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Faces of the Front Range: Jonathan Alberico is a bonafide bones dealer — and his beetle colony eats them clean

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Faces of the Front Range: Jonathan Alberico is a bonafide bones dealer — and his beetle colony eats them clean

Jonathan Alberico’s Aurora home is teeming with skulls, creepy crawlies, macabre artwork and a collection of poison bottles.

“Aw, man, we’ve been too busy to decorate for Halloween this year yet, but I wish you could see it when we get around to it,” Alberico said.

The bones in Alberico’s home aren’t cheapo plastic seasonal decor. They’re bonafide animal skeletons, and they’re the eccentric 36-year-old’s livelihood.

Alberico is the owner of The Learned Lemur, an oddities shop that opened in a new location this summer — on Friday the 13th, no surprise — at 2220 E. Colfax Ave. in Denver.

The shop, which bills itself as “Colorado’s premier oddities dealer,” is stocked with vintage medical equipment, taxidermied animals, plants and other peculiarities.

But Alberico’s specialty is bones.

The Learned Lemur offers bone and skull cleaning — a service for those looking to tidy up a trophy buck for mounting, clean off a carcass nabbed on a hike or even create a skeletal remembrance of a lost furry friend.

Alberico said he is a stickler for ethically sourced materials and skeletons, but he’s got a few key employees who aren’t on the payroll: colonies of dermestid beetles that live in climate-controlled chests in Alberico’s home workshop that eat the flesh off the bones their boss deposits.

“We clean about 1,500 to 2,000 skulls a year with those guys,” Alberico said. “They’re our hardest working employees.”

Alberico’s home office space likely looks different than yours. His beetle den, with an eau de rotting flesh, features freezers housing their projects and beetle abodes. On a recent October day, a swarm chowed down on coyote and beaver skulls slated for The Learned Lemur’s shelves.

AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post

Jonathan Alberico works on a pomeranian-chihuahua mix on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021.

In another room of Alberico’s novelty-laden home, which features enough plants to take on a jungle-like quality, the bones of Werewolf the beloved pup were organized on a tabletop. On his days off from the oddities shop, Alberico spends his time meticulously piecing together bones of clients’ late pets. The animals’ remains are cleaned off by the beetles, go through chemical baths and come out as squeaky clean bones ready to be puzzle-pieced back together into a skeletal tribute.

“I can hear him telling the animals that they were good boys or girls while he works on them,” said Bex Schimoler, Alberico’s partner, who also works at The Learned Lemur.

Alberico grew up on Denver’s historic Antique Row, refining his taste for the weird while digging through old barns and buildings as a kid with his dad on the hunt for treasures for their family’s antique shop.

He remembers playing in his backyard as a kid and discovering a bird skull under a bush.

“I still have that skull, and it’s one of the pieces I’ll always have,” Alberico said. “It was that kickoff moment that made me realize weird stuff is neat. I quickly became bored with what most people considered antiques. Even as a little kid, I started gravitating toward the unusual stuff and bizarre stuff — anatomical models, biohazard suits.”

Now, The Learned Lemur is the amalgamation of years of collecting curiosities. Every item has a history, and Alberico is eager to share.

Take the mink bones he said he obtained after U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers found a rash of wild mink that tested positive for COVID-19 near a Colorado campsite. The agency called on hunting professionals to kill the mink out of fear the animals would pass the disease to humans, Alberico said, and he got dibs on the skulls.

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Guregian: No need to pump the brakes on the Patriots. They’re for real.

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Guregian: No need to pump the brakes on the Patriots. They’re for real.

The game came down to a testament of wills, but more important, coaching decisions.

Playing in crazy elements, with gusting winds and blustery freezing temperatures, surely altered the game plans for the Patriots and Bills in this Monday Night Football showdown of AFC East titans.

That’s why the Patriots having Bill Belichick remains a huge advantage.

He identified the way to win in those elements, and stuck with it no matter the down and distance.

He was going to be conservative with his offense, sink or swim.

That plan didn’t include much of Mac Jones.

Belichick ran, ran, and ran some more. Every down, every possession, he had Jones hand the ball off, and it worked to the tune of a hard-fought 14-10 win in Orchard Park.

If the Patriots had lost, there would inevitably be more questions about Belichick’s strategy, but it’s hard to argue with results.

The Patriots now have seven straight wins, and remain atop the AFC East at 9-4, and also stick as the AFC’s top seed.

After the game, Belichick called the conditions “somewhat challenging.” Naturally, he didn’t make a big deal out of only throwing the ball three times.

“We kind of played the way we felt we needed to win,” said Belichick.

Usually, the Hoodie makes opposing teams play left-handed, taking away their best asset.

Against the Bills, he voluntarily played left-handed, taking Jones out of the mix. And the Patriots still ruled.

Talk about taking the starch out of the Bills, who had to be deflated being crushed in the trenches, and losing their grip in the division so soon.

Plus, they have no idea what to make of Jones, still having to face him again down the road.

Maybe some — including the Bills — will feel Belichick’s strategy was an indictment on the rookie quarterback, who passed just once in the first half, and only twice in the second half.

