Lead Stories

“Pain is the sensation of weakness leaving the body,” Steve Haworth told a Phoenix New Times reporter in May. The local artist was arranging scenes for his Church of Body Modification, whose members endure horizontal full-body suspension (hanging for five minutes from rings in one’s body piercings), tug-of-war (full-force pulling contests using rope threaded through rings in piercings), free-moving implants just below the skin that might suggest a living bracelet, and other alterations (“Vulcan” ears, a ribbed penis, a filleted male urethra). Yet Haworth draws the line at amputation (his girlfriend wants to lose two toes so she can fit into smaller shoes), and he hasn’t decided whether to honor another congregant’s request to be crucified.

High school senior Trevor Loflin scored a perfect 1600 on his SATs this year, despite the fact that he’d spent the past three years living with his mother and sisters in the back of their Chevrolet Suburban. After his mother, Cynthia Hamilton, lost her job as a physician in Fresno, California, she decided to homeschool her kids and discovered that they got along just fine without a house (though they recently moved into a one-bedroom apartment). The family turned to Christianity to get them through their ordeal; Trevor told the Los Angeles Times he would probably enroll at Bob Jones University in the fall.

According to the settlements of two class-action lawsuits in the last two months, a consumer who had to buy a full season of “NFL Sunday Ticket” on DirecTV satellite service instead of being offered a cheaper weekly rate will receive a refund of $9 to $21 (the attorneys will divide $3.7 million), and a customer who was charged late fees by Blockbuster Video without realizing how much they could total will receive a few discount coupons (the attorneys get $9.25 million).

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were once weird but now occur so often that they must be retired from circulation: (45) The surgically removed abdominal cyst that totals half the patient’s body weight, such as the 100-pounder excised from a 17-year-old girl in Cairo, Egypt, in May (the world record, recorded at Stanford University Medical Center in 1991, is 303 pounds). (46) The unlabeled or makeshift cremation urn mistakenly sold at a yard sale or thrift shop, such as the one purchased by a Dallas woman that same month.

Weird Science

Research teams from Duke University, UCLA, and the University of Pittsburgh (the latter two published in the April issue of Tissue Engineering) have successfully collected valuable human stem cells from ordinary liposuctioned fat. Stem cells can be used to grow muscle, bone, and cartilage, which will not be rejected by a body if they’re generated from its own fat. This discovery could end the harvesting of such cells through controversial fetal-tissue procedures and painful bone-marrow extraction. As the researchers pointed out, the fat cells of Americans are an abundant resource.

Chagas disease, spread by the so-called “kissing bugs” that feed on their parents’ dung, kills 50,000 people a year in Central and South America. But according to an April story in the Los Angeles Times, Charles Beard of the Centers for Disease Control has genetically engineered a bacterium that will prevent the bugs from spreading the disease and hopes to disseminate it through an artificial dung made from ammonia, ink, and guar gum.

When trout engage in sex, they quiver violently with their mouths open and are then supposed to release their sperm and egg simultaneously. But after observing 117 trout matings, Swedish scientists from the National Board of Fisheries reported in March that the females withheld their eggs half the time, possibly “faking an orgasm” in order to save their eggs for a more desirable male.

Cliches Come to Life

Documents released after the February settlement of a sexual harassment suit against a Safeway store in Kapolei, Hawaii, indicate that in the mid-1990s male employees made use of a peephole to spy on female customers in the rest room. On one occasion, when a woman realized she was being watched, she shoved the handle of a toilet plunger through the hole, poking the employee in the eye.

According to a November 2000 story in the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong woman being threatened by her father was rescued by a 27-year-old part-time magician who made the father’s weapon disappear. When Lau Yin-wai heard someone yelling in a neighboring apartment, he ran next door and saw the father wielding a knife. The conjurer threw his coat over the knife, shouted some words of distraction, deftly pulled the coat and knife away, and told the father that the weapon had vanished. The father was baffled, and police arrived soon after.

Least Competent People

In March, John and Ruby Barnes of Huntsville, Alabama, were hospitalized with severe burns after heating aerosol paint cans on their stove in order to make the paint come out more easily….That same month David W. Vinyard, serving a jail term in Greene County, Illinois, for his failure to pay traffic fines, was standing on the lavatory of his cell, fooling around with a ceiling light, when he slipped, leaving a portion of his little finger in the fixture as he fell to the floor. (The local prosecutor said he would file a claim against Vinyard for damage to the fixture.)

In the Last Month

The Associated Press reported that the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General, which investigates fraud cases, had placed fake documents in its own files to avoid embarrassment during an IRS audit….The Miami headquarters of a historic preservation group was destroyed when a wrecking company confused it with the building next door, which the group had been trying to save….And the BBC TV program Crimewatch was unable to reenact a recent series of street robberies committed by a man with a huge nose and no teeth because it could not find an actor resembling the suspect.

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

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