Dispatches > Quick Takes
Zuma Wire West photos/Newscom

Quick Takes

Oddball occurrences

Issue: "Millions cut down," Jan. 17, 2009

Fowl play

Authorities in Berlin encountered a scene that could have passed as a part of an Alfred Hitchcock horror flick: a two-room apartment stuffed with approximately 1,500 live parakeets. Prompted by the complaints of neighbors, local authorities raided the tiny apartment only to find a home "littered with feces, feathers and leftover food," said city veterinarian Margit Platzer. And birds. According to the city vet, animal control workers took nearly seven hours to net all the parakeets. Moreover, the huge bounty of birds left authorities looking for shelter space in the suburbs when they had exhausted city resources.

Get rich slowly

Blanche Vavra didn't have a get-rich-quick scheme. She didn't need one. Vavra, who never married, had no immediate family, and worked for 32 years in civil service for the U.S. government, died in April at age 90, willing her nest egg-$2.8 million-to 11 different nonprofit groups that received the first checks from Vavra's trust on Dec. 8. According to neighbors and a bank official who helped Vavra with the paperwork over the years, the Minnesota native scrimped and saved her way to her minor fortune-and apparently never spent it on herself. According to the Billings Gazette, neighbor Jerry Dobesh recalled when he had to force the elderly woman to turn on the furnace on a particularly blustery Montana night. Dobesh said she learned during her depression-era childhood to save every penny and reuse everything. Instead of buying a spade for her garden, Vavra sharpened the end of a broomstick with a knife. "All she knew about finance was be conservative," Dobesh told the Gazette. "She lived very plain and very sparsely."

Catching flak

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There is no official blimp season in West Sussex, United Kingdom, but Britons are grabbing for their shotguns anyway. Villagers in Ditchling angered by a giant blimp advertisement floating above their otherwise picturesque hamlet are trying to shoot down the huge inflatable. "This is a picturesque area, and looking over the country park is a delight all year round-but when that balloon is up, your eye is automatically drawn to it and it really spoils the scene," said local resident Martin Harris. Earlier in December, a local shot a hole in the blimp, temporarily grounding it until owners of Big Box Self Storage could patch it up and launch the 30-foot floating ad again.

Rock in a hard place

Officials with the American Museum of Natural History last month discovered a $15,000 diamond lodged in a vacuum cleaner bag. The gem belonged to Catherine Hart, who lost the stone when it became dislodged from her ring during a "Night at the Museum" overnight event earlier in December. On a hunch, museum officials had the cleaning crew check four dusty vacuum bags used to clean up after the event.

Flying high

The Singapore Flyer ferris wheel stands 541 feet high, has 28 bus-sized capsules for riders, and began operation in February as part of an effort to boost tourism to the island nation. What happened on Dec. 23 probably won't help. A short circuit brought the massive ferris wheel, the world's largest, to a halt for six hours, stranding 173 passengers high in the air. The passengers were reportedly given food and water during the wait and taken to waiting ambulances after the wheel regained power.

Road rage

A Suffolk, N.Y., police officer described him as "in a panic." That may be an understatement. Roshelle Ross and her husband were attempting to speed their way to a hospital on Long Island when Roshelle-through the pain of birthing contractions-finally convinced her husband to pull over and call for help. "I said to my husband, 'What do you mean, cross my legs?' I said, 'This baby is coming if I cross my legs or not,'" Ross told Newsday. Three pushes after the husband managed to flag down a cop, the officer helped the young couple welcome their first child, Johnell.

Signal flags

Dennis Shacklock wanted to make a point. He earned a police visit. Last month the Mercer County, Pa., resident flew his flag upside down to indicate his distress about the nation's economic crisis and the election of Barack Obama, of whom he is wary. When police officers showed up at his door to ask if everything was OK, and then offered some stern words about flag use, Vietnam veteran Shacklock replaced his upside-down message with a white flag signaling surrender.

Keystone kriminal

A San Antonio robbery suspect racked up four strikes as he tried to stick up a McDonald's fast food restaurant on Dec. 16. Initially, an employee working the register thought he was kidding. When the suspect insisted that he wanted money, the employee suggested that he should get a job. Riled by such sass, the robber brandished a box cutter and demanded the employee's wallet-which was empty. Apparently frustrated, the perp fled the scene, but police quickly captured him.


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