News of the Weird

Lead Stories
*The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported in May that only 946 of more than 10,000 households in Grand Forks, North Dakota, were covered by flood insurance when the recent floods hit. Four months earlier FEMA had begun issuing numerous advisories about imminent flood danger and spent $300,000 on a media campaign about ominous snow-melting prospects. The FEMA campaign convinced only 73 Grand Forks homeowners to buy policies.

*The first copies of the European Union's 24-page user's manual for boots recently hit the market in England, reported the Daily Telegraph in May. The booklet comes with the boots and advises the consumer how to choose footwear, how to use and care for the boots, and how to wear them safely. It explains how to read the E.U.-mandated boot comfort ratings, though it also advises, "Each boot should be tried for fitting before use."

Compelling Explanations
*John H. Bergantini, a candidate for tax assessor in Exeter, Rhode Island, commenting in March on his being sued by the town for $2678 in back property taxes: "My ability to write a check for a certain amount of money has nothing to do with [my ability to judge] how much a piece of property is worth."

*Rochester, New York, Assemblywoman Susan John, who is the chair of the General Assembly's alcohol and drug abuse committee, upon her guilty plea in March to driving while impaired: "This will give me additional insights into the problem of drinking and driving and, I believe, will allow me to do my job even more effectively."

*Public television's Frugal Gourmet, Jeff Smith, has denied that he sexually molested any of the five men who since January have filed complaints against him for fondling them as boys. One of the men, Keith Thomas, who worked for Smith in the Seventies as part of a high school work-study program, said that at the time he shrugged off Smith's hugs and kisses as "weird, but [I thought] maybe that's the way it is with people in the food business."

Least Competent People
*According to the Berlingske Tidende newspaper of Copenhagen, Denmark, in January, an unidentified man drove his car onto the ice at the Augustenborg Fjord, but the car broke through. The man managed to escape in the shallow water, but minutes later he attempted the crossing in a four-wheel drive vehicle, with the same result. He next tried it with a tractor (same result), then with another tractor (same). It took rescuers seven hours to pull the four vehicles out.

*In Bozeman, Montana, in March, according to Gary Gerhardt, the owner of the County Lanes bowling alley, a man walked in, told the cashier he had just gotten out of prison for having robbed County Lanes several years before, and said he would like to look around on top of the drop ceiling to see if he could find the wallet he had lost during that crime. When Gerhardt ordered him to leave, the man just shrugged and walked away.

Capital of Bad Relationships
*Carrollton, Georgia: In March a sheriff's investigator learned that Jodi Denman Cecconi had elaborately faked the death of her two-year-old daughter (hospital vigils, funeral arrangements, grave-site selection, obituary in the newspaper) to win back her estranged boyfriend; he believed the story at first, then learned that the child was alive and well.

-- By Chuck Shepherd

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Chuck Shepherd