The 2008 Uncommon Loon Awards

A look back in laughter at the porn-peddlıng, Palin-pushing, hate-crime hating, anti-American year that was.

» Burning mad

Ever daydreamed, like that misanthrope in Office Space, of burning your workplace down? Eder Rojas of Woodbury apparently did—only his workplace was a Compass Airlines plane bearing 72 passengers over Minnesota. Accused of igniting paper towels in a plane restroom, the flight attendant later told authorities he was distraught at the prospect of having to fly to Regina, Saskatchewan. The work of the Regina tourism board isn’t getting any easier, eh?

» Mixed message

Sex, drugs, violence. You can’t accuse motivational speaker Russell Simon Jr. of not understanding what he preached against—as he feloniously demonstrated at his Cambridge home last summer. The star of numerous abstinence-themed high-school assemblies was accused of attempted murder, drug use, forced sex, bludgeoning a friend with a John Wayne statue, and generally reinforcing stereotypes about motivational speakers.

» Duck, duck, goosed

The call of the wild took a breathy turn when hunters across the country received duck stamps featuring the work of a Plymouth artist and a phone number ostensibly for reordering stamps. Instead of the usual 1-800-STAMP24 number, however, the apparently misprinted cards advised hunters to call 1-800-TRAMP24, that of the Intimate Connections phone-sex service—which promised callers that they could “talk only to the girls who turn you on.” “The stamp is perfectly usable,” argued a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman, boosting the theory that the USFWS are marketing geniuses.

» Shoot first, party later

What happens when SWAT officers raid the wrong house and a bewildered resident starts shooting back? In Minneapolis, the officers returned fire—and were honored for bravery and quick thinking: “The easy decision would have been to retreat, [but the] team did not take the easy way out,” gushed Minneapolis police chief Tim Dolan at a July ceremony. Dolan later apologized to the innocent homeowners, but still claimed it was “a perfect example of a situation that could have gone horribly wrong, but did not because of the [team’s] professionalism.”

» Ain’t got time to lead

After teasing the world with a potential Senate run, beach bum Jesse Ventura ultimately demurred, declaring that surfing “was much more honorable.” Though critics claimed he had simply sought publicity for his new book, Ventura clarified that he could no longer deal with media attention—at a media conference following weeks of media appearances.

» Wrong number

Honesty was ultimately good policy for burglary suspect Grayson Lee Clevenger, who eluded Burnsville police after a car chase that looped through the Twin Cities, into western Wisconsin, and back again. The cops had called his cell phone during the pursuit, hoping to persuade him to apply the brakes peacefully—but he answered with, “Dude, I can’t talk. I’m being chased by the police,” and hung up. They wouldn’t, ahem, catch up with him again for nearly a month.

» And the Award for Best Elmer Fudd Impersonation goes to…

“I killed it out of season—big deal, it’s just a [expletive] duck.” —Scott Clark, accused of ripping the head off one of the ducks that roam the Embassy Suites lobby in St. Paul, claiming he was hungry.

» Kiddie porn

Are Al Franken’s sex jokes inappropriate? If you’re the National Republican Senatorial Committee, you let the children decide. “Come on in, kids…Senator Franken’s going to tell a few jokes” read the cartoon cover of a direct-mail piece posing as a comic book while explicitly describing Franken’s writing for Playboy. Not even Franken’s Senate-race opponent, Norm Coleman, approved of this NRSC concept, informing them of his @#$&% disappointment.

» Tanked reporters

Of all the gimmicks rolled out during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul (balloons, T-shirts, Sarah Palin), the one with the most teeth might have been the invitation extended to journalists by Underwater Adventures at the Mall of America: Swim in our shark-infested tanks! For the occasion, the aquarium named a couple of new sharks Obama and McCain and acquired an elephant-nose fish as well as something called a donkey-dung sea cucumber (no partisanship there).

» Naked ambition

Al Franken, already under fire for a provocative article he once penned for Playboy, probably should have resisted the financial charms of political bedfellow Christie Hefner, the Playboy president who threw a fundraiser for him. But Norm Coleman, in criticizing Franken, may have made a bigger boob of himself, as it was   simultaneously revealed that his campaign accepted a $10,000 donation from a lobbying firm that represented the murderous junta in Myanmar. Not that Coleman, who declined to return the money, allegedly knew of the junta connection. “If he had,” claimed his spokesman, “he would have told the junta to free their people and make human rights and liberty a priority.”

