February’s here and you thought you could finally kiss 2013 goodbye. Well, that’s about as likely as keeping your pie-in-the-sky – or pie-off-the-plate, for you dieters – New Year’s resolutions.
Just when you thought you’d seen the last of those interminable year-end Top 10 lists – best movies, books, restaurants, cars, vacation spots, investments, inventions, places to live, places to avoid etc., here comes one more.
But this one is the Bottom 10, our annual compendium of wincingly embarrassing “news” that just might have put us on the wider map for a few seconds:
1. Christmas in jail was starting to look good: A 54-year-old Copperopolis man in December reported he had been assaulted and then robbed of $1,400 at knifepoint in The Junction shopping center. After he was taken by ambulance to the hospital for treatment of a forehead scrape and stomach pain, and after officers had scoured the area for suspects, the supposed victim came clean: He admitted he made the whole thing up because “he spent more money than he was supposed to and didn’t want his wife to know about it” and was promptly charged with making a false crime report. Here’s a wild guess: He didn’t spend the $1,400 on her Christmas present.
2. We can violate it, but you can’t pass it out: Want to make the national news, earn ridicule from talk show hosts across the nation and get sued? Do what campus cops at Modesto Junior College did last Sept. 17, which happens to be Constitution Day. They stopped a student, Army veteran Robert Van Tuinen, from passing out free copies of the Constitution to his fellow students. The reason? Van Tuinen was not in the college’s “Free Speech Area,” which was already being used by other free speakers and must be reserved in advance. Tail between the legal legs it lacked, the Yosemite College Board – which also runs the Columbia campus – said the whole thing was a big misunderstanding and, well, you can now speak freely pretty much anywhere on campus.
3. On the plus side, carbon credits may cut his sentence: A 45-year-old man in January was arrested on charges of drunk driving and theft after stealing an electric golf cart and five bottles of champagne from a Greenhorn Creek home, then heading out at 5 mph for his Sacramento-area home. He took a wrong turn and was nabbed by the CHP after 14 miles and no particulate emissions.
4. But Mike Tyson said it was OK: A caller in December reported that a man first choked his dog, then “bit its ear off” and finally, when the caller took exception, tried to run him over. Contacted by deputies, the alleged ear-biter said he was “only disciplining his dog because it had eaten his sandwich” and “that slightly biting a dog’s ear shows power of ownership.” As the deputy saw “no visible injuries” the case was closed.
5. Save that line for a jaywalking bust: “Don’t you have better things to do with your time, like chasing real criminals?” Repeated several times by a 59-year-old Sonora man arrested for DUI in May, the plea for leniency was undermined by the fact that the driver had plowed his pickup into the Sonora Police Station on Green Street, told officers he was “too drunk” to try the sobriety test, and, finally, blew three times the legal limit.
6. You sure the DA didn’t inhale? “Piecemeal evolution of ambiguity has rendered prosecution improbable.” With those words, murkier than a pothead’s memories of a 1975 Dead concert, Tuolumne County District Attorney Mike Knowles in May dropped drug-trafficking charges against the operators of a Sonora-area marijuana collective who had been busted in a high-profile raid two years earlier. In a postscript, the Sheriff’s Office last month returned the seized weed to the collective’s owners. More than two years in an evidence locker, the one-time suspects said without ambiguity, had not increased the product’s medicinal value.
7. This thief really was in hot water: A 49-year-old man wearing only a trench coat and socks was arrested for burglary and indecent exposure after the owner of the San Andreas home he had broken into tackled him on the driveway. The nearly naked burglar told deputies they’d find his clothes by the homeowner’s hot tub, in which he had been luxuriating before gathering up a flashlight, coins, batteries and other items he planned to steal.
8. And he won’t take your slingshots either: Triggering the biggest non-story of the year, Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele in January vowed never to enforce a non-existent federal law. In a letter to President Obama, Mele absolutely refused to “take guns away from law-abiding citizens.” Although weapon confiscation has not even a ghost of a chance of passage and although Congress has not moved an iota to stiffen gun laws since Sandy Hook, Mele’s letter spurred a short but furious local debate: “The Wild West is alive and well,” declared a critic. A fan thanked the sheriff for “helping take our country back” from sinister forces. Another writer focused on Mele’s grammar, saying his letter would have been shot full of holes by even a grade-school English teacher.
9. But the guy did pay for his groceries: A 77-year-old Columbia man in late February was charged with stealing an electric shopping cart from Sonora’s Safeway and trying to drive it to his home, some six miles away. He was about a tenth of a mile from the grocery store when a Sonora Police officer stopped him. He told the cop that Safeway had given him the cart “because he has trouble walking.” The store staff members said they hadn’t done so and in fact had no idea the cart was missing.
10. Maybe they adjourned to committee: No Bottom 10 list would be complete without an insect invasion, and The Great April Fly Swarm was 2013’s. The owners of several businesses on Sonora’s Washington Street early in the month complained of tiny flies by the hundreds. Public Works Director Bill Seldon trapped a few, concluded they had emerged from the city’s storm drains, and was charting a course of action when the flies disappeared as abruptly as they had arrived. Their origins remain a mystery, but because these particular insects “buzzed around in circles rather than flying from one place to another,” there’s some speculation they may be native to Washington DC.
Yes, there are 10 items in the above list and some of them really do strain credulity. But my eye for the absurd may not be as sharp as it once was, and I suspect I may have missed something really big and really stupid that made last year’s headlines. If you know of one or more such items, please forward the nominees and I’ll amend the list. Thanks in advance for your help on this dead-serious matter.