News of the Weird

Lead Stories
*The Associated Press reported in January on the three-year-old anti-smoking policy of Kimball Physics in Wilton, New Hampshire, which not only forbids lighting up at work but subjects each employee and visitor to a sniff test of his breath and clothing by receptionist Jennifer Walsh. Those whose odor is so strong it suggests they smoked within the last two hours or so are not allowed in.

*In February patrolman Robert J. O'Neill of Schenectady, New York, reportedly retired. He had been on sick leave since 1982 at full salary (a figure that had reached $508,000) because of psychological problems related to his Vietnam Marine experience that allegedly made him a danger to the public.

Cultural Diversity
*The hottest-selling computer software in Japan in November was a "love simulation" game in which boys try to get a virtual seventeen-year-old girl, Shiori, to fall in love with them. There is even a magazine, Virtual Idol, devoted to supplying fictional biographical tales of Shiori and other virtual girls. Wrote one young man, Virtual Idol "is just the right kind of magazine for a person like me who's not interested in real girls."

*According to an October Associated Press story, young mothers in large Japanese cities have adopted city parks as forums in which to vie for status. Some young mothers interviewed claimed they were "scared" to take their toddlers to the parks (to make their "park debut") because of the established cliques of mothers who dominate the facilities. Guidebooks teach the proper "park behavior," department stores feature the proper "park clothing," and a recent satiric movie depicted a park ruled by 50 authoritarian mothers.

*In Singapore, which is so pristine that even public gum-chewing is illegal, police expressed concern in February about the recent crisis of high-rise apartment dwellers casually tossing their belongings out of their windows. Fifty-one people were arrested last year for throwing objects ranging from TV sets to tricycles to flower pots.

*The Times of London reported in December that Bombay (now called Mumbai) became the first city in India to ban public spitting, which the reporter described as "one of the most ubiquitous of male habits" in India (the other being public urination). According to the Times, "Boys barely old enough to walk can be heard practicing guttural sounds, which is regarded as macho."

*According to a June China Daily story, 40 million Chinese live in caves, but many are leaving for regular houses, putting a strain on the available arable land in some areas. Thus, architects working for the government are designing futuristic cave homes in the Gansu, Henan, and Shanxi provinces to encourage the cave dwellers to stay put.

*In October Annie Wald and a partner opened Total Dog, Los Angeles' first canine fitness center. For a fee of up to $800 a year from owners too busy to walk their dogs, the pooches work out on treadmills, in swimming pools, and on an obstacle course; massages are available.

Cries for Help
*In an eight-day period in January, in towns fewer than 100 miles apart (Bakersfield and Fresno, California), police found the corpses of elderly mothers who had continued to be treated as integral parts of the family by their adult sons. The Bakersfield woman, who died at age 77 around September, was thought by her son to be merely "demonically depressed" and therefore liable to wake up at any minute; thus she had been propped up on the sofa.

-- By Chuck Shepherd

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Chuck Shepherd