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News Quirks 01.19.05 

Holiday Follies When an apartment caretaker in Winnipeg, Manitoba, noticed that the building's Christmas tree had been stolen, she and a neighbor identified the suspect by following a trail of pinecones, needles and broken limbs that led directly to a residence across the street. "It's got to be the dumbest crime of the century," caretaker Cindy Peterson said after police charged the 22-year-old occupant. "You could see where they dragged it into the house."

- After the Altmark Stendal theater in the German town of Stendal announced that it could afford only four dwarves for its Christmas production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the theater filled the remaining three roles by attaching two puppets in dwarf outfits to a background wall and having the actor playing the prince double as the seventh dwarf. Unfortunately, the actor missed the production, theater spokesperson Susanne Kreuzer said, "because he was in stuck down in the mine working overtime."

- Australian police responding to a report of a woman trapped headfirst in a charity clothing bin in Sydney on Christmas Day discovered that the victim was actually a 35-year-old man wearing a miniskirt. He told his rescuers that he was donating clothes when he became stuck. "I guess that's his own prerogative why he was wearing a skirt," a police officer said. "It's not really an offense."

Two Thumbs Down! Hospital administrator Mary Beth Rennie, a witness in actor Robert Blake's murder trial in Los Angeles, testified that she and her boyfriend, a doctor, hid by a tree instead of offering assistance when Blake cried for help for his bleeding wife because they agreed that he wasn't convincing. Rennie called his behavior "odd" and "forced."

Employment Opportunities A man applying for a job as a cook at a restaurant in Tacoma, Washington, jumped up during his interview and left. "He just flew out the door," restaurant owner Nick Delin said, noting that the applicant had been keeping an eye on an extended-cab pickup outside with keys in his hand. Delin told the Tacoma News Tribune that the truck belonged to the unidentified job seeker, who had left the motor running with the air conditioning on and the doors locked because his 6-month-old daughter was sleeping in the back seat. When a woman used a master key to unlock the truck and drove off, the applicant and Delin chased her in a sport utility vehicle and confronted the driver. She told police who arrived at the scene that she didn't think the baby was real. The baby slept throughout the incident, and the father got the job.

- Ed and Tameka Kimbrough stopped by a bank in Tampa, Florida, to apply for a job and spotted a suspicious-looking man entering with what looked like a gun tucked into his pants. The husband used his cell phone to alert police, who found Darryl Jerome Lee, 42, hiding in a stairwell. When police Lt. Sal Ruggiero credited the couple with foiling a bank robbery, bank manager Bob Nelson told ABC Action News that he would "look over that resume very well."

Troubled Flocks Two Roman Catholic dioceses have changed part of their worship ritual because of concerns about catching the flu. The Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, asked its parishioners to stop shaking hands during the sign of peace and not use the cup of wine for communion until Easter. Bishop the Most Rev. Kenneth A. Angell said he acted because of the shortage of flu vaccine. - The Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, announced that worshippers could "smile and bow to one's neighbor instead of extending one's hand if there is a serious concern about contagion." The letter from Rev Paul G. Bootkoski also said no one was bound to drink wine from the shared chalice during communion because the consecrated wafer represents not just the body of Christ, but also the blood.

- Churchgoing may increase lung damage, according to a study in the European Respiratory Journal. It reported that burning candles and incense releases very small particulate matter that can reach very deep into the lungs, causing a range of problems from heart disease to cancer. University of Maastricht researcher Theo de Kok said that the measure of fine particulate matter from burning candles in a small chapel and a basilica was 20 times more than the European Union limit.

Close Enough Counts When the souvenir poster for the fall International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was unveiled, the illustration featured familiar stovepipe-shaped saguaros cacti. "For the geographically challenged," the Albuquerque Journal noted on its front page, "saguaros are indigenous to the Sonoran desert of Arizona and Mexico. They don't grow in New Mexico." ProCreations Publishing Co. issued a revised version, although the poster producer's owner insisted that there was nothing wrong with the original version. "It's not accurate, but it's valid," Bud Brimberg said, explaining, "Yeah, we're celebrating an event, but this event is actually bigger and more universal than just a very, very particular desert."

- Federal and state officials in California shut down a chain of private high schools, calling its diplomas "worthless." Attorney General Bill Lockyer said that the California Alternative High School charged its mostly Latino students $450 to $1450 for a 10-week course and a 54-page workbook that contains misspellings and factual errors. Among the gaffes are that "the United States has 53 states and that the flag has not been updated to reflect the additional three states"; "that the U.S. government has four branches: executive, legislative, judicial and administrative"; and that World War II lasted from 1938 to 1942.

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Roland Sweet

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Roland Sweet is the author of the syndicated column "News Quirks," which appears weekly in Seven Days.

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