Lead Stories

An August Wall Street Journal dispatch from the Italian island of Sardinia described locals’ love of casu marzu (“rotten cheese”), brown lumps of sheep’s milk cheese crawling with maggots. The story called it a “viscous, pungent goo that burns the tongue” whose “wiggling worms [often] jump straight toward the eyes with ballistic precision.” The cheese is banned by the government, and on the black market it costs double what ordinary cheese goes for. Some locals believe the maggots serve as an indicator of quality, because when they die the cheese is inedible.

Damanhur, a 23-year-old, largely self-sufficient commune in northern Italy, features an underground, five-story-deep temple (an expansion is under way); 500 residents; its own currency, schools, and tax code; and artisans who produce Tiffany-style glasswork and silk and cashmere for European designers. According to a July New York Times report, its existence was a secret until 1992, when an expatriate sued the community. Members of the New Age group experiment with time travel and have an absolute ban (Damanhur’s only rule) on smoking.

The Orgasmic Bureaucrat

In a May interview in the trade journal of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, the director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s safety standards program, Marthe Kent, said she loves her job: “I absolutely love it. I was born to regulate. I don’t know why, but that’s very true. So as long as I’m regulating, I’m happy.” Kent, who heads the agency’s controversial ergonomics program (which oversees the effects of, for example, furniture design on back stress), said, “If you put out a reg, it matters. I think that’s really where the thrill comes from. And it is a thrill; it’s a high.”


In August motorist Michael Eck, 43, endured a 12-minute “thrill ride” in his Chevrolet Impala on Interstate 83 near York, Pennsylvania. According to police reports, truck driver James E. Trimble, 65, thought Eck had cut him off during a lane change and angrily bumped Eck’s car with his 18-wheeler at 60 miles per hour, several times (“I counted 24 bumps until I stopped counting,” said Eck). One hit damaged Eck’s fuel pump, disabling the engine, and Trimble continued to ram the Impala at full speed for eight miles until police pulled him over and arrested him. Eck was not injured but was disappointed that police would not let him fight Trimble before they took him away.

Latest survivors: In May, Eugene Slocum, 52, walked three miles with a fractured neck to get help after a rural truck collision in Brighton, Colorado. Leslie Roth, 35, suffered only a minor headache after being struck by two separate bolts of lightning on July 15 while on an Outward Bound expedition in Killarney, Ontario. In July, Jose Rojas Mayarita, 39, was incapacitated in his isolated boat off the coast of Acapulco for two days after a ten-foot-long marlin leaped from the water and speared him, penetrating his abdomen.

Questionable Judgments

To encourage hunting, Canada’s ministry of environment introduced regulations in August to allow children as young as 12 to learn to shoot ducks and geese. The country has 60 percent fewer hunters than ten years ago, said the Canadian Wildlife Service, which has led to animal overpopulations. Kids must take a safety class and be accompanied by a licensed hunter at least 18 years old, but gun-control activists were nonetheless enraged.

Attorney Michael L. Steinberg of Mount Clemens, Michigan, was sentenced to ten days in jail for contempt of court in May after refusing to obey Judge Michael Martone’s repeated admonitions to turn off his cell phone in the courtroom. The last straw for Judge Martone was when Steinberg interrupted his questioning of a witness to take a call.

Family Values

In June, Darryl Ennis, 34, called 911 in Slidell, Louisiana, seeking police assistance to force his mother to cook him some pork chops. When he allegedly verbally abused the emergency operator for declining his request, officers went to his home and arrested him.

Very much opposed to becoming a grandmother: In August, Glenda Dowis was arrested by police in Lake Clarke Shores, Florida, and charged with forcing her 16-year-old pregnant daughter at gunpoint into a clinic for an abortion. After Dowis allegedly told the staff that she would “blow [her daughter’s] brains out” if she refused the abortion, someone called 911. According to a detective, Dowis is a construction worker who felt that having a pregnant teenage daughter would impede her climb up the social ladder.

In Their Own Words

A 21-year-old man in Lower Paxton Township, Pennsylvania, whose teenage girlfriend glued his penis to his abdomen in July to punish him for cheating on her, told the Harrisburg Patriot News: “She knew I was a dog and she found out I was fooling around on her, but it shouldn’t have come down to that. She could’ve just slapped me or something.”

Recurring Themes

Twelve years ago News of the Weird reported on Houston resident Patrick Johnson, who had a habit of impersonating bus drivers, commandeering unoccupied transit buses and driving the routes, just to satisfy his love of buses. In June of this year, the Pittsburgh Port Authority police arrested a man with the same obsession: Ronald Johnson (no relation, as far as authorities know), 21, who admitted that he had taken three buses out in recent weeks. A Port Authority executive said Johnson “does have [bus-]driving skills” and a uniform, and apparently “loves buses.”

Thinning the Herd

July 4, 2000: A 43-year-old man in Lombard, Illinois, and a 34-year-old man on Long Island were killed when their fireworks did not immediately go off: the men peered down the launching tubes to see what was wrong, only to catch the explosion full-force. Also, a teenager was killed in Des Moines when a firecracker tossed out the window of his SUV blew back inside and exploded, igniting other fireworks in the vehicle and causing the driver to crash into a pole.

In the Last Month

City College of New York announced it will provide students, staff, and faculty with professional philosophy counseling in its health-care facility. Officials at Cape Canaveral finally learned the origin of the plastic bags of urine found recently in a launch-pad complex: a worker was too lazy to use the rest room, which was an elevator ride away. In Cairo police called to an apartment where a man had been dead for a week were held at bay for two hours by the man’s 18 cats, aggressively guarding the body. A 29-year-old man in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, who broke into a house at night and fondled a sleeping woman’s thigh was chased by the woman’s boyfriend out the door, where the molester tripped and broke his leg.

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.