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In January the Wall Street Journal reported on the growing smoking fetish, citing as examples: (1) an erotic video from an Oklahoma City firm showing a young blond dressed in a strapless gown and a veiled black hat lighting her cigarette from a nearby candle and taking "numerous long drags"; (2) a smokers' newsletter with reviews of the above video (the blond woman "is a fabulous smoker") and of the film Mad Love, whose star, Drew Barrymore, smokes throughout ("there are many deep inhales, although the exhales aren't great"); and (3) the magazine Leg Show, which has begun to include pictorials of women smoking.

The Litigious Society

Lawsuits were filed in December and January in New Mexico after lawyers realized that a 140-year-old state law allowed unlucky gamblers to sue to recover their losses. Plaintiffs' lawyers are seeking class-action status for bettors against the banks, credit-card companies, and ATM networks that facilitate gambling at the state's legal, Indian-owned casinos.

In October Jesse A. Williams, a veteran of alcohol-treatment programs, filed a lawsuit against his former employer, Anheuser-Busch, in Tampa. The company says it fired Williams in 1994 for disparaging company products in public, but Williams claims the company supplied him with four free cases of beer a month as a fringe benefit and then fired him for his drinking.

In November Christopher Conley of Nashua, New Hampshire, received a $50,000 settlement from Lifetime Products, the manufacturer of a basketball net. The 14-year-old Conley sued the company because his teeth had gotten caught in the net as he went up for a dunk shot, resulting in the need for massive dental work.

In January a judge in Durham, North Carolina, dismissed a complaint filed by Sheila Bush against her husband, Hobert. The Bushes live together in a $200,000 house on Hobert's $70,000-a-year salary, but Sheila claimed Hobert failed to give her sufficient support, complaining that he insists on making all purchases himself. For example, she said, he buys only cold cereal, and she wants more waffles and bacon.

The Supreme Court of Israel rejected an appeal in January by inmate Amir Hazan, 35, who'd asked for permission to keep an inflatable doll in his cell. Prison officials had turned him down, claiming the doll might be used to aid an escape or to conceal drugs--and that inmates might fight over it.

Rosaline A. Kelly lost her lawsuit against the former Spring Street Tavern in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, in December. She had consensual sex with two men in the bar three years ago and then sued because the bartender and manager failed to prevent her from acting irresponsibly.

In November a jury in Roanoke, Virginia, ruled for Ruby Campagna in her lawsuit against her apartment house manager, Judy Woody. Campagna had grown fond of wrens that had built a nest on her patio, but Woody destroyed the nest per apartment house policy, stomping the birds while having "a malevolent scowl on her face," according to Campagna. The jury awarded $135,000 to Campagna, who suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder.

Heidi Beltzman, 29, filed a lawsuit in October against Davis Supermarket in a Pittsburgh suburb for injuries she suffered while shopping. Beltzman was in a checkout line when a clerk in an adjacent lane attempted to put a four-pound frozen chicken into a bag, but the fryer rolled off the counter and hit Beltzman on the foot, which was bandaged from surgery she'd had three months before.

In December George Thomas Diesel and his wife filed a lawsuit in Albuquerque against Foley's department store and the Levi Strauss Company over a defective pair of 501 jeans. According to Diesel, a rivet in one of the fly buttons was not completely fused, causing a piece of metal to protrude, which severely lacerated his penis the first time he put the jeans on. Diesel's wife wants money for the loss of her husband's services.

A court in Ontario ruled in favor of Carleton University punt returner Rob Dunn in September in his lawsuit against University of Ottawa linebacker Mike Lussler for a tackle in a 1992 game that resulted in Dunn's broken jaw and concussion. The judge found that Lussler intended to tackle Dunn with a "complete disregard" for Dunn's safety.

Well-put

Bill Becker, 62, whose criminal career spans 30 years (and counting, since a federal judge in Baltimore decided in August not to overturn a conviction for theft): "I robbed from the rich, kind of like Robin Hood, except I kept it."

Morristown, New Jersey, town council candidate Donald Cresitello, lamenting in October about his tight race with George E. Burke, despite the fact that Burke had just died: "Now he's liable to get the sympathy vote."

An October decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals found that the lower court was right to dismiss a slander lawsuit against Terry Casey, chairman of the Franklin County (Ohio) Board of Elections. Casey had called Federal Elections Commission official Gary Greenhalgh a "lying asshole," but the court said that phrase is merely rhetorical hyperbole. The court concluded that Casey could not have meant that someone's "anus was making an untruthful statement."

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/Shawn Belschwender.

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