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A chance to eat their berries, and words

After years of dismissing critics as kooks, Vindicator Inc., owner of the nation's first commercial food irradiation plant, is taking a different approach to win hearts and minds. Last week officials invited reporters to their Mulberry plant, where they blamed the press for many of their image problems. (No area supermarket, to our knowledge, is carrying irradiated food, even though the federal government says it is safe.) Vindicator handed out pamphlets with a photograph of children drinking milk, with the caption, "At one time, pasteurized milk wasn't thought to be safe." Guests were served irradiated strawberries _ 3 weeks old and still firm and sweet. But perhaps Vindicator's best advertisement is David Laurenzo, a North Miami Beach grocer who is selling irradiated berries despite protesters outside his store. One rumor is that Vindicator is paying Laurenzo. "Not at all," Laurenzo said. "We're selling a product, just like any other new product. And as long as our consumers want to buy it, we will offer it for sale."

Calendar commemorates black theater

The accomplishments of African-Americans are celebrated all year long in a calendar published by Aetna Life & Casualty insurance. The 1992 edition, "In the Shadow of the Great White Way: Images from the Black Theater," is full of photographs of black actors and scenes from plays by black authors. Captions provide information about the playwrights, performers and productions. Proceeds go to two arts organizations in Harlem: the AMAS Musical Theater and the Audience Development Committee. To order, send a check for $2 (payable to Aetna) to Aetna Calendar, RWAC, 151 Farmington Ave., Hartford 06156-3220.

Temporarily disabled?

Here's the tag for you

You're barely able to move after surgery. Or you're hugely pregnant and every step's a struggle. Or you're temporarily unable to walk without assistance. It would be wonderful to park in a close-in handicapped space, but you don't have the proper tag. For just such temporary disabilities, there's the "temporary disabled parking permit." You apply in person or by mail at county auto tag offices or tax collector's offices. You and your doctor fill in the forms; you pay $15. For 90 days, you get a red and white placard you can hang from the rear view mirror of any car you're driving or riding in. Non-residents and non-drivers are eligible for this "Park Handy" program.

Maybe too good for government work

If Hillsborough officials move county offices into one of the fancy high-rises available in downtown Tampa, there are some fears that the taxpaying public might misunderstand. Take Two Mack Center, the 28-story, pink tower of glass and "flamed Rosa Perrino granite" often named as a possible new home. "Maybe we should put in some money to paint it gray," County Administrator Fred Karl joked last week. "That might make it more acceptable. And maybe make all the furniture drabby too." (We checked around with some geologists, who guessed that "Rosa" refers to the color of the stone, and "Perrino" might refer to the quarry or its geographic location in Spain. We're pretty sure it costs more than Sears aluminum siding. We don't know if developer William Mack plans to let the county use his neat 40-passenger trolley that is parked in front of the empty building. We do know it has a removable liquor bar and stereo system. That may not be very government-like either.)

Pause to remember the day it rained milk

Here's one we're darn sorry we missed. Tuesday is the 62nd anniversary of the day a cow was milked while flying in an airplane. On this day in 1930, Elm Farm Ollie was placed aboard a plane at the St. Louis International Air Exposition. During the flight she was milked and the milk was sealed in containers and parachuted over St. Louis.

Award is a victory for common sense

Vindication: Dr. William Hafling of Madeira Beach won a first place award at the Florida Xeriscape Conference this month in Orlando. He was honored for his xeriscaped yard, which includes sea grape, beach morning glory, jasmine and honeysuckle, as well as fruit trees and bushes. This celebrity yard was in the news two years ago when Madeira Beach officials took Bill and Marilyn Hafling to court, claiming the yard was a mass of overgrown weeds that violated city codes. The suit was dismissed. Bill Hafling says xeriscaped yards don't require extensive watering, mowing, pesticides and fertilizer. Hafling says he enjoys stepping outside to pick a tangelo for his breakfast, and sees his award as a victory for "the commonsensical." In the industrial and commercial division, the xeriscape learning center at the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service was a winner. You can check out the drought tolerant plants, watering techniques and native plants in the garden around the building at 12175 125th St. N in Largo, where there's a self-guided tour.

Tea time may be croquet time at Vinoy

It isn't overflow office space. It's not a sandbox. That unusual structure on the west side of the Stouffer Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg is a tea garden. In a few months the pergolas, or trellises, will be covered with twining ivy and bougainvillea to create a shady area where you can have tea by the fountain or watch the action on the championship croquet courts to be built at Fifth and Beach.

Was Redenbacher on the Mayflower?

Bet they didn't microwave it: Saturday is the 362nd anniversary of the day Quadequina, brother of Massasoit of the Wampanoag tribe, presented a bag of popped corn to colonists at the first Thanksgiving, celebrated Feb. 22, 1630.

Notables

Marian Anderson is 90 today. Tuesday: Yoko Ono is 59. Thursday is the 177th anniversary of the death of Frederick Douglass, the antislavery activist, and Patty Hearst is 38.

_ Contributing: John Cutter, Marlene Sokol, Debbie Wolfe, New York Times News Service. Send items to ETC., St. Petersburg Times, PO Box 1121, St. Petersburg 33731-1121.

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