|58 Reasons To Be Glad that Crazy Year Is History
by Chuck Shepherd
Editor's note: Cream rises to the top and so does weirdness. As each year ends, Chuck Shepherd looks back over his weekly column to skim off the best News of the Weird stories. Here's the crème de la weird for 2000
What a strange year. It looked like any other until sometime around, oh, November, I guess, and then all of a sudden, for some reason, when I reported the latest incompetent criminal or imaginative fetishist, people would yawn. They said there were stories on the front page that were more bizarre than anything I was reporting. What do you suppose they meant? Well, whatever. Anyway, here is our annual compilation of the best disturbing yet underreported stories of the last 12 months.
The Most Urban-Legend-Like True Story of the Year
Cheltenham, England, party shop owner Samantha Munns punctured her thigh when she fell on the nozzle of a balloon-inflating canister, and within seconds, enough helium gas had entered the subcutaneous tissue in her leg and abdomen to cause them to swell painfully to twice their normal size. Munns was treated at Cheltenham General Hospital by physician Alison Moon, who prescribed rest to let the gas dissipate.
(The Times (London), Dec. 11, 1999)
Crisis in Medical Care
Interviewed by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, local body piercer Nathan McKay, 24, lamented his failure to find proper medical care: He needs follow-up on his already-surgically forked tongue, and he wants all of his teeth removed (and replaced with platinum implants). "I want my tongue split even farther," he said, describing a split as far back as possible, to the uvula, so as to have two separate strands. McKay's original surgeon performed only because he was a family friend and has balked at a follow-up. (McKay also has 1-inch holes in his earlobes, to hold ebony disks.)
(Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nov. 20)
Encouraging News From the Academy
The University of Surrey (Guildford, England) added to its curriculum in service-sector management by beefing up its graduate course offerings in in-flight catering and appointing a professor of airline food.
(The Guardian, Oct. 3)
Left Out of the Olympic Games
The annual national cricket-fight tournament was staged in Beijing in October after another stellar recruiting season among Shandong province cricket farmers, who attempt to breed for the physique and character to endure rough matches inside eight-inch-wide plastic containers.
(New York Times, Oct. 4)
The reigning college Milk Bowl dairy-sniffing champions, Mississippi State University, won the "ice cream" category (by coming the closest in agreement with professional judges as to sensory quality), finished second in "cheddar" and "yogurt," third in "cottage cheese" and "milk" and fifth in "butter."
(Wall Street Journal, Feb. 8)
Japan's Kazutoyo 'The Rabbit' Arai (who weighs 101 pounds) beat defending champ Steve Keiner (400 pounds) in the annual Nathan's international hot-dog-eating championship at New York's Coney Island on July 4, gobbling up 25 in 12 minutes, to Keiner's 16.
(New York Post, July 5)
In Finland, Japan's ultra-serious Seibotu Raiders easily beat a more relaxed European team in the finals of the Kemijarvi international snowball championship (seven players per side, 270 snowballs each, a field about the size of a tennis court with some barriers for cover, and the object of seizing your opponent's flag before being decimated by direct hits).
(National Post (Toronto), April 11)
City of the Year
Among the news from Akron, Ohio, this year: A father was indicted for assault for a pattern of roughing up his teen-age daughters to spur them to high achievement (capped by threats to kill one after she misspelled "cappelletti," thus finishing second in the National Spelling Bee). A man was found living with his father's corpse 11 years after death, brought to light only when his mother died, and he failed to bury her, too. A 69-year-old man filed a lawsuit against a 61-year-old woman whom he said tricked him into marriage, when he actually had intended to marry the woman's 83-year-old mother. A woman serving a life sentence for brutalizing her then-7-year-old son for soiling his pants tried to get a new trial by claiming that the son actually had been molested by the family dog. A 10-year-old boy, trying to avoid leaf-raking chores by hiding out underneath a pile of them in a driveway, was hospitalized when his mother accidentally drove over him. A high-school coach got caught after he sneaked onto the track to run the second leg of his team's 4-by-100 relay at a meet.
(Akron Beacon Journal, Aug. 23; Akron Beacon Journal, July 11; Denver Rocky Mountain News-Associated Press, July 6; Akron Beacon Journal, July 26; Star Tribune (Minneapolis)-Associated Press, Oct. 23; Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 31)
Unclear on the Concept
The Netherlands legalized prostitution in October and began regulating it as any other business, including subjecting brothels to workplace safety rules, such as requirements for bright lighting and for separate showers and changing rooms for males and females.
