Thursday, January 01, 2009

Column: Now you know the rest of the stories

It’s time once again for newspapers to name their top stories of the year, which is very helpful for the people who can’t recall who was elected president, or whether or not the economy imploded. Also, it fills space.

But here, as you may recall, we like to point out the important stories that should have gotten more coverage from major media outlets. The ones that are still in business, we mean. With that in mind, here are the top five At Large actual news stories from 2008:

5) Bruce Springsteen-related crime. First there was the Australian woman who was sentenced in March for stabbing her boyfriend when he wouldn’t let her listen to Springsteen music. (“I mean, who doesn’t like Bruce Springsteen?” she asked the arresting officer, and frankly, I had to agree.)

And then later that same month, cops in France stopped a man going 125 mph while watching a Springsteen DVD on a player he had mounted to his dashboard. An officer said: “He said he had a long drive to Paris and was bored.”

Understandable, but I don’t understand why he couldn’t have passed the time doing what everybody else does when driving long distances: Texting.

4) Shower curtains declared toxic. As if it weren’t bad enough that the tomatoes turned against us this year, we then came to find out that plastic shower curtains can kill you. Next thing you know they’ll be telling us to give up cigarettes.

It’s true — the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow (which sounds vaguely fascist, but in a nice way) announced in June that your average shower curtain gives off 108 — 108! — different volatile organic compounds, including several that are banned in toys in the U.S. and Europe. (Although notably not in China, where “Spritzy the Shower Curtain Clown” is selling like hotcakes.)

I just want to know how it’s possible that the innocent shower curtain, with its jaunty prints of fish and flowers and fresh, plasticy-good smell, could possibly be harmful? It’s depressing, but fortunately we have daring legislators like Brookline, Mass. state Rep. Frank Smizik, who went out on a limb to declare, “Toxic chemicals simply do not belong in everyday products like shower curtains.” And who says they don’t really teach you anything in legislator school?

3) Man attempts to sell wife for Celtics tickets. Finally I realize why I never get any of the really good tickets. I’m always trying to hit the “refresh” button at, when all along what I should have been doing is offering to sell my wife.

At least that’s what Kyle Carter of Medford, Mass. was banking on. Carter, like the rest of the free world, wanted to see the Celtics play the Lakers in the NBA finals last June. Unlike everybody else, though, Carter placed the following actual ad on Craigslist:

“Trade my hot wife for 2 celts tickets! - $2 - (medford).”

But it’s not what you’re thinking (and we know what you’re thinking). Contrary to what some assumed, it was a very decent proposal Carter had in mind. “He and his wife are only looking for a basic dinner date, no hanky-panky,” reported the Medford Transcript.

“At first she said, ‘Oh, no, there’d be too many crazy people calling us,’” Carter said of his wife. “But she said she’d be open to it. And some of the guys who responded seem pretty normal.”

That’s right, perfectly normal guys willing to trade their Celtics tickets for dinner with somebody else’s wife. No word on whether he got the tickets, but it’s still possible that Nicolas Cage may wind up buying the movie rights.

2) Man beats up shark to save dog. I love my dogs, even the dumb one (no need to name names — she knows who she is, and besides, she can’t read), but would I dive into the ocean to rescue them from a shark? I hope I never have to find out, but just in case I’m thinking of starting to carry shark repellent on my utility belt.

I’m referring of course to the story out of Florida this past September in which a man punched — punched! — a shark to rescue his 14-pound rat terrier from its jaws. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: Who would want to own a 14-pound rat terrier?

Greg LeNoir, a carpenter in the Florida Keys, that’s who. After a shark pulled his dog under at a local marina, he sprung in to action. “I clenched my fists and dove straight in with all my strength, like a battering ram,” LeNoir, 53, told the Miami Herald.

To his credit, he succeeded and the dog is fine, although it is still a rat terrier.

And now, the No. 1 At Large news story for 2008:

1) Science invents the bio-beer. Yes, the good news is, they’ve finally created a beer that can help prolong life and prevent illness. I know, you thought regular beer could do that, but in actuality it only makes you feel like you’re living longer.

The bad news is, the students at Rice University who developed “Bio-Beer” — which, incidentally, sounds like something they should be running tests on at the Centers for Disease Control — aren’t old enough to drink it themselves.

“We started out with a strict policy that we aren’t supposed to drink anything in the lab,” Peter Nguyen, the team’s graduate adviser, told the Discovery Channel in November.

The problem with not being able to taste the beer — and as we all know, underage college students never let the stuff touch their lips, just like they never have unprotected sex or gain 15 pounds their freshman year — is that you don’t know if it tastes like, well, Bio-Beer.

And as it turns out, it does. Researcher Thomas Segall-Shapiro told The Sun out of London: “No way would anyone drink this until it tastes better.” Buck up, chaps — people used to say the same thing about Budweiser.

So that wraps up this year’s top stories. Once again, they reminded us about the resilience of the human condition, and also filled up space.

More that second thing.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for Gatehouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

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