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News of the Weird



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In November the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton, Alberta, featured "cowboy poker" contests, in which four men sit at a table in the middle of the arena and a particularly aggressive bull is turned loose. As the bull rushes the table, the last cowboy to leave his chair wins the pot, which totaled around $300. In one match, the bull reduced the table to splinters but two cowboys remained in their chairs.

Great Britain's premier art award, the Turner Prize, was won in December by painter Chris Ofili, whose signature touch is the use of elephant manure. One of Ofili's paintings features an overweight singer exploding out of a glittering outfit and bears the title The Adoration of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars Part 2. Runners-up were a sculpture of mangled female genitalia and videos of Hungarian women in a steam bath and a couple's nasty breakup in a crowded restaurant.

In November a travel agency in Kiev announced a new package: a daylong visit to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which has been closed to the public since 1986. The company said the government, in need of tax revenue, had given it permission for the tours, claiming the radiation count is "not dangerous."

The journal Animal Reproduction Science reported in October that Purdue University researchers had grown an elephant egg inside a specially bred mouse. The primary use of the technique, the team said, would be to grow eggs of endangered species inside nonendangered animals.

Least Competent Teachers

In November several teachers at Lindsay Thurber High School in Red Deer, Alberta, reacted to a written bomb threat found in a classroom by sending students out to search lockers for the bomb, with one teacher allegedly offering a prize to the student who located it. Also in November, at William S. Hart High School near Los Angeles, science teacher Thomas Magee led students in making a methanol-powered cannon that fired tennis balls, but something went wrong and the resulting explosion left two students severely burned.

There's Big Money in Failure

In November Frank Biondi Jr., fired as chief executive of Universal Studios, received a severance package worth $30 million. Biondi got a $15 million severance package in 1995 when he was fired as chief executive of Viacom. Also in November former BankAmerica chief executive David Coulter, 51, was dismissed by new owner NationsBank and began drawing a pension of $5 million a year for the rest of his life. Months before buying BankAmerica, NationsBank bought Barnett Banks of Florida, whose chief executive, Charlie Rice, received a severance package of $150 million.

Nauseating Newspapers

In November doctors from a Russian health inspection agency announced crackdowns on newspapers and publishers that use substandard ink (which gets on fingers and might contaminate food) and paper (the resulting uneven print could lead to headaches from eyestrain). The agency said it planned to issue certificates of hygiene to publishers who comply with the law.

Get 'Em When They're Alert

The 1,300-student Lourdes College, near Toledo, Ohio, announced in December that it would offer two courses for the spring term (in chemistry and psychology) that meet once a week from midnight to 2:30 AM.

Not My Fault

Indianapolis graduate student Lael Desmond, 27, filed a complaint against the Ameritrade discount brokerage in November, claiming that the company should indemnify him for $40,000 that he lost in self-service Internet trading just before the July stock market plunge. Desmond had borrowed money to buy stocks on margin, admittedly without reading Ameritrade's instructions, and said he "never dreamt I had any possibility of losing all my money."

In December a judge in British Columbia declared Ronald Brown, 56, an "irredeemable drunk," citing as evidence that Brown has been repeatedly fired from jobs for drunkenness, including two jobs working for his brother. The ruling made him eligible to receive monthly disability benefits from Canada's pension plan. As part of his recent divorce agreement, Brown received about $18,000 in alimony from his ex-wife but withdrew a request for an additional $440 a month expressly for booze.

Olakunle A. Osoba, 50, was convicted of heroin trafficking in Columbus, Ohio, in December and sentenced to 30 months in prison, but not before he tried to persuade federal judge John D. Holschuh that he turned to crime because of a voodoo hex placed on him by a former lover. Osoba said he was plagued by dreams in which the woman demanded such large sums of money that drug dealing was his only option.

The Litigious Society

A California appeals court ruled in November that John M. Van Dyke's 1994 lawsuit against the operator of the Bear Mountain ski slope could proceed in spite of a state law barring most such lawsuits. Van Dyke was permanently paralyzed from the waist down after smashing into a steel post holding up a sign that read "Be Aware--Ski With Care."

Shawn Ervin, 36, filed a lawsuit during the summer in Waterbury, Connecticut, against Red Roof Inns over a fractured finger, part of which ultimately had to be removed. He injured it when a headboard, which he said was flimsily nailed to the wall, fell on his finger while he was having sex with his girlfriend.

In September in Albuquerque, in response to his ex-girlfriend's child-support petition, Peter Wallis, 36, filed a lawsuit accusing her of "stealing" his sperm by lying to him that she was taking birth control pills. The woman's lawyer had a different legal theory, saying that in the couple's sexual relations Wallis was presenting the woman with his sperm as a "gift."

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/Shawn Belschwender.

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