Lead Stories

A March report in the New York Daily News revealed that the United States Postal Service has spent more than $3.6 million in recent years sending the staff of its Inspector General’s office (which oversees postal auditors and investigators) to a series of executive conferences where they’ve wrapped each other in toilet paper, pipe cleaners, and aluminum foil; built sand castles at the beach in freezing weather; and imitated dogs, ducks, and snakes–all because Postal Inspector General Karla Corcoran was convinced those exercises would improve job performance and cooperation. Other therapeutic tasks included dressing in cat costumes and asking a make-believe wizard for advice.

A 36-year-old man from Arcadia, Florida, checked himself into a mental hospital in March after being identified as “the Choking Man,” who’d been pretending to choke on food in public in order to induce women to wrap their arms around him and give him the Heimlich maneuver; afterward he’d hug and kiss them lavishly and attempt to initiate a relationship, often showing them pictures of his wife and daughter to earn their trust before asking for a phone number. According to a sheriff’s spokesman in Charlotte County, locale of many of the performances, the Choking Man probably hasn’t done anything illegal.

Readers’ Choice

In March in Mombasa, Kenya, three men died in a 40-foot pit latrine after a student dropped her cell phone into it. (She’d offered a reward of about $13–almost two weeks’ wages for an average Kenyan.) The first man climbed down a ladder into the pit, and when he stopped answering bystanders’ shouts, a second man started after him and fell to the bottom. As police watched, a third man collapsed halfway down, overcome by fumes, and was dragged back out. (Officers had to restrain a fourth man from going in after the first two.) The phone was not found.

Latest Protests

In November in Ghent, Belgium, actor Benjamin Verdonck lived in a cage with a pig for three days, wearing only his underwear, because he was unsatisfied with human explanations for the strife in the world–particularly U.S. policy toward Iraq–and had decided to seek answers from an animal. (His performance was titled I Love America and America Loves Me.) Also in November, 20-year-old James Albert Ernest Togo of Brisbane, arrested for mooning a police car–a gesture he says has roots in his aboriginal heritage–claimed that Australia’s constitution protects the act of exposing the buttocks as political protest.

Compelling Explanations

Police in Warren, Ohio, arrested Roger A. Hunt, 41, in January and charged him with kidnapping his girlfriend. He claimed they were headed to a restaurant in his truck, but officers grew suspicious when they noticed the woman was barefoot, which Hunt tried to explain by saying, “She’s from Virginia. She doesn’t wear shoes [when she goes out to dinner].”

In October, Robert Paul Rice, an inmate of Utah State Prison, lost his appeal in a lawsuit demanding that the prison accommodate him as a vampire by providing special meals and allowing him conjugal visits so he could partake in “the vampiric sacrament” (drinking blood). A prison spokesman said that no one gets conjugal visits in Utah, blood drinking or otherwise.

People Who Don’t Keep Up With the News

The Transportation Security Administration revealed in March that in the past 13 months U.S. airport screeners have confiscated 4.8 million items from passengers, including 1.4 million knives, 1,100 guns, and 40,000 box cutters. And in February a 45-year-old Japanese tourist attempted to board a flight at Miami International Airport carrying a canister of gasoline, two boxes of matches, and a barbecue grill.

A Nation at War

In February high-ranking Pentagon and CIA officials met with the author of The Bible Code, who claims that Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts can be divined by applying a complex “skip code” to an original Hebrew text of the Old Testament. And just hours before the Department of Homeland Security raised the terrorist threat level to orange on February 7, four armed and uniformed Cuban military men wandered through Key West, Florida, in the middle of the night. (They had defected by boat and were looking for someone to surrender to.)

Undignified Deaths

In January in Utsunomiya, Japan, a 52-year-old woman delivering newspapers before dawn on her motorcycle was killed when she ran headfirst into the rear end of a racehorse being walked along the road to a nearby track. And that same month the following obituary appeared in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, with no further explanation: “Eric D. ‘Big Head’ Vicks, a laborer, died Jan. 20 of a head injury.”

In the Last Month

In Hot Springs, Arkansas, a 43-year-old woman was arrested at around 5 AM for throwing bricks through the front windows of a grocery store, apparently angry because it wasn’t open yet and she wanted some fruit….In Auburn, Massachusetts, Hillside Cemetery received a phone bill addressed to one of its “residents” (buried in 1997) for a call supposedly made early this year….And in Youngstown, Ohio, a first grader became the latest child suspended for carrying a so-called weapon in class (in this case, a plastic cafeteria knife supplied with his lunch); his parents have threatened to press criminal charges against the school–for arming six-year-olds–if the suspension stands.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.