Lead Stories

An August London Observer story warned Britons about a new fad in Manhattan: live snakes worn as women’s accessories. Londoners returning from New York reported they had seen “several” or “quite a few” women carrying colorful snakes in their handbags.

In August the Department of Energy released new security guidelines in response to reports of Chinese espionage. They include a requirement that workers report any “close and continuing contact” (defined as two or more visits) with nationals from 25 specified countries. Department official Edward Curran acknowledged that one-night stands are not subject to the new guidelines and said he didn’t believe the rules encourage promiscuity.

“Minnesota Nice”

In May, William Pittman, an official at the Hazelden Foundation near Minneapolis and an authority on alcoholism and anger management, pleaded guilty to harassing his ex-wife, including sending anonymous notes suggesting she kill herself. In September anesthesiologist Thomas J. Valente, 41, pleaded guilty in Apple Valley, Minnesota, to punching a 69-year-old woman in the face in a road-rage incident. And in August, Debra A. Doherty, 38, was charged in Minneapolis with nearly fatally beating her 39-year-old roommate, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, with a broomstick and a crutch.

The Weirdo-American Community

In May Miami police arrested John Troy Davey, 37, and accused him of being one of a gang of serial flashers working the city. The flashers’ outfits included bandannas, G-strings, and women’s crotchless panties. According to police, the men discussed techniques and neighborhoods to be targeted on the Internet.

At an academic conference on sexuality in Madison, Wisconsin, in May, Robert Bahr, the founder of a newsletter on masturbation, told attendees that some of his readers now identify themselves as belonging to the “solo” sexual orientation. Bahr was quoted in Canada’s National Post as saying that these men “have fallen in love with their own reflections” and that some engage in “marathons of masturbation, honeymoons in which they lock themselves away in their own homes, parading naked from mirror to mirror.”

In June, Leonard Horowitz, a publisher in Sandpoint, Idaho, released a book on numerical patterns that reveal the “musical and electromagnetic frequencies for spiritual evolution and world healing,” patterns that appeared spontaneously one day on the author’s car windshield, he said. Horowitz, who is also a dentist and a Harvard-trained health educator, told Spokane’s Spokesman-Review in July that he used to calm his root-canal patients with holistic techniques rather than anesthesia.

In an August Providence Journal profile, 47-year-old substitute teacher Herb Gardner of Smithfield, Rhode Island, described his 30-year obsession with actress Sharon Tate, who was murdered by the Charles Manson family in Los Angeles in 1969 at the age of 26. Gardner believes it’s his destiny to defend the honor of the actress, whom he characterizes as a gentle and charitable person.

Too Much Time on Their Hands

According to a May Reuters dispatch, the Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavik is closing in on its goal of housing at least one penis from every mammal native to Iceland. Only a human penis and one from a species of whale are missing, and curator Sigurdur Hjartarson has solved the first problem with a letter from an 83-year-old former lothario promising his organ upon his death. The museum displays only the tips of some whale species’ members, though, because the entire organs are too long (up to ten feet) or too heavy (more than 100 pounds).

In June a Tokyo company introduced the Plantone, a $55 egg-shaped, battery-operated appliance that, when wired to a plant’s leaves, reports the plant’s “emotional state” to the caretaker with lights and sounds.

In an April feature after NATO bombing in Yugoslavia began, the Boston Globe profiled a group of residents in Watertown, Massachusetts, who met daily to engage in an “advanced” form of transcendental meditation, sending brain waves of calmness around the world to dissipate the stresses that caused the war. Said one participant, “We’re undermining warlike tendencies.”

Psychogenic Fugues

People recently formally diagnosed with “psychogenic fugue” (temporarily abandoning one’s current persona and adopting a substitute): Tim Carpenter, 44, a former publisher of Christian books, pleaded guilty in Springfield, Missouri, in July to causing a false police report; in December he had walked away from his home and job in Springfield and was found the next week working in Memphis. And Dan Ristau, 50, was convicted of trespassing in Geneseo, Illinois, in June for going to an acquaintance’s home in the middle of the night and sitting on her bed because he said he needed to talk to her.

Recurring Themes

Latest woman to continue to propose everlasting matrimonial bliss with a man who earlier attempted to kill her: Hong Kong waitress Au Wing-sze, 18, who in August vowed to marry Tang Kwok-wai even though he had just been convicted of tossing her over an 18th-floor balcony and stomping her hands as she clung to the railing. (She hung on long enough for a downstairs neighbor to pull her to safety.) Said Au’s lawyer, “If anything, [the incident] has only strengthened [their] relationship.”

Least Justifiable Homicides

Virgil A. Henderson, convicted in Minneapolis in March; his victim had been pestering Henderson to take a bath and change clothes. Brian N. Wright and Rantone D. Howard, charged in Independence, Missouri, in April; their victim crashed a party and drank beer without permission. James Gatling Jr., convicted in Newport News, Virginia, in February; Gatling killed the owner of a Porsche he wanted to buy when the victim insinuated Gatling was unworthy of the car.

In the Last Month

A nun in Santa Monica was charged with lying to police about being robbed to cover for $20,000 of church money she had lost to a scam artist. A deli in Brighton, Massachusetts, named a burger for college student Shaun Reilly in honor of his ability to scarf down six eight-ounce cheeseburgers and five pounds of fries in one sitting. A 39-year-old man in San Diego was arrested for burglary after being found inside a church, passed out from drinking too much Communion wine. A high-ranking Canadian progun lobbyist was cited by police in Regina, Saskatchewan, when his gun accidentally fired a round through his wall and into a neighbor’s apartment. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, decreed that the punishment for opposing the death penalty would be the death penalty.

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.