Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009

Heroic Efforts

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 In several dozen cities across the country, certain men and women have taken to dressing in homemade superhero costumes and patrolling marginal neighborhoods in an effort to deter crime. Phoenix's Green Scorpion, New York City's Terrifica, Orlando's Master Legend and Indianapolis' Mr. Silent are just a few of the 200 unarmed vigilantes listed on the World Superhero Registry. According to two recent reports (in Rolling Stone and The Times of London), unanticipated complaints by the "Reals," as they call themselves, include boredom from lack of crime and—especially in warmer weather—itchy spandex outfits.

 Leading Economic Indicators

People With Too Much Money: (1) The owner of a local ski shop told the Vail (Colo.) Daily in November that he was confident he could sell his parking space in a town garage for his asking price of $500,000. After all, he said, it was on the top floor and next to an exit. (2) The upscale residents of Gates Mills, Ohio, near Cleveland, are so grateful to their town's 61 government employees that they volunteered $50,000 in holiday tips in December.

In November, the Platinum Lounge, a lap-dancing club in Chester, England, announced that it would begin selling advertising, via 4-by-6-inch body-paint squares, on dancers' derrieres. Said the club's agent, "I had to do a lot of research…to come up with the optimum size for the (ads)!"

 Least Competent Criminals

 Failed to Keep a Low Profile: If you are carrying $18,000 worth of marijuana in your vehicle, you might want to avoid attracting attention (and not go the wrong way on a one-way street, as Samuel Randall, 27, did in Chicago in January). If you are carrying a duffel bag full of marijuana, you might not want to drive around in a car that lacks license plates, like the four women arrested in San Antonio in November. And if you have 78 marijuana plants in the back seat, you might want to make sure that your car has a valid state inspection sticker, unlike Tracy Pioggia, in Hampden, Mass., in October.

 Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Torvald Alexander, 39, was able to chase away the unlucky home invader who attempted to rob his apartment on Dec. 31 in Edinburgh, Scotland, according to a BBC News report. The two men inadvertently came face to face just as Alexander was returning from a New Year's Eve party, dressed in full regalia as Thor, the hammer-wielding Norse god of thunder. Alexander said the burglar took one look at him, turned and climbed hurriedly out a window, sliding down a sloped roof and landing on the ground, where he took off running.

 Fine Points of the Law

 In November, a jury acquitted Ms. Johnnie Miles, 42, of $7,500 worth of fraudulent credit-card transactions against a store in Vero Beach, Fla., and Miles assumed she had thus earned her freedom. However, Judge Dan Vaughn apparently considered Miles a disreputable rip-off artist (even though technically not guilty of "fraud") and used her schemes to convict her of violating probation on an earlier case. Florida law permits a judge such discretion, and Vaughn sentenced Miles to five years on each of 11 probation violations, to be served consecutively.

 Recurring Themes

 On successive days in January in two towns in Britain, loners in their 70s were reported dead from dehydration in their homes after becoming trapped in monstrous labyrinths of, in one case, hoarded garbage, and, in the other case, hoarded but unopened merchandise. Gordon Stewart, 74, was found dead in a tunnel system he had arranged from several tons of refuse in his house in Broughton, Buckinghamshire, and compulsive shopper Joan Cunnane, 77, was buried under so much merchandise and rubbish that it took rescuers in Heaton Mersey two days to locate her body.

 Undignified Deaths

 A 77-year-old man was crushed to death in October while visiting his parents' grave site at the St. Gregoire Cemetery in Buckingham, Quebec, when a tombstone fell on him. And in November, a 67-year-old woman was killed in southern Brazil on her way to the cemetery for her husband's funeral. She was a front-seat passenger in the hearse when another vehicle collided with it, slamming her husband's coffin forward and crushing the woman's skull.

 c. 2009 Chuck Shepherd

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