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The News Of the Weird

By Joshua W. Shenk

Bert And Ernie, Alive and Well

Rumors have abounded on campus of an untimely death of Bert--the tall, yellow friend of Ernie who has gathered a sizable following in his years on "Sesame Street."

Reports have been that the muppet would be killed in an attempt to teach children viewers about death.

But according to an official of Children Television's Workshop, which produces the show, the rumor is false--although somewhat creative.

"Oh, so now it's Bert," she said "We get calls all the time asking about Ernie."

"Yesterday, Ernie got hit by a truck, today he was killed by a drunk driver," said the woman.

Receptionists at "Sesame Street" say they often receive calls from parents and teachers, who complain that their neighborhoods are beset with grief over the impending death of the short, orange one.

But, according to reliable sources at the center of the Bert and Ernie Universe, "It's just not true."

The only link with reality that "Sesame Street staffers could muster is the recent death of Jim Henson who, in addition to creating "Sesame Street" and all its muppets, was the voice of Ernie.

In any case, neither nor Ernie nor Bert are scripted to die--or even fall ill--in the near future.

May they live long and prosper.

phone Sex 900-Style

Nine-hundred numbers, used by, among others, The New Kids on the Block, various psychics and astrologers, Jose Canseco and The New Republic, are not known for their veracity.

In fact, most callers are seeking the voice of highly-advertised scantily clad women--often pre-recorded--who will "talk naughty."

But customers of one romance line in Nevada may feel particularly bamboozled when they learn of a lawsuit filed by Darryl Malone against his employer, Northwest Nevada Telco.

Malone, it seems, uses the stage name "Raven" to lure callers into sexual fantasies. Talented at voice mimicry--and creative with content--Malone, or "Raven," has received three love letters and a marriage proposal during his eight months on the job, according to Time magazine.

But Malone, described by Time as a 165-pound member of the national guard and a father of four, is the one who feels cheated.

Saying that he has been denied raises and promotions because he is a man, Malone filed suit and was granted a hearing by the state Equal Rights Commission.

"There was a point when I thought Raven was going to take over my life," Malone told Time, describing his work. "After I hung up the phone, I had to take a shower because I felt so dirty."

Payoff For The Pig Bowl

January was the month of gambling fever. For example:

. Paul Simon, the Democratic Senator from Illinois, lost a bet and, as payment, replaced his standard bow tie with a neck tie for one day.

. The Buffalo Bills' super bowl loss cost New York Gov. Mario Cuomo a crate of buffalo wings (sent to Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who had wagered a Virginia ham on the game).

. Homer Simpson was struck with gamble-mania after discovering that his daughter Lisa had an uncanny knack for picking winners.

. And in a bet between two slightly lower-profile characters, the sheriff of Sacramento California drove the city's police chief to work, shined his shoes and answered his phone calls last week to pay off a football wager.

According to the Associated Press, the county sheriff was the chief's temporary aide because the city police department beat the deputies 48-9 in their annual "Pig Bowl" football game.

For the record, gambling is illegal in California.

Federal Aid For McDonald's

McDonald's got $465,000 from the Agriculture Department last year for ads, paper tray liners and counter displays promoting Chicken McNuggets to customers around the world.

Campbell Soup Co. spent part of the $450,000 it got from the government to remind the people of Japan, Korea, Argentina and Taiwan to have a V-8 juice. Joseph E. Seagram and Sons touted its Four Roses whiskey in Europe and the Far East with $146,000 from the department.

The three companies are among dozens of well-known corporate giants that have collected money under a USDA program to find new overseas markets for American food, candy, bourbon, wine, ginseng, cotton, mink pelts and bovine semen.

The Program has a budget of $200 million per year, the Associated Press reported. THE Quote OF THE WEEK

"Skip asked me, would I like to teach a class. I said, you know, yeah, maybe, depending on my schedule." Spike Lee, referring to the conversation when Henry Louis Gates Jr. asked him to teach a class.

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