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Nuz of the Weird

[whitespace] DeCinzo cartoon

All the news of '97 that gave locals fits

By the Holy Order of the Nuzites
With illustrations by Steven DeCinzo

THERE ARE TIMELESS QUESTIONS that, no matter how often they are answered, must be asked again and again. Why is the sky blue? Is there a God? And, of course, how do they pronounce Nuz? May we suggest a simple mnemonic to help you remember. It should never rhyme with "snooze." Like, for example, "Did'ja read that snooze-piece in the Sentinel?"

Nope, Nuz rhymes with buzz. Or fuzzy. Yet another mnemonic: Think of this gentle yet wittily wise column as a plateful of dainty finger sandwiches stuffed with the latest "buzz," yet dished up in a warm and "fuzzy" cocoon of optimism and topped with a big ol' dollop of irreverence.

Or some such tortured metaphorical meal.

Yet it was not always so.

Back when Nuz was a mere zygote, barely more than a speck of desire in the Metro Santa Cruz owners' eyes, the proud parents envisioned a serious, newsworthy prodigy. Someday the little tot would grow up to win the Pulitzer, no doubt. But the bigshots never counted on the damaging influence a puerile editor and malcontented writers would have on their precious offspring.

In no time, the toddler known as Nuz was setting fires, torturing small animals and public officials and generally embarrassing its elders with endless pee-pee and caca jokes.

At wit's end, the grown-ups called in a disciplinarian for the now out-of-control Nuz--an editorial equivalent of military boarding school, if you will. Riding crop a-quivering, the new news editor surveyed his surly charge and demanded that Nuz wipe that smirk off its face.

Sadly, Nuz became ... "snooze." Writers dozed off trying to construct proper sentences while readers suggested ever more creative--yet anatomically impossible--uses for this once-proud column. Ouch!

But just like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, the troubled yet spunky little column finally triumphed while the meddlesome stuffed shirts sailed over the cliff to a fiery death on the jagged rocks below. Okay, okay, wishful thinking. But they did learn a lesson in futility and (hankie-dab to the eye, crescendo of violin music), Nuz was saved.

With a newfound swagger, cigarette dangling insolently from lips and a new tattoo, the column strode towards a future as vast and promising as a freshly painted wall begging to be grafitti'd.

Herewith, in roughly chronological--if not scatological--order are the high points (so few) and low points (a vast expanse) of that Dennis the Menace of SC media: Nuz, 1997.

The English Impatient

It was to be a lovely day at the movies, don't you know. But, reports an aggrieved Nuz tipster, it turned out to be anything but. Arriving at the Rio Theatre for a matinee showing of The English Patient Sunday before last, tipster and friend gathered up armfuls of popcorn, soda, Jujubes, Junior Mints and God-knows-what else, then took their seats. Yet instead of viewing the movie at its appointed showing time, they were treated instead to an usher's announcement that the projector was broken--no show today.

OK, things break, figured said tipster. But what really put a burr under our buddy's saddle was the usher's inadvertent admission that his crew had been working on the projector for 45 minutes--long enough to know it wasn't going to work and long enough to make sure everyone spent many bucks at the concession stand.

OK, it's not on the scale of the Watergate break-in, but we're always happy to investigate the smaller conspiracies, too. A call to the venerable theater got us assistant manager Shanti Blanc and much, much more info than we bargained for. Yep, he admitted, on a good weekend matinee the Rio sells $300-$500 worth of junk food before the show.

But, we wondered, did management purposely not tell theatergoers of mechanical problems for this nefarious reason? What a can of worms we opened up with this question.

After insisting that it took only a couple of minutes--not 45--to realize there was a problem, the 20-year-old Shanti, whose name is Sanskrit for "peace," was feeling anything but. "We get yelled at for everything," he began. "I'm trying to do the best job I can, and we just get shit upon." The young manager attributes part of the public's callous attitude towards his employees to the prevailing attire: "We wear these Taco Bell uniforms, and just get thrashed."

Spam Slam

Much to the chagrin of the folks at Hormel Foods (the makers of the infamous tinned meat product), the word "Spam" is a pejorative term on the Internet. In addition to representing a mixture of pork shoulder, ham, water, sugar and sodium nitrate, "spam" is a pseudonym for mass quantities of unwanted email. If you open your mailbox and find thousands of identical messages, you've been "spammed."

