Tape recordings played in March at a Detroit organized-crime trial exposed two alleged foot soldiers to be less than "wise" guys. FBI bugs planted in their cars and homes revealed that they got lost trying to find an expressway after shooting out a rival's windows, were not sure whether they needed to fill out federal forms to buy ammunition, expressed frustration that they couldn't carry out a shooting at 11 on a Sunday night because of heavy pedestrian traffic, and worried about what their wives thought. ("I think she kind of knows. I think she knows we're gangsters.")
In December, according to an exchange of letters excerpted in the Wall Street Journal, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, acting on the complaint of a neighbor, scolded a Montcalm County landowner for "construction and maintenance of two wood-debris dams across the outlet stream of Spring Pond," reminding him that a permit is required for such "inherently dangerous" construction and advising him against any further "unauthorized activity." Subsequent investigation by the department revealed that the dams had been built by beavers.
An Environmental Issue for Steve Forbes
In March the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a campaign supporting an international crackdown on sturgeon poaching, which has greatly reduced the world's caviar supply.
Got Cold Water?
In April police in downtown Belleville, Illinois, blocked a lane of traffic so that two dogs could continue mating; a humane society employee then arrived to take the animals away. In March, in a small holding area adjacent to a courtroom in Reading, Pennsylvania, a male and female prisoner had sex in front of two male inmates while judge Stephen B. Lieberman conducted business about ten feet away.
Things That Won't Happen
In March the town council of Tangier Island, Maryland, the proposed location for a movie starring Paul Newman and Kevin Costner, informed the producers that the town was looking forward to the filming but that the script would have to be changed to eliminate all cursing, sex, and alcoholic beverages. And Joe Paul of Sun City, Arizona, has been keeping track of how many times baseball players spit at Arizona Diamondbacks games this year, which he says violates state law. Paul has repeatedly written to health authorities demanding they enforce the rule.
People With Too Much Money
An April Associated Press report disclosed that since 1961 Americans have sent the Treasury Department more than $56 million in voluntary contributions toward eliminating the national debt. Gifts are mostly checks for $15 or so, but one Minneapolis woman gives $3,000 a year, and in 1994 an anonymous patron sent in $20 million.
According to Prison Etiquette, Those Figures Are About Right
In April a jury in Helena, Montana, ruled that prison officials had overreacted during a 1991 riot and ordered them to pay damages to 13 inmates. Five men who were hog-tied for several hours after the riot were awarded $1,000 each; eight men who were subjected to rectal searches were awarded $9 each.
Crises in the Workplace
Abby Kisling filed a wrongful-firing lawsuit in February in Des Moines, Iowa, against the telecommunications firm USA Global Link Inc., claiming she was terminated because she doesn't believe in transcendental meditation. Almost all of the firm's employees meditate on company time, and many are graduates of the nearby Maharishi University of Management.
Charles Cornell, 31, won his lawsuit at London's high court in March and was awarded about $100,000 in damages. Cornell's insurance businesses failed when his sales plummeted following an automobile accident in which he sustained a head injury that his doctors said left him with a kinder, gentler personality. Cornell claimed his new disposition made him unsuited for the insurance business.
Russian naval captain Alexander Buzinov told a Moscow TV interviewer in December that he works as an astrologer for the military, examining "planetary rhythms' effects on the earth's surface." He said such rhythms led him to successfully predict three personnel firings last year, terrorist acts in the Caucasus, a Siberian transport plane crash, and several of Boris Yeltsin's illnesses.
In April the New York Times profiled the third generation of the Ayala family to perform with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus. Andrea, 24, and Michelle, 28, like their mother and grandmother, hang and spin by their hair while twirling rings and juggling fire batons for up to three shows a day, enduring a level of pain Andrea describes as "twenty!" on a scale of one to ten. But, says mother Marguerite, "you see the faces on the people, you forget the pain."
In January professor Sandro Trotti hired a pair of 20-year-old women to pose as Venus for his class at Rome's Academy of Fine Arts. Trotti's move was met with protests by the academy's in-house models, who have traditionally modeled for all the classes, nude and clothed, despite the fact that some are over 60 years old. The academy compounded the problem by offering the older models alternative employment, such as working as cleaning ladies.
At this year's Easter egg hunt at the World Harvest Church in Daytona Beach, Florida, several children were injured as they approached a huge pile of plastic eggs containing candy and Bible verses; some of the parents rushed ahead, ostensibly to make sure their own kids got a fair share, and trampled many of the children. Said an observer, "This isn't an Easter egg hunt; it's an Easter egg massacre."
Joseph N. Gilson, 20, serving time in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, on a variety of minor charges, had told fellow inmates he planned to hang himself until he became unconscious so he would be sent to a mental-health facility that would be easier to escape from. In April he put his plan into effect and accidentally strangled himself. And in March in Saint Louis, a 49-year-old accountant pried open her building's often-stuck elevator doors with a rod, squeezed through, and fell to her death. The elevator indicator was correctly showing that the car hadn't arrived at her floor yet.
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.