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News of the Weird 

Smoke 'em if ya got 'em: On Jan. 16, as bonfires burned across Italy to commemorate the annual festival of St. Anthony, the town of Capena continued its yearly addition to the celebration: a day of smoking cigarettes. Residents, including children as young as 6, light up throughout the day in the town's bonfire. Italy's recent anti-smoking drive notwithstanding, many Capena parents encouraged the kids (honoring a centuries-old tradition that originated with smoking dried rosemary), pointing out that it was just one day a year. Italian health professionals believe many kids will develop the habit nonetheless.

Scenes of the surreal: In January, Judge Peter Garcia, driving relatives to his courthouse at noon in Covington, La., noticed an odd sight directly across the street in the municipal cemetery: Two women in pink lingerie, holding S&M accessories, were posing for a professional photo shoot among the gravestones. Garcia grabbed his camera to take his own souvenir photo, which apparently angered one of the women, who pursued Garcia back to his car, lecturing the unknown-to-her judge about various "rights" she thought she had not to be photographed. When Garcia ignored her, she began to thrash the judge's car with her whip before he finally drove away.

In November, according to the University of Chicago daily newspaper, Chicago Maroon, in a story about a protest by transsexual, gay and lesbian activists to designate more campus restrooms as unisex, an activist said he knew people who had contracted bladder infections from delaying their urination out of anxiety at being forced to choose between the "men's" room or the "ladies'" room. Said a lesbian activist, of the often-used ladies' room symbol of a silhouetted person wearing a dress, "Going into [that room] implies that we are willing to be associated with that image."

About once a month, the owners of the Marina del Rey (Calif.) Sportfishing bait shop reap a windfall. According to a January Los Angeles Times story, a Tibetan Buddhist study group drops by in a caravan after meditating on the "liberation of beings" and plunks down $1,000 to $2,000 to buy as much live bait as they can, after which they go to Marina del Rey Harbor and, in their terms, free the bait (whereupon, of course, much of it is immediately eaten by fish, anyway).

Isn't it ironic?: In January, convicted murderer Paul Charles Denyer, who told police when he was arrested that he had picked three women to kill because he "just hate[s] [women]," began the application process at Barwon Prison (near Lara, Australia) for hormone treatment and surgery to become a woman.

Former Detroit police Officer Adela Garcia, who retired in 1997 and now owns Adela's Place bar, was forced to shoot at two men in her parking lot late one night to stop them from allegedly assaulting customers. She fired one shot, which passed through both men, killing them. That was one shot more than she had ever fired on the street in 20 years as a police officer, even though she had several dangerous assignments.

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development, whose mission is to help unemployed Indianans (including those who have lost jobs because their work was contracted overseas), awarded a $15.2 million computer services contract to Tata American International Corp. to hire 65 programmers to work on the agency's information software starting in November. Two weeks later, state officials canceled the contract after realizing that Tata is a subsidiary of a company based in Bangalore, India, and that the 65 programmers were being brought in from India.

No longer weird: Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (69) Medical examiners (or funeral home officials or medical researchers) who accidentally misplace one or more parts when a deceased's body is returned to the family, as the Massachusetts medical examiner was accused of doing (the heart of one man, the brain of another) in October. And (70) the deadly annual Muslim Hajj stampedes, which result when tens of thousands of pilgrims try to get close enough to three pillars (representing Satan) so they can toss 21 stones at them, and which this year saw 244 trampled to death (January).

Readers' choice: A dead, 50-ton, 50-foot-long sperm whale, being transported by flatbed truck through Tainan City, Taiwan, to the National Cheng Kung University in January, exploded because of a buildup of gases from decomposition, drenching bystanders and nearby cars in an awesome deluge of blood and innards.

Also, in the last month: A 24-year-old man was charged with several flashing incidents, apparently directed only at Amish men and boys (Heuvelton, N.Y.). When mercury spilled from a Cub Scout's race car, not only was the Scout disqualified for cheating, but his father, who has a background in chemistry, may be liable for a $5,000 hazardous materials cleanup (Lawrence, Kan.). And the leading Swedish veterinary organization suggested that the increase in reports of bestiality since 1999 occurred because that was the year that Sweden first banned child pornography.

2004 Chuck Shepherd

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