News of the Weird

Week of October 17, 2010


-- More Creative Alternate-Site Surgery: Doctors from the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Washington announced in September that they could just as well handle certain brain surgeries by access not in the traditional way through the top of the skull but by drilling holes in the nose and, more recently, the eye socket. (Since classic brain surgery requires that the top of the skull be temporarily removed, the breakthroughs mean fewer complications.) These innovations follow on the inroads in recent years in performing kidney-removal and gall-bladder surgery not by traditional abdominal incisions but through, respectively, the vagina and the anus.

The Continuing Crisis

-- In a heartwarming climax to an adopted son's emotional search for his birth mother (who gave him up for adoption 33 years ago), Richard Lorenc of Kansas managed to track down mom Vivian Wheeler, 62, living in Bakersfield, Calif., where she is retired -- as a circus-sideshow "bearded lady" (the result of hypertrichosis, also known as "werewolf syndrome"). Lorenc said he can see their similarities right through Wheeler's beard, which she keeps now at a length of 11 inches. The relationship was to be confirmed by a DNA test paid for by the Maury Povich TV show, but at press time, the result had not been announced.

-- Sports Fans Over the Line: (1) Marie Murphy, a fifth-grade teacher in Stratford, N.J., and her husband lost almost everything in a house fire in April, but when she arrived at the burning home, she defied firefighters and dashed inside to retrieve a single prized possession: her Philadelphia Phillies season tickets. "My husband was so mad at me..." (Later, a Phillies representative gently informed her that the team would have reprinted her tickets for free.) (2) Justin Witcombe, 31, showed a reporter in Geelong, Australia, in September his full body of tattoos of his three idols in life: boxer Mike Tyson, the rock group KISS, and his local Collingwood soccer team, whose mascot is inked prominently on Witcombe's penis.

-- At least 13 percent of U.S. teenagers report having intentionally injured themselves as cries for help, and among the more extreme manifestations is "embedding" -- the insertion of glass, wood, metal and other material, just under the skin. Writing in the October issue of the journal Radiology, a doctor at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, followed up on 11 cases involving 76 self-embedded objects in arms, neck, feet and hands, including an astonishing 35 placed by one boy (staples, parts of a comb, parts of a fork).

-- Jennifer Tesch's daughter, Kennedy, was kicked off her cheerleader squad (supporting a youth flag-football team) in Madison Heights, Mich., after complaining to her mother about the saucy language of one of the cheers in the girls' repertoire: "Our backs ache!/Our skirts are too tight!/We shake our booties!/From left to right!" Kennedy and Jennifer thought that was inappropriate, considering that Kennedy is 6 years old. The team, given the chance to renounce the cheer, voted in September to keep it and instead to punish Kennedy for taking the dispute public.

Bright Ideas

-- The older the religion, the seemingly more likely its practitioners are to adopt clever workarounds to theological obligations that modern society has rendered inconvenient. Orthodox Jews are among the most creative, as News of the Weird has demonstrated, reporting their imaginative treatments of divorce rituals and expanding the concept of the "home" in which practitioners must remain during the Sabbath. In September, in preparation for the Yom Kippur holy day, caffeine addicts -- traditionally hard-hit by the day's fasting requirement that prohibits ingesting anything "by mouth" -- reportedly made a run on drug stores in Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn, N.Y., to buy caffeine suppositories.

-- A Breakthrough in Political Campaign Technology: New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, waging a particularly contentious battle, mailed out a flier in September suggesting that Democratic state politicians are corrupt, with photos of seven of that party's current and recent office-holders and accompanied by a special odor-triggering paper that releases a "garbage-scented" smell when exposed to air (and which supposedly grows even more foul over time).

-- Sherin Brown, 23, happened to be walking through a Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood in August at the exact moment that a tractor-trailer accidentally clipped a light pole, sending it crashing to the sidewalk. First responders found Brown pinned under the pole, screaming for help, and had her taken to a hospital. Afterward, investigators discovered a nearby surveillance camera, which revealed that Brown had stepped out of the way of the falling pole but then, with no one else around, had crawled underneath and began wailing in "pain," perhaps in anticipation of a future lawsuit.

-- Steven Black, one of five suspects in a federal credit card and check-cashing fraud ring, was arrested on Aug. 30 in Maryland Heights, Mo., following a car chase. In a search, police discovered that Black was carrying $1,540 in cash, in a roll tied with a shoelace to his scrotum.

-- Outsmarted Himself: Gene Cranick, who lives outside the city of South Fulton, Tenn., was offered firefighter service by the city for an annual $75 fee but declined to pay. In September, firefighters stood by watching as Cranick's home burned to the ground. (They had been called to the scene by Cranick's neighbor, who had paid the fee and feared Cranick's fire might spread to his property.)

Least Competent Criminals

-- Donald Denney and his father (also named Donald Denney) concocted a plan on the telephone for Dad to smuggle the son a ball of black-tar heroin into his Colorado prison (for eventual resale) during visiting hours, to be passed through the mouth by a deep kiss from a female visitor. However, Dad could not find a woman with a clean-enough record to be admitted as a visitor. Still enamored of the plan, however, the father decided to be the drug mule, himself, and inserted the packaged heroin into his rectum for later transferral to his mouth (even though the eventual deep kiss would be awkward). The Denneys were apparently unaware, despite audio warnings, that all the son's phone calls were being monitored, and in September, prison officials were waiting for the father, with a body-cavity search warrant, as he entered the prison.

Undignified Deaths

-- Mean Streets: (1) A 23-year-old man on Chicago's South Side is still alive after he reported being shot twice on Sept. 17 by different people in different neighborhoods. He was shot above the armpit just after midnight, was treated and released at a hospital, and then was shot again in the leg about 10 hours later. (2) During a shootout in New York City on Aug. 8, Angel Alvarez, 23, was brought down in a hail of gunfire and taken to Harlem Hospital, where doctors saved his life, though they found 21 bullet wounds (Alvarez's lawyer said 23). Alvarez's sister called her brother's miraculous survival "ridiculous."

A News of the Weird Classic (November 1995)

-- Hallmarks in Testing: (1) According to a July (1995) Associated Press story, Ellie Jenkins' job, as a counter for the Mosquito Control Commission in Savannah, Ga., is to drive around to 38 specified locations and stand with her arms and legs spread -- to see whether she'll be bitten five times in a minute (which is the threshold to summon county spraying trucks). And a June (1995) Toledo Blade story reported on the work of Mike Pixley, who tests La-Z-Boy chairs at the company plant in Monroe, Mich. Pixley rocks back and forth 2,800 times a day, earning $6 an hour. Supervisor Judy Fay praised Pixley as "self-motivated" and a man who "sets (his) own personal goals."

Thanks This Week to Phil Carhart, Dave Stout, Joe Church, and Ron Crumpton, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.

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