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The Odd Truth, April 26, 2003

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The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by CBSNews.com's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Goldfish Geezer

SCOTIA, N.Y. - A 17-year-old goldfish can swim again, thanks to a bunch of do-gooding humans.

Customers at the Sky Port diner near Schenectady came up with the idea of a creating a fish sling after Dick the goldfish fell ill in November and had difficulty swimming.

Patty Sherman, who owns the diner with her two sisters, Joanna Dewey and Mary Ann Parker, said Dick could barely move across the bottom of his fish tank located behind the counter.

A customer whose daughter is studying to be a veterinarian had his daughter research fish ailments. She reported back that Dick was likely suffering from swim bladder disease and prescribed a diet of cooked peas to be hand fed to Dick three times a day, Sherman said.

To remedy Dick's swimming problem, several customers devised a sling made up of fishing bobbers, drinking straws, gauze and string. When the 8-inch-long fish is placed in the sling, he's able to swim like normal.

Sherman said customers find it relaxing to sit at the counter and watch Dick in his tank.

"Everybody's rooting for him," she said Tuesday. "He's the topic of conversation at the Sky Port."

Suing In The Nude

SEATTLE - David Zaitzeff is suing the Seattle Police Department — for the right to let it all hang out. The suit seeks a court order barring police from busting naked people at the Solstice parade in June. He argues nudity is part of the festivities and people watching the parade expect it. Zaitzeff contends that because people wouldn't be shocked by the sight of all those bare bodies, the indecent exposure law doesn't apply. No comment yet from the Seattle Police Department.

Sex, Lies, And Lots Of Videotape

APPLETON, Wis. - The sex was voluntary — but not the homemade porno. Police in Appleton, Wisconsin, accuse Cecil Lewis of using a hidden video camera to record his sexual liaisons with dozens of women. Police say he secretly taped at least 50 women as they had sex with him. A police spokesman says the women met Lewis at local nightclubs. Officers say he was busted after one of the woman discovered the secret taping scheme and alerted authorities. Police are still trying to identify about 20 of the women. Lewis now faces two felony counts under Wisconsin's video voyeur law. He's being held on $75,000 bond.

Eiffel Lighting

PARIS - Question: What can you do with 25 mountain climbers and technicians, 20,000 light bulbs and about 25 miles of illuminated garlands?

Answer: light up the Eiffel Tower like a Christmas tree.

The tower's millennium lighting show that ran for 18 months until July 2001 was so spectacular that officials are bringing it back for 10 years, beginning this summer.

The project is massive.

Since February, climbers and technicians have been installing equipment to ready the 1,069-foot tower for its nightly light show, tower officials said Thursday.

Workers attached about 25 miles of garland to the tower's four sides, top to bottom. Their last step will be to screw on 20,000 sparkling lights by hand.

The display, at a cost of $5 million, will flash during the first ten minutes of each hour from nightfall until 2 a.m. in the summer and 1 a.m. in the winter. The work is expected to be finished by late June or early July.

Parking Ticket, Interrupted

LOS ANGELES - A 23-year-old Marine who had an outstanding parking ticket but couldn't pay it because he was fighting in Iraq has been cleared of the infraction, city officials said.

Brad Gaumont, a corporal from Saco, Maine, didn't bring his checkbook with him overseas but got a notice in his mail that said his overdue fine had increased from $45 to $100.

"Mom, I'm in kind of a bind here," he wrote home. "Can you tell them I'll pay for the ticket when I get back to the U.S.?"

Gaumont feared that nonpayment would hurt his chances to become a police officer. On Thursday, a spokeswoman for Mayor James Hahn's office said the ticket was forgiven and a confirmation letter is on the way.

"The Department of Transportation and the city decided that it was not handled in the manner consistent with the expectation of service," spokeswoman Angie Levine said.

Frozen In Time

BILLINGS, Mon. - It's a moment frozen in time — in the form of a long-closed grocery store. A Billings, Montana, auction house is selling the contents of the Fifth Avenue Grocery from the town of Roundup. The store closed in 1952, and the stuff has been locked away ever since. The items going on the auction block include an antique Coca-Cola display still in its wrapper and a souvenir scorecard from the 1929 World Series. The owners of the store have died and left most of their estate to charity. The Longhorn Auction Center says proceeds from the sale will benefit the Missionaries Charity founded by Mother Teresa.

