Lead Stories

British television production company Mentorn announced in September that it was developing a series in which a terminally ill patient would volunteer for the “ultimate makeover”–after his death, his body would be preserved by plastination (which replaces fats and fluids with durable polymers) and “improved” by doctors and engineers. Among the changes already suggested: added ribs to protect internal organs, knees that bend both ways, a backup heart, and a trachea redesigned to better keep food out. The redesign would be directed by German anatomist Gunther von Hagens, the developer of plastination and the man behind a controversial exhibit of fancifully posed dissected corpses called “Body Worlds.”

In September police in Irvine, California, told the Los Angeles Times they were stunned by the rampant abuse of handicapped parking placards uncovered during a recent crackdown. Highlights: A teenager used her grandmother’s placard to park at a Weezer concert three months after the old woman’s death, then tried to persuade an officer that she was her grandmother (“So you’re 80 years old?” he asked). Another woman insisted that she’d inherited her husband’s parking privileges when he died.

Leading Economic Indicators

In August in New York City, businessman Herbert Black sued socialite Denise Rich (ex-wife of Clinton pardonee Marc Rich) for breach of contract, claiming she’d never paid him for his services as a financial adviser. The suit alleges he saved her roughly $8 million a year, including $125,000 by arranging to have flowers delivered to her apartment less often when she was away, $30,000 by modifying the payment plan for her yoga instruction, and $52,000 by cutting down on “dog maintenance” (he gave away her two oldest dogs, which were so feeble that a sitter pushed them around Central Park in an $8,000 baby carriage).

According to a New York Times reporter who visited Lahore, Pakistan, in August, business is booming for the country’s unlicensed street dentists–a licensed dentist charges $40 to implant a false tooth, and one-third of Pakistanis earn less than that in a month. In addition to pliers, wire cutters, and metal files, tools of the trade for street dentists include a “sterilizing” rinse (actually a local moonshine) and razor-tipped probes used to inflict distracting pain elsewhere in the mouth (anesthesia is not an option).

Weird Workplaces

In August in Chengdu, China, officials shut down a food processing plant after discovering that its workers had developed a technique for deboning chicken feet with their teeth. According to the Beijing Morning Post, they boiled the feet briefly, then slit them three ways with a knife, pried open the skin with their fingers, and removed the bones with their teeth. The fastest workers could debone a foot in four to five seconds.

In August in Staffordshire, England, the historic Shugborough Home placed a newspaper ad seeking a professional hermit, who would be paid to live in a cave on the grounds (and presumably scare the occasional visitor). The practice of hiring hermits was last fashionable in the 18th century, but the ad drew a flood of responses, some from as far away as Pakistan and Poland.

Least Competent People

In September in Cheverly, Maryland, juror Levon Adams, 25, skipped out during deliberations in a carjacking case and caused a mistrial; forcibly returned to the courthouse the next day to face contempt charges, he told the judge he’d left because the other jurors had become aggressive with him. He explained that he’d been the only juror uncomfortable handing down a guilty verdict, and that he’d told the others he couldn’t convict–regardless of the evidence–because he hadn’t been present at the scene of the crime and thus had not actually seen the defendant do it.

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird reported in 1989 that 31-year-old swimsuit model and porn actress Chanel Price, landing by helicopter at a California party, waved to the guests–and, because she was six foot three, lost a thumb and finger to the aircraft’s still-turning blades. In September of this year, 16-year-old Mexican pop singer Ricardo Abarca suffered a similar fate waving to fans at an airport in Guatemala City, Guatemala, but doctors were able to reattach three of his four severed fingers (the fourth was never found).

In the Last Month

In Huntsville, Texas, 42-year-old Rex Mays was executed for the 1992 stabbing murders of two young girls; he’d once performed part-time in the Houston area as Uh-Oh the Clown….An Iranian trade official complained that, in the six months after September 11, Iran’s caviar exports had fallen by two-thirds (to ten tons) compared to the same period the previous year–because first-class airline passengers are the country’s largest market for the delicacy….And European researchers found that children whose bedding contains relatively high levels of “endotoxins”–that is, dirt and dust–have a lower asthma rate than those raised in cleaner environments.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611 or to newsweird@aol.com.

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