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Where's the fire?



In April, several fire trucks speeding down the Massachusetts Turnpike with sirens blaring and lights flashing, en route to help battle a brushfire around the town of Westfield, were delayed a few minutes when a toll taker insisted on charging each driver. A turnpike spokesman said the toll taker had been counseled.

Near misses

In March, for the first time, not only was the Miss Thailand beauty contest televised nationally, but so was the Miss Tiffany Universe contest, which is the equivalent for Thailand's male-to-female transsexuals. An April Associated Press report from Bangkok concluded, after polling many viewers, that at least one of the Tiffany Universe finalists made Miss Thailand look "positively mousy" and that the Tiffany Universe winner was "every bit as feminine" as Miss Thailand.

Heavenly artillery

In February, Kahr Arms of Worcester, Mass., a gun manufacturer under the umbrella of the Unification Church of Rev. Sun Myung Moon (who insists he's doing the work of Jesus), announced it had purchased AutoOrdinance Corp., manufacturer of the Thompson machine gun ("tommy gun"). Kahr (run by Rev. Moon's son) was already prominent for its high-quality line of small, potent handguns. "What's the message?" asked one critic, interviewed by the Washington Post: "Turn the other cheek, or lock and load?"

Triple vision

Recent apparitions: in Yuba City, Calif., January: the image of Mary appeared in a knothole in a tree; in Wareham, Mass., February: the image of Jesus appeared in the wood grain of a door in an Episcopalian Church; in Union City, Calif., March: the image of Jesus appeared in an unfinished concrete wall at the Buddhist Purple Lotus University.

In need of reform

In March, Walter Gene Grassie, 49, a former Protestant minister whose eight-year affair with a married Mormon woman had recently ended, was convicted of vandalism at several Mormon churches in New Mexico, causing $2.5 million in damages, apparently because he thought the woman's religion was the only thing preventing her from divorcing her husband and marrying Grassie. Prosecutors said he also wrote graffiti calling the woman a "[Mormon] whore." The two had fallen in love shortly after forming the touring musical act the Pecos Valley Yodelers.

The holy truth

Ten days apart in April, Britain's Advertising Standards Authority and the official newspaper of the Catholic archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio, issued rulings that miracle and prayer advertisements were deceptive and could no longer be published under their auspices. The British organization spokesman said a church advertising miracles would have to provide proof "just like a company that makes washing powder," and the Cincinnati newspaper banned ads thanking particular saints for answering their prayers.

Latch-key kid

Firefighters in Kawasaki, Japan, freed a 5-month-old girl from a coin-operated, 13-by-13-by-24-inch locker in April after her parents had deposited her there while they had dinner at a nearby restaurant. The parents were reprimanded, but not arrested.

Meeting deadline

Edmonton, Alberta, pizza delivery driver Thomasz Leszczewski, 26, was arrested in April and charged with a hit-and-run fatality. According to police, Leszczewski hit a 43-year-old pedestrian while out on a delivery but merely proceeded with his rounds, and police caught up to him dropping off a pizza a few minutes later.

Adult education

Students in the pornography course at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn., submitted as final graded projects fiction, photography, a video of a man's eyes as he masturbates, and in one case, a bondage performance, according to a May report in the Hartford Courant. Said one student, when asked how his parents would react to a course on porn: "[They'd] shrug and say, 'That's what kids do these days; they make porn at school.'"

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