Lead Stories

In an August issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, researchers from the United States and France announced that aspirin blocks “pain” receptors in plants in much the same way that it blocks them in animals. However, it also suppresses a distress signal that causes neighboring plants to produce a defensive, sour-tasting chemical that wards off insects.

Over the summer the city councils of Fostoria, Ohio, and Victoria, British Columbia, adopted codes of conduct for their citizens. Fostoria’s, which aims to provide a “moral compass” for youngsters, implores people to “in all cases, try to do what is right and try to help others” and also discourages being loud. Victoria’s seeks to restore “courteous behavior” and urges citizens not to get in other people’s way and not to drink or urinate in public places.

In August Deborah Gaines, 31, filed a lawsuit against the abortion clinic in Brookline, Massachusetts, where John Salvi went on a shooting rampage in 1994, asking it to pay the cost of raising her kid, now three years old. She was supposed to get an abortion on the day of the shootings but claims that when the clinic’s allegedly lax security failed to prevent Salvi’s attack, she was so traumatized she couldn’t bring herself to go to another clinic. Gaines said she loves her daughter, but that the child should never have been born.

British historian and conservative moralist Paul Johnson, whose essay on marriage in honor of his 40th wedding anniversary so annoyed his mistress of 11 years that she ratted him out to the press, admitted in a May interview in the London Observer, “I’ve been having an affair, but I still believe in family values.” And in August in Fort McMurray, Alberta, the attorney for Jonathan Tupper, who had started a Students Against Drunk Driving chapter but was subsequently jailed for DUI, told reporters, “When [Tupper’s] sober, he’s very much against drinking and driving.”

Idol Worship

The Los Angeles Daily News reported in August on the recent rash of little girls chopping off their hair to emulate Mulan, the Disney cartoon heroine who cuts off her hair with a sword to look like a man. And in Chicago in August Lauryn K. Valentine, 21, petitioned a court to change her name to “Carol Moseley-Braun,” who Valentine said inspired her to finish high school. The senator said she hoped Valentine would change her mind.

Worst Possible Ideas

In July a juror in Judge Esmond Faulks’s court in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, asked the judge for the defendant’s date of birth so he could draw up a star chart to help him decide the case. He was removed. Also in July a 31-year-old woman in Oakley, California, felt a mysterious bump as she was pulling out of her driveway. Trying to determine what it was, she drove over it two more times. It was her three-year-old son, who suffered a broken leg. And in August Wall Street Journal reporter James S. Hirsch, writing about the Boston Globe’s recent troubles with columnists making up things, said in his story that the New York Times (owner of the Globe) had no comment on the matter, a fact he later admitted he’d made up. He was fired.

It’s Still Vacant

In July, according to an employee of a bee-removal service in Tucson, a landlord was showing three prospective tenants a vacant rental house when a 175-pound honeycomb fell through the ceiling, sending 15,000 bees buzzing around the house.

Well Put

Former psychiatric patient Patricia Burgus of Glen Ellyn told the Chicago Tribune in August that for years she had accepted the multiple-personality diagnosis of her doctor, Bennett Braun, who told her that her personalities included a cannibal and a satanic cult member, until it dawned on her that she wasn’t crazy: “I began to add a few things up and realized there was no way I could come from a little town in Iowa, be eating 2,000 people a year, and nobody said anything about it.” Last year Braun settled a $10.6 million lawsuit brought by Burgus and is facing revocation of his medical license.

British army sergeant Joseph Rushton, who is preparing for a sex-change operation, told reporters in August: “I’m considered a first-class soldier. I can blow up bridges…and free-fall from the skies. But in my heart, I just want to be a woman.”

Mike Sheridan told the Kansas City Star in May that he doesn’t believe his “Fangs and Rattlers” exhibit at western county fairs, in which he lies perfectly still for about 15 minutes in a sleeping bag with a dozen live rattlesnakes, is all that dangerous: “I’d a lot rather be in that bag full of snakes than a clerk in some big-city convenience store after midnight.”

In June Bobbi Meyer told the Washington Post that her husband’s nasty comments about her habit of watching the Weather Channel for hours at a time contributed to her decision to divorce him. “To tell you the truth, I found it very hard to understand how he could sit there and watch old episodes of Ironside again and again,” she said. “The weather is always new.”

A 40-year-old man in Roanoke, Virginia, sentenced to eight life terms in prison for aggravated sexual battery, wrote a letter to the Roanoke Times in July offering to have his “entire reproductive organ surgically removed,” adding, “Souls are more important than writing my name in the snow or being able to relieve myself standing up.” However, the man continued to profess his innocence.

Thinning the Herd

Daniel Mark Henderson, 20, was run over and killed by a steamroller at a construction site near La Grange, Oregon, in August. Police said he had apparently hot-wired the five-ton vehicle to go joyriding but then fell off. And a 17-year-old boy in Jackson, Tennessee, was hospitalized in critical condition in July with burns over 90 percent of his body. Police believe he soaked himself with gasoline and then dared his best friend to set him on fire, which the friend did. Police confirmed that alcohol was involved in both incidents.

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.