The name, according to infamous online reporter Brock Meeks, comes from the old Monty Python sketch about the restaurant that serves everything with Spam (spam and eggs, spam and ham, spam and spam ... you remember).

Meeks reported last week in his online column, CyberWire Dispatch, that Hormel execs have essentially resigned themselves to sitting around helpless as their product is showered with electronic ridicule (with the exception of the company's attempts to reign in unauthorized Spam-related Web sites). "Unfortunately, there is so little we can do about it," Hormel spokesperson Mary Harris told Meeks.

Perhaps the most fun for the public--and most unnerving to the Spam folks--are the thousands of other Spam references on the Net (Harris calls most of 'em "plain, unadulterated garbage").

For instance, check out these "spam hikus" (spelling isn't a priority online) that Meeks found:

    Soft, pink, newborn joy,
    glistening within steel tomb
    What? No placenta?

    Highly unnatural
    The tortured pink shape of this "food":
    A small pink coffin

Here are some other interesting Spam facts reported by Meeks:

  • More than 110 million cans of Spam are produced every year.

  • Some 435 cans are consumed per minute in the USA.

  • Hormel sells Spam ties and boxer shorts through its gift catalog.

  • The company also has a singing group called the Spamettes, that turns popular songs into "Spam" songs. The group, Harris told Meeks, is a big attraction during the company's annual July 4 "Spam Jam."

  • Hormel took the Muppets to court last year over the planned introduction of a pig character named Spa'am in an upcoming Muppets' movie. Agreeing with a lower court, a US Appeals Court ruled, more or less, that Hormel should improve its sense of humor.

Online rogue reporter Brock Meeks covers news related to technology and the Internet. To get CyberWorld Dispatch, send email to majordomo@cyberwerks.com and type "subscribe CWD-L" in the first line of the message.

Blue Balls

Don'tcha just hate laundry day? More annoying than watching the dryer go round and round, is spending hard-earned bucks on stinky, creek-polluting laundry detergent. That was Aptos resident Valerie Watt's attitude at least, so she was tickled to learn about the "Laundry Solution" at a recent health fair at Palookaville. Its makers, Trade Net Marketing, promised that when their little blue ball--filled with "structured water"--was tossed in the wash, it would replace the need for detergent. And, since it would last at least 1,500 washes, think of the money you'd save.

Say no more, said the laundress, and immediately signed up for a free demonstration. Before you could shout "white tornado," salesperson (or sales counselor, as they now like to be called) Dan LaRochelle appeared at the local Laundromat with his blue balls to demo a load of Watt's dirty laundry.

"I didn't notice a difference," admits Watt, but LaRochelle explained that the soapless sphere didn't replace pre-wash detergent. Also, in addition to the "laundry solution," she could purchase "optical brighteners" (which sounded suspiciously like detergent) from his company.

Well, Watt signed up anyway, then discovered it was a--you guessed it--multilevel marketing scheme. Watt could reap clean socks and untold wealth if she could sell others on selling the little blue balls.

"I realized it was a scam when I got to the part in the literature that said that the process is patented, but the patent is secret to protect the inventor," remarks the admittedly gullible gal. She sent her laundry solution back to LaRochelle demanding her money back, then dropped by the county's Consumer Affairs Unit to lodge a complaint.

When contacted, LaRochelle explains the mix of Newtonian physics and New Age thought that power his blue balls. "The liquid is like a homeopathic remedy," he says. "When the water inside behaves a certain way, it gives off a negative charge and breaks up the hydrogen bonds."

And, yes, one can make "$1,000 to $10,000 a week, comfortably," pushing these wonder orbs, boasts LaRochelle.

But don't bother calling company owner Irwin Annau for an interview. "The founders would refrain from articles, because this is a suppressed technology," warns LaRochelle. "Big companies like Procter & Gamble will buy a product and take it off the market."

SC Assistant District Attorney Morgan Taylor is delivering a missive to the Florida-based company to put up or shut up. "In order to make a claim like that," Taylor says, "they need to come up with some research for it."

If Trade Net Marketing can't, figure on seeing the little blue balls lobbed out of town.

DeCinzo cartoon

Astro-Nut or Not?

