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It pays to comparison-shop



Denise Thomas was sentenced to a year's probation by a Littleton, Colo., judge in August for offering her 9-year-old daughter for sale on the Internet for $4,000. Two weeks earlier, Helen Chase had been arrested in Vacaville, Calif., and charged with child endangerment for allegedly giving her 10-year-old son away (for free) to a couple in St. Petersburg, Fla., whom she had met on the Internet. (Police said that the latter kid had remained rambunctious and incorrigible throughout his mother's threats to pass him off, and was apparently thriving in his new home.)

Every moment is precious

Prominent attorney Alan Dershowitz, whose best-selling 1991 book, "Chutzpah," celebrated the virtues of impudence, asked a team of Florida lawyers in July for a cut of the $3.4 billion judgment they had just won against the cigarette industry on behalf of smokers. Dershowitz, who said it was his strategy that won the case, admitted that "promises" the team made to him were "not in writing." Nevertheless, he claimed, they owed him "1 percent" (or $34 million) for his advice, which -- according to time sheets -- had taken him 118 hours to dispense. That works out to $288,000 per hour, or $80 per second.

New kids on The Rock

The New York Daily News reported in July that as many as 40 amateur "backyard wrestling" clubs (mostly made up of teen-agers) are operating in the New York City area, practicing moves that are nearly as dangerous as the pros'. A Daily News reporter witnessed 14-year-old boys smashing each other with wooden poles until they splintered; landing "chair shots" to the head; diving from platforms or rooftops onto their opponents; slamming each other through plywood tables; and even engaging in "barbed-wire" and "fire" matches. Said one "wrestler's" mother, as she nervously watched her son and his opponent go through their paces: "Easy ... easy ... "

Genital unrest

John Murphy, 64, was arrested in Toms River, N.J., after a May 10 spree in which he vandalized the offices of 12 doctors who had refused his request to perform prostate biopsies on him without medical cause. According to police, an enraged Murphy went from office to office, breaking windows and spraying black paint over the urologists' signs. Expressing prevailing medical practice, one doctor told a reporter that he wouldn't perform the procedure unless some alarming sign surfaced, because the process "is pretty invasive."

Wild hair

Firefighters and policemen called to an apartment in Fargo, N.D., in June encountered thick smoke pouring out of a window; an odor one described as "noxious and terrible"; and the tenant, who was standing in a corner with his fists up, as if ready to fight. The tenant finally revealed that, once a year, he piles all the hair he has saved from his haircuts into a skillet and burns it. He was arrested when he threatened the firefighters, at one point claiming that he worked for the FBI.

Head of the family

In July, according to police, John Hawk, 43, took his reputation as the town eccentric of Celina, Ohio, to the next level. While communing with his just-deceased uncle's body at the Ketcham-Ripley Funeral Home in nearby Rockford, Hawk allegedly decapitated the corpse with a hacksaw and carried the head away, presumably to fulfill his belief that he could bring the uncle back to life by eating his brain. (That idea was the subject of one of the periodic rants Hawk had delivered in handbill form around town over the years.)

Clutter disdain

Brian Ellingwood had a briefcase stolen from his car in Washington, D.C., in February and reported the loss to authorities. But six weeks later, according to a Washington Post story, he was notified that the D.C. Department of Public Works had levied a $1,000 fine against him for littering because the abandoned briefcase -- with its contents strewn about -- had been found in an alley about six blocks from his home. After what he estimated as "hundreds" of calls to various government offices, Ellingwood could not clear up the matter and was forced to go trial in June to have the charge removed.

But does she do windows?

According to a June Chicago Sun-Times report, Illinois Republican activist Connie Peters performs virtually no other duties in her $23,000-per-year state job than being an "observer" at two state water-management meetings per month. The newspaper estimates that Peters has collected $185,000 in the 15 years she has been party to the arrangement, primarily because the legislature inexplicably kept raising her annual compensation from its 1985 level of $150.

Dishonor system

The Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged in July that it knew as far back as 1982 that asbestos fibers from a W.R. Grace Co. mill in Libby, Mont., were implicated in the deaths of residents, but did not notify the town. (Casualties now number as many as 200.) The agency had dismissed its own toxicology study and squelched follow-up studies, relying instead on company assurances that asbestos levels were minimal in its building-insulation materials.

Romance takes a back seat

In a July St. Petersburg Times story, Krystin Nicely, 14, lamented the closing of the 28th Street Drive-In theater, which her mother (now 30) and father had frequented on dates. "If it wasn't for that place," Nicely said, "I wouldn't be here."

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