There was Iraq, of course. The mess hall bombing in Mosul, the battle of Fallujah, the Rumsfeld unthinking rejoinder about driving through hostile terrain without armored vehicles. And the presidential election. Who could ever forget that? But news is also what happens in the swirls and eddies at the edges of the mainstream. It's there, in the weirdness and the crazy stumbles, in the unpredictable energy bursts from places like Broward and Palm Beach counties. There were hundreds of such outbursts in 2004.New Times
kept track of them, hunting down the good ones with the avidity of a beach scavenger digging 50-cent pieces and wedding bands out of the sand in Fort Lauderdale. This is our list of the most significant insignificant news stories of 2004.
It's time to ask: How high is Rush Limbaugh? We know from medical records seized by the State Attorney's Office that Limbaugh popped more than 2,000 pain pills in a five-month span in 2003. And sure, he must have been stoned out of his gourd to say that racist thing about Donovan McNabb (that the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback gets undue props because "the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well"). But how wasted was he in May, when the big man (who still hasn't been charged with anything in connection with his addiction to pills) took a helping hand from the ACLU? The civil rights organization wrote to the judge in Limbaugh's drug case, backing up his assertion that prosecutors shouldn't be snooping in his medical files. Everybody's favorite right-wing blowhard not only accepted the help but later told Time magazine that he's always been a supporter of the ACLU. That, our friends, is one sweet buzz.
On a crisp, clear morning last January, 67-year-old Ruth Goebel lost control of her Chevrolet Suburban and, in spectacular fashion, burst through the fifth floor wall of a downtown parking garage. The silver behemoth flipped over in midair and landed on its roof, instantly killing Goebel, an architect who had emigrated from Cuba. City officials had known for two years, it was later revealed, that the garage's walls were defective and weak. Nothing to fret about, though: Within a few days, some plywood and barriers were placed in front of the fresh hole in the wall, and the garage, a cash cow for the city, was declared safe. Eleven months later, as if to prove that lightning can strike twice, a Miami man performed the same stunt in a South Miami garage. Cops say Nicanor Jose Saleta, 26, revved his '93 Mercury Cougar up to 60 mph or better and smashed through a wall on the sixth floor of the Sunset Place garage. Suicidally distraught over marital problems, he sailed 100 feet through the air, and landed right-side-up on top of some other cars. Saleta, who had taken the precaution of fastening his seat belt, wasn't injured.
How far is the fall to rock bottom when you're in the gutter trade to begin with? Consider Al Goldstein's year. The 68-year-old smutmeister and founder of the now-defunct Screw sex magazine went into bankruptcy last year; in June, he was forced to sell his Pompano Beach mansion -- and remove his infamous 11-foot statue of a raised middle finger. Jobless, he ended up living in a Manhattan homeless shelter in July. He was fired from the city's well-known Second Avenue Deli after a brief stint as a greeter. Then, four days after Thanksgiving, a security guard busted Goldstein, who's a grandfather, for shoplifting as he walked out of a Midtown Barnes & Noble... with three health-related books.
Well, kiddies, it turns out your favorite smut starlet has a criminal past and über-racist running buddies! Yes, Wendy Iwanow (Bianca Trump to porn aficionados), formerly of West Palm Beach, dodged a bullet in February when prosecutors couldn't nail her on forgery charges. The practicing tattoo artist had been arrested at Spokane International Airport on November 6, 2003, on a 12-year-old warrant. Her traveling companion that day was none other than Richard Butler, the Paleolithic founder of the Aryan Nation. Butler was called home to the gates of Hades on September 8 of this year, when he died peacefully in his sleep at age 86. None too soon, as far as some in the white supremacist world were concerned. Imagine, our Richie, hanging out with a self-styled "Latin Princess," who had publicly had sex with men of color. Ouch. The travails of keeping it all untangled in this increasingly mongrelized world of ours!
Just a season removed from winning ten games, the 2004 Miami Dolphins were almost certainly the worst in the franchise's 39 years. What could cripple a team so swiftly? Oh, just one of the most bizarre off-seasons in recent sports history. As soon as the Dolphins missed the playoffs, owner H. Wayne Huizenga stripped Coach Dave Wannstedt of personnel power. On January 12, the owner installed Dan Marino as a senior vice president of football operations. Three weeks later, Marino ditched. Then new personnel man Rick Spielman signed quarterback A.J. Feeley, who had started zero games in 2003; a right tackle who failed his physical; and a troubled star receiver, David Boston, who blew out his knee before playing a single down. There were the offseason police hassles (linebacker Eddie Moore for assault, cornerback Will Poole for DUI, tight end Randy McMichael for domestic violence) and star linebacker Junior Seau assuring everyone he wasn't "a faggot" after accepting the team's leadership award. When Ricky Williams announced his retirement to avoid drug tests -- well, Fins fans could hardly blame a fellow for fleeing. And that was before the team traded its best player, Adewale Ogunleye, to the Bears.
During the buildup to the November presidential election, one reporter, it seemed, really stepped over the bounds of safety and propriety. James S. Henry, a tax lawyer and investigative journalist who has been published in the New York Times, the New Republic and Mother Jones, had the gall to snap photos of folks lined up for early voting. This was verboten in Palm Beach County; Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore had issued an edict that voters can't be approached by journalists while waiting in line. A deputy ordered Henry to stop taking the photos and, when he refused, chased him down, arrested him, and charged him with disorderly conduct. Witnesses say deputies jumped on the 54-year-old, punched him, and slammed him into a patrol car. The incident caused a national uproar, and the rule was revised a day later to conform to state law, which forbids voters from being solicited within 50 feet of a polling place.
