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Where weird is way of life

When a crew from one of the tabloid news shows stopped by a few weeks ago to use the telephone, we couldn't resist asking what story had brought them to our usually unsensational area.

"You mean," the reporter asked, "that you have more than one?"

"Well," I said, "I would guess you are here for the case of the family where mom and the kids are accused of sitting around and voting on whether to murder daddy, and then trying to do it with mercury out of a thermometer, cat wormer and high blood pressure pills in his food."

He nodded.

"But," I said, "it could be the invasion of the grasshoppers, the case of the cop trying to hire a hit man to kill other cops, the unsolved murder of three elderly persons whose roommate was acquitted in the case, the lawsuit that alleges that actions taken by a local abbot hastened the death of a monk, or the case in Citrus County where the man accused of several crimes offered the alibi that he couldn't have done it because he was home having sex with his brother."

The reporter, who spends his work-week traveling all over the country to find such stories, was still shaking his head when he left.

Which is too bad, because I was just getting warmed up. I hadn't even mentioned the judge who sentenced both a bucket full of snakes and a pickup truck to death. It was of course, before the Hernando County man charged with having sex with his daughter and fathering his own grandson said his daughter had sex with him because she was afraid of getting AIDS elsewhere and that it was actually her brother who had fathered the child.

Add to that a couple of really brutal crimes and the recent disappearance of two goats found later with their throats cut _ and it is really not surprising that people are starting to wonder whether we are living in some sort of weirdness triangle.

Perhaps a student at Central High School in Hernando County had it right when we talked about this the other day. "In New York City," he said in an accent indicating that he probably knew whereof he spoke, "this stuff wouldn't even make the papers."

For the most part, he is right.

Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties combine the effects of being hotly contested news counties _ where newspapers and TV stations scramble for readers and viewers who are recent arrivals _ with still being small-town enough to be shocked and appalled by things that make less of an impression in big cities.

Add to that the knowledge that this is a place where one large group of inhabitants _ the natives _ remember fondly the days when nothing happened and another group _ the newcomers _ came here hoping that nothing much ever would.

Let's face it. We have been through long periods when the entire concentration of excitement was limited to the walls of the Port Richey City Council chambers.

Somebody asked me the other day if I thought a scandal involving some missing lumber and the theft of gasoline from the city yard in Dade City might topple city government.

I thought back to the hit-man allegations and to scandals over the past 20 years that have involved two grand juries and allegations of police drug-running, wealthy residents committing arson and grand theft, city officials being photographed having sex with underage boys and one period during which the police chief was a fugitive and called me to dictate the poem he wanted to serve as his epitaph.

I had to answer, "Naaaaaaaah."

Even though this latest city case does include an alligator head being found on an ant hill, I still had to answer that the Scandal-O-Meter this time is barely hitting three on a scale of 10.

Pretty colorful though . . . huh?