Even El Nino cannot douse Southern California's ability to churn out an annual bounty of quirky stories. Here are some distinctly odd memories of 1997.
Richard Aller's return to work in August was welcomed as a great day for peanut lovers, not to mention Dodger fans. Aller is the veteran goober vendor whose sarcastic jibes and yells of "Nuts! Nuts! Nuts!" had echoed through the stadium since the day it opened in 1962. Earlier this year, two particular bags of peanuts landed Aller in a very sticky situation. Aller, who normally sells 300 bags per game, was fired for misappropriation of peanuts. The allegation was that he had purchased the two bags from fellow vendors who had gotten them for free as part of their stadium lunch allotment, and that he was planning to sell them for a $1-a-bag profit. Aller's firing was protested by fans, who contended that he is as much a part of the ballpark's atmosphere as any ballplayer. Administrators of Aramark Corp., who are in charge of food services at the stadium, agreed to Aller's return after negotiations with leaders of his union. "I'm just happy to be back. I'll be insulting everybody again," the Lakewood resident crowed on his return.
Pink Man, the beach's folk hero of the year, was a sight to behold. Even in Venice and Santa Monica, where chain saw jugglers are second nature, he earned stares. After all, how many men wear hot-pink leotard, pink cap and gloves and ride a unicycle through the crowds at the Third Street Promenade? Oh yes, he also shakes hands, sings songs and slaps high fives with natives and tourists alike. Pink Man, a.k.a. Michael Maxfield, said all he really wants is to spread good cheer. His creed: "I pink, therefore I am." However, the sometimes homeless East Coast transplant, 36, is not above making some money from his cartoon-wacky routine. He was hired to hand out fliers and semi-frozen juice drinks and made quick cycle-through appearances to jazz up the drinking scene at area bars. He even had a small role in an independent film as a very odd blind date.
The quirky angle of this year's Los Angeles Marathon was supposed to be the arrival of in-line skating as an authorized event. You know, the world was supposed to snicker at those weirdo Californians on their roller-blades. Reality, however, intervened. The real strangeness occurred in the women's more traditional footrace. The first female runner to reach the finish line was stripped of her gold medal for allegedly taking a shortcut. Russian runner Nadezhda Ilyina's explanation: She had to use the bathroom at a convenience store, forcing her to veer off the main route. Marathon organizers weren't buying it, and they named Lornah Kiplagat of Kenya the winner of the women's division. OK, there still was something odd about 2,000 grown-ups skating down an auto-free Figueroa Street. "It's like having your Harley full throttle on the open road," said one blader.
"I forgot." Those words rarely have had such scary, or putrid, results. A chiropractic student had taken home a few items from school, he said, for home study. He stored them in his Hermosa Beach garage, and supposedly forgot them when he moved away. The next tenants had a rude surprise in August when they opened those black plastic bags and found: one intact head, one partial skull, two right feet and legs, one left foot and leg, one partial pelvis, a left arm and hand and a right arm. Their horror led to a police investigation. "An overzealous student doing his homework," a police officer explained.
Lost and Found
Speaking of body parts, the case of downtown's missing skull was solved in late October. That's when the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County testily announced that its collection had long included the cranium--and several other bones--found 40 years ago at what is now the building site of a Roman Catholic cathedral. City and church officials previously described the human remains as mysteriously missing, and probably lost forever. The issue is touchy because some Native Americans contend that the bones prove that an ancient graveyard lies beneath the future cathedral property. An archeologist hired by the archdiocese thinks the bones were deposited on the site when the land was filled in the early '50s. As a result of the debate, excavation will include monitoring by Native Americans. Meanwhile, don't expect any special exhibits at the museum.