News of the Weird by the Editors at Andrews McMeel Syndication

WEEK OF JUNE 12, 2005


In an era of tight education budgets, one category of Texas school spending seems unrestrained, according to a May Houston Chronicle story: high school football stadiums. More than 20 new or planned facilities ("gridiron cathedrals") resemble those of professional teams, with luxury suites, plush locker rooms and weight rooms, or even climate-controlled indoor practice facilities. The $20 million stadium in Denton, Texas, which includes a $900,000, three-story scoreboard with instant replay, is barely better than the state-of-the-art fields in Waco, Southlake and Mesquite, but may not hold up to the $27 million facility in Round Rock. Critics bemoan the terribly misplaced priorities, but defenders say the stadiums may eventually pay for themselves and that construction bonds are more accessible than the tax money necessary to raise teacher salaries.

The Litigious Society

-- Russian "astrologist" Marina Bai has filed a lawsuit in the Presnensky district court in Moscow against the U.S. government's NASA, claiming that her business will be ruined if the agency is allowed, as planned, to crash a rocket into the Tempel 1 comet on July 4 to see what can be learned from the experience. Bai said the collision will "interfere with the natural life of the universe," which will in turn harm her "system of spiritual values," and she seeks 8.7 billion rubles (about US$311 million, which is the reported cost of the entire mission).

-- Rhonda Nichols, 40, filed a lawsuit in April against a Lowe's Home Center in Alton, Ill., seeking a minimum of $50,000 for injuries she says she suffered when a bird about the size of a pigeon flew against the back of her head while she was shopping in the store's outdoor gardening department. According to the lawsuit, the bird caused injuries to her head, brain, neck, muscles, bones, nerves, discs and ligaments, and led to the loss of neurological functions and cognitive skills. Said a Lowe's assistant manager, "It's an outside garden area. What are we supposed to do?"

-- The courts of Madison County, Ill. (near St. Louis), have a reputation in the legal community as friendly to plaintiffs who sue companies, and thus attorneys are eager to find lawsuits to file there. (Rhonda Nichols' lawsuit against Lowe's, above, is an example.) In 2002, lawyer Emert Wyss conceived a Madison County lawsuit on behalf of a client against a mortgage company for collecting what he thought were bogus fees on real estate transactions. Wyss' litigation stimulus (he received a referral fee and was part of the lawsuit) proved too clever: The litigation team strategically added a local title company as co-defendant, only to discover that the title company is owned by Emert Wyss. Thus, in a rush to litigate in Madison County, Wyss had actually sparked a lawsuit against himself. (He eventually withdrew from the team.)

Great Art!

-- In May, backhoe contractor and part-time sculptor Ricky Pearce created a 17-foot-high, 40-ton concrete figure of the legs of a reclining woman in a grassy lot between two churches in a quiet neighborhood in Henderson, N.C. The legs, bent at the knees, noticeably parted, and accompanied by landscaped foliage "strategically placed" (according to a report from WNCN-TV in Raleigh), are supposedly in tribute to Marilyn Monroe. Asked one neighbor, "Why do they (sic) just show the legs?"

-- The project Sleeping With the Enemy, at the Jack the Pelican Presents gallery in Brooklyn, N.Y., involves two gay Israeli artists (Gil and Moti) who have recently dated dozens of local Arab men and who announced in May that they are ready to select one of them to seduce, with the idea that their tryst take place at the gallery as a statement on defusing Arab-Israeli hostilities.

-- In May, at the annual spring auction at Christie's in New York City, Massachusetts artist Tom Friedman managed to sell a piece consisting of an ink squiggle on a 12-by-18-inch piece of white paper (described in the Christie's catalog as "starting an old dry pen on a piece of paper"). It was sold for $26,400, according to a Washington Post report. Friedman was less successful in offering a 2-foot white cube that contained, on one surface, a tiny speck of his own feces, for which he expected an opening bid of $45,000, but got no takers.

Recurring Themes

Computer repairman Dennis Avner of Guatay, Calif., is perhaps the world's most extreme variation of a "furrie" (a person who adopts the persona of an animal). Avner has tiger-stripe tattoos covering most of his body, dental implants sharpened to points to resemble tiger teeth, and metal-stud implants around his mouth to hold his long, plastic whiskers. He has had ear and lip surgery to make his head more cat-like and wears special contact lenses to make his eyes appear as ovals. He told the San Diego Union Tribune in May that Guatay folks are mostly tolerant of him but that he nonetheless has decided to relocate to Washington state.

Finer Points of Laws

(1) In April, a federal appeals court, following an in-depth hearing, turned down a challenge by the J.M. Smucker Co., which had unsuccessfully tried to patent its frozen Uncrustables sandwiches by claiming they are legally unique because the edges of the bread are pinched together to hold the peanut butter and jelly in. (The U.S. Patent Office had apparently realized that lots of mothers routinely make pb&j sandwiches in a similar manner.) (2) And in April, an arbitrator ruled that Painesville, Ohio, police officer Stuart Underwood could not be fired merely for having sex while on duty because he was on his break at the time and kept his radio on to listen for emergency calls.

Least Competent Criminals

(1) A man who decided to wear a Pluto dog mask to rob a Gordon's Mini Market in Cranberry, Pa. (near Pittsburgh), was unsuccessful, forced to flee empty-handed when the clerk could not bring himself to stop laughing at the disguise (March). (2) KPRC-TV in Houston reported in April that kidnappers broke into Nora Montoya's home, duct-taped her, and were ready to take her away, but apparently got scared and merely left a note at the scene demanding $2,000, promising to come back later to pick it up (but they didn't).


News of the Weird reported in 2000 and 2003 on the proposal for a space "elevator," which its champions believe will be a way to place missiles into orbit at about 5 percent of current cost. The elevator would be a 60,000-mile-high flexible shaft, tethered to Earth, made of super-strong "carbon nanotubes," allowing objects to be raised and lowered within it. Supporters believe development is progressing, even though the longest nanotube so far produced is about 5 feet long. In May 2005, Bremerton, Wash., entrepreneur Michael Laine announced he would open, as LiftPort Nanotech, a nine-person factory to make nanotubes in Millville, N.J., and pronounced the project on target on a 13-year timetable.

People Different From Us

Thor J.S. Laufer, 42, charged with theft of tools and furnishings from several construction sites in Port Washington, Wis., in January, told a judge that he stole a wide range of items in order to disguise the fact that the only things he really wanted from the thefts were doorknobs. Police said he had dozens of them in what he called his personal collection. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 1-19-05]

Thinning the Herd

Recurring Themes: A 19-year-old man in San Jose, Calif., became one of the latest to pay the ultimate price for attempting to clear a jam in a wood chipper by stomping down on the debris with his foot (November). And Albania's most wanted criminal, Riza Malaj, fatally underestimated the length of fuse he would need while dynamite-fishing for trout near Tirana (April). And a Salem, Ala., man became the most recent to fatally miscalculate the danger in trying to steal copper wire from inside an electrical substation (March).

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