Heard around the West


Redi Kilowatt has seen the light - and it's a green one. Once the hyper-kinetic spokesbolt for the electric utility industry, Redi recently preached to the Los Angeles Times.

Though still flashing a happy-face grin, these days Redi is decidedly cranky. The power mascot says he was forced to come out of retirement at age 76, because politicians like Gov. Gray Davis of California and Vice President Dick Cheney refuse to stress conservation. He guesses they're afraid they'll lose votes if they come off "like Jimmy Carter in that wussy-sweater speech about sacrifice."

But conspicuous consumption of electricity is dumb, Redi declares. So douse the lights, turn down both the heat and air conditioning, and hook gym treadmills up to generators. Redi says he's even replacing the incandescent light bulb that was his nose with a compact fluorescent.

A tad bitter at being canned by the utility industry during the 1970s, Redi says he was ready to change his pitch back then, having experienced a "mid-current conversion." Now the former "Smokey Bear of Electricity" says he's moving from Minneapolis to California to spread a green message. Announces Mr. Kilowatt: "I am the poster boy for energy saving."

A satire on Salon.com has Vice President Dick Cheney happily providing 10 tips for conserving energy - just "a few sensible ways not to end up like those losers in California." Leading the list: "Replace incandescent bulbs with much brighter incandescent bulbs." Other virtuous acts include keeping a well-maintained SUV, upgrading one's hot tub, replacing old appliances with really big ones and refusing to be a fool about solar energy. After all, "the sun is 'off' over 50 percent of the time." Writer Tom McNichol's lampoon ends with the ultimate sacrifice: "Consider drilling for oil or gas in your own backyard."

OK, you lost a library book and need a good excuse. Utah's college and university libraries have heard them all - from the dog turning a book into a bone to somebody stealing the University of Utah's entire collection of works on gerbils from the truck of the person who borrowed them.

This can get really expensive, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. After a student of water sanitation took out almost every book on his subject from three college libraries, he carried them along on a trip to Lake Powell. The books inexplicably ended up at the bottom of the reservoir, soaking the student to a depth of $800 in fines.

Some library books simply vanish, especially those on witchcraft. Pilfering also extends to expensive books on archaeology, while other books come back with illustrations neatly removed, particularly the kind of botanical and architectural images that look so good hanging over one's couch.

At Brigham Young University, costly medical texts are now locked up, says Kathy Hansen, head of access services. "Sometimes medical books will have photographs of nudes. Those get cut up (out). It can be someone who is censoring, or someone who wants them, which is far more scary."

At the University of Utah, one person checked out suddenly collectible books by a children's author and ignored all overdue notices. To get the books returned - nicely - the head of circulation billed the patron by factoring in market value to the standard replacement cost. That brought them back in a hurry.

There was an unusual Earth Day celebration in Alamogordo, N.M., though perhaps you could call it an anti-Earth Day event. For some 15 years, says reader Ed Storey, the state's Rattlesnake Roundup has drawn hunters from around the region. But turning snakes into wallets and belts is probably not the smartest move in a state with cases of hantavirus and plague. Both are spread by rodents such as deer mice, he says, and "the average Western diamondback will consume 35 rodents a year." One live snake managed to hold its own at the roundup. It was one of 100 squirming reptiles that a professional snakehandler got close to in a cage. Then he collected a crowd that watched him perform stunts like "snake in a sleeping bag" and "snake toss." The snakes were clearly unhappy about the games: One bit the handler, who had to be taken away for medical care.

People who pun have a lot of fun. In the Albuquerque, N.M., Journal, Bob Rakoczy sympathized deeply with another reader who criticized the paper for printing the offensive headline: "Here's a seat for sore butts." Not only did the article "cause me great pain in the end," Rakoczy writes, but then he spotted another disgusting headline: "Manufacturing hits bottom."

"I was too embarrassed to read the article, mind you, but I'm sure it was some depraved piece on spanking." Still, Rakoczy refused to rear up in righteous indignation: "I shall follow the words of scripture and turn the other cheek."

Too often, perhaps, truth is stranger than fiction. New Mexico State Police say finding almost $1 million crammed into the gas tank of a pickup was a matter of luck. Police pulled over the truck because it was going 60 in a 55 mph zone, with a 4-year-old standing on the seat. As state cops talked to the driver and a companion, one officer "noticed several things that weren't kosher," reports the Albuquerque Journal.First, the driver, who'd begun to pant and look everywhere but in the policemen's eyes, said he was going to Mexico. His passenger said they were driving to Phoenix. Second, when police started searching the truck, having gotten written consent, they banged the gas tank and heard a "thud." That led to the insertion of a gas-tank scope and the sight of 54 plastic-wrapped bundles of cash, one of them labeled mota - Spanish slang for marijuana. Federal drug agents are now looking for the people who got the drug deal rolling.

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 bumper sticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or [email protected]

High Country News Classifieds