News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF MAY 15, 2005


Not the Hardiest of Citizens: Windsor, Ontario, hair stylist Waddah (Martin) Mustapha was awarded the equivalent of about US$270,000 by a court in April after he testified that he became racked with depression upon seeing a fly inside a commercial bottle of water at his salon. Presumably, damages would have been more if Mustapha had actually drunk from the bottle (or even opened it). As it was, he and his wife vomited, and he required extensive psychotherapy for nightmares, loss of sense of humor, increased argumentativeness, lack of desire to shower regularly, and constipation.

Compelling Explanations

-- In April, Laura and Edmund Gerstein of Boca Raton, Fla., who want to save their beloved backyard grapefruit tree from the state's citrus canker eradication program, formally claimed immunity for the tree under a provision in the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The Gersteins pointed to a paragraph on protecting crops needed for civilians' survival during wartime, in that, said Edmund, "As I understand it, (the U.S.) is in a state of war." (Responded a state Department of Agriculture spokesman, "That tree will be coming down.")

-- An arbitration panel in April issued a two-year suspension to champion cyclist Tyler Hamilton for having transfused another person's blood for a race in Spain last year. At the panel's hearing in March, according to an April New York Times story, Hamilton and his lawyers had denied the charge and raised the possibility that maybe Hamilton had a "vanishing twin" who had shared the womb with him during his first trimester, which would account for why he wound up with some blood that doesn't match his "other" blood.

-- More Compelling Explanations: (1) Police in Morrisville, Vt., who arrested a teenager in April for allegedly removing a corpse's head in a cemetery tomb, said the suspect had spoken of using the head as a marijuana bong. (2) A young woman who in December sued an Austin, Texas, distributor of steamy "spring break" videos, admitted that she had consented to be in a video topless, but now said she was only 17 at the time (and therefore a minor) and now fears the video's circulation will hamper her in "college," "career" and "church."

Least Competent Criminals

-- In March, Jonathan P. Mitchell, dressed in black and wet from crawling in the nighttime mud up to a store in the KOA campground near Watsonville, Calif., was found by police, stuck and dangling from the rafters after trying to climb in through the roof. However, the manager admitted that he had not locked the door that night and that Mitchell could have just walked in. Three weeks earlier, in Fostoria, Ohio, thieves broke in and carried off a safe in the office of a local organization that serves the poor (Fostoria Bureau of Concern), but director Susan Simpkins said that not only was the safe empty but the bureau had decided to junk it a while back and was looking for someone to haul it away.

-- Thanh Nhat Le, 51, was arrested in Dorchester, Mass., in April, when he tried to cash a check he wrote to himself for $7,550 on his account at a Sovereign Bank. He had opened the account two weeks earlier, handing over $171 in small bills. He was certain that he had plenty of money in his account, though, because in the interim, he had also mailed the bank three checks for deposit: one for $250,000, one for $2 million, and one for $4 billion.

Recurring Themes

In Springfield, Mass., in April, Thomas P. Budnick became the most recent man who was convicted at a trial in which he had persuaded the judge to let him act as his own lawyer, to then argue with a straight face on appeal that his conviction should be overturned because his trial lawyer was incompetent. (The decision is pending.)

Cutting-Edge Research

(1) Homelier-looking kids get taken care of by their parents less attentively than do the good-looking ones (e.g., they don't get buckled into carts as frequently in supermarkets, and are allowed to drift further away in the store) (reported Dr. Andrew Harrell, University of Alberta, April). (2) Gay men resemble women in their approach to reading road maps (determining directions by, for example, use of landmarks, rather than the typical heterosexual male approach of spatial reasoning) (reported by psychobiologist Oazi Rahman, University of East London, February).

The Classic Middle Name (all-new)

-- Arrested for murder recently: Darrell Wayne Maness, 19, Wilmington, N.C. (January); Timothy Wayne Ebert, 40, Cleveland, Texas (February); John Wayne Blair, 49, Sevier County, Tenn. (April); Derek Wayne Jackson, 18, Norristown, Pa. (April); Nathaniel Wayne Hart, 34, Austin, Texas (April). Convicted of murder: Donald Wayne Shipe, 37, Winchester, Va. (May). Sentenced for murder: Emmanuel Wayne Harris, 28, Bisbee, Ariz. (February). Executed for murder: Dennis Wayne Bagwell, 41, Huntsville, Texas (February); Lonnie Wayne Pursley, 43, Huntsville, Texas (May). Committed suicide while suspected of murder: Eric Wayne Jacobs, 27, Castroville, Calif. (April).

-- And a Classic Middle Name Special: In April, in New Scotland, N.Y., Jean Balashek, 86, was found murdered, and police charged her daughter, Corianna Thompson, with the crime. Thompson's birth name was Corey Wayne Balashek, and before his sex change, he had served nine years for another killing. (Thus, Thompson/Balashek may be the first American ever charged with homicide in both genders.)

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (73) Pranksters who playfully carry away a prominent local mascot figure and abuse it or subject it to a "ransom" demand or photograph it in zany places, such as people who took the stuffed buffalo from the field house at Milligan College (Elizabethton, Tenn.) and suspended it from the ceiling of the campus chapel (April). And (74) the toddler who grabs the family's car keys and somehow manages to drive a respectable distance at least semi-safely, as did the 4-year-old boy in Sand Lake, Mich., who drove his mother's car a quarter mile to a video store in the middle of the night (February).

Are We Safe? (continued)

The Defense Department's March 30 progress report on the post-9-11 upgrading of its needs for foreign language professionals showed the Pentagon (41 months after the attacks) just now getting around to learning how many of its people already speak a foreign language. According to the document's chronology (reported in April by, it was not until May 2004 that a formal decision was made to "assess (foreign) language needs" and form a "steering committee." By July 2005, the Pentagon is to issue "guidance" for how to manage a stepped-up program, and by December 2005 to create a database of personnel with foreign language skills. The management system for how to run such a program is to be in place by September 2007, after which, presumably, attention to the actual upgrading of skills can begin.

God's Will

In January, a 69-year-old minister at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oviedo, Fla., suffered a fatal heart attack in mid-sentence during a sermon, as he was quoting the scholar John Wesley, "And when I go to heaven...." And in April, at least 52 Hindu pilgrims drowned in India's holy Narmada River when a power-generation dam upstream released water. And in February, at least 59 worshipers were killed in a fire in a mosque in Tehran, Iran, when a worshiper's veil ignited from a kerosene stove.

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