Lead Stories

On July 21 police in isolated Tunbridge, Vermont, arrested a squatter couple who had boldly commandeered an unoccupied (but definitely not abandoned) house and begun to remodel it, in keeping with their belief that property should be shared rather than privately owned. Jeremiah Sturk, 38, and Rene Hunt, 26, had torn out walls, ripped out plumbing, and were starting to redo a bathroom (financed by selling some of the house’s antiques) when the owners arrived from their principal home in Massachusetts. The arresting officer described Sturk and Hunt as “definitely [people] with a different mind-set.”

New Scientist reported in July that IBM is designing an “artificial passenger” device that will keep highways safe from drivers who nod off at the wheel. When it detects drowsiness, the device will launch into jokes, make conversation, change radio stations, sound an alarm, and even shoot cold water into the driver’s face. IBM hopes to have its invention on the market in three years.

The city of Cascavel, Brazil, hoping to shield veteran government workers from the rumors and innuendo of newcomers, has passed a law forbidding gossip in municipal offices. Punishments include reprimand, sensitivity training, and dismissal.

The Great American Holiday, 2001

On July 4 a man in Spanish Fork, Utah, was killed when a fireworks stand toppled over and crushed him….That same day an off-duty police officer in Jersey City was allegedly beaten with a metal pipe after he asked two men to stop launching fireworks near kids; the officer arrived at the hospital in critical condition….And early on July 5 a soldier was shot to death in Huntsville, Alabama, after confronting the person who’d shot a Roman candle at the SUV he was traveling in.

Great Art!

Speaking to the London Observer in April, Tatsumi Orimoto, the “grand old man of Japanese contemporary art,” said that he intends to keep working on his signature piece of performance art, Bread Man, until his dying day. In the piece, Orimoto pays homage to the Christian notion of bread as the body of Christ by roaming the streets with a half-dozen baguettes tied over his face.

As part of the East Tennessee Holocaust Conference in Knoxville, Brazilian artist Moema Furtado created an installation using thin latex to replicate large pieces of pulled human skin, which were hung from the walls and ceiling. Municipal officials ordered her to take it down, complaining that the latex looked like huge used condoms.

In June dramatist Bob Ernst opened his play The John in the basement men’s room at San Francisco’s Maritime Hall (seating capacity: 20). The play, about a middle-aged man who meets Death in the john during an intermission to King Lear, overcame a vexing dress rehearsal; Ernst learned that the only supervisor with keys to the “theater” had taken the day off for his birthday and, once he managed to get in, that the room hadn’t been cleaned in a while.

Bright Ideas

Sir Stephen Lander, former director of Great Britain’s spy agency, MI5, told a June conference of intelligence agencies that in the mid-1970s, MI5 considered stationing gerbils at airport terminal gates, thinking their ability to detect passengers who were unusually sweaty might uncover spies entering Britain. Lander said the idea was abandoned when the agency realized that many people who go up in airplanes sweat.

Kevin Erwin is currently standing trial in Canton, Ohio, for rape, kidnapping, and assault, based on the allegations of a female “sex slave” he met on the Internet. Faced with arrest in June, Erwin produced a contract signed by the woman in which she had agreed “to freely give myself to Kevin L. Erwin as a personal slave and life mate” and “to make myself sexually available to Kevin at all times.” (She also agreed to divorce her husband and marry Erwin and to pay Erwin $100,000 for “alienation of affection” if she ever broke the contract.) The prosecutor says the woman was coerced.

People With Issues

Steve Bennett of London continues his quest to become the world’s most successful amateur rocket engineer. According to a June story on the BBC, all systems are go for his 2003 “test flight” in which he will launch himself to an altitude of 10,000 feet. The more Bennett reveals about his mission (he recently said his rocket capsule would be fashioned from a cement mixer, with modest installation and a small computer), the more rocket scientists believe it will result in instantaneous death. Bennett rejects conventional preparations such as wind tunnel and G-force tests: “That is what the test flight is for.”

Least Competent Criminals

Police in Shaker Heights, Ohio, allege that in June 33-year-old Darryl Owens walked into Huntington National Bank as it was opening, approached a teller, and demanded money in a threatening manner. After the teller told him to get in line with other customers, Owens threatened a second teller, who pulled out a large wad of money and laid it on the counter. Owens took about half the money and fled, but before the police arrived he came back, laid the money on the counter, and asked for a $45 money order. Thoroughly confused, the teller ordered Owens out of the bank; he left, leaving his entire stash on the counter, and police arrested him a few blocks from the bank.

Recurring Themes

In June two fishermen in Papua New Guinea bled to death in the Sepik River after being attacked by the candiru, a piranhalike fish that is attracted by urine and attacks the source with its razor-sharp teeth….Two weeks later a 63-year-old Colombian peasant, squatting to relieve himself in a field near the town of Lorica, was bitten on the penis by a poisonous Mapana-tigre snake. Fearful of dislodging the snake, he arrived at the hospital with it still attached but is now recovering satisfactorily.

In the Last Month

Saint Louis alderman Irene Smith, refusing to yield the floor during a filibuster against a redistricting plan, took a rest room break at the podium, shielded by aides who held up a quilt….A man quietly playing dominoes at a hillside cafe in Nevsehir, Turkey, was knocked unconscious by a wandering cow that fell through the roof….Ojo Maduekwe, the transport minister in Abuja, Nigeria, was pedaling to the weekly cabinet meeting to promote use of bicycles in the traffic-snarled city when he was hit almost simultaneously by two passing buses and knocked into a ditch….A 39-year-old man was arrested at a store in Plainville, Connecticut, after surveillance cameras captured three separate instances of him inexplicably urinating on the back of a man’s trousers.

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.