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NEWSWATCH

Is this the cocaine customer service center?

Rosie Lee Hill thought she'd been ripped off, so she called police. Her complaint? Someone had sold her fake crack cocaine. When police went to her Pensacola home, Hill showed them two crack rocks she had just bought for $50. She said they tasted like baking soda. An officer tested the drugs and discovered that even though it wasn't good crack, it was real. Hill, 35, was arrested.

I see barbed wire, and iron bars ...

A psychic in Ruston, La., didn't tell one of her customers that higher credit card bills were in his future. Police say Janice Marks, who operates a palm-reading service under the name "Sister Kennedy," duped a 60-year-old man, telling him that his money was dirty and needed to be prayed over.

After he handed over three credit cards and an automated teller machine card, Marks, 36, spent a week running up huge bills. Now, Marks has another bill to worry about: her bail was set at $25,000.

The village smithy stands no more

A blacksmith in a Russian village near Moscow was killed recently by an explosion after hammering on a cannon shell he had used as an anvil for 10 years. Someone had given him the shell a decade ago saying it was a dummy shell used for training.

Well . . . I had to ask

A man released from prison after serving time for robbing a Bozeman, Mont., bowling alley returned to the scene of the crime in hopes of retrieving his wallet. The man told a cashier at Country Lanes that he had robbed the place a few years ago and thought he might have lost his wallet up in the ceiling, where he had been found hiding by police. He asked the cashier if he could take a look. "I was floored," said the bowling alley owner. "I called the police and told the guy I wanted him out of here." The man shrugged and left.

Right . . . and "Baywatch' is real

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, China's state-controlled press has led the population to believe some things about Americans that . . . well, may not be true. First, most Americans lie. Somehow, they found that 79 percent of us give fake names to strangers on airplanes. Next, three out of 10 Americans killed by police deliberately throw themselves into the line of fire. And finally, most of us leave our worldly goods to our pets, not our children.

Sunglasses, jeans, and a degree

Add college classes to the list of things you can get at the Mall of America. National College started classes recently at the megamall in Bloomington, Minn. It offers 17 courses in accounting, marketing, human resources, computers, business and other subjects. Fifty students have enrolled for this quarter.

Cruel and unusual punishment?

Accordion music helps prisoners turn their lives around, says a New Brunswick, N.J., preacher who has just marked 40 years playing at his local county jail. Inmates at the Middlesex (N.J.) county jail clap and sing along to Ralph Bailey's accordion. A Baptist minister and Salvation Army volunteer, Bailey says the accordion music "seems to reach their souls more quickly than words ever could."

Jail officials agree. "After the sessions," said an official, "they become real pussycats."

The identity crisis candidate

A man who has impersonated a gynecologist, a senator, a professional athlete and an astronaut has allegedly added to his resume. Robert James Hunt, 35, was charged recently with pretending to be a Secret Service agent. Hunt is accused of offering investigative services to a Pittsburg, Kan., sporting goods store worker while posing as a Secret Service agent. Hunt's arrest came a month after he was released from prison after pleading guilty to another impersonation charge.

Hunt's current legal problems just might interfere with his latest role _ he is a candidate in Pittsburg's city commission election next month.

_ Compiled from Times wires

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