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In April Cafe Ke'ilu ("Cafe Make Believe") opened in a trendy section of Tel Aviv with all the trappings of a restaurant except food and drink. Manager Nir Caspi calls the experience "conceptual dining" and says people come to be seen and to socialize. The menu, designed by chef and owner Phillipe Kaufman, lets diners order dishes like eel mousse and salad of pomegranates "served" on elegant--but empty--platters.

In May Walter Scott Knieriemen, who admitted breaking into a woman's home in Wheeling, West Virginia, was acquitted of burglary charges after a jury found that he had no illegal intent. A psychiatrist testified that Knieriemen suffered from a sexual dysfunction that caused his obsession with a pair of leather gloves he had seen the woman wear.

London's Guardian reported in May on the enormous popularity in Brazil of the trash TV talk show Ratinho livre (roughly, "The Mouse, Unleashed"), a forum for the downtrodden. Among recent guests were a woman who had been blinded and had her ears lopped off by her husband, who was still on the lam; patients with severe medical conditions begging for otherwise unaffordable treatment, including an eight-year-old boy with 21 tumors in his mouth; and a very unpopular husband and wife, whom the audience urged to assault one another.

News of the Weird was one of thousands suckered when the New Republic published an item claiming that Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was a figure of cult worship at two Wall Street bond-trading firms in its March 31 issue. Though the magazine confirmed the story's validity to News of the Weird prior to publication in this column May 1, the New Republic now believes the story was invented by editor Stephen Glass, who was recently fired for writing a story about a leading computer company that had hired a teenage computer hacker who had penetrated their security. Neither the company nor the hacker exists; the magazine has apologized for this and his other inventions.

When Sportscasters Do the News

In April Pittsburgh Pirates broadcaster Lanny Frattare interrupted his play-by-play to announce the death of actor James Earl Jones and rhapsodized briefly about his role in the baseball film Field of Dreams. The person who actually died was Martin Luther King Jr. assassin James Earl Ray, whose imminent demise from liver failure had been widely reported by the media over the previous several days.

Strafing the Customers

In November the Albuquerque health department noted two food-contamination dangers in its inspection report on the Ice House, a strip club. First, the club was serving pizza at less than the required 140 degrees Fahrenheit; second, a dancer named Stephanie Evans posed a health risk, in that her act involved expelling Ping-Pong balls from her vagina across the room. Inspectors were concerned that the balls could possibly land on food or in drinks.

Latest Political Correctness in Canada

Heritage Canada released its 1998 calendar in January, which marked such dates as "World Book and Copyright Day" but ignored Christmas and Easter. And an official Valentine's Day poster at Langara College in Vancouver, British Columbia, featuring the silhouette of a man and a woman about to kiss, drew fire from a gay and lesbian group on campus, which suggested an image of two hands clasping. The latter image was later derided by a student union representative as possibly offensive to a person with no hands.

George Steinbrenner Could Eat Well

In March the Romanian soccer team Jiul Petrosani sold midfielder Ion Radu to another team for about $2,500 worth of pork. Jiul Petrosani had earlier traded defenseman Liviu Baicea to the same team for ten soccer balls.

Symptoms: Headaches and a Ridiculous Belief That You're Not Stupid

Authorities in Texarkana, Arkansas, arrested Johnny Brown, 18, and Justin Calhoun, 17, and charged them with breaking into an abandoned neon sign plant in December and taking containers of mercury. Brown, Calhoun, and some friends played with the toxic substance all over town, even dipping their arms in it to watch it bead up and drip. The men's actions have caused the evacuation of ten homes, the boarding up of a Subway sandwich shop, and the temporary closing of Pleasant Grove High School, and 64 people have had to seek medical treatment.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

In an April story on pet-friendly hotels, the Boston Globe reported that the Four Seasons lets pets stay free and offers a special menu featuring "Rin Tin Tin Tartare" (tenderloin and egg yolk) and "Cat's Meow" (poached salmon with arborio rice), as well as special desserts and dishes for dieting pets.

In February Christian Poincheval, a radio station manager in Le Mans, France, introduced Petit Lutin toilet paper, on which are printed short articles in no-stain ink on French current affairs, geography, and culture, with new editions to be released monthly.

In January inventor Michael Samonek, inspired by dentists' use of molds for artificial teeth, created a Clone Your Own Genitals kit, which sells for $19.95. For realistic coloring he uses condensed milk and Jell-O--peach for light skin, black cherry for dark.

Recent restaurant openings: Tokyo's Alcatraz BC features a California prison theme: handcuffed diners eat in cells and must beg permission from the guards to be allowed to go to the rest room. London's pill-themed restaurant the Pharmacy, designed by artist Damien Hirst, offers prescription containers everywhere, bar stools resembling aspirins, and staff dressed as surgeons. "The challenge," said co-owner Jonathan Kennedy, "was how far you can go before it becomes too much." And Singapore saw the opening of the House of Mao, an upscale Chinese restaurant with staff in green uniforms and pictures galore of Mao Tse-tung.

In February two Russian cosmonauts aboard the Mir space station hawked NASA space pens ($32) and other paraphernalia on the QVC shopping channel in an effort to raise money for their country's space program. A total of 530 people bought something, including 11 who paid from $90 to $2,500 for tiny Mars rocks. Six others submitted to credit inquiries, hoping to buy $25,000 Sokol KV-2 space suits.

Recurring Themes

As previously reported here, former Stanford football player Eric Abrams pleaded guilty in 1996 to attempting to obtain nude photographs of high school boys by telling them he was recruiting athletes for college scholarships. According to police in New Orleans, in March Tommy McDowell, 44, was arrested for a scheme in which he called male high school athletes and encouraged them to apply for Grambling State University scholarships, which required them to be weighed and measured in person. Three "recruits" met McDowell at a gym, where he was dressed as a woman. McDowell said he was "Alicia," McDowell's assistant, and fondled the boys until they realized what was going on.

Thinning the Herd

In Columbus, Ohio, a suspected burglar in his mid-20s was found dead in May, his body hanging outside a second-floor apartment; he had apparently squeezed his head through the bars on the window when his ladder tipped over. And a 15-year-old boy in Odenton, Maryland, jokingly held a semiautomatic pistol to his head in front of his girlfriend and shot himself to death in February. Though he had removed the magazine, he had not realized that one round remained in the chamber.

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 by Shawn Belshwender.

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