IT'S TIME TO REJOICE. You're heading into a new millennium and you're living in a country with a prosperous economy, low unemployment, a falling crime rate, no serious Y2K problems, and a vigorous and invigorating presidential campaign. Mostly, though, you're rejoicing because once again you have lived your life with sufficient rectitude to avoid appearing in our annual roundup of the most disturbing yet underreported news stories of the previous 12 months.

Congratulations. Here are the people who were not so lucky:

On the Home Front

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: At a court-ordered auction, Randy Durham bought Cal State-Long Beach engineering professor Elena Zagustin's exceptionally odoriferous and messy home in an upscale area of Huntington Beach, Calif. In 1998, Zagustin was convicted of violating health laws after authorities found trash two feet high, maggots and flies everywhere, backed-up toilets and buckets of raw sewage in the backyard. The price? A steal at $301,500.

--Los Angeles Times, July 15, Sept. 9, Oct. 3

JUST ANOTHER CONSPICUOUS CONSUMER: Wai Y. Tye, a retired Raytheon Corp. chemist, has lived in the same 200-square-foot room in the downtown Boston YMCA since 1949. While rising in the rank and pay at the office, he chose to stay put at the Y. The bathroom is down the hall, the decor is institutional drab and a hot plate is his preferred choice of kitchen appliance. "When you're busy working and playing tennis," he explained to a Boston Globe reporter, "you don't have much time to take care of an apartment."

--Boston Globe, Jan. 8

STILL BETTER THAN THE BOSTON Y: On July 2, Iranian Merhan Nasseri's 11-year life in limbo appeared to be ending. In 1988, Nasseri got stuck at Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris after being denied entry into England because his passport and U.N. refugee certificate were stolen. No country would take him without papers, including France. So he took up residence in Terminal One, where he has remained ever since, luggage at his side, reading, writing in his diary, receiving food and newspapers from airport employees. Then this past summer, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees provided him with documents that would allow him to settle almost anywhere in Europe. But for several months afterward, and despite encouragement from airport officials, he could not bring himself to leave the terminal's comfy confines.

--New York Times, Sept. 27; Irish Times, Oct. 13

The Highest Levels of Professionalism

CAN'T POSSIBLY BE TRUE I: The Nebraska State Supreme Court rejected 48-year-old Paul Converse's request to take the state bar exam, saying that based on his combative behavior at the University of South Dakota Law School, he was too obnoxious ("prone to turbulence, intemperance and irresponsibility") even to be a lawyer.

--Omaha World-Herald, Nov. 20

(AMATEUR) SURGEON OF THE YEAR I: Edward L. Bodkin, 56, pleaded guilty in Huntington, Ind., to practicing medicine without a license, specifically the voluntary castrations of at least three men. Bodkin made it easier for prosecutors to do their job because he videotaped his work and preserved the physical evidence in jars he kept in his apartment. As to the patients' motives, prosecutor John Branham said, "I can't sit here as a reasonable human being and give you an intelligent answer to that."

--Indianapolis Star, Feb. 4, April 13

(FORMER) SURGEON OF THE YEAR II: In September, de-licensed surgeon John Ronald Brown, 77, was convicted in San Diego of second-degree murder for a botched operation that brought to light the rare malady of apotemnophilia. Those afflicted--said to be fewer than 200 people--get sexual gratification by having an arm or leg removed. The Internet underground had spread word of Brown's willingness to perform the surgery without all those embarrassing questions, such as "why?"

--Associated Press, Sept. 29

AND IN THE WORLD OF SPORTS. . . Spain's governing sports organization ordered urine samples from all contestants at a chess tournament in November on Menorca Island, checking for evidence of any performance-enhancing drugs. Perhaps the group was reacting to the news a few days earlier that Japanese billiards player Junuske Inoue had been suspended for two years after testing positive for a muscle-building hormone.