Gas Mask, Inverted

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - It's a gas mask — but it's not one you wear over your face. The Flat-D pad is a deodorizer that goes inside your underwear. The odor-trapping pad has developed independently by Frank Morosky and Brian Conant. They decided to combine forces in an Iowa-based company they call Flat-D Innovations. A package of three reusable Flat-D pads sells for about $27. The company also makes chair pads. Pre-school teacher Jane Simpson sings the praises of the gas-trapping device. She suffers from an intestinal condition that leads to bloating and excessive gas. Simpson says the pads are lifesaver.

'Miracle' Dog In Good Shape

CLEARLAKE, Calif. - Veterinarians are calling a dog that survived being hit by a car, shot in the head and kept in a freezer for two hours a "miracle girl."

Dosha, a 10-month-old mixed breed, is getting a thorough checkup to make sure she doesn't need further treatment, and the prognosis is good.

Dosha's ordeal started April 15, when she escaped from her owner's backyard and got hit by a car. The Clearlake police officer who reported to the scene shot the collarless dog when no one could tell him who owned her.

The dog was taken to the local animal shelter, where she was put in a freezer for disposal later. After about two hours, the center's interim director opened the freezer door and found Dosha standing upright in a plastic orange bag.

"The gunshot was, of course, no good. The hypothermia was more life threatening when she arrived here," said Yvonne Scott, the clinic's office manager. "The car accident was the least of her problems."

Local animal groups and the Humane Society of the United States have begun fund-raising efforts to pay for her care.

Clearlake's police chief has defended the officer's decision to shoot the dog. The officer said Dosha appeared to be in extreme pain and he wanted to end her suffering.

The Case Of The Vomiting Drug-Dealer

STAMFORD, Conn. - You have the right to remain silent, but what if you vomit evidence before police read you your rights?

Vincent Betances wants his drug-dealing conviction thrown out, arguing that eight bags of heroin he threw up after emergency medical treatment should never have been admitted into evidence.

He contends police illegally seized the evidence from an ambulance after asking him if he'd swallowed heroin — but before reading him his rights.

The state Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Wednesday and is expected to issue a ruling this summer.

Betances was arrested on drug charges in New Haven on June 20, 2000. Police said he was holding 30 bags labeled "The Cure."

While handcuffed and in a police cruiser, Betances began sweating profusely, turned pale and had difficulty breathing. Betances admitted he had swallowed four bags.

A paramedic gave Betances a medication to prevent the body's absorption of the drugs. A short time later Betances threw up eight bags of heroin, which an officer seized.

Assistant State's Attorney Toni Smith-Rosario argued that police should not be penalized for protecting the public, including defendants in their custody.

"Most defendants are grateful when police save their lives," Smith-Rosario said.

Suzanne Zitser, a public defender representing Betances, countered that exceptions to the Miranda warning must satisfy stringent requirements.

"It's not even a close call in this case," Zitser said. "There was no threat to the public or police officer safety."

Scaredy Cats

SAN FRANCISCO - Tony and Emily, a pair of Siberian tigers at the San Francisco Zoo, are a couple of scaredy cats.

Their eyes bulge, their mouths loll and their ears fold back — the typical behavior of frightened felines — upon seeing a lifelike portrait of their popular predecessor.

But the tiger siblings are just going to have to cope. The eight-foot oil painting of Sedova, a popular Siberian tiger who lived at the zoo for 19 years before her death in 1992, is going to stay hanging in their habitat, zoo officials say.

"Animals are more important than pictures. But it is a magnificent portrait — kind of a testimonial to one of the zoo's most beloved cats," said Linda Caratti, the tigers' keeper.

According to Caratti, there is no question that 11 year olds Emily and Tony are unnerved by the painting, which reportedly bears an impressive resemblance to its subject. The tigers often refuse to enter the exhibit at feeding time and won't turn their backs on the fierce gaze staring out at them from a wall.

"It's their instinct to feel threatened by another tiger," Caratti told the San Francisco Chronicle. "They just haven't figured out it's a picture. Instead, they look totally scared, like it's a giant ghost tiger."

