Bleeding the customers

A November Associated Press dispatch described the work of commercial leech and maggot suppliers who sell to hospitals. A Welsh firm, Biopharm Ltd., moves about 20,000 3-inch-long leeches a year at $17 each to suck blood through delicate, clogged veins to restore circulation, and a unit of the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend, Wales, produces sterilized maggots to eat decayed skin on a wound to speed the healing process (price: $90 per 100 maggots). Boasts Dr. Stephen Thomas, who guards his secret technique for sterilizing fly eggs: "Our maggots are cleaner than the patient."

Genital practitioner

A November New York Times story profiled surgeon Stanley H. Biber, who has kept the small Mount San Rafael Hospital in Trinidad, Colo., afloat for 44 years through his sideline as the world's most prolific sex-change surgeon. He estimates he has performed 3,800 such operations at prices now up to $11,000, and in the process has helped create standards in transgender surgery that are accepted worldwide (presurgery requirements of at least two psychiatric exams, nine months of hormone therapy, and a year of living and dressing in the new gender).

Gap and gown

The developers of the Providence (R.I.) Place shopping mall now under construction announced in November that they had reached agreement to house a private high school of about 100 students with classrooms inside the mall.

Stunt their progress

Window washer Kerry Burton, 27, was only slightly injured in November after falling five stories from a building in Calgary, Alberta. Burton landed butt-first in the basin of water that was tethered to his body and bounced two feet in the air after hitting the pavement. And in November, Jo'Tan Cooper, 18, escaped from the Natick, Mass., police station lockup by sliding his 5-foot-6, 130-pound body through the 9-by-17-inch food-tray slot. (He was recaptured before getting out of the station.)

Still behind bars

The latest episode of inmates acting as winemakers was disclosed by the Chattanooga Times in October, reporting on missing sugar from the pantry of the Franklin County Jail in Winchester, Tenn. Authorities traced the sugar to two dozen inmates concocting a fruit-based wine in, as usual, a cell toilet.

No contest

In November, the state of Punjab, India, announced that its 18-month search for its most honest government officer (which carried an award of more than $2,000) was over, because they couldn't find anyone worthy. However, as part of the same program, the government said it had found 300 corrupt officers worthy of prosecution. (India was recently named as the world's eighth most corrupt country by an international watchdog organization.)

Off kilter

In the course of offering support for Scottish independence, Mohamed al-Fayed (father of the late Dodi al-Fayed) told the Glasgow Herald in October that Scots are sexually superior to Brits, in part because of the kilt (which al-Fayed says they stole from his ancestors, the Egyptians). "The Egyptians wore nothing underneath. That is why they were great [copulators]. [W]hen you leave your organs free and ventilated with air, they are always fertile."

Pick of the Lot

The Hotel de Sal Playa (recently renamed the UT Salt Palace and Spa) in the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia is a 12-room setup in which the walls, beds, tables and chairs are made entirely of blocks of salt. According to an August Associated Press story, the rooms go for $50 a night and have no salty smell (although during the rainy season, the walls are covered with brine).

Tuned out

Several times, News of the Weird has mentioned natural-cause deaths that had gone unreported for months and even years. In November 1998, a landlord entered the Bonn, Germany, apartment of Wolfgang Dircks when rent invoices stopped being paid. The landlord found a skeleton in a chair in front of a TV (in the "on" position but now out of order) beside still-twinkling Christmas lights and a TV program guide of Dec. 5, 1993. Since no one had seen Dircks in years, authorities declared that to be his date of death.


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