--Associated Press, Nov. 15; Reuters, Nov. 12

Gov'mint at Work

CAN'T POSSIBLY BE TRUE II: The Seattle Police Department ordered the 26 employees in its fingerprint unit to attend a mandatory safety class on how to sit down. Three employees had filed workers' compensation claims because of injuries on chairs with rollers. The proper technique, according to an internal memo: "Take hold of the arms and get control of the chair before sitting down."

--Wall Street Journal, March 24

AND ON TONIGHT'S SCHOOL BOARD AGENDA. . . Columbus, Ga., school officials assigned aides to alter textbook photos of Emanuel Leutze's "Washington Crossing the Delaware" painting because some grown-ups thought Washington's pocket watch, dangling against his thigh, might appear to fifth-graders to be the Founding Father's manhood. The aides located matching paint and spent two weeks touching up 2,300 textbooks. Several elementary schools in Cobb County, Atlanta's northern suburb, took a less artistic approach: They merely snipped the page from their copies of the textbook.

--Associated Press, Oct. 7

SAME PROBLEM WITH THE "100 GREATEST FRENCH GENERALS": Officials running the "Great Floridian" program--an ambitious effort to celebrate the millennium by honoring 2,000 deceased Sunshine State residents who made worthy contributions to Florida's history and culture--extended the deadline three times because only several hundred people had been nominated.

--Palm Beach Post, June 9;

St. Petersburg Times, Nov. 4

NOW THAT'S A RETURN ON INVESTMENT: A jury in Birmingham, Ala., ruled in favor of Barbara Carlisle and her parents in their lawsuit against two companies that overcharged them $1,224 for two satellite TV dishes, awarding the threesome $581 million. After cries of "jackpot justice," the judge slashed the award to a mere $300 million.

--Associated Press, May 11, Aug. 27

AT LAST! A JOB THAT ACTUALLY REQUIRES GEOMETRY: Commissioners in Florida's Seminole County (near Orlando) and Manatee County (Bradenton) passed ordinances prohibiting public nudity by requiring women to cover at least 25 percent of the area of their breasts and at least 33 percent of the buttocks, with highly detailed instructions as to the points from which each coverage must be measured. (Refresher for law enforcement: The formula for the lateral area of a cone is {pi}rs, where r=radius and s=slant height; for the surface area of a sphere, it's {pi}r; and, alas, for a flat surface, it's length x width.)

--Sarasota Herald-Tribune, April 4

It's Just Criminal

THE CLASSIC MIDDLE NAME (our yearly update): Arrested for murder in 1999: Jimmy Wayne Miller (Texas), Daniel Wayne Warfield (Virginia), Jerry Wayne Walker (Kentucky), Percy Wayne Froman (Alabama).

Arrested for murder, convicted of lesser charge: Bradley Wayne Cagle (Texas).

Convicted of murder: Bryant Wayne Howard (Oregon), Bruce Wayne Koenig (Maryland), Rodney Wayne Henry (Kansas), Timothy Wayne Barnett (Alabama), Thomas Wayne Akers (Virginia); Donald Wayne Holt (Maryland).

Convicted murderer recaptured: Michael Wayne Brown (Oklahoma).

Murder conviction affirmed on appeal: Brandon Wayne Hedrick (Virginia).

Executed for murder: Robert Wayne Vickers (Arizona), Richard Wayne Smith (Texas), Alvin Wayne Crane (Texas).

Execution stayed by U.S. Supreme Court: Michael Wayne Williams (Virginia).

Accused murderer killed by police during chase: Arthur Wayne Goodman Jr. (Texas).

