No More Cover-Ups This Week? Let's Hope There's One for Al Gore

Naked Truth Bureau: Now that the war in Kosovo is over, we're pretty sure the most dangerous job in journalism is covering Al Gore's presidential campaign.

That's partly because his speeches are so powerfully dull that they have been used as a substitute for anesthesia in Third World hospitals. But it's also because this is National Nude Recreation Week, and many observers are terrified that the pasty-fleshed vice president will try to "loosen up" his robotic image by delivering speeches buck naked.

In other Nude Recreation Week happenings:

* Six British nudists (one of them a female gravedigger) just became the first all-naked relay team to swim the English Channel.

* A naked man was found dead on the back of a killer whale at SeaWorld Orlando in Florida, apparently after sneaking into the tank when the park closed.

* A spokeswoman for the American Assn. of Nude Recreation has predicted that the next 1,000 years will be known as the "nude millennium."

* The number of in-the-buff weddings is said to be on the rise. Proponents say naked nuptials cut costs because the only attire needed is a bow tie for the groom and a veil for the bride.

* A survey on the most popular au naturel sports listed nude billiards, nude aerobics and--ouch--nude horseshoes.

The Chimes They Are A-Changin': A battle over ice cream truck music has seized Britain. The Times of London reports that the familiar electronic chimes--which play such tunes as "Greensleeves," "O Sole Mio" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy"--could soon be replaced with music by the Spice Girls, Oasis, the Chemical Brothers and other pop artists.

But the plan has run into opposition from traditionalists, who say the chimes "have the same effect on children as Pavlov's bell." One driver said dumping the tinkling music would cause ice cream trucks to "lose [their] magic."

A spokesman for the company that produces the chime jingles also opposes pop tunes, saying that current songs can be updated: "Traditional chimes can now be reproduced in a more modern way, including tremolo effects and drum rhythms. You should hear our version of 'William Tell.' "

Animal Sloth Bureau: If your hedgehog has a potbelly, help has finally arrived. A company called Lee's Aquarium & Pet Products has begun marketing fitness equipment for overweight ferrets, hedgehogs and hamsters.

Simply place the pet inside a giant Kritter Krawler exercise ball and watch the animal roll through your house, "quickly mastering the skill of maneuvering around furniture, advancing to the benefits of a stimulating exercise session."

It's one of several strange products at this weekend's pet industry trade show at the Long Beach Convention Center. Other exhibits will feature reflective bow ties for dogs who walk at night, magnet-therapy collars for arthritic birds and "lounge wear" for canines.

Psychic Foot Department: A British violinist claims his bare feet have become radio receivers to the spirit world, allowing him to communicate with dead musicians.

Maybe this can also help settle the ice cream truck music debate.

Best Supermarket Tabloid Headline: "Dinosaurs Plucked Their Eyebrows, Say Scientists!" (Weekly World News)

Unpaid Informants: Reuters, Wireless Flash News Service. Off-Kilter's e-mail address is Off-Kilter runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On the other days, we work out in our hedgehog exercise ball.

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