News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication



-- During the last four months, an unidentified motorist in a maroon Volvo has been reported by construction workers in the California cities of Fremont, Hayward, Brentwood and Dublin to have approached them and requested that they fill his car with concrete or hot asphalt. An employee of Independent Construction (Concord, Calif.) honored the request in May in Dublin, with concrete up to steering-wheel level. The man allegedly said that he was trying to get back at his ex-wife. Police want to question him, according to an August Oakland Tribune report, although they admit he has not committed any crime.

-- LifeGem Memorials (Elk Grove Village, Ill.) announced in August that, using available technology, it can turn a loved one's cremated ashes into a diamond by pressing and heating the ashes to 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit. A chemistry professor cited by The New York Times agreed that the plan was sound; carbon from the ashes converts to graphite, which can be pressurized into a diamond. LifeGem prices start at $4,000 for a quarter-carat.

The District of Calamity

Among recent District of Columbia government mishaps: Twice in June, firefighters had to battle house fires with garden hoses because pumper trucks were out of service. And apparently many police officers were not told about D.C.'s new vehicle registration program, resulting in their ticketing cars without the old (now invalid) stickers, even though owners had conscientiously affixed the new stickers. And D.C.'s Board of Elections ruled in August that Mayor Anthony Williams' name could not be printed on the primary ballot this month because his election workers forged too many signatures (e.g., "Kelsey Grammar," "Robin Hood") on his qualifying petition.

Courthouse Follies

-- Order in the Court: Edmonton, Alberta, lawyer Maurice Prefontaine was arrested in March for skipping his contempt-of-court trial, which came about when he referred to Justice Gerald Verville as a "slithering mass (of) vipers." And a judge in Columbus, Ohio, declared a mistrial in July when lawyer Christopher T. Cicero rushed the phalanx of deputies surrounding his murder-defendant-client Michael Gordon and smacked Gordon in the head (in response to Gordon's threat, according to a bailiff, to "kick (Cicero's) fat ass."

-- In July, a federal judge ruled against lawyer Milo J. Altschuler (Seymour, Conn.), who claimed that his across-the-knee, bare-buttocks spanking of client Leslie Cerrato in his office was a legitimate trial-preparation tactic (and thus that when she recovered a $250,000 settlement against him for the assault, Altschuler's insurance company should pay it, as "malpractice"). Altschuler claimed that he thought the spanking would improve Cerrato's credibility as a witness.

-- The U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled in June that lawyer-plaintiff Richard Barrett of Mississippi was entitled to about $30,000 in government reimbursement of legal fees for challenging the protest-permit process in Morristown, N.J., for his small, white-supremacist organization. Barrett admits that court-ordered expenses (from 21 recent favorable decisions) are a major source of income. Barrett showed a few minor defects in the Morristown permit process, for which he originally asked reimbursement at $275 an hour, including 30 minutes' worth of "discussions with client" (presumably, $137.50 for talking to himself).


-- Football player Dennis Johnson, now an Arizona Cardinals rookie defensive end, began his high school football career at age 6 as a 5-foot-7, 170-pound second-grader playing for Harrodsburg (Ky.) High School, according to an April Los Angeles Times profile. (Nowadays, only ninth-graders and up can play, by national rule.) Johnson appeared in several games that year (after Harrodsburg had built up big leads), apparently holding his own against 18-year-olds.

-- According to a BBC News dispatch from Harar, Ethiopia, in June, Mulugeta Wolde Mariam ("the hyena man of Harar") has trained about 80 local wild hyenas to congregate around him at night and be fed by grabbing pieces of meat out of Mulugeta's mouth with their teeth. Said he, "There is no danger unless you are scared, as the hyenas sense fear."

Recurring Themes

The Japanese enterprise of paying strangers to come to private homes, pretend they are the occupants' relatives, and exchange family gossip was reported by News of the Weird in 1995, and apparently business is still booming. According to an August Miami Herald dispatch from Tokyo, Kazushi Ookynitani's "convenience agency" supplies "friends" for weddings and funerals and even to sit in at college lectures (to keep a professor's spirits up). Recent wedding-party "friends" of one bride (who were paid about $500 each) were given detailed biographies of who they were to pretend to be, so as to mingle more interestingly with the bride's actual relatives.

Unclear on the Concept

-- A homeowner in Amarillo, Texas, found one of cross-country spree-bomber Luke Helder's active explosives in May but for some reason brought it into his house before calling police. And a woman found a bomb along the Columbia River near Woodland, Wash., in July but for some reason carried it directly to the police station to show the officers. And a member of the cabin crew on the December 2001 American Airlines plane carrying accused shoe-bomber Robert Reid confiscated Reid's shoes and put them in the cockpit for safekeeping.

-- Twice in a two-week period, what authorities believe to be the same yearling bear was roughed up by tourists in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee because each time he had a fawn in his grasp and was about to have dinner. Floridian Michael Shaw, 38, was charged by park rangers with interfering with wildlife for kicking and roughing up the bear (even though he insisted that saving the deer was the right thing to do), and in the second attack on July 7, a group of visitors drove the bear away by pelting him with rocks (until an animal researcher in the group explained to them the way nature works).

Our Civilization in Decline

A pregnant woman told a New Zealand TV audience on July 12 that she had agreed to let adult filmmaker Stephen Crow film her childbirth for a sequence in an upcoming pornographic movie (Auckland). Idaho's Medicaid manager told reporters (who were questioning him about new restrictions that denied many clients dentures) that the elderly "can (just) gum their food" (Boise, May). At least 23 eighth-graders in the Rockford (Ill.) School District failed every single class last year but nevertheless were promoted (July).

Also, in the Last Month ...

A judge set a 19-year-old man for trial in a revenge-shooting, allegedly in retaliation for the victim's having given him a "wedgie" at a concert (Southampton, Pa.). A 37-year-old woman received probation-only after being charged with attempting to kill her husband by placing poisonous spiders on him while he slept (Rutherford County, Tenn.). A pregnant woman in the middle of a Caesarian delivery at the Waitakere Hospital had her legs catch on fire (from the alcohol-swabbing solution), but mother and eventual baby received only minor injuries (Waitemata, New Zealand). Police, citing federal forfeiture law, demanded that McIntosh College give up ownership of one of its dormitories to the city because so much drug activity was taking place inside (Dover, N.H.).

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