-- In February, Schenectady, N.Y., patrolman Robert J. O'Neill reportedly retired. He had been on sick leave since 1982, at full salary that now has reached $508,000, because of psychological problems related to his Vietnam Marine experience that allegedly made him a danger to the public.
-- Modern-day Stagecoach Robberies: Reuters news service reported in January that the 400-mile route from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Russia, is being worked by gangs of armed thieves who rob and hijack cargo trucks. And in August on the runway at the airport in Perpignan, France, gunmen halted a taxiing Air France airliner that had just landed with 167 passengers and stole moneybags containing about $800,000.
-- In a November Associated Press dispatch from Payiir, Sudan, a reporter described the local competition among unmarried Dinka men to gorge themselves (and refrain from exercise) to become fat, which is regarded as a way to win females because it demonstrates that the man's cattle herd is large enough for him to consume extra milk and meat. The typical Dinka is tall and reed-thin -- former basketball player Manute Bol is a Dinka -- and some men gain so much unfamiliar weight so quickly that they have been known to topple over.
-- The hottest selling computer software in Japan in November was a "love simulation" game in which boys try to get a virtual 17-year-old girl, Shiori, to fall in love with them. There is even a magazine, Virtual Idol, devoted to supplying fictional biographical tales of Shiori and other virtual girls. Wrote one young man, Virtual Idol "is just the right kind of magazine for a person like me who's not interested in real girls." By January, several news services had reported on an equally popular Japanese computer craze, the Virtual Pet, a $16 electronic "bird" the size of an egg that responds to nurturing instincts in many teen-age girls. By pushing buttons, the owner can feed it, play with it, clean up after it and discipline it.
-- According to an October Associated Press story, young mothers in large Japanese cities have adopted the city park as a forum for vying for status. Some young mothers interviewed claimed they were "scared" to take their toddlers to the parks (to make their "park debut") because of the established cliques of mothers who dominate the facilities. Guidebooks teach the proper "park behavior"; department stores feature the proper "park clothing"; and a recent satiric movie depicted a park ruled by 50 authoritarian mothers.
-- In Singapore, which is so pristine that even public gum-chewing is illegal, police expressed concern in February about the recent crisis of apartment dwellers in high-rise buildings who casually toss their belongings out the window. Fifty-one people were arrested last year for throwing objects ranging from TV sets to tricycles to flower pots.
-- The Times of London reported in December that Bombay (whose name was recently changed to Mumbai) became the first city in India to ban public spitting, which the reporter described as "one of the two most ubiquitous of male habits" in India (the other being public urination). According to the Times, "Boys barely old enough to walk can be heard practicing guttural sounds, which is regarded as macho."
-- A September Los Angeles Times story described what Argentine writer Tomas Eloy Martinez called the country's obsession with "emotional" necrophilia toward its prominent citizens. Frequently, corpses of luminaries such as Juan Peron are dug up and either celebrated or desecrated, to excite national pride. (The hands of Peron's corpse were sawed off by a zealous grave robber in 1987 and have not been recovered; last fall, a judge ordered Peron's body to be disinterred yet again so that a DNA sample could be taken as evidence in a woman's claim that she is Peron's illegitimate daughter.)
-- According to a June China Daily story, 40 million Chinese live in caves, but many are leaving for regular houses, putting a strain on the available arable land in some areas. Thus, architects working for the government are designing futuristic cave homes in Gansu, Henan and Shanxi provinces to encourage the cave dwellers to stay put.
-- A team of Chinese surgeons from Zhengzhou, Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen reported in January that, in a 17-hour operation three months earlier, they had reattached an elephant's trunk that had been severed in an accident and that the elephant was now feeding itself again, though the trunk was 16 inches shorter.
-- In October, Annie Wald and a partner opened Total Dog, Los Angeles' first canine fitness center. For a fee of up to $800 a year from owners too busy to walk their dogs, the pooches work out on treadmills, in swimming pools and on an obstacle course, and massages are available.
-- In August firefighters in Kelso, Wash., listed the official cause of the fire at Matthew Gould's home as Sadie's playing with matches. Sadie, a 5-month-old German shepherd mix, had probably gnawed into a box of matches but failed to drool enough to douse the sparks. And in Spencer, Ind., in December, James E. Baker was shot in the heel by his Akita, Boo Boo, which had jumped on the trigger of a 20-gauge shotgun on the floor of Baker's pickup truck as he sat in the driver's seat.
In December 1996, News of the Weird reported that Los Angeles County authorities had decided not to charge Texan Robert Salazar in the death of his employee Sandra Orellana, who fell from an eighth-floor hotel balcony railing on which the two were, according to Salazar, having sex. In January, after dropping mannequins from the railing to see how they fell and examining the wounds on Ms. Orellana's body, the county coroner called the death a homicide, and police sought Salazar for more questioning.
In an eight-day period in January in towns less than 100 miles apart (Bakersfield and Fresno, Calif.), police found the corpses of elderly mothers that continued to be treated as integral parts of the family by their adult sons. The Bakersfield woman, who died at age 77 around September, was thought by her son to be merely "demonically depressed" and therefore liable to wake up at any minute and thus had been propped up on the sofa.
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33738, or email@example.com. Chuck Shepherd's latest paperback, "The Concrete Enema and Other News of the Weird Classics," is now available at bookstores everywhere. To order it direct, call 1-800-642-6480 and mention this newspaper. The price is $6.95 plus $2 shipping.)