News of the Weird

Week of September 10, 2006


Just before the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, John M. Lyons Jr. filed a lawsuit in New Orleans against Mark Morice, who admits to commandeering Lyons' 18-foot pleasure boat during the chaos after Katrina hit in order to rescue more than 200 people (according to his count), including a 93-year-old dialysis patient whose wife praised Morice for a Times-Picayune story. Nonetheless, said Lyons, Morice (who voluntarily identified himself to Lyons for taking the boat) didn't have permission to use it, and since it was ultimately lost (Morice said he abandoned it for other rescuers to use), and insurance covered less than half of its replacement, Lyons says Morice should pay him $12,000.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

-- (1) Salon facials available in New York City now include one (at the Nabi Med Spa) that uses stem cells from pregnant cows to rejuvenate damaged skin ($250) and another (from La Prairie) that firms the face through direct application of caviar ($270), according to a June United Press International report. (2) And the British Egg Information Service announced the imminent availability of a "smart egg" to solve the surprisingly contentious issue of when are soft-, medium- and hard-boiled eggs properly boiled. (An invisible ink on the shell turns the egg black at supposedly precisely the right moment.)

-- The Christian Retail Show in Denver in August demonstrated, said a Los Angeles Times report, nearly a parallel commercial universe, with hundreds of "Christian" versions of products and services, such as sweatbands, pajamas, dolls, health clubs, insurance agencies, tree trimmers and fragrances ("Virtuous Woman" perfume). One Retail Show visitor, though, was dismayed at the efforts to just "slap Jesus on (merchandise)." (Among the tougher sells would appear to be, a Christian sex-toy Web site that sells condoms, vibrators and lubricants to married couples, but stocks no pornography or toys that encourage multiple-partner scenes.)

Bright Ideas

-- In August, zookeepers at Apenheul ape park in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, said they had arranged with counterparts at a park in Borneo to establish a live Internet video connection to provide companionship to their respective rare orangutans, treating the connection as sort of a visual dating site. An Apenheul spokeswoman suggested the apes might learn to push buttons to transfer food to each other, creating a mutual fondness that might lead (if transportation can be arranged) to mating.

-- Randy Bailey was on house arrest in St. Paul, Minn., with an ankle monitor that alerts police if he strays more than 150 feet (but also with a little-understood 4-minute delay before notification). Hungry on Aug. 12, Bailey thought he could race to the Burger King (nearly a mile away), yet get back in time. However, the drive-through line moved slowly, and an irate, impatient Bailey allegedly kicked in the restaurant's window before he sped away. Employees got his license-plate number and alerted police, but since Bailey had made it back home in just under four minutes, he claimed to be house-bound and never to have left. However, police soon figured it out and charged Bailey with felony destruction of property.

Science on the Cutting Edge

-- Weird disorders in the news recently included prosopagnosia, the inability of a person to remember people by their faces, even one's immediate family, and trimethylaminuria, the inability to process a chemical that, left in the body, causes a putrid odor. Researchers will soon declare that prosopagnosia (which also, obviously, inhibits sufferers' ability to enjoy movies) is less rare than previously believed, according to a June Boston Globe story. Trimethylaminuria remains basically untreatable (although bathing several times a day and ingesting chlorophyl reduce the stink, according to an August ABC News report).

-- A Connecticut company (454 Life Sciences) and Germany's Max Planck Institute have made recent breakthroughs in developing the genome of a Neanderthal man, which shows a 99 percent-plus similarity with that of humans, according to a July New York Times report. If they succeed, it might be possible to bring the species back to life by implanting the genes into a human egg (provided, of course, that some woman volunteers to bear a Neanderthal baby).

-- The Tokyo Institute of Technology said in July that it is building a database of 96 scents that will be machine-reproducible, with uses ranging from helping online shoppers smell a product before buying, to helping doctors diagnose illnesses by sniffing a patient's bile. Sensors will trigger a library of chemicals to accurately reproduce "almost any odor, from old fish to gasoline," according to one researcher, and that recipe of chemicals would remotely re-create the scent.

Least Competent Criminals

Joshua Shores, 34, a Subway restaurant employee in North Platte, Neb., who was allegedly caught on surveillance video pocketing the $502 he was supposed to drop into the restaurant's safe, tried to tell police and a judge in August not to worry, that he is not a thief but an undercover CIA operative and that the agency would reimburse the money. (He had lost his CIA badge, he said, which is why he was working at the Subway, waiting for the agency to send him a new one.)

Latest Economic Indicators

-- In July, India's Medical Association began investigating three doctors who appeared on television to promote their amputation services specifically to beggars, whose income prospects grow with the more sympathy they engender. One doctor said he would remove a leg below the knee, leaving it fairly easy to fit a prosthetic, for the equivalent of about $200.

-- Employees who need expensive surgery under their U.S. employers' health-insurance plans may soon be asked to go overseas for the operation, in that surgeries in India, Thailand and Indonesia typically cost about 20 percent of the U.S. prices, according to an August report in the Christian Science Monitor. However, employers may share part of their savings with the worker, who might turn the trip into an exotic family vacation before or after the surgery.

Gas Pedal? Brake Pedal? Whatever (all-new)

Accidents by elderly drivers who police suspect momentarily confused the gas pedal for the brake (or accelerated in the wrong gear): Age 89, Dearborn, Mich. (backed into his own garage, panicked, accelerated into a neighbor's house across the street, July); age 89, New London, Conn. (plowed through a summer festival crowd, injuring 27, July); age 89, Rochester, N.Y. (plowed full-throttle through an open-air market, injuring 10, August); age 87, Orlando (slammed into eye doctor's office, July); age 86, Brookfield, Wis. (drove through front doors of a McDonald's, August); age 86, Columbus, Ohio (crashed fatally through the wall of an aquarium supply store, July); age 85, El Monte, Calif. (slammed into a Starbuck's patio, injuring 10, July); age 84, Tamarac, Fla. (backed over her landlord, then panicked and drove over him again, then panicked and backed over him again, with one of the drive-overs fatal, July).

By the Way, What Stories Have Been No-Longer-Weirded? (Part VI)

Eighty such themes have occurred so frequently that they have been "retired from circulation" since News of the Weird began publishing in 1988, and here are more of them:

Sometimes, bank robbers are stuck for getaway vehicles and wind up on municipal buses or in taxis. And sometimes, dogs ("man's best friend") jump on rifles lying on the ground, hit the trigger and "shoot" someone. Increasingly, when an elderly person dies at home, the relatives can't bring themselves to notify anyone (and sometimes they just don't want the Social Security checks to stop). And remember the first time you got outraged that school officials actually expelled a student for a minor violation of one of those "zero tolerance" rules? All those stories used to be weird, but you won't read them here anymore.

(Visit Chuck Shepherd daily at or Send your Weird News to or P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, FL 33679.)

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