News of the Weird | News of the Weird | Chicago Reader

News of the Weird 

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In May the San Diego Union Tribune profiled Dennis Avner, a 46-year-old freelance computer technician in Guatay, California, who over the past 25 years has had his body extensively modified to resemble that of a tiger. He's covered with tattooed stripes, his ears have been sharpened to points, and his teeth have been replaced with fangs; he's had implants inserted in his forehead and cheeks to give his face a more feline shape, and his upper lip has been split and pierced with metal sockets that allow him to attach plastic whiskers. He said that though people in Guatay were mostly tolerant of him, business (including personal-appearance bookings, for which he charges $1,000 a day, as well as electronics repair jobs) had been slow and he'd decided to relocate to Washington State.

Government in Action

The Houston Chronicle reported in May that while school districts around Texas are hard-pressed to find money to pay teachers and buy books, they're having little trouble raising bond money for lavish high school football stadiums: communities surrounding the state's major cities have recently built or are now planning 23 new stadiums at a total cost of $305.4 million. The new facility in Denton, north of Dallas, cost $20.5 million and includes a $900,000, three-story scoreboard with instant replay, separate locker rooms for each team's offensive and defensive units, a VIP room, and a two-level press box. In response to charges of misplaced priorities, defenders of the high-end stadiums pointed out that since bond money is earmarked for construction and repairs, the millions couldn't have gone toward teacher salaries anyway.

The Litigious Society

In May a Moscow court ruled that astrologer Marina Bai can proceed with her lawsuit against NASA. According to her lawyer, Bai believes that the Deep Impact project--in which spacecraft will attempt to blast a crater into the surface of the Tempel 1 comet and observe the results--"infringes upon her spiritual and life values" and will "disrupt the natural balance of forces in the universe." She seeks a halt to the project and about $300 million in punitive damages. A lower court had dismissed the suit on jurisdictional grounds, but Bai argued that NASA's office in the U.S. embassy in Moscow makes the agency subject to Russian jurisdiction.

Madison County in downstate Illinois has earned a national reputation as a lucrative place to bring class-action lawsuits against corporate defendants. In March the Madison County Record reported on attorney Emert Wyss of Alton, who in 2002 advised a client that Alliance Mortgage might have broken the law by charging her a fee for faxing documents when she refinanced her house; Wyss assembled a group of lawyers to file a class-action suit, with his client among the plaintiffs. But Alliance learned that the title company that actually collected the fax fee from Wyss's client was owned by Wyss and successfully argued to have him added as a defendant. Wyss opted to resign from the litigation team rather than pursue a lawsuit against himself.

Finer Points of the Law

In April an arbitrator ruled that the police department of Painesville, Ohio, should not have fired officer Stuart Underwood for having sex while on duty because he was on his break at the time and left his radio on (though he'd removed it to avoid activating it by accident). According to the ruling, the city had failed to prove that sex would have slowed Underwood's response to an emergency call any more than activities like "a nap, playing a video game, working a crossword puzzle or standing in line at the bank or store."

Least Competent Criminals

A man who attempted to rob a convenience store in Cranberry, Pennsylvania, in March left empty-handed after the clerk laughed at his choice of disguise (a Pluto mask) and weapon (a pellet gun) and refused to hand over any money. And in April two men broke into a house in Houston and told resident Nora Montoya they were kidnapping her; they apparently got cold feet, however, and left Montoya tied up with a ransom note taped to her forehead demanding $2,000 and saying they'd come back later to pick it up.


News of the Weird reported in 2003 on a proposal for a space elevator, to consist of a 62,000-mile-long ribbon connecting a platform in the South Pacific with a counterweight in geosynchronous orbit above. Payloads weighing more than ten tons could be hauled up the superstrong, lightweight ribbon into space for a fraction of the cost of launching them. In April the LiftPort Group, based near Seattle, announced the opening of its first commercial-scale facility for manufacturing carbon nanotube fibers--which it believes can be woven into such a ribbon--and predicted that the elevator would be running in 13 years.

People Different From Us

Thor Laufer, 42, charged with a string of construction-site robberies in Mequon, Wisconsin, confessed in January that he'd stolen a variety of tools and materials only to throw off investigators; all he really wanted was the doorknobs. According to police, Laufer said he'd been selling the rest of the stolen items but keeping the knobs for his personal collection.

Thinning the Herd

Recurring Themes: In San Jose, California, in November a 19-year-old man became one of the most recent to pay the ultimate price for trying to use his feet to clear a jam in a wood chipper. And in Salem, Alabama, in March a man (whose body was unidentifiable, said police) apparently joined those who have badly miscalculated the risks of trying to steal valuable copper wire from a high-voltage area in an electrical substation.

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

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