News of the Weird

Lead Stories
*Singapore began a clean-lavatories campaign in August. Officials said the measure of a nation's social progress is the cleanliness of its public restrooms and its appreciation of music. And in April, the government of Shanghai, China, opened several "hotel-grade" public restrooms, charging about two cents per visit, that also serve as community centers. Said an attendant: "This place is kind of like a bar," pointing to an adjacent room with a video/karaoke player.

*Sterling Heights, Michigan, police said in August that a 24-year-old man needed sixteen stitches after accidentally shooting himself in the penis while in bed asleep. And in Cincinnati in August, Carolyn Hutchinson, age 35, was shot in the leg in a restroom when her gun fell out of her undies and discharged upon hitting the floor. She said she had forgotten that it was there.

*In 1987 in Newark, New Jersey, Eastern Air Lines baggage handler James Henry Lisk was accused of stealing $650,000 from an airliner, but drew sympathy by falsely claiming that an accident just before his arraignment left him mute and unable to care for himself. Local prosecutors compassionately offered to drop the case, but the FBI persisted. In April 1996, a jury pooh-poohed Lisk's bit of theater and convicted him, rendering superfluous the nine electroshock treatments he had voluntarily endured to increase his credibility.

*The Los Angeles Times reported in April on a pioneering class project at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, , in which students aimed to develop an alternative, waste-derived fuel supply for peasants in a Guatemalan village where firewood is scarce. In order to produce realistic solid waste that could be generated in the villages, one student ate only beans, rice, and tortillas for a week. The diet constipated him, though, and the project was scrapped because it couldn't be completed by the due date.

*In a federal court in Boston, Phillip W. Cappella, age 34, was sentenced in July to two years' probation for tax fraud. After winning the Massachusetts Megabucks lottery, Cappella attempted to offset much of the income and thereby evade income tax on the first of his $135,000 annual payments by falsely claiming gambling losses of $65,000. When faced with an IRS audit, Cappella paid a lottery-ticket collector $500 to rent him a truckload of 200,000 old losing tickets that he tried to pass off as his own.

Dangerous Workplaces
*A 32-year-old man was buried under several tons of sand after falling into a sand-washing machine in Volant, Pennsylvania, in June. And a 50-year-old construction worker died after being hit on the head by a three-ton jackhammer in the Bronx in July. And a recycling center worker was crushed to death in an aluminum can crushing machine in Sewanee, Tennessee, in August.

No Longer Weird
*Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (5) The bank robber who hails a passing car while making his getaway, only to discover to his dismay that the driver is a plainclothes police officer who collars him, as happened to a ne'er-do-well in Etobicoke, Ontario, in July; and (6) the political candidate who dies during the campaign but still wins, as did the late Don Gnirk, who bested challenger Bert Olson in a South Dakota State Senate primary in June.

-- By Chuck Shepherd

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Chuck Shepherd