You Have a $1,000 Water Bill ... Just Kidding!

Hey, I paid my water bill!

The suburban village of White Plains, N.Y., was feeling more Grinch-like than Santa-like this month, sending out fake water bills of more than $1,000 to dozens of residents "just to get their attention" because it hasn't been able to gain entry to read their meters, the Associated Press reports.

"It seems to be working," said Abe Zambrano, treasurer of Croton-on-Hudson. "About half the people have called already and we just sent the bills out on Dec. 15."

Zambrano, who said he thought up the gimmick, said Tuesday that the bills were sent to 34 homes "where we had gone two or more years without getting the actual readings."

"We have sent notices, we have sent letters," he said. "None of these accounts responded. We tried to be very flexible, we offered weekend appointments, but nothing." They did not make telephone calls because "It's hard to reach these people during the day," said village Manager Richard Herbek.

To get precise rather than estimated readings, village workers have to enter homes to read the meters. They also need access to complete a village-wide upgrade that will enable them to read the meters from outside and check them more often than semiannually.

"This is good for the people, because the way you know you have a leak is if the water bill goes way up," Zambrano said. "If we check more often, they lose less money."

He said he wasn't worried about people fainting — or worse — when they opened the fake bills because "It's not an amount that's so large. Some people really do have $1,000 water bills if they do a lot of watering." He also warned that after years of estimated bills, the actual bill could be a good deal higher than residents are used to and might even be near $1,000.

The typical semiannual bill is a few hundred dollars, he said.

So far, he said, "Most people are calling in, saying, 'What's this?' and when we tell them there's no problem, they feel it's a good way to get their attention. They're saying, 'Well, you certainly got me.'"

On the other hand, "We had one individual who called this morning, he wasn't happy about it, he was upset," Zambrano said.

If anyone pays the inflated bill, Zambrano said, "We will hold onto it, try to contact them again. Maybe send a certified bill."

Spreading the Holiday Rear

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The Virgin Mary. The three kings. A few wayward sheep. These are the figures one expects to find in a traditional Christmas nativity scene. Not a smartly dressed peasant squatting behind a rock with his rear-end exposed.

Yet statuettes of "El Caganer," or the great defecator in the Catalan language, can be found in nativity scenes, and increasingly on the mantelpieces of collectors, throughout Spain's northeastern Catalonia region, where for centuries symbols of defecation have played an important role in Christmas festivities.

During the holiday season, pastry shops around Catalonia sell sweets shaped like feces, and on Christmas Eve Catalan children beat a hollow log, called the tio, packed with holiday gifts, singing a song that urges it to defecate presents out the other end.

These traditions, in the case of the caganer dating back as far as the 17th century, come from an agricultural society where defecation was associated with fertility and health.

While the traditional caganer is a red-capped peasant, more modern renditions have gained popularity in recent years.

Even Burglars Have to Break for Lunch

WELLSVILLE, Ohio (AP) — Breaking into a home apparently creates an appetite. The burglar who broke into David Palmer's house in this northeast Ohio town over the weekend took coins, a camera and other items and then stopped to make a sandwich, investigators say.

There was an empty cheese wrapper and a loaf of bread had been opened.

The house was broken into Saturday between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Wellsville is about 70 miles southeast of Cleveland.

Donning the Scarlet 'L'

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. (AP) — As he marched up and down a busy road wearing a placard proclaiming "I AM A LIAR," Craig Breuwet endured a painfully public punishment for lying to police. "I've learned my lesson," said Breuwet, who added that he had never been more embarrassed or humiliated.

The 33-year-old Warner Robins man submitted to the court-sanctioned penalty on Wednesday in lieu of facing trial for filing a false police report.

Breuwet told police last August that he had been kidnapped by two men in a Warner Robins parking lot, driven to nearby Macon and beaten up. Two days after the incident, Breuwet admitted that he had fabricated the abduction part of his story, police said.

Authorities said they don't know what really happened, and Breuwet wouldn't discuss it with a news reporter.

Breuwet was required to publicly display the "I AM A LIAR" sign for 10 hours under a pretrial diversion arrangement that allows dismissal of charges of making a false report of a crime and making false statements to police, Houston County District Attorney Kelly Burke said. Burke added that he may also expunge any record of those charges.

Burke said reporting a bogus abduction to police is a serious crime — too serious for a slap on the wrist in court where the public might never have known the initial report was false.

Breuwet's punishment was similar to a sentence meted out to a south Georgia woman earlier this month.

In Albany, Ga., Breanna Klewitz, 23, marched up and down the sidewalk in front of the Dougherty County Courthouse, wearing signs that read, "I AM A THIEF" and "I STOLE WHAT YOU WORKED FOR," as a condition of her probation for burglary.

Cat Goes Home Again

PIKESVILLE, Md. (AP) -- Ali Streimer chose a good name for Athena, a little black cat with green eyes that made it back home after getting off a bus at the wrong stop.

Athena — who shares her name with the Greek goddess of wisdom and skill, among other things — found her way to her owner's arms three weeks after being chased off the New York-bound bus.

Ali Streimer had fallen asleep while riding the bus Thanksgiving weekend from Pikesville, the Baltimore suburb where her parents live, back to New York, where she lives.

Athena, meanwhile, managed to free herself from her carrying case, began strolling through the bus and was let off by the driver about 20 miles into the trip. The driver assumed the cat was a stowaway because passengers are not allowed to bring pets onto the bus, a rule Streimer did not know about at the time.

After three weeks of frantic searching, Athena was spotted near the bus stop where Streimer and Athena first boarded the bus. Athena was "freaked," family members said, and it took several hours for Streimer and her father to catch her.

"It's amazing," Streimer told The Baltimore Examiner in a telephone interview from New York.

"It was just the timing; we got lucky."

A trip to the vet confirmed Athena was in good health despite the three-week ordeal, Streimer said.

Compiled by's Hannah Sentenac.

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