News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

LEAD STORIES

-- In October, Mr. Ferenc Kovacs, who recently invented a singing condom that plays communist marching songs, opened a laugh kiosk in Budapest, Hungary (widely regarded as one of the most morose cities on Earth). His fee ranges from about 2 cents to provoke a smile to about 35 cents for a laugh. (Sample: Kovacs dons matching black armbands and explains, "I was talking to my brother yesterday, and it turns out his mother died, too.").

-- People Getting Too Much Sleep: Michele G. Phebus, 27, and Tony A. Phebus, 29, were arrested in Lafayette, Ind., in August after they fell asleep in their car between the microphone and pick-up window at a White Castle drive-thru; police found numerous marijuana butts in the car and a brick of it in the trunk. And Brian K. Costa, 27, was found asleep in his car in the middle of an on-ramp to the Henderson Bridge in East Providence, R.I., in September, with five bags of cocaine in his lap.

-- Nude Gardeners: In August Robert Norton, 73, was arrested for at least the 13th time since 1981 on public nudity charges while out working in his yard in Pekin, Ill. And in Brooksville, Fla., in August, Carolyn Sparks, 48, received a citation for raking topless in her front yard. (In November, a jury said her behavior did not amount to disorderly conduct.)

GREAT ART

-- An October Associated Press story reported on the formaldehyde-saturated museum housing works of Mr. Honore Fragonard, an 18th-century French anatomist who sculpted in cadavers, carefully skinned, preserved and posed. Visitors to the Maisons-Alfort, France, structure (just down the river from the Charenton insane asylum, which is where some say Fragonard belonged) nowadays are struck by how much his works resemble the "Alien" and other creatures from modern horror films.

-- Fred Sandback's works at the Forum for Contemporary Art in St. Louis in April consisted only of string or wire laid out to the walls and floors of the gallery. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch critic, Sandback's tying string in a triangle shape "brings with it the illusion of weight" and is the "most dramatic" of four new pieces done specially for the show. Finishing a close second in the critic's mind was tying two parallel lengths of string from the floor to the ceiling, a "work" "that can be experienced as columns or as a restatement, in the air, of notions [of canvas-based artists]" and which provided "succor."

-- A show by the feminist sculptor Louise Bourgeois in Toronto in May included a retrospective of her works featuring bizarre, severed penises and huge testicles hanging singly or in pairs or in bunches, including "No Exit" (a stairway with two huge testicles restricting egress at the bottom) and "Untitled (With Foot)," in which an innocent baby is crushed by a large, pink testicle.

-- In August, Boyd and Barbara Miller, working for 30 hours with 1,500 pounds of colored gravel, completed a life-sized mosaic of the car of racer Dale Earnhardt in their yard, complete with all Earnhardt's various product endorsements legible on the body.

-- Among the works displayed at the premiere of the Hugo Boss Gallery at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City in November was Janine Antoni's "Slumber," consisting of a bed, a loom and an electroencephalograph (EEG) unit. Antoni sleeps in the bed at night, hooked up to the EEG, and during the day weaves a blanket with patterns in the shapes of her EEG readings. The New York Times critic called it a "deft mix of public and private, dream and reality" with a "fine poetic spin."

-- Unknown painter Victor Ruiz Roizo, 39, obtained space in the famed Prado museum in Madrid, Spain, in October by sticking his canvas on the wall with super glue when no one was looking. It stayed for four days until a visitor inquired about it. Roizo said later that he just thought it would be good to show his work, called "Afterwards," featuring a human skull with worms, along "with Rembrandt and all those guys."

PEOPLE WITH TOO MUCH TIME ON THEIR HANDS

-- In August, Texas A&M graduate Michael Kelly filed a request under the state's Public Information Act for a copy of the 1996 confidential football playbook of the Aggies' arch-rival University of Texas. (The request was denied, and in November, of course, A&M lost to UT.)

-- From a paper delivered in August at the Second Annual International Conference on Elvis Presley by Professor Joel Williamson of the University of North Carolina, claiming that the screaming girls who tried to rip Elvis' clothes off in the 1950s were an early part of the women's movement: "[A]n Elvis performance provided a venue in which young women could publicly and all together claim ownership of their bodies, declare themselves loudly, clearly and explicitly to be sexual as well as spiritual characters."

-- Two New York dermatologists told The Wall Street Journal in September that five to 10 of their face-lift patients a month opt also to tighten what they believe are their droopy ear lobes, at about $750 a pair. Said Dr. Bruce Katz, some patients tell him they want lobes similar to those of Demi Moore, Kathie Lee Gifford and Sting. Said one extremely satisfied, 52-year-old Katz patient, "I have the ear lobes of a teen-ager."

-- According to a New York Times article in August, the student handbook at The Citadel requires first-year cadets to memorize standard, quirky responses to traditional questions posed during shakedowns by upperclassmen. For instance, the answer to the question, how much milk is left in the carton (which is expressed by the upperclassman as "How is the cow?"), must be answered, "Sir, she walks, she talks, she's full of chalk, the lacteal fluid extracted from the female of the bovine species is highly prolific to the X degree, sir! (with X representing the number of glassfuls left)." (Any other answer by a cadet would be punishable.)

UPDATE

In September 1996, News of the Weird listed an array of vicious criminals who happened to have the middle name Wayne. More: In November, Georgia executed Ellis Wayne Felker for the 1981 murder of a college student. Also in November, the suspected rapist of a 12-year-old girl in Petaluma, Calif. (two miles from where Polly Klaas was abducted in 1993), Larry Wayne Cole, apparently died of natural causes while on the lam. And in October, the Oregon Parole Board turned down the latest bid by Richard Wayne Godwin, serving a life sentence for the 1979 rape and murder of a 5-year-old girl.

NO LONGER WEIRD

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (11) Parents who run afoul of laws even in modern democracies that prohibit their giving their children certain names, such as the Guillot family, who lost a 13-year court battle in October in France to name their daughter "Fleur de Marie" (Flower of Mary) because it did not appear on the list of Roman Catholic saints' names and also because forenames cannot have prepositions. And (12) the needy drug user so oblivious of reality that when he comes upon a large-scale, loud, chaotic police raid in progress at his dealer's home, he nonetheless insists on purchasing from one of the officers, as Tomano Summa, 36, was accused of doing in Boston in July.

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33738, or 74777.3206@compuserve.com. Chuck Shepherd's latest paperback, "The Concrete Enema and Other News of the Weird Classics," is now available at bookstores everywhere. To order it direct, call 1-800-642-6480 and mention this newspaper. The price is $6.95 plus $2 shipping.)

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