Lead Stories

In May, William Draheim was fired from his job in Saint Louis Park, Minnesota, for sexual harassment, specifically, talking excessively about his pierced penis (almost exclusively, he said, because coworkers asked him about it). He worked at Video Age Inc., a distributor of hard-core pornographic videos and sex accessories. The offices are staffed with telephone operators who take catalog orders from customers, some of whom inevitably talk dirty to the operators. (In fact, each employment applicant is required to certify that he or she understands the nature of the workplace.)

According to police and health department authorities in Huntsville, Alabama, in July, a father purchased several poisonous snakes apparently for his 13-year-old son to keep as pets, but after the boy was bitten by one, he may have hidden the snakes for fear that they would be confiscated. The menagerie included a black mamba (generally regarded as the world’s deadliest snake) and a gaboon viper (also deadly); at press time authorities could not rule out the possibility that the snakes had simply been released into the countryside. Said a city health control officer, “It’s a macho thing to have venomous snakes. I guess stupid supersedes macho.”

Latest From Weird Japan

A June Wall Street Journal dispatch from Tokyo described the trend of “serial divorce”: young married women desiring to keep their maiden names on official documents circumvent Japanese law by getting a divorce when a government document is needed and then usually remarrying their husbands immediately afterward. And according to a March New York Times report, cosmetics firms are doing a brisk business in products that reduce or mask the odor of noneal, a chemical released in greater quantity as people age. In superhygienic Japan, “old man’s smell” is extremely undesirable.

Latest Religious Messages

In May Italian basketball star Fabiana Benedettini, 30, surprised her family and the sports world by abruptly taking religious vows and joining the Santa Margherita of Cortona convent. Also recently becoming nuns in Italy: a marchesa, Ginevra Rossi di Montelera; a hotel heiress, Maria Luisa De Angelis (who abandoned her husband and children to follow her vocation); an industrial heiress, Idina Ferruzzi; a volleyball all-star, Maria Teresa Ciancio; and–at least temporarily–a porn star, Luana Borgia.

In June the civil status court in Alexandria, Egypt, ruled that the Islamic requirement for divorce (after certain preconditions are met, the husband can simply say to his wife three times, “I divorce you”) must be spoken in person and not delivered by E-mail. At press time, a similar question was being debated in a divorce case in United Arab Emirates.

An April New York Times dispatch from Zhdanovo, Russia (just north of Mongolia), reported on the use of vodka as holy water in the region, where the predominant religion is shamanism. Mongol devotees sometimes sip vodka during the 90-minute services, which brings, according to one shaman, “moral calmness” and the improved ability to “talk to God” (although shamanism includes more than 100 gods).

First things first: Catholic priest Charles Mentrup, 41, was stabbed by a parishioner during confession in May; he survived but refused to identify the man who did it because of his vow of confidentiality. And at Christmastime last year, a drunken guest disturbed the Cistercian monks of Wales’s Caldey Island by singing Welsh hymns and carols while they were celebrating their 12 hours of “Great Silence,” but no one moved to quiet the guest because the monks could not speak.

Police Blotter

In March, according to a Dallas police report, pro hockey goalie Ed Belfour, desperately trying to avoid a public-intoxication arrest, offered two patrolmen $100,000 to forget the whole thing. By the time they were ready to haul him to the station, Belfour had vomited all over himself and upped the offer to $1 billion.

In Their Own Words

According to an official in the regional government of Madrid, a publicly financed guidebook for hikers was erroneously distributed despite the agency’s dissatisfaction with some of the writer’s geographical descriptions. In the book, the mountains of the Cuerda de las Cabrillas range are described as “just like women–the desire that they inspire is inversely proportional to the number of times one gets on top of them,” and La Maliciosa mountain as having “a pair of highly suggestive protuberances” that are “black, svelte…like Naomi Campbell’s loins.”

Recurring Themes

News of the Weird reported in 1988 on an Indianapolis substitute teacher’s suspension for getting the well-behaved kids in her fifth-grade class to line up and spit on the ones who had been bad. Among this year’s classroom line-up-and-punish incidents: A sixth-grade teacher in Somerset County, New Jersey, allegedly told good kids to line up and punch a bad one in May; a preschool principal in Boston allegedly urged good four-year-olds to line up and bite a bad one in June; and in Sugar Land, Texas, in April a second-grade teacher allegedly had good kids line up and spit on a bad one, which forced the teacher to find the boy another shirt since his got covered with saliva.

Undignified Deaths

A 22-year-old bungee jumper was killed in the Swiss Alps in May when guides for the tour company Adventure World, according to local police, failed to change cords after others had finished an earlier, much longer jump. Two weeks earlier, at a regional track and field meet in Turnov, Czech Republic, an 18-year-old athlete was hit on the head and killed by an errant toss from the country’s best hammer thrower.

In the Last Month

A three-foot-long iguana escaped from captivity in Saint Austell, England, prompting a police alert, given its propensity for aggression toward menstruating women. In Ennis, Texas, a soiled diaper left in a plastic bag in 100-degree heat for three days combusted, setting fire to the walls of two apartments, causing $3,000 worth of damage. A disabled man in Milwaukee had his motorized wheelchair stolen at gunpoint. One of Rio de Janeiro’s notorious bus thieves, who had just snatched about $800 from passengers, escaped by leaping out a door but landed in the midst of a 400-officer police force guarding the municipal governor during a downtown ceremony.

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.