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Bored? Change Channels and Buy Something

The latest recreational offering in recreation-conscious San Diego is shopping-by-TV, thanks to America’s Shopping Channel, the New Orleans-based firm that took to Cox Cable’s Channel 29 airwaves this month as San Diego’s first broadcast department store.

Among the offerings during one recent segment: duck-shaped planters, a porcelain mask on a stand swaddled in a feather boa, three Japanese plates, some gold chains and a set of quilted plate protectors.

The scintillating dialogue between callers and the salesman-host, a nattily dressed aspiring actor named Walter:

“Hullo, Walt? This is Joe . . . You still have the cowboys and cowgirls cup?”

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“I’d like to ask, do you have the acrylic phone address book?”

Was the porcelain mask shiny? Was the calculator Japanese? The camera maneuvered awkwardly for a close-up of the back side of a blackboard for sale. There were stretches of silence--time to wonder.

The show had all the interest of a public TV auction--minus celebrity auctioneers, trips to Acapulco and a symphony of ringing phones. But Sunday evening, it turned nasty when several crank callers broke into racist gibberish on the air.

Walter, who is black, deftly terminated the calls.

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Channel 29 Vice President Richard Berlin conceded in an interview that crank calls are sometimes a problem. He said the station attempts to screen them out by checking callers’ membership numbers before putting them on the air.

But Berlin defended the selection of merchandise, saying it offers a convenient opportunity to find a birthday gift while sitting at home. Asked about the plate protectors, he pointed out amiably: “If you had nice china . . . it would be nice to protect it.”

Locker Raid Draws Heat

For some firefighters, a man’s station is his castle. After all, they spend 24 hours a day there--sleeping, eating, working. So some Oceanside firefighters were irked when they discovered recently that their walls and lockers had been stripped naked of all supposedly offensive decor.

The fire station sweep resulted from a new city directive asking department heads to ensure against offensive decoration, firefighters say. They say the policy was promulgated after the city manager heard of a complaint about materials in a city building that constituted sexual harassment.

But the Fire Department’s application of the policy was overzealous, said Matt Rielly of the Oceanside Firefighters Assn. Among the artworks censored in the sweep, Rielly said, were Family Fitness Center calendars and a revealing photograph of one firefighter’s wife.

“It really took the personal edge off the fire station,” said Rielly. “Now this place looks more like an institution.”

So several firefighters consulted a lawyer, Rielly said, “just to develop some information.” They also mentioned the matter to a couple of police officers, who said the locker raid constituted burglary and volunteered to write a report, Rielly said.

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Suddenly, word got out in the media--through the Police Department, said Rielly, who stresses that the firefighters never meant to stir up trouble. Eventually, the association and the chief reached an agreement, which led to a clarification and modification of the policy.

Fire Chief James Rankin could not be reached late Monday, but Rielly said Rankin assured the firefighters that he never intended the policy to be interpreted as it was. For the time being, Rielly said, he and his fellow firefighters are laying low. The lockers remain bare.

Rielly’s losses included a record album cover given to him as a joke: the group’s moniker, Ratt, matches his nickname, Ratt Mielly. He said the cover featured “a lady bending over in tights. She’s putting a sock on her foot.”

“You can go to Tower Records,” Rielly marveled. “Look under Ratt. You’ll laugh when you see what they took off my locker!”

Solicited to the Gills

Sea World is striking back at the collared con artists, mercenary missionaries and saffron-robed panhandlers who have proliferated in the parking lot of the aquatic park to prey on one of the largest tourist gatherings in town.

“Important,” reads the flyer that Sea World now hands visitors upon entering the lot. “Solicitors may ask for your money using a variety of tactics. They are not Sea World employees. Sea World does not approve of such actions. There is no charge for parking. If you are asked by a solicitor to give money, please hand them this flyer.”

Sea World officials say their counterattack was prompted by 25 visitor complaints weekly and by new solicitor tactics. One official described a parking-ticket-sized “summons” for “humanitarian concern” stuck under windshield wipers by one group seeking contributions.

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“That type of tactic makes people feel that they are for some reason paying for their parking privilege, which we don’t charge for,” said Bob Kenniston, director of park services. “Especially if you’re from out of the country, you don’t know what’s happening. Therefore, you just happen to give them some money.”

Kenniston added: “It’s worse than being panhandled in Tijuana, in my estimation.”


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