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In March two Missouri legislators proposed a law to have the state give $1,000 to any married couple over age 21 who do not have sexually transmitted diseases, who have had no children prior to the marriage, who have not terminated a pregnancy by abortion, and who have not been previously married. The law would establish official state policies supporting chastity and faithfulness.

In March software developer Rick Bray of Rogers, Arkansas, introduced his TVGuardian dialogue monitor, which mutes offensive words on TV and prints tamer substitutes as captions on the screen. Bray expanded George Carlin's "seven words you can never say on television" to about 100 and says his device can analyze how a word is used in context so that, for example, "God" will be muted only when used irreverently. An earlier version of the software captioned "Dick Van Dyke" as "jerk Van gay."

Serious grudges: In Sissonville, West Virginia, Darrell Carpenter drove a front-end loader through his two-story house in March, flattening it, rather than honor a court order to sell the house and split the profits with his estranged wife. The next day in Sayville, New York, Richard Hellenschmidt, 45, who owed the title to his 35-foot boat to a bail bond company, blew the boat up rather than surrender it.

Absolutely the Worst Defense Ever

In March police in Ogden, Utah, arrested three men for rape. Two admitted their roles in the crime, but Alberto Salgado, 18, had a different story: While his buddies held the woman down, someone pushed Salgado on top of her, and he "accidentally" penetrated her because he had forgotten to zip his fly after returning from the rest room. As he kept trying to get up, Salgado claimed, the unknown person pushed him back down again and again until he had a sexual climax.

"International Balance of Cats" Deficit

Two more houses were revealed in March to be public-health nuisances because owners had allowed the cat population to get out of hand. Fifty-four cats were found in a house in a neighborhood of semiluxury homes in Tarpon Springs, Florida, and in Edmonton, Alberta, 34 were found in a house whose owner insisted, "There is no smell. The neighbors are simply neurotic." Meanwhile, authorities in Vietnam say the country is being overrun with rats, despite having exterminated 55 million last year. They blame the problem on the declining cat population due to the number of cats being sent to China as food.

Tough Job

Movie producer Warren Weideman announced in February that his company will make an action-adventure film for Showtime based on the work of U.S. Postal Service inspectors and said he hopes it will improve the organization's reputation. Several years ago, Weideman worked for the USPS scanning movie scripts, trying to find places to insert positive images of workers. He admitted there were "not that many" opportunities to do so.

Why Coin Thieves Have to Be Careful

In February police in Corpus Christi, Texas, said they planned to charge a 34-year-old man in a series of gumball machine thefts. They were tipped by the suspect's landlord, who said the man paid his weekly rent in quarters and that when he went to collect one week, he saw a huge pile of jawbreakers on the man's floor. And Charles James Harding, 31, was arrested in January in Bountiful, Utah, and charged with stealing as much as $250,000 a year from vending machines, including some in police stations. Police had gone to a house seeking another man on a drug charge, but Harding was there, too, along with a large box of quarters whose existence neither man could adequately explain.

The Only Thing O.J. Didn't Try

The sleepwalking defense to homicide charges finally made its way to the United States in February after having been used successfully in a famous case in Canada ten years ago. Phoenix inventor Scott Louis Falater said he was sound asleep both when he stabbed his wife 44 times and during the time neighbors watched him hold her head underwater in a backyard swimming pool. Just as the Canadian defendant had supposedly driven 14 miles to his mother-in-law's home and beat her with a tire iron while asleep, Falater managed to put on gloves, kill the woman, bandage a cut, and dispose of his bloody clothes, all supposedly while asleep. Not impossible, said an expert on sleep disorders.

Government in Action

In February Houston city councilman Rob Todd sent the vice squad to investigate Myrtle Freeman's Condoms & More shop, but they found no violations. Frustrated, Todd noted that the store's inventory included chocolate lollipops shaped like breasts and items like "edible panties," and sent the health department in to close the store for not having a license to serve prepackaged food. To avoid closing, the condom store chose to discontinue its food section.

In October the town of Morris, Alabama, came within a few days of having the IRS commandeer its assets to satisfy a $60,000 bill in back taxes, but it came up with the money by mortgaging its city hall. To solve a similar problem, Mayor Zenon Chica of El Palme, Peru, proposed in March to auction off the town's city hall altogether and had lined up four bidders willing to start at about $350,000.

In November Oregon State University physics professor John Gardner had a federal grant application rejected, apparently solely because the type wasn't double-spaced. Gardner, who is blind, was applying to work on technology for the disabled. And in December the Georgia Court of Appeals turned down an appeal by the state in a $2.7 million personal-injury case because the state's paperwork was submitted in Times New Roman typeface instead of the required Courier.

The horror of barking fish: The new pet-nuisance code adopted in January by the city council of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, permits a maximum of four pets per household, except that five are permissible if none weighs more than ten pounds, ten are permissible if none weighs more than one pound, and 25 are permissible if they are all fish.

In Pittsburgh in September, Francis Glancy, 41, whose blood-alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit, fell off his bike and knocked himself out. He was charged with DUI under a 1993 ruling that makes a bicycle a vehicle; however, the statute permits first offenders to avoid a conviction if they get counseling and agree to a 30-day driver's license suspension. Glancy had no driver's license, so the judge told him to apply for one, then allow it to be suspended for 30 days so he could get the conviction erased.

Recurring Themes

The beat goes on in Texas: Donald Wayne Martin killed his wife, two stepchildren, and himself in January. Michael Wayne Hall and another white supremacist were arrested in February in connection with the killing of a woman. And faring better was Wesley Wayne Miller, who was finally approved for parole after serving 16 years for the murder of a woman.

The latest man to shock mourners by walking in on his own funeral, according to a March Reuters report from Bahia Blanca, Argentina, was Robinson Gonzalez, 21, whose mother had mistakenly identified a shooting victim as her son. Unlike at least one previous instance, in which the mother of the "deceased" died of shock upon seeing that her offspring was still alive, Mrs. Gonzalez merely suffered an anxiety attack.

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.

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