At a recent court hearing in Santa Cruz County Superior Court, Jim Hardy, the attorney for astronaut James Lovell, didn't do what Nuz considered the obvious and ask the judge to dismiss Soquel-based conspiracy writer Bill Kaysing's improbable libel lawsuit against his client. Instead, Hardy and Kaysing agreed to an October trial date, giving the lawyer plenty of time for discovery--legalese for dirt-digging. (In court papers, Lovell's lawyers suggest they may ask for a dismissal after discovery is "substantially completed.")

Kaysing, who wrote a book called We Never Went to the Moon, filed what amounts to a nuisance suit against the astronaut last year following a Metro (San Jose) article in which Lovell called the writer "wacky." Legal experts contacted by Nuz agree that calling someone "wacky" does not a successful libel suit make. If anything, Kaysing's wild accusation that Lovell is a liar who participated in a government conspiracy to fool the public is infinitely more harsh than being called wacky.

If Lovell prevails, as is likely, Kaysing may have to pay for the astronaut's legal costs--and they probably won't be cheap. Not to fear, the 74-year-old Kaysing reassures Nuz. He's already broke. "If you're going to fight the government, you've got to get rid of all your possessions and money," says Kaysing, who lives in an 18-foot trailer with his wife, Ruth. Ruth's battle with Parkinson's disease has forced Bill to max out his credit cards to pay for medical costs not covered by Medi-Cal.

Despite the odds, Kaysing is preposterously confident. "Open and shut case," he proclaims. He insists Lovell damaged his credibility and should pay for doing so.

But how much credibility can someone who believes the first moon-landing was a staged hoax filmed by 2001: A Space Odyssey director Stanley Kubrick command?

Nuz just hopes Kaysing consults someone other than his attorney, which happens to be himself.

Smells Like Teen Toilet

Peee-eww! Did y'all catch a whiff of downtown Monday morning? Strongest at the corner of Highway 1 and River Street in Santa Cruz, it was still plenty noticeable at the Nuz bunker on Union Street. "Rotting flesh," was how one office mate described the odor. "Rotten eggs," ventured another.

Nuz's attempts to determine the source of the nose-scruncher from the county's Office of Environmental Health met with little success. OEH sends air-quality complaints 30 miles south to the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District. A call to that office from downwind got us Dave Frisbey, air quality compliance inspector. "I've had complaints for a while from that area," notes Frisbey, who adds that the smell is gone by the time he gets to Santa Cruz.

To find the offender, Frisbey taps into his inner bloodhound. "I follow the wind," he explains. "Then I try to track down the possible sources." Unfortunately, he adds, "I've never been there when the odor is."

At least one unhappy neighbor has his sniffer out of joint about the problem. Attorney Jeff Alford, whose offices are smack at the corner of River and Highway 1, says he's been smelling a "nauseating odor" off and on since he's been at that location--about a year and a half. Alford has raised a stink with the air district three or four times, but says the smell has always dissipated by the time someone arrives.

Eat Me, Sweetie

Lickable. Edible. Paintable. Wearable. Valentine's gifts have come a long way from a box of chocolates and sappy Hallmark cards. Best selection goes to Frenchy's Cruzin' Books and Video, SC's only dedicated sex store. You'll also find erotic toys, goodies and lingerie for him and her at Camouflage, Herland Bookstore--no underwear, but they know what women like--and Victoria's Secret and Frederick's of Hollywood (both in the Capitola Mall).

This year's most bizarre erotic Valentine's gift: Velcro sheets from Camouflage. Stick whatever body part where ever. (Is this pleasure ... or is it pain?)

Other new dimensions to the phrase "oral gratification": edible undies (Camouflage, Frederick's, Frenchy's), "naughty" chocolate nipples (Camouflage), breast- or penis-shaped suckers and pasta (Marinara or Carbonera sauce? Don't ask), body butter, flavored massage oils and edible condoms (all available at Camouflage and Frenchy's).

Safe sex to the max: Paint your partner head-to-toe in latex available at both Frenchy's and Camouflage. Or, tastier yet, do it with chocolate: Body chocolate from Marini's (1308 Pacific, SC) comes in a jar with directions (i.e., don't overheat) and paintbrush.

"We're not promoting anything erotic," cautions Carol Marini, who suggests trying their cherry cordials. "Now that's something really sensuous."

Sweetheart Deal

You can't say our local gendarmes don't have a sense of humor, even if it is dark and cruel. Seems the Santa Cruz Police department's Neighborhood Enforcement Team staged a prostitution sting on lower Ocean for--you guessed it--Valentine's Day.

