Lead Stories

On July 4 at Coney Island, 101-pound Kazutoyo “The Rabbitt” Arai of Japan beat defending champ Steve Keiner (400 pounds) in the annual Nathan’s international hot-dog-eating championship. Arai gobbled up 25 in 12 minutes to Keiner’s 16. Slim Japanese people have frequently won the contest, which struck Keiner as “one of God’s mysteries,” but another bulbous former champ, Ed Krachie (who ate 15 this year), once postulated the “Belt of Fat” theory–that surrounding fat limits the expansion of the stomach.

Researcher Peter Cochrane of British Telecommunications is continuing to develop his “Soul Catcher” microchip brain implant, which he believes will someday be capable of recording all of a person’s sensory chemical reactions so as to capture “a lifetime’s worth of experience and feeling,” according to a June New York Times report. (Recently doctors at a Veterans Administration hospital implanted a chip into a patient whose ability to communicate was shut down by a brain-stem trauma; now he can order a cursor around merely by thinking of where he wants it to go.)

The Art of Protest

In June a housewife in Somerset, England, held an appliance repairer hostage in her home for three hours until his company agreed to replace the faulty washing machine it had sold her and been unable to fix. In April near Milan, about 30 voters showed up at the polls wearing only underwear, somehow in protest of excessive airport noise. In May an unidentified man armed with broken soda bottles burst into a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., and threatened to kill himself if someone didn’t stop Pepsi from selling soda to eastern European countries.

Unclear on the Concept

In May, Arizona’s Maricopa County District Library announced it had received a 15,000-book donation from a drive sponsored by the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain, a campaign that altogether distributed more than one million donated books. However, the Maricopa County gift consisted of 1,000 pasta cookbooks, 200 copies of a book on Windows 95 software, and 11,796 copies of the same children’s book, What Would Happen If….

In April the New Hampshire legislature voted to correct its law on penalties for sex abuse of children. Adults convicted of aggravated sexual assault on a child in New Hampshire can receive up to 20 years in prison, but until the new bill actually becomes law, molesting one’s own child still draws a maximum of only seven years.

In May a judge in Tampa sentenced teenager Valessa Robinson to 18 years in prison for brutally beating her mother to death with help from her boyfriend. Four days earlier, two other Florida judges had sentenced two men found guilty of statutory rape (whose victims only reluctantly testified against them) to 71 years and 105 years in prison. The first was a 25-year-old South Dakota man who romanced a 13-year-old girl; the second was a Miami college professor who had smuggled a Honduran teenage boy into the United States as a roommate and had occasional sex with him.

Well, Sure!

Queens College professor Harvey Baker told the New York Times in May that he had a dynamic new method for helping people overcome their intense fear of tarantulas. However, he couldn’t convince enough people with extreme tarantula phobia to participate in a study to test the method.

In February, Patrick Lee Harned, 17, who is jailed in Astoria, Oregon, on charges that he killed a seven-year-old girl, turned to convicted serial killer Keith “Happy Face” Jesperson, serving a life term at the Oregon State Penitentiary, for advice on prison life, girls, and, of course, defense strategy. Wrote Harned, “I just want to get my time done and do good and get married and have a kid and have a better life and walk on the beach with my wife, kid, family, and have a better life with help, amen. What can I do?”

An April New England Journal of Medicine article reporting the results of car-accident-related whiplash claims in Saskatchewan before and after the province switched to no-fault insurance revealed that whiplash was much more common under the “fault” system. According to a commentator, part of the results might show that “if you have to prove you are ill, you can’t get well.”

In Their Own Words

Anticircumcision activist Ron Miller, 58, speaking to a meeting of men about restoring the foreskin to enhance penile sensitivity, quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in April: “[The pleasure] you’re going to get back is so different, don’t expect your brain to understand it.” He also admonished men not to delay, as he did: “I’m pissed off about the 40 years of wasted sex I had.”


A genre labeled “no longer weird” in this column four years ago has been reinstated due to advances in science. It has been known for years that production of heat-trapping methane by flatulent livestock was a major contributor to global warming, but the 1997 Kyoto Protocol created technology incentives to reduce the problem, such as the recent development in Scotland of special bacteria for animal feed that converts the methane to less-noxious carbon dioxide in cows’ digestive systems, and an industrial Beano-type supplement developed by a Canadian firm to cut down cows’ gaseous emissions.

Least Competent Criminals

In June, according to police in Detroit, Dwayne Nolan was to meet his lawyer at a police station so they could fill out the paperwork to get Nolan’s car back after it had been impounded in an alleged drug deal. As Nolan awaited the lawyer’s arrival, officers realized that Nolan was also wanted for murder. Said Sergeant Joe O’Leary later: “I’ve never seen anybody actually walk into a station on another matter, obviously knowing he’s wanted on a murder warrant.” To make it official, an officer matter-of-factly asked the lawyer to identify a photo taken from the warrant, which he did (according to the police), and Nolan was arrested.

In the Last Month

A 23-year-old man in Ocean City, Maryland, died after a friend punched him in the chest, which he did only because the victim begged to be hit to relieve his hiccups. A vicious heat wave in Turkey was credited with saving a life when a suicidal woman on a mountainside swooned before she could leap and was rescued. An America West pilot riding as a passenger on an America West flight went out of control, screaming, throwing things, and yelling “Get away from me,” until he was restrained by the crew. In Cincinnati a county judge who is an opera fan enlisted 21 jail inmates to be extras in a local production of Verdi’s Aida in order to earn community-service credits.

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.