Barney Vincelette, who says his autism renders loud noises sickening to him, has been feuding for several years with neighbors in Houston, Del., over their rock music. At first, he invented his own sound-jammer, according to an April profile in the Wilmington News Journal, but a judge curtailed its use. Subsequently, he recorded super-annoying sounds of his own (including a foghorn) and had them written out as music ("Sonata for Calliope of Truck Horns About to Be Transcribed for Locomotive Horns Opus No. 1"), at which point the judge decided that permitting the neighbors' Bon Jovi but not Vincelette's sonata amounted to selective law enforcement, and the feuders settled their differences. (Vincelette, by the way, lives in a house shaped like a flying saucer.) The continuing crisis
• The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, which operates mass transit just south of San Francisco, and whose employees stage about three dozen office parties a year, issued 33 pages of specifications in January to invite local companies to bid on a contract to supply sheet cakes. The winning bidder must be versatile enough to offer cakes in 11 specified flavors, 16 fillings, five icings and six toppings (but must also carry $3 million in liability insurance!).
• Peru's Emilio Cordova, 15, won the South American chess championship in January, but rather than wind up a chess-obsessed nerd, he flew from the tournament site in Argentina to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and moved in with a 29-year-old stripper. After Emilio's two months in the fast lane, his father, with government help, went to Sao Paulo and snatched him back. Awesome!
• (1) Mexico City taxi driver Manuel Quiroz was seeking a sponsor earlier this year for his pursuit of the world raw-chili-pepper-eating contest. Supposedly, he can guzzle dozens of them at one sitting and even harmlessly squeeze their juice into his eyes. (2) In February, Dublin, Ireland, software engineer Michael Killian demonstrated his sideways-traveling bicycle, in which a rider sits and pedals facing perpendicular to front and back, with each hand controlling a wheel, e.g., squeezing the right handlebar and pedaling moves the bike rightward.
• In March three homeless men were awarded $10,000 each in a settlement with the city of Las Vegas because they were arrested in November for violating a since-repealed ordinance. The men had been cited for "illegally" sleeping within 500 feet of public urine or feces (a restriction the city thought would drive the homeless to isolated parts of town to relieve themselves and/or to sleep.) (In December, New York City panhandler Eddie Wise won $100,000 from the city when a judge ruled he had been illegally arrested 27 times under a law that had been ruled unconstitutional in 1992.) Bright ideas
• In breathtaking attention to detail reminiscent of the movie "The Great Escape," some inmates at Michigan's Kinross Correctional Facility chipped through 8 inches of concrete, then continued tunneling until they had cleared the facility's two external walls by an extra 25 feet, but then a guard spotted an irregularity near a cell wall and discovered the operation. When stopped in March, the inmates were only 6 feet away (straight up) from freedom. (As in the movie, their greatest accomplishment was figuring out how to dispose of all that dug-out dirt without being noticed.)
• To get her reluctant terrier "Missy" to eat dog food, Elaine Larabie decided to be a role model and eat some herself, after which, Missy indeed began nibbling at it. The next day, both Larabie and Missy were in Ottawa, Ontario, hospitals, vomiting and foaming at the mouth. The incident occurred in March, during the first days of the alert over rat-poison-laced pet food, and doctors suspected that as the culprit, but no definitive conclusion was reported in the press, and both Larabie and Missy recovered. Yikes!
(1) After a street assault in January, a 22-year-old New Zealander was rushed to Wellington Hospital to have surgeons remove his car key, which was embedded behind his right ear. (2) After a vicious attempted carjacking in March, an 18- year-old Australian was sent to Fremantle Hospital in Perth, where surgeons removed a screwdriver embedded in his face. Ewwwww!
Stewart Laidlaw, 35, was banished from Thirsty Kirsty's pub in Dunfermline, Scotland, in March, following numerous complaints about his excessive flatulence. (A shocked Laidlaw said no one had complained before, but conceded that was probably because cigarette smoke had been masking the odor until Scotland's recent smoking ban.) And in December, an American Airlines flight made an emergency stop in Nashville when passengers reported the smell of burning matches in the cabin. A female passenger was found to have been lighting them at her seat in an effort to vanquish her flatulence odors. Principals gone wild
In February in Bethlehem, Pa., middle school principal John Acerra was arrested and charged with selling crystal meth from his office (but not to students) (and when arrested in his office, after hours, he was reportedly nude). And in April, in Lorain, Ohio, principal Robert Holloway resigned after apparently too eagerly delivering on a wager. He had bet with some boys on a student-staff volleyball game and lost, and then paid off as agreed by kissing the boys' feet (but he was too much into it, the boys thought). Fetishes on parade
Tools of the Trade: (1) Michael Derenberger, 40, was charged with illegal voyeurism in Hernando, Fla., in March after being caught sticking a long pole with a hook on it through a girl's bedroom window, to pull down her comforter as she slept. (2) A 48-year-old man in Stockton, England, was found dead in January, naked, inside a large plastic bag attached to a vacuum cleaner, with police concluding at an April inquest that he got his sexual kicks through asphyxiation by having the vacuum suck all the air out of the bag. Least competent criminals
Not ready for prime time: (1) Aaron Hudgins, 26, and Ruan Rucker, 24, were reported missing and presumed lost inside a coal mine in Kanawha County, W.Va., in April, and after a search-and-rescue operation, they were pulled out 24 hours later. They had no time to be grateful, though, for they were immediately arrested because the sheriff said they had gone into the mine only to try to find copper to steal. (2) Two men walked into a postal annex in Portland, Ore., in April, with one wielding a folding pocket knife, and announced a robbery. However, seconds later, the employees began laughing as the man with the knife couldn't get the blade out with his thumbnail, and the pair fled. Updates
Beijing continues its intensive citywide upgrade campaign to impress visitors when the Olympic Games open in August 2008. In February, the city designated the 11th of each month as "voluntary wait in line" day to begin training Chinese to queue up for services in an orderly fashion rather than by their customary chaotic swarming. In April, retired restaurateur Guo Zhangi began a program offering people money (the equivalent of 25 cents each) to bring in dead flies. Also in April, guidelines were issued for taxi drivers, calling for a two-day suspension for cabbies who spit or smoke, have bad breath or dress garishly. (Taxi drivers in Shanghai have been issued special sacks to spit in, housed on the dashboard, to break their custom of spitting out the window.)