News you may have missed...
March, 1999

Store devoted to bad taste dies in L.A.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Many people -- those with excessive civic pride in other cities -- believe Los Angeles is the home of bad taste, just as Chicago has its arctic winds and New York its legions of sharks selling bridges to visiting rubes. Now these people may have to rethink their opinion of L.A. A shop specializing in bad taste and selling everything from sponges shaped like breasts to paintings by serial killer John Wayne Gacy has quietly shut its doors for lack of customers. "You've got Bad Taste" in the bohemian Silverlake area has closed, ending a three-year experiment into what arouses or disgusts Angelenos. "We overestimated people's concept of what bad taste is," said John Roecker, an independent filmmaker and co-owner of the oddity store with Exene Cervenka, singer for L.A. punk band X. "Some people didn't entirely understand what we were doing. This was a three-year project that was about challenging people's individual tastes, and we have a short attention span," he said.

The store once stocked everything from breast-shaped sponges ($6) to newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst's "Wanted By the FBI" rap sheet ($35 framed). Below the Patty Hearst posters were pacifiers from the 1920s in their original packaging ($10), a Dukes of Hazzard plastic digital watch ($5) and a book entitled "The Art of Kissing" ($2.25). Nearby were items such as a 1970s John Travolta doll ($30), a fake pecan/peanut garland ($9.50), a non-anatomically correct inflatable "John" doll ($17.98) and two John Wayne Gacy paintings from the serial killer's hummingbird and monster periods ($400 and $600, respectively). "A Gacy painting is much less offensive than, say, a Nike T-shirt," Roecker insisted. "Why wear advertising for a company that doesn't care about you? We encouraged people to think for themselves."

Part of the store's "adult education program" included guided tours of its Punk Rock Museum, complete with outfits worn by rock superstars Blondie and Devo, and its homage to Greek sculpture -- a cherubic boy fountain with blood-colored water flowing gracefully from the groin region. A final lesson in "the tyranny of religious oppression," as Roecker says, was just to the right of the fountain: a skeleton of a witch who toured in the early 1900s rested upright in an open casket, encased in chicken wire. "This was not a collector's store. Everything was fairly cheap -- but authentic. The store paid for itself and we only had a 50 percent markup on items. I couldn't imagine spending more than $3 for Mr. T. Air Freshener," Roecker said. Items such as "Beatnik Bandit II" car models from the 1960s, hair dye from the 1940s and an anti-sexual abuse book and cassette entitled "Sometimes It's OK to Tell Secrets" usually came from closeout sales at stores taken over by larger corporations, estate sales or old warehouse stock.

While stepping over the line was daily practice for the store, there were some items it did not carry. "Nazism is so white trash, so no Hitler Pez dispensers," Roecker said. "You can offend people by being more clever than that. Also, no NAMBLA (North American Man Boy Love Association) newsletters. And we wouldn't touch any Buckwheat or Mammy products." When Roecker and Cervenka opened the doors to "You've Got Bad Taste" in 1995, they wanted it to reflect Silverlake's bohemian culture. They founded it on the rebellious "Do-It-Yourself" philosophy that has always fueled punk rock. Once the store opened it became a community center in Silverlake. Record stores, avant-garde clothiers, bars and clubs soon surrounded it, enjoying the cheap rent of the district sandwiched between Hollywood and downtown L.A. Even before Details magazine declared Silverlake an "official scene" in 1996, young actors and movie industry hipsters traveled from their Hollywood hills homes to mix with the tattooed, post-collegiate musicians, artists and writers who live around eastern Sunset Boulevard. Entertainment industry props people soon saw a trend and became enthusiastic shoppers: Bruce Lee posters from the store appeared in "Boogie Nights" and bumper stickers and key chains debuted in Gus Van Sant's "Psycho" remake.

To foster Silverlake's close-knit but alternative community feel, "You've Got Bad Taste" regularly hosted daylong concerts and barbecues with local bands, poetry readings and lectures relating to cultural events. But being "different" did carry consequences. When they assembled a "Scientology Deprogramming" lecture led by ex-members, the Church of Scientology threatened legal action. When they put up a "Silverlake Hall of Fame" display with blowup dolls dressed as local celebrities, an irate resident put a brick through the front window. And when white, liberal college types staged a protest over the store selling "Chop Suey Specs," a product Roecker says many Asian customers were buying as a joke, he called the local news media. "We always loved free publicity," he said. "The way I see it, if you don't like something look at the sidewalk." But three years after becoming the cultural catalyst for Silverlake's alternative rock 'n' roll circus, "the scene that almost never was" crumbled. While Roecker may have cried foul, citing the community for not rewarding independent businesses, he and Cervenka decided to make a quiet exit into relative obscurity, taking with them the powerful influence of their unique store. "We discovered 'good taste' is the boring stuff you find at corporate malls," he said. "In this day and age, people are still afraid of expressing themselves, right, wrong, good or bad. We definitely were not. ... I guess people in L.A. do have bad taste because we ended up closing the store."

