-- William Draheim was fired from his job in St. Louis Park, Minn., in May, for sexual harassment for talking excessively about his pierced penis at work (almost exclusively, he said, in response to questions from co-workers). His workplace was Video Age Inc., whose only line of business is distributing hardcore pornographic videos and sex accessories, large inventories of which fill the offices, which are staffed with telephone operators to take catalog orders from customers, some of whom inevitably talk dirty to the operators. (In fact, each employment applicant is required to certify that he or she understands the nature of the workplace.)
-- According to police and health department authorities in Huntsville, Ala., in July, a father apparently purchased several poisonous snakes for his 13-year-old son to keep around the house as pets, but after the boy was bitten by one, he may have hidden the snakes for fear that they would be confiscated. Included are a black mamba (generally regarded as the world's deadliest) and a gaboon viper (only somewhat less deadly), and at press time, authorities could not rule out that the snakes had simply been released into the countryside, which would significantly lower the quality of life around Huntsville. Said a city health control officer, "It's a macho thing to have venomous snakes. I guess stupid supersedes macho."
A June Wall Street Journal dispatch from Tokyo reported the trend of "serial divorce": Young married women desiring to keep their maiden names on official documents circumvent Japanese law by momentarily divorcing when a government document is needed, and then usually remarrying their husbands immediately afterward. And cosmetics firms' sales of products to reduce or mask the odor of "noneal" are booming, according to a March New York Times report; noneal is a chemical released in greater quantity as people age and in super-hygienic Japan creates the unpopular "old man's smell."
-- In May, Italian female basketball star Fabiana Benedettini, 30, surprised her family and the sports world by abruptly taking vows as a nun and joining the Santa Margherita of Cortona sanctuary. Also recently becoming nuns in Italy: a marchesa, Ginevra Rossi di Montelera; a hotel heiress, Maria Luisa De Angelis (who abandoned her husband and children in the process); an industrial heiress, Idina Ferruzzi; a volleyball all-star, Maria Teresa Ciancio; and, at least joining a convent temporarily, a porn star, Luana Borgia.
-- In June, the Civil Status Court in Alexandria, Egypt, ruled that the Islamic requirement for divorce (after certain preconditions are met, the husband tells the wife three times, "I divorce you") must be spoken in person and not delivered by e-mail. At press time, a similar question was at issue in a divorce case in United Arab Emirates.
-- An April New York Times dispatch from Zhdanovo, Russia (just north of Mongolia), reported on the cultural use of vodka as holy water in that Buryat region, whose predominant religion is shamanism. Mongol devotees sometimes sip vodka during the entire 90-minute services, which brings, according to one shaman, "moral calmness" and the improved ability to "talk to god" (although shamanism includes more than 100 gods).
-- First Things First: Catholic priest Charles Mentrup, 41, was stabbed by a parishioner during confession in May; he survived but refused to identify the man who did it because of his vow of confidentiality. And at Christmastime 1999, a drunken guest disturbed the Cistercian monks of Caldey Island (Wales) by singing Welsh hymns and carols while they were celebrating their 12 hours of "Great Silence," but no one moved to quiet the guest because, after all, the monks could not speak.
-- In March, according to a Dallas police report, pro hockey goaltender Ed Belfour, desperately trying to avoid a public intoxication arrest, offered two patrolmen $100,000 to forget the whole thing, and by the time they were set to haul him to the station, Belfour had vomited all over himself and upped the offer to $1 billion.
-- Thieves With Identity Crises: Three gangs of cross-dressing male thieves were operating in three cities during May. Two of the three gangs cross-dressed as a distraction, in that the four black males working Annapolis, Md., stores were "very unattractive and obviously males," according to a police spokesperson, and the crew of four that hit stores in Calgary, Alberta, had been spotted parked in their car at a mall, donning dresses to resemble elderly women. However, a cast of about a dozen drag queens operating in Fort Lauderdale and Miami stores used their stolen credit cards mostly for female fashions and cosmetics.
According to an official in the regional government of Madrid, Spain, a public-financed guidebook for hikers was erroneously distributed despite the agency's dissatisfaction with some of the contract writer's geographical descriptions. In the book, the mountains of the Cuerda de las Cabrillas range near Madrid "are just like women -- the desire that they inspire is inversely proportional to the number of times one gets on top of them," and La Maliciosa mountain "has a pair of highly suggestive protuberances" that are "black, svelte, (hard) and slippy, like Naomi Campbell's loins."
News of the Weird reported in 1988 on an Indianapolis substitute teacher's suspension for arranging for the well-behaved kids in her fifth-grade class to line up and spit on the ones that had been bad, as they walked the line. Among this year's classroom line-up-and-punish incidents: A sixth-grade teacher allegedly assigned good kids to line up and punch a bad one (Somerset County, N.J., May); a preschool principal allegedly urged good 4-year-olds to line up and bite a bad one (Boston, June); and, in fact, second-grade teacher Madeline Raven, 27, allegedly had good kids line up and spit on a bad one, which forced the teacher to find the boy another shirt since the one he wore to school was thus covered with saliva (Sugar Land, Texas, April).
A 22-year-old bungee jumper was killed in the Swiss Alps in May when guides for the tour company Adventure World, according to local police, failed to change cords after people had finished their earlier, much-longer jump. Two weeks earlier, at a regional track and field meet in Turnov, Czech Republic, an 18-year-old female athlete was hit on the head and killed by an errant toss by the country's best hammer thrower.
A 3-foot-long iguana escaped from captivity, prompting a police alert, given its propensity for aggression toward menstruating women (St. Austell, England). A soiled diaper, in a plastic bag left in a 100-degree sun for three days, combusted, setting afire the walls of two apartments, causing $3,000 damage (Ennis, Texas). A disabled man had his motorized wheelchair stolen at gunpoint in a routine street mugging (Milwaukee). One of Rio de Janeiro's notorious bus thieves, who had just snatched about $800 from passengers, escaped by leaping out a door but landed in the midst of a 400-officer police force guarding the municipal governor during a downtown ceremony.
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or Weird@compuserve.com, or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com/.)