From A Joint To The Joint

CARLSBAD, N.M. - If you've got a court date, you might want to leave your stash at home. Authorities in Carlsbad, New Mexico, say 18-year-old Robin Loftin dropped a joint on the floor during a court appearance on traffic charges. After the judge entered the courtroom, Loftin removed his hat and the joint fell out. He was immediately ordered into the joint, charged with contempt of court and sentenced to two days in jail. But the judge deferred sentences on the traffic citations on the condition Loftin stays out of any more trouble, clears his license and renews his vehicle registration.

Fans Sue Rock Band Creed Over Bad Concert

CHICAGO - Fans are so angry with the rock band Creed's Chicago show in December they're taking the band to court. Four fans filed the suit yesterday in Cook County, Illinois. It alleges that singer Scott Stapp was so "intoxicated and/or medicated" that he was unable to sing. The four argue that Stapp's inability to perform is tantamount to canceling the show. They're looking for a refund of the $56 they each paid for tickets, plus parking expenses. They're looking for other disappointed fans, too. The suit seeks class-action status. The four say the roughly 15,000 people who were at the show are owed $2 million. The band and its management are not commenting.

Bears Rampage Alaskan Luxury Lodge

ANCHORAGE - If there's a shortage of doors in Anchorage, blame the brown bears of Bristol Bay.

At least five marauding brown bears destroyed 53 doors this winter at Katmai Lodge, a luxury fishing resort on the Alagnak River. Lodge employees this week were buying up replacement doors as fast as they could find them in Alaska's largest city.

Sarp blames the rampage on Alaska's unusual weather. The bears probably were confused by temperatures that allowed flowers to bloom well after snow was supposed to be on the ground.

"There was no winter," lodge owner Tony Sarp said. "They didn't know it was November and December. They thought it was still September, I'm sure."

The lodge can accommodate 60 guests, who pay $5,000 per week to catch salmon, grayling and rainbow trout.

The bears' first target was a pantry filled with dry goods. The animals destroyed flour, salt, sugar, spices, cake mix and canned goods, the surplus from last season.

The bears continued their binge in the kitchen, even though it had no food.

"They just literally ate the floor," Sarp said. "It must have had some grease on it, I guess."

The bears had success pushing in one door, Sarp figures, so they tried more. They moved from building to building, entering 18 in all.

"Most of these buildings have a steel door on them," he said. "They went right through them."

He estimated total damage at $50,000.

Stutterer Files Human Rights Complaint

ST. LOUIS - A St. Louis man with a significant stutter has filed a complaint with the Missouri Human Rights Commission against a radio station that refused to let him on the air to dedicate a song.

Robert Tart, 36, said the person who answered the call-in line refused to let him on the air to dedicate a song to his ex-wife because of his stutter.

Tart filed a complaint April 2 with the Human Rights Commission against WIL-FM and Jones Radio Networks Ltd., which produces a country music syndicated show from Seattle.

"It's hard enough to go through life with a stutter, but wanting to get on a radio show takes some courage," Tart said. "I talk slow, but they're keeping me off that show because of it."

Tart said a woman named Alexa, who fields calls, told him, "Bobby, we don't do the stuttering thing."

Susan Stephens, sales director at Jones Radio, wouldn't discuss Tart's accusation, saying the network is professional.

"There are so many cases like this," said National Stuttering Association operations director Tammy Flores. "I don't get how people can be so inconsiderate. There is so much teasing and bullying of kids who stutter, and when adults do it, it's even worse. It's a speech impediment. All it takes is compassion."

The song Tart had wanted Lia to broadcast for his ex-wife in Bloomsdale, was Joe Diffie's "In Another World," a wistful memory of lost love.

Tart, a single, unemployed production worker, said his dispute with the radio world was about the dignity of stutterers.

"We have rights, just like everybody else," he said. "All I want to do is dedicate a song."

'Freedom Of Bark?'

SAN JOSE, Calif. - A man accused of barking at a police canine is in the doghouse with authorities.

Richard "Tyson" Dillon, 25, faces a misdemeanor charge that he willfully and maliciously interfered with a Palo Alto police officer's duty by teasing and agitating the officer's dog.

The incident occurred March 5, on Mardi Gras night, when Dillon, a bartender, and a co-worker were walking in downtown Palo Alto and passed a group of officers standing by their patrol cars.

According to Dillon's attorney, Donald Tasto, the police dog in one of the cars was already agitated and barking at other passers-by when Dillon returned a single "friendly bark." Police cited, then released him.

