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News of the Weird


Look, out in the street!: A man, so far unidentified, created a frenzy in London in September when he began offering a free call-in service in which he, dressed in a full "superhero" costume of colorful tights, cape and mask, and armed with a metal-cutting circular saw, would dispatch himself to help motorists whose cars had been immobilized by unpopular, police-installed wheel clamps (called in many American cities the "Denver boot"). "Angle Grinder Man," with a website and hotline number, said he had freed 12 cars so far and doesn't mind breaking the law because it's a "public service." "And I like wearing the costume."

There oughta be a (leash) law: Matthew Long was acquitted of assaulting his girlfriend, Vicki Smith, in Cincinnati in September. Smith (250 pounds) had accused Long (116 pounds, one leg) of choking her with their dog's leash (although before the leash could be introduced as evidence, the dog reportedly ate it). Long testified that what really happened was that he grabbed Smith in a desperate attempt to prevent her from walking out, clinging to her as she dragged him through the house. ("Love does that," Long added.) When Smith admitted that she could throw Long around "like a rag doll," the judge found him not guilty. Both Smith and Long are married to other people.

Science on the edge: In August, scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division, traveling by boat on a research mission to attach satellite-tracking devices to whales to study their habitats, managed to capture what they believe is a historical first photo: the water pattern that results from the bubble when a huge whale releases flatulence. Said researcher Nick Gales, "We got away from the bow of the ship very quickly. It does stink." ... In August, surgeons in Beijing successfully removed a year-old baby's third leg, which was growing in her back and was actually her undeveloped twin's leg. ... In June, a 26-year-old woman gave birth to a baby girl with one body and two heads at the Abu al-Reesh hospital in Cairo, Egypt. ... And in Rensselaer County, N.Y., two unrelated groups of girls out hiking discovered a turtle with two heads (Poestenkill, N.Y., May) and a frog with no eyes (Raymertown, N.Y., July).

Leading economic indicators: An August New York Daily News report on Manhattan's housing scarcity revealed these recent offerings: a 250-square-foot condo near Gramercy Park, $167,500; a 240-square-foot walkup on West 10th Street, $179,500; and a 160-square-foot co-op in the West Village for $135,000 (quickly taken). Said one agent, "It's owning a piece of Manhattan." ... In July, retired developer Bill Martin, 65, announced that he has agreed to buy a dilapidated park near Hudson, Fla., and convert it from its former use as a racially segregated nudist camp into a non-segregated Christian-themed nudist resort. Said Martin, "Body shame is an indicator of our alienation from God, self and others. It is a bondage from hell and, according to the Bible, a direct result of Satan's deception."

First things first: At press time, Chicago police detective Janice R. Govern was scheduled for a dismissal hearing based on a 2001 incident in which, allegedly, she nonchalantly continued to shop in a Dominick's store even after a customer told her that the bank branch inside the store was being held up. According to a witness, she told the fellow customer to call 911 but that she resumed shopping and, in fact, was waiting in a checkout line when uniformed officers arrived at the store.

The perpetual campaign to make everyone perfect: In August, at least nine child-care centers in Melbourne, Australia, have banned all stories about crime-fighting superheroes, lest it encourage aggressiveness. ... In May, a primary school in Birmingham, England, banned parents from its annual sports day so that the kids who did not win contests and races would not feel so bad (May).

Also in the last month: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (whose net worth is estimated at nearly $5 billion) was rejected for a Sears credit card as he shopped in Queens. (After the error was rectified, his approved card arrived with a $4,000 spending limit.) ... President Lucio Gutierrez of Ecuador commenced a campaign to rid the nation of its notorious indifference to punctuality, starting with an interview over Teleamazonas TV. But he showed up late. ... A 42-year-old salesman for Tires Plus in Athens, Ga., was charged with offering a female customer four tires for sex.

2003 Chuck Shepherd

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