Muslim clerics complain of the commercialization of the holy city of Mecca during the annual hajj pilgrimages, but for Pope Francis’ visits to New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia in mid-September, shameless street vendors and entrepreneurs already appear to be eclipsing Mecca’s experience. Merchants said they’d be selling, among other tacky items, mozzarella cheese statuettes of the pope ($20), a “pope toaster” to burnish Francis’ image on bread, a Philly-themed bobblehead associating the pope with the movie boxer Rocky, local beers Papal Pleasure and YOPO (You Only Pope Once) and T-shirts (“Yo Pontiff!” and “The Pope Is My Homeboy”). The Wall Street Journal quoted a Philadelphia archdiocese spokesman admitting that “you kind of have to take it in stride.”


In May, suspect David Riffle, charged with trespassing (after shouting “religious proverbs” at patrons of the Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Florida), greeted Broward County judge John “Jay” Hurley at his bail hearing by inquiring, “How you doin’, a–hole?” Unfazed, Hurley responded, “I’m doing fine. How are you, sir?” After listening to Riffle on religion a bit longer, Hurley set bond at $100. In August, talking to Judge Hurley from jail via closed circuit TV, arrestee Susan Surrette, 54, “flashed” him as she tried to prove an alleged recent assault. The self-described “escort” and “porn star” (“Kayla Kupcakes”) had lifted her shirt to reveal bruises. (Her bond, also, was $100.)


— A Chinese woman identified only as Zeng was detained and stabilized at Beijing Capital International Airport in August after being found dazed on the floor at a boarding gate. She had attempted to fly with a bottle of expensive cognac (Remy Martin XO Excellence) in her carryon — a violation of Chinese regulations barring liquids over 100 ml (the cognac was 700 ml, selling for about $200 in the United States) and was presented with the ultimatum to give up the bottle or miss the flight. She decided to drink the contents on the spot (but was subsequently declared too drunk to board).

— “And Another Thing, Dad”: Michael May, 44, was arrested in Lincoln County, Kentucky, in August after the Pilot Baptist Cemetery near Stanford reported that he had tried to dig up the grave of his dead father “in order to argue with him,” according to Lexington’s WLEX-TV. May told officers his dad had died about 30 years ago. (Alcohol was involved in the decision to dig.)


— Under a 1981 treaty, at least 50 countries, including the United States, have banned their militaries from employing flamethrowers (as “inhumane”), but entrepreneurs have begun to market the devices domestically for $900 to $1,600 each (based on the distance of the flame, at 25 feet or 50 feet). Federal regulators appear uninterested (as the contraptions are technically neither firearms nor explosives), and only two states prohibit them outright, though a few jurisdictions believe flamethrowers are illegal under fire codes. The Ohio startup Throwflame has sensed the need for marketing savvy and describes flamethrowers as primarily for “entertainment.” (Recent news reports indicate a slight run on sales under the suspicion that authorities will soon realize the danger and outlaw them.)

— After two women accused Sheffield Village, Ohio, attorney Michael Fine of “hypnotizing” and sex-talking to them during office consultations, police and the county bar association opened an investigation in November 2014. Though Fine was being consulted on a custody matter, he was secretly audio-recorded (according to one woman’s lawsuit) touting “powerful whole body orgasms” and suggesting that he was “the world’s greatest lover” — among details the client recalls only vaguely if at all. The bar association later said as many as 25 women may have been victimized. Though no criminal charges have been filed, Fine’s lawyer said  in August that his client had voluntarily given up his law license and was seeking “medical” help.


— Short-Term Rehab: Heath Franklin, 44, was arrested on Aug. 20 at the Wal- Mart in Dalton, Georgia, charged with taking “upskirt” photos of female shoppers. Franklin, a registered sex offender, had been released on Aug. 19 from Central State Prison, where he was serving a term for sexual offenses (including taking unlawful photos).

— “Excessive” (I): Three weeks ago, News of the Weird mentioned that a federal judge had officially declared 29 years as an excessive amount of time for the Bureau of Land Management to have sat on a natural gas permit, but four years’ waiting is apparently an acceptable period for a judge to sit on a decision whether to fire a New York City schoolteacher. Edward Morrissey, charged with pushing and shoving a student at PS 109 in Brooklyn in 2009, had his administrative hearing in 2011 and since then has been drawing full pay and benefits (including seniority raises) while reporting to a no-duties “job” (termed a “rubber room”) every school day. In May 2015, he was finally found guilty.

— “Excessive” (II): In August the independent Police Foundation declared it “excessive” that cops in Stockton, California, had fired 600 gunshots trying to apprehend robbers of a Bank of the West branch in July 2014. None of the robbers was hit, but one hostage was — fatally, hit by 10 police bullets. According to the report, “a few” of the officers engaged in “sympathetic fire,” shooting merely because their colleagues were shooting (and since the sequence was chaotic, sympathetic fire occurred even though other colleagues were actually positioned in front of shooters). !

© 2015 Chuck Shepherd. Universal Press Syndicate.