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News of the weird

by Chuck Shepherd

They’re either earnestly civic-minded or people with issues, but in several dozen cities across the country, men (and a few women) dress in homemade superhero costumes and patrol marginal neighborhoods, aiming to deter crime. Phoenix’s Green Scorpion and New York City’s Terrifica and Orlando’s Master Legend and Indianapolis’ Mr. Silent are just a few of the 200 gunless, knifeless vigilantes listed on the World Superhero Registry, most presumably with day jobs but who fancy cleaning up the mean streets at night. According to two recent reports (in Rolling Stone and The Times of London), unanticipated gripes by the “Reals,” as they call themselves, are boredom from lack of crime and (especially in the summer) itchy spandex outfits.

Leading economic indicators

• People with too much money:

(1) The owner of a local ski shop told the Vail (Col.) Daily in November that he was confident he could sell his parking space in a town garage for his asking price of $500,000. After all, he said, it was on the top floor and next to an exit.

(2) The upscale residents of Gate Mills, Ohio, near Cleveland, are so grateful to their town’s 61 government employees that they volunteered $50,000 in holiday tips in December. • Among the best-selling and most controversial toys of this past holiday season were the $39.95 Mattel “Gotta Go” Doll and the $59.95 Hasbro Baby Alive, both because of their interactive features, especially their digestion/excretion functions. The latter doll comes with its own food (“green beans,” “bananas”) and a warning (“May stain some surfaces”). The Gotta Go includes a toilet and brings the flushing process to life for the child. An industry insider told the Washington Post that next season’s toys would be even more realistic.

• The economy in crisis: (1) The Platinum Lounge, a lap-dancing club in Chester, England, announced in November that it would begin selling advertising, in 4-by-6-inch body-paint squares, on dancers’ derrieres. Said the club’s agent, “I had to do a lot of research… to come up with the optimum size for the [ads]!” (2) In the midst of widespread unemployment in Sweden, the Haxriket i Norden company announced in November it would hire 20 professional witches well-versed in tarots, crystals, herbs, exorcism and “contact with the other side,” in the expectation that desperate consumers increasingly would require counseling. • Although to many outsiders, the concept of “clothing” on Muslim women suggests full-body veils, many married women in Syria are decidedly more playful, feeding a market for daring and quixotic underwear (to be worn in private, of course, and only for one’s husband). Musical panties (some that glow in the dark), bras with “hands” covering the cups, and underwear designed to collapse and fall to the floor at the sound of hands clapping are just three of the popular items at boutique shops, according to a December BBC News dispatch from Damascus.

Cutting-edge science

• Ewww, gross! Two brain surgeons in the western US admitted that recent operations had shaken them up, though both said the patients have since been doing nicely. Dr. Peter Nakaji, expecting to find a dreaded tumor in the brain of a woman in Phoenix, was heard on video of the surgery chuckling when he realized the problem was merely a worm on the brain stem (probably acquired from poor sanitation). And in December, a 3-day-old infant was doing well in Colorado Springs following the discovery and removal of a tiny, almost-perfectly-formed foot from his brain by Dr. Paul Grabb. • More than 1,000 new animal species were discovered in the last decade in the area surrounding the Mekong River that runs through Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, including striped rabbits and a spider bigger than a dinner plate. Also found was a pink millipede that secretes cyanide, according to a December World Wildlife Fund report.

Fine points of the law

In November, a jury acquitted Ms. Johnnie Miles, 42, of $7,500 worth of fraudulent credit-card transactions against a store in Vero Beach, Fla., and Miles assumed she had thus earned her freedom. However, Judge Dan Vaughn apparently considered Miles a disreputable rip-off artist (even though technically not guilty of “fraud”) and used her schemings to convict her of violating probation on an earlier case. Florida law permits such collateral use of a defendant’s behavior, and Vaughn sentenced Miles to five years on each of 11 probation violations, to be served consecutively.

Recurring themes

On successive days in January in two towns in Britain, loners in their seventies were reported dead from dehydration in their homes after becoming trapped in monstrous labyrinths of, in one case, hoarded garbage, and in the other, hoarded but unopened merchandise. Gordon Stewart, 74, was found dead in a tunnel system he had arranged from several tons of refuse in his house in Broughton, Buckinghamshire, and compulsive shopper Joan Cunnane, 77, was buried under so much merchandise and rubbish that it took rescuers in Heaton Mersey two days to locate her body.

Least competent criminals

• Failed to keep a low profile: If a motorist is carrying $18,000 worth of marijuana, he might try to avoid attracting attention (and not go the wrong way on a one-way street, as Samuel Randall, 27, did in Chicago in January). Or if carrying a duffel bag full of marijuana, not driving around in a car that lacked license plates, like the four women arrested in San Antonio in November. Or if there are 78 marijuana plants in the back seat, making sure that her car had a valid state inspection sticker, unlike Tracy Pioggia, in Hampden, Mass. in October. • Wrong place, wrong time: Torvald Alexander, 39, was able to chase away the unlucky home invader who hit his apartment on Dec. 31 in Edinburgh, Scotland, according to a BBC News report. The two men inadvertently came face to face just as Alexander was preparing to leave for a New Year’s party, dressed in full regalia as Thor, the hammer-wielding Norse god of thunder. Alexander said the burglar took one look at him, turned and climbed hurriedly out a window, sliding down a sloped roof and landing on the ground, where he took off running.

Undignified deaths

A 77-year-old man was crushed to death in October while visiting his parents’ gravesite at the St. Gregoire Cemetery in Buckingham, Quebec when a tombstone fell on him. And in November, a 67-year-old woman was killed in southern Brazil on her way to the cemetery following her husband’s funeral. She was a front-seat passenger in the hearse when another vehicle collided with it, slamming her husband’s coffin forward and crushing the woman’s skull.

A News of the Weird classic

Walt and Kathy Viggiano of Wichita, Kan. convinced Judge James Burgess to return their four children from foster care in 1999, following their removal the year before because of the unsanitariness of the family’s mobile home. Unlike in many such cases, Judge Burgess realized that the Viggianos had not abused the kids, nor did they have alcohol or drug problems. Also, according to police who made the initial investigation, Walt and the kids seemed to speak warmly and lovingly with each other, even though their intra-family banter in the presence of the investigators appeared to be entirely in Klingon (from “Star Trek”). Copyright 2009 Chuck Shepherd Distributed by Universal Press

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