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When news is drudgery, we need man-eating shrubbery

I have here a news item that alert reader Diane Moore clipped out of the Oct. 21, 2002, issue of the Pana, Ill., News-Palladium (actual motto: "Containing More News About the Pana Trade Area Than All Other Newspapers in the World").

This item consists of a grainy black-and-white photograph of two men, one in bib overalls. They're sitting at a table or bar, looking at the camera with serious, somewhat self-conscious expressions. In front of them is a white piece of paper, on which sits a small, darkish object. There is no way to tell what this object is from looking at the photo. The caption states, in its entirety:

"Unusual Walnut(s) Found _ While cutting wood one day last week, Andrew Bennett, left, and Tom Bennett found a strange looking walnut. It is actually two walnuts that grew on one stem."

Yes! A Siamese walnut! And the News-Palladium "got the scoop." You may laugh, but ask yourself this question: Which is more interesting? The Siamese walnut? Or Britney Spears?

I rest my case.

The Siamese-walnut story reminded me of when I was a cub reporter 30 years ago at a newspaper in West Chester, Pa., called (really) the Daily Local News, which was very local, and which routinely published photographs of unusual local vegetables. Like, a local resident might show up with a zucchini that, from a certain angle, vaguely resembled Bob Hope; the Daily Local News would definitely cover that.

Of course, we younger, hipper journalists thought this was embarrassing. We wanted to do relevant stories about major issues such as Watergate, which, through an incredible stroke of bad luck for us, was not taking place in the West Chester area.

So in an effort to localize big national stories, we'd do Man in the Street interviews, wherein we'd go out and ask the public to express its views. I recall walking around the Exton Mall for hours, asking the public what it thought about the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings.

This was frustrating, because the public, at least at the Exton Mall, was not thinking about the Senate Judiciary Committee. The public would gamely try to come up with meaningful quotes for me, but the public was clearly more interested in finding towels to match its curtains. Also, I bet, the Bob Hope zucchini.

Speaking of news stories about growing things: Alert reader Dianne Smith sent in an article from the July 23 issue of the Sandersville (Ga.) Progress. On the front page is the following headline: "Local woman sues doctor after twig grows on leg." I didn't bother to read the article.

Just kidding! I read the article with far more interest than I have ever had in any story whose headline contained the words "Federal Reserve Board." The story concerns a Sandersville woman who was treated by an emergency-room doctor for a cut she received on her thigh when "she fell into some boxwood shrubbery in her yard." The story states that nine months later, the woman went to another doctor, and _ I am not making this quote up _ "he noticed a stem had surfaced on her leg with five thriving green leaves." The doctor "concluded the stem was alive and feasting" on the woman's leg.

Needless to say, the woman is suing for pain and suffering, plus medical expenses, which presumably include pruning. But this story raises some troubling questions:

What if the second doctor had not noticed the stem? Would it have continued thriving, ultimately becoming a full-blown boxwood shrub on the woman's thigh, causing her no end of embarrassment in Dancercize class?

Isn't it just a tad alarming that boxwood shrubbery is capable of "feasting" on a human thigh? What if word of this capability gets around the boxwood community? What if more shrubs _ including shrubs that are part of large, powerful, organized hedges _ develop a taste for human flesh? It could be very bad:

TOM BROKAW: In our top story tonight, investigators remain baffled by the rash of mysterious disappearances involving groundskeepers.

INVESTIGATOR: It's the weirdest thing. Their hedge trimmers are lying on the ground, sometimes still running, but there's no sign of their bodies. Also there's a strange burping noise coming from somewhere.

Yes, it's a troubling story, and I have yet to see one word about it in the so-called "major" news media. They're too "big" for this kind of story. They won't report it until a boxwood twig grows on Ben Affleck or J-Lo. Speaking of Siamese walnuts.

Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald. Write to him c/o the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132.

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