Lead Stories

In New Zealand biologist Larry Jensen and computer animator Andrew Chung announced in March that they had produced a video depicting the sex life of moss. Said Jensen, “Plants may not walk around and hold hands the way humans do, but they have ways of bringing eggs and sperm together that are very clever.” For his next video, Jensen is talking to “two experts on fern sperm.”

In June a court in Liverpool sentenced lovers Steven Bain, 27, and Steven Gawthrop, 31, to 18 months in prison for gross indecency arising from various “perverted acts.” The men are foot fetishists and had tricked thousands of people into giving up their socks, claiming to be collecting for a charity. Police found an 18-inch-high “carpet” of socks and about 4,000 more wrapped in sandwich bags, each tagged with the donor’s name, in their apartment.

In April the CIA debuted its home page for children, which features games and gimmicks that allow kids to put disguises on characters and maneuver virtual guard dogs to sniff for explosives. A month later the agency came under fire for failing to detect that India was about to test a nuclear weapon.

Salespeople: The Next Postal Workers

In March William Walker was charged in Albuquerque with trying to hack through an apartment door with an ax after the resident said he wasn’t interested in buying speakers from him. And in April two women were preparing for trial after being charged with murder in Frankfurt, Germany, for allegedly torturing and stabbing to death an underachieving male colleague in their door-to-door magazine-sales group.

Read This, or Just Think About Reading It

Researcher Dave Smith of England’s Manchester Metropolitan University revealed in March that thinking about exercise is almost half as productive as doing it. His group of exercisers was able to lift 33 percent more weight after a month, while one group of nonexercisers did not improve at all. However, nonexercisers who visualized lifting weights improved 16 percent. Reasoned Smith, “If you can improve neural input to the muscle, you can recruit more muscle fiber and exert more force.”

The Garden State

According to a May report in the New York Times, biologists and New Jersey authorities still do not know why the artificial grass at Giants Stadium “died” last year. The AstroTurf turned from green to blue and then began falling out in large clumps. The best guess so far is that the culprit was a fungus of some kind.

Latest Highway Truck Spills

Hundreds of bottles of champagne, in Milford, Connecticut, in December; 22 tons of cold cuts, in Hardin, Montana, also in December; hundreds of jars of mayonnaise, near London, in February; 50 boxes of bees, in Middleton, Idaho, also in February; 21 tons of potatoes, in Monticello, Minnesota, in March; 22 tons of shredded paper, near–of course–Washington, D.C., also in March; and 6,700 gallons of animal fat, in Cincinnati, in May.

The Litigious Society

The Los Angeles Times reported in January that the parents of some California public-school students expelled or suspended for violence have filed lawsuits claiming that the school was negligent in not placing such a troublemaker into a special education program earlier. The 1975 federal special education law, originally intended to help the disabled, now covers students who are, in the words of one physician, “easily frustrated, quite distracted, and [showing] serious explosiveness.”

In February, according to an Agence France-Presse report, Cairo lawyer Mustafa Raslan filed a $1 billion lawsuit in Damanhur, Egypt, against President Clinton, claiming that Clinton’s alleged sexual antics make it more difficult for him to raise his own children with good moral standards. “I don’t know what to tell [them],” he said. In December Sheik Buddy Rasheed, the mayor of Bassilya, Jordan, told reporters he wanted to sue Clinton for naming his dog Buddy, but that he was having trouble finding a lawyer to take the case.

In April the city of Los Angeles finally agreed to pay $9 million to the five surviving victims of a drunk driver whose car had wandered across the center line and hit the van in which they were riding without seatbelts. In 1997 a court awarded the victims $29 million and said the city had to pay 57 percent of that because if the line had been brighter, the drunk driver might not have crossed it.

In March in Milford, Connecticut, Deven Kuchta, 17, filed a lawsuit against truck driver David Kovac over a 1997 accident in which Kuchta’s passenger was killed when her car ran into Kovac’s truck. The truck was legally parked on the side of the road, but Kuchta said it was difficult to see in the “glaring sunlight.” Kuchta is still on probation stemming from a negligent-homicide charge related to the incident.

In May the parents of Warren A. Wise filed a $100 million lawsuit against the police in Long Branch, New Jersey, for the wrongful death of their son last November. According to police, Wise ran a red light, sped away from an officer, then drove into the 45-degree waters of the Atlantic, where he soon lapsed into a coma from which he never recovered. The family believes the police should have swum out to nab Wise, who, until he fell unconscious, was still trying to escape.

Least Competent Criminal

In a March story on internal theft in the local school system, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on Edwards Elementary School employee Ernestine Falls, who in 1994 stole a refrigerator from the school and then, when she realized it was broken, called a worker from the school system’s maintenance department to come fix it. The worker told Falls he knew the refrigerator was stolen, but she didn’t offer him hush money or even a tip for the repair job. Not surprisingly, he ratted her out.

Recurring Theme

In May wheelchair-confined Pasquale Cuntrera, 63, believed to be Italy’s most powerful drug kingpin, escaped from his seaside home near Rome while it was under police surveillance. Cuntrera had been temporarily released from prison on a technicality five days earlier, and authorities had planned to rearrest him as soon as the proper charges were filed. He was picked up four days later in Spain.

Bottom of the Gene Pool

The following people were hit by trains in May: Heath Hess, in Hornell, New York, who didn’t hear the whistle because he was talking on a cell phone and covering his other ear; Jesse Jones, in San Mateo, California, who drove around a flashing railroad-crossing gate; Brian McArdle, 27, of Burlingame, California, who sat on the edge of a station platform, thinking the passing train wouldn’t hit him; and David Flannery, 22, in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, who beat his friend at a game of chicken in front of an oncoming train.

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 by Shawn Belshwender.