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News of the Weird

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In September police in Springfield, Massachusetts, charged wheelchair-bound Anthony C. Garafolo with robbing a Northeast Savings Bank. The thief demanded money, received $2,500, wheeled himself outside, and was picked up by a man driving a getaway van. Garafolo had robbed the same bank in 1990; he'd also robbed a liquor store and been shot in the back and paralyzed. (He sued the liquor store for his injury, but settled out of court.)

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

In September police in Chiba, Japan, announced the imminent arrest of three men for selling schoolgirls' used underpants in vending machines for about $30 for a set of three. The men are accused of violating the antique dealings act, which regulates the sale of used goods.

Dennis and Pam Ponsness, who raise millions of maggots for bait and pet shops on their farm in Porthill, Idaho, told the Associated Press in July that they put a ton of fish out for the fly larvae to feast on, then refrigerate the maggots until they're ready to ship. The Ponsnesses said at first they often gagged when they opened the door to the barn, but they've gotten used to the smell.

Gary Richards, founder of a Jupiter, Florida, company that sells lifelike models of human feet for $74.95 a pair, told the Palm Beach Post in March that he sells about 150 pairs a month to the 4,000 or so foot fetishists who subscribe to his catalog-newsletter, Fantasy Foot News. He also has a sideline: selling the shoes of the women who model for him. "Most guys are into the odor," he said, "so we wrap [the shoes] in plastic. The odor will stay for a long time if you keep it in plastic and then steam it when you want to use it."

In July police in Nashville closed down James B. Pemberton's stand, at which he sold allegedly phony designer purses and watches. Pemberton set up his stand in a third-floor hallway at police headquarters and had been in business for only ten minutes before some female police employees became suspicious about the large markdowns on his wares.

Among the products recently brought to market: PooPets, animal figurines made of cow manure, supposedly handmade by the Amish in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to be placed in flowerpots as an attractive fertilizer; handcrafted dog beds from New York designer Joseph Biunno that start at $900, plus $250 for draperies to hang from the four-poster models; Fudge on Fire, fudge laced with hot peppers, from the Fudge Farm in Paso Robles, California; and customized caskets in the colors of Southeastern Conference football teams from the Loretto Casket Company in Tennessee.

Among the products offered for sale by members of Japan's Chindogu Society, an inventors' support group, and reported recently by Details magazine are: "Puss in Boots," a set of four slippers enabling cats to dust your floor while they walk around; water-filled compartments that strap on your legs, allowing you to wash clothes by walking vigorously; and a rack to be worn on your back and secured by a shoulder brace on which clothing can be hung to dry while you bicycle about.

A Tokyo company announced in July that it will market videos consisting solely of shots of corpses of torture victims from the war in the former Yugoslavia. A company spokesman said, "Japanese have feelings of love even after someone dies," but he thought the videos would be popular because only foreigners' bodies would be shown.

Creme de la Weird

The Houston Chronicle reported in June that the history department at the University of Houston beefed up security after doctoral student Fabian Vaksman, who was dismissed in 1986 for "lack of performance," won his court battle to be reinstated. After being dismissed, Vaksman wrote a 50,000-word poem, "Rracist," in which the protagonist--a student resembling Vaksman--methodically murders five University of Houston history professors because he believes the school is academically mediocre. Vaksman, a defender of apartheid, recently nominated himself for the Pulitzer Prize for a series of newspaper opinion columns he wrote.

Least Competent People

In September two men suspected of committing armed robberies, auto thefts, and a kidnapping in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee had their photographs distributed nationally by law-enforcement agencies and shown on the TV program America's Most Wanted after police in Clarksville, Arkansas, found the pictures at the scene of one of the crimes. The photos were snapshots the two had taken of themselves while visiting Elvis's Graceland mansion.

Unclear on the Concept

In September Stanford University professor Donald Kennedy began teaching a one-semester course on ethics in the professions. Kennedy was president of Stanford during the time the school improperly used more than $2 million in federal research grants for such things as paneling Kennedy's bedroom, but he said he doesn't "see any irony" in his teaching the course. "Nobody's found anybody who is ethically deficient here. All of us admitted that Stanford had made some mistakes."

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

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