News of the Weird February 13 2008

‘Butt-cheek bandit,’ tree terror campaign and more

Lead Story: A startup Massachusetts dating service has the usual questionnaires about likes and dislikes, but bases compatibility specifically on how one person smells to another (straights and gays accommodated). Eric Holzle’s tests each person’s “major histocompatibility complex” genes, the science behind which dictates how one person will translate the scent of another (with similar-processing people less compatible). (In one famous study, women preferred the smell of T-shirts from men whose MHC was the most different from their own.) Holzle predicts a higher success rate than for ordinary dating agencies, but at a fee of $1,995 per client.

Bright Ideas: Michael Windisch, proprietor of the Maltermeister Turm restaurant in Goslar, Lower Saxony, Germany, solved what has become a crisis for other restaurants since the state extended a smoking ban in August. Windisch opened three holes in an outer wall so that, in cold weather, a smoker need not venture outside but can stick his head and arms through the holes and puff away while remaining inside (according to a December report in Der Spiegel).

The Continuing Crisis: In December, the city of Bangalore, India, staged its fifth annual marathon, with an elite group of runners who officials thought would bring the city recognition in the world racing community, but problems occurred, the least of which were the city’s ubiquitous potholes and pollution. At about the 20 kilometer mark, the leaders were chased down the street by barking dogs snapping at their heels. Twice during the race, runners were forced to stop and take breaks because impatient motorists were disregarding traffic controls to reclaim their roads.

Egypt’s competitive spirit, combined with a recent surge in piety as some in the Middle East strengthen their commitment to Islam, have led many men to suddenly sport dark calluses on their foreheads (“raisins”) as a signal of perhaps-overenthusiastic daily praying. The five prayers require, in all, 34 contacts with the ground (of forehead and nose), and additional personal prayers add to the total, according to a December New York Times dispatch from Cairo. Rumors persist that some men use sandpaper to darken the calluses to appear even more pious.

Noxious Substances: 1) State and federal authorities descended on Quality Pork Processors of Austin, Minn., in December after 11 workers contracted a mysterious neurological illness, which apparently came from inhaling the mist that results from blowing hogs’ brains out with compressed air. 2) New York City apartment-house doorman Jonah Seeman was suspended in December after excessive complaints about his bad breath. His job, said a resident, is opening the door, “not ... his mouth.” 3) Maurice Fox, 77, said in December he would comply with the wishes of the Kirkham Street Sports and Social Club of Paignton, England, to sit only by the front door so he could excuse himself when he needed to pass gas, which management said had become a problem.

A neighborhood yard sale in Cocoa, Fla., in December offering children’s furniture and toys took place at a home at which two registered sex offenders reside with their mother (though it was unclear where the items came from). A probation officer checked periodically to see that the men did not venture outside, where some unsuspecting adults, and their children, browsed the inventory.

Great Moments in Maturity: Douglas Hoffman, 61, was sentenced in January to as much as five years in prison for staging a small-scale terror campaign among his neighbors in Henderson, Nev., to mask his own vandalism in destroying more than 500 trees to get a better view of the Las Vegas Strip. At first, according to prosecutors, Hoffman cut down just the trees that affected his own view, but to divert attention, he cut down others in the subdivision and then sent threatening notes suggesting that an extremist militia would continue to attack their property, finally promising “chemical, biological and nuclear mass destruction.”

John Hayes, 46, a Marietta, Ga., middle school coach, was arrested in December and charged as the person who drove a group of his students around at night so they could vandalize various Christmas yard decorations (in one case, leaving reindeer entangled in “sexual positions”). A neighbor whose display was wrecked pursued Hayes’ truck, caught up to him and asked, “Are you crazy?” Hayes responded, allegedly, “It’s just a bit of fun.”

The District of Calamity (continued): 1) Washington, D.C., firefighter Gerald Burton faced suspension in December for disobeying a direct order by fighting a blaze he had come across while driving his fire truck to a training class. A supervisor had ordered him on to the class, but Burton and his partner put out the fire (limiting damage to $150,000), along with the dispatched crew, which arrived shortly after Burton. 2) In December, as the director of the District of Columbia’s Youth Rehabilitation Services spoke before the City Council on the successes of his special unit tracking down escapees, one on-the-run youth watched from the audience a few feet away, unknown to the director, according to a Washington Post report. (Another 19-year-old ran away in September and was unaccounted for because a female YRS officer, unknown to her superiors, had subsequently married him and was keeping him at their home, according to the Post.)

The Weirdo-American Community: Authorities in Valentine, Neb., have been on the lookout since November for the vandal who has approached several storefronts at night and, apparently with Vaseline smeared over his nude body, pressed himself against windows and doors. A radio station called the person “the butt-cheek bandit” (although some speculate there may also be a copycat). Asked Valentine police Chief Ben McBride, “Who in their right mind would do something like that?”

Least Competent Criminals: Clumsy: 1) A 26-year-old accused shoplifter was hospitalized in Grand Rapids, Mich., in January after he got into a scuffle with a department-store security officer. He had allegedly stuffed some knives under his clothes, and when he was knocked to the ground, he accidentally fell on several of the blades. 2) Josue Herrios-Coronilla, 18, was arrested in Durham, N.C., in January and charged with DUI after he accidentally drove through a yard in a residential neighborhood. He then abandoned his car and hitched a ride, but at a later traffic stop, police identified him by his shoes, in that when he ran out of the yard, he had stepped in several piles of the resident’s dogs’ droppings.

Recurring Themes: Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre makes News of the Weird periodically (the latest in May 2007) because the six Christian denominations that share its management become involved in petty but elaborate disputes. A similar problem arises at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian clerics share space at the site thought to be the birthplace of Jesus, and in December, when some Orthodox faithful wandered into the Armenian section during Christmas season, officials of both faiths squared off and flailed at each other with brooms before being separated by Palestinian police.

Now, Which One Is the Brake? (all-new): Elderly drivers’ recent lapses of concentration, confusing the brake pedal with the gas: A Varnell, Ga., woman, 81, drove through the front office of an insurance agency (August). A Wausau, Wis., man, 80, crashed through a wall of a Burger King (September) (and then got out and ordered breakfast). A Cedar Rapids, Iowa, woman, described as “elderly,” crashed into a dentist’s office (August). A woman, 76, drove through the front entrance of Massachusetts’ Brockton Hospital (October) (killing the chief of radiation oncology and a receptionist). A Soldotna, Alaska, woman, 73, crashed into a hair salon, knocking a customer across the room (November). A Coral Springs, Fla., man, 71, drove through a back yard, went airborne over a swimming pool and crashed into the house (October).