News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication


-- In December, education officials in the borough of Islington in London, England, announced they would begin to pay 30 14-year-old students to attend classes on Saturday mornings to improve their chances of graduation. The academically borderline students would sign a four-year contract for the extra sessions, at a wage of almost $6 an hour (nearly $1 more than the minimum wage for teen-agers).

-- Mr. Kamla Jaan, 50, was elected mayor of Katni in central India in December, and Mr. Shabnam Mausi was elected to the legislature in the state of Madhya Pradesh in February, in political breakthroughs for eunuchs, who have run for office in large numbers recently as a reaction to perceived widespread corruption among India's traditional politicians. Until now, the genitalless "hijras" have been relegated to being either prostitutes or professional pests who trespass and then demand fees to leave the premises.

New Jersey Educators' Babylon

In October, high school teacher Edward R. Kotwica committed suicide by walking in front of a train in Bergen County hours after he was charged with fondling a 17-year-old female student. Two weeks later, piano teacher Samuel S. Aster, 59, hanged himself in Teaneck; he had been charged with molesting seven of his young students. Less than a month later, Adam Victor Reed, 53, a former board of education member in Monmouth County, was arrested and charged with possession of 12 boxes of child pornography.

The Weirdo-American Community

-- A 45-year-old man was identified by police in February as the one who had recently taped as many as 100 vials of water to trees in Milwaukee and suburbs (though at press time, he had not been charged with a crime). He told police that he was testing the frequencies of radio stations because one of them had been bombarding him with signals. Though he did not explain the role of the vials, he vowed to send the test results to the FCC. The man's son, 17, said he was a good father but that sometimes he neglects his medication.

-- Joseph Sherer, 41, was arraigned in Bozeman, Mont., in January on 11 felony charges, including aggravated assault and impersonating a physician, stemming from what police believe were from 40 to 200 phone calls he made from his Sunrise, Fla., home to women in Montana, advising them to perform harmful procedures on themselves (such as persuading one woman to cut off a nipple and flush it down the toilet). According to police, Sherer had episodes of similar, but not as dangerous, phone calls in other cities in the 1980s.

-- E.H. Dennis, 77, was convicted in Greensboro, N.C., in January of scaring attendees at a 1998 Guilford County Commission meeting by making an explicit bomb threat against commissioners if he didn't get his way in a land-use dispute. According to a videotape of the meeting, Dennis calmly described how commissioners' body parts would be strewn around the area after the bomb went off. During a break in testimony at his trial, Dennis left the courtroom and stepped over to the elections office, where he left a $147 cashier's check as filing fee to run for a seat on the commission.

-- New York City firefighter Albert Hohmann was arrested in February after being identified by police as the man who, naked, sneaked into a restaurant at night and snacked on expensive food and wine. Hohmann's lawyer denied the charge despite the fact that the restaurant's surveillance camera was running and that the intruder sported an easily identifiable tattoo of "Mr. Peanut" on his derriere.

The Continuing Crisis

-- Trauma therapist Karen Frogley complained in January to Reverse Bungy New Zealand about the company's installation of a 130-foot-high tower with a bungee-attached capsule in downtown Wellington, outside Frogley's office building. Frogley says the jumpers' blood-curdling screams make her rape and car-crash patients anxious during their sessions.

-- In December, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals offered 350 homeless shelters in the U.S. and 34 more in Canada holiday "tofurkeys" -- tofu shaped to resemble turkey parts. Said the PETA coordinator, of the campaign to save hapless turkeys, "Homeless people especially can empathize with those who are oppressed."

-- In December, the Education Ministry in Turkey asked a math publisher not to use the letters "p" and "k" in algebra equations because they could form the acronym for the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party ("PKK"). The ministry suggested instead the letters e, f, g and h.

People Who Are Not Like You and Me

Because of an inexplicable rash in mid-1999 of newborn babies being abandoned on the street, Child Protective Services in Houston bought 75 billboard ads in December to beg reluctant mothers to take unwanted babies to hospitals or social services agencies. And at the Berea Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa, at least four newborns have been deposited recently through its oversized mail drop for unwanted babies. South African authorities are equally baffled at the sudden upsurge in abandoned babies.

Recurring Themes

Barely six months after the murder conviction of San Diego surgeon John Ronald Brown (whose patient died while voluntarily having a healthy leg removed), a hospital in Scotland announced that it has been the site of two similar but successful surgeries in the last three years, on patients so dissatisfied with their bodies that they have a psychological need ("apotemnophilia") to have a healthy limb removed. Surgeon Robert Smith said he was troubled by his patients' (one British, one German) needs but ultimately performed the operations at no charge because the patients were so distraught, one having earlier shot himself in the leg to improve the chances a surgeon would agree to amputate.

People Recently Fatally Run Over by Their Own Vehicles

A 37-year-old man who tried to get out while backing up his van fell to the ground and was run over (Silver Spring, Md., December). And a 22-year-old man who decided to push his asphalt-filled truck up an off-ramp as it was sputtering to a halt after running out of gas, slipped as the truck started to roll backward (Jacksonville, Ill., January). And a 30-year-old man who got underneath his truck at a service station to adjust the starter was crushed when the truck lurched forward on top of him (Sugar Land, Texas, December).

Also, in the Last Month ...

A 58-year-old man got 12 months in jail for forgery; it was his 151st criminal conviction since 1961 (Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario). The publisher of the "For Dummies" book series donated $350 million to MIT for brain research. "Mountain man," the escaped murderer from Bulgaria who spent 12 years burglarizing houses in Washington state, received $412,500 from Snohomish County because a police dog bit off part of his foot during the arrest. A furniture store floor collapsed, injuring 161 shoppers (13 seriously) in a frenzy to buy one of 36 $229 armchairs marked down to $18 (Dos Hermanas, Spain). A 51-year-old man, out of work 14 weeks with broken ribs after being hit by a bus, was billed $850 for damage to the bus (London, England).

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