News of the Weird

Week of April 13, 2003


-- Lawsuits were filed in Chicago in February and in Hangzhou, China, in January demanding that theaters stop showing advertisements (not just the "previews") that run past a movie's announced starting time. Lawyers Mark Weinberg and Zhang Yang charged the theaters with fraud because of the three- to four-minute ad blitzes they endured recently after they had been expecting the films to get under way. The Chicago lawyer demanded a refund plus $75 in damages; the lawyer in China demanded a refund plus the equivalent of $4.50.

-- Eve Ensler's play "The Vagina Monologues" (a series of explicit speeches on sexuality and repression) was performed at a hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, in March, by Ms. Ensler and a troupe of local actresses (bundled in their traditional clothing) to an invited audience of 150, who apparently loved it, according to a report in Toronto's Globe and Mail. "If (the play) can happen here, it can happen anywhere," said Ms. Hibaaq Osman, a Somali Muslim activist, who in a fit of enthusiasm renamed the capital city "Vaginabad." "Having these Pakistani women talking about vibrators (is) what it's all about."

Fetishes on Parade

Police in Edinburgh, Scotland, put out an alert in March after a man claiming to be raising money through stunts for a charity tricked a young female shopkeeper into allowing him to cover her bare feet in baked beans and other vegetables from cans, before taking several photos and leaving. And in February, a motorist reported as 40ish and balding stopped on the campus of Missouri Western State College in St. Joseph, grabbed a passing female student's arm, licked it, and quickly drove off.

Cultural Diversity

-- A couple in Tianjin, China, in a February newspaper advertisement, offered an amount equal to $15,300 for a man aged 25 to 35 to step up and marry their recently deceased daughter, who was 28 and is now, according to a dream the mother had, lonely. In exchange for the dowry, the man must remain "faithful." (These "ghost marriages" were an ancient custom until outlawed by the communist regime, but have made a small comeback in recent years.)

-- Recent Annual Rituals in India: Females aged 14 to 21 in Malajpur village in Madhya Pradesh state had evil spirits once again expelled by broom beatings (sometimes severe) after they stepped into chilly waters to bring the spirits out in the open (January). And women in the city of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu state once again allowed a priest to walk on them wearing shoes containing nails in their soles, as an act of devotion and penance at a traditional festival (March). And nude worshipping by female Hindus continued at a festival in Chandragutti village in Karnataka state, celebrating the goddess Renukamba, despite the annual effort to make the women get dressed (March).

-- Ashoura day, the annual Lebanese martyrdom-inspiring tribute to a Muslim saint (grandson of the Prophet Muhammad), was celebrated on March 13 by thousands of Shiite worshippers who slashed themselves on the head. Many in the crowd marched through the city of Nabatiyeh while bleeding profusely, until their faces and clothing were nearly completely red.

-- Recently, many Lithuanians, whose country is poised to join the European Union next year, were cringing at the insistence by President Rolandas Paksas to continue to rely for advice on local mystic Lena Lolisvili. Among Lolisvili's methods for healing people: She wraps them in toilet paper, which she believes God has energized for her.

Trendy Surname

Larry Ray Pratt, 48, became the first person charged under Kansas' new food-supply safety law after he was arrested in January for allegedly urinating on packages of chicken in the walk-in freezer at a Dillon grocery store in Olathe. (Police said he had a grudge.) And in Bennington, Vt., in December, Lori T. Pratt, 30, was charged with shooting her husband after she found a pornographic video under the couple's bed. (Also, News of the Weird readers will recall a November story on Ms. Kelli Pratt, 45, who was arrested in Modesto, Calif., after allegedly, viciously biting her husband's scrotum in a fit of anger at his refusal to have sex with her, bites that caused an infection from which he died six days later.)

Recurring Theme

News of the Weird reported in September on a San Antonio lawyer called for jury duty but who told the judge that he'd serve only if the court paid him his regular rate of $100 an hour. (He of course changed his mind when the judge directly ordered him to come in.) In January, Charlotte, N.C., physician Charles Ferree similarly rejected his jury-duty notice, telling the judge his patients came first and that if any patient died (or even suffered) while he was on jury duty, the judge would be held responsible. Ferree also threatened to judge any cases he had quickly and harshly and made fun of judges' relatively lax hours (compared to those of harried physicians). Only Dr. Ferree's subsequently expressed remorse kept him out of jail for longer than the 10 days (for contempt) the judge handed down.

Educators Out of Control

New York City P.S. 192 principal Evelyn Peralta-Tessitore (an anti-alcohol crusader) was charged with DUI after police spotted her at 2:30 p.m. on a February day, alongside a Bronx road, standing by her car, urinating. And Mary Ann Swissler, a part-time professor at Seton Hall University (South Orange, N.J.), was fired after she responded to negative student course reviews with an e-mail calling most of her students "mental midgets" and the most "homophobic, sexist, racist, lying sacks of (word represented as "s t" in a news story) I have ever met in my life."

Our Civilization in Decline

In January, at a scout camp (for ages 11 to 14) in Denmark, organizers established a game of tag in which kids were the Jews (wearing Stars of David) and the adults pursuing them were designated as Nazis; one scout official admitted later that the game "may have crossed the line." And in February, during the international debate on whether the forcible disarmament of Iraq needed the moral sanction of the United Nations, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bosnia accused many of the U.N. peacekeepers in the region of the enthusiastic off-duty patronization of sex slaves and child prostitutes.

The District of Calamity

(1) A 43-year-old man was murdered at 9 a.m. on Jan. 31 at a gas station on a busy street in Washington, D.C., to utter indifference by a fellow gas-pumper, who (according to the surveillance tape) stared at the body, finished pumping and drove off. (2) A 911 call on a fatal house fire in Washington on Jan. 6 was not picked up for several minutes (as many as 40, said some residents) because five operators had gone temporarily off-duty without permission. (3) A new, part-time Washington, D.C., high school coach was accused of fondling two students in January. He had been convicted on a sex charge in 1994 and his file marked "do not rehire," but this time, two principals did not bother to check his file.

Readers' Choice

John Gladney, 40, was arrested by Columbus, Ohio, police about a block from the National City Bank that he had allegedly robbed a few minutes earlier on March 27. According to the officers, Gladney was easy to spot because of his conspicuous gait, demonstrating pain, in that he had stuffed the money bag down his pants, only to have the bank's chemical dye pack explode near his groin.

Also, in the Last Month ...

Sister Mary Catherine Antczak (Order of Dominican Sisters), armed with financial backers' money and aiming to raise even more for an elementary school in South Los Angeles, won about $200,000 by picking six straight winners at Santa Anita racetrack. And a health-conscious New York City couple went on trial for "assaulting" their baby (through starvation) by earnestly feeding her mainly mixtures of dandelions, oat straw, cherry bark, slippery elm, kelp and an herb called horse tail. And the Kentucky Supreme Court approved the "character and fitness" of lawyer-applicant Ms. Taylor Strasser, despite the state bar association's rejection of her for a pre-law-school arrest for prostitution.

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