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Isn't it "Kill the referee"? In February, after a youth basketball game in Fayetteville, Georgia, that featured much bickering over referee Oliver Lewis Wood's "bad calls," Wood pulled out a knife and stabbed the coach. The referee, who by day is a Baptist minister, was arrested; the coach, who by day is a county marshal, needed 17 stitches.

According to a February dispatch in the Orlando Sentinel, 16 people attempting to flee the Dominican Republic for Puerto Rico in a homemade boat without food or water survived for 12 days because one of them, a lactating woman, furnished each of her fellow passengers with several drops of milk per day (and received some drops herself, from her sister's lips). The boat was eventually blown back to the Dominican Republic.

People Different From Us

Time Out New York reported in December on a meeting of "gainers" and "encouragers," a gay subculture made up of men who overeat as a turn-on and other men who get a sexual thrill out of enabling them. The meeting was organized by 42-year-old filmmaker John Outcalt, who calls being gay and fat "the final taboo" and admits he's a "chub chaser" who likes watching bodies "going from point A to point B...whether it's gaining hair, getting larger, or getting fat, I find it sexy and exciting."

It's Not Over Till It's Over

In December a parishioner in Dallas recognized Reverend James Simmons as his former minister, Reverend Barre Cox, who had been declared dead 15 years ago after being reported missing, and who now says he started a new life after suffering severe amnesia. Two men who were arrested after bragging in bars that they had killed Paul Higgs were released from jail in Doniphan, Missouri, in December after Higgs was found in Arkansas, unscathed. Neal Beaton Jr. was reported dead in Anchorage, Alaska, in January, but turned up alive after his sister started making funeral arrangements; apparently the corpse identified as Beaton had been carrying his wallet. And in January an Ashland, Massachusetts, woman attempting suicide in a bathtub was declared dead and spent three hours in a body bag before her slight movements were detected by a funeral home worker.

Cultural Diversity

In January and February 70 million people journeyed to the province of Uttar Pradesh, India, to celebrate the 43-day Hindu festival Kumbh Mela, highlighted by bathing in the relatively sewage-free confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers. Detracting from the spiritual purity of the event were a controversy over commercialization (Coca-Cola was sold in 115 kiosks); attendance by Madonna, Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, and Richard Gere; and the presence of cars in the rivers as drivers attempted to bless their vehicles.

Floggings in the news: A court in Zamfara, Nigeria, dismissed a pregnant 17-year-old's charge of rape in January, but did reduce her sentence for having premarital sex from 180 lashes to 100. (After the alleged rapist proposed marriage, the court restored her honor.) Education officials in Penang, Malaysia, established a new student code in January: one lash for every 10 demerits, which are issued for gambling, swearing, smoking, etc; hitting a teacher is 30 demerits. In November a man in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, was sentenced to 20 lashes for using a cell phone on an airplane. And a morgue attendant in Yemen was sentenced to death in November for the crimes of murder and rape, but first given 80 lashes for drinking alcohol.

The Apology and Gift Center, which opened in September in the port city of Tianjin, China, and whose motto is "We say sorry for you," will deliver a surrogate in-person apology for about $2.50. Misbehavers can also call in their mea culpas on the popular Beijing People's Radio program "Apologize in Public Tonight."

Eight people were arrested in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, during the January 9 lunar eclipse for carrying out what they claimed was the ancient tradition of firing gunshots at the moon. On the same date, Muslims in the Nigerian cities of Maiduguri and Barma burned down at least 40 hotels and bars because they blamed the eclipse on the immorality occurring inside.

A drop in the vulture population around Bombay, India, has forced the 50,000-strong Parsi community to abandon its preferred method of corpse disposal--leaving the bodies on high platforms to be devoured by the birds ("sky burials")--in favor of solar panels, which cause them to decompose within five or six days. Disease and pesticides have reduced the number of vultures by 90 percent, according to a December South China Morning Post dispatch.

Least Competent People

On January 28, reported police in Danville, Kentucky, a Dairy Queen customer successfully passed a make-believe $200 bill featuring a picture of George W. Bush, using it to pay a charge of $2.12 and getting back $197.88 in change. The Secret Service said it would not file counterfeiting charges because the bill was so crude it would be difficult to prove to a jury that it could be confused with real currency.

Least Justifiable Homicides

Latest reasons given: Killed parents because they wouldn't let her go to a dance (Tyler, Texas, sentenced in September). Did not want to leave a witness to the theft of $5 (Hillsboro, Illinois, December). Insisted he was a better professional floor tiler than the victim (Gaithersburg, Maryland, January). Victim ate his last piece of toast (Evansville, Indiana, January).

In the Last Month

San Francisco mayor Willie Brown was awarded a restraining order against an Elvis impersonator who had been pestering him for a meeting to discuss how to rid the city of "panhandlers and progressive leftists." A London constable provoked controversy by urging police forces to stop using German shepherds because they're too soft for modern law enforcement. When six escaped inmates from a maximum-security prison in Alabama were recaptured, one said the highlight of his short-lived freedom was the outstanding convenience-store bologna sandwich he ate in Bucksnort, Tennessee.

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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