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News of the Weird



Lead Stories

In June France's sports minister prohibited his Olympic synchronized-swimming team from doing its goose-stepping entrance, set to music from the movie Schindler's List, at the Olympics. On the same day France's education minister denounced the use of a math problem by a high school teacher in a Paris suburb that asked how much carbon monoxide one of Hitler's trucks could produce in an hour, given the volume of the truck's cabin, the amount of the fatal dose, and the fact that death usually took 20 minutes.

In May New York Times columnist Dan Barry reported a run on $6.95 Saint Joseph statues at the Long Island Catholic Supply store, which he attributed to the widespread belief that an upside-down Saint Joseph buried in the lawn will bring a quick and lucrative sale of a house. The Long Island Board of Realtors told Barry that home sales have risen recently.

In March security guards at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, along with local police and a helpful eyewitness, apprehended a man who'd grabbed a $1,400 gold chain from the neck of another man. Police arrested the suspect, then arrested the witness when a computer check revealed that he had several outstanding warrants, then arrested the victim when they found crack cocaine in his pocket.

Can't Possibly Be True

Researcher Ken Olson of Colorado State University told the Associated Press in May that his team had recently succeeded in preventing mosquitoes from passing dengue fever virus to humans by injecting a blocking virus into the insects' abdomens using a needle finer than a strand of human hair.

In May Quebec legislator Andre Boulerice denounced voter fraud, citing an example of bogus names registered in Old Montreal. "I know there are famous people in my [district]," said Boulerice, "but I doubt Omar Sharif would be voting [here]," especially since, according to voter records, he shares an apartment with Martina Navratilova. The next day, neighbors of the couple reported that Sharif, son of the actor, is indeed married to a woman named Martina Navratilova, who is a stockbroker.

In April in Saint Louis an organization formed to bring women together to raise money for breast cancer research. The group named itself Jus Us Girls Gettin' Scooters.

After four years of preparation, award-winning Yale-educated artist Maria Fernanda Cardoso brought her flea circus to the Exploratorium in San Francisco in December and January. Among the tricks: fleas walking tightropes, popping out of cannons, diving into thimbles of water, and dueling with foil swords. Cardoso bought the fleas for ten cents each and occasionally awards prizes of blood for tricks well done. She admits she has a flea obsession, in part because they have killed so many humans by spreading bubonic plague, which killed 10 million people at the turn of the century and 25 million in the 14th century.

Police Blotter

In December a former U.S. customs agent was sentenced to seven years' probation for promoting prostitution in Houston. Among the prostitutes linked to the agent were the city's notorious "Salad Sisters," so named for the things they did to each other and their clients with fruits and vegetables.

Ronald L. Egan and Roy G. Mullin III couldn't have been more eager to help police when they were arrested in Saint Louis in April. The first cop on the scene spotted Mullin and asked what he was doing there. Mullin allegedly replied, "A burglary, I guess." A second cop spotted Egan emerging from around back with a vacuum cleaner and asked him the same question. Egan allegedly replied, "Burglarizing the place."

The Sacramento Bee reported in May that rapists' use of condoms is up substantially in several cities but that it's not clear whether this is due primarily to the fear of AIDS or the fear of leaving behind valuable DNA evidence.

The Weirdo-American Community

The New Haven Register in Connecticut reported in May that Joanne Kamerling, 48, had transferred the title for two acres of land she owns in Weber County, Utah, to a group of people that includes a physical therapist, a prominent local attorney, the former Louisiana Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, and O.J. Simpson. The four are strangers to each other and had not sought the land. Kamerling, who will continue to pay the taxes, gave no explanation.

I Don't Think So

In March at Gulfstream Park in Florida, the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau filed a charge against prominent trainer Frank Passero, whose secret to success is allegedly to rub a concoction of cayenne pepper and other stimulants around a horse's genitals and anus. According to Passero, his technique was "no different than [baseball pitcher] Whitey Ford using Ben-Gay."


University of Houston doctoral student Fabian Vaksman made News of the Weird in 1993 when he was reinstated by court order after the school had kicked him out for poor performance. Upon reentering the history program, Vaksman wrote a 50,000-word "poem" in which a student resembling Vaksman kills five professors. Last February the school announced it was allowing Vaksman another two years, bringing the total to nine, to finish his dissertation and was awarding him another $10,000 in graduate fellowships.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.

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

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