Cupid's arrow found its way to the thwarted hearts--or some such organ--of a dozen men. Our paper of record, the Santa Cruz County Sentinel, has adopted the policy of not printing the names of those so stung. The Sentinel's chief enchilada, editor Tom Honig, has previously explained to Nuz that this is because his paper hasn't the staffing to follow these arrests through to see if charges are ever dropped. So noted.

DeCinzo cartoon

Bone of Contention

That burning smell in the air last week was merely the phone lines between the prestigious Nuz world headquarters and our paper of record, the Santa Cruz County Sentinel. Seems like our tidbit last week implying that the Sentinel names prostitutes who are busted, but not the johns, raised the ire of editor Tom Honig.

According to the daily's Big Kahuna, the paper's policy is to name neither hooker nor hooked. Well, sort of. "Our policy is clear on sweeps [arrests of several individuals at one time]," explains Honig. "As far as our prostitution arrests, we'd try to apply the same standards."

Honig reviewed his paper's coverage on those buying and selling the Dirty Deed, and sez both parties got their names in the paper during 1995. But last year finds both going nameless, except if, as Honig explains, "the overriding public interest determines if they should be named." Think SCAN's John Robbins, and Soquel Lomée's "Fireman" Bill Grace and Valerie Knight.

So, did we screw up? In all this confusion, as Dirty Harry would say, we kinda lost track ourselves.

More Smarmy Moralizing

Our Nuz item that ran after a recent prostitution sting revealed more than a few Johns' names. It also got the attention of a few members from watchdog group Neighbors of Lower Ocean, who wanted to let us know about their community effort, the delightfully named Embarrass the Johns Project.

Apparently, some folks on floozy-filled Riverside Avenue have been taking turns keeping an eye out for those romantic trysts, then recording information such as time of day, descriptions and, most tellingly, license plate numbers of the suspected Johns.

No, they're not weird voyeurs, nor thin-lipped puritans, according to Riverside resident Linda Rosewood Hooper, but rather neighbors intent on reclaiming their neighborhood. "We're focused on the neighborhood quality issue," says Hooper. "It's not about morality or sex workers' rights."

Both Hooper and neighbor Michelle Mugnier complain of men cruising by slowly, trying to entice them and any woman walking down the street into a quick transaction. "We are paying taxes like everybody else," says Mugnier. "There's no reason why we should put up with that."

So far, more than 50 license plate numbers have been collected and databased by Michelle's husband, Andre Mugnier.

Unfortunately, there's been a bit of a mix-up on exactly what to do with that damning information. Santa Cruz Police Chief Steve Belcher noted that letters might be sent out to the owner of an offending license plate, notifying the person that his--or her--vehicle was used in procuring the services of a prostitute. But since neighbors were not given training and clear parameters on how to collect info on suspected sex transactions, no letters have been sent.

No doubt finding a letter like that sandwiched between the PG&E bill and Valu-Pak coupons could get the perp screwed all over again. Therefore, it is not surprising that the American Civil Liberties Union also expressed some concern about this approach. "What this is about is an attempt to deter criminal activity where there is no probable cause to arrest," says John Crew, the San Francisco ACLU's director of police practices project. "[But] are you using police powers in an overly heavy-handed fashion so as to offend individual private interest?"

For the record, neighbors give high marks to the coppers for their efforts to clean up the area around Lower Ocean. Following a series of drug stings, Hooper reports, "Drug sales have gone down. I haven't seen anybody in the last year selling on the main corner."

Bathroom Reading

Nothing impresses Nuz more than solid urban planning yoked to the virtue of civic mindedness. So when we heard a rumor that Redtree Properties, developers behind Capitola's controversial Bay Avenue strip mall, was offering to throw a public library into the deal, we got downright giddy. Who cares if it's merely a cheesy bargaining chip? We say yes to Capitola village, no to Capitola village idiots.

But where would this bastion of literacy go? Apparently, ex-Capitola City Councilmember Mick Routh, who now works as a consultant to Redtree Properties, had a novel suggestion: Let's build the sucker on top of the sewage pump station located next door to Nob Hill Foods.

Although Routh couldn't be reached by press time, we were too flushed with excitement to let this little log of news float by.

We got a handle on Redtree spokesperson John Tremoulis, who explains, "[Routh] was just asking what people would like there."

