Lead Story

Early in the morning on October 30 a man described by the New York Daily News as a “career criminal” was apprehended in the middle of a burglary at an upscale Fire Island home. The residents had been awakened by noises but found no one until they heard flatulence coming from behind a closet door. Hiding inside was Richard Magpiong, 56, who was held until police arrived.

The Litigious Society

According to Department of Justice figures, 30,000 inmate lawsuits were filed last year (adding to already heavy backlogs, more than 28,000 in New York alone) against prison officials for “civil rights” violations. The vast majority of the suits were described by judges and court officials as frivolous. Among the complaints: a prison canteen supplied creamy peanut butter when a prisoner bought crunchy, guards wouldn’t refrigerate a prisoner’s ice cream snack so that he could eat it later (a $1 million lawsuit), a toilet seat was too cold, inmate paralegals in a prison law library don’t make the same wage lawyers make, prisons don’t offer salad bars ($129 million), one prison’s limit on the number of Kool-Aid refills is “cruel and unusual punishment,” and another prison’s scrambled eggs were cooked too hard. In New York 20 percent of the entire attorney general’s office budget is spent on prisoner lawsuits.

Amil Dinsio, 58, filed a $15 million lawsuit in May against the United Carolina Bank in Charlotte, North Carolina, from his federal prison cell in Loretto, Pennsylvania, where he’s serving four years for robbing the bank in 1992. Sentencing guidelines require that the amount of money involved in a robbery be taken into consideration, and Dinsio accused the bank of fraudulently inflating the amount it gave him, which resulted in his spending an extra 16 months in prison.

Janet S. Robinson filed a lawsuit in Roanoke, Virginia, in April, asking for $100,000 in damages for an ankle injury she suffered when hit by a remote-controlled toy truck operated by another customer at the Kay-Bee Toys store at Valley View Mall. Robinson called her injury “serious” and said the consequences of the accident were “pain, humiliation, aggravation, and disability.”

A former police officer in Durham, North Carolina, Bernard Bagley, filed a $3 million lawsuit in July against the police department. Bagley is serving two life sentences for shooting his wife to death with his service revolver, and now says the department shouldn’t have issued him a gun, since he was suffering from anxiety attacks.

In July ex-student Jason Wilkins sued the University of Idaho for $940,000 to pay for injuries he suffered when he fell through a third-story dormitory window while mooning other students. Wilkins, who’d climbed onto a three-foot-high heater to reach the window, claimed the university should have posted warnings.

In August comedian Jackie Mason told reporters he’d filed a $25 million lawsuit against the five theatrical groups responsible for Broadway’s Tony awards because they’d failed to nominate him in any category. He claimed that the lack of recognition for his one-man show Jackie Mason: Politically Incorrect was “an abridgment of my rights as a human being.”

The Missouri Pacific Railroad announced in August that it had paid an undisclosed amount of money to the families of a Mexican couple to settle their wrongful-death lawsuit. The two undocumented immigrants were hit by a train and killed when they stopped on the tracks near McAllen, Texas, to rest. Law-enforcement officials said such immigrants often rest on railroad tracks because they’re safe from border-patrol heat sensors.

In October Carla S. Koch filed a lawsuit in Cheshire, Connecticut, against the municipal dog-obedience school. Last year during a class she slipped in a puddle of dog drool and broke her ankle. She said the school should have had a mat on the floor.

People With Too Much Time on Their Hands

In April University of Toronto English professor Eleanor Cook was awarded grants totaling around $85,000 (U.S.) to spend the next two and a half years studying “the structure and function” of the riddle. Said Cook, “I want to think about long-term patterns in riddles . . . and the long-term decisions in our lives.”

During the third week in June reporters in both Huntington, Indiana, and Providence, Rhode Island, published features about local collectors of outhouses. Huntington’s Hy Goldenberg collects privies and now has 12; Virginia Williams collects only photographs of them, of which she now has about 100.

Among current courses offered by Oregon State University’s Food Science and Technology department is a one-credit class, “The Maraschino Cherry.” Among the lecturers were two retired professors who returned just to talk about the history of the maraschino cherry. Said the course professor, Ron Wrolstad, “I think the students were just awed to have these professors there.”

The Los Angeles Times reported in July that engineer Walt Netschert has invented a smokers’ hat with an apparatus that he says completely filters the noxious elements out of cigarette smoke before it’s released into the air. A filtering box that’s about six inches square by three inches high is strapped onto the smoker’s forehead, and a clear plastic shield drops down in front of his face to trap the smoke, which is drawn up into the filter. Netschert, who’s smoked for 40 years because cigarettes calm his nerves and who calls nonsmokers “FAFs”–“Fresh Air Freaks”–hopes to sell the hats for $79.95.

The Weirdo-American Community

In August a San Francisco insecticide firm sponsored a contest in which the winner’s home would be used to demonstrate the company’s pest-control prowess. Entomologist Austin Frishman, aka television’s Dr. Cockroach, began work on the home of Rosemary Mitchell, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after estimating that 60,000 to 100,000 cockroaches lived there. Mitchell said, “I keep a pretty clean house,” but admitted she had to check the bed thoroughly every night and shake the shower curtains off every morning. Frishman said he’s seen a lot worse and rated Mitchell’s house only a “three” on a scale of one to five.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.