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In July wealthy retired Italian law professor Giacinto Auriti began to circulate a private currency, the "simec," among citizens in the town of Guardiagrele (about 125 miles from Rome), to prove his long-standing theory that any currency yields more purchasing power if put in the hands of consumers instead of banks. Auriti prints the simecs, sells them at a rate equal to the lira, and then guarantees merchants that he will redeem them at double their value, thereby encouraging them to boost sales by lowering their prices. The simec has caused an explosion of consumer sales, but the government believes the operation will collapse as soon as Auriti stops guaranteeing the simec's value.

The World Wrestling Federation filed a lawsuit against the William Morris Agency in October, asking a judge to rescue it from a 1997 contract in which it agreed to sign over to the agency a piece of every future dollar it earns. The WWF argues that it was bullied by the WMA into signing an exploitative contract.

Cavalcade of Hypocrisy

In October, Matthew J. Glavin, president of the conservative legal foundation leading the fight to disbar President Clinton for lying about his sexual affairs, was charged with public indecency after he was caught allegedly trolling for male sex partners in a suburban Atlanta park. Also in October, John Paulk, whose claim that religion "cured" his homosexuality landed him on the cover of Newsweek in 1998, was demoted from his executive position with the Christian group Focus on the Family after he was caught reveling in a gay bar in Washington, D.C. And Mike Trout, another Focus on the Family official, resigned in October after confessing to an extramarital affair.

Police Blotter

Two officers in the Altamonte Springs, Florida, police department were suspended in August after a photograph turned up of one officer exposing his genitals during a music festival. The two officers had been stationed near the stage for security, and fans had been handing them cameras to take close-up shots of the performers. One fan discovered the photo when she got her prints back. Initially the officer who aimed the camera defended himself by claiming that he and the other officer were just fooling around and that he did not believe there was film in the camera.

In Maryland, Jeffrey Bruette and his former roommate filed an $8 million lawsuit against the Montgomery County police in July, alleging that they were humiliated by charges filed against them because of a videotape they had handed over to police. In early 1999 the two men, concerned that a teenage neighbor was stealing from them, had set up a surveillance camera, which caught the boy indulging in sex acts with the men's dogs. The men gave the tape to police so the boy could get counseling, but officers arrested them for child pornography.

Gross!

For a while now residents of Wertz Avenue in Charleston, West Virginia, have had to deal with chronic blocked-sewer problems, which send raw sewage into the street. In July sewer line backups spilled waste from Gunnoe's Whole Hog Sausage slaughtering and processing plant, sending waves of blood and meat chunks oozing down the street.

In Wisconsin, Chippewa Falls High School senior John E. Smith Jr. was suspended in September for a prank in which he brought a cake to school to share with administrators. As the six staff members who accepted his generosity quickly found out, the secret ingredient in the cake was clumps of hair from all over Smith's body.

Latest Religious Messages

Darryl Bruce McDowell, 34, was arrested near Cranbrook, British Columbia, in July and charged with assault and seven other counts related to roughing up his common-law wife, who he allegedly punished for having tried to leave him. According to his own testimony, McDowell uses a wooden rod to discipline the wife and her children as the Book of Proverbs "command[s]" him to do: "There is no enjoyment about rodding. It's a biblical imperative."

Among the issues facing the Roman Catholic Italian Bishops Conference in Turin in September: the pending recommendation that all exorcisms be conducted in Latin rather than in local languages. A related issue, according to a report from London's Independent, was how Satan ought to be addressed: by the formal Latin "you" or the familiar version.

Those Sensitive Fetuses

Sylvia Louise Gillard O'Brien filed a lawsuit in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in August asking about $7 million from Coca-Cola. O'Brien claims that while she was pregnant in 1997, a Fruitopia bottle broke as she was drinking from it, cutting her lip; she alleges that her resulting fear of miscarriage caused the fetus, now a child of three, to fail to trust her sufficiently. And Jeffrey and Julie Marie Leinweber filed a lawsuit in Medina, Ohio, in July for $50,000, claiming that Mrs. Leinweber's fetus was so traumatized by a car accident during its third trimester (even though the child, now three, shows no apparent effects) that the "special bond between mother and child" was "taken away" by the collision.

Recurring Themes

In 1999 News of the Weird reported on two South Koreans who ran insurance scams by chopping off their own feet and finger for payoffs of $40,000 and $7,500 respectively. During a two-week period in August, three more scams were reported: In Taichung, Taiwan, Huang Chun-ming, 35, hacked off his hand at the forearm after purchasing additional insurance; in Chiching, Taiwan, Chen Shih-hung, 37, chopped off his finger to make a claim; and a 28-year-old man in Dusseldorf, Germany, was charged with collecting $15,000 in an insurance payout after he castrated himself and blamed it on a gang attack.

Undignified Deaths

A 16-year-old boy riding in a car near Gaston, Oregon, in August was killed by an airborne 1,500-pound elk that had just been hit by a truck. In April in Canton, Georgia, another 16-year-old boy, riding a bicycle, was killed by an airborne deer that had just been hit by a car. And in August, Hida Yochikata, 37, survived with major back injuries after being hit by a dog that had fallen from a ninth-floor window in a Paris suburb.

In the Last Month

In Alexandria, Virginia, murder defendant Gregory D. Murphy, strolling out of his uneventful pretrial hearing, suddenly turned and coldcocked his lawyer with a left to the face. A woman in Hammond, Indiana, filed a lawsuit against the American Red Cross, claiming that she contracted oral herpes from her CPR class's unsanitized dummy. In a settlement of fraud charges with the Florida attorney general, a psychic hot line agreed to hire only people who swear in writing that they have psychic powers. In Kailua, Hawaii, an off-duty police officer, out on bond after his arrest on suspicion of DUI in the deaths of two motorists, was himself hit by a drunk driver while bicycling.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611 or to weird@compuserve.com.

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

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