactly the same thing.

"I felt such a twit," Symmons told the Daily Mail newspaper after realization had blindingly dawned. There was no quote from the wives, who may still not be composed enough to speak.

Crime does't pay, especially if you're dumb

A Virginia Beach man charged with car theft showed up for court as scheduled last January -- in a stolen car.

Followed by a suspicious detective who ran a plate check on the car, the man and two companions were arrested peacefully after they pulled into a convenience store parking lot directly across the street from a police precinct house.

Drug pusher is honest, but customer is stupid

Rosie Lee Hill called the cops in Pensacola, Fla., with an unusual complaint last March.

Her problem, she told officers, was that someone had sold her fake crack. The drug, she said, tasted like baking soda.

Police checked. Turned out Rosie had a problem all right, but it wasn't with her pusher. The crack was real, and she was promptly arrested.

This stuff should work, even if credit card is stolen

In Pittsburgh, detectives didn't have too hard a time tracking a credit card thief who had a prudent, if somewhat misplaced, long-term plan for the future.

Police said Joseph Gilbert bought $2,727 worth of stereo equipment -- and then signed his own name, to purchase extended warranties.

But how will kids pay for college if aliens abduct their parents?

A London company that insured the Heaven's Gate cult against abduction, impregnation or attack by aliens announced this April that it would no longer offer that policy in the wake of the 39 cult members' mass suicide in San Diego.

Pay attention. Hey, I'm talking to you.

New York has a law requiring elections officials to notify dead persons they can no longer vote.

The measure drew debate in the State Legislature last year; it proved difficult to find an assemblyman willing to sponsor efforts to repeal the requirement.

Poor kid

Best inadvertent news writing of the year: "Niagara Falls fire claims life of child twice in two weeks."

A lizard in love just can't let go

In Newport, R.I., this summer, a woman was wheeled into a hospital emergency room with a 24-inch lizard stuck to her chest.

Doctors called in a veterinarian to help with the ensuing operation, which involved tranquilizing the monitor lizard to get it to loosen its grip.

Friends said the woman had taken the lizard from its cage, and the animal bit her, grabbed her with its legs and couldn't be pried loose.

Ok guys, just try to blend in to traffic

Argentine police didn't have to look very hard to spot the miscreants who robbed a hamburger restaurant in the city of Resistencia last May. The bandits were trying to escape on a motor scooter, carrying the toilet they'd ripped off the floor.

Good ol' boys need a good ol' compass

A Georgia advertising company this April donated a highway billboard sign featuring a smiling portrait of Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell inviting travelers to "Enjoy Our Great City and Southern Hospitality."

Problem was, they installed it in the wrong place -- on a highway lane leading out of the city, and 20 miles away.

Is this the dream of every tree, or what?

An Australian out for a night on the town last May annoyed, to use a less literal term, a tree in a Melbourne suburb, and the tree struck back with lethal consequences.

Police said the man, clad in evening wear, apparently was relieving himself against the tree when he was hit and killed by a falling branch about a foot and a half in diameter.

Make apathy the big issue in the next election

In Pottawatomie County, Kan., they opened the voting booths this April to elect a new member to the Rock Creek School Board. The election fizzled because none of the district's 327 voters showed up -- not even the candidate, who was running unopposed.

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