(NOTE: Chuck Shepherd has become overstimulated and needs about four weeks off. Before he left, he picked out some golden oldies to tide you over.)

Walt and Kathy Viggiano of Wichita, Kan., convinced Judge James Burgess to return their four children from foster care in 1999, following their removal because of the excessively unsanitary state of the family's mobile home. Unlike in many such cases, Judge Burgess realized, the Viggianos loved their kids, had not abused them and had no alcohol or drug problems. Also, according to police who made the initial investigation, Walt and the kids seemed to have warm conversations, though they were conducted entirely in Klingon (from Star Trek).


In 1996, Cambridge (England) University researcher Fiona Hunter, who studied penguins' mating habits for five years, reported that some females apparently allow male strangers to mate with them in exchange for a few nest-building stones, thus providing what Hunter believes is the first observed animal prostitution. According to Dr. Hunter, all activity was done behind the backs of the females' regular mates, and in a few instances, after the sex act, johns gave the females additional stones as sort of a tip.


In 1999, a federal judge in Syracuse, N.Y., rejected another in a series of lawsuits by Donald Drusky of East McKeesport, Pa., in his 30-year battle against USX Corp. for ruining his life by firing him in 1968. Furthermore, Drusky sued "God ... the sovereign ruler of the universe" for taking "no corrective action" against any of Drusky's enemies and demanded that God compensate him with professional guitar-playing skills and the resurrection of his mother.


The March 1998 trial in the lawsuit by Lesli Szabo (seeking almost $2 million against a Hamilton, Ontario, hospital) started with her testimony that she deserved money because her childbirth had not been pain-free. Physicians said that painless childbirth could not be achieved without the anesthesia's endangering the child, but Szabo said she expected to be comfortable enough to be able to read or knit while the child was being delivered. She admitted to previous run-ins with physicians, explaining, "When I'm in pain, the (words) that come out of my mouth would curl your hair." (After five days of trial, the parties reached an undisclosed settlement.)


In West Hartford, Conn., three years after O.J. Simpson was acquitted, renowned lawyer Johnnie Cochran defended two Rottweilers accused of barking too much, but he lost the case. Cochran represented his friend Flora Allen (mother of basketball player and actor Ray Allen), whose dogs were the subject of numerous barking complaints, but he failed to persuade a judge to lift a 9 p.m. outdoor curfew on the dogs.


Letter carrier Martha Cherry, 49, was fired by the Postal Service in White Plains, N.Y., in 1997 after 18 years of apparently walking her rounds too slowly. Wrote a supervisor of the 5-foot-4 Cherry: "At each stop, the heel of your leading foot did not pass the toe of the trailing foot by more than one inch. As a result, you required 13 minutes longer than your demonstrated ability to deliver the mail to this section of your route."


Fort Smith, Ark., police arrested James Newsome, 37, in 1999 and charged him with taking money at gunpoint from the Gas Well convenience store. The robber's face was easily identified from the surveillance tape, and the coat worn by the robber was found in Newsome's car. Also, Newsome's wife said the family car had a radiator leak, and a puddle of antifreeze was found beside the store where the robber parked. And, also, the robber wore a hard hat with "James Newsome" on the front.


Electrical contractor Akira Hareruya, 36, whose company went bankrupt, had taken to working the streets of Tokyo in 1999, trying to earn back the money by inviting passersby to put on boxing gloves and take swings at him for the equivalent of about $9 a minute. He promised not to hit back, but only to try to evade the punches, and suggested that his customers further relieve their stress by yelling at him as they swing. He told the Los Angeles Times that he averaged the equivalent of about $200 a night.


In 1998, Josh Hempel, then 16, in Calgary, Alberta, became the then-latest person to be hit by lightning shortly after ending an argument by inviting God to strike him with lightning if he was wrong. (The subject of this argument was whether God exists.) He was hospitalized but recovered. And at the Bathgate Golf Club in West Lothian, Scotland, two months before that, Father Alex Davie was playing in the Clergy Golfing Society tournament when lightning struck the tip of his umbrella; then, when he sought refuge under a tree, lightning struck that, too. He suffered a sore arm but continued his round.


On the morning of Nov. 11, 1997, two best friends, ages 27 and 41, residents of Whitney, Texas, about 25 miles north of Waco, did what they often enthusiastically did when they encountered each other on the empty farm roads: They drove their pickups directly at each other in a game of chicken. That morning, they collided at about 60 miles an hour. The younger man was saved by his seatbelt; the older man, unbelted, died at the scene.


Purdy, Mo., banker Glen Garrett, 66, got in trouble in the 1990s and by 1998, according to a Springfield (Mo.) Business Journal report, had spent about $1 million in legal fees to fight federal regulators who had fined him because he wouldn't stop doing business as his father had taught him – that is, by handshake, rather than by the required formal paperwork. In one paperless deal, Garrett hired himself to construct a bank building, but that upset the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. because there were no competitive bids, even though an independent appraiser later said that Garrett built the bank for about $300,000 less than the market price.

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