The news has been far too serious lately, and thus, so have my columns. I know I’m not the only one who’s more than a little fed up with an atmosphere of constant crises (many created from whole cloth and bits of orange flotsam). And so, we turn to the weirder parts of the news for a little entertainment.
I know … how could anything be weirder than that tantrum-thrower in the Oval Office? You’d be surprised. Well, maybe.
Last Thursday, reporters gathered at the Prague Castle for a press conference by Milos Zeman, president of the Czech Republic. Then he gave a huge pair of red boxer shorts (even the Hulk would be swimming in these things) to firefighters, who burned them then and there.
Yep. Underwear. Big, honkin’ red underpants.
Artist collective Ztohoven in 2015 replaced the Czech flag at the castle with a massive pair of red undies to taunt Zeman for his communist-friendly stance and anti-immigrant rhetoric (gosh … that sounds familiar …), then used images of the skivvies on T-shirts and buttons during his re-election campaign. So yeah, he had some issues.
As the underpants burned, Zeman declared, “The time of underwear in politics is over.”
Dear Lord, I hope this doesn’t mean politicians will be going commando.
Closer to home, many were at the edge of their seats last Tuesday as a raccoon climbed the 25-story UBS Plaza tower in downtown St. Paul, Minn., which happened to be across the street from Minnesota Public Radio, giving some news nerds there a welcome respite from political news. Napping on a ledge 20 feet above the street, the raccoon was roused by maintenance workers who tried to persuade her to escape back to the ground using their ladder, but she wasn’t having any of that. So up she went, scaling the building in a way that would make Spider-man jealous, while MPR reporter Tim Nelson and others started live-tweeting her climb, and crowds began to gather. She stayed on the 23rd floor for a good long while for a rest on a ledge outside a law office, alternately napping and pacing.
Wildlife officials baited live traps on the roof with stinky food, hoping to lure her. After about six hours, she decided to start descending, but by the time she made it to the 17th floor, she got spooked and started ascending again, making it to the roof in the early morning hours, where she found the food and was trapped. She was released Wednesday at a private suburban residence (with the owner’s permission), and now has been immortalized on T-shirts, tote bags and bobble-heads.
But of course, someone had to make sure to remind people that raccoons can be vicious, carry diseases, and really love messing in your garbage. Drew McCoy tweeted: “Do not be fooled by their attempts to be cute. This building climbing scheme was just part of their nefarious plot to take over the world. Stay vigilant!”
Yet it was squirrels, not raccoons, that were constantly taunting my furry one when he was still with us, and digging up my plants to bury their quickly forgotten nuts. I’m leaning toward the raccoon revolution right now.
Another story gave me a flashback to a notorious villain around these parts, the Toe Suck Fairy (a play on the Toad Suck Ferry near Conway). A New Zealand man was recently arrested and charged with stealing two human toes (reportedly worth more than $5,000 each) from the Body Worlds exhibit in Auckland in May. Why? Who knows? But I know that my choice not to wear sandals makes me a little safer from guys like this. Yea.
In other Arkansas news, last week a truck carrying Fireball whiskey collided with another semi, and the cab of one of the two exploded (no serious injuries, though). In the process, the load of little bottles (headed for mini-bars, perhaps?) spilled on Interstate 40.
Last year in the space of about three weeks in August, trucks carrying bourbon, Tombstone pizza, and spaghetti sauce spilled their loads on the highway. Milk, chicken parts and other food items have been strewn across the roads in Arkansas, but no chocolate or ice cream that I know of. If that happens, look for me on the side of the road.
The other day I saw video of two portable toilets (supposedly empty, but I have my doubts; the first one appeared to be spraying some liquid … ewww) flying through the air at a park in Commerce City, Colo., after a sudden gust of wind. As the Internet is wont to do, several people decided to add music to the short video; one of my favorites was the theme used for the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. But for proof there are people out there who think just like me (sure, go ahead and quake in terror), one person used the Doctor Who theme. This is what happens when portable toilets look like a blue police box/TARDIS used by a 900-plus-year-old time lord.
And there you have proof that sometimes it takes very little to amuse me. Not that you didn’t already know that.
The world today can be scary (sometimes through self-fulfilling prophecy and/or refusal to deal with reality, but that’s another column). It’s no wonder, then, that so many of us take comfort in odd or refreshingly innocent news stories. Who wants to check the president’s Twitter feed today? No, really, I’m asking … I need a break.
Laughter makes you feel better, and at least one study showed that it might help improve short-term memory, thanks to a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. It also can lower blood pressure, quite possibly saving your neighbor from having your fist put through his fence because he thinks everyone wants to hear “Mambo No. 5” on a loop at top volume.
Even once is too much for that one (the Lou Bega version, not the original).
Likewise, an onslaught of negative news (mass shootings, hurricane deaths, etc., not necessarily things you don’t agree with), can raise blood pressure and affect your mental health. Fake news (actual manufactured stories), especially on social media, can have a negative effect, overloading the brain and leaving it unable to tell reality from the unreal.
So my assignment for you is this: Unplug for a little bit and let your mind run free. Then, ease back in with some news stories of the weird (the In the News column on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s front page is always a good place to start).
We in the news business want you to read. But we also want you to be sane news consumers. That may just mean inviting a raccoon in every once in a while. You might worry if it’s in red boxers, though.