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NEWS OF THE WEIRD

by Chuck Shepherd

Beneath the luxury hotels on the Las Vegas Strip is a series of flood tunnels that are home to dozens of people who work odd jobs such as hustling leftover change in casino slot machines. A correspondent for London’s The Sun gained the trust of a few and even photographed their “apartments” for a September dispatch, showing well-stocked quarters, with scrounged appliances and furniture and even one makeshift shower rigged from a water cooler. “Amy,” who has lived in the tunnels with her husband, “JR,” for two years, said she “love[s]” the Vegas lifestyle and appears in no hurry to leave her setup. “Kathryn” (who lives with boyfriend “Steven”) also appears content except, she says, for the fragrance, the black widow spiders and the periodic rush of water through their home (threatening any “valuables” not stacked on crates).

Latest religious messages

• David Cerullo came to prominence after purchasing the television studios abandoned by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and established what is perhaps the boldest of all Christian “prosperity gospel” ministries (that pays him an annual base salary of $1.52 million). With his father, semi-retired Pentecostal preacher Morris Cerullo, they assure followers that the more they give, the more God will return to them. In a recent TV spot, Morris, speaking first in tongues and then addressing the currently credit-challenged: “When you [donate], the windows of heaven… open for you… 100 fold.” “Debt cancellation!” (The on-screen message: “Call now with your $900 offering and receive God’s debt cancellation!”)

• In September, a judge in Stuart, Fla. was about to sentence pastor Rodney McGill for real estate fraud, but McGill was undaunted, addressing a courtroom prayer for his enemies: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, for every witness called against me, I pray cancer in their lives, lupus, brain tumor, pancreatic cancer.” The judge then sentenced him to 20 years in prison.

Questionable judgments

• The cheap-drink Tuesday night special at the Attic bar in Newcastle, England in early September was a money-back guarantee at the end of the night to anyone who could still legally drive (measured by the bar’s breathalyzer), with the evening’s most-alcohol-saturated customer drinking free the following week. The Newcastle City Council soon convinced the bar it was a bad idea.

• The Department of Homeland Security (relying on a study later termed by the Government Accounting Office to have been rushed and flawed) decided in January that the best place for its new $700 million research facility on infectious diseases would be in Kansas, which happens to be in the heart of America’s “tornado alley.” The GAO report, leaked to the Washington Post in July, claimed the risk of accidental release of dangerous pathogens is far greater than the department assumed.

Bright ideas

• Canadian medical appliance manufacturer X4 Labs, which sells a peniselongating traction device for around $400, disclosed in August that it is making a solid gold version on contract for a Saudi businessman. The buyer claimed he required gold only because of allergies, but then also ordered it ornamented with diamonds and rubies, according to an August Agence France-Presse report. X4’s cachet as a medical-appliance supplier is expected to get the device past Saudi customs, which normally bans sex toys.

• Four apparently quite bored people in their early 20s were arrested in September in Bennington, Vt. after a Chili’s restaurant burglar alarm sounded at 4:30 a.m. According to police, the four intended to remove and steal the large chili on the restaurant’s sign, using a hacksaw and power drill. However, not possessing a battery-operated drill, they had strung extension cords together running to the nearest outlet they could find, which was 470 feet away, across four lanes of highway and through a Home Depot parking lot.

Fine points of the law

• (1) Marine Sgt. Michael Ferschke was killed in Iraq in 2008, but his wife and their son, both Japanese citizens, cannot enter the United States. The couple exchanged vows under Japanese law by long-distance proxy, as Michael was about to deploy, but immigration law does not recognize such unions, unless subsequently “consummated.” (The Ferschkes had conceived their child before they were married.) (2) Marine Lance Cpl. Josef Lopez took the Corps’ advice and received a smallpox vaccination just before deploying to Iraq, but after nine days in country, he went into a coma with a rare adverse reaction that has left him permanently, seriously disabled. However, since he was felled by the vaccine and not “combat,” he is ineligible for special disability funds to help seriously wounded troops (for such expenses as modifying a home to accommodate a disability).

Fetishes on parade

• In September, police in Bonney Lake, Wash. were seeking “Dale,” who had been reported hanging around the high school, trying to befriend male athletes. In the most recent incident, he lured a boy to the library, offering help on a term paper project, but when the boy declined and walked away, “Dale” jumped on his back and asked for a piggyback ride. (Fondness for piggyback rides is not a widely practiced obsession, though the legendary illustrator R. Crumb liked to receive them in lieu of sex, according to an ex-girlfriend in the 1994 movie Crumb.)

Least competent criminals

• Failure to Keep a Low Profile: (1) Angel DeLeon, 30, admitted to police in May that he was the one who had just robbed the National Penn Bank in Reading, Pa. Police originally started after DeLeon’s car when he raced by them with his radio blaring. (2) Ricky Dale Ford was jailed in September in Conway, Ark., accused of stealing an allterrain vehicle. While joyriding, Ford had accidentally hit a beehive, and when police found him in nearby woods, he was “barely breathing,” one officer said, having been stung more than 100 times.

Recurring themes

• Britain’s local councils are notoriously fearful of lawsuits arising from the garden “allotments” they rent to residents. For example, in September, the Southampton Council barred residents of recently vandalized property from installing barbed wire, lest a trespasser get hurt and sue. Mean while, in Michigan, Scott Zeilinski, who is serving eight years in prison for armed robbery, filed a lawsuit against the store he had robbed because an employee (whom Zeilinski had just threatened with a knife to the throat) had pulled out his gun and shot Zeilinski.

Undignified deaths

• Ironies: (1) A 77-year-old woman in Heaton Mersey, England who was described by friends as an enthusiastic shopper whose home was crammed to the ceiling with purchases, died in January of natural causes, but rescuers made five passes through the clutter before locating her body under stacks of goods that had fallen on her. (2) A 45-year-old devout Catholic was killed recently in Vienna, Austria shortly after a harrowing experience on a stuck elevator. The man had been so traumatized that, following his rescue, he went straight to the Weinhaus Church to give thanks. However, as he approached the altar, an 850-pound stone pillar fell and crushed him.

A News of the Weird classic (June 2001)

• “Pain is the sensation of weakness leaving the body,” Phoenix “artist” Steve Haworth told a Phoenix New Times reporter in May 2001, while he was arranging scenes for associates of his Church of Body Modification, including a horizontal full-body suspension (hanging for five minutes by rings in body piercings); a tug of war (fullforce pulling contest using a rope held taut through rings on various body piercings); free-moving implants just below the skin that appear to be, say, a living bracelet; and various body alterations such as “Vulcan” ears, a ribbed penis and a filleted male urethra. Haworth won’t amputate anything, though (too “destructive,” he said), thus displeasing his girlfriend, who wants to lose two toes in order to fit into smaller shoes.

Copyright 2009 Chuck Shepherd Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate

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