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Wide World of Weird

April 10, 1998

A weekly roundup of unusual news stories from around the globe:

Miracle Parrot: A Pennsylvania parrot that saved its owner and two dogs from a fire near Philadelphia has a new lease on life. Rupert the gray African parrot woke owner Lynn Norley just in time for her to drop her two dogs out a second-floor bathroom window, then jump to safety herself. Norley left the bird wrapped in a towel in the bathroom and assumed the worst. But hours later, firefighters found Rupert in the tub under fallen layers of insulation and bathroom tiles. He was wet, black from soot and weak from smoke inhalation. But he's now doing fine, although his voice isn't what it used to be.

Titanic Fanaticism: Two companies are building replicas of the doomed ocean liner for transatlantic passenger service. A South African company procured the original ship blueprints and hopes to have its replica set sail in late 1999. Meanwhile, a Swiss-U.S. partnership plans to send its Titanic clone on the original ship's route in 2002, the 90th anniversary of the deadly voyage.

In a related story, a middle-aged Australian woman has seen the movie "Titanic" more than 100 times. On weekends, she sits through three screenings a day.

Speaking of Drowning: A New York City woman narrowly escaped death last week in an elevator that crashed to the basement of a high-rise apartment and filled with water up to her chin. Her husband and the building superintendent heard her screams and enlisted the help of a construction worker to pry the elevator doors open. By the time she was rescued, the water had reached her chin, and she was holding her tiny Jack Russell terrier above her head so the dog could breathe, she said.

Macho Pansies: Fullerton cops wanted to change the name of Baker Avenue to Pansy Circle in an attempt to send gangs elsewhere. The cul-de-sac of apartments is home turf to the Baker Street Gang and is plagued by violent parties and lots of graffiti.

"We don't want this to be an attractive area for a gang," one officer said. "The other connotation [of pansy] besides a flower is something a gang wouldn't want to identify with." But some council members were afraid the name might offend homosexuals. As an alternative, one proposed rhododendron or chrysanthemum, saying those might be tough for graffiti vandals to spell. The matter will be reconsidered in two weeks.

The Old Man and the Ghoul: The ghost of novelist Ernest Hemingway is terrifying employees at his former estate (now a museum) outside Havana, according to witnesses who claim they've seen the phantom. Cuban authorities seem to think the tales will enhance the tourist appeal of the site where Hemingway lived from 1939 to 1960 and wrote some of his best-known works. But the three employees who gave the clearest descriptions of the ghost have taken a less positive outlook--and resigned.

Quick Hits:

* Biosphere 2, the giant glass-and-metal dome in Arizona, in which researchers study Earth's natural processes, is having its 6,500 windows washed, a monthlong task expected to cost $25,000.

* A Seattle-based Internet site that listed the names of high school students and how they should die has been taken down and law enforcement authorities are tracking its author, even though many regarded the site as a prank.

* Hong Kong may sterilize a colony of more than 1,000 macaque monkeys that have been reproducing at a rate of 10% a year--and occasionally attacking humans.

* Because California is the only state that allows people to use a fictitious name on their driver's license by filling out a form and paying an extra $12, there are five Santa Clauses and even one "Me" driving on state roads.

* Wide World of Weird is published every Friday. Off-Kilter appears Monday through Thursday.

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