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Strange Days : Wondering what to expect in ’96? Bugs, science hunks, saints and internal organs grace the calendars of the coming year.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pat Sajak and the Pope each have one. So do polar bears, slugs and the Lost Continent of Atlantis.

Calendar season has officially arrived, and virtually no subject has been left unturned. This year’s 4,500 choices include gnomes, volcanoes, antlers, castles, cathedrals, fighter jets, sheet music, left-handedness, caves, tractors, teapots, chiles and trout.

There are magnetic calendars, mini-calendars and calendars for computers. Wall calendars, desk calendars and calendars that look like compact discs.

The market is so saturated that only 2% of U.S. households are now calendar-free, according to the Calendar Marketing Assn. of Libertyville, Ill. The average is about five per home.

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So for those who have grown weary of all the cats, Impressionist paintings and Arizona Highways photographs, here are some of 1996’s more offbeat selections.

* Studmuffins of Science ([617] 253-4462, $14.95). Astrophysicists, bioengineers and other Ph.D.s shed their lab coats in favor of Speedos and Lycra, and answer questions about their favorite subatomic particles. OK, but why didn’t Mr. Peabody qualify?

* Outhouses (Firefly, $11.95). Tack this one up in the bathroom as a reminder of the wonders of indoor plumbing.

* Dead Celebs (Accord, $9.95). RIPs for VIPs, from Kurt Cobain to Harry Houdini. Produced by the same company that makes Legal Lunacies, a desk calendar of odd court cases and laws.

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* Rottweilers (BrownTrout, $9.95). For people who can’t afford the real thing. Scare off burglars by taping a different month to each window of the house. For added protection, use the creepy photos in Clowns 1996 (Landmark, $9.99).

* Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction (Harvest House, $10.99). A daily dose of wacky but true religious news articles and advertisements from the Door, a Christian humor magazine. Highlights: dental faith healers; a minister who sets himself on fire to dramatize the pains of hell; the Pet Rock Mortuary, and ads for 12-Apostles thimble sets, Christian barbecue sauce and “Jesus Lives dairy goats.”

* The Garbage Men of Connecticut ([800] 414-6923, $14.95). Sexy sanitation workers bare their biceps in this gallery of GQ-caliber garbage men. Favorite quote: Mr. June’s “I like motorcycling, skiing, softball and candlelight dinners. I wish more people would recycle.” So, what’s left in the category of occupational bottom-feeders? How about . . . congressmen?

* Buttons (Harry N. Abrams, $10.95). A whimsical array of bizarre buttons made in the shape of everything from cowboy boots and dice to sea lions and insects. Can a zipper calendar be far behind?

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* Barbie (Hallmark, $10.95). See Ken in fleece lederhosen! Also available: a foot-high stand-up Barbie cut-out holding a suitcase calendar (Hallmark, $4.95). Sorry, no stand-up Skipper or G.I. Joe.

* When You Lick a Slug, Your Tongue Goes Numb (Andrews & McMeel, $9.95). Daily nuggets of wisdom from the under-18 set, including “You can’t trust dogs to watch your food,” “If your sister hits you, don’t hit her back; parents always catch the second person,” and “No matter how hard you try, you can’t baptize cats!”

* Einstein; Elvis; Elvira. Dead, maybe dead and should be dead, respectively. (From Pomegranate, Hallmark and Landmark, $11.95, $9.95, $10.99.)

* Whad’ya Knowledge (Andrews & McMeel, $9.95). Quirky tidbits--such as the ratio of plastic flamingos to real ones in the United States (700 to 1)--culled from Public Radio International’s comedy quiz show. For kids, try Beakman’s World (same publisher / price), a calendar cornucopia of bizarre science facts.

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* Hidden Lizard (Whole Brain Designs, $13.95). Sort of a “Where’s Waldo” for reptiles.

* Mutter Museum (College of Physicians of Philadelphia, $14.95). A photographic compendium of internal organs, mini-skeletons and other medical curiosities.

* My Year With Barney; Julio Iglesias; Ricki Lake (Lyons Group, $9.95; Andrews & McMeel, $9.95; Andrews & McMeel, $9.95). Finalists, most frightening calendar of 1996 award.

* The Clinton Countdown to 1997 (Lame Duck, $8.95). For Republicans only. Assorted quotes and facts to mark “the final year” of the Clinton presidency.

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* Deepest Thoughts (Day Dream, $10.99). More twisted sayings from “Saturday Night Live’s” Jack Handey. Sample: “One thing a computer can do that most humans can’t is be sealed up in a cardboard box and sit in a warehouse.”

* Miscellaneous Odd Entries: Wild & Scenic Delaware (from the publishers of Wild & Scenic New Jersey); Chickens; Manatees; 365 Saints (including Simeon Stylites, who spent his adult life perched atop a 10-foot pillar); Scented Room Calendar (alas, no scratch ‘n’ sniff months); Out on the Porch; Medieval Woman (not recommended as a gift for Betty Friedan), and Death by Chocolate.

Finally, there are the calendars we wish had been published: Dear Diary (juicy excerpts from former Sen. Bob Packwood’s personal journal), the O.J. Alibi Calendar (excuses for every occasion), and the Jerry Garcia Smokable Memorial Desk Calendar (page-a-day quotes from the dead Grateful Dead guy, printed on sheets of premium Zig-Zag rolling paper).

Maybe in 1997. . . .

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