News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF JUNE 2, 2002


-- Two 23-year-old California filmmakers told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that, as of early May, they had sold about 10,000 copies of their "Bumfights" video ($19.95), which entertains viewers with real fistfights and dangerous stunts willingly engaged in by actual homeless people (many of them intoxicated) on Las Vegas's streets. Some participants say the video is a realistic portrayal of their violent, everyday existence, and the two filmmakers, Ray Laticia and Ty Beeson, professed sympathy for their subjects by subtitling the video "Cause for Concern."

-- The Denver Fire Department responded to an emergency call in April from the adjacent city of Montbello when a woman reported being trapped in her home by 3-feet-diameter tumbleweeds that had filled her yard and jammed against her house, to a height of 16 feet. A department lieutenant said there were "thousands" in the yard. (In January, residents of a Kennewick, Wash., neighborhood were deluged with tumbleweeds "as big as Buicks," according to one man, but of particular concern were a small number that appeared to have been blown in from the nearby, highly contaminated Hanford nuclear reservation.)

Beyond Tough-Love Parenting

Recent Punishments: A father pleaded guilty to stuffing so much toilet paper down his 7-month-old daughter's throat that some had to be surgically removed (Fairbanks, Alaska; May). A mother and stepfather were charged with forcing her 12-year-old son into a doghouse and blowing cigarette smoke at him through the door (Newark, Del.; April). A man was sentenced to 90 days in jail for forcing his 7-year-old son to accompany him to a funeral home and to touch a corpse (North Platte, Neb.; January). A 41-year-old woman, jealous to see her boyfriend out with her 16-year-old daughter, was convicted of attempted murder for dousing the girl with gasoline and setting her on fire, "to teach you a lesson you'll never forget" (Miami; March).

The Continuing Crisis

-- Police in Georgetown, Ky., charged Georgetown College beauty pageant coordinator Kathy Wallace with assault in February after she allegedly roughed up contestant Keaton Lynch Brown, 18, who had insisted on, as her talent presentation, lassoing a stuffed pig onstage. Said another contestant, "There was some controversy (between Wallace and Brown) over whether her talent was ladylike."

-- In January, South Africa's Constitutional Court voted 5-4 to deny the petition of law graduate (and Rastafarian) Garreth Prince to practice law, citing his admission that he intends to continue smoking marijuana heavily. Said Prince, "(I)t's my mission, man (to be a "dagga"-smoking lawyer). Mandela struggled for 27 years."

-- Hermilo Mendez, 28, behind bars in Dilley, Texas, and finally having the time to work on his long-desired divorce, wrote the county clerk in San Antonio in March to start the paperwork, but admitted that he needed some help, in that he could not remember his wife's name. The couple had married in 1992 after a one-week courtship, and she cleared out eight days after that. After some research, the clerk informed Mendez that his better half was "Violeta Sanchez Juarez" and that she had apparently long ago returned to Mexico.

-- Korean-born artist Hoon Lee licked yellow cake icing off of the entire reach of a 2,500-square-foot Omaha, Neb., art gallery floor in May in order, he said, for "people to look at the icing and feel a certain way (about the color yellow), whether they know what (that feeling) is or not." And Mr. Cang Xin of China, exhibiting at the Biennale show in Sydney, Australia, in May, asked visitors to bring him any objects they want for him to lick; in his "Lick the World" show, he said, he improves the world's spirituality with his tongue.

-- Found in Illinois: Two men doing minor roofing work at Fox Valley Blueprint in downtown Aurora, Ill., in May found a bucket filled with rain water, but when they poured off the water, they realized it was filled with approximately 1,000 human teeth. (At press time, police were still investigating.) And in April in a wooded area near Countryside, Ill., a passerby found an abandoned 55-gallon container with hazardous-material labels that was later revealed to contain either goat semen or pig semen, originally shipped by the Iowa firm Swine Genetics.

Least Competent Criminals

-- At the April trial of Anthony Lanza for driving the getaway car in a 1998 murder near St. Petersburg, Fla., the jury was deadlocked, 11-1, and Lanza, certain that it was 11-1 for acquittal, waived his right (against the advice of his lawyer) to a unanimous decision, which, if he had read the jury correctly, would have meant that he would go free. The judge accepted Lanza's waiver, but the verdict happened to be 11-1 for conviction. Lanza (the son of a former, alleged Genovese family "capo") was sentenced to life in prison and immediately challenged the outcome as unfair.

-- Albuquerque, N.M., police arrested Amadeo Salguero, 21, in May and charged him with carjacking three people at gunpoint and making off with their Acura, which, according to a detective, contained one of the best stereo systems in town. Salguero was busted after he later called one of the victims and asked (according to police), "I don't want there to be hard feelings, but, hey, how do you hook up your amp?" The call was traced to the cell phone of Salguero, who happens to live across the street from the scene of the carjacking.

Diversity in Education Policy

Earlier this year, Plainfield Memorial School (Norwich, Conn.) decided that it was so concerned about elementary school pupils' privacy that it would not publish the last names of students making the honor roll (thus denying them traditional recognition in local newspapers). But in April, KPRC-TV (Houston) revealed that several school districts around Houston routinely make publicly available the full name, address, phone number and photograph of every student in school under an exception to federal privacy law that allows "directory"-type information to be released without parental authorization.

Our Civilization in Decline

The restaurant of the brand-new Ritz Carlton hotel in downtown New York City employs what it believes is the world's first water steward, to recommend which bottled waters from its collection go best with which fancy dishes (February). The California Assembly's education committee, concerned about kids' sore backs, voted to require school textbooks to be smaller (April). Executed child-killer Daniel Lee Zirkle's last request, as his idea of contrition, was that his ashes be spread over the graves of his two victims (one of which was his own daughter) (but the girls' horrified mother got a judge to stop it) (Richmond, Va., April).

Also, in the Last Month ...

Twenty-seven men with outstanding arrest warrants turned themselves in to police specifically so they could serve their relatively short sentences right away and not have to worry about being in TV-less jail during the World Cup matches (Hertfordshire, England). The Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, city council repealed a sloppily written, 20-year-old law that made it illegal for an animal to answer nature's call within the city limits. A California state program on medical marijuana was criticized by several participants because of the low quality of the government's dope (allegedly full of sticks and stems) (San Jose). Police found $8 million worth of cocaine hidden in a discarded sofa that crack addicts were lounging on on a side street, consuming their hard-to-come-by nickel bags, completely unaware of the treasure trove below (South Bronx, N.Y.).

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