Least competent people: In Charleston, S.C., in August, graduate student Mohammed Talha Shekhani, 23, was charged with assault and lewd conduct for what he told police was a sincere, though inept, strategy for meeting women. After a friend told him to just walk up to a woman and start touching her, Shekhani said he initiated four public hugging incidents (with two adults and, almost directly in front of their mothers, two teenage girls). His lawyer said Shekhani's poor judgment was caused by the stress of an academic program that will earn him both a Ph.D. and an M.D. at Medical University of South Carolina.
Least competent animals: In June, British Airways came to the rescue of Billy, the homing pigeon belonging to John and Maria Warren of Bootle, England, and flew him home; he was supposed to have flown home on his own from Fougeres, France, but he got sidetracked (probably on a ship) and wound up in New York City. ... In August, the Shanghai (China) Zoo shipped two dwindling-population Chinese tiger cubs to a preserve in South Africa so that experts can teach them how to survive; the zoo-bred tigers instinctively chase prey but do not know how to kill it.
Boats, buses and automobiles: A car traveling on Interstate 77 just north of Charlotte, N.C., was hit by a flying speedboat at 2:20 a.m. Aug. 21. The boat was dashing across adjacent Lake Norman, became airborne, clipped the car, and landed in the median. The only casualties were the boaters. ... A 13-year-old girl was expelled from school in Beaver, Pa., in July for performing oral sex on a boy during a school bus ride home in May. Her mother challenged the expulsion, unsuccessfully arguing that the school had never specified which activities were unacceptable.
Fetishes on parade: In Hillsborough, N.C., Jason Glen Humphrey, 29, was charged with taking indecent liberties for what prosecutors said was a year-long spree of leering at mothers as they changed infants' diapers in semi-public places, or questioning women about their toddlers' bowel movements. ... Here in Atlanta, Decatur's Jeffrey Bernard Fuller, 35, a medical technician working for insurance companies, was arrested after allegedly exceeding the scope of his work at least nine times by giving men gratuitous prostate and pelvic exams.
Extreme plumbers: Julio Cesar Cu, 42, and his three diving partners work exclusively by touch because their full-time job is in water so dark that flashlights are useless: They unclog and repair the antiquated Mexico City sewers ("a sea of human waste and industrial chemicals," according to an April Los Angeles Times dispatch). The city itself is in a valley surrounded by mountains, with frequent flooding and poor drainage in its combined storm water-sewage system. Said one environmentalist, "You walk the streets, smell the stench of raw sewage, and can only imagine what's happening underground."
Also in the last month: Ingrid Nicholls, a black woman, was originally told by her hospital in Reading, England, that the only foot prosthesis she was entitled to from the National Health Service was a white one, and that she'd have to pay extra for black (but two days later, NHS changed its mind). ... The City Council in Duluth, Minn., tried to help a local community arts group by selling them the old National Guard armory for $1, but then the group's check bounced. ... Canada's foreign ministry announced that, for "security" reasons, it would issue no more passports in which applicants' photos show them smiling.
2003 CHUCK SHEPHERD