It is time for True Crime Blotter, the feature in which we examine reports of actual crimes to see if they reveal important underlying truths about our society (no). We begin with a shocking crime that either was or was not committed in Springfield, Ill., last year, according to an article from the July 29 edition of The State Journal-Register sent in by many alert readers. This article states that a man told police that a neighbor ``may have switched glass eyeballs with him.'' The man claimed that the neighbor ``also had a glass eye, but apparently preferred the victim's,'' and that ``his false eyeball was taken from his pocket and replaced with another one.'' The police report stated that the victim ``did not see the exchange, nor were there any eyewitnesses.''
Of course it could have been an innocent mistake. Every one of us has, at one time or another, accidentally picked up somebody else's glass eyeball. But we have to wonder if crime is raging out of control in Springfield, in light of yet another story from the Journal-Register, sent in by alert reader Mark Mitchell. This story concerns a man in a movie theater who became annoyed at a group of teen-agers who kept making noise during the movie. After several attempts to quiet the teen-agers, the man lost his temper, went up to the teen-agers, and - in a clearly illegal act of retaliation - switched glass eyeballs with them.
No, really, he sprayed them with a fire extinguisher. Nobody was injured, but that is not the point. The point is that we are supposed to be a nation of laws, not of ``vigilante justice,'' and I am sure I speak for all concerned Americans when I make the following statement regarding the Fire Extinguisher Avenger: Yay. The Journal-Register took pretty much the same position in an editorial, which stated that some readers had even offered to contribute to a legal defense fund for the man. As it happened, he was not charged. But this does NOT mean that we should squirt chemicals at people who talk during movies. Fire extinguishers are intended for emergencies and should be used only if truly needed, such as when a restaurant patron lights a cigar.
Speaking of legal defenses: A fascinating one is described the Oct. 19 edition of The La Crosse (Wis.) Tribune, sent in by alert reader Jim Hansen. The paper quotes a police report as saying that a motorist who had been stopped on suspicion of drunken driving ``attempted to thwart the arresting officer by covering his ears and saying, `I cannot hear you, la la la la la.'''
Incredibly, this legal defense did not work, even though it is almost identical to the one used successfully by President Clinton during his impeachment trial on charges of extreme mentoring.
And speaking of getting into trouble because of undergarments: Another intriguing legal defense was employed by a man apprehended on suspicion of drunken driving in Alberta, Canada, according to a report in The Advocate, a newspaper in the city of Red Deer (or, possibly, THE newspaper in the city of Red Deer) sent in by many alert readers. The article states that the suspect ``tried to eat his underwear in the hope that the cotton fabric would absorb alcohol before he took a breathalyzer test.''
Before we judge this person harshly as being a stupid idiot, we should bear in mind that Canada is considered by some experts to be a foreign country, and thus has its own laws and customs, which could include underwear-eating. For all we know, it is considered the height of Canadian hospitality to offer visitors a nice pair of jockey shorts to chew on. So let's not make fun of Canadians until we've walked a kilometer in their moccasins, eh?
Let's remember that WE have plenty of problems right here in the U.S.A., in crime-wracked hellhole cities such as Sudbury, Mass., where the following item appeared in the Police Log section of the Aug. 19 Sudbury Town Crier, sent in by alert reader Lew Weinstein:
``4:15 p.m.: A Silver Hill Road resident reported there was a wild animal in her house. Police responded and found a rotting potato, which they removed.''
This incident serves as a chilling reminder that our ultimate defense against crime is the ``thin blue line'' of police officers who daily put their lives on the line for us, never knowing when they will find themselves in a dark hallway eye-to-eye with a decomposing tuber, or - God forbid - a full-grown member of the zucchini family, which every year kills more Americans than all other forms of squash combined. So the next time you see a police officer, take a moment to express your gratitude. You might also point out that ``Decomposing Tubers'' would be a good name for a rock band.
Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald.