Lead Stories

In March the Seattle Police Department ordered the 26 employees in its fingerprint unit to attend a half-hour safety class on how to sit down. Three of the unit’s employees had filed worker-compensation claims for injuries sustained as they attempted to sit in chairs with rollers. The proper technique, according to an internal memo, is to “take hold of the arms and get control of the chair before sitting down.”

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority in Glasgow, Scotland, announced a service cutback in March because there was only one sperm donor left in the city and after ten pregnancies he will face mandatory retirement. Although the donor was not identified or described, officials warned couples to lower their expectations.

Law-Abiding Citizens

Constable Carol Hashimoto told the Edmonton Journal in January that she had recently spoken to a man who was racked with guilt because he had driven home from Edmonton to Valleyview, Alberta, four hours away, without his driver’s license, which he had left in his hotel room. And in Charlotte, North Carolina, at his February sentencing for laundering money, John Calvin Hodge Sr., 69, revealed that he had declared his $40,000 laundering fee on his tax return.

New Frontiers in Bearing Arms

William L. Straiter, 26, was arrested in Durham, North Carolina, in December and charged with bank robbery. He had given a teller a note demanding money and containing a detailed drawing of a gun. And Terry Williams, 23, was arrested in Oakland, California, in March after a driving incident in which he allegedly clasped his hands as if he had a gun, pointed at another driver, and yelled “Bang!” The prosecutor charged Williams with making a terrorist threat, saying that such a gesture could “provoke a retaliatory response from someone with a weapon.”

Government in Action

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced in February that it will scale back safety inspections intended to prevent terrorist sabotage of nuclear power plants, despite the fact that the plants fail such inspections about half the time and that in 14 of 57 inspections since 1991, security had been so lax that terrorists could have caused a core meltdown. The power companies even knew the exact dates of the “surprise” inspections.

In November the mayor of South Gate, California, proposed an ordinance banning the colors wild orange, rose, lavender, and turquoise on houses. One resident said he’d paint over his colorful house only “if cars were crashing into each other because the drivers were looking at [my house]. Or if it hurt people’s eyes.” However, in Joliet the city council passed an ordinance in January requiring builders to make houses less boring by mixing up features and colors. Said council member Joseph Shetina, who thinks too many row houses look alike: “You go home drunk and you’d never know which house was yours.”

In October Washington State Ferries announced it would cut from 250 to 230 the number of commuters it would accept on runs between Vashon Island and Seattle. Capacity on the ferries’ benches was determined by a 50-year-old standard of 18 inches per person, but according to spokeswoman Susan Harris-Heuther, “It’s just not realistic. We have all expanded, and 18-inch butts are a thing of the past.”

A February Associated Press report described the government tests that injured Israeli housewives must fail before they can be granted disability payments. A medical exam can prove disability for any other occupation, but married female homemakers (men and single women are not eligible for disabled-homemaker status) must show that they cannot wash or iron laundry, mop the floor, or slice bread, among other tasks, in front of officials in a simulated home.

In December the Hungarian parliament created a special delinquent-tax-collection unit that will be equipped with cattle prods, Mace, and handcuffs. And in November the wire service Agence France-Presse reported the death of Luo Changlong near Chongqing, China, the result of a beating by eight revenue officials who had gone to his home to collect back taxes of about $60.

Recent proposed legislation: Missouri state senator Sam Gaskill put forward a bill to require hospitals to provide a “dignity gown” instead of the standard open-backed garment. A Tennessee Alcohol Beverage Commission suggested allowing retail liquor stores to conduct “consumer-education seminars,” basically in-store tastings. Arkansas state representative Stephen Simon proposed a bill to allow licensed gun owners to bring weapons to church. And Vermont state representative Robert Kinsey introduced a bill to require CPR training as a condition for a marriage license. Kinsey admitted the bill was a constituent’s idea and said he had no idea why such a law would be necessary.

In March the animal-control officer of Pickens County, South Carolina, threatened to enforce a county snake-handling ordinance against collector Roy Cox, proprietor of an exhibit called Reptiles of the World. The officer said Cox needs a county license, which he can get only if he has federal and state reptile-handling permits. However, no federal or South Carolina agency issues any such permit.

Recurring Theme

In February a 17-year-old, 300-pound girl in Baltimore had an 80-pound benign ovarian tumor the size of a beach ball removed at Franklin Square Hospital Center. Four people were needed to carry it out of the operating room. Three weeks later in nearby Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a 52-year-old woman had a 75-pound benign tumor removed. The largest ever reported, which made News of the Weird in 1991, was a 303-pound cyst taken from a 34-year-old, 513-pound woman at Stanford University Medical Center.

The Only Way Out

In November a 26-year-old man in southern Thailand leaped from a sixth-floor window to his death, reportedly because his wife had refused to let the two additional wives he had just brought home stay with the couple.

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.