Singapore man sentenced for stealing smelly shoes

SINGAPORE, March 5 (Reuters) - A man who stole smelly shoes because he was addicted to their odour was sentenced to 25 weeks in jail by a Singapore court, the Straits Times newspaper reported on Friday. Lorry driver Zainal Mohamed Esa, 43, did not steal the shoes to sell, but out of a "burning desire, akin to that of a drug addict, to sniff used pairs of shoes", his lawyer Rai Ratan Kumar was quoted as saying. Zainal, whose obsession was a psychological need, said his lawyer, kept the shoes until the smell waned and then gave them to the Salvation Army or tried to return them to their owners. Police got on the scent of the shoe thief after a tip-off from a resident living near the site of the thefts. Zainal had 40 pairs of shoes when he was caught last November. In January the police caught him again with 28 pairs. He pleaded guilty to two counts of theft and two counts of fraudulent possession and is out on bail until his sentence starts on April 1.

Finnish police probe X-Files link to triple murder

HELSINKI, March 5 (Reuters) - Finnish police said on Friday they had found a link between the popular U.S. television series "The X-Files" and a triple murder in a Helsinki shooting club. Inspector Kari Tolvanen told Reuters officers watched a dozen episodes of "The X-Files" and other series while probing the crime, in which a 30-year-old woman stands accused of shooting dead three fellow members of the club two weeks ago. "We are looking at certain television series because of what we found in a search of the suspect's home and because of what she has said and how she has behaved," Tolvanen said. The woman, who was identified by witnesses but has refused to explain her actions, was apprehended while trying to board a plane at Helsinki airport hours after the shooting. The bizarre crime took place during a weekend when a marathon of 12 episodes of "The X-Files", a crime series dealing with paranormal phenomena, were shown on Finnish television. Finnish newspapers drew attention to one episode in which inhabitants of a small town went on a shooting spree after being hypnotised via electronic devices such as cash dispensers and microwave ovens. The woman faces a life term if convicted, but police said a court will first establish her sanity.

Brazilians agog over nude pictures of dominatrix

BRASILIA, March 5 (Reuters) - Men's magazine Playboy, which carries nude pictures of Brazilian sex symbol Tiazinha in its March edition, said Friday it was rushing the issue to Brazilian newsstands three days early after some of the pictures were leaked on the Internet. Playboy is planning a record 1.05 million initial print run for the issue, in which the dominatrix -- whose name translates as "Little Auntie" -- will pose naked for the first time, even discarding her trademark mask and riding crop in some photos. The pictures will be published only in Playboy's Brazilian edition, which normally has a monthly circulation of 300,000. The magazine has been flagging the event with traffic- stopping billboards showing a lingerie-clad Tiazinha reclining under the slogan: "Hi there, nephews!" Playboy will start distributing the issue Saturday, three days ahead of schedule, after several Web sites published four photographs from the shoot, editorial director Ricardo Setti said Friday. "We are conducting a technical investigation ... to see if we can find out how (the leak) happened and eventually pinpoint who was responsible," he told Reuters. "We may forward the matter to police." Tiazinha, whose real name is Suzana Alves, has become a household name in Brazil for drawing squeals of pain from teenage boys by waxing their legs on an afternoon TV show.

France outlaws Mitterrand's favourite meal

PARIS, March 8 (Reuters) - Three years after a dying former President Francois Mitterrand ordered them for a notorious last feast before his death, France has officially banned the hunting or sale of the tiny ortolan songbird. The official state gazette, in its weekend edition, listed the ortoloan, a sub-species of bunting known to ornithologists as the Emberiza Hortulana, among protected species. Until now, the ortolan was in a legal limbo, mentioned neither on the French list of birds that can be hunted nor on the list of those that cannot be. Found in southwest France from where Mitterrand hailed, the small bird is a delicacy whose taste has been desribed as a mixture of truffles and foie gras. Purists eat it whole and still aflame -- beak, feathers, bones and all. But perhaps most striking part of the culinary ritual is that it is eaten with one's head entirely covered by a large napkin in order to enjoy its unique aroma. These gruesome details fascinated all of France two years ago when a Mitterrand biographer described the president's last mammoth meal, a New Year's Eve dinner with over two dozen family and friends. Georges-Marc Benhamou, a confidant of the president, wrote that Mitterrand got up from his deathbed to consume two of the birds - and 30 oysters - at a single sitting shortly before he died from prostate cancer in January 1996, less than a year after leaving office. It was not known how much the uproar over Mitterrand's meal contributed to the official ban on hunting ortolans, but the Greens party hailed the ban "as the end of an archaic French practice."

Icelandic woman hit twice by same car in 24 hours

REYKJAVIK, March 10 (Reuters) - An Icelandic woman was hit twice by the same car within 24 hours, Iceland Review said on Wednesday. The woman, with an unblemished driving record of 20 years, was driving in Akureyri in northern Iceland on Saturday when a car came out of a car park and smashed into her vehicle, writing it off, the review said on its daily website. After hiring another car, the woman the next day was hit by the same car as she drove through a green light at a junction, the review quoted the Icelandic daily Morgunbladid as reporting. The offending driver said his vision had been impaired by low sunlight. The north Atlantic island has a population of only 270,000, and it is possible to drive for hours without seeing another vehicle.