» Suspending belief

Last January, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board placed preliminary blame for the I-35W bridge collapse on poorly designed gusset plates—and Congressman Jim Oberstar, who had blasted Governor Tim Pawlenty for not investing more in infrastructure, suggested this was jumping the gun. In October, NTSB investigators said they’d discovered the cause: poorly designed gusset plates—and Oberstar fumed, saying, “It stretches both credibility and past experience.” In November, the final determination was released. Was it lack of maintenance? Legislative tight-wads? Pawlenty in the library with a lead pipe? Nope: Gusset plates.

» Dupe-lication services

It’s hard to say who’s lamer. The defense company that blithely used a St. Paul Kinko’s to copy instructions for police on using chemical grenades and other “distraction devices” during the Republican National Convention—or the Kinko’s employee who blamed his sabotage (leaking the instructions to an anarchist website) not on radical ideals but on being drunk at work? Dude, we’re going to need your black neckerchief back.

» Never mind Joseph McCarthy, the Ku Klux Klan, Timothy McVeigh, the Michigan Militia, Mother Jones, Jim Jones, Huey Newton, Eric Rudolph, the Weathermen, the Freemen, Aryan Nation, John Walker Lindh, David Koresh, Charles Manson…“

Barack Obama and Al Franken are the most radical extremists this country has ever seen.” —Minnesota GOP chairman Ron Carey

» Color bind

When a group of young black men at Valleyfair amusement park in Shakopee brutally beat a man protecting his daughter from their harassment, local radio-ranter Jason Lewis rushed to the airwaves. The KTLK host goaded prosecutors to charge the perps with a hate crime for drubbing a white man, as he presumed they would have if the races were reversed. Only no one ever said the victim was white. As officials later revealed in order to quell the race-baiting, he, too, was black. Oops. Still, Lewis was unrepentant: “I got nothing wrong, except the race of the victim.”

» Five things we learned from Michelle Bachmann

1. The truth about the Declaration of Independence: “Guess what? Not all cultures are equal.”
2. The geography of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge: “Dark most of the year,” and “no trees.”
3. The location of the National Republican Convention: “The most beautiful city in the United States—Minneapolis.”
4. The power of denial: “I did not say he was anti-American.”
5. The power of self-knowledge: “I may not always get my words right.”

For sale: one lake, extra-large

You know times are tough  when your city holds a yard sale to ease its deficit. But that’s essentially the proposal in Duluth, where officials have contemplated selling off lakefront property and a couple of enormous state-commissioned Tiffany windows formerly displayed at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Next up: One bridge, goes up and down, great conversation starter.

Sex bomb

Let the pundits ponder why Tim Pawlenty was passed over in the McCain veepstakes—we think we know the reason: His ill-conceived joke tossed out during the Minnesota fishing opener, which revealed his weak grasp of a higher office. “I have a wife who genuinely loves to fish,” he told WCCO Radio. “Now, if I could only get her to have sex with me.” Silly Tim, as if anyone in Washington is having sex with his spouse.


Badgers Behaving Badly

Stupid stunts from across the border

» So much for secret sauce
An Appleton couple awakened by whistling in their basement discovered a man hiding there covered head to toe in barbecue sauce. The slick intruder told police that the condiment, which he’d taken from the couple’s refrigerator, was intended to camouflage him from the government—“an urban disguise, if you will.”

» Drunk dial

Pat Dykstra, of rural Fox Lake, knew what to do about an intoxicated driver: Call 911. Except she was the driver in question. While speeding home from a bar, she called 911 and asked if a cop could follow her home because she was driving dangerously drunk (she then asked to be let off the phone since driving while talking on a cell phone was a bad idea). She was already home by the time police caught up with her, but they gave her a ticket anyway.

» L-O-O-N-I-E

When Wendy Brown showed up for cheerleading practice last summer at a Green Bay high school, something seemed a little off—by about 18 years. Brown was 33, and had stolen the identity of her
15-year-old daughter to enroll in the school and experience the cheerleader life she’d never had. Yet it wasn’t until she failed to show up for classes beyond the first week that school officials suspected anything. As one school employee described her, she was timid, cried about an alleged move from Nevada, and offered that she wasn’t good at math: “Her demeanor was consistent with that of a high-school girl.”

» Briefs encounter
Patrick Bishop thought he had a foolproof scheme. After robbing a mini-mart, he’d simply change out of his blue coveralls and blend into rural Hartford, about 40 miles northwest of Milwaukee. But Bishop didn’t change clothes so much as shed them entirely, and locals easily spotted a man trying to get away on a bicycle in nothing but underpants showing a suspiciously large bulge: $412 and a pack of cigarettes. Still, Bishop had one last card up his, um, sleeve, telling police that he was the one who’d been robbed—of his clothing; the thief hadn’t wanted his money. Pressed for a description, he characterized the mystery man as “looking a lot like him and wearing the same clothes as him.”

Tim Gihring is a senior writer for Minnesota Monthly.

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