Lead Story

Latest nicotine urges: Connecticut inmate Frank W. Banks, assigned to a no-smoking prison, was convicted in December of mailing harassing letters to a judge. Banks said he thought threats via the U.S. mail would cause him to be sent to a federal prison where he could smoke. And in November three stranded Alaska hunters radioing for help claimed they’d been without food for three days so the rescue would be treated as an emergency. They actually had a week’s worth of food with them but panicked because they’d run out of cigarettes.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

The New York Times reported in December that a patent had recently been granted to Jeffrey Holden of Humble, Texas, for a decoy to ward off burglars. The device is simply a face mask that peers out from a shutter or blind. (The face appears to have limited utility, though; unlike time-controlled house lights, the face doesn’t move until the owner takes it down.)

In December magazine salesman Samuel A. Erby, 20, was charged in Euless, Texas, with assault after he attacked an 88-year-old woman, reportedly because she declined to buy a subscription from him. And in June in Fort Collins, Colorado, a 22-year-old man working in his yard suffered a fate similar to that of the woman when he declined to buy a subscription from a Denver salesman.

In October the Daily Town Talk in Alexandria, Louisiana, reported that Sheriff Bill Belt and Judge Michael Johnson own telephone businesses that give them a cut every time prisoners in local jails make calls from pay phones. According to the newspaper, the judge made $85,000 from jail calls last year.

New products: sandals, handbags, and accessories under the A Bomb label, from a Tokyo company whose public relations director said she thought “A Bomb,” in English, signified “cute”; the Peace Missile golf club and companion putter, made in San Rafael, California, from melted-down nuclear missiles from the Soviet Union; China’s Soft soap (and its competitor, Seaweed Defat soap), which, according to the Preventive Medicine Society, removes body fat in 76 percent of cases; and provocatively shaped noodles called Pasta Boobs and Penis Pasta from Spencer and Fleetwood in Great Britain.

Among theme parks recently proposed: one modeled after the Berlin Wall (armed guards, reenacted escape attempts) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; an amusement park at the $5 billion, never-used nuclear power plant in Kalkar, Germany, (the cooling towers would hold up the roller coaster); the Navy Glory Center tribute to the cold war in Vladivostok, Russia (which would charge visitors $700 to fire a Soviet missile); and the Billie Sol Estes Museum in Granbury, Texas, which would feature papers and artifacts of the notorious fertilizer-tank swindler of the 1960s.

In October a judge in Belfast, Northern Ireland, rejected plans for a proposed restaurant called School Dinners, which would feature meals served by young women in short skirts wielding whips against patrons who didn’t clean their plates. Though opponents called the restaurant immoral, the judge said merely that the mock spankings would constitute “entertainment,” which is forbidden by the lease. Said one disappointed supporter, “We have had 25 years [of oppression]. Now is the time for the fun to come flooding back.”

Fortune reported in October on Procter and Gamble’s foresight in registering names for potential exclusive Internet addresses. It won the right to use, among other names: toiletpaper. com, pimples.com, germs.com, bacteria.com, dandruff.com, underarm.com, badbreath.com, and diarrhea.com.

Elle reported recently on Eleni Santoro, a “psychic house cleaner” in New York City who rehabilitates hard-to-unload real estate by neutralizing the evil auras and “balancing the energy” in the house–at $300 to $2,500 a job. She specializes in homes in which there had been a death or the inhabitants fought a lot.

Our Animal Friends

A full page of letters from readers in a September issue of New Scientist reported on subway riders in London who say they’ve seen pigeons board and disembark from subway cars in “purposeful” ways that suggest the birds have figured out where they’re going.

In September, Terri Hudson, 39, was jailed in Naperville for failing to hand over the family cat, Seymour, to her ex-husband Jeff Sucec, who won custody of it, along with the couple’s 3-year-old son.

A July article in the Wall Street Journal reported on the latest monthly show of the National Fancy Rat Society in Surbiton, England, featuring white rats with talcum-powdered coats, shampooed tails, and clipped paw nails. Among the 13 awards given was one for “best stud buck,” with criteria of “a nice shape, an arch to the back, not too pointed a face,” according to a judge.

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.