And would young minds be exposed to all that crap?

"He mentioned [building] on top of the pump station, but I don't think it would work," says Tremoulis. "I think there would be better places than that."

Hmmm, how about where Borders Books was supposed to go?

No Noise Is Good Noise

Now, lemme see. Is it those guys driving by with their hip-hop blasting loud enough to jar your molars loose? Or is it the dimwit neighbor that kick-starts the leaf blower at 6am on Sunday? Face it, there's an Olympic-size pool of candidates to pick from for Noise Polluter Most Justly Deserving of a Blindfold, a Cigarette and a Hollow-Point Between the Eyes.

Unfortunately--most unfortunately--summary execution of those inconsiderate of our peace and quiet is discouraged. But make no mistake, it's a war--and the good news is, we've got someone fighting for the right to remain silent: Billy Ray Boyd, author of the Silent Majority's bible, Noise and Your Health (1996, Taterhill Press, San Francisco).

Reached by phone at his home in San Francisco, Boyd rattles off juicy factoids about this eardrum-bustin' epidemic.

"Did you know noise can cause high blood pressure?" he asks. "Is a danger to the unborn? Can aggravate aggression?"

Hmmm, aggression?

So, here's your chance to throw open the window, lean out and whisper (or better yet, just think), "We're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!" Join your brothers and sisters throughout the world for the Second Annual International Noise Awareness Day and put a sock in it for exactly 60 seconds at 2:15 Wednesday, April 30.

In other words, just shut up for a minute. Please.

DeCinzo cartoon

What Is the Sound of Left Wings Flapping?

There was squawkin' and flappin' a-plenty when two local progressive leaders let the feathers fly in front of Cocoanut Grove Friday before last.

This particular cockfight pitted our favorite Duke of Diversity, Tony Hill, against Lee Murray, cameraperson for Community TV gabfest Community Perspectives.

Troubles began when Community Perspectives wanted to cover famed frogman Jean-Michel Cousteau's speech on behalf of the controversial Marine Research Center Project (aka Terrace Point).

According to CP associate producer Dawn Pappas, her show had been promised four tickets to cover the event. But Hill, newly hired "diversity consultant" for Wells Fargo's proposed marine lab/housing project, said no dice--he was already videotaping the fishfest for CTV.

But CP reporter Joan Peros and lensman Murray showed up anyway and tried to nail the ocean-loving Cousteau for an interview, an effort quickly thwarted by an indignant Hill. After the event was over, Murray says, Hill came up to Peros and told her again he didn't appreciate their presence. Murray turned the video on Hill, who apparently didn't appreciate that, either--he knocked the camera aside.

Needless to say, accounts vary wildy at this juncture in the tale of the progressives' punch-out.

The Maestro of Multiculturalism gave a rather long-winded version of the story, then "retracted" it on advice of his attorney.

(Nuz had never before heard of a public figure "retracting" comments to the press, but decided to flex our nice-guy muscles rather than go to the mat for such small potatoes.)

Readers are left with only Murray's side of the story: "[Hill] struck the camera and knocked it into my face," Murray says. "Then he grabbed the camera and threatened to break it."

Murray filed assault charges with the local gendarmes.

Those in the know say that this is only the latest example of feudin' and fussin' between Hill and CP producer Charles Reid, which reportedly dates back to when the two served on CTV's board together recently.

Marine Research Center's PR officer Mike Wallace says that after disinviting the CP gang, he got a message on his answering machine from an angry Reid stating, "You're going to be sorry if you don't let us in."

Speaking of sorry, Murray says he's willing to drop the charges and let bygones be bygones if Hill will kiss and make up.

Image Problem

Making your mark of individuality has become almost pedestrian in a town so well-stocked with nutcases ... er ... I mean "free spirits." So why are DeAnza Mobile Home Park honchos coming unglued over a little mural that retiree Mardi Bennett commissioned for the front of her mobile home?

The painting, a whimsical scene of African animals fishing off a pier (don't ask), has the powers-that-be hauling in lawyers and threatening "extreme measures" against Bennett and her mark of distinction.

"I looked into the regulations and found nothing against a mural," says the affronted art-lover. And considering that the giraffe, elephant and zebra are facing nothing but the big blue Pacific, it's not clear who is being offended by this slap in the face of civic order.

