News of the Weird

Week of February 29, 2004

LEAD STORY

The Sacred Institution of Marriage: In February, Hindus in a village near Pondicherry, India, in a traditional ceremony believed to bring relief to a drought-stricken region, tried to appease the god of rain by "marrying" a neem tree (the bride) to a peepul tree (groom). (In 2002, News of the Weird reported the similar ceremony with two donkeys, and last year, in a wedding to vanquish bad luck from a 9-year-old girl, villagers in the Hooghly district of West Bengal, India, married her off to a dog.) And in Nice, France, in February 2004, Ms. Christelle Demichel wed her sweetheart Eric in a male-female ceremony. Eric, however, had died in 2002 (killed by a drunk driver), but French law allows the marriage to proceed if the paperwork had been completed and if President Chirac approved (which he did).

News That Sounds Like a Joke

-- The Galveston, Texas, sheriff's office admitted that Louis Radzielski, 20, had escaped from lockup in December by merely walking out the front door. According to Sheriff Gean Leonard, Radzielski crouched behind a woman who was being legitimately released and remained in step with her as she walked past the two officers working the booking counter. And in January in a Miami courtroom, while the lawyer for defendant Raymond Jessi Snyder vociferously protested a prosecutor's demand that Snyder be locked up pending trial because he was a "flight risk," Snyder slowly eased from his seat and bolted out the door. (He didn't get far.)

-- Among the modest amount of information revealed at the CIA's new Science and Technology museum, according to a December Associated Press story, is that early versions of a tiny spy camera mounted to the back of a pigeon nonetheless failed because they were too heavy, forcing the pigeon in one test "to walk home."

A Nation of Wimps

Donald Johnson sued a West Palm Beach, Fla., Shoney's restaurant for $55,000 because he thought its clam chowder was potato soup, and the chowder left him with nightmares; in January, he won $407 in damages. And in January, Tanisha Torres of Wyandanch, N.J., filed a lawsuit against Radio Shack because she was offended that a clerk had listed her hometown in the store's records by a local joke name, "Crimedanch," which she said makes her feel like a criminal. And William Tremmel filed a lawsuit in September against a company repairing the boardwalk at Virginia Beach, Va., after he used its portable toilet without permission; some of the workers, fed up with strangers using their facility, blocked Tremmel inside for 25 minutes before letting him out, for which "mental suffering" he now wants $100,000.

Great Art!

-- The Ukraine-born, Sweden-based artist Nathalia Edenmont defended her work against animal-rights protesters in December by claiming a higher virtue in killing animals if she does it to make an artistic point. Her latest artistic points (according to the owner of the Stockholm gallery exhibiting Edenmont's work): Her photo of a hand with dead mice stuck on each finger represents the five stars of the former Soviet Union, which Edenmont believes was responsible for her mother's murder, and a photo of several dead mice all pointing in the same direction represents the "cowardice" of Swedish society. [Sydney Morning Herald-AFP, 12-13-03]

-- "The Empty Museum" installation by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov consists only of four walls, representing the walls of a 19th-century art gallery with nothing on them. According to a New York Times reviewer, "The blank walls and the spotlights suggest the cruel Minimalist reduction and dematerialization of art, and most specifically, perhaps, the death of painting." It is enjoying an apparently successful run through April in New York City.

Government in Action

Budget Necessities: The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported in January that the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego was hard at work producing a musical theater production based on the life of serial killer Andrew Cunanan, the 1997 murderer of his former lover Gianni Versace, for which the playhouse had received a $35,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. And in October, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District revealed, in a request for more funding, that it was paying a man about $460 a day to scoop used condoms from the chlorine tanks at its Jones Island plant.

More Bright Ideas

-- Police in Chartiers Township, Pa., arrested David Winniewicz, 36, in January after he allegedly used amateur subliminal sleep messaging to encourage his 10-year-old stepson to kill the boy's 4-year-old brother. Winniewicz's wife said she found an audiotape of the episode with her husband's voice instructing the sleeping boy on techniques (pillow over face, strangle with hands).

-- Teachers working on contract in California prisons sued the state in December over security restrictions that they say require them to deliver the curriculum standing outside inmates' cells (and in some cases, hollering the lessons through the meal tray slots, which are the only openings in solid steel doors). Said a prison official, downplaying the teachers' complaints, "It's kind of like modified distance learning."

Ewwww! Gross!

In the midst of national anxiety over mad-cow disease in December, the Chicago Tribune reported that things were basically normal at Evansville, Ind., restaurants that served traditional (from German ancestors) brain sandwiches, especially fried cow brains on a bun. And officials in Hardisty, Alberta, tried to calm protests over the municipal water supply in September by adding chlorine and assuring residents that the water is safe to drink, despite the fact that iron and manganese residue in the pipes turns its color yellow (and even black) from time to time.

Recurring Themes

The latest African to die by gunshot while testing a magic charm "guaranteed" by herbalists to ward off bullets: witch doctor Ashi Terfa (Benue state, Nigeria, December). The latest driver who fatally hits a pedestrian, causing the body to lodge in the windshield and be driven around for a while before the driver decides to report the collision: a 29-year-old man, who at first told police that he was not sure what he hit (Seattle, November).

Also, in the Last Month

A great horned owl that was having trouble surviving in the wild because of cataracts was fitted with contact lenses by a University of Wisconsin-Madison veterinary ophthalmologist. And relatives of a kidnapper's victim, trying to follow ransom instructions, tossed the equivalent of about US$600,000 in a sack off of a highway overpass but accidentally hit a 57-year-old man on a motorcycle, knocking him to the ground and sending him to the hospital (Taipei, Taiwan). And a 28-year-old motorist escaped serious injury when, on River Road in Beaufort County, S.C., her car was hit by a hippopotamus (which had escaped from a nearby plantation).

(Correction: Three weeks ago, I reported that a convicted sex offender was formerly a teacher at the "prestigious Phillips Academy," but it was the prestigious Phillips Andover Academy that employed him and not the prestigious Phillips Exeter.)

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNews@earthlink.net or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)

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