"It's ridiculous that someone could be charged for barking," Tasto said in a phone interview Tuesday, adding that Dillon "doesn't have a mean bone in his body."

"And what about First Amendment rights?" Tasto asked. "Is there no freedom of bark?"

Palo Alto police spokesman Jim Coffman acknowledged that barking in itself may not warrant a citation, but he said the law clearly prohibits actions that harass and agitate police dogs.

Police also accused Dillon of swinging a fist at the dog — something Dillon denies.

Dillon, who could face up to a year in county jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted, pleaded not guilty in a Palo Alto courtroom Tuesday.

Teen Girls Nabbed In Toxic Slush Caper

SYLVAN LAKE, Alberta - Three teenage girls have been charged with attempted murder after seven girls got sick from drinking slushies laced with copper sulphate, police said Tuesday.

"They all attended the same school and they all knew each other," said RCMP Constable Harry Ingram.

Two of the girls charged were among the seven, all of whom received medical treatment, police said.

Ingram said the attempted murder charge was laid "because of some of the danger markings on the chemical … Our investigation takes it out of the prank area."

Police allege the copper sulphate was taken from the school during a science class experiment on April 10. The chemical was mixed into the slushies, a thick icy pop that comes out of a machine, after they were bought at a local convenience store.

Symptoms of copper sulphate, which is used as a fungicide and to control algae in swimming pools, include nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, burning mouth, shaking and headaches. It can also cause kidney and liver damage.

Police aren't sure how much copper sulphate was put into the drink.

Bush's Bad Timing In Alabama

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Unless Alabama's election law is changed, there could be one notable candidate missing from the state's 2004 presidential election ballot — President Bush.

The problem is that the Republican National Convention is being held later than usual to avoid conflict with the Olympics, and the GOP won't choose a candidate until Sept. 2 — two days after Alabama's Aug. 31 deadline to certify presidential contenders.

Republicans are asking the Democrat-controlled Legislature to change the law and extend the deadline until Sept. 5. That bill is on the work agenda in the House for Thursday, but some Republicans say they are concerned the bill has been placed behind several contentious issues and may not come up for consideration.

"I don't think the people know that if this doesn't pass, they won't get to vote for President Bush," said Rep. Mike Hubbard, a Republican.

He said if the bill doesn't pass, Mr. Bush could be forced to run as a write-in in Alabama.

Mr. Bush received 56.4 percent of the vote in Alabama in 2000 to 41.6 percent for former Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat. Republicans have carried Alabama in the last six presidential elections.

Captured Mermaid Sues City, Gets Settlement

NEW YORK - A mermaid who was captured after parading topless through Coney Island will get a $10,000 check from New York City.

Amy Gunderson, 31, had sued the city claiming her First Amendment rights were violated when she was arrested for wearing only a thong and body paint at the 2001 Mermaid Parade.

In a deal announced Wednesday by Gunderson's lawyer, Ronald L. Kuby, the city will pay $10,000 to settle.

In her lawsuit, Gunderson, a model, said her rights were violated when she was arrested June 29, 2001, for exposing her chest. The charges were eventually dismissed.

Kuby, a longtime judge at the parade, said Gunderson was within her rights to be topless because her float and costume fell within the definition of entertainment.

The parade, a Coney Island fixture for two decades, has traditionally featured floats with topless women dressed as surf-tossed sea creatures.

But in 2001, police issued Gunderson a criminal summons for exposure, and other topless women quickly covered up with seashells, beads and Band-Aids, said Gunderson's lawyer, Ron Kuby.

"The city evaluates cases and makes business decisions every day. We felt it was in our best interest to settle the case," said Deborah Meyer, a city lawyer.

Washington To Ban Up-Skirt, Kilt Photography

OLYMPIA, Washington - The Washington state legislature wants to make it a crime to take pictures up a woman's skirt. The lawmakers acted after the state Supreme Court ruled that using a hidden camcorder to shoot under a skirt was "reprehensible" — but not illegal. A bill passed by both houses of the legislature would make the up-skirt videos a felony. One lawmaker notes the bill also applies to filming up a man's kilt. The measure now goes to Governor Gary Locke for his signature.

Don't Feed The Monkey

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Green Bay police are on the lookout for a monkey named Jasper, who they say isn't armed but might be dangerous.

Jasper dashed out the back door of a tavern where he and his owner are regulars, Lt. Mark Hellmann said Monday.