According to Bennett's attorney, Austin Comstock, DeAnza managers are basing their complaint on a section of park regulations that demand prior approval for "exterior color schemes."

"I suppose you could call the roof of the Sistine Chapel a color scheme, or a mural by Diego Rivera a color scheme," steams art-defending attorney Comstock. "My contention is they couldn't fashion a rule to stop this expression."

Neither DeAnza attorney Paul Jenson or manager John Lisac returned repeated phone calls for comments.

Snail Mail Fraud

Maybe they're loathsome garden pests to you, but for Carol Meilicke, snails promised a slime-encrusted path to riches.

The Santa Cruz resident decided to crawl out of her shell and take a risk by getting in on the ground floor of the rapidly expanding gourmet escargot business. So Meilicke sent $450 to--what else?--the Snail Club of America, then waited for her precious 'cargo to arrive. Unfortunately, says Meilicke, half arrived dead and the other half came with no directions.

After several phone calls and letters to the company's founder, "Snail King" Ralph Tucker, the irate would-be entrepreneur finally contacted Santa Cruz County's Office of Consumer Affairs.

"Tucker promised to send us virgin snails, a video and instructions," complains the failed snail gal. "I tried to figure out how to keep the rest alive, but within two or three months, they died."

Well, not all of them.

Apparently Meilicke's "snail oasis" collapsed in last spring's heavy rains, and, says the unsuccessful mollusk maven, "Now they're all in my back yard."

The Fresno-dwelling Snail King is steaming over these slimy charges.

"[Meilicke] wouldn't do what I told her," Tucker says. "Number One: I told her to keep the snails away from the sand. If they have sand, they'll dig a hole and lay eggs and they'll get grit in 'em."

The Sultan of Slugs knows of whence he speaks. Tucker has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and People magazine, and says he is now working with Hollywood on a five-part special on snails.

"I know more about snails than anyone in the world," Tucker boasts. "I know how to dissect 'em, cook 'em and how to get people to eat 'em."

Meilicke says she'd be willing to take the King up on this latter skill: "I'm willing to 'eat' the snails. He can deduct 60 cents a snail--just give me $270 back."

However, the King does not like being prodded. "I'm going to give her a settlement, but I'll do it when I damn well want to. It's a sad thing," he muses. "I have a system for screening folks for the Snail Club--they have to meet certain standards. But I went against my better judgment and accepted [Meilicke]."

Dog Days

Time for the Santa Cruz Police Department to dust off the old department-issue water bowls and pooper scoopers, dry and unburdened for two years now. That's when the last K-9 unit disbanded, leaving the SCPD with nothing but empty collars and limp leashes.

But not for long. According to recently anointed K-9 Program Administrator Lt. Joe Haebe, Thor and Asco are coming to town-- $8,000 worth of European-bred male German Shepherds trained to search buildings, track suspects and guard officers.

Scheduled to hit the streets in late August, the new recruits and their bipedal counterparts, officers Brad Hillier and Martin Brandt, are currently in the final weeks of training at Witmer-Tyson, a K-9 training facility located in Redwood City.

The Sheriff's Department might beat SCPD to the punchline, though. According to Sheriff spokesman Kim Allyn, the Sheriff's Department already has a narc dog on duty and is just a couple of weeks away from seeing its two new black German Shepherds parading around town in the specially air-conditioned back seats of certain patrol cars.

But will the Sheriff's dogs be the local celebrities Thor and Asco are sure to become?

It's hard to tell. SCPD knows the public relations value of furry mammals, and so Hillier's and Brandt's cars will bear the K-9 insignia of a dog's head as well as their four-footed occupants' names.

There goes Thor. Here comes Asco. See how it works?

DeCinzo cartoon

Finger Tainting

All Lucrecia Gomez wanted to do was cash her check at her bank. All Bank of the West wanted was Gomez's fingerprints in exchange. What the outraged bank customer discovered was a growing--and some privacy buffs say--troubling trend towards an ID system once the province of law-and-order types.

In Gomez's case, the bank made an error--the young woman had an account with that bank. But more banks are relying on Touch System, an inkless fingerprinting system for non-customers who want to cash checks where the payer has an account.

And, according to Beth Givens, director of the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, banks are not the only ones getting their--or your--fingers into the act. She notes that SoCal mega-supermarket chain Von's has targeted 20 "high-risk" stores and implemented fingerprinting systems for check writers.