It appeared more a reflection of Belichick sticking with what he felt was the best way to win. Ditto offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Heavy personal, ground and pound. Nonstop. Forty-six running plays, three passes.

“The coaches have been in a lot of games like this,” said Jones. “Coach Belichick, Coach Josh, they’ve been in every type of element there is. They know what it takes to win.

“So I think we knew if we held onto the ball, we’d be OK.”

Jones, who was experiencing those nasty conditions for the first time, doesn’t have the strongest arm, and in those winds, Belichick didn’t want to take a chance.

The elements spoke to the Hoodie, and he and McDaniels didn’t blink with their intentions to pound the rock, and also, rely on the defense to keep Josh Allen at bay.

Even the strong-armed Allen (15-for-30, 145 yards) had some difficulty rifling some balls through the 40 mph winds.

Turnovers loomed large. Ball security and field position was paramount.

Ultimately, Belichick wasn’t trying to earn style points, he was trying to win a significant football game.

And that’s just what he did.

No need to pump the brakes on these Patriots, even playing old style football. They’re for real. They are legitimately going to make noise down the road.

And that just eats away at Bills head coach Sean McDermott, who refused to give Belichick much credit for the win, or simply being out-coached.

“I don’t think, with all due respect, it’s not a Bill Belichick type thing,” said McDermott, “it’s what are you doing with the opportunities you got.”

Well, the Bills certainly didn’t do much. They were 1-for-4 in the red zone, and largely couldn’t run the ball. As it was, Allen was their leading rusher with 39 yards. The Patriots, meanwhile, ran all day.

They’re built to win in December and January in the outdoors. Between their defense and ability to run, they’re going to be a tough out especially against teams like the Bills, whose defense is built more to stop teams with elite passing games, such as the Chiefs.

Having a lighter, quicker front may be good against Patrick Mahomes & Co. but not against mashers and maulers like the Patriots.

The Bills knew the Patriots were going to run, loading the box with seven and eight guys, and they still ran, and did so effectively. At one point, McDaniels called 32 straight running plays.

Damien Harris gained over 100 yards. Rhamondre Stevenson was just as huge, as the Patriots ran down the Bills’ collective throats for 222 yards.

The Patriots were effective running whether they were going into the wind, or had it at their backs.

This was old-school running as McDaniels made good use of traps with great blocking from the line up front, along with fullback Jakob Johnson and N’Keal Harry at times.

The Patriots had a lead, so there was no real need to put the ball up in Belichick’s mind and gamble.

But that plan also called for the defense to stop the less-conservative Bills, with Allen putting the ball up, largely because Buffalo trailed.

Unlike his offense, Belichick didn’t hold back with his defense, sending an all-out blitz against Allen with a fourth-and-14 from the Patriots 18-yard line with 2:00 to play to help preserve the lead, and the win.

Belichick played his cards right, and in the process, demoralized the Bills, and remain a team no one wants to play, especially outdoors in the elements.

Devin McCourty put it all in perspective, talking about finding ways to win, and doing whatever it takes to accomplish the goal.

“That’s why I love playing here. This team isn’t about one person, it isn’t about egos, it isn’t about this is what we do, so we’re going to do it  . . . it’s about winning,” said McCourty. “We’re going to adjust and find a way to win . . . I think everyone will look at this game and say, they played good defense. But we ran the ball, we broke out a long run when we needed to run the ball and take the clock down . . . this week our offense morphed into a team that was going to run the football and it worked.”

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Boston pension payouts at-a-glance

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Boston pension payouts at-a-glance

The city’s pension payouts list police and fire commanders atop the heap with a total of 470 retirees from various departments pulling down six figures annually. Here are the annual pensions at a glance:

Top 5:

$193,570 William Gross, former police commissioner

$185,416 John McDonough, ex-school superintendent

$181,979 Lisa Holmes, past BPD superintendent

$178,086 William Ridge, past BPD superintendent

$173,278 Joseph Finn, former fire commissioner

Oldest pensions:

1956, Joseph Vogel, firefighter hurt on job, $14,446

1959, Leroy Mahoney, firefighter injured, $20,158

1964, Robert Glynn, police officer injured, $20,083

1970, James Hardaway, firefighter hurt, $19,129

1974, Frank Murano, BFD injured on job, $24,835

Miscellaneous:

$111,126, top-earning retired teacher

$108,890, top fire scuba diver

$52,673 Ray Flynn, former mayor

$33,752, tree climber

$32,562, vehicle impound specialist

$21,216, telephone operator

Go to bostonherald.com for the database listing all 12,718 city retirees.

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Full Boston pension database: Your Tax Dollars at Work

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Full Boston pension database: Your Tax Dollars at Work

For the first time, here are the 12,700 City of Boston retirees listed by name, annual pension, date of retirement and last job.

To search on this database, click the magnifying glass icon (at right) and enter names and more. Use the scroll bar at bottom to move the data over to the right to sort by highest to lowest. Send any tips or questions to [email protected] See other payroll databases here. Follow the Watchdog newsletter for related coverage.

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