Wild turkeys terrorize California hikers

SAN JOSE, Calif., March 11 (Reuters) - Wild turkeys have been terrorizing visitors to one California wilderness park, charging hikers, chasing cars and blocking trails, the San Jose Mercury News reported Thursday. "If you encounter these robust birds, avoid getting closer than 30 feet (10 metres)," rangers at the Rancho San Antonio preserve in Santa Clara County warned in a recent newsletter. "Keep your young children with you. Clap your hands and make noise to discourage the birds from approaching." Rangers have reported that the string of turkey incidents is linked to the February-to-June breeding season, with growing numbers of male birds showing off for females. "Gobbling and strutting ... to show off his masculine vigor, he will sometimes chase, peck, or fly at people," the park's newsletter warns of the love-struck "tom" turkey. Wildlife experts have advised visitors to the park to avoid wearing bright colors or carrying shiny objects, both of which can attract a turkey's attention. They also suggest coming equipped with an umbrella, even on a sunny day. "An umbrella looks like a turkey, and it's bigger than them," biologist Jodi Isaacs told the Mercury News. "So if you open and close it, it's kind of like strutting back at them, and they'll back off." Once promoted as the U.S. national bird by Benjamin Franklin, the wild turkey population plummeted to just 30,000 in the 1930s after decades of hunting and habitat destruction. Since then, however, the gobbler has rebounded, and now about 4.5 million of the birds are spread across every U.S. state except Alaska. In Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco, a flock of 30 wild turkeys released in 1978 has now grown to an estimated 3,000 birds living in the area's oak woodlands, the Mercury News said.

Death certificates prompt Egypt orphanage probe

CAIRO, March 17 (Reuters) - Suspicious death certificates led Egyptian authorities to investigate the deaths of 25 children in an orphanage and the possible sale of their organs, a member of parliament said on Wednesday. "There were 25 abandoned illegitimate children who died," one of 10 MPs who filed the complaint with prosecutors told Reuters. "We found that their death certificates said they died one right after another. "The attorney general is investigating," said the MP, who declined to be identified. Police said on Tuesday that the 10 MPs alleged that 25 children at the orphanage in a town in Minufiya province, 60 km (36 miles) north of Cairo, died in a three-month period and their body parts were sold. The children were aged up to 13. They also alleged that the deals involved large sums of money and took place with the collaboration of powerful figures. Complaints about the number of deaths at the orphanage were filed with authorities some time ago, the MP said. "The death certificates showed dates which were very close to each other," he added. The new head of the orphanage, Bahiga Hamam, said on Wednesday the remaining children were in poor condition when she took over last month. "We took over on February 27 after a decision to get rid of the former management," she told Reuters Television in the Minufiya town of Shibeen al-Qom. "The children in the orphanage were very sick and in bad shape. No blankets, no medical care. Most of the children are mentally handicapped," she said. She said the 46 children now at the orphanage were aged from infancy to 18.

Gay drag "nuns" draw Catholic ire in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO, March 17 (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco has had it with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The "order" of drag performance artists who, clad in nun's habits and vibrant face-paint, have shocked and amused the city for 20 years is being damned by Catholic leaders for planning to stage a public celebration of their troupe's anniversary on Easter Sunday. Archdiocese spokesman Maurice Healy said on Wednesday allowing a group which "mocks the Catholic Church" to close a public street on the holiest day of the Christian year was just as reprehensible as "allowing a group of neo-Nazis to close a city street for the celebration on the Jewish Feast of Passover." "In terms of offensiveness, it's very similar," he told Reuters.

Troupe member "Sister MaryMaye Himm" responded angrily, telling the San Francisco Chronicle the April 4 celebration in the largely gay Castro District would go on as planned. "We're really appalled at the insensitivity of comparing us to neo-Nazis, which totally invalidates the Jewish struggle against the Nazis," he said. "The comparison is offensive not only to myself but to Jewish people everywhere, and the Catholic Church should be ashamed for promoting such an absurdity." The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have long been a part of the San Francisco landscape, appearing at benefits and protests in their black habits, outrageous makeup and often on roller skates.

The satirical and sometimes raunchy Sisters this month secured approval from the city Board of Supervisors to close Castro Street for a block party on April 4 to celebrate their 20 years of fund-raising for AIDS and other causes. In an editorial last week in the archdiocese's official newspaper, Catholic San Francisco, Healy said the prospect of turning over a public street to the Sisters on Easter Sunday was "extraordinarily insensitive." "This group has garnered a reputation for outrageous behavior by mocking religious life, ridicule of Catholic institutions and profane references to sacred liturgies," he wrote. While several openly gay members of the Board of Supervisors have declared they will not be swayed from their support of the Sisters, Healy said he believed a groundswell of Catholic outrage would force the celebration to be rescheduled. "We are at a point in which a major constituency has said 'this is offensive to us and we're asking you to change it'," Healy told Reuters. "There are legitimate and real grounds for us to be offended, and for us to say please do not hold this event on the holiest day of the year."

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