"For many people, it's an invasion of privacy because they link [finger printing] with the stigma of criminality," notes Givens. "Another objection is people don't know what's done with those fingerprints."

Yet businesses say they have more than enough reason to implement fingerprinting. According to figures released by the San Diego Police Department, 60 million rubber checks bounced last year, costing consumers over $10 billion bucks.

And Robin Gysin of Santa Cruz Consumer Affairs, who says her office has gotten a few calls about this new trend, adds that banks alone lose about $600 million a year in bad paper. "People don't like their fingerprints taken, but honestly," asks Gysin, "what are you going to do with them?"

That is the question that haunts ACLU of Northern California attorney Alan Schlosser. "There's statutory regulations around DMV [and its use of fingerprints for licenses]," notes Schlausser. At this point, there is nothing--except ethics, perhaps--that would prevent a bank or grocery store from selling such information.

Bankers' ethics? That thought alone makes some people squirm.

Why Johnny Can't ADD

Those of us who can't follow a thought to its conclusion if our life depended on it now have an officially designated disorder. While others have merely thought us rude and inconsiderate because we tend to cut folks off in the middle of their sentences with a totally unrelated thought, or walk off in the middle of a conversation, we now are recognized as victims of Attention Deficit Disorder.

Once the clinical diagnosis of rotten kids with no manners, ADD has found its label affixed to more and more adults. While some blame everything from food additives to an information-overloaded society, others are trying to figure out how to focus attention on getting focused.

Riding to the rescue brandishing a biofeedback machine is Steven Padgitt, Ph.D., and his Brainwave Treatment Center, which relies on biofeedback to get folks to listen up. Padgitt swears that working with biofeedback can help not only ADD but autism and Tourette Syndrome. Well ... um ... where was I?

Oh, yes. Those wishing to attend a free presentation on ADD and biofeedback may check out Dr. Padgitt Wednesday evening at 7pm--no truth to the rumor that the presentation will only last ten minutes--at the McPherson Art and History Auditorium in Downtown Santa Cruz.

You're Fired!

The Santa Cruz County Fair is here again, conjuring up mouth-watering visions of sticky-sweet cinnamon rolls, strawberry pie and finger-lickin' good barbecue. Uh, actually, scratch that last one.

Ever since the tragic disappearance of the legendary Smokin' Jim barbecue stand about two years ago, fairgoers have been forced to battle their way through half-cooked, soaked-in-tomato-ketchup ribs and chicken served up by a certain volunteer organization that shall go unnamed.

Although we applaud volunteers for having their hearts in the right place, it must be said that in this case, barbecue tongs and spatulas in the hands of middle-aged white guys constitutes assault with a deadly weapon.

Nuz got to wondering just how these booths get picked--or not--and decided to drop a dime to the fairgrounds office. The spokesperson, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that booths are accepted based on their fairground track record, and, of course, how good their food is. Noting that Smokin' Jim's non-return was a "mutual decision," the spokesperson also added that Jim's replacement was one of the top grossing food booths last year--to the tune of $20,000 in one week, to be exact.

There's no accounting for some people's taste.

Getting Moist

The end of summer means the end of tourists, which can be good, and the end of interesting street performers, which can be either good or bad. Most of the enjoyable ones follow the warm weather (the Australian pianist, the Hurdy Gurdy Man, the Basque accordionist). That leaves downtown dwellers with the World's Worst Violinist--you know who I mean--or Phil Free, whose caterwauling would make even a nun want to bitch-slap him and shove that guitar up where the sun don't shine.

But riding to the rescue brandishing mismatched bar glassware and a gallon of water is Peter Bennett, a self-described "busker of note" who plays musical glasses.

Bennett showed up a few days ago in front of New Leaf Market with a lineup that featured a few shot glasses, a chimney glass and several brandy snifters. The street performer then rubbed his finger along the moistened rims to knock out such classics as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and that old Nuz favorite from The Sound of Music, "Do Re Mi."

The musician is even handier with his tongue than his middle finger, it appears. According to his press release, Bennett has appeared as solo whistler for the B.C. Pops Orchestra (Binghamton, NY) on Real People and That's Incredible.

Although Mr. Talented will also be moving along some day, you can order one of his tapes, titled--what else?--A Touch of Glass.

