News of the Weird: Everybody Needs a Hug

Brad A. illustration

After its launch was delayed for a month by the Madison, Wis., city attorney, the Snuggle House was cleared and scheduled to open on Nov. 15 to provide in-bed, pajama-clad “intimate, non-sexual touch(ing)” for $60 an hour. “So many people,” said assistant manager Emily Noon, “don't have a significant other in their lives” and “just need to be held” (including, she said, the elderly and hospice patients, who are part of the target clientele). The city's delay was, a spokesman said, to assure that Snuggle House had protocols for dealing with “risky” situations in which a customer refuses to take “no sex” for an answer. (Snuggle House has prominent surveillance cameras and panic buttons for the staff.)

Oh, Dear!

-Among the underreported catastrophes caused by Hurricane Sandy in the New York-New Jersey area in October 2012 was the tragedy that befell the 27,000-case WineCare storage cellar in Manhattan. Though it claimed to have lost only about 5 percent of its inventory when waters from the Hudson River flooded its supposedly secure warehouse, that number apparently did not count the many preserved bottles whose labels washed off, dramatically reducing the value of customers' toweringly priced grape and forcing WineCare into bankruptcy court, according to a New York Times report in July.

-The California genetic testing company 23andMe was recently awarded a patent for a computer program that lets parents, by running probabilities through the known relevant cell and DNA variables (of over 240 conditions and traits), predict their “perfect” baby. Of course, the program can provide only the percentage likelihoods, and a company spokeswoman, anticipating a backlash against the concept of “designer babies,” rejected the idea that 23andMe would work with fertility clinics.

-In July, just days after the one-year anniversary of the spree killing of 12 people at the Century 16 Theaters in Aurora, Colo., Cassidy Delavergne was arrested after he entered the NCG Trillium theaters in Grand Blanc Township, Mich., wearing full body armor and carrying a loaded gun and a fake CIA badge (and alarming some but not all bystanders). Delavergne explained that he wore the equipment only because he did not want to leave it in his car while he watched the movie -- and thought the badge might alleviate other patrons' fears.

-Update: Person-to-person fecal transplants have been mentioned here several times for the bizarre but therapeutic idea that gastrointestinal illness results from an imbalance between healthy and unhealthy gut bacteria -- and that a transplant of healthier antigens may relieve the sickness. But what happens if no “compatible” donor is available? Emma Allen-Vercoe and her team at Canada's University of Guelph are thus creating artificial gut bacteria (“robogut”) under demanding control conditions, for implantation. (Allen-Vercoe grumbled to Popular Science in August that the most disagreeable part of the job is disposing of excess sludge -- the process for which causes “the whole building” to “smell like poop.”)

-Weird SportsCenter: (1) A Brazilian minor-league soccer match in September ended in a 2-2 tie only because, with minutes left, the trainer for one team stepped to the goal and cleared two quick tie-breaking shots that his players could not have reached in time. “It was our only chance,” he said later. (The referee allowed play to continue.) (2) She Got Game: Bringing her basketball skills to an October five-on-five contest in Thimphu, the queen of Bhutan, 23, scored 34 points with 3 rebounds and 4 assists, and talked up basketball's imminent rise in the Asian kingdom to a New York Times reporter. The queen said she, and the king, play almost every day.

Super Protests

(1) Artist David Cerny, fed up with the collapse of the governing parties in the Czech Republic, launched a barge on the River Vitava in Prague in October, holding a gigantic purple hand with middle finger extended, aimed at Prague Castle (the office of President Milos Zeman). (2) In a November protest against Russia's “police state,” artist Pyotr Pavlensky, in front of horrified tourists at Moscow's Red Square, nailed the skin of his scrotum into cobblestones near Lenin's Mausoleum. Pavlensky, who was arrested, earlier called his stunt “a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference and fatalism of contemporary Russian society.”

Cliches Come to Life

(1) The Azerbaijani government's official vote totals for the Oct. 8 elections (showing President Aliyev winning, as expected, with 72.76 percent of the votes), was mistakenly released to the public on Oct. 7. (Officials blamed a computer app “bug.”) (2) Terry Jenkins, 25, was arrested for domestic battery in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in September after, according to the police report, he had asked his girlfriend and her female cousin for a bedroom menage a trois. He then allegedly became enraged when the women paid more attention to each other than to him.

Oops!

Awkward: (1) A teenage girl somehow managed to get stuck in a child's swing on a playground in London in September, and soon three trucks carrying 12 firefighters were on the scene and managed to remove the swing from its frame to free her. (2) New York University student Asher Vongtau, 19, somehow managed to fall into a 2-foot-wide shaft between a dorm and a garage in November and remain stuck for 36 hours until campus security officers spotted him and called firefighters. (He was hospitalized in serious condition.)

Perspective

American Psychiatric Association members have been engaged in well-publicized academic brawls over the last 10 years about the contents of APA's signature publication, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, whose fifth edition (DSM-V) was released in May. However, despite the thorough airing of contentious viewpoints as to what is and is not a mental illness, its final “consensus” nevertheless labeled “pedophilia” as a sexual “orientation” rather than a “disorder.” Falling under outside criticism almost immediately, APA in October reopened the debate, calling the labeling a “mistake.” (A “sexual orientation” in many state and local jurisdictions affords anti-discrimination rights.)

Least Competent Criminals

Recurring Themes: (1) Steven Campbell, 51, entering a courthouse in Kelso, Wash., in November for a hearing on his previous arrest for possession of methamphetamine, apparently failed to consider that he would be searched and was forced to hand over to courthouse screeners a 3-inch methamphetamine pipe with suspected meth residue on it. (2) Andrew Laviguer, 57, was captured and accused of robbing several banks in Oregon and Washington in September, including the Wells Fargo branch in Portland, Ore., that ended the spree (and on whose counter he had mistakenly left his car keys when he fled).

Fine Points of the Law

(1) Hells Angels, which in the old days reputedly handled thieves in a different way, filed a lawsuit this time, in October, against Dillard's department stores -- alleging a violation of its Hells Angels Motorcycle Club trademark by a similar design on one of the store's T-shirts. (2) A 43-year-old Canadian man is not guilty, argued his lawyer in court in November, of violating a local Dubai law on public insults, even though he used the “f-word,” because he had merely uttered “(f-word) off” and not “(f-word) you.” Explained the lawyer, “(f-word) off” is simply a demand (in Canada, anyway) that someone leave you alone.

A News of the Weird Classic (April 2009)

It was thought to be the backwoods version of an “urban legend,” but the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department reported in March (2009) its first documented case of a deer hunter's attempting to avoid detection after shooting a doe (instead of the permissible buck) by gluing antlers onto its head. Marcel Fournier, 19, used epoxy and lag bolts, said a game warden, but the finished product looked awkward because of the angle of placement and the size mismatch of the antlers. (Fournier was jailed for 10 days and fined, and had his license revoked.)

Thanks This Week to Bruce Leiserowitz and Gerald Davidson, and to the News of the Weird Board of Editorial Advisors.