News of the Weird

* According to a January report in the San Francisco Chronicle, the percentage of gay men who have risky sex without condoms ("barebackers") is growing, and a tiny minority of those men have taken their passion a step further: There are now gay "Russian roulette" parties publicized on the Internet (the latest scheduled for February in Houston) in which HIV-negative men ("bug chasers") invite HIV-positive men ("givers of the gift") for anonymous sex so that every act carries the possibility of death. A gay writer told the Chronicle that he has spoken to participants and is certain that the parties are not just another Internet hoax.

* The Louisville Courier-Journal reported in February that the Louisville Free Public Library is tied up in probate with the family of the late Audrey Jean Knauer over a $290,000 bequest and that the outcome might depend on whether the actor Charles Bronson wants the money. Knauer died in 1997 and inexplicably willed her money to Bronson, whom she labeled a "talented character actor" but whom in all likelihood she had never met. Knauer's mother wants the money; the library says it could buy 20,000 books; and Bronson has not yet responded.

* The Rev. Henry Lyons, head of the nation's largest organization of black Baptists, went on trial in St. Petersburg, Fla., in January, accused of defrauding two firms that thought they were purchasing an 8.5-million-member mailing list from Lyons' National Baptist Convention. Prosecutors insist the number was wildly inflated, and Lyons' former administrative assistant testified that after one such deal was made, Lyons instructed her to use atelephone-book software program to create a membership list by selecting names that sounded black. The assistant said she eliminated last names that began with "z" and also names that ended in "ski." Among the names that wound up on the list was an imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

* In December, University of Nevada, Las Vegas president Carol Harter moved the offices of most of the school's English-composition teachers out of the campus' historic Houssels House and into a group of double-wide trailers in order to make room for a new consciousness-studies program, which investigates near-death experiences and other New Age topics. That program was recently created with a large donation from a prominent real-estate developer.

* In January, Fort Worth, Texas, murder defendant Robert William Greer Jr. agreed to plead guilty to a 1988 killing if the judge would keep him in the local jail for two more weeks before sending him to the penitentiary so that he could be assured of seeing the Super Bowl on TV. (Greer thought TV privileges in prison were less certain.) Greer said much of his enthusiasm for the game would be to see his favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings, win it all. Two days later, the Atlanta Falcons beat the Vikings to deny them a Super Bowl appearance, but Greer's guilty plea stands.

* The New York Times reported in November on the recent but growing competitive sport of "musical canine freestyle" (dancing with dogs), in which costumed owners and their matching-collared pooches exhibit choreography to such tunes as "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and "Get Happy." (Holding dogs' paws, as in at-home dog-dancing, is forbidden.) The World Canine Freestyle Organization has a mailing list of 8,000 aficionados.

* The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in October that LuLu, a Vietnamese potbellied pig, saved the life of her owner, Jo Ann Altsman of Beaver Falls, Pa., by alerting a passing driver that Altsman was in trouble. Altsman was groaning with a heart attack and said later that LuLu first whimpered in sympathy, then squeezed through a very small doggy door, pushed open a gate that she had never opened before, walked to the road and, according to a witness, lay down in the middle of the road only when a car approached. The driver stopped and then heard Altsman's cries.

* In November, the Westchester County (N.Y.) Feline Club voted its Cat of the Year award, from among 300 entrants, to Ginny, a dog. Ginny was honored for befriending numerous stray cats, bringing them home and sharing her food with them.

* Recent surgeries: A cesarean-section delivery of six eggs by a turtle in Thunder Bay, Ontario (June), after veterinarians used a dentist's drill on her shell, later patching it with epoxy. And root canals performed on several Kodiak bears appearing in the movie Grizzly Falls, shot in Toronto (November), after anesthesia delivered by a blowgun.

* In August, the family of the late Russell U. Shell filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Other Side nightclub in Fitchburg, Mass., charging that Shell choked to death on a miniature plastic penis that allegedly had been placed in his drink glass as a prank by an employee. (The club owner said Shell merely suffered a seizure and that the charm was found on the floor beside his body.)

* In January, Minnesota computer-component manufacturer Innovex Inc. agreed to pay former executive Mary E. Curtin $750,000 to settle her sex-discrimination lawsuit. During the time Curtin faced the alleged bias and sexist epithets, her husband, Thomas W. Haley, was Innovex's chairman and CEO and presumably had the power to put an end to the practices of which Curtin complained, but he did not.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, FL 33738, or [email protected].

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