--Miller: Associated Press, March 1; Warfield: The Washington Post, Sept. 23; Walker: Associated Press, July 22; Froman: Associated Press, May 15; Cagle: Houston Chronicle, April 30, Associated Press, Aug. 12; Howard: The Oregonian, Jan. 27; Koenig: Baltimore Sun, April 1; Henry: Kansas City Star, May 11; Barnett: Montgomery Advertiser, May 29; Akers: Roanoke Times & World News, Sept. 30; Holt: The Washington Post, Nov. 19; Brown: Daily Oklahoman, July 3; Hedrick: Richmond Times-Dispatch, Feb. 27; Vickers: Associated Press, May 5; Smith: Dallas Morning News, Sept. 22; Crane: St. Petersburg Times, Oct. 13; Williams: Richmond Times-Dispatch, Oct. 29; Goodman: Dallas Morning News, April 1

LEAST COMPETENT CRIMINALS: Police in Fort Smith, Ark., charged James Newsome, 37, with robbing a Gas Well convenience store after the cashier provided a key identifying detail: The robber had entered the store wearing an orange hard hat with the name "James Newsome" printed on it.

--Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Jan. 26

TAKE YOUR GRANDDAUGHTER TO WORK DAY: Gloria Schoffner, 55, was arrested on charges of prostitution and endangering the welfare of a child. Police discovered her 2-year-old granddaughter in the back seat of her client's car while she allegedly was preparing to conduct business up front.

--Paducah (Ky.) Sun, Oct. 2

Not the Brightest Crayons In the Box

BOTTOM OF THE GENE POOL: Joseph Kubic Sr., 93, was hospitalized in Stratford, Conn., after he tried to punch an additional hole in his belt by hammering a pointy-nosed bullet through it. The bullet fired, ricocheted off the table and hit him in the neck. Four months later, a 19-year-old man was hospitalized in Salt Lake City after undertaking a personal investigation into the eternal question of whether it is possible to fire a .22-caliber bullet by placing it inside a straw and striking it with a hammer. Answer: sometimes (including this time); it went off and hit him in the stomach.

--Connecticut Post, Feb. 19; Salt Lake Tribune, June 15

INATTENTION TO DETAIL: Israel rolls its clocks back one hour in September while the Palestinian West Bank waits until October, and that discrepancy cost three Palestinian terrorists their lives, Israeli security sources concluded. At 5 p.m. on Sept. 5, as the terrorists were en route to targets in Haifa and Tiberias, their bombs exploded in their cars. The security sources said bomb makers on the West Bank had set the timers for 6 p.m. but the bomb carriers had assumed incorrectly that the hour's difference had been factored in.

--Irish Times, Sept. 9; Associated Press, Sept. 17

AMERICAN INGENUITY AT WORK: From a police report in a Kentucky newspaper describing the unorthodox way in which two trucks were being driven on a rural road: A man would drive one truck 100 yards, stop, walk back to the second truck, drive it 100 yards beyond the first truck, stop, walk back to the first truck, drive it 100 yards beyond the second truck, and so on. According to police, the man's brother had passed out drunk in one of the trucks--so the man came up with this ingenious method of driving both trucks home. (Not surprisingly, a blood-alcohol test showed that he, too, was impaired.)

--The (Madisonville) Messenger, May 7

SUPER-FORGETFUL PEOPLE I: A judge in Tampa denied tobacco-litigation lawyer Henry Valenzuela his $20 million share (out of $200 million in legal fees from the state's 1997 settlement with cigarette companies) because he was late in paying his $2,500 share of a litigation expense.

--St. Petersburg Times, July 27

SUPER-FORGETFUL PEOPLE II: Darlene Bourk, 31, was charged with murdering her husband after his body turned up when the contents of her Upland, Calif., storage locker were auctioned off because she had fallen behind on her $25 monthly payments.

--Los Angeles Times, Sept. 24

GUN CONTROL IS WORKING: A 26-year-old man was accused of robbing the Centura Bank in Durham, N.C., but avoided an armed-robbery charge because he merely drew a detailed picture of a gun on the demand note handed to the bank teller. In Canada, Richard Hamilton, 29, was sentenced to 30 months for his $200 heist at a fast-food restaurant in Ottawa. Hamilton's weapon of choice was a .32-caliber bullet which he waved around, saying there were more where that came from.

--Durham Herald-Sun, Dec. 19, 1998; National Post, July 1

Chuck Shepherd writes the weekly syndicated feature "News of the Weird," which appears in the Washington City Paper.