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In November thousands of monks of the Chogye Buddhist order in Seoul began weeks of fighting each other with rocks, clubs, and firebombs over who will lead the group. In late December police finally stormed one of their temples, but the monks had welded the doors shut and pelted the cops with firebombs and bottles. Eventually about 100 monks were arrested, but sporadic fighting continues over the top position, which includes overseeing the order's $9 million budget and the authority to appoint 1,700 monks to various jobs.

In December a deer hunter on Nantucket Island stumbled across a hatch that led to the eight-by-eight-by-seven-foot-deep underground apartment of Thomas Johnson, 38, which he said he built ten years ago when he was on the lam from drug charges in Italy. The apartment has cedar paneling, a stone floor, walls lined with books and tapes, a makeshift shower and toilet, a queen-size bed, a stove, a refrigerator, and, according to local authorities, several building-code violations. Johnson, a painter-carpenter by trade, said he has similar residences in four other states.

Researchers at a Russian biological and medical center told New Scientist magazine in December that they had begun work on breeding a species of bacteria for use on the space shuttle that will not only decompose human waste but will break down cotton underwear and produce enough methane in the process to help power the spacecraft. One of the calamities aboard the Mir space station in 1997 was caused by the weight of the capsule carrying dirty laundry.

Leading Economic Indicators

Police in Manila were called to a hospital in October over a shoot-out between employees from rival funeral homes, who were fighting over custody of a corpse. And urologist Roberto Trullii told reporters in Rio de Janeiro in October that the average Brazilian penis shrank by two centimeters in the past year, which he blames on fears about unemployment.

Least Competent People

Quadriplegic Louis Berrios, 32, filed a lawsuit in December in New York City against Our Lady of Mercy Hospital for a June incident in which doctors turned him over to police because they thought his X-ray revealed bags of heroin in his stomach. They were bladder stones. And Vermont social activist George Singleton, a 49-year-old African-American with hip-length dreadlocks, was acquitted in October of a DUI charge in Vinita, Oklahoma, where he had been arrested after officers found a bag of suspicious herbs in his car. Police kept him in jail for 15 days, continuing to hold him even after the herb was identified as rosemary.

Weirdo-American Community

Stanley Elton Fulcher, 46, was arrested in Hemet, California, in October after allegedly attempting to molest a neighborhood boy. In a search of his house, police found walls papered with photos of Shirley Temple. Said the prosecutor, "[Fulcher] gets very upset if anyone tries to explain that she's [now] a grown-up."

Compelling Explanations

Graham W. Davis, 34, was indicted in Soldotna, Alaska, in September for murdering his cousin, Gregory M. Wilkison. Davis claimed that he had awoken to find Wilkison on the floor, twitching from a self-inflicted gunshot, and decided that the humane thing to do was finish him off.

A man whose name was not published was denied a gun permit by the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections, according to an October report in the Philadelphia Inquirer. He told a department panel that he needed the gun to protect himself from "dwarf drug dealers" who are "beaming radio waves" at him by satellite to read his mind. The man had an earlier permit revoked when he showed up at a hospital covered in aluminum foil and complaining about pain from the radio waves. The man's lawyer, George E. Walker, argued: "There's been no evidence adduced before this panel that [my client] in any way is not of sound mind."

Greg Kelly, 31, was found guilty of DUI in Ontario in October based on a Breathalyzer test administered at 2:32 AM on April 6, 1997. He had argued that since daylight savings time started that day, 2:32 AM never occurred because at 2 AM clocks skipped ahead to 3. The judge said Kelly was correct but still guilty.

Clemson University animal researchers announced in October that they have improved the odor at some large poultry farms in South Carolina by adding garlic to the chickens' diet. Said Professor Glenn Birrenkott, "It makes the poultry house smell like a pizzeria instead of manure."

Timothy Dale Crockett, 34, was arrested in Spartanburg, South Carolina, in September and charged with holding up the Palmetto Bank. Crockett said in court that he did it because he had been charged $600 in overdraft fees due to a mix-up with his student loans. However, Crockett banks at First Federal; he said Palmetto was the only bank open when he decided to retaliate.

In November a federal judge tossed out a Georgia law prohibiting casket sales by anyone other than a funeral home, calling the law a blatant restraint of trade. The state had argued to retain the law, saying that having independent casket dealers in a price war would "promote the criminal element" because the easy availability of caskets would encourage murder.

Wrong Number

In December someone impersonating a police officer called a Milwaukee McDonald's and convinced the female manager to strip-search a male employee to look for stolen money while holding the telephone to the man's genitals so the caller could "hear" the search.

The Thrill of Victory, the Agony of Defeat

An unidentified man jumped into a river in Yokohama, Japan, in October, celebrating the home team's win over Osaka for its first baseball pennant in 38 years. He didn't surface, thus missing Yokohama's victory in the Japanese World Series two weeks later. And in November Katsutoshi Miwata, 53, the chief scout for the Orix Blue Wave baseball team, leaped to his death from the 11th floor of an apartment building in Naha, Japan, after learning that his star recruit would probably sign with another team.

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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