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Small sensations
A local cat gets wet, an Englishman finds 20 bucks, and the perils of slick cheese: A selection of news stories that the mainstream press overlooked

The media tends to focus on the negative. Good ... isn’t newsworthy.

Edward A. Flynn, secretary of the Massachusetts Office of Public Safety

Critics of media sensationalism claim that ... there is plenty more out there that the public is not getting because the coverage is being saturated by the hot topic.

Peter Nardi, sociology professor at Pitzer College, California

Reading the daily papers can be an unsettling affair. If we’re not being bombarded with celebrity gossip, we’re being assaulted by tales of woe. Then there are the rare occasions when celebrity and woe intersect — Sonny Bono’s fatal skiing accident, for instance, or Tom Cruise’s acting career. For the most part, though, newspaper editors find themselves confronted with a more mundane reality, and so, in the absence of truly sensational stories, must resort to negativity to sell papers. They make the world seem interesting by making it seem bad.

The media’s obsession with negativity and sensationalism is, in many ways, a reflection of our own sensibilities. There is something uniquely compelling, after all, about somebody else getting squashed by a truck or struck by lightning, particularly if that person happens to be Tom Cruise. Yet this never-ending quest for what sociologists call "the hot topic" is not an entirely positive phenomenon. As George Bernard Shaw put it, "Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization."

The fact is, what we read in our daily papers gives us a distorted sense of the world. Buildings collapse, limbs turn black and fall off, drug addicts hit old ladies over the head with apparent impunity. Indeed, after a few pages of this stuff, it seems remarkable that any of us are left standing. But there is more to life, of course, than house fires, car crashes, and shark attacks. Every day, people go about changing the world in small, quiet ways that are both vital and boring. These events, sadly, are all too often overlooked by the mainstream press.

In a more fair and balanced world, the media would intersperse reports of robberies and suicides with stories about people shopping or eating dinner or masturbating over Internet porn — the ordinary, everyday activities that make this country what it is. In the interest of promoting such coverage, we at the Phoenix have compiled a list of news briefs that contain little in the way of disaster or depravity, but that are remarkable nonetheless — remarkable for their simplicity and their universality, for what they tell us about life: that it can be newsworthy even when it is good, or at least not completely terrible.

Boy drives home

Shortly after midnight last night, a Toyota Corolla traveling on Route 129 in Wakefield passed an SUV without incident. The driver of the car, 16-year-old Timothy Tim, was reportedly on his way home from his girlfriend’s house, where he had spent the evening playing violent video games. Contacted at his home in Wakefield, the boy’s father, Timothy Tim Sr., said his son had been eating a Snickers as he overtook the SUV, and that a peanut had become lodged in his teeth, forcing him momentarily to stop singing along to Petey Pablo’s "Freek-A-Leek." Tim went on to add that he was "irked" that his son had parked "kind of crooked" in the driveway, but said he would take no action.

Money found by tourist

A 52-year-old man reportedly found a $20 bill in Plymouth yesterday. "I look down and, well!" said the man, Roman Clobb. Clobb, who owns a plus-size-clothing store, said he had not decided how to spend the money yet, but that he was considering having lunch somewhere. "I’m delighted," he added, holding up a bill that appeared to be marked with some kind of fecal matter. According to Marge Pfiffle of the accounting firm Strycker & Plange, people lose money with increasing frequency in America, with few ever seeing the misplaced cash again. People who have money in their possession are advised to keep it in a wallet, or just to be more careful. "It doesn’t grow on trees," said Pfiffle.

Storm scares Newton man

Severe thunderstorms in the Boston area last night left a Newton home intact. "We heard a clap of thunder and there was a flash," said Al Grink, 76, who was in bed at the time. "Luckily, it did nothing to the house." Across New England, tens of thousands of homes remained undamaged by the storm, which dumped more than an inch of rain on the region. "It was slow. We played Scrabble," said Fall River firefighter Frank Ibzewski, adding that the game was missing several letter tiles. The storm, however, did take its toll on a family in Worcester, whose cat, Ms. Pibbles, reportedly got "wet." Forecasters are predicting high winds for tonight, and warn that leaving plastic trash barrels outside could result in tippage.

Rash outbreak in Medfield

A Medfield man who reported extreme itching on his backside is suffering from what health officials call "a rash." The man, Alexi Schankovitch, 39, first felt what he described as "a little agitation" on his posterior on Wednesday of last week. By Saturday, he said, his rump was "raw." According to dermatologists, up to 50 million Americans suffer from skin irritation on their bottoms annually. People who do feel itching on their rear ends are advised to scrub the infected area with soap, but to avoid clawing at it until they weep. Schankovitch, meanwhile, yesterday denied reports that he had raked his own inflamed buttocks with a fork. "I will just sit this one out," he joked.

Cab driver not Al Qaeda

Homeland Security officials have reported that a Jordanian cab driver in Boston has no terrorist ties. The driver, Omar Al-Wahdat, responded to yesterday’s announcement by saying, "America!" Al-Wahdat did add, however, that he has had problems with the language, in particular with the expression "rule of thumb." "How can a thumb make the rules?" he asked, holding up his own thumb for emphasis. Al-Wahdat’s non-terrorist status follows a week in which no Al Qaeda activity was reported in New England. A local FBI agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said riders should not be alarmed by the aroma of vanilla in Al-Wahdat’s cab, attributing the smell to a "harmless" tree-shaped object attached to the taxi’s rear-view mirror.

Haircut goes well

A 19-year-old Cambridge woman yesterday received a haircut she was pleased with. Amber McFettle, a meter-maid trainee, told reporters that she had the work done at a place called Hair Apparent, and that her hair now falls almost to her shoulders, with a slight flip at the sides. According to sources, there have been a number of satisfactory haircuts performed in Cambridge recently, the majority of them by trained hairdressers. For McFettle, her own adequate haircut came as a big relief. "Last time, it looked like it had been done by a monkey using a spoon," McFettle said at her home last night. "But this one’s pretty good." McFettle plans to go to a party this weekend, where she will put her new haircut to the test. "I like it," she said.

Plane lands at Logan

A United Airlines plane from Paris, France, landed at Logan Airport last night three minutes ahead of schedule. According to one tired-looking passenger, the chicken served on the plane was "a little dry," but this problem was alleviated by supplementing each fork-load of meat with four or five peas. "The dessert was nice," the passenger added. "Some kind of cobbler." This week alone, said airport spokeswoman Andrea Clapp-Ruhnsrur, hundreds of planes have landed at Logan either on time or a little early, with no fiery crashes to speak of. There was a complaint earlier in the week, Clapp-Ruhnsrur added, from a passenger who thought the in-flight movie, Legally Blonde 2, "sucked." The FAA is looking into the incident.

Police seek convenience-store lurker

Somerville police have revealed that the Davis Square Store 24 was not the target of an armed robbery last night. "A man bought a large number of toilet-paper rolls," said store clerk Tiffany Bray. "And a woman dropped a TV dinner in the aisle." Bray, however, did reveal that one customer spent "quite a long time" looking at magazines in the store. "He was shifty," she said. "Kept licking his fingers." A police review of the magazines showed no sign of foul play, said Sergeant Paul "Pog" Brzyksviski of the Somerville Police Department, adding that "some people just like to read for free." The police would like to speak to the reader, who is described as a short, extremely thin man in his late 70s.

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Issue Date: July 2 - 8, 2004
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