Crime by Numbers
Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne took over county fire services on July 1, 2003, on a triumphal wave. County commissioners cooed that Jenne was quite possibly the most effective sheriff and the best public administrator in Broward's short history. Turns out that stellar reputation was, to put it charitably, fabricated. After media reports detailed how BSO improperly cleared hundreds of cases, even blaming some on people who were incarcerated during the times when crimes were committed, Jenne came clean. The result? During the first six months of 2004, violent crime in Broward skyrocketed 47 percent over the same period last year. Pompano Beach saw a 58.6 percent increase in crime, while posh Weston suffered an 88.8 percent increase over the same period last year. A countywide trend perhaps? No. In areas where BSO doesn't patrol, crime has actually decreased. In fact, budget-crunched Fort Lauderdale even reported a 3.1 percent decrease.
Hollywood woman grills cheese sandwich. Woman eats half sandwich. Then woman notices -- ¡Dios mio! -- Virgin Mary's image burned into bread. Woman sets sandwich half in plastic box on nightstand. Years pass. Genius invents eBay. Woman auctions sandwich. Word spreads: Virgin Mary cheese sandwich! Thousands of people view sandwich auction. Someone offers $22,000 for sandwich! eBay figures auction a joke. eBay unplugs auction. Woman says: Not a joke! Newspapers ballyhoo story. Auction returns. Millions of people view sandwich auction. Online casino bids $28,000. Casino wins auction on November 22. (House always wins.) Casino promises to send woman on world tour with sandwich! Woman says: "I've never even been on a vacation before." Casino flak says: "It's a magical sandwich." It's a Hollywood miracle!
Bye Bye, Bobo
The escape on July 12 of Bobo the tiger led to a 26-hour, nationally televised tiger hunt in Loxahatchee that ended when a state wildlife officer shot the charging cat. The tiger's owner, Steve Sipek, who once played Tarzan in B-movies, claimed that a disgruntled ex-girlfriend may have released the cat. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission considered filing criminal charges against Sipek, but prosecutors in October declined to pursue the case because it couldn't be proven that somebody else released the cat. Sipek, whose film name was Steve Hawkes, starred as Tarzan in two films in the 1960s. He once said he fell in love with big cats when a lion saved him from a fire on a film set. He often displays a collection of photos of him cuddling Bobo in bed. No word as to whether Jane knew about Tarzan's bedroom activities.
Though environmentalists and Loxahatchee homeowners are saying, "Hey! We don't want the Scripps biotech project built near the ecologically sensitive Corbett Wildlife Area with $700 million of public money!" the Scripps trustees, local real estate developers, and Jeb Bush have been deaf to their cries. This was particularly acute on November 8, when the mucketymucks were sequestered in the posh Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. So community activists Veronica Robleto and Lynne Purvis, both 24, decided to put their message where it might actually get noticed: on their bare chests. The pair sailed into the Breakers like they owned the place, whipped off their shirts to reveal the words "Nature yes, Scripps no," and ran through the Seafood Bar shouting, "Nature yes, biotech no, Scripps Research has got to go." This elicited a mixed reaction from the crowd -- which included philanthropist Alex Dreyfoos and Scripps President Richard Lerner. Some dropped forkfuls of crab cakes; some giggled nervously; others shouted, "Encore, encore!" Caught on the way to their getaway car (they were delayed because they had to use the valet), the women were threatened with arrest for indecent exposure but ultimately let off with warnings never to return.
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Vying for top newsmaker of '04 was the man with the flowing robes and distant gaze. That's right, Jesus Christ himself. It was his battered corpus that helped to break box office records for Mel Gibson's study in masochism, Passion of the Christ. Then, the holy one started popping up in the Bush campaign. Was that a crown of thorns that briefly shone above the president's tormented visage when John Kerry started whomping him for his handling of Iraq? Maybe not. But the claim was certainly being made that, in Decision 2004, there was only one guy who had the Jesus endorsement, and it sure as hell wasn't Kerry. But wait. There's more. According to parishioners in Broward County evangelical churches, Jesus was a prophetic presence during our hurricane season. The cognoscenti laid it out for New Times, with the confidence of folks who are accustomed to weathering challenges to their faith, like this: Charlie Frances Ivan Jeanne. Scramble the first letters, figure out the hidden message, and out comes: "Jesus Is Finally Coming." Tah-dum (major Wagnerian chord). We mean, what else could it be? Of course, there were also some naysayers around who, assessing the piss-poor state of the world, said the message was really: "Jesus Is Finally Checking out."
Stork Swan Dive
When Jim Stork announced his candidacy for Congress at Brasserie Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale on a breezy March 18 evening, he became the Great Gay Hope. A 37-year-old bakery owner and former Wilton Manors mayor, Stork told voters that he was ready to challenge popular Republican incumbent E. Clay Shaw. He even had the money to back him, having raised more than $1 million from a network of gay donors and the wealthy acquaintances of his boyfriend, 70-year-old Democratic Party bigwig Ronald M. Ansin. But then something happened. On August 19, Stork said he was taking a hiatus for medical tests. It ain't HIV, aides assured. Then, on September 17, Stork dropped out for good, claiming to have some serious but nonfatal heart condition. Unfortunately, he dropped out too late to be taken off the ballot, effectively screwing the Democratic Party that embraced him for his money and good looks. Heart condition? Sounds more like Scaredypants Syndrome.