Lead Stories

Erik Sprague, 27, a doctoral student in philosophy in Albany, New York, has had his teeth sharpened, his tongue forked, bumps implanted in his forehead, and “scales” tattooed on his body in order to look like a reptile, according to December wire service reports. Sprague, described as an excellent student by a professor, told reporters that he knows of other people who have made similar “single-theme conversions,” including a zebra, a tiger, a leopard, and a giant puzzle called “the Enigma.” Sprague will appear on the TBS show Ripley’s Believe It or Not this month.

According to a December Boston Globe report from Xi’an, China, the Three Brothers Scorpion Restaurant claims to be the first in the country to reintroduce the scorpion, an 18th-century delicacy, into domestic cuisine, touting its health benefits. Scorpion venom (reduced in potency by six months of preparation) is believed to aid against fever, chills, skin problems, immune disorders, bad kidneys, and possibly tumors. Other favorite dishes of the Three Brothers are silkworm larvae, cicadas on sticks, and poisonous tree ants.

Mixed News on the Environment

After resisting for five years, Missouri was forced by a federal judge in November to allow the Ku Klux Klan into its Adopt-a-Highway cleanup program. In September the army revealed that its new lead-free combat bullet will not be ready before 2003; it needs the bullet because 1,000 indoor military firing ranges are currently closed due to lead contamination. In June researchers at Ontario’s University of Guelph reported genetically engineering a pig that produces manure 20 to 50 percent lower in phosphorus–which can pollute water supplies–than ordinary pig manure.

Cultural Diversity

Latest weird news from Japan: Nonordained “pastors” in Tokyo are exploiting the Japanese fascination with Christian weddings (only 1 percent of Japanese citizens are Christian, but 70 percent of all weddings are), according to a September Reuters report. The fake ministers say the Bible condemns holy marriages of a believer to a nonbeliever but does not mention marriages of two nonbelievers. And in May a Times of London story reported that Nagasaki and other cities have begun installing “unwanted-dog postboxes,” into which pets can be placed for pickup if the owners tire of them.

Christmas shopping in Singapore has become a huge national pastime even though only 13 percent of its population is Christian. Half of the country’s annual retail sales come during the season, when shopping malls turn into extravagant theme parks. An interdenominational leader said Singaporeans use the Christmas season merely as a celebration leading up to the Chinese New Year.

Unclear on the Concept

In 1998 Florida passed the Marriage Preparation and Preservation Act, which requires license applicants to read a 16-page booklet heavy on parenting techniques and responsibilities and gives a $32.50 license discount for taking a four-hour course. In September Max Gordon and his fiancee, Mollie Levy, planned to marry in Delray Beach until Max had trouble reading the book because of his cataracts. Max is 90, Mollie 82, and between them they have six children and 31 grand- and great-grandchildren.

When Turkish government minister Yuksel Yalova attended the opening ceremonies at a veterinary hospital in Izmir on World Animal Day in October, he was treated to the traditional tribute to a visiting dignitary: the ritual slaughter of a sheep.

After protests in October, Grand Canyon University, a small Christian college in Phoenix, canceled its scheduled “Assassins” fund-raising game, in which players pay for the privilege of shooting colleagues with Nerf darts. A freshman told a reporter, “This is a Christian university, so we know the difference between right and wrong.”

Our Animal Friends

In June at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, a tarantula the size of a salad plate underwent two CAT scans to save her from an infection from a coin-sized abscess. She survived in fine shape and is expected to live another 10 years, to age 20. According to the aquarium’s senior herpetologist, the tarantula’s only problems now are her bad habits of showing her fangs and ejecting barbed hairs from her posterior.

In July police in Dhaka, Bangladesh, rescued two spider monkeys that a drug dealer had chained up and used to sell his product to reduce employee theft. Signs ordered customers to pay the monkeys in either of two denominations, which the monkeys could distinguish by color, after which the monkeys would fetch the appropriate quantity of drugs from their hiding places.

Memorial Land

New Jersey entrepreneurs recently proposed a series of memorial theme parks (“The Final Curtain”) where the public could view people’s self-designed tombs, urns, and sculptures. One man wants to be buried with a camera that would televise his decomposition for spectators.


News of the Weird reported in 1996 on testicle implants for neutered dogs (“Neuticles,” invented by Gregg Miller of Independence, Missouri). In November, Miller said he had scheduled his first human for an FDA-approved Neuticle implant: Californian Jim Webb, who had a testicle removed to relieve chronic swelling.

Least Competent Criminals

Floyd Brown, 24, was charged with robbing a Holiday Inn in Anchorage in November, apparently oblivious to the 40 police officers just off the lobby attending a law-enforcement training conference that was advertised on the marquee in front. And in December in Las Vegas, robber Emilio Rodriguez, 19, was shot to death as he rushed into Mr. D’s bar, a favorite haunt of off-duty police officers.

In the Last Month

Hormel Foods announced it would open a 16,550-square-foot Spam Museum and Visitor Center next year in Austin, Minnesota. Miss America 1998 took a job waiting tables at a deli in New York City. In Athens, Tennessee, a 41-year-old man carrying his uncased shotgun to a pawn shop innocently stopped at a bank to make an inquiry, provoking a major police response. Two sociology professors in Fullerton, California, announced the new Journal of Mundane Behavior for the study of the inconsequential. Robert Wald of Toluca Lake, California, obtained a patent for boxer shorts with built-in briefs.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.

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