Heard around the West

 

"You better run a BIG retraction," howls Dan Feller, a history professor at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. What was Heard Around the West's little error? Informing you that a recent "Darwin Award" to a lawn-chair-flying fellow last year was a netmyth. The story of Larry Walters soaring to 16,000 feet for almost an hour, thanks to weather balloons he'd tethered to an aluminum chair, is true. We're sorry!

It dates back to 1982, however, not recent times, but it's such a juicy tale it's worth retelling. Yes, he did have a pellet gun on hand to deflate his 45 six-foot helium balloons. After his chair shot up through the atmosphere "like an elevator," he said he was so startled he dropped the gun. Chilled and scared, he finally drifted down onto a power line, briefly blacking out a small area in Long Beach, Calif. Walters, a truck driver by trade, clambered out of his backyard chair without injury - unless you count a $1,500 fine from the Federal Aviation Administration. On the plus side, he won the top prize from the Bonehead Club of Dallas and the adulation of kids in his neighborhood. Thanks to other callers and writers for giving us leads to the real scoop and to the Los Angeles Times archive for its July 3, 1982, account: "Truck driver takes to skies in lawn chair." Unfortunately, the way Walters' wild ride gained new life on the internet was word that he'd committed suicide at the age of 44 in 1993.

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It's not cheap, owning a castle. Even if you do without ladies-in-waiting and knights, you're going to get chewed up by taxes. Take the Redstone Castle in Redstone, Colo., which was built around the turn of the century by a coal-mining baron. The castle was just hit by a $2.5 million assessment this year. Two years ago, when the assessment was a mere $l.4 million, the yearly tax was $30,000, reports the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. That may seem high to some people, but our guess is that in the nearby Aspen, Colo., neighborhood, a 42-room castle on a large lot assessed at a mere $2.5 million is probably a tear-down. Or in more recent parlance, it's a "wipe away."

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If a pool is ripped out because the owners built it illegally on public land, is it a slosh away? Some two years ago, Melvin and Bren Simon built an 11,000 square-foot home in Aspen - with indoor basketball court, since he owns the Indiana Pacers - and then asked the Bureau of Land Management for about five acres for a pool. The BLM said no sale. The pool got built anyway, reports AP. Now that the pool-in-the-wrong-place problem has been suddenly brought to county and federal attention, remediation is on the table: a buyout, land exchange or rip-out and remove.

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To enrage some people who like to hunt, just put on a T-shirt that announces "I kill hunters for fun and sport." Shirts with that message were sold during an Earth Day celebration in San Diego, Calif., triggering an attack from the president of Safari Club International. Robert Easterbrook says the T-shirts revealed "how little these animal cultists care about human welfare."

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Hunters in Buffalo, Wyo., can lower their sights, thanks to outfitter Craig Smith. They can target 8-inch-tall black-tail prairie dogs unencumbered by a state license or bag limit. Smith, who advertises for clients in the magazine Varmint Master, says the dogs are "cuter than hell," but he also says ranchers are keen to eliminate them, something they usually do by poisoning their burrows. Though the hunts are an economic boon to Smith and his wife, who also run a bed-and-breakfast business, environmentalists worry about the downside: Prairie dogs support Western wildlife up the food chain, and a Fund for Animals spokeswoman in the Casper Star-Tribune asks an uncomfortable ethical question: Should living animals be used for what is essentially target practice?

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A recent cyberspace communication asks other difficult questions: If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat? Instead of talking to your plants, if you yelled at them would they still grow - only to be troubled and insecure?

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A dog in Lodi, Calif., has a new nickname: Frosty the Freezer Dog. Back when the poodle-and-something mix was known as Prince, he was killed by a car on Mother's Day. Or so his owners thought. His body was put into a freezer at the pound, but when a worker opened the freezer 18 hours later, there was Prince, sad-eyed but awake. He had a little freezer burn, reports AP.

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Is it a road sign or a religious sign? That's the question in Sunnyside, Wash., where night after night this spring 1,000 people gathered to see the Virgin Mary on the shiny, reverse side of a green road sign. "It's a sign of peace," said Adrian Ochoa to the Columbia Basin Herald, adding, "what you see mostly depends on what you believe." Law officers apparently saw a safety hazard. The state transportation depart-ment removed the sign, which devotees said showed the Virgin Mary, hands folded in front of her heart, and with her head slightly tilted to one side. Then they restored it after distressed people called to complain. Now, AP reports, many Hispanic residents in the Yakima Valley say they can see the Virgin's form on the backs of other highway signs that signal exits or landmarks. A highway official says the signs have all been treated with a chemical film to prevent oxidation - if you're looking for a logical explanation.

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Nothing ticks off rural New Yorkers more than being lumped in with the city that natives always call "New York" - not bothering to add City to the name. So when Idaho Republican Rep. Helen Chenoweth derided floods in central New York as a problem in a "mostly concrete district," reports the AP, residents around Delphi, N.Y., cried "in a pig's eye" - and sent Chenoweth 15 pounds of baloney.


Heard around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumpersticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or [email protected]



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