Hellmann described Jasper as small, dark and hairy, but didn't know what species he is.

The police department's humane officer said Jasper may try to harm people if he's scared and advised anyone who sees him use caution.

Dog Hit By Car, Shot, Frozen, But In Good Condition

CLEARLAKE, Calif. - A dog named Dosha may have as many lives as a cat.

She was hit by a car, shot in the head and kept in a freezer for two hours, but she survived and is now doing well under a veterinarian's care.

Local animal groups and the Humane Society of the United States have begun fund-raising efforts to pay for her care.

Last Tuesday, Dosha was hit by a car. A police officer reported to the scene and no one could tell him who owned the dog.

Officer Bob MacDonald shot the dog, apparently to save her the pain of her injuries. Dosha, presumed dead, was taken to Animal Control, where she was put in a freezer.

"Apparently, it was assumed dead," said Denise Johnson, Animal Control's interim director. "I went to the freezer and found that she was alive and cold."

She had hypothermia and a gunshot wound, but no broken bones from the car accident, Johnson said.

Police are investigating.

Taiwan Sars Sales Steady Despite SARS Outbreak

TAIPEI, Taiwan - A popular Taiwanese soft drink called Sars may raise a few eyebrows these days because of the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. But many here are still gulping down the root beer-like beverage without hesitation.

Sars — a shortened version of its major ingredient, sarsaparilla — has been the flagship drink of the Hey Song Company since the 1940s.

It tastes like root beer and is popular among Chinese because many of them believe sarsaparilla lowers body temperatures and prevent sore throats or other ailments.

Still, some consumers feel a little uneasy that the soft drink bears the same name as the deadly flu-like virus, SARS, said Chou Shiao-ping, Hey Song's spokeswoman.

"There might be some association with the illness," she said. "But most people know you won't get SARS simply by drinking Sars."

Caught Red Handed

BOCA RATON, Fla. - A man accused of robbing a bank told police the red ink covering his hands didn't come from exploding dye packs, but from coloring Easter eggs.

Richard Roy, 41, was arrested Saturday, a day before Easter Sunday. He is accused of robbing a Wachovia Bank twice last week.

A teller at the bank put dye packs in the robber's bag April 15 and again Friday.

In the first robbery, a man gave a teller a handwritten note demanding money, then took out a gun and told the teller he would use it if necessary, police said. He got away with $462.87, according to an arrest report.

The same robber returned Friday and handed over a note that read, "No dye pack this time. I will shoot you!" He then demanded money and got $5,420, police said.

During the second robbery, a bank employee recognized the gunman as a customer's boyfriend. Another employee got a description of the getaway car and the information led to Roy, police said.

"It's irritating when a bank gets robbed in your city," police Capt. Edgar Morley said Monday. "It's really irritating when it gets robbed again."

Turkey Fires Soccer Player For Crude Gesture

ANKARA, Turkey - A French soccer player who celebrated a goal by stripping his shirt and putting his hand down his shorts was fired Tuesday by his Turkish team.

Pascal Nouma angered fans during a league game last weekend. Besiktas president Serdar Bilgili said Nouma's actions are "definitely against Turkish moral values and traditions."

"We've canceled his contract unilaterally. ... We've decided to send him back to his country," Bilgili said.

Nouma apologized Monday, saying he celebrated because his goal in the 2-0 win over rival Fenerbahce ended his four-week scoreless streak.

"It was not against anyone. It was just a private sign of joy," Nouma said. "I shouldn't have done it. If it hurt Turkey, then I am sorry."

Osama In A Pink Dress

DANBURY, Conn. - Emil Vicale's business really began to surge when he put Osama bin Laden in a pink dress.

His new hit is Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, who comes in two versions, "dumb" and "dumber."

The dumber one talks.

Vicale's company, Herobuilders.com, makes action figures of notables in the Iraq war and the war on terrorism, from President George W. Bush to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

For those who find bin Laden too menacing in military fatigues, Herobuilders offers another outfit.

"We made him a nice pink dress," Vicale said Friday. "The demand was so much we had to look for a seamstress who specializes in these little clothes."

When he decided to make a bin Laden figure, he discovered the villain was a big seller.

Doll parts are placed on shelves under signs that marked the different products, including "Dirty Terrorist," "Saddam Insane," and "Ally," for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Vicale has a long list of new dolls he's planning, including the leaders of France, Russia and Germany, who opposed the Iraq war.