(Sunday Telegraph (London), Nov. 5)
William Draheim was fired from his job in St. Louis Park, Minn., in May for sexual harassment (for talking allegedly too much at work about his pierced penis); Draheim's workplace was Video Age Inc., a distributor of hard-core pornographic movies and sex toys, large inventories of which fill the offices (and in fact, customers placing orders frequently talk dirty on the phone).
(City Pages (Minneapolis), May 31)
The Future of Warfare, One Hopes
The most encouraging aspect of Filipinos' newfound national mania for sending text messages by cell phones, according to a July New York Times report, is that Muslim guerrillas at war with government troops in the southern islands picked up army troops' phone numbers and now spend more and more valuable combat time merely pecking out insults.
(New York Times, July 5)
"Yo, Damien! You Talkin' to Me?"
Seven Brigham Young University students organized a Fight Club, inspired by the Brad Pitt movie and periodically drawing as many as 300 cheering spectators to watch men pound each other into submission. (Fighting is not against the BYU Honor Code, although watching the R-rated Fight Club movie is, and the brawls are held late enough at night so as not to violate the Mormon "family home evening" concept.)
(Salt Lake Tribune, April 24)
Criminal With the Worst Short-Term Memory
Federal grand juror Mark Vincent Hinckley, 37, part of the panel that had just voted secret indictments against an alleged Denver drug dealer, was arrested in August after he went to the dealer's office and attempted to sell him information about the indictments for $50,000. Hinckley had apparently forgotten the evidence that he had just heard: for example, that the government had planted bugs in the dealer's office. According to prosecutors, Hinckley's proposition was recorded in full.
(Denver Rocky Mountain News, Aug. 2)
Relentless American Ingenuity
Disabled Springfield, Mass., police officer Charles Peck, 55, asked the city council for higher benefits based on the 1982 squad car crash that ended his career. Peck was hurt so badly that he was declared dead at the scene (and resuscitated at the hospital), and in his latest petition requests benefits equal to his full salary, which is an amount usually available only to surviving spouses of deceased officers. Peck points out that, since he had been legally dead, he has actually survived himself and thus is in a position similar to that of such spouses.
(Associated Press, Feb. 11)
Lesser of Evils in the Heartland
Eight farmers in the town of Nemaha, Iowa (population 112), have taught themselves to perform various square-dancing routines while seated on and precision-maneuvering their tractors, according to a June San Francisco Chronicle dispatch. However, since all are males, four of the dancers operate their tractors dressed in calico skirts in order to deflect the sight of all-male dancing.
(San Francisco Chronicle, June 26)
He Needs a Little More Seasoning
Highway Patrol officers in Spearfish, S.D., arrested a 17-year-old boy on Feb. 19 and charged him with stealing a car in his nearby hometown of Madison. According to the police report in the Madison Daily Leader, the troopers were casually finishing up a meal at a Perkins Restaurant when the boy, from an adjacent booth, walked up, spread-eagled himself on the floor, and shouted, "Please don't shoot me" and "The car is in the parking lot."
(Madison Daily Leader, Feb. 22)
A bill introduced in the Vermont legislature would penalize any adult who chose not to own a gun, by requiring him to register with the state and pay a $500 fee for the privilege of being unarmed. Also, a bill introduced in the Mississippi legislature would seek to dampen the rampant sexuality inside strip clubs by making it illegal for a male customer to have an erection, even though he remains fully clothed.
(Boston Globe, Feb. 1; National Post-Reuters, Jan. 25)
The End of Politics
In March, British Columbia Supreme Court Judge Glen Parrett overturned Mike Frazier's victory last year in the election for mayor of the village of McBride, ruling in a 28-page decision that Frazier did not deserve the office because he had made knowingly false statements about his opponent.
(Globe and Mail, March 9)
Where the Fox Network Gets Its Ideas
On April 27, a reporter for Russia's RTR television arrived in the town of Ivanovo to shoot a piece on a housewife merrily feeding her family while her soldier-husband was away serving as a peacekeeper in Kosovo. However, the reporter had received word minutes before that the husband had just been killed on duty. Thus, the reporter shot some "before" scenes, in which the carefree wife earnestly spoke of her husband's imminent return, and then the scene after he informed her of the death, featuring her crying uncontrollably.
