Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles . Umbilical...

Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles . Umbilical cord clamps . Artificial gravel . Giant redwoods . Whatever happened to some of those offbeat items and unusual situations chronicled in the Footnotes column over the last 15 months ? Staff Writer Keith Bradsher takes a look back.

Lower Standard for Heroes

Playmates Toys Inc. of La Mirada reached pretty low when it introduced Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles. After all, they live in the sewer.

But so far this year the company has shipped $40 million worth of the 4 1/2-inch-high characters, and the company does not expect to clear its backlog of orders and begin restocking its barren warehouse until spring, said Karl N. Aaronian, product manager of boys toys. The $4 characters do battle beneath city streets against such evildoers as Shredder, a separately sold human ninja action figure clad in "slice and dice" armor.

The toys are based on a comic book series that spoofs the half-century-old American tradition of superheroes as handsome, everyday youths. And whereas Captain America and Superman both fought for their country, the Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles, Aaronian said, "fight for truth, justice and a larger slice of pizza."

Checks Are a Long Way Off

If the workers look young at Intel --they are.

The Santa Clara, Calif-based computer chip maker introduced a guaranteed pension benefit soon after the stock market's Oct. 19, 1987, nose dive hammered the profit-sharing and market investment retirement plans offered by many Silicon Valley firms. But the average age of Intel's 21,000 employees is a fresh-faced 35, and few workers have shown much interest in the new pension plan, compensation and benefits manager Sandy Scarsella said.

During the last year, she added, retirements at the 20-year-old company have numbered "literally two or three." East Coast steelmakers, staggering under the burden of pension and medical benefits for retirees, must be envious.

Upset by X-Rated Travel Ad

A "very conservative" woman in her early 50s placed an ad for her travel agency last spring in the Yellow Pages of her Northern California community and received a horrible surprise.

Instead of "exotic travel," the ad was misprinted, "erotic travel." Unwanted phone calls poured in. Gloria Quinan, owner of Banner Travel Service in Sonoma, quickly brought a $10-million lawsuit for gross negligence against Pacific Bell, which had only sent her a letter of apology and waived the ad's $230 monthly fee.

Quinan developed severe heart trouble over the summer as a result of the ad's strain, said her lawyer, George B. Altenberg. While she was home and unable to work, her staff quit, fed up with fielding calls from unusual customers. The business is virtually shut down now, Altenberg said. A hearing on the lawsuit is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 19. Pacific Bell declined to comment on the litigation.

Grandchildren of Pet Rocks?

And then's there artificial gravel. A Claremont chemical company, Rexor, had come up with a recipe for combining ash from coal-fired power plants with foam, cement and water to make small rocks for use in concrete. Gravel quarries in much of the nation are emptying fast, creating a demand for ersatz alternatives.

The Footnote prompted a phone call to Rexor from a Sun Valley incinerator owner and the firm is now developing another unusual product: colored pool deck pebbles made from toxic waste.

Going Nowhere in a Hurry

Some children prefer pedaling in place to free-wheeling up and down neighborhood streets--or at least their parents seem to think so. Sales of exercycles for kids ages 4 to 10 have boomed at Apparent Inc., and the Grass Valley, Calif.-based firm is raising production from 20 to 100 Kidcycles a month starting in January. Since the Kidcycle was unveiled a year and a half ago, Apparent has shipped 380 at $1,250 apiece.

Centers for handicapped or ill children have proved a surprise market; eight Kidcycles have been sold for use by the blind, while a half dozen more are on tryouts with young cancer patients.

If at First You Don't Succeed

The Oct. 19, 1987, stock market crash did not produce a bull market in "I survived the Black Monday 1987" T-shirts and sweat shirts. The shirts showed a Rolls Royce at the top of a stock market chart and a shopping bag person at the bottom.

Only six dozen T-shirts and a similar number of sweat shirts were sold, said Marty R. Roberts, a Los Angeles attorney who ran the business from his kitchen with a friend. Advertising costs soaked up most of the difference between the shirts' cost and the selling price, he said, adding that lack of time prevented him and his partner from milking the idea properly.

Roberts says he is down but not out. Now he is working on a scheme that, "involves California's insurance industry." He declined to elaborate, and while acknowledging that insurance is heavily regulated, insisted that his idea would "make national headlines."

Some Big Boys Are Elusive

Marriott seems to have trouble keeping track of its Bob's Big Boy coffee shops. A month ago, the company's spokesman declared that all the Big Boys in San Diego had been converted into Allie's Family Restaurants. But the spokesman has since discovered that two Big Boys remain in San Diego along with three others in nearby communities. The hamburger havens with the chubby boy statues remain, the spokesman said, because, "We just haven't gotten around to doing any (remodeling) plans. . . . We actually had more stores there than I knew we had."

Putting the Heat on Disney

Walt Disney Co. says its licensed Mickey Mouse products meet all fire safety standards, although a consumer group remains unconvinced.

The consumer affairs committee of Americans for Democratic Action sparked a flap a year ago by charging that the Mickey Mouse play tent and Mickey Snug-Ums sleeping bag caught fire too easily. Neither product is actually made by Disney, but it collects license fees for their sale. The charges prompted Disney to stop tent sales to distributors. A review of test data on the sleeping bag resulted in the bag being found safe, and it was never taken off the market.

Independent testing determined that the tent met federal safety standards but not voluntary industry standards. The tent manufacturer has reformulated the vinyl in the tent walls and has been selling a new, safer tent since April, said Disney spokesman Chuck Champlin. "The tent burns, but you've got to work hard to make it burn. . . . The kid has virtually got to sit there with a blow torch."

ADA consumer affairs chairperson Ann Brown said her group had not retested the tent yet, but planned to do so. Meanwhile, the ADA lit another match under Mickey this Christmas, charging that a fire risk exists for Snuggle Pals--security blankets with the fuzzy heads of Disney characters attached to one end. Champlin said the blankets exceed all federal and voluntary industry safety standards and remain on sale.

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