News of the Weird April 23 2008

LEAD STORY: Irish director/playwright Paul Walker's production of Ladies & Gents opened for a March run in New York City 29 blocks north of Broadway in a public restroom. According to an Associated Press report, the entire play takes place among the porcelain in a bathroom in Central Park, portraying "the seedy underside of 1950s Dublin," with the audience of 25 standing beside rows of stalls, near "spiders, foul odors and puddles of questionable origin." Walker proudly admits that he wanted to take the audience "out of their comfort zone" to create "a different energy." Actor John O'Callaghan recalled that rehearsals were especially difficult: "One man actually came in and had a pee right in front of us."

Cultural Diversity: In October, the government of Singapore, anxious about the city's declining birth rate, began teaching its high school polytechnic students in formal courses on how to flirt. Said Isabel, 18: "My teacher said if a guy looks into my eyes for more than five seconds, it could mean that he is attracted to me, and I stand a chance," according to a March Reuters dispatch. Officials in the Shivpuri district of India's Madhya Pradesh state, needing a promising program to slow the country's still-booming birth rate, announced in March that men who volunteer for vasectomies will be rewarded with certificates that speed them through the ordinarily slow line to obtain gun permits. Said an administrator: The loss, through vasectomy, of a "perceived notion of manliness" would be offset "with a bigger symbol of manliness."

Latest Religious Messages: Ajinbayo Akinsiku's heavily abridged version of the Bible, in the Japanese graphic "manga" style, was recently published in the United States, with the goal of making Jesus more "accessible" to a younger, religion-indifferent generation. Quirky, illustration-rich manga presents biblical philosophy as action scenes using contemporary dialogue, according to a February New York Times review. In one example, Akinsiku (who hopes someday to become an Anglican priest) has Noah taking census on the Ark: "That's 11,344 animals? Aargh! I've lost count again. I'm going to have to start from scratch!"

Duquesne University and Boston College recently created professional courses in financial and personnel management for churches, thus recognizing that frauds by greedy priests and sexual abuse by errant clergy cannot be resolved simply by churches' demanding that their leaders behave. Lax U.S. churches have lost tens of millions of dollars to embezzlement and sexual-abuse lawsuits, but, said a Villanova official, "If church officials were better trained in management, a lot of problems ... could have been avoided."

Among the recent victims of internal religious strife in Malaysia was Kamariah Ali, 57, who long ago renounced Islam and started worshipping a two-story-tall "sacred teapot" she had built for her Sky Kingdom cult (emphasizing the "purity of water"). She was sentenced to jail as a failed Muslim in 2005, and the teapot destroyed, and in March 2008, another court found that she had been insufficiently rehabilitated and ordered her back to jail.

The Continuing Crisis: Registered sex offender Jason Lee, 28, was arrested in Cincinnati in February and charged with several counts of deception for his seemingly benevolent acts of posting bond for two female strangers who had been arrested. Later, according to police, he had demanded sex and drugs from the women as payback, and a prosecutor said Lee had trolled for names of arrested women on the website of the Clerk of the Court.

"Look, it is no big deal," Christopher Wilkins told the Fort Worth, Texas, jury trying to decide in March whether to send him to death row or life in prison. "I'm as undecided as you are." Before leaving the witness stand, Wilkins complimented the prosecutor ("You're doing a fine job") and added, "I haven't been any good to anybody for the last 20 years, and I won't be for the next 20 or the 20 after that." (The jury chose the death penalty.)

News That Sounds Like a Joke: 1) In January just after police in Tyler, Texas, took Christopher McCuin, 25, into custody on suspicion of killing and eating parts of his girlfriend (an ear was found on the stove), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent the sheriff a fax demanding that McCuin receive only a vegetarian diet, suggesting that too much meat-eating had already occurred in the case. 2) Mark Hotuyec, 46, was arrested in Joliet, Ill., in February and charged with indecent exposure after he allegedly drove alongside a school bus containing fourth-graders while openly fondling himself, visible to kids looking out the window.

Adventures in Democracy: 1) In January, the parents of Carroll County (Md.) Board of Education candidate Draper Phelps, 28, obtained a protective stay-away order against their son, marking the third consecutive year they felt they needed one. 2) In February, at a polling place in Chicago's 42nd Ward (according to a Chicago Tribune report), one election judge (a woman in her 30s) was charged with battery for punching another election judge (a woman in her 50s) in the face.

3) Brian Sliter, 42, announced in March his candidacy for mayor of Wilmer, Texas, notwithstanding his 2004 arrest (resulting in probation) for trying to arrange a tryst with an underage girl.

© 2008 Chuck Shepherd