News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

LEAD STORIES

-- Can't Possibly Be True: In December, John Caballero, 42, who had just been awarded $30 million in punitive damages by a jury in Corpus Christi, Texas, in his lawsuit over injuries from an oil well explosion, voluntarily gave up every penny of it when the company agreed to institute a safety plan to protect future workers. (Caballero will retain several million dollars in actual damages for treatment of broken vertebrae, a crushed foot and ankle, a dislocated hip, vision and hearing loss, and a scarring of the scalp.)

-- In Miami, Fla., on Dec. 4 at 10:30 p.m., Edna Benson, in curlers and ready for bed, grabbed her Taurus 85 handgun and prepared to see who was knocking on her door at that hour. To her great surprise, it was Mayor Xavier Suarez, who "looked mad, really, really mad," said Benson, and was clutching the four-page letter she had written criticizing the mayor for firing the police chief. After she turned out the lights and shouted at him, Suarez finally walked away. Later, Suarez said he tries to call everyone who writes him but that he didn't have Benson's phone number.

-- In November in Waukesha, Wis., Kenneth J. Nowicki, 34, was formally charged with disorderly conduct following his arrest in August. According to the police complaint, Nowicki targeted three kids in a park, left them candy and a cup, and via typewritten instructions asked them to spit into the cup after consuming the candy. He told police he is preoccupied with saliva and uses it for sexual gratification.

THE ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT

-- In October, the Hotel Nagoya Castle, 170 miles west of Tokyo, began calling its rates "suggested" and allowing customers to pay whatever they thought the rooms were worth (but at least 38 percent of the suggested rate). In trial runs, the hotel found the average discount to be only 10 percent, which management expected to be overcome by higher volume.

-- The Rocky Mountain News disclosed in June that business was brisk for the Denver company DDx Inc., in sales of its HeatWatch system, which detects when one cow attempts to mount another cow (which, though it has no procreation significance, is still a good indication that one or both are in heat) and alerts ranchers and dairy farmers of optimum time for artificial insemination.

-- In September in Hackensack, N.J., pharmaceutical chemist Puzant Torigian introduced the latest "safe" cigarette, Bravo, made of enzyme-treated lettuce leaves. They are sold mostly in health-food stores, at about $3.50 a pack. (Bravos actually appeared on the market briefly 28 years ago, but safe-smoking was not as important then, and they failed to sell.)

-- The German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported the introduction of a "Letter Bomb" toy in stores in the Philippines in October, selling quickly by urging kids to "have fun and become a terrorist." The toy resembles an airmail envelope, and instructions say to write the target's name on it, clap on it heavily, and then present it to the victim within seven seconds so it will "explode" in his hand.

-- A July New York Post article described the rapidly expanding retail market for bullet-resistant clothing (leather jackets, sneakers, mink coats, bras), including denim jeans with 25 percent Kevlar, which the manufacturer believes will sell because of their unique appearance rather than their bullet-retarding properties. And the Village Voice reported in November that a New York City security gadget store sells an ordinary-looking chair with electric plates on the seat and on a shelf extending from an arm; it can detect when someone is hiding a metal object in his rectum or mouth.

TOO MUCH TIME ON THEIR HANDS

-- In June, Netherlands native Imre Somogyi told an audience at a book festival in Chicago that he was the world's first toe reader. In the course of promoting his book, "Reading Toes: Your Feet as Reflections of Your Personality," Somogyi told one New York woman that the inward turn of her right small toe indicated she was likely "to turn away from the subject," according to a Reuters news report. Somogyi said 70 percent of his clients are women: "Women are very open. Men hide their toes."

-- State University College at New Paltz, N.Y., hosted controversial, sex-related academic conferences on the weekends of Oct. 31 and Nov. 7. The first included tips on sadomasochism and the use of sex toys, and the second, on women's bodies in art, featured such exhibits as a female graduate student in a body suit, suspended from a ceiling, being hosed down with water by two men while a woman lying underneath her and wearing only a G-string has hot wax dripped on her body.

UNCLEAR ON THE CONCEPT

-- In November, the Dayton Daily News reported that a vandal operating in local libraries is still on the loose after two years of incidents. The vandal targets books that, as he once wrote, are "an affront to public decency (and that) corrupt young children," such as those on homosexuality or the United Nations, and smears them with human feces.

-- In June trial testimony in Providence, R.I., against retired Roman Catholic Monsignor Louis Ward Dunn, a woman who claimed to have been raped by him in 1965 when she was 18 said she initially did not believe Father Dunn's advances were sexual. She said Father Dunn had asked her to remove her blouse, which she did, and that he had spread talcum powder over her breasts, and that the two of them then killed a bottle of wine, but, she said, "I did not consider that sexual in any way." (Dunn was acquitted of that rape charge. However, the next week, he was found guilty of raping another woman and called by the judge "a sexual predator," but in August the judge granted him a new trial in that case.)

-- In August in Sharnbrook, England, Emma Webster, 15, revealed she was pregnant, due in January, and that the father was Sean Stewart, age 11, whom she had met in school and whom she thought was at least 15. Said Emma to London's Daily Mail, "I think he will be a good father. He may only be 11, but he is quite mature and responsible for his age."

THINNING THE HERD

-- A 38-year-old man passed away in Jenkins Township, Pa., in November, a couple of hours after going to the home of a friend to see his snakes. According to the friend, the man had playfully reached into a cobra's tank and picked up the snake, and was bitten. Refusing a ride to the hospital, the man said "I'm a man, I can handle it," and instead went to a bar, where he had three drinks and bragged to patrons that he had just been bitten by a cobra. An hour later, he was dead.

-- On the morning of Nov. 11, two best friends, ages 27 and 41, residents of Whitney, Texas, about 25 miles north of Waco, did what they often did when they encountered each other on the empty farm roads: They drove their pickups directly at each other in a game of chicken. That morning, they collided at about 60 miles an hour. The younger man was saved by his seat belt; the older man was unbelted and died at the scene.

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33738, or Weird@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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