(Reuters, April 28)
Real Names, Straight From Central Casting
The 19-year-old patient who walked away from the Montana State Hospital for the mentally ill in Warm Springs in May, but who was captured 12 hours later: Mr. Terry Crazy. Among the four people arrested in the May murder of a waitress in Washington, D.C.: Mr. Gene Satan Downing. The reputed leader of a Southern California prostitution syndicate, nine associates of which were arrested in October: Mr. Hung T. Dong.
(Associated Press, May 26; Washington Post, Nov. 18; Inland Valley Daily Bulletin-Associated Press, Oct. 29)
The Year's Most Hapless Criminal
T'Chacka Mshinda Thorpe, 25, was arrested in Lynchburg, Va., and charged with possession of cocaine after a brief chase, which ended abruptly when Thorpe tripped on his low-hanging baggy pants, fell and broke his leg.
(Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 14)
A Man Not Like Other Men
John Murphy, 64, was arrested in Toms River, N.J., after a May 10 spree in which he vandalized 12 urologists' offices because they had refused his requests to gratuitously give him prostate exams.
(Associated Press, May 18)
Florida's Real Problem With Numbers
Within a four-day period in May, a judge in Tampa sentenced a girl to 18 years in prison for the brutal murder of her mother, while two other Florida judges sentenced statutory-rape defendants (whose teen-age victims only reluctantly testified against them) to 71 years and 105 years, respectively.
(Tampa Tribune, May 28, 31; St. Petersburg Times, May 27)
I Dance on Your Grave
Entrepreneur Adam Bilski received a license in May from the city of Oswiecim, Poland (a.k.a. Auschwitz), to open a disco on the spot of a World War II-era tannery that "employed" concentration-camp workers and became a gravesite for many of them. And "Stalin's World," a tourist attraction devoted to themes of the World War II-era Soviet police state, was scheduled to open late this year near Gruta, Lithuania, which was a gateway through which 200,000 people passed en route to Siberian labor camps. (The developer plans for visitors eventually to enter the park on cattle cars and eat oat gruel and fish broth, just as the prisoners did.)
(Washington Post-Associated Press, Aug. 18; The Scotsman (Edinburgh), July 25)
The Classic Middle Name (our all-new yearly update)
Arrested for murder in 2000: Louis Wayne Watters, Jr. (Texas), Aryan Wayne Duntley (California), Robert Wayne Rotramel (Oklahoma), Steven Wayne Bowman (South Carolina), Bryan Wayne Padd (Arizona), Jeffrey Wayne Leaf (Oklahoma), Donald Wayne Rainey (Mexico), Michael Wayne Henry (Texas).
Committed suicide in custody after being charged with murder: Kenny Wayne Lockwood (Texas).
Convicted of murder: Robert Wayne Harris (Texas), Christopher Wayne Gregory (Texas).
Appeal of murder conviction denied: Randall Wayne Stevens (Illinois).
Embroiled in marital estate fight: murderer Scott Wayne Blystone (contesting from death row at the State Correctional Institution, Waynesburg, Pa.).
(Watters: Austin American-Statesman, April 28; Duntley: San Diego Union-Tribune, Aug. 31; Rotramel: Daily Oklahoman, Aug. 22; Bowman: Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, Oct. 31; Padd: Associated Press, Nov. 16; Leaf: Daily Oklahoman, Nov. 1; Rainey: Arizona Daily Star, Dec. 17, 1999; Lockwood: Austin American-Statesman, Oct. 16; Harris: Associated Press, April 25; Gregory: Austin American-Statesman, July 27; Stevens: Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Aug. 8; Blystone: Associated Press, Oct. 15)
Kids Tougher Than Dracula
Nathan King, 12, of Helena, Mont., and Destiny Lopez, 6, of Houston, survived accidents in which they fell and impaled themselves on pencils, which penetrated their hearts. In both cases, clear-thinking adults calmed the kids until they got to hospitals; attempts to remove the pencils prematurely would probably have caused instant death.
(New York Times-Associated Press, March 7; Houston Chronicle, Oct. 27)
The Americanization of China
China's government-sanctioned UFO research organization reached the 50,000-member mark (and is now processing 500 alleged sightings a year), which is not surprising, said the director, because extraterrestrials are as interested in the country's developing markets as are Western nations. And The Wall Street Journal reported in April on a recent "explosion" of successful litigation in China by elderly parents suing their children for failing to take care of them.
