The gypsies are coming, and thanks to the MBI patrons of Jerry's are not

Recently, Happytown™ found a terrifying note taped to its front door: "The Orlando Police Department wants to remind all of our residents to be on the alert for the annual migration of criminal families and individuals, commonly referred to as 'Gypsies,' who head for Central Florida in the winter."

Hide your kids! Lock up your women! Run for the … strip malls! The gypsies are coming!

Laugh if you want, but there's nothing funny about gypsies. Nor is there much romantic about them, so don't go there either. These aren't swarthy men hijacking camel caravans. And they're not those photogenic European urchins who pick your pockets on the bus to the Vatican. Oh no. These are gypsies that should strike fear into any law-abiding citizens' soul, friends, because some of them are hooked on drugs!

Their modus operandi is to go door-to-door bugging old people about roof work, driveway repair and the like. They ask for advance payment, do crappy work (if they do it at all) and abscond with the money. They also like to talk their way into seniors' homes and steal stuff, which is very, very mean.

Last year about three dozen Gypsy families camped near the Mall at Millenia, according to Orlando police, and used that as a base for their naughtiness all across the area. How do you avoid becoming a victim? Use this simple formula: Person asking for money upfront for home repairs = gypsy!

Still, questions remain: What exactly is a gypsy? Where do they come from? What's for lunch?

The answers, according to OPD: A member of a crime family famous for pulling its kids out of school in the seventh grade, marrying amongst themselves and communicating in a unique dialect; Eastern Europe generally, and Romania in particular; leftover goulash. In other words, you may be a ne'er-do-well who scams old people, but unless you meet the criteria above, you ain't no gypsy.

As OPD officer Evan Cantrall tells us, there are two different types of gypsies: The Travelers, who specialize in asphalt scams; and the Gypsies, who specialize in the distraction-and-burglary schemes. While he isn't too familiar with the Travelers, Cantrall says the Gypsies migrate here from South Carolina when the weather gets too cold, and usually stay in low-end hotels, though last year some moved up in the world and wintered in high-end apartments around Orlando.

"The ones who stay in Orlando will not do their crimes in Orlando," Cantrall says. The bad news is that the newest generation of Gypsies is more dangerous than its predecessors. "The older Gyspies, the older ones had ethics, if you'll give me the term," Cantrall says. "They may steal from you but they'll never hurt you. The younger ones have been introduced to drugs. They're doing like the rest of society's kids with drugs."

Makes us long for the good old days.

The Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation has apparently won one of its most embarrassing and pointless campaigns: shuttering Jerry's General Store.

In a letter to supporters dated Dec. 18, Jerry's owner Roxie Hanna announced that her landlords won't renew her lease for the mom-and-pop Union Park video store that sells and rents X-rated films. So it looks like Jerry's, which opened in 1976 and has been weathering MBI scrutiny since 1987 when store namesake (and Hanna's dad) Jerry Cooper himself was arrested on obscenity charges, will be out of business in February. It may or may not reopen in another location.

In 2002, MBI agents arrested Hanna along with her mother, Diana Cooper, and grand-aunt Eileen Hart on charges of distributing obscenity and racketeering. Jerry's has been around long enough to pre-date the county's obscenity laws, so MBI agents accused Hanna of earning an undefined "substantial portion" of her profits from porn. In a move designed to intimidate, the MBI tried to keep the three women in jail over Thanksgiving, but a judge didn't buy it. Seven months later the disgraced MBI – after a series of television reports – dropped the porn charges. Instead they filed tax-evasion charges against Hanna. She pleaded guilty to not paying $3,000 in sales taxes.

Hanna's troubles weren't over. "My criminal case is over, yet someone from the MBI is still contacting/intimidating the property owner's sister, and leading her to believe that there will be legal problems to face if they continue leasing to us," Hanna wrote in her letter to supporters.

Hanna says she is trying to convince her landlord, who lives out of town, that the MBI is bluffing. But so far she hasn't had any luck. "I'm so angry about it," she says.

So the MBI got their (wo)man. Except the vast expenditure of taxpayer resources is totally meaningless, and the tactics employed are sleazier than the DVDs Jerry's rents. The MBI must be very, very proud.

Happytown™ is saddened to note the death of one of Central Florida's premier radio journalists, 580 WDBO-AM's Keith Altiero, who died of cancer on Dec. 19. Altiero, 51, had a well-earned reputation as one of the area's most aggressive newshounds. "He was very animated in private and very calm and gentle in public," says WDBO colleague Mike Synan. "Nobody got to see the passion he worked with, especially when he was working a big story. He was really turning out great work."

Altiero is best-known for one huge scoop. Ten days before the 2000 election, he broke the story that Republican operatives were inside Seminole County election offices altering absentee ballot request forms. The story got him subpoenaed, and put him squarely in the middle of the recount fiasco.

His reporting also quashed a line of defense for Mary Hill, the Seminole County woman who wanted to claim that an accident that killed her daughter and a friend wasn't caused by reckless driving, but by a cruise-control defect in the BMW they were driving. But Altiero traced the car's vehicle identification number and found that the previous owner had fixed the cruise control in a recall, Synan says.

And one other shining moment: When the hordes of media converged on Daytona after Dale Earnhardt's death, Altiero – a noted race-car fanatic – stood head and shoulders above the rest, with insightful, in-depth and often technical reporting.

In 1999, when Altiero first joined WDBO, then-reporter (and now U.S. Rep. Ric Keller's chief of staff) Bryan Malenius was responsible for training him. The first day, Malenius was chasing a fluff piece on how lottery winners could invest their money. "I really thought Keith would be tagging along," Malenius says. As soon as the tape rolled, however, "Keith started firing off questions. He was never satisfied when somebody gave him an answer. He always had a follow-up."

Although Altiero battled cancer for years, he stayed on the air until three weeks before his death, when he began to lose his voice. "It's what he loved to do," Synan says. "That guy, he would get the stories nobody else I saw get."

It's time for the wild send-off to the year, and instead of pulling a fashion trick out of your sleeve, why not pull one out of your pants? See, wearing an exciting and unique pubic hairdo guarantees an out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new attitude. Plus you can keep it to yourself, or invite friends and make a party of it.

Depending upon your resources, a variety of shapes and styles are possible using waxing and other ordinary sorts of temporary hair-removal methods that are increasingly popular with men and women, straight and gay, young and old. Unstyled pubes are so 2003. Everyone who is anyone is sprucing up their nethers with bells, stick-on jewels, sequins and love lettering. How do we know? We just do.

Some über-cool trendsters, however, are taking it a step further and opting for permanent changes. Enter Ideal Images in Maitland, which has trademarked the term "flair do" for its brand of burned-away-for-all-eternity pubic designs. If nothing else, it makes asking for one a much less awkward experience.

For those who insist on making a literal statement, brevity is critical unless you've got a good-size canvas. We recommend researching e-mail emoticons for ideas. Our practical New Year's Eve favorite: \_/ ("my glass is empty.")

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