DeCinzo cartoon

Tastes Like Chicken

We here at Nuz are always on the lookout for ways our esteemed readers can make a buck in this town besides the Big Three industries: pulling espresso, panhandling and growing pot. Courtesy of a press release from Ken Holyoak of Alapaha, Georgia, we think we've hit pay dirt. According to the fine Mr. Holyoak, it's a business opportunity that's growing in leaps and bounds: bullfrog farms!

"Things are hopping around here," chuckles Holyoak, obviously enjoying his joke as much the 500th time as the first. The proud purveyor of Frogs Unlimited believes there's a potential market for 6,000 tons of the croakers, gracing everything from dinner tables to dissection slabs.

Holyoak insists that entrepreneurs can start their frog farm in carports, lean-tos or basements--typical student living quarters in Santa Cruz--and his domesticated frogs have learned to eat pellets, saving farmers the effort of catching thousands of flies a day for their bullfrog herds.

Asked why he likes the wart-inducing amphibians so much, Holyoak gets downright mushy. "They're the sweetest lil' fellers you ever seen in your life," he drawls, then proceeds to describe their mating habits. "They got lil' hands and they'll squeeze the eggs out [of their mate]. Then they'll fertilize them."

Apparently, folks from all over the world are coming to study at the webbed feet of the master. Holyoak reports a young man from France is there right now, learning about frogs.

France, frogs--naaah, too easy.

Sorry, no webbed site yet. But call Frogs Unlimited at 912/532-6135. We think it's a great way to have fun, and, as the big frog said to the little frog: "Time's fun when you're having flies."

Pine Nut

Nature hasn't been kind to Robert Wander. On September 6, Wander, down from his Orinda home, was tooling along West Cliff Drive near the corner of Santa Cruz Street in his three-month-old Montero when calamity struck from on high.

Without warning, without provocation, a renegade pine cone fell from a tree next to the road and dented the hood of Wander's four-wheeled (and did we mention brand-new?) steed.

Wander seized the softball-sized pine cone as evidence and rushed the dented Montero to a body shop. On Oct. 4, he presented the City of Santa Cruz with a liability claim in the amount of $601.80.

"The dent has the impression mark of pine cone segments," Wander wrote in his claim, "and I have the pine cone itself."

Wander's logic reads like this: Since the tree was on public property, it's the responsibility of the City of Santa Cruz to trim its branches and prevent such grievous mishaps.

City Risk Manager Jack Hain recommended to the Santa Cruz City Council that it reject Wander's petition. "There was no negligent act of any employee," he says. "It was a natural condition of the tree." If Wander wanted to pursue the matter further, says Hain, he would have to file a lawsuit.

Wander seems resigned to his fate. "I don't want to fight City Hall," he says tiredly. "I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Carved in Stone

In a burst of journalistic caution while reporting a story about theft in the workplace last week, Nuz called around to settle what we thought was a simple question: Which of the Ten Commandments says "Thou shalt not steal?"

The lapsed Catholics who make up a majority of the Nuz staff had narrowed it down to the Seventh or Eighth. Or Sixth. A look at the big fat Webster's gave us seventh-inning stretch and seventh heaven, but no Commandment.

We decided to call some experts.

We called Father Mike Marini of Holy Cross Church. Because a wager had worked its way into the newsroom conversation (hey, it's not a sin) we put him on the speaker phone.

"I think it's either the Seventh or the Eighth," he said.

"Let me check," he said and began to explain that there has always been some confusion. The good father described the Biblical reasons for the mix-up, but we were too stunned to listen to exactly what they were.

The news editor had to ask: "Father, isn't this one thing that is carved in stone?"

Feeling slightly distrustful of the amiable and well-meaning padre, we called Father Ed Kaminski of the Catholic Diocese of Monterey and put him on the speakerphone. Kaminski wasn't sure either. "Here, I'll look it up, " he said.

The editor groaned a little and whispered, "That's not a good sign, a priest who doesn't know the commandments."

"I heard that," Kaminski shot back.

Sure enough, Kaminski's research (in the book of Exodus) revealed that it was the Seventh.

Or Eighth. Depending how one read the list.

At the end of the day, despite whatever theological ambiguity might exist, we decided that the guy who bet on the Seventh gets the free lunch.


Nuz just loves juicy tips. Drop a line to 111 Union Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, email us at Nuz@sjmetro.com, or call our hotline at 457-9000.

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From the December 31, 1997-January 7, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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