Modern-day stagecoach robberies: Reuters reported in January that the 400-mile route from Moscow to Saint Petersburg, Russia, is being worked by gangs of armed thieves who rob and hijack cargo trucks. And in August on the runway at the airport in Perpignan, France, gunmen halted a taxiing Air France airliner that had just landed with 167 passengers and stole money bags containing about $800,000.
The Associated Press reported in January on the three-year-old anti-smoking policy of the Wilton, New Hampshire, company Kimball Physics, which not only forbids lighting up at work but subjects employees and visitors to a sniff test of their breath and clothing. Those who are suspected to have smoked within the last two hours are not allowed in.
On paid sick leave since 1982, Schenectady, New York, patrolman Robert J. O'Neill reportedly retired in February. Unable to work because of psychological problems related to his stint as a marine in Vietnam, O'Neill had amassed earnings of $508,000 during his absence.
In a November Associated Press dispatch from Payiir, Sudan, a reporter described the local competition among unmarried Dinka men to become fat, which is regarded as a way to win females because it demonstrates that the man's cattle herd is large enough for him to consume extra milk and meat. The typical Dinka is tall and reed thin, and some men gain so much weight so quickly that they topple over.
The hottest-selling computer software in Japan in November was a "love simulation" game in which boys try to get a virtual 17-year-old girl, Shiori, to fall in love with them. The game has spawned a magazine, Virtual Idol, devoted to supplying fictional biographical tales of Shiori and other virtual girls. One young man wrote that Virtual Idol "is just the right kind of magazine for a person like me who's not interested in real girls."
According to an October Associated Press story, young mothers in large Japanese cities have adopted city parks as forums for vying for status. Some mothers interviewed claimed they were scared to take their toddlers to the parks to make their "park debut" because of the established cliques of mothers that dominate the facilities. Guidebooks teach the proper "park behavior"; department stores feature the proper "park clothing"; and a recent satiric movie depicted a park ruled by 50 authoritarian mothers.
In February in Singapore police expressed concern about the recent trend of high-rise apartment dwellers casually tossing their belongings out of windows. Fifty-one people were arrested last year for throwing objects ranging from flower pots to TV sets to tricycles.
The Times of London reported in December that Bombay (whose name was recently changed to Mumbai) became the first city in India to ban public spitting, which the paper described as "one of the two most ubiquitous of male habits" in India (the other being public urination). According to the Times, "Boys barely old enough to walk can be heard practicing guttural sounds, which is regarded as macho."
A September Los Angeles Times story described what writer Tomas Eloy Martinez of Argentina called the country's obsession with "emotional" necrophilia toward its prominent citizens. Frequently corpses of luminaries such as Juan Peron are dug up and either celebrated or desecrated to excite national pride. (The hands of Peron's corpse were sawed off by a zealous grave robber in 1987 and have not been recovered; last fall a judge ordered Peron's body to be disinterred yet again so that a DNA sample could be taken for a case in which a woman claims that she's Peron's illegitimate daughter.)
According to a June China Daily story, many of the 40 million Chinese who live in caves are leaving for regular houses, putting a strain on the available arable land in some areas. As a result, architects working for the government are designing futuristic cave homes in Gansu, Henan, and Shanxi provinces to encourage the cave dwellers to stay put.
A team of Chinese surgeons reported in January on the results of a 17-hour operation performed three months earlier in which they had reattached an elephant's trunk severed in an accident. The doctors said the elephant was now feeding itself again, though the trunk was 16 inches shorter.
In October Annie Wald and a partner opened Total Dog, Los Angeles' first canine fitness center. For a fee of up to $800 a year, pooches can work out on treadmills, go swimming, and battle an obstacle course. Massages are also available.
In August firefighters in Kelso, Washington, said a fire started at Matthew Gould's home after his dog, Sadie, played with matches. Sadie, a five-month-old German shepherd mix, apparently gnawed at a box of matches but failed to drool enough to douse the sparks. And in Spencer, Indiana, in December, James E. Baker was shot in the heel by his Akita, Boo Boo, which had jumped on the trigger of a 20-gauge shotgun on the floor of Baker's pickup truck.
Cries for Help
In an eight-day period in January, in towns less than 100 miles apart (Bakersfield and Fresno, California), police discovered the corpses of two elderly mothers who continued to be treated as if they were alive by their adult sons. The Bakersfield woman, who died at age 77 around September, was found propped up on the sofa. Apparently her son thought she was "demonically depressed" and therefore liable to wake up at any minute.
In December 1996 News of the Weird reported that Los Angeles County authorities had decided not to charge Texan Robert Salazar in the death of his employee Sandra Orellana, who fell from an eighth-floor hotel balcony railing on which the two were, according to Salazar, having sex. In January, after dropping mannequins from the railing to see how they fell and examining the wounds on Orellana's body, the county coroner ruled the death a homicide, and police sought Salazar for more questioning.
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 Belshwender.