News of the Weird

Week of February 14, 1999

-- The Denny's restaurant chain, which paid $45 million in 1994 to settle a lawsuit by black customers who claimed they were denied service, launched a $2 million corporate anti-racism campaign on Jan. 12. On the same day, in San Jose, Calif., a Denny's was sued by 17 Hispanics who claimed they were refused service in April 1998. A few days later, Abdussalam Sipes' and fellow Muslim Clarence Watson's complaint to a Montana human rights agency was made public, revealing their charge that employees of a Helena Denny's deliberately added bacon (impermissible in the Muslim diet) to their food as revenge for their having requested a specially cooked order.

-- After a two-week hearing in January in Washington, D.C., outraged federal judge Royce Lamberth threatened to hold two Cabinet secretaries, Interior's Bruce Babbitt and Treasury's Robert Rubin, in contempt of court for failing to turn over records of federal trust funds held for Native Americans -- records that Lamberth originally ordered released in November 1996. Among the excuses offered by the two departments is that a federal records depository in the Southwest is contaminated with rat droppings, and researchers will not enter it because of the fear of the deadly hantavirus.

-- In December, workers for an AIDS awareness campaign constructed and inflated a condom as long as 10 football fields and large enough inside to allow dance celebrations. The condom was part of a parade in Cali, Colombia.

Fetishes on Parade

-- In December in St. Paul, Minn., John O. Sexton, 43, was sentenced to 45 days in jail for cutting off 50 strands of a woman's ponytail on a busy street in August (after being rebuffed in his offer to purchase the locks). He apologized for his "urges about hair" and vowed to get counseling.

-- In Medina, Ohio, in December, David Donathon was sentenced to a year in jail for telephone harassment, specifically, calling people up and asking them if their feet stink. According to his lawyer, Donathon "realizes what he does is wrong, but he is unable to stop himself." And two weeks earlier in Belleville, Ill., James Dowdy, 27, was sentenced to six years in prison for his second offense of entering women's homes and stealing their socks. And in Boulder, Colo., in May, a 28-year-old man was charged with harassment and assault of four women with whom he struck up conversations on the street and whose feet he eventually forcibly fondled. According to one victim, "(The man's) eyes rolled back in his head like he was really excited."

-- In July in Telford, England, in the first court case of what prosecutors called "crush videos," Keith Twogood, 44, was fined about $3,000 for importing two tapes from the United States featuring nearly nude women in stiletto heels, stepping on mice and frogs. A British animal-protection advocate said he "just can't imagine the market for this," but a New York animal-rights spokesperson said he thought the motive was a "foot-fetish type of thing" rather than deliberate cruelty to animals.

Recent Rages

-- Worm Rage: Rawle Trotman, 21, Simcoe, Ontario, August, charged with stabbing a fellow angler in an argument over a worm. Sissy Rage: Brian Hertzog, 18, Reading, Pa., December, charged with shooting his sister (leaving her paralyzed below the waist) because she beat him in a wrestling match. Teacher's Rage: Deena Murdoch, 52, Carrollton, Texas, December, was charged with choking a fourth-grade boy because he sneaked a peak at her grade book.

-- Price-Check Rage: An unidentified "big blond" female customer was sought by Oakland, Mich., police in December for allegedly punching out a 55-year-old female clerk at a Hudson's department store when the clerk rolled her eyes at the customer's request for a price check on a dress. "Don't you ever roll your eyes at me," were the last words the clerk recalled before being decked. Yuletide Rage: William Fagyas, 82, was charged with stabbing his wife, Eleanor, 84, in the chest in Crown Point, Ind., in December because, according to police, she "was not in the Christmas spirit."

-- Only-in-California Rage: In December, Ms. Cathomas Starbird, a member of the school board of Sausalito, Calif., pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for allegedly punching, jumping on and biting another woman in April 1998. According to police, Ms. Starbird, her husband, and the other woman had gone out for dinner to celebrate the husband's birthday, and upon returning to the couple's houseboat, Ms. Starbird suggested sex and became furious when the other woman refused to perform oral sex on Ms. Starbird's husband.

Latest Religious Messages

-- In November, Pope John Paul II announced that the year 2000 would be a special holy year in which Catholics can obtain special "indulgences" for their sins that act, in a sense, as wild cards to speed up their ascension to heaven. According to policy dating back to the 16th century, Catholics who visit the sick or the jailed, or who contribute to charities, or who fast from smoking or drinking for as little as one day, may get special dispensation, as long as the act is accompanied by penitence.

Globe and Mail- Reuters, 11-28-98]

-- Roman Catholic Monsignor Ignatius McDermott, 88, blessed a Dell laptop computer in December at his headquarters in Chicago, which he believed to be a first (though priests have blessed animals, houses, Harley Davidsons and other things). "Maybe this will get (the younger generation's) attention," he said.

-- A November Chicago Sun-Times dispatch described the problems encountered by Anita and Jacob Martin, who moved from Daviess County, Ind., five years ago in an attempt to build an Amish community in Poreby, Poland, about 20 miles east of Warsaw. Jacob told a reporter that the couple had made zero converts and faced imminent local pressure from less-strict Mennonite missionaries from Pennsylvania. The couple's lack of success has made Jacob believe that the Amish rules about dress and socializing might be a little too strict.

Recurring Themes

-- Number Two in the News: In January, police in New Waterford, Nova Scotia (population 8,000), were investigating a suspected serial defecator who had soiled three nontoilet locations during the holiday season, including the floor of a recreation center. Also in January, Donald S. Spaeth, 36, of Ballwin, Mo., pleaded guilty to breaking into six cars on the lots of dealerships and leaving feces on the leather seats. He was sentenced to probation and ordered to continue his medication.

Weird, But Not True

-- Continuing an occasional reader-advisory series of recent stories that were reported elsewhere as real news but which were probably just made up: A November New York Times report on the difficult job of retitling American movies for the Asian market came with a list of wacky examples. (One of the tamer ones: "Leaving Las Vegas" became, in Chinese in Hong Kong, "I'm Drunk and You're a Prostitute.") However, as was revealed in December by The Washington Post, the list of examples was composed by an Internet humor Web site and had been mistakenly commingled with serious material on the topic and never investigated by America's "newspaper of record."

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

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

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