Man Bites Dog

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - A 33-year-old man faces charges that he bit a police dog during a disturbance outside a downtown bar.

Paul Russell of Syracuse, was charged with injuring a police animal, resisting arrest and obstruction of governmental administration.

"I don't think I bit the dog. I just got into a fight with him," Russell told The Post-Standard of Syracuse in Monday's newspaper. "I don't really remember (what happened). I was pretty drunk."

The incident occurred Saturday night when Officer William Foster and his dog, a German shepherd named Renny, were sent to investigate a disturbance at 10 p.m. outside the Empire Brewing Co.

According to police reports, after being asked to leave, Russell grabbed Renny by the throat and started choking the animal and biting it on the left side of his neck.

Foster said he punched Russell twice in the face to make him let go of the dog. Russell said he suffered a broken nose and two black eyes when police hit him.

After the arrest, 3-year-old Renny was taken to a veterinarian. Foster said the animal had swelling in his neck and was sore where he was bitten.

"The dog is off for the next two days. He'll be back for his regular shift. He's not expected to miss any time," said Lt. Joseph Cecile, a police spokesman.

Casualties Of Dinner

TIKRIT, Iraq - Supper time has become a double treat at a Marine base outside Saddam Hussein's hometown — not only is there fresh meat, but it's from Saddam's personal hunting preserve.

The Tikrit South airfield, where Marine Wing Support Squadron 271 set up base in this week's campaign to take the city, is on the edge of a preserve where Saddam and favored guests once hunted gazelle.

Now, Marines are venturing into the woods to hunt the animals, which stand about waist-high. They haul back the carcasses as a welcome substitute for the prepackaged Meals Ready to Eat that have been their staple.

"It was delicious. I don't know if it's because we've been eating MREs for two months, but everyone's enjoyed it a lot," said Cpl. Joshua Wicksell, 26, of Corpus Christi, Texas.

Wicksell's review may be biased — he's the cook, and has been putting his two-year culinary arts degree to good use in an unexpected setting.

Each of the squadron's platoons has been limited to killing one gazelle a day to make sure the herd isn't depleted.

The marines are using 9mm pistols to hunt after initially being forbidden to use firearms for fear that gunshots in the woods might be mistaken for enemy fire.

"We hunted them with rocks, as Stone Age as that sounds," Wicksell said. "We gutted them and skinned them and pretty much carried them over our shoulders barbarian-style."

Sick High School Prank

FREMONT, OHIO - Fourteen dead animals have been found on a Fremont Ross High School softball field by an assistant coach.

School athletic director Art Bucci says the bodies of skunks, raccoons, rabbits, cats and a ground hog were placed in positions that players would take on the field.

The gates to the school's fields were locked when the coach made the discovery yesterday. Police found no signs of forced entry.

The team found its cars covered in toilet paper and shaving cream when returning from a game at Lima Thursday night. Bucci believes it was a prank by other students.

Fremont is about 30 miles southeast of Toledo.

Man Sings His Own Siren Song

MANHEIM, Germany - One German man's marital problems has him wailing with anger.

He'd finally had enough of his wife's loud tirades.

The elderly fellow says he couldn't get in a word so he decided to take action.

He bought a siren.

Everytime his wife would start in on him, he'd rev up that 220-volt air raid siren and let it rip for a few minutes.

He says it worked every time.

But now, Mannheim police have seized the siren — too many complaints from the neighbours.

Gladiators Celebrate Rome's Birthday

ROME - Hundreds of gladiators sporting chain-mail, wolf-skins and swinging grappling nets marched by the ruins of ancient Rome on Monday in a birthday celebration for the city, which legend says was founded 2,756 years ago.

The make-believe gladiators — some from as far away as France and Hungary — poured off buses, sporting steel helmets and daggers swinging from scabbards.

"We're all here today because it's the birthday of Rome, so we celebrate the foundation of the city like good Romans," said Giorgio Franchetti, the spokesman of the Roman Historic Group, who himself was geared up for battle.

Franchetti was delighted by the attendance of foreign gladiatorial enthusiasts.

"The beautiful thing is that to feel Roman, you don't necessarily need to have been born in Rome," he said.

Legend has it that Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus on April 21, 753 B.C., after the twin brothers built a settlement in what is now Italy's capital.