News of the Weird 

Lead Stories

A September article in the New York Post highlighted a popular feature of Mattel's Nimbus 2000, a toy version of Harry Potter's flying broomstick: its handle vibrates. (Sex shops are reportedly selling it for twice the $20 retail price.) Reviewing the toy on-line, a Texas mother wrote: "I was surprised at how long [my 12-year-old daughter and her friends] can just sit in her room and play with this magic broomstick." Another parent added that her daughter not only fights her son for the Nimbus 2000 but complains that "the batteries drain too fast." ("What were the creators of this toy thinking?" wondered a New Jersey mother. "[My daughter can] keep playing with [it], but with the batteries removed.")

In September in Perth, Scotland, Edwin Young was ordered to pay Yvonne Rennie over $9,000 in damages for a 1998 traffic accident in which he crashed his car into hers while suffering an epileptic seizure. Part of the compensation was for Rennie's minor injuries and subsequent "fear of driving," but over $5,000 was awarded because of her mild post-traumatic stress--brought on, she claims, because Young's seizure continued after he was removed from his car, and his contorted face made her fear he was dying of a heart attack.

The F State (Florida)

In August in Inverness, Florida, 55-year-old school-board candidate Don Bates, one of the self-proclaimed "God guys" opposing the diversification of the board's opening prayer, withdrew from the race after a local paper reported his 1994 arrest for indecent exposure in a mall parking lot: a young man he'd called over to his car found him naked from the waist down and masturbating. The day before the scandal broke, a letter Bates had written his supporters had also been made public--quoting scripture, he'd asked them to raise $5,000 for him ("Ye have not because ye ask not").

In August in Gainesville, Florida, accused drug dealer Marcus Isom, 26, was convicted of ordering the murder of Lemuel Larkin, whom Isom believed had stolen $15,000 from his girlfriend's apartment. Isom had consulted both Miss Cleo's psychic hot line and a Georgia spiritual adviser known as "the Root Man" to find out who'd taken his money, and both gave descriptions that led him to finger Larkin. (Trial testimony showed that the thief was actually Isom's partner, Victor Smith.)

In April in northwest Florida's Escambia County, four of the five county commissioners were indicted for land-sale corruption; by September three had agreed to plea bargain--and to testify against the fourth, a former "dean" of the state senate, W.D. Childers. One commissioner owns a funeral home with a drive-through window for viewing the deceased; offered a bribe by a cigar-chomping car salesman who routinely carries thousands of dollars in cash, he asked for bedroom furniture for his mistress--who rejected it as too cheap. Another couple claimed they needed bribe money to buy their son's wife breast implants (in court she said she was "tired of wearing a training bra"). And two commissioners protested their convictions for violating the state's open-meetings law, claiming that their private head-to-heads weren't actually meetings since one of them was always careful to remain silent.

Megalomaniacs on Parade

In August the president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, proposed renaming the days of the week and the months of the year--April would become "Mother," for example, and Tuesday "Young Day." In a second announcement a few days later, he divided life into 12-year stages: "adolescence" now lasts until age 25, followed by a "youthful" phase from 25 to 37; one is "mature" until 49, then "prophetic," "inspirational," and "wise." Though life expectancy in Turkmenistan is in the low 60s, no one is considered "old" until age 85.

Least Competent Criminals

In May in Leeds, England, hit man Paul Bryan, 41, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for three shootings, in part because he'd cut the eyeholes in his mask so large that witnesses to the crimes were able to identify him. And in September in Augusta, Georgia, Michael Steven Pavlich, 48, tried to rob a Circle K convenience store wearing a plastic foam cooler on his head. The clerk couldn't understand Pavlich's demands through the small window he'd cut in the cooler, and Pavlich could barely see; he was knocked down from behind and disarmed by a customer.

In the Last Month

Australia's National Roads and Motorists Association reported that, following a morning headlight parade in Sydney to honor the victims of September 11, over 400 forgetful motorists called for assistance with dead batteries. . . . In Cedar City, Utah, a 24-year-old man who'd allegedly shaved his head and tossed the clippings into a neighbor's yard was cited for littering. . . . And an official of Sweden's conservative Christian Democratic women's federation broke from her party's platform and spoke out in favor of pornography on television; she explained that it might improve the birth rate and thus boost the country's economy.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belshwender.

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