News of the Weird

Week of September 14, 2003


Females in tribes in Kenya and other African nations are finally rebelling at the ancient custom of requiring a newly widowed woman to pay to have sex with the village's "cleanser" to purify her soul sufficiently to be allowed to attend her husband's funeral, according to an August Washington Post dispatch. Said one particularly vulgar, besotted cleanser in Gangre, "It's not bad for me since I get to be with the beautiful ladies. The women like it because who else would be with them. They can't stay alone with the spirits. They need me." Cleansers are believed to be major HIV conveyers since a condom would not allow the spirits to pass.

Least Competent People

In Charleston, S.C., in August, graduate student Mohammed Talha Shekhani, 23, was charged with assault and lewd conduct for what he told police was a sincere, though inept, strategy for meeting women. After a friend told him to just walk up to a woman and start touching her, Shekhani said he initiated four public hugging incidents (with two adults and, almost directly in front of their mothers, two teenage girls). His lawyer said Shekhani's poor judgment was caused by the stress of an academic program that will earn him both a Ph.D. and an M.D. at Medical University of South Carolina.

Least Competent Animals

In June, British Airways came to the rescue of Billy, the homing pigeon belonging to John and Maria Warren of Bootle, England, and flew him home; he was supposed to have flown home on his own from Fougeres, France, but he got sidetracked (probably on a ship) and wound up in New York City. And in August, the Shanghai (China) Zoo shipped two dwindling-population Chinese tiger cubs to a preserve in South Africa so that experts can teach them how to survive; the zoo-bred tigers instinctively chase prey but do not know how to kill it.

More Things to Worry About

A car traveling on Interstate 77 just north of Charlotte, N.C., was hit by a flying speedboat at 2:20 a.m. on Aug. 21; the boat was dashing across adjacent Lake Norman, became airborne, clipped the car, and landed in the median, but the only casualties were the boaters. And a 13-year-old girl was expelled from school in Beaver, Pa., in July for performing oral sex on a boy during a school bus ride home in May; her mother had challenged the expulsion, unsuccessfully arguing that the school had never specified which activities were unacceptable.

Government in Action

-- Outside auditors concluded in May that 16 Houston schools with much-publicized "zero" dropout totals actually had at least 3,000. A whistleblower-principal told The New York Times that principals had been pressured to record their dropouts in some other, benign way. According to him, no one within the school district's culture (created by former superintendent Rod Paige, who is now U.S. secretary of education) realized that people would be suspicious if these schools reported "zero" when every other urban school district in America is plagued by dropouts.

-- Apparently, there are few problems in the schools of Longmeadow, Mass., because Mary Ryan-Kusiak, chair of the School Committee, abruptly adjourned the Aug. 25 meeting solely because committee member Laura J. Bertelli refused to sit in her assigned seat. Bertelli said she was tired of Ryan-Kusiak moving her nameplate around, but Ryan-Kusiak said she'd cancel the next meeting, too, if Bertelli didn't sit where she was told.

-- On the ballot in Denver in November will be a referendum calling on the city council to research various proposals on how to reduce residents' stress and to prove scientifically which methods might work. "The buildup of society-wide stress is like a new pollution in the environment," said activist Jeff Peckman, who collected the signatures to qualify the issue for the ballot. Said council member Charlie Brown, "What are we supposed to do, hand out incense sticks at Denver International Airport? Is that the image we want for our city?"

-- The problem of housing for paroled sex offenders is severe in some states, according to an August report in the Los Angeles Times. Parolee Bruce Scott Erbs, unable to find anyplace to live in Oregon, stays in a government-supplied tent behind the Linn County jail. In Polk County, Ore., five parolees live in a parking garage with the blessing of county commissioners, who like the idea that they can easily monitor the offenders. Wisconsin law requires the government to furnish quarters for released sexual predators if placement service fails, and it is about to purchase a $100,000 home in West Allis to house predator Billy Lee Morford.

Non-Performing Performance Art

In August at Scotland's Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Sweet Productions company staged "Sweet FA," a "play" in which the audience take their seats, but then absolutely nothing happens on stage for the next hour, and then the house lights come back on, and any remaining patrons leave. (News of the Weird has previously mentioned the "musical" piece by the late American composer John Cage, whose "4'33" consists of exactly 273 seconds of silence, which "Sweet FA" beats by 55 minutes, 27 seconds.)

Fetishes on Parade

Jason Glen Humphrey, 29, was charged with taking indecent liberties for what prosecutors said was a year-long spree of leering at mothers as they changed infants' diapers in semi-public places, or questioning women about their toddlers' bowel movements (Hillsborough, N.C., July). And Jeffrey Bernard Fuller, 35, a medical technician working for insurance companies, was arrested after allegedly exceeding the scope of his work at least nine times by giving men gratuitous prostate and pelvic exams (Decatur, Ga., March).

Extreme Plumbers

Julio Cesar Cu, 42, and his three diving partners work exclusively by touch because their full-time job is in water so dark that flashlights are useless: to unclog and repair the antiquated Mexico City sewers ("a sea of human waste and industrial chemicals," according to an April Los Angeles Times dispatch). The city itself is in a valley surrounded by mountains, with frequent flooding and poor drainage in its combined storm water-sewage system. Said one environmentalist, "You walk the streets, smell the stench of raw sewage, and can only imagine what's happening underground."

Below the Fold

(1) Ben Mann (apparently a very good meditator) fell out of a tree while meditating, down a 30-foot ravine, and had to be rescued (Berkeley, Calif., June). (2) Rural Ottawa County, Mich., trying to stem the migration to the area by prissy urbanites, started handing out brochures that earthily describe the atmosphere of farm communities and which contain a scratch-and-sniff section of the odor of manure (August).

Recurring Themes

Latest Suspect to Try to Chew His Fingertips Off to Avoid Identification: Nigerian Olugbemiga Olusajo, who initially failed to cooperate with police but finally pleaded guilty in May to identity theft (Philadelphia). Latest Person to Be Buried in a Pet Cemetery: Jean Birkenstein Washington, in June, who, according to her children, admired animals more than people (Aarrowood Park, Vernon Hills, Ill.). Latest Art Treasure to Be Misunderstood by a Maintenance Man: A US$300,000 art object with a flickering bulb (to create a seedy look), which was "repaired" by an earnest electrician in July (at Brunswick Lane in Glasgow, Scotland).

Also, in the Last Month

Ingrid Nicholls, a black woman, was originally told by her hospital in Reading, England, that the only foot prosthesis she was entitled to from the National Health Service was a white one and that she'd have to pay extra for black (but two days later, NHS changed its mind). And the city council in Duluth, Minn., tried to help a local community arts group by selling them the old National Guard armory for $1, but then the group's check bounced. And Canada's foreign ministry announced that, for "security" reasons, it would issue no more passports in which applicants' photos show them smiling.

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or or go to

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

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