Lead Stories

In September in Los Angeles, performance artists and computer gamers held a cockfight in a Chinatown basement, attracting about 200 spectators, who drank beer and wagered on the “roosters”–actually volunteers from the audience dressed in feathered rooster outfits, complete with aluminum-frame wings and beaked helmets. Despite encouragement from the crowd, players spilled only virtual blood, Mortal Kombat style: sensors in the suits translated the combatants’ flapping, pecking, and clawing into bit-mapped images of clashing birds on a large video screen.

Last May in San Francisco, two former telecom execs, Bruce Cady and Tom Mitchell (both of whom have also served as marines), founded Jupiter Returns, a consulting firm offering to teach clients how to “create successful business relationships through an understanding of astrology” (for example, a troubled collaboration can be patched up by the understanding that one’s partners will “[act] out their [astrological] program”). Mitchell has also written a book, Star Salesperson: Using Astrology to Get to Yes.

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (57) “Blue ice” that falls from an airliner’s toilet in midflight and bombards a house or vehicle, such as the melon-size lump that crashed into the bathroom of Susan Seltzer’s home in North Massapequa, New York, in September. (58) And the citizen who must fight the cutoff of government benefits after the bureaucracy insists he or she is dead, as happened in September when the Department of Veterans Affairs informed Vonree Nelson of Natick, Massachusetts, that his 80-year-old wife, Addie, had died–despite the fact that she was cooking him breakfast when the letter arrived.

Spectacular Errors

For the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, officials in Jersey City, New Jersey, planned to release a flock of doves at a downtown ceremony, but because no professional agency could be engaged to conduct a trained-bird release, the city simply bought 80 caged pigeons from a poultry market. Many of the birds were too young to fly, and during the memorial they veered into the plate-glass windows of office buildings, plunged into the Hudson River, and careened into the crowd.

In October in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Teri-Lynn Tibbo sued doctors at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, charging that they’d left a 15-by-20-inch surgical sponge inside her after a hysterectomy, then opened her wound nine times over the next four months to drain it without noticing the sponge. And that same month Rebecca Chinalquay sued Meadow Lake Hospital in Saskatchewan, claiming she’d been left alone during her labor with instructions not to push; when her son, Tyson, was born, he slid off the gurney onto the floor.

Due to a clerical error, on October 2 the large investment bank Bear Stearns placed orders to sell not $4 million in stock but a thousand times that much. The company was able to recover about 85 percent of the stock and told a Reuters reporter that the loss of the rest (around $622 million, or 155 times the intended amount) would have “no material impact on the company.” (An early edition of the next day’s Wall Street Journal reported the mishap on the same page as a Bear Sterns ad touting the firm’s ability to “execute complex transactions–flawlessly,” but in subsequent editions the story had been moved.)

People With Issues

In September in Warren, Michigan, Bill Saintclair Patton, 45, was convicted of indecent exposure and sentenced to 90 days in jail; his neighbors had complained after he masturbated nude in his backyard and used a pumpkin to sexually gratify himself. And in October in Edinburgh, Scotland, Ross Watt, 33, was convicted of disturbing the public order after witnesses testified that he’d rolled around in the street with an orange-and-white traffic cone for 20 minutes, simulating intercourse. (Watt had tried and failed to buy a pair of running shoes–his preferred sexual object–from passersby.)

Our Civilization in Decline

In September in Britain, legislators proposed a mental health bill that would force parents (under threat of possible jail time) to medicate any child diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And in July in Knox County, Tennessee, a judge ordered the school board to rewrite its “zero tolerance” policy on drugs and weapons, complaining of its lack of due process; 172 students were expelled last school year, some for crimes like carrying prescription sleeping pills.

In the Last Month

In Noblesville, Indiana, mechanic Jim Bristoe unveiled a two-ton air cannon with a 30-foot barrel that could fire a ten-pound pumpkin about five miles; he so seriously outclassed the competition at the Pumpkin Propulsion Contest that he graciously stepped aside to let the other entrants vie for the prize….An Iranian national paintball federation was formed to inaugurate a 28,000-square-foot facility in central Tehran, but women are presently barred from play….And to address a shortage of trained buglers for military funerals, the Pentagon began field-testing a battery-powered digital amplifier that can be inserted into the bell of a horn to play “Taps”; presently a portable stereo is the fallback option.

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