Lead Story

Recent passings of note: In Columbus, Ohio, M.S. Tooill; in Arlington, Virginia, W.M. Croker; in Oklahoma City, William Death. In February in Rhode Island a 44-year-old man was killed on the shoulder of I-95 after being hit by a truck while standing between two other trucks–one hauling granite slabs for tombstones and the other belonging to the Yates Casket Company. Three weeks earlier a 23-year-old man was killed in Fallston, Maryland, when his car smashed into a truck carrying burial vaults.

Weird Science

Two Danish scientists, writing in the journal Nature in December, reported finding a previously unknown, 0.01-inch-long organism that lives on the lips of Norwegian lobsters. The Symbion pandora can reproduce either sexually or asexually, and its brain completely disappears during adolescence but reappears at the onset of adulthood.

In December surgeon Isam Felahy removed an inch-long tree sprig from the right lung of 16-year-old Tracy McIntyre in Stockton, California. The sprig, thought to be from the family’s 1980 Christmas tree, was still green and apparently the source of McIntyre’s notoriously bad breath.

In December scientists at the Japan Atomic Power Company in Takasaki reported that cheap wine and whiskey actually tasted better after being exposed to a dose of gamma rays that would be deadly to humans. According to researcher Hiroshi Watanabe, irradiation stimulates a blending that poorly made wine and whiskey lack. He predicts that irradiation will be used by the year 2000 to improve the taste of many common foods. (Watanabe admits, however, that irradiating good wine and whiskey makes them taste worse.)

An October Houston Chronicle report on University of Texas biochemist Barrie Kitto revealed that the only way government inspectors can detect microscopic feces in cereal grain (to ascertain whether the limit of two rat pellets per kilogram of grain has been exceeded) is through visual inspection. Kitto has developed a substance that will turn a feces sample green to make inspection easier.

A New York City physician writing in the August issue of the journal Consultant described a case of “megacolon,” a condition in which feces are retained in the colon for an abnormally long time. In the case reported a 27-year-old man had 12 pounds of feces surgically removed.

Cultural Diversity

The municipal council of Kota Bharu, a city in northeastern Malaysia that’s controlled by an Islamic party, announced in January that it would require citizens dealing with the government to be segregated by gender–when, for example, they line up to make license and utility payments–to prohibit excessive mingling.

The city of Bacolod in the Philippines endured a rash of cemetery thefts during the summer. A gang of thieves dug up graves to steal corpses’ kneecaps, which are thought by some Filipinos to have magical properties. The kneecaps were ground into powder and burned outside homes in an attempt to put residents to sleep so they would be easy targets for the gang’s burglaries.

A court in Grena, Denmark, announced it would soon impose a higher fine on a woman who refuses to change the spelling of her son’s name, Christophpher, which is unapproved by the ministry that regulates names. She has paid about $18 a week since 1989, and the fine will go up to about $91 in March. Chris is now eight years old, and so far the name has cost his mother over $5,000 in fines, but she insists the uniqueness is worth it.

According to a September report from Madagascar in Financial Times, the Randrianaivo family’s famadihana celebration was a success. In this ritual, every five years or so a respected family member is disinterred; bones are wrapped in white shrounds, caressed, danced with, and then reburied–supposedly to help the soul’s transition into being a spirit for the living family members.

In November Knight-Ridder news service reported that the government in Nanning, China, levies fines of about $1.50 on anyone who orders more food in restaurants than he can eat.

People With Too Much Time on Their Hands

A study of 12,000 people by University of North Carolina researchers, released in December, revealed that people who drink lots of beer have large bellies but most people who drink lots of wine don’t.

In December the Arizona Republic profiled animal psychologist Krista Cantrell, who says she can communicate telepathically with animals and therefore get to the bottom of most master-pet relationship problems. Several satisfied clients praised Cantrell’s work, including the owner of a horse that was on the verge of being put to sleep but supposedly told Cantrell that he was simply overmedicated. (Five weeks later the horse won a race.)

A mental health facility in Kansas City, Missouri, set up a “Chiefs Grief Hotline” for distraught fans trying to deal with the football team’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts in January, which ended its Super Bowl hopes.

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/Chuch Belschwender.