Fired-up firefighter

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Springfield, Mass., firefighter John S. Marrero, 25, was fired in October, and superiors said it had nothing to do with the charges of possession of crack cocaine and Oxycontin filed against him (in that he is innocent until proven guilty of those charges). Rather, he was fired because he was caught smoking a cigarette when the state trooper arrested him, and cigarette-smoking, on or off the job, is a violation of state law for any firefighter or police officer hired since 1988. A Plymouth, Mass., police officer was fired for the same reason in 1993, and a court upheld the firing.

Wang's on, wang's off

Taiwanese national Shuo Shan Wang, 29, pleaded guilty in December in Oak Park, Mich., to practicing surgery without a license, specifically the kitchen-table castration of a 48-year-old man who had found Wang's "service" on the Internet. Wang told police he had 50 such surgeries under his belt, but that this patient began to bleed uncontrollably after bursting out laughing while eating a post-operative piece of pie at Wang's house. Police recovered two testicles in a Tupperware container in Wang's refrigerator.

Dog and monkey show

Among the acts at the International Professional Rodeo Association's show at the Hardeeville (S.C.) Speedway in October was Tim Lepard and his sheep-herding dogs, which is not so novel, in that dogs are bred to herd sheep in some countries. But Lepard's three dogs were ridden during the herding by small, screaming monkeys. Said Lepard, "I wanted to put an act together that people will always remember."

Peril of monkeys

In November, the Longchi Scenic Area in southwestern China, apparently bowing to public pressure, canceled plans to put to sleep the five monkeys that had been terrorizing the park's visitors. According to the Commercial Daily newspaper in Chengdu, the park had become so exasperated by the marauding monkeys that it had been planning on a formal execution by firing squad. The park decided instead on faraway exile.

Pampered pooches

Based on a December Washington Post report, upscale pet hotels are open in New York, Hollywood and Fairfax County, Va., where the Olde Towne Pet Resort charges up to $230 a day for pooches' use of a hydrotherapy pool, state-of-the-art exercise room, beauty parlor and suites with satellite TV, classical music and original, color-pleasing artwork, even though dogs are basically color-blind. Products and services elsewhere on the pet-care market include gourmet pet food, heated dog beds, acupuncture and chiropractic treatments, herbal flea collars, water bowls with purifiers, and, according to a December Reuters dispatch from Tokyo, therapeutic mud packs for dogs, using mud from the Dead Sea.

Light in the head

The city council of Soap Lake, Wash., a 1,700-population town that did a booming tourist business in the 1950s but has fallen on hard times, voted in November the first step toward a revitalization that it believes will draw visitors back in droves: a 60-foot-tall lava lamp on Main Street. The architect of the campaign, Brent Blake, said, "I just for some reason thought of `a` lava lamp."

Block head

The Merced Sun-Star reported on Dec. 10 that an unnamed man was taken to a hospital in Modesto, Calif., after his head was split open by a brick. Police, called to the scene, were expecting to find foul play, but witnesses said the man was merely trying to see how high up he could throw a brick, and since it was dark (2:30 a.m.), the man lost track of the brick's flight and could not get out of the way when it came down on his head. Police said alcohol appeared to be involved.

Pay for roaming

A 30-year-old man was killed by a freight train on Oct. 12 when he walked across the tracks in Hermann, Mo. According to the coroner: "The engineer `blew the whistle` hoping he'd stop but ... he just kept walking. He was talking on a cell phone, and ... stepped right in front of the train."

Pee brained

Air Force Academy cadet Matt Bayless of Topeka, Kan., was expelled in April for honor-code violations. Among the charges was that Bayless had lied to his colleagues about the reason he kept certain jars in his room, which, it was finally revealed, was so he could urinate in them at night without having to walk down the hall to the bathroom. In December, the academy demoted Bayless to the enlisted ranks for three years.

Red lighting

In November, incoming Colombian defense minister Marta Lucia Ramirez rescinded the military's policy of encouraging the country's Marxist rebels to defect by airdropping sexy photos implying that the depicted women were waiting for them upon their surrender. Said Ramirez, "I, as a woman, add myself to `the protests of this policy`." The so-called FARC rebels, mostly men, are not allowed to have sex without permission of their commanders.

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