The old curiosity shop

In January, Britain's Tesco supermarket chain considered allowing its Hastings store to run a nude-shopping night after the normal closing hour. The idea was eventually vetoed because of the potential for mishandling of fresh fruits and vegetables. Four months later, Tesco issued a directive that farmers grow smaller melons, claiming that focus groups had revealed large melons made small-busted female customers feel inferior. Around the same time, the company applied ballistic tests to desserts after receiving a surge of inquiries asking which of its pies was best for throwing (answer: egg custard). And in June, the chain began a program to sew self-testing procedures for testicular cancer into men's underwear.

You're soaking in it

In July, a Tokyo beauty parlor, Avant, announced that it had invented the world's first washing machine for humans, consisting of a 7-foot chamber (covering all but the head) with 13 shower jets. An 18-minute session sells for about $8 and (according to a recent customer) makes the user feel like "a dish in a dishwasher."

Slavs to the Internet

According to a July dispatch from the Agence France-Presse news service, a group of Yugoslavs will announce on Sept. 9 the creation of a cyber version of their undivided, pre-1991 country, complete with citizenship papers, passports and (eventually, it hopes) United Nations membership. Cyber Yugoslavia has already signed up thousands, but will not occupy physical space -- except for approximately 20 square meters somewhere on Earth, where its Internet server (now at will be housed.

Addicted to plugs

The New York Times disclosed in June that approximately 2,000 obsolete, unfunctioning fire hydrants -- dry for almost 20 years -- remain in place in New York City, serving the sole purpose of allowing the city to collect revenue from motorists who park too close to them. Supposedly, a contractor will soon begin to remove them for a fee of approximately $3,000 each.

Reach out and touch someone

In May, a 32-year-old Austrian man was charged with tormenting women with obscene phone calls over the previous three years; he admitted to making 40,000 calls, which works out to 250 per week. A month later, Edward Lightfoot, 28, was charged with continuing to make obscene calls to women from a Michigan prison, where he is serving five years for stalking. In his prime, Lightfoot was said to have made as many as 200 obscene calls a day.

Limp argument

In May, the National Foundation for Ectodermal Dysplasias (disorders affecting the teeth, hair, nails and sweat glands of children) complained that it was hard enough to raise money for research for such obscure disorders without having Pfizer Inc. and its spokesman, Bob Dole, appropriate their tandem nickname, "E.D.," as a euphemism for impotence. The foundation started using the term in 1981.

Wake-up call

According to a March Chicago Tribune story, anywhere from 40,000 to 200,000 patients woke up during their surgeries in 1998, in possession of one or more of their senses (and sometimes feeling searing pain) but too immobilized by muscle relaxants to indicate to that they needed more anesthesia. According to a professor of anesthesiology, the frequent cause of the situation is doctors' restrained use of anesthesia due to fears of legal liability.

There's safety at stake

In March, the Rocky Flats nuclear cleanup site near Denver announced that it was packaging up more radiated waste than it had facilities for, and would have to store the steel drums in tents, perhaps until the year 2006. The Rocky Flats environmental manager said he was confident the tents could withstand 100-mph winds, and that the most lethal waste would be stored indoors, anyway. An official from the neighboring town of Bloomfield called the idea "ridiculous."

Home evasion

In April, Citizens Bank, the holder of the mortgage on Edward J. Brown's $90,000 Dartmouth, Mass., home, sold it at auction for $60,000 because Brown had dallied in paying the final $324 last year. He had made 299 of the 300 payments, but held off on the last one because he mistakenly thought having a mortgage reduced his legal liability. Brown also apparently ignored several letters and phone calls inquiring about the final payment.

The geek don't want no freaks

In April, Princeton University reaffirmed its appointment of Australian philosophy professor Peter Singer to a prestigious chair in bioethics, saying that "the strength of his teaching and his research" outweighed "any particular point of view" he holds. One of Singer's points of view is that parents have the right to kill severely deformed children in the first month of life.

Blowin' in the wind

Clean Air Act regulations announced by President Clinton in April mandate the return of national parks and wilderness areas to preindustrial purity, but only by the year 2064. States don't even have to decide on their plans until 2008. This program represents a frenzied acceleration by the Clinton administration: previous Environmental Protection Agency plans called for pure air in national parks by around 2190.

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