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News of the Weird

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Lead Story

In November New York City police arrested the city's most notorious traffic scofflaw, Leroy Linen, 41, after he inadvertently gave them his real name when he was stopped for having only a crudely hand-lettered license plate on his car. Linen's driver's license had been suspended and he'd piled up 633 violations for failing to respond to notices regarding the suspension since 1990; when police entered his name into their computer it took an hour and 45 minutes to print out all of the violations. Still at large in the city are 340 other people with suspended licenses who have racked up more than 100 violations.

Great Art

Twenty-six pianists got together in July in Iowa City, Iowa, to play Eric Satie's Vexations, which consists of a single sheet of music that must be played 840 consecutive times. The work is a single page of chords that should be played "very slow." Each repetition lasts 90 seconds, and the entire composition takes from 21 to 25 hours to play.

In February artist Lars Kraemmer of Vancouver, British Columbia, ended a seven-week performance piece that consisted of him living in a box built using five of his paintings that enclosed a five-foot-by-five foot space. Kraemmer called the piece Retreat and said he saw dazzling colors in the total darkness, which inspired him to develop a new theory of color. Said Kraemmer, "One thing it has done is put me at ease."

As publicity for his yearlong campaign to collect enough brassieres to string across the Grand Canyon, conceptual artist Ronnie Nicolino and 200 volunteers created a two-mile-long sand sculpture in March in Stinson Beach, California, that consisted of 21,000 size 34C breasts. Nicolino denied that he's obsessed with breasts. "In my case, it's not that serious," he said. "I can be detached enough to at least be an observer."

Among the specialized small-market magazines to appear recently in Japan is Tetsuo Ogawa's Combustible Garbage (Moeru Gomi), which consists merely of a vinyl bag of garbage from his and his friends' apartments. He asks people to let him clean their rooms and periodically "publishes" the results.

A May show at the Serpentine Gallery in London by British artist Damien Hirst featured his animal pieces, including Away From the Flock, which is an embalmed lamb in a glass case (it sold for about $37,000). In previous shows he's featured Mother and Child Divided (a dead cow and calf bisected, their innards displayed in formaldehyde in a glass case) and a cow's head being devoured by maggots (an exhibit that had to be re-created with a new head and maggots every 36 hours). In New York City in May he will show skinned cows copulating.

Cultural Diversity

Several newspapers reported in August on the growing obsession abroad, especially in Japan, with Levi's blue jeans from the 1950s and 1960s. As in America, used jeans sell for more than new ones, but in Japan vintage jeans bring as much as $5,000 a pair. An Associated Press writer noted that trendy Japanese magazines fuel the demand for the jeans by providing readers with "detailed instructions on how to be hip." (Used, sweaty Air Jordan shoes from the 1980s sell for as much as $800 a pair.)

The government of the Malaysian state of Perlis announced in August that it would crack down on conservative female Muslim physicians who use pencils or pens or other long objects to examine male patients. Many Muslims believe it's a sin for a woman to touch a man other than her husband.

In July in Portland, Maine, Judge Robert E. Crowley found a 39-year-old Afghan refugee guilty of sexual assault against his two-year-old son after a neighbor saw the man kiss the boy's penis. But according to the man's lawyer and about a dozen Afghanis who attended the trial, this kind of kiss is accepted and common in Afghan culture as a show of affection. Crowley said the statute calls the action illegal even if it isn't done for sexual pleasure.

Following news reports earlier in the year about the health benefits of eating tuna eyeballs, Japanese fish markets have been experiencing a run on them. Nutritionists had reported that mice injected with an acid from the eyeballs had lower cholesterol and could find their way through mazes much faster. The eyes, which are considered a delicacy, sell for around $15 a can. Said one fish-company executive, "Unfortunately, fish have only one pair of eyes."

On a trip to New York in January to receive a prestigious international sports award, Chinese running phenom Wang Junxia, 20, told reporters that her daily regimen consists of up to 22 miles of running and a diet that includes worms, extract of caterpillar fungus, and the blood of soft-shell turtles. Wang has broken so many world records that some suspected she was using illegal drugs, but tests have always turned up negative. Her coach, Ma Junren, insists her secret is the worm elixir, which he now bottles and sells worldwide, with revenues of at least $1 million.

Health authorities estimate that since September 20 several hundred people have died in India of pneumonic plague, which had been absent from the country since 1966. Yet many Hindus refuse to kill rats, the most probable carrier of the plague. In Hindu mythology the god Ganesh is accompanied by a rat wherever he travels, and worshipers still make offerings on behalf of Ganesh and his little friend. Hindus have been seen taking rats from traps and releasing them away from their homes, hoping they won't return. In city parks in Calcutta rats are fed much as pigeons are fed in the U.S. Said a retired government official in New Delhi, "The time has come for people to realize it is either us or the rat."

Undignified Deaths

In November a heavily intoxicated 24-year-old man in Garfield, New Jersey, died after he was run over by his own car. He was driving the car in reverse when he tumbled out, landing so that the front wheel pinned his neck and suffocated him.

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

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