News of the Weird 

Great Art!

Inmate Donny Johnson, serving three life terms in solitary confinement at the Pelican Bay State Prison in California, was the beneficiary of a showing of his acclaimed paintings at a gallery in the Mexican tourist village of San Miguel de Allende, according to a July New York Times report. Because of Johnson’s isolation, his only “brush” is made from strands of his own hair; his “canvases” consist of blank postcards; and his medium is colors from decomposed M&M candies. Nonetheless, at least six of the paintings, which the Times reporter called “powerful,” have sold for $500 each.

Martin Creed, a one-time winner of Britain’s prestigious Turner Prize, told the Guardian in July that his latest work, titled “Sick Film,” would open in London in October and that it includes 19 scenes of people vomiting on camera. Creed spoke to the Guardian from Los Angeles, where he is working on the next, similar project, entitled “Shit Film,” and has already been able to line up 15 “performers,” perhaps, he said, “because LA represents the extreme edge of the world.”


Government in Action

Budget-Busting: (1) While New York state grapples with a serious budget shortfall, the speaker of the state assembly works at a law firm that trolls for “victims” of injuries at state parks, with a suggestive Internet-page list of accidents that might lead to lawsuits against the state. (In August, after the New York Post exposed the page, the law firm withdrew it.) (2) In July, just after New Jersey’s governor and legislature resolved a government-closing stalemate over spending in that heavily taxed state, the government announced it would reinstate its discontinued policy of paying for “erectile dysfunction” drugs for Medicaid recipients.

Beijing News reported in July that the city intends to assign tracking numbers to every single cabbage, carrot and pea pod in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, to identify their origins to improve food safety. Five thousand tons of vegetables may be eaten during the Olympics, and Chinese farming has been criticized by Greenpeace for using banned pesticides and other soil pollutants.


Police Blotter

From an Atlanta police report, summarized in a July issue of the weekly Creative Loafing: A man working on a house on Smith Street was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital with serious injuries to his posterior. He happened to be bending over next to a wall that, unknown to him, a worker on the other side was drilling into, and the drill bit entered his “anal cavity.”

Least Competent Cops: Four New York City police were called to an apartment house in July in the Bronx concerning a landlord-tenant dispute, but were distracted by a teenager in the hallway smoking marijuana and started to chase him, when a pit bull attacked the officers. The toll, 26 bullets later: one dead dog, one bitten officer, three other officers wounded by each other’s gunshots.


Are We Safe?

(1) Undercover investigators for the Government Accountability Office reported in July that they were able to purchase, on the open market from Pentagon contractors, surplus body armor, mounts for shoulder-fired missiles, and missile radar test devices. (Nearly 2,700 “sensitive” military items had been bought by 79 other buyers.) (2) An FBI computer consultant, who said he was frustrated by bureaucratic delays in obtaining legitimate access to certain bureau files, was able to hack into the files surreptitiously via the FBI director’s secret password, which the consultant figured out using software found on the Internet. (3) Indiana state homeland security officials told Vermillion County officials in July to stop using the special emergency-only highway message boards to advertise their charity fish fries and spaghetti dinners.


The Classic Middle Name (all new)

Arrested recently and awaiting trial for murder: John Wayne Lewis, 59 (McAlester, Okla., June); Kenneth Wayne Beck, 34 (Warren County, Mo., June); Timothy Wayne Coalson, 44 (Senoia, Ga., July); Charles Wayne Thomas Jr., 22 (Dallas, July); Ira Wayne Cloniger (Washington, Va., July); John Wayne Thomson, 46 (arrested in Victorville, Calif., on a Washington warrant, August). Pleaded guilty to murder: Michael Wayne Nelson, 23 (Palatka, Fla., August). Executed for murder: Darrell Wayne “Gator” Ferguson, 28 (Dayton, Ohio, August). Committed suicide after escaping from a halfway house: convicted murderer David Wayne Nelson, 42 (Anchorage, Alaska, June).


Least Competent People

Least Competent Bail Bondsman: That would be the unidentified bondsman who bailed out identity-thief suspect Thomas Samuel in Santa Cruz, Calif., last year on Samuel’s bogus check for $9,800 (after rejecting as bogus an earlier Samuel check for $3,200).


Life’s Cheap in Florida

(1) Eduardo Gonzalez, 18, was arrested and charged as the one who shot an Orlando, Fla., man to death in March for spilling beer on him in a bar. In August, the price of life went down even further when, according to police, Gonzalez put out hit contracts on five witnesses to the original shooting, which would have brought the total to six dead over one spilled beer, except (as is often the case) the “hit man” was an undercover cop. (2) A 34-year-old man was killed in Hollywood, Fla., in June after refusing to pay $80 for a $78 towing bill (he demanded $2 change, which the driver did not have), then jumping on the truck to challenge the driver and eventually falling underneath it to his death.


By the Way, What Stories Have Been No-Longer-Weirded? (IV)

Eighty such themes have occurred so frequently that they have been “retired from circulation” since News of the Weird began publishing in 1988, and for the next few months, they’ll be reviewed here.

Too many pranksters nowadays kidnap school or business mascots (like inflatable Ronald McDonalds) and vandalize them or hold them for ransom. Some libraries do have policies to have patrons arrested for long-overdue library books. The incidence of fires increases as smokers hooked up to an oxygen supply simply must feed their habit. And gasoline thieves who work at night need to check the tank somehow to see how full it is, and all they brought with them are matches or a lighter. These stories used to be weird, but let’s face it: no longer.  ƒç



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Chuck Shepherd

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