News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication


-- Munich, Germany, physiotherapist Franziska Weber told reporters in December that her supercold (minus 230 degrees Fahrenheit) walk-in freezer therapy, originally designed to relieve chronic pain, now is used more frequently by clients who want merely to relieve stress. One to three minutes in the chamber (cost: about $11), Weber reports, gives patients a huge energy burst and is especially popular among business executives to condition themselves for important meetings.

-- In December, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service ordered Maria Wigent, age 37 and a 32-year resident of New York City, deported (thus breaking up the home she shares with her husband and two teen-age sons) after her third shoplifting conviction, involving about $25 worth of items. And a December New York Times story recounted the plight of a Guatemalan-American in Virginia facing deportation this month for the single act of biting her husband ("domestic violence") during a fight.

People Who Are Not Like You and Me

Police in Pittsburgh identified a 31-year-old man as the person who was too lazy to lug his Christmas tree down to the street and thus simply tossed it out his sixth-floor window on Christmas Day. The tree hit a power line on the way down, knocking out electricity to about 400 customers and deadening the 911 line briefly until a backup generator kicked on.

Not My Fault

-- From a report by psychologist N.G. Berrill, to a New York City court in November, quoting former police officer Justin Volpe on how he came to brutalize Abner Louima's rectum with a mind-of-its-own toilet plunger in the notorious 1997 assault: "I couldn't believe (that Louima didn't apologize for cussing him, Volpe said). The next thing I know, the stick was in (Louima's rectum)." Volpe continued: "I was terrified. When the stick seemed to pop in, I said to myself, 'I cannot believe this.'"

-- The president of Oklahoma City's Fraternal Order of Police told reporters in November that the six recent incidents of on-duty sexual misbehavior by officers is attributable to "stress" emanating from their anguish working in the aftermath of the 1995 bombing of the Murrah federal building.

-- Born-again Christian David Strein, 44, announced in November that he would appeal his 1998 dismissal from a New Mexico state government job for misusing his computer because he was actually powerless to stay away from Internet pornography. Strein contended that after he first discovered online porn, "Satan told me to check it out some more." Also, said Strein, once at a porn site, he was trapped on a virtually endless loop of sex sites that had taken over his computer. (The administrative law judge had ruled that Strein had visited too many sites and given them his credit-card number too many times to have been blameless.)

Crises in the Workplace

-- In August, an industrial tribunal in England upheld the firing of reporter Ian White, 36, who had been warned several times over the years about his bad hygiene, which he blamed on depression over his marriage. It was Britain's first such official decision after several that seemed to suggest that workmates had to tolerate diverse body odors.

-- Fireproof Workers: An arbitration panel ruled in July that Toronto Transit Commission janitor Winston Ruhle had been improperly fired and deserved about $115,000 (U.S.) in damages; he was fired in 1995 for padding his recuperation time after surgery, improperly missing 203 days during a 244-day period. And English chauffeur John Forbes, 55, won an employment tribunal ruling in September that it was unfair to fire him simply because he had twice dressed in women's clothing on the job and flashed his underwear to passing motorists.

-- In a September profile of a purgatory-like room at Tokyo's Sega Enterprises building, The Wall Street Journal described the daily activities of disfavored employee Toshiyuki Sakai during the four months between his first negative evaluation and his ultimate firing. Sakai was assigned to an empty room with a desk, chair and incoming-calls-only telephone, where he was expected to remain every day, with no assignments yet also without personal diversions. Observers cited by the Journal called Sega's room a compromise between the U.S. preference for ruthless termination and the Japanese commitment to stick with workers longer.

-- The lawyer for a former Fort Lauderdale, Fla., phone-sex worker told reporters in November that he had won a workers' compensation settlement for his client based on her claim of carpal tunnel syndrome due to masturbating on the job as much as seven times a day. Steven Slootsky said his client accepted the settlement to avoid the embarrassment of testifying, even though the money is not enough to reimburse her for the surgery she required on both hands.

Kids Growing Up Fast

Three times during the last two months of 1999, a parent passed away unexpectedly, leaving a small child alone in the house to figure out what to do next. Travis Butler, 9, Memphis, Tenn., went to school as normal for a month, trying to hide his mother's body because he feared being put in a foster home. Lydia Hanson, 7, Peabody, Mass., told her teacher the next day of her mother's death, but the teacher just shrugged, forcing the girl to spend another night caring for the body before finding a grown-up to believe her. Karina Pistorio, 4, Oklahoma City, attempted to nurse her dead father through the Christmas weekend before the police came, having been called by her father's friends concerned that he was missing. (No foul play is suspected in any of the deaths.)


When News of the Weird introduced Rev. Richard A. Rossi Jr. in December 1994, his wife had just emerged from a coma and recanted her accusation that he beat her to a pulp near their Pittsburgh home. He had repeatedly denied the charge, saying the attacker must have been someone who looked just like him, driving a car just like his. Nonetheless, he pleaded no contest to the assault and the couple moved to Long Beach, Calif., where he became pastor at the Immanuel Baptist Church. In November 1999, Rev. Rossi threatened to file slander lawsuits against Immanuel members who circulated news of Rossi's Pittsburgh background after he changed Immanuel's by-laws to free up church money for himself.

Recent Passings in the Weird Community

James Velez, 25, died of infections caused by his lifelong habit of violently scratching himself as if thousands of bugs were crawling over him (New York City, October). Wendy Scott, 50, died of cancer after recovering from Munchausen syndrome, in which the afflicted complain of bogus illnesses and undergo unnecessary surgeries (42, in Scott's case) (South London, England, October).

Also, in the Last Month ...

A lifeguard was rushed to intensive care after drinking from an open Coke bottle in a clubhouse refrigerator, having overlooked the label "Do not drink / Jellyfish tentacles" (Cairns, Australia). On Christmas Eve, Patricia White Bull, 42, abruptly awoke from a 16-year coma and regained most of her faculties (Albuquerque). Twelve people in a high-rise for seniors were hospitalized on Christmas Eve after a woman took Oprah Winfrey's advice and lit an "inspirational" candle, which toppled over and started a fire (Chicago). Seven noodle-making shops were closed after inspections revealed they were preserving their inventory in formaldehyde (Hanoi). Tim Book beat a DUI charge by telling a judge that he had just come from a hypnotist's show and was still in a trance when police stopped him (Bruderheim, Alberta).

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