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News of the Weird



Lead Story

In May, Elk River, Minnesota, landlord Todd Plaisted reported that his tenant Kenneth Lane had fled the area, abandoning his rented farmhouse and leaving behind at least 400 tons of used carpeting, more than 10,000 plastic windows from Northwest Airlines planes, and rooms full of sofas, mattresses, and washing machines, among other things. Lane told townspeople he ran a "recycling" company, but there was no evidence of output. A deputy sheriff driving by the farmhouse last year saw Lane burying carpeting with a tractor and said he offered no explanation but merely responded, "I don't know what to say. You got me. I can't even make up an excuse."

Frontiers of Science

In April an Associated Press profile of North Carolina State University veterinarian Greg Lewbart reported that he is one of the few in the country who treat pet fish. Dr. Lewbart's fees range from $100 for a checkup, including X rays, to $250 for surgery. He said business is good because it's so difficult to keep tropical fish alive.

Professor Lance Workman of Glamorgan University near Cardiff, Wales, reported in April that his sonographic research shows that robins found around Sussex chirp in a different dialect (including pitch, lilt, and intonation) than robins in Wales, and that each assumes a defensive posture when exposed to the other's chirping.

The U.S. Navy is testing a boat paint, developed by Pittsburgh inventor Ken Fischer, that combines epoxy-based paint with cayenne pepper oil (so hot it will blister fingers) to make it too painful for barnacles to attach to the hulls of ships.

Cornell University researcher Ralph Carlton recently identified the female pheromone of the brown-banded cockroach and is at work now on a fungus to suppress it to discourage reproduction. Carlton's work involved sifting through the contents of the "sex glands" of 15,000 female cockroaches, separating out the thousands of chemicals present in the glands, and finding the one substance that sufficiently neuroelectrically stimulated the male cockroach's antennae.

According to a recent report from Knight-Ridder News Service, support groups are trying to foster public awareness of hyperacusis, a condition in which a person hears small sounds at unpleasantly loud levels. One man described in the story wears earplugs and industrial-strength earmuffs outside and keeps his refrigerator in his garage because he cannot stand the hum. Another waits outside his home for his air conditioner to cool the house before he goes inside.

The German research firm Neue Technologien reported in April that it is testing a birth-control capsule the size of a popcorn kernel, to be implanted in a man's scrotum, that will kill sperm in the seminal fluid with a small, self-contained electrical current. A doctor could neutralize the device and restore fertility.

In April in Zaire, Bernadette Obelebouli, 34, gave birth to triplets at the rate of one per day during a 60-mile journey on foot. And in Vancouver, British Columbia, Joanne March, 29, gave birth prematurely to the first of her triplets on April 30, but doctors decided to leave the other two until they were healthier, and they were born on June 14.

In April the Sun newspaper in London reported that machinist Craig Eames, who had recently experienced constant, painful earaches, was completely cured when doctors removed a pregnant spider that had been nesting in his ear. Eames reportedly now wears earplugs when he sleeps, to prevent another incident, and has grown fond of the spider, which has become a pet.

In a 1992 article in the Journal of Animal Science, Dr. Steven Loerch reported his finding that inserting a plastic pot scrubber permanently into the top stomach of a cow can satisfy the cow's need for roughage, thus lowering the cost of feeding it.

The Weirdo-American Community

The Los Angeles Times reported in May that Billy Davis has upset his neighbors with excessive security precautions for his modest house in a middle-class neighborhood. To protect himself and his wife Fyrn, Davis has outfitted the house with barred windows, video monitors, infrared alarms, razor wire, 26 500-watt outdoor lights, various hair-trigger alarm bells and sirens, and a Doberman. Local police say the Davises stay up all night because of fear of intruders and call police for help as often as 60 times a month.

I Don't Think So

In November Lisa McGraw, 28, was arrested and charged with aggravated battery in Topeka, Kansas, after several antigay protesters were hit by the pickup truck she was driving. McGraw told police she was incensed at the demonstrators' "hate" signs and drove toward them to knock them down but never saw that the signs were being held by people. She said, "As soon as I realized there were people [holding them], I stopped the truck."

Undignified Death

A four-year-old boy, visiting his grandmother at work at a spiritual retreat near Baltimore in May, was killed when a statue of the Virgin Mary fell on his head.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.

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