Autobiography of the Least Interesting Man in America: According to a 1996 Seattle Times feature, Robert Shields, 77, of Dayton, Wash., is the author of perhaps the longest personal diary in history, nearly 38 million words on paper stored in 81 cardboard boxes covering the previous 24 years, in five-minute segments. Example: July 25, 1993, 7 a.m.: "I cleaned out the tub and scraped my feet with my fingernails to remove layers of dead skin." 7:05 a.m.: "Passed a large, firm stool, and a pint of urine. Used 5 sheets of paper."
Least Competent People
-- Joseph Kubic Sr., 93, was hospitalized in Stratford, Conn., in 1999 after he tried to punch an additional hole in his belt by hammering a pointy-nosed bullet through it. The bullet fired, ricocheted off a table and hit him in the neck. And four months after that, a 19-year-old man was hospitalized in Salt Lake City after undertaking a personal investigation into the question of whether it is possible to "fire" a .22-caliber bullet by placing it inside a straw and striking it with a hammer. Answer: sometimes (including this time; it went off and hit him in the stomach).
-- Tim Ekelman, 33, was hospitalized in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1998 with a collapsed lung, a sliced throat and voice-box damage after he, believing there was nothing to it, attempted to swallow a friend's 40-inch-long sword. (A professional sword swallower interviewed by the Hamilton Spectator said he would never stick a sword down his throat without first dulling the edges.) Said Ekelman's girlfriend, "I love him with all my heart, but what a jerk."
From time to time News of the Weird has reported on the fluctuating value of the late Italian artist Piero Manzoni's personal feces, which he canned in 1961, 30 grams at a time in 90 tins, as art objects (though, over the years, 45 have reportedly exploded). Their price to collectors has varied from about $28,000 for a tin in 1998 to $75,000 in 1993. In June 2002, the Tate Gallery in London excitedly announced it had purchased tin number 004 for about $38,000. (The price of 30 grams of gold at that time was a little over $300.)
Cliches Come to Life
-- In 1998, Charles Cornell, 31, won his lawsuit at the High Court in London, England, and was awarded the equivalent of about US$100,000 in damages. Cornell's insurance businesses failed when sales plummeted following his automobile accident. In the crash, he received a head injury that his doctors said left him with a gentler, more amiable personality that Cornell proved in court was unsuited for the insurance business.
-- According to a doctor's experience reported in the December 1997 issue of the journal Biological Therapies in Psychiatry, a 35-year-old female patient receiving a traditional anti-depressant was switched to bupropion, supposedly just as effective but without her regular drug's side effect of inhibiting orgasm. "Within one week, her ability to achieve orgasm and her enjoyment of sex had returned to normal," the doctor wrote. "After six weeks, however, she experienced (spontaneously, without physical stimulation) a three-hour orgasm while shopping."
-- Life Imitates a Rodney Dangerfield Joke: In 1996, Steven Hicks, 38, and his wife, Diana, 35, were sentenced to six months in jail in Cape May, N.J., for child abandonment. They had been having trouble with their unruly son, Christopher, 13, and while he was hospitalized, they had surreptitiously packed up and moved to Inglewood, Calif.
Lawyers Being Lawyers
-- The Times of London reported in 1997 that when an employee of the James Beauchamp law firm in Edgbaston, England, recently killed himself, the firm billed his mother the equivalent of US$20,000 for the expense of finishing up his office work. Included in that amount was a bill for about US$2,300 to go to his home to find out why he didn't show up at work (thus finding his body), plus about US$250 to go to his mother's home, knock on her door, and tell her that her son was dead. (After unfavorable publicity, the firm withdrew the bill.)
-- No "Professional Courtesy": Marsha Watt, a graduate of Northwestern University School of Law and formerly an associate at the prestigious Winston and Strawn law firm in Chicago, was disciplined in 1997 by the Illinois Bar over her then-recent conviction for prostitution (i.e., the kind involving sex, for which her published rate, according to a personals ad cited in her conviction, was roughly three times what the law firm was billing for her services).
At Last! A Job That Actually Requires Geometry!
Commissioners in Florida's Seminole County (near Orlando) and Manatee County (Bradenton) passed ordinances in 1999 prohibiting public nudity by requiring women to cover at least 25 percent of the area of their breasts and at least 33 percent of the buttocks, with highly detailed instructions as to the points from which each coverage must be measured. (News of the Weird includes this refresher for law enforcement personnel: The formula for the lateral area of a cone is pi times radius times slant height; for the surface area of a sphere, it's pi times radius-squared; and, alas, for a flat surface, it's length times width.)
Diane Parker accompanied husband, Richard W. Parker (who had been accused of drug trafficking), to federal court in Los Angeles for a hearing in 1998. According to friends, Diane was such a believer in her husband's innocence that she had come prepared to put up her investment property and her mother's townhouse to make Richard's bail. However, when the prosecutor recited to the judge facts about Richard's double life that included a mistress and a safe house, Diane's expression changed dramatically within the space of a few minutes. According to a Los Angeles Times account, she removed her wedding ring with a flourish, walked out of court, quickly drove to an Orange County office where the mistress worked, and punched her several times before being restrained.
Portland State University library employee Mary Joan Byrd, 61, admitted in 1997 that she had taken more than $200,000 over the years from the school's copy machines. According to the student newspaper The Vanguard, she asked for leniency on the criminal charge against her (i.e., stealing from the state of Oregon) based on the theory that she was just temporarily using the money. That is, according to her, she spent almost the entire amount she took to feed her habit of playing Oregon's government-sponsored video poker machines, and since she never won, the state got all its money back.
Gone on to Their Just Rewards
In Dadeville, Ala., in 1999, Mr. Gabel Taylor, 38, who had just prevailed in an informal Bible-quoting contest, was shot to death by the angry loser. And in 1998, the Rev. John Wayne "Punkin" Brown Jr., 34, died of a rattlesnake bite while ministering at the Rock House Holiness Church in northeast Alabama near Scottsboro. In a landmark book on snake-handling preachers in the South ("Salvation on Sand Mountain" by Dennis Covington), the legendary Brown was called the "mad monk," the one most "mired in the ... blood lust of the patriarchs." His wife, Melinda, died in the same way three years earlier at a church in Middlesboro, Ky.
(CORRECTION: As if to emphasize his need for a break, Chuck missed the name of the congressman in a story three weeks ago. It was U.S. Rep. Major Owens, not Major Jones.)
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or WeirdNews@earthlink.net or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com.)
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600