(Los Angeles Times, April 9; Wall Street Journal, April 3)
Not Exactly Legal Eagles
Robert Jones' legal theory in his current lawsuit in Atlanta against Liquid Fire drain cleaner (which burned him badly when it spilled out onto his legs) is not that its container was unsafe but that the container somehow looked unsafe to Jones, and thus, before dispensing it, Jones transferred the Liquid Fire into his own container, which turned out to be flimsy.
(Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 15)
Florida lawyer Philip G. Beitler, who had defended himself at his bribery trial (unsuccessfully), argued to the state Court of Appeals that his conviction should be overturned because, as a client, he had been inadequately informed by his lawyer that representing himself at trial was foolish. (He lost the appeal, also.)
(Miami Daily Business Review, Sept. 8)
No More Command-and-Control Regulation
"Holistic herding," or "low-stress livestock handling," is "changing the whole face of the West," according to a U.S. conservation official quoted in Canada's National Post. Cattle are happier, healthier and more obedient, he said, if they are not shouted at or subjected to stress but, as one rancher put it, allowed "to make up their own minds [where to go]." Also on the new-age frontier, in January, nearly 8,000 cowpokes attended the 16th annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada; before submitting their verses, entrants had to prove to a screening committee that they are real cowboys.
(National Post (Toronto), Dec. 28, 1999; New York Times, Jan. 30)
Real Men Eat Cheese
An August Wall Street Journal dispatch from Nuoro, Sardinia (Italy), described locals' love for casu marzu ("rotten cheese"), brown lumps of sheep's milk cheese, crawling with maggots, a "viscous, pungent goo that burns the tongue" and whose "wiggling worms (often) jump straight toward the eyes with ballistic precision." Though the cheese is banned by the government, a black market has pushed the price to double that for ordinary cheese, and local gourmets disdainfully dismiss any portions that are so stale that the maggots on them have died.
(Wall Street Journal, Aug. 23)
The Second Most-Hoax-Like True Story of the Year
Dutch researchers writing in an April British Medical Journal advocated via cost-benefit analysis that Viagra be dispensed for free in the Netherlands because, even though costly, it enhances the quality of its users' lives even more, for example, than kidney transplants. In fact, according to the researchers' Quality-Adjusted Life Year measure, a dollar spent on Viagra brings twice as much benefit as a dollar spent on breast cancer screening.
(British Medical Journal, April 29)
Lt. Frank Drebin, Call Your Office
In August, Davidson, N.C., police officer Scott Searcy (backed by his assistant chief) asked to search a woman's car for drugs, giving as his legally required "reasonable suspicion" the fact that on the front seat was a copy of the local alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing, whose cover story on drug enforcement was illustrated by a photo of a marijuana plant. (The woman decided to consent to the search, anyway, and nothing illegal was found.)
(Charlotte Observer, Aug. 25)
The Laws of Irony Are Strictly Enforced
Just after publication of his book Disciplined Minds in May, Jeff Schmidt was fired as a staff writer for the magazine Physics Today, after 19 years' service. In his book, Schmidt argued that a hierarchical organization's structure almost guarantees that its workers cannot devote their full energy to the job, and in fact, Schmidt was terminated after a supervisor came across an interview in which Schmidt admitted playfully that he had worked on his book during office hours.
(Chronicle of Higher Education, June 2)
The French textile company Francital began to market a fabric specially treated to absorb perspiration, for people who can't bathe for days at a time.
(New York Times, Feb. 3)
How to Tell If You Have Too Much Money
In March, New York City art patrons bought up Christie's Auction House's entire collection of 60 paintings created by artists that happen also to be elephants, including Sao (a former log-hauler in Thailand's timber industry), whose work was likened by Yale art historian Mia Fineman to the work of Paul Gauguin for its "broad, gentle, curvy brush strokes" and "a depth and maturity." Fineman says there are three distinct regional styles of Thai elephant art: northern ("lyrical and expressive"), central ("dark, cooler" colors in "broad, vigorous strokes"), and southern ("saturated tertiary colors").
(Boston Globe, March 19)
What Chaos? What Constitutional Crisis?
Professional psychic Jacqueline Stallone (mother of Sly), in a pre-Election Day interview, said her dogs had told her telepathically that George W. Bush would win the presidency